The Last Blog Post

Well as I have finally turned in my last assignment for University of Kent, I suppose my study abroad experience is officially over. I’ve been in California for a few weeks now and I suppose I’ve delayed the inevitable too long. So here’s the final words on my study abroad experience.

Simply put, it was incredible. Words do not describe how fantastic an experience it was, both inside and outside the classroom. I truly think that it was the best thing to happen to me (in all my 20 years of life experience, big number, I know) and I would encourage everyone to study abroad or at least travel outside your own country. I learned so much about other people, other countries and myself in those 4 months I spent across and continent and an ocean. It was outside my comfort zone at first but I feel like I was definitely able to take it in stride.

Just as a bit of a recap, I met people from every continent (except Antarctica) and some were from countries I had never heard of, let alone knew where they were. I visited nearly 20 UNESCO World Heritage sights (which are “properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value.”) all of which were incredible. It’s amazing how old everything is once you leave the US. I stayed in hostels which was terrifying at first but then became a source of excitement and amusement. I visited and learned about 5 different countries. I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner (with the help of Cristina) and shared it with 9 different nationalities and then went on to spend my Christmas in Vienna with Sarah and Annika. The last days of my travels weren’t quite as wonderful with an overnight stay in the Dublin airport (by my own choice), a 20 hour layover, multiple delays, a cancelled flight resulting in another night in Dublin and then finally touching down on US soil a whole day later than planned. All in all: I’d do it again!

Being in an academic environment with students from around the globe (Kent is after all, the international university) allowed me to learn a lot both from an academic standpoint and a personal one. While my classes enhanced my knowledge on crime policies and theories in the UK (some of which aren’t too different from the US), I feel like the people I was studying with allowed me to learn on a completely different level. As a whole, I feel like Americans are ignorant, something I really don’t want to be. We know very little of what goes on outside our country and still yet, we aren’t always aware of what is going on inside our own country. For example, you go to participate in a pub quiz and some of the questions are about politicians from various countries or cities in England. My housemates from Holland threw out names I had never even heard of and they were not residents of any countries discussed. The same happened when the US government shut down in the fall. First thing that morning everyone asked me what was going one, so I had to quick google exactly what was happening so that I could give an informed answer. I don’t really think that there is a specific person or group to blame for this, other than we just don’t feel the need to know what is going on outside our own borders that much. Although I suppose there are exceptions to that statement as I was told on quite a few occasions that I was “different” than other Americans because I had chosen to go abroad and travel and learn. Still, as I walk away from this experience, I feel the need to involve myself more in national and international news and to also, learn another language.

That being said, I also came to a conclusion while travelling about how everyone and every country is incredibly similar. After running around through Italy and then Barcelona, upon walking around London, I realized that every city I went to was the same. Sure, the language, and the weather and the people were different but they were all the same. I felt the same in all of them, and I felt like I could throw myself into any international city and be able to figure my way around. It might be that I’m coming to this conclusion far later than others, but that was something that really stood out to me. You could pick out the business people, the locals, the tourists and figure out public transport in the same standardized fashion in every city I went to.

For a final thought, there’s a quote by Miriam Adeney that I feel sums up my sentiments fairly nicely about my experience.

“You will never be completely at home again because a part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

I don’t know what to call home. I felt at home in England, I feel at home in California. I know I will go back to England and the rest of Europe again and hopefully soon. Study abroad was the experience of a lifetime and I want to preserve the perspectives and attitudes I gained while I’m home in the US or wherever I end up.

Advertisements
Posted in England | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Rocky Road to Dublin – A Weekend in Ireland With Friends

Writing about something that happened a month ago? What kind of nonsense is this? Well, being that I’m writing about my weekend to Ireland which happened just before Thanksgiving, I suppose it’s a wee bit over due.

So! Dublin, Ireland! It was a fairly short adventure. The plan to go to Dublin had been in the works since UCI I suppose when my friend Annika told me she was going to be studying abroad at Trinity College. The idea was that I’d house her when she visited me and she would let me sleep on her couch when I visited Dublin! Good plan! And even better, Sarah (who is studying abroad in Sweden) joined us as well! Yay! It’s a party!

So after long Facebook messages figuring out times and dates, I decided to visit the weekend before Thanksgiving. I left Friday night taking the train to London Gatwick Airport. I was so excited. Taking the train by myself and I had to transfer trains a few times and we all know how I am with directions…oh yes, this was an adventure of epic proportions. I got to the airport pretty uneventfully and made my way through security fairly fast so I kind of wandered around waiting till my flight gate was posted. I don’t know why but they never post the gate you leave from until an hour before you leave which means sometimes you’re sprinting across the airport trying to make your flight. Luckily Gatwick has those wonderful conveyor belts that make you feel superhuman when you’re walking on them so getting to my gate was not a problem.

I was flying RyanAir for the first time and I was a little nervous because I’d heard some interesting things about the airline. But hey, it was cheap! And I kind of enjoyed walking onto the Tarmac to get onto the plane. Once on the plane it was like any other flight as I fell asleep before we were in the air. I woke up an hour or so later and hey, I was in Dublin!

Now, Sarah was supposed to arrive before me and since my plane landed at 11 with the last bus at 11:30, I was keen to book it out of the airport and get to Annika’s. I made it through passports quickly which was great and then ran outside to look for the bus. Yeah. Buses everywhere. Finally I figured out you had to walk through the parking structure to get to the bus I wanted so I ran over there and got on a bus. I paid my fare and sat in the front corner trying to call Annika to tell her I was on the bus. She didn’t answer and I was terrified that I was going to get lost. So naturally I start singing a song to myself under my breath about how I’m in Dublin and am doing to have to sleep outside because I can’t find my friend. You know, the normal response to these situations. Or maybe not since I was getting a few looks.

And then Annika called me! Yay, I wouldn’t sleep in the cold! Although by now the insane part of me was looking forward to it. Annika told me that I wasn’t at the right stop yet and then asked if Sarah was with me. To which I responded, no isn’t she with you? Apparently Sarah had been waiting for me at the airport so we could take the bus together but we had missed each other. Naturally. Well we figured she was on the bus behind me so after many wrong attempts to get off the bus, I finally arrived at Annika’s apartment! Sarah arrived and we decided we’d take a walking tour of Dublin the next day.

Walking tour of Dublin! Such fun! Sometimes I forget that other cities aren’t quite as big as London is. Like London has multiple airports, Dublin has one. A walking tour of Dublin can cover a fair portion of the interesting bits of the city in a few hours, London would need at least a day. The tour was nice. We got lots of history and Annika added in the bits and pieces that the guide didn’t tell us.

We stopped in the courtyard where the guide told us a quick history of Ireland. Basically it was settled by vikings and Celts and then was conquered by the Danish before England took over. The Irish don’t like the English and in the 1900’s they finally got their independence. One of the old buildings (I don’t remember which one) housed this prisoner who escaped by crawling through the sewers and then got frostbite because it was snowing and he had to walk miles to the next town. Fascinating. We also saw this beautiful old church and numerous greens. Apparently you can walk on the grass everywhere except for Trinity College.

Towards the end of the tour we saw Trinity College which is very different from University of Kent. It’s old, beautiful and has lots of history. It’s fairly small though so that’s nice. It also has the Book of Kells on display and has the library that was used as the model for the Jedi Library for Star Wars. Whoo! Apparently there was some issues with that because the college said George Lucas couldn’t use it but he did anyways.

We finished the tour at St. Stephens Green which is this beautiful green park with a somewhat violent history. From what I gathered, the Irish Citizen Army fought there in 1917. Anyways, by the time the tour finished, it was getting dark so we headed out to do some window shopping and find dinner! We also admired the Christmas decorations. They were beautiful and lit up the streets. Sarah looked for a penny whistle and I looked for Irish wool clothing things. We found dinner at this lovely pub on the River Liffey where I discovered that I do not like Guinness. Nasty stuff. And what a shame. It looks so pretty with the foam, but it tastes nasty.

Sarah, Me and Annika on the bus to the walking tour!

Sarah, Me and Annika on the bus to the walking tour!

Beautiful Georgian houses

Beautiful Georgian houses

A very dark photo of Sarah and me at St. Stephen's Green

A very dark photo of Sarah and me at St. Stephen’s Green

Christmas time in Dublin!

Christmas time in Dublin!

Riding the conveyor belt in the store

Riding the conveyor belt in the store

 

The next day we woke up early because we decided that we were going to go to the open casting call for Star Wars. It was quite fun and we all decided that we would do it again. It was the experience anyways. And we got gorgeous views from the top of Croke Stadium. After we were done there we headed back into the city center to take pictures and look at things we hadn’t seen the day before. We saw the Spire or the “Monument of Light” which is hard to miss (although some Irish guy managed to; he asked us for directions to it while we stood 15 feet away), lots of Christmas decorations and the River Liffey. We also saw the Book of Kells which was amazing. The Book of Kells has illustrated versions of the four gospels of the New Testament. It has a lovely exhibition and then at the end you get to see a few pages of the book. The book had quite a few people working on it, with different people writing, illustrating and coloring it. It’s stunning. And to think that its been around for over a thousand years. Incredible.

Croke Stadium in the distance

Croke Stadium in the distance

The spire!

The spire!

River Liffey!

River Liffey!

Our last stop at the college was the library which is the inspiration for the Jedi library. Now I haven’t seen Star Wars, but the library was awesome. Wood shelves and walls, ladders, thousands of books. It was like something out of a fairy tale. It was a book lovers dream.

the library...

the library…

Ireland 093

We left after staring in awe for a bit. I purchased an Irish wool sweater and then we headed to our Celtic Nights dinner. It was a dinner we had booked that provided traditional Irish food with Irish song and dance. It was awesome. Probably the highlight of the trip. The musicians were great and with the three of us being musicians, we particularly enjoyed it. And then they finished off with two pairs of Irish dancers. I couldn’t help but be reminded of my neighbor, Isabelle, who does Irish dance. She would have loved it!

Ireland 113

 

Sadly, it was over too soon and we headed back to Annika’s apartment. I had an early flight the next morning. Joys. But we were going to see each other in Vienna come Christmas so it was ok. I slept for a few hours before catching a taxi to the airport where the flight was uneventful but upon arriving at Gatwick, there was a bit of a delay. While trying to take the train home, I was delayed 5 hours as apparently a train had hit a cow which subsequently burst into flames…only me. So I waited in the airport for an hour before catching a train to London where I took a roundabout route back to Kent. And that was the end of weekend! Not as interesting as others, but still lots of fun. It was great to get together with friend who are studying in different places and hear everyones stories. It’s going to be very weird to go back to Irvine.

Until next time!

 

Posted in Ireland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Caledonia You’re Calling Me – Adventures in Scotland

So apparently it’s been nearly two months since I last blogged….yikes!  Sorry about that everyone. But in my defense, there was school work to be done, I had some British strain of the common cold and there were adventures to be going on! But we’ll take it back to the end of October when Cristina and I roamed around Scotland!

We left on a Friday night, just before our reading week (this week where you have no classes and the idea is you “read” for your classes but no one does) by coach to Edinburgh. See, the UK has wonderful public transport systems. It’s glorious for the student traveller. National Express is the coach company that has journeys all over the UK and even to Paris and Brussels. Anyways, we boarded the coach in downtown Canterbury to London Victoria where we would transfer coaches to get to Scotland. Our idea was to sleep on the bus. And as we all know, I am pro at sleeping so this wasn’t an issue for me (a thank you to my Mumsy is in order for that wonderful travel blow up pillow she gave me). It’s a bit over an hour or two to London Victoria, most of which I spent sleeping while Cristina chatted up the guy next to her.  However both of us ended up a bit nauseous after the journey. That happens more frequently here as I can usually read on long car journeys back home with no ill effect; I’m pretty sure it’s the roundabouts.

Regardless, we arrived at Victoria coach station in London right on time. If only our coach to Scotland was on time…apparently there had been a traffic accident and most of the coaches were stuck in it so everyone was delayed. In the end, it turned out for the best as we waited for the very last coach which meant that there were only like 15-20 people on a 40-50 seat coach. Yay for extra room! I found sleeping across two seats with my feet up against the windows worked the best. Luckily we had two drivers who switched off driving which meant that we didn’t have to stop to break them so we got to Edinburgh pretty much on schedule.

Once we stepped off the coach we were greeted with a blast of wonderfully cold air. I loved it! I had packed my thick purple scarf (thanks again Mumsy) so I was good to go. Cristina on the other hand found it rather cold and bundled up even more. Our hostel was a short walk from the bus station and was ideally located! Wonderful for us. We had doubts as we had booked super last minute and you had to go to this janky, damp staircase a few flights up in order to get to the hostel but as soon as you opened the door, it was great. New carpets, brightly lit, great facilities; we loved it. They were super nice as they locked our luggage up for us since we were early and gave us directions to a free guided tour of Edinburgh. So off we went!

Edinburgh is beautiful. Small, not like London, but its got all this amazing architecture and history. The tour started on the Royal Mile and took us all around to places like the cemetery where JK Rowling got some of the names for her characters to the Grassmarket where there were all these quaint little shops. Poor Cristina isn’t as into Harry Potter as I am so some of the details were a bit lost on her, but we did see GreyFriars Bobby which was cute. After the tour we had savory pies for lunch which were tasty! One of the few things I enjoy about British cuisine are savory pies with some mashed potatoes and gravy.

Bundled up with a lovely view!

Bundled up with a lovely view!

On the Royal Mile

On the Royal Mile

After lunch we headed off the the Royal Mile to do a bit of shopping and sightseeing. We stopped in this one shop that sold tartan scarves made in Scotland where we spent ages. I wanted scarves and Cristina found this Harris Tweed bag and wallet which I persuaded her to purchase. We wandered off further down the Royal Mile where we had an incident with fudge. Basically Cristina managed to walk out of the shop with the entirety of the sample as well as the knife that was being used to cut the fudge much to the shock of the owner and the remaining customers. We wandered around for a bit longer, stopping at Edinburgh castle and Holyrood Palace for pictures and staring. Then we headed back to the hostel since a lack of sleep was catching up with us.

1072

1092

The next day I went to go meet my friend Jane (whom I had met back at UCI when she was studying abroad) while Cristina wandered around Edinburgh for a bit. Jane and I were planning to go to church and then lunch together but as usual, I ended up getting lost so we ended up being a bit late to the service. I rather enjoyed it though; short and sweet with lots of hymns that were pretty. The building was gorgeous too. Jane then suggested we have lunch at the Elephant House which is the coffee shop known for where JK Rowling penned the first of the Harry Potter series. When you sit there you can see why as you have a wonderful view of Edinburgh Castle up top the hill. I had a wonderful sandwich with brie, bacon and mango chutney (they put that on everything here it seems, it’s wonderful). We managed to catch up a bit which was wonderful. It was weird because last time we talked she was in the US, my native country and now the roles were reversed.

View from the Elephant House

View from the Elephant House

After Jane left to take the bus back to Glasgow, Cristina and I met up to climb up Calton Hill for a view of the city. Easier said than done as it was incredibly windy and rainy, but the view was worth it as we were greeted by a splendid view of the city as well as a rainbow. Standing so high above the city, I had to take a few moments to appreciate everything – the city, studying abroad, experiencing all these new things, it’s incredible and I’m so fortunate to be able to do all these things. After gazing over everything for a bit, we headed back down the hill for afternoon tea to finish off our day as we had the first of two day tours planned for the next day.

view from Calton Hill

view from Calton Hill

perhaps the best picture of the entire trip

perhaps the best picture of the entire trip

We woke up bright and early to meet our tour group for a day trip outside of Edinburgh. This one was to go to Loch Ness and the Highlands. I was so excited. I don’t know what I expected but the Highlands of Scotland just sounded so cool. I was not disappointed. As soon as you leave Edinburgh you get all of this gorgeous scenery in all of its autumn glory. Our first stop of the day was in a town called Callander which is on the border between the Highlands and the Lowlands of Scotland. By now everyone was fully awake so we all had something to eat as we looked around the town. Ever the healthy one, I had a piece of millionaire’s Shortbread which is shortbread with a layer of caramel and chocolate – to die for.

the Food Network worthy picture of my snack

the Food Network worthy picture of my snack

Callander!

Callander!

Back on the road, we passed sheep and lots of them. Cristina was thrilled to see some had tinted pelts due to the ink that was used to tag them. Our guide was wonderful as he told us all these little details about lochs and glens and such. The landscape was breathtaking. There are all these trees (apparently they don’t get forest fires, to the surprise of us Californians) with a backdrop of hills and mountains and lochs. And the colors! Oranges, browns, auburns, golds…that is how autumn should look. We stopped for lunch in Loch Ness where Cristina went on a cruise around the Loch to look for Nessie and I wandered around the shore poking at things. Even though it’s a tourist attraction, it was still relatively calm and peaceful which was nice. After everyone on the boat came back, we departed for the road home which gave us still more beautiful views of the Scottish landscape, including some of the locations where they shot Skyfall.

Best friends for 15 years in Scotland!

Best friends for 15 years in Scotland!

self photography by Loch Ness

The Loch Ness Monster! Oh wait that’s just me…

Back in Edinburgh, Cristina and I went on the search for dinner. The previous night I had had a Scotch Egg which is an egg, covered in sausage and then fried. It was surprisingly tasty. Tonight we wanted something a bit healthier so we opted for salad of some variety. We wanted to try cranachan which is this scottish dessert with oats, whiskey, fruit and cream but they were out. So sad. We did however get some Irn Bru, which is this orange soda beverage that only seems to be found in Scotland. But I wanted to try whisky (because apparently its Scottish) so I ordered a shot for Cristina and I to share. Big surprise, it was disgusting. Seriously, neither of us could figure out how to swallow any of it without openly making a face and in Cristina’s case, gagging. I’m not even sure we finished the shot between the two of us. We headed off to find something sweet and ended up at another bar. Who knows why, but we ordered cocktails because we felt like it. I had a Pomegranate Martini which wasn’t bad but I still would have preferred a milkshake from Fentons Creamery for all the calories its worth. A milkshake would have tasted better too. Or just the martini without the alcohol part of it. Cristina had something with wine in it which tasted disgusting. We each got something for dessert before heading back to our hostel to go to bed before our next day trip.

The next day we went to Fife and the town of St. Andrews! How wonderful. We shared our bus with these old ladies from Louisiana who were in the UK for some knitting convention and spent the majority of the bus ride talking about young eligible men. The people you meet abroad. Regardless, it was a wonderful trip. The fishing villages were so quaint; I loved it. And St. Andrews was stunning. When I first started applying to colleges in high school I somehow got into my mind that I wanted to go to St. Andrews. I never applied since I didn’t have a major at the time but I wish I had. It was beautiful. The town is so old with so much history and the students and people there were wonderful. In Canterbury we get looked at for saying things like hello to a stranger but on the streets of St. Andrews people were quite friendly towards Cristina and I. We fit right in as students. We left the town questioning our choice to go to England and not Scotland. Shannon and Amanda, if you’re reading this, you’re going to have a blast in Scotland. We finished off our time in the city with a look at the golf course that St. Andrews is famous for. I felt obligated to for my Dad. We left St. Andrews to stop at another fishing village before heading back to our hostel.

1261

fishing village!

ruins of the castle in St. Andrews

ruins of the castle in St. Andrews

Golf Course! One day I'll take my Dad here

Golf Course! One day I’ll take my Dad here

Upon arriving in Edinburgh, I could feel the beginnings of a cold coming on so I stopped at the store to get some cold medicine. That night was memorable for many reasons. Firstly because we had two additions to our dorm who were characters. Basically these two old, drunk men who were just hysterical and provide examples as to why I love hostelling. I’m horrible at story telling though so I direct you to Cristina’s Blog for a better rendition of that story.

The other reason it was memorable was because my cold got worse. I couldn’t sleep and I felt incredibly nauseous so I ended up sleeping at the foot of Cristina’s bunk before waking up at 4am to catch our flight. Somehow Cristina managed to get me onto a bus to the airport, through security and on to our plane to London, goodness knows how. Upon arriving in London I made the decision to try to stay in London for the Career Night that night hosted by UCEAP. So Cristina dragged by onto a train and into a Starbucks where I promptly slept for 4 hours while she wrote an essay. After being nudged awake, we headed to Oxford street where I purchased a skirt to wear to the career night and Cristina purchased various things, I’m not sure what she actually ended up wearing.

Career night was wonderful. I’m so glad I ended up staying. There were talks from graduate students, and various individuals from different career fields. I personally found the lady from the US Embassy in London particularly interesting as I decided a career in US State department might be for me. But honestly, all of the panelists spoke about their careers with such passion that I was ready to consider a job in any of their fields (even though I’d be rubbish at accounting). It made me happy though because everyone said how they never thought that they’d be in the job they ended up in, but they were completely happy with the way it turned out. Gave me hope for my own career…gosh I’m already 20, where has the time gone?

We took the train back home where I sat down to take more cold medicine and then thought oh hey, I should read the side effects. Well apparently rare side effects included nausea and insomnia; the two symptoms that plagued me the night before. Well that explained a lot, so no more medicine for me. I don’t even take cold medicine in the states but I thought I’d give a shot abroad; guess that wasn’t the best idea.

Sadly we were supposed to go to Paris the next night but after waking up in the morning, that just wasn’t going to happen. While I slept all day, Cristina somehow managed to find someone to go with her and get all the names switched on the tickets. Thank goodness, because I was in no state to do anything. I was however feeling good enough come 7:30 that evening to drag myself out of bed to the theatre on campus to see a showing of the recorded performance of Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller. The performance was breathtaking. It’s written from the point of view of Frankenstein’s monster who was played by Benedict this round (he and Johnny Lee Miller swap roles for performances) who was just amazing. I sat in awe the entire time, my sickness forgotten. The following Sunday we saw it again this time with the roles reversed and it was amazing; an entirely different show. Their characters were similar yet very different which was interesting. Cristina and I had to discuss who we thought played each role better. It got confusing after a while because our favorites didn’t end up being the one’s who we thought played the role better. Regardless, it was amazing!

 

Well, gotta sign off for now, but hopefully I’ll blog again in the next few days since my time here is almost at an end…darn, ending on a sad note.

 

Posted in Scotland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I’m going on [went on] an adventure! – Broadstairs, London, Stratford upon Avon and Oxford!

Broadstairs Food Festival

I love food. I’m one of those people that lives to eat rather than eats to live. So when week 2 of school rolled around and I heard about a food festival just a bus ride away, I was determined to go. I mean, English coastal town, food, friends…a bus ride…how much more fun could a day get! Answer: not much better!

We left around 10ish on a Saturday morning (we being Anna, Soraya, Mai and myself) and took the bus to city center where we then took the bus to Broadstairs! I thought it was like an hour trip but apparently with the bus we caught, it was more like an hour and a half. Whoops! Oh well. It was a double decker bus and  we sat at the top so we had beautiful views of the countryside. I wish I had taken pictures of some  of the houses. I swear the words “I wanna live there” came out of my mouth at least a dozen times on this trip. Anyways, by the time we finally reached Broadstairs, it was lunch time so it was perfect; we were starving.

We got off the bus and walked towards the festival. This time, I had made sure I had a map of where we were going as I didn’t really want a repeat of the White Cliffs of Dover. Regardless, it wasn’t too hard to find as everyone was heading that direction. And let me just say, Broadstairs is so quaint. There’s these little streets with sweet-shops, bakeries, and little cafes. And then you hit the beach and you just stop. It’s so pretty. Definitely not a beach like in Southern California, but better in it’s own ways. We all stopped to take pictures.

photo (2)

 

After a few minutes of staring, we wandered off down the road towards the white tents of the food festival! We were greeted by these table piled high with fresh baked bread and pastries. Little pies, croissants, baguettes, whole loafs of bread…you name it, they had it. We took our time looking at it before deciding that we would look at all the stalls before buying anything. So off we went! There were a few stalls with candy floss (cotton candy), some with crepes, some with freshly ground coffee which we bypassed. And then we got into the center of everything. I lost track of everyone else as I wandered around, sampling fudge and various other treats. There was a cheese stall I particularly enjoyed with cheese made in Kent. I got to sample some Kentish blue and a strong cheddar. Yum! I decided I was going to have to go back to purchase some later. The next stall had these wonderful jams, curds and sauces. I sampled the raspberry, lemon and the lime curd. So good! I could eat it by the spoonfull. By then I found the housemates and we wandered around together, looking for what we all wanted to eat for lunch. Soraya and Anna went for crepes while Mai went for this Pad Thai that smelled amazing and I went for a burger. I know! Sounds so lame compared to everything else that was around but it was so good and nothing like the ones in America. It was on this soft fluffy “bap” which is basically a roll and then it had haloumi cheese (which is this sweetish cheese that is like everywhere), mango chutney, rocket (basicaly arugula and other greens) and then a squeeze of lemon and some mayo. It was savory but had these kicks of sweet from the mango and the cheese that were just amazing. We went down to the beach to eat our food where we watched children run around in the water and tried to avoid the bees. After finishing our food, I decided I wanted to dip my feet in the water! So off I went. It wasn’t as cold as I thought so I stood there for a bit while people stared at me. I’m sure I looked weird in black skinny jeans just standing there as the water rushed over my feet as I laughed. But my feet touched the North Sea! I think…
644120_10200660498263932_954376656_n

After doing a few cartwheels, I put my shoes back on and we walked back up towards Charles Dickens’ house. We decided that we were too cheap to pay entrance to the house but we went in the bookstore which was just as cool. They had his novels each for two pound fifty. I bought Great Expectations and the lovely old man did this cool embossing thing with this press that was over 100 years old. Very cool. I’m excited to bring it home. After leaving the bookstore we headed back to the food festival to make our purchases before taking the bus back home. I chose to get a baguette, some Kentish blue, some cheddar as well as some lemon curd and butterscotch toffee sauce. Yum. Mumsy you would have loved the cheese and Nana, the lemon curd was wonderful. Anna bought some rolls and a croissant and then we were off to the bus! Unfortunately, we had timed it wrong so we waited for a good while before it came. But it came and we were soon off! And let me tell you, no matter how many times I ride the bus and look and the landscape of Kent, I am still shocked by how green it is. It’s neverending greenery mixed with some animals and houses. It’s beautiful. It makes you just want to run off into the sunset and frolick in the grass. Alas, we were on a bus and I fell asleep.

photo (3)

 

When we arrived back in Canterbury bus station, we hopped on the bus back to Parkwood where we found Cristina, Charly and Julia! Well Soraya found them. I walked right past them my mind occupied by the idea of cheese and bread for dinner. Cristina excitedly told me how she bought two new pairs of shoes for 15 pounds each and how they were going to London the next day. They graciously asked if my housemates and I wanted to tag along; I said yes, while they declined.

The next day….

London

Now I’ve been to London before. I was there for orientation for a few days and I plan to go back a few more times before the term is over. It’s just an awesome city so there’s always something different to do. Cristina and Julia were going to see the Lion King and Charly was going to see his sister and I was going to wander. I love wandering (don’t worry Mumsy, I was safe. I decided what I was going to do before we parted ways and I knew which tube stops to get on and off at.)

Anyways, I wake up bright and early at 8 am and head to Cristina’s to meet everyone else. I knock and no one answers. So I text them and still no answer. I stand there for a few minutes before heading around the back to see it they’re in the kitchen. They were and I gave them a scare. We were delayed as there was a bit of a debacle with getting train tickets, then Cristina had to put makeup on (Julia and I napped on her bed) and then we learned the bus didn’t run that frequently on Sundays. So we took  a cab. Finally, we made it to the train station where we purchased our tickets and were off!

I love trains. They’re wonderful. It’s like BART but better. You see so much and it’s relaxing. And hour and half later, we were in London! So exciting. We headed to the theatre for Lion King where Julia and Cristina picked up their tickets and then we stopped at a Starbucks for Pumpkin Spice drinks! Well Cristina got a pumpkin spice latte and I got a salted caramel hot chocolate and Julia and Charly sampled ours. I love seasonal drinks. We decided that we would meet up at the theatre after the show and that I would be in charge of keeping in touch with Sophie (our friend from Contiki) who would meet us for dinner. And off we all went! I went off in search of the nearest tube station as I was going to head to Oxford street to get some long sleeve shirts and get a few purchases for Cristina. I ended up spending the next few hours there, wandering in and out of various British department stores and people watching. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. A few hours later, it was time to take the tube back to the theatre to meet up with everyone. Apparently there was some delay in one of the trains so the line I was taking was especially crowded. No matter! I still got there in time.

We briefly met Charly’s sister and boyfriend before they headed off and we found Sophie. Then we wandered up towards the main square to find some food. We ate at this place whose name I don’t recall. It wasn’t my favorite but oh well. Something I’ve learned as I spend time with more European people: they make full use of their knife. In America, we use the side of our fork to cut food if we can and we put our knives down if we aren’t using them. Apparently others don’t do that. So I amused myself by attempting to eat my entire meal of fish and chips and mashed peas like that. It was much harder than it seemed. We finally finished dinner and we said our goodbyes before heading off to the bus station to go to the train station.

We boarded the train pretty uneventfully and found four seats together. Cristina pulled our the blanket that she’d just gotten and everyone but me fell asleep. I had reading to do so I knew I wouldn’t fall asleep and miss our stop. It was rather peaceful, reading while everyone else was dozing. At some point Cristina kicked off her heels so that she was more comfortable. I remember hearing the conductor calling out the names of all the stops and thinking oh, Canterbury must be coming up. No sooner had I thought that than did the voice on the loudspeaker say “Now approaching: Canterbury East”. Literally, the entire car simultaneously woke up and jumped out of their seats in a panic. Looking back, it was hysterical. Julia is putting headphones into her purse, I’m shoving a book in my bag, Cristina is attempting to fold up a blanket, put her iPod away and put her shoes on. We all rush off the train laughing and then we decide to make sure we’ve got everything. I make sure I’ve got my phone and my wallet and call it good. Cristina checks and then says, ever so calmly “Wait, I think I left a shoe on the train”. We snicker and then tell her to go get it. After all, the train hasn’t left even though the doors are shut. Cristina knocks on the door and tries to get on and then the train starts moving. She gets into a panic and starts shouting about her shoe while Charly points through the window to a single shoe sitting so lonely in the now empty car. The train left the station and that was it. We were all dying, laughing like hyenas. Cristina had lost one shoe off the pair of shoes she bought yesterday. Even now, two weeks later, it still cracks me up and I’m laughing as I type this. Granted it probably wouldn’t be as funny if it wasn’t so late but it’s still funny. We headed back to campus, still laughing about the shoe before parting ways to go to sleep before class in the morning.

The next weekend….

Stratford upon Avon

Now Cristina’s dad came to visit and he had a car, so naturally, we decided road trip! Of course that’s easier said than done in a stick shift car, with a driver who is essentially driving on the wrong side of the road, in a country where they have a sick obsession with roundabouts. Regardless, it was decided to head off to Stratford-upon-Avon which is the birthplace of Shakespeare (a love of both Cristina and mine) some two three hours away. We left just after 5 on the Friday, our adventure including Steve, Cristina, Leah, Charly and myself. It was dark soon after we left which meant that most of us passengers slept allowing for some pretty wonderful candid shots of each other sleeping in the car. Trust me, I look stunning when I sleep. We stopped for a snack/meal before heading on the road again. We arrived at our hotel sometime after 8 or 9. It was so cute. I loved it. We lounged in the hotel for a bit (taking advantage of the WiFi) before heading off to the festival we had seen earlier in search for some food. Sadly, the festival was closed by the time we got there but we found some food at this lovely noodle place. The chicken I had was really good. Seriously, I don’t know what they put in it but yum! After eating, we wandered around the town in the dark for a bit. It was beautiful. Al these old structures and some of the shops had Christmas lights up. So pretty!

557106_10201731673468873_1551044903_n

 

1382271_10201731673908884_1470862721_n

We headed back to the hotel where we went to our respective rooms and crashed. The next morning: Shakespeare’s birthplace!

First on the agenda was breakfast! We ate at this little place called Anne Hathaway’s. I opted for the traditional English breakfast – eggs, toast, beans, tomato, mushroom, sausage and black pudding. After two bites, I’ve learned that black pudding is not my thing. But the rest was tasty! After eating our fill, we headed off to explore the town.

We opted not to do the Shakespeare pass as it was really pricey so we decided to visit all the sites and just look at the outside and visit the shops. That was fun. We saw Shakespeare’s house and got to poke around the shops. Lots of Shakespeare trinkets and such. I doubt anyone besides Cristina and I were much amused by it. And then we went a little ways down the street to this cute little Christmas shop. It was so precious! All decked out with ornaments and trees with a sign saying how many “sleeps till Christmas”. So cute. Much to my despair, we trekked off in the direction of more Shakespeare sites including the theatre and his grave. On the way there Leah tried to look over a wall which proved easier said than done. At least we got a good picture out of it though.

1059115_10202166356549068_362038863_o

 

1380187_10201731688429247_1602086891_n

We decided that a mile there and back was too far to walk to see Anne Hathaway’s house so we decided just to head back to the car and drive to our next hotel. Off to Warwick (pronounced War-ick).

Warwick

We arrived in Warwick in under an hour. It’s very close to Stratford-upon-Avon. We managed to get two rooms in this little place called the Black Horse or something like that. Upon arrival, everyone but me decided to nap. I decided to explore. So I told Charly that I was going on a walk and then went on my own adventure. I liked Warwick. There’s this beautiful cathedral and these cute little houses and shops.

1382785_10201732060158540_182058825_n

 

1384131_10201732059158515_1212853122_n

After about an hour I walked back to the hotel and woke everyone up for dinner. Apparently they all wanted to sleep more so I did some reading for American History. And then it was finally dinner time. Cristina was cold so she put tights  under her jeans. I guess I’m lucky because I haven’t felt extremely cold yet. Granted it’s only October but I’ve been fine with trousers, a jacket and a scarf. We met some people in the pub who told us where we should get dinner and since I had wandered the town earlier, I though I could lead the way. Yeah, bad idea. Now it was dark so it confused me. Still, we got to the main part of town and managed to find food at this one Italian place where it took seriously, hours to get our food. But food is food so yay for that! On the way back we got lost and I would just like to say, it was not my fault.  I thought we were going the wrong way but of course, no one trusts me so we walked the wrong way for a good ten minutes. But we made it back all in one piece. We amused ourselves for the next hour or so with YouTube videos while Steve watched a scary movie in the other room. Unanimously we decided we wanted ice cream so I put a jacket on and ran down to the corner kebab shop to buy some. It was this wonderful Haagen Dazs belgian chocolate ice cream. We shared two pints of it. So wonderful. We finished off the evening by watching Lion King (Charly had never seen it. The horror.). Cristina and I got yelled at within the first five minutes for reciting all the words so we forced ourselves to sit quietly. After the end credits, it was time for bed as we had to wake up early for breakfast and Steve wanted to Warwick castle the next day.

The next day I woke up bright and early (it was more grey rather than bright) showered, dressed, and headed downstairs for breakfast (English breakfast for the win!). I’m learning to love tea. Especially in the mornings. Wonderful. I was joined shortly by the rest of the adventurers who ordered their respective breakfasts (no one else is as big a fan of the English breakfast as I am, sadly). I headed back up to the room early to pack and do some reading before heading off to the castle!

The castle….I didn’t go in. I decided that I’d already seen Leeds Castle and that 22 pounds (nearly 30 dollars) was a steep price for something that I wasn’t super interested in seeing. So Charly, Leah and I sat in the cafe and did our homework. Well I did my homework. Leah and Charly listened to music and slept. We did make a list of 31 things we would do if we were going to die. Our ideas varied greatly. But I’ve decided that I want to go sky diving. It’s on my list. A few hours later I had finished my readings and we were all bored. So we decided to take bets on when  Cristina and Steve would be back. Naturally, no sooner had we placed our bets did they return. Humbug. They ate a quick lunch and then we were off to Oxford before heading back home to Canterbury.

Oxford

Now I wasn’t super keen to visit Oxford University. I mean it’s old but eh, did I need to see it? The answer is yes. Once I stepped out of the car, I was excited. It was so cool. We don’t have universities like that in the US. Probably because we don’t have anything as old as it. It is stunning. I wish that I had more than an hour there. The architecture was breathtaking and the atmosphere amazing. If I had to go to grad school, I don’t care what for, I wish I could go there. We saw this exhibit about some great British authors (Tolkein and Lewis among them) which was awesome. And then we ran around the streets looking at the church, taking pictures of anything and everything before buying Oxford merchandise. As usual, Cristina took forever to find something. Finally we headed back into the car, leaving wonderful Oxford behind. Like I said, I wish I had more than an hour there.

1375674_10201732064078638_1904305492_n

1393493_10201732061838582_1834709780_n

 

On a final note; I picked a beautiful country to study abroad in. Just look at that view on the drive home.

1377255_10201732065638677_1575233060_n

Posted in England | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Frolicking in the Garden of England – Kent, Cliffs, Castles and Classes

Right…well it’s been kind of a while since I last blogged about anything. But in my defense, I’ve been super busy with everything. It’s basically freshman year of college all over again but so much better because it’s in England! New place, new university, new friends and new experiences! How wonderful is that!?

So when I last wrote, I left off in London just before we met our study abroad group. Well, needless to say Cristina and I found our EAP orientation group and got to doing all the tasks we needed to do before heading off to University of Kent. This entailed listening to an orientation about British universities and culture and trying not to fall asleep and then socializing and getting to know all of our peers. Everyone was from the UC system so we all had that in common and of course we were all excited to be in London. That night we ate at Wagamama (yum!) and then headed back to LSE to get some rest before running around London the next day.

Now, I’d gone through Italy and Barcelona and watched Cristina get sick as well as a fair few people on our tour so I guess it was just my turn to fall ill. I don’t know if it was a cold or just the change in temperature but I ended up waking up with the worst sore throat. I could hardly speak let alone swallow. Thankfully it was just the throat, no fever or anything but it still wasn’t fun. After breakfast, we headed to the nearest tube station and went to the Tate Modern. Nana you probably would have gotten more out of it than me. I thought there were beautiful pieces in there and the guided tour was wonderful with all the information given but I quickly got bored once I was on my own. I think I’m more of a fan of Renaissance art but there were still some breathtaking pieces at the Tate. After the Tate we headed to Oxford street (where I ran back to LSE to get my wallet) to purchase phones, SIM cards and other necessities. Finally! A British phone number! I could communicate with people now. Even though I enjoyed not really having a means to communicate with anyone without WiFi, I relished the thought of not having to worry about getting lost and losing the group. Yay for cell phones! After purchasing my phone, Eli (a fellow UCI student) and I had lunch at Cafe Rouge and then I bought some cough drops and then we were off for a 3 hour walking tour.

The walking tour started in Trafalgar Square and happened to go down Whitehall street which was what Cristina and I had done the day before. But this time we had a guide so we actually knew what were looking at! It was wonderful. But exhausting. Our tour guide knew everything. Seriously, she was naming off the Queen’s horses for us. It was great. Three hours later, it was still great but we were exhausted. Finally, it was time for dinner and then our West End show, Barking in Essex. The show was funny. Confusing, but funny. I found a glass of water so I was trying not to cough through out the whole thing and I did pretty well. All the same, I was happy when it ended so that I could go back to LSE and sleep.

The next morning, pretty basic stuff. Woke up, had breakfast, went to LSE, listened to more orientation stuff, tried not to fall asleep again, and then: WE BOARDED THE COACH FOR KENT! It was wonderful. We passed around our phones so that we all had each others numbers and then we bounced nervously in our seats waiting for the drive to be over. 2 hours later, we were in the Garden of England and our home for the next few months. It was beautiful. And then we had to drag our luggage through a mini forest and it wasn’t as beautiful but still, we were in England.

I arrived at my house in Parkwood (Bishopden 3 for anyone’s who’s curious) and met my first housemate; Mai who is studying abroad from Kyoto, Japan. She was so sweet and took me to go get my student ID card. When we got there though, it was chaos. The line was so long and I was about to give up and try again the next day when this lovely student volunteer came through saying that if were international students, we could skip the line with her. Yay for studying abroad! It was there that I met Leslie, a wonderful grad student from Pennsylvania studying here from the semester. We had a wonderful time talking and waiting around in line (where I found Eli again) before parting ways. I found Cristina and a group of our EAP peers so we all decided to trek back to Parkwood and get our bedding and then go in search of food. After much confusion, we found and purchased our bedding and after depositing it in our respective rooms, we headed to Woody’s for dinner. Woody’s is Parkwood’s pub, a weird concept for all of us American’s as most of our campuses are dry campuses. Still, it was fun! I had traditional fish and chips with peas. Yum! After that, our group split up with some people going home to sleep and some of us trekking across campus in search of one of the other bars. I walked in…and then walked out. Too loud and too rambunctious. I headed home.

Then I met two of my other housemates! Anne and Soraya, both studying abroad from the Netherlands from a town just outside of Amsterdam. They’re both incredibly sweet and they shared some ginger cookie things (that have something to do with Christmas) with Mai and I. They’re also teaching me Dutch. I can say “doorknob” and “squirrel” in Dutch. I’m so accomplished. Later that night we all also met Kristen, the last member of our house who is studying abroad from New York.

The rest of the week was fairly uneventful with going into town for groceries, wandering around campus and attending various orientations. I received my laptop from the wonderful Philip who was kind enough to drive all the way from Rochester to deliver it to me. Thanks Mumsy and Dad for sending it! I also attended various socials for my school (SSPSSR or the School of Social Policy and Social Science Research). That was fun, being able to talk to different staff and faculty outside of the classroom. We also went to the Freshers Fayre which is this two day thing where all the clubs and societies on campus have booths and you go around and see which ones you want to join. I’ve joined Forensic Science Society, Ballroom and Latin Dance and the Hogwarts and Quidditch society. Such fun I’m having…

Since this was the last weekend before school started, we decided that we would go somewhere that weekend. So I suggested Dover! I’ve always wanted to go and we were just a bus ride away so off we went! Of course I wouldn’t have gone if my roommates hadn’t woken me up so thank you Soraya and Anne! It wasn’t too complicated a trip. Bus to the city centre and the the bus to Dover. But upon arriving in Dover, we got lost. We tried to go to the cliffs and ended up walking along a highway for a half hour…but we found them and man, were they stunning. Words don’t do it justice. You feel like you’re on top of the world and it’s just so green on top of the cliffs. We ran around atop them for a good few hours and then watched the sunset. It was so pretty and we all kind of just stared in awe.

IMG_1311

IMG_1341

IMG_1381

IMG_1378

The next day was the last day before classes officially started and we were fortunate enough to have a trip to Leeds Castle (“the loveliest castle in the world”) scheduled for international students. Sort of. See, you had to have registered for the trip earlier and naturally, I didn’t do that. So I woke up bright and early Sunday morning to be first in the queue to go. And it worked! Our whole group managed to go and it was beautiful. Definitely worth the whole getting up early for it. The grounds were magnificent. Sprawling grass and trees with ponds and little streams and lots of geese. I love geese. Reminds me of when I was little and my grandparents would take me to Heather Farms to feed the geese.

1377146_10201637114904968_260386005_n

1378860_10201637113624936_2088248502_n

The castle itself was stunning. It really was lovely. We got to explore the inside which had wonderful rooms varying from bedrooms to sitting rooms and banquet halls, even a little chapel. I loved it. And to think people actually lived there!
1374768_630482920307551_2115172408_n
1377357_630468113642365_152135612_n

Sadly, after a few hours, it was time to board the bus back to Uni. It wasn’t all that bad as I got to sit in the front and converse with Thilo, who is from Germany while Cristina and Julia sat across from us. After about 45 minutes or so, we were back at Uni and we all trooped back to our respective houses to rest because that night, there was a pub quiz! Basically, you get a group together and head to the pub and you all participate in this trivia quiz. It’s one pound buy in and the winning team takes the pot. Sadly, we lost. It was far too British oriented for us, but it was still fun! We headed home shortly after it ended as class started the next day!

Week one of classes…well it was pretty easy. Hopefully it doesn’t get harder! Of course, I’m taking mostly introduction classes because they transfer back to upper division classes at UCI so that could be why. My classes are Drugs Culture and Crime, The Emergence of America, Introduction to Criminology and Forensic Psychology. All of them are quite interesting and lots of fun! It’s amazing to get such a different perspective on subjects I’ve learned before or have a different background on, American history especially. That concludes the first week at Kent, with class going by fairly uneventfully! The next weekend: Broadstairs Food Festival and London!

 

Posted in England | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Climate Change! – The Last Day in Barcelona and the First Days in London!

I’ve fallen in love with England. Simple as that. I’ve been here less than a week and I’m head over heels for it. I love the weather, the sights, the people – everything! After arriving in London, Cristina and I spent a day or two by ourselves and then met up with our UC group for orientation. After that we all boarded a coach and headed to University of Kent in Canterbury! But we’ll back up a bit.

The last day in Barcelona was wonderful. The weather was gorgeous and we took a bus tour of the city so we were able to hit up some of the more touristy attractions that we didn’t see with Roxanne. We wandered to the bus stop around 10ish I suppose (we enjoyed sleeping in late since we weren’t with a tour group anymore), purchased our tickets, looked at the map and off we went! The bus was really cool (double decker) and we rode on the top, eager to see everything. We’ve decided hop-on hop-off bus tours are a great way to see the city. We passed up on getting off at the first few stops as they weren’t of much interest but we got off at this park where the guide said you had wonderful views of the city. Well little did we know, you had to take a bus and a cable car to get there after the bus. So up the mountain we went! And what a view…Barcelona is huge. And beautiful. I took everything in, trying to figure out where all the landmarks were.IMG_0886

IMG_0882

We ate lunch with that wonderful view (and some not so wonderful bees) and then headed back down the mountain. We looked at the map and realized that we needed to part ways since Cristina (the football fan) wanted to go see Camp Nou and I (the non football fan) wanted to go see Park Guell. So off we went!

On the way to the park, I got a better look at the Sagrada Familia designed by Antoni Gaudi. It’s this wonderful church in Barcelona that’s not yet completed that was his life’s work. There are handcarved sculptures all over the facade depicting different tales from the Bible and numerous towers. 18 in all when it’s done I believe. The tallest for Jesus Christ, one for the Virgin Mary, 12 for the apostles and 4 for the evangelists I think. But don’t quote me. Anyways, the idea was that you were to look at the outside and have someone spend days with you basically teaching you the story of the Bible simply through looking at the facade. Pictures just don’t do it justice.

IMG_0903

 

IMG_0901

 

A few stops later, I reached my destination. Park Guell. Also designed by Gaudi, it was originally supposed to be residences but the idea never took off so now there’s this park. Nana, you would love it. There’s these brightly colored mosaics everywhere. There’s fountains and sculptures (my favorite is the dragon) and colors everywhere. And when you get to the top of the park, you have a view of the city and this mosaic wall surrounding you. It’s breathtaking. I could have spent a few hours there if I didn’t have to meet Cristina back on the bus. But sadly, I took pictures, stood in a silent sort of awe for a bit before I came to my senses and headed back down to the bus. That night Cristina and I trekked to the beach where we sat at a bar, had Pina Colada’s (minus the alcohol), stared at the ocean, and counted our blessings for having such a priceless opportunity to see Europe.

Next…ENGLAND! The whole reason we were in Europe in the first place: to study at the University of Kent. Cristina and I had planned it so that we would have a day and a half on our own in London before meeting up with our UCEAP orientation group. We flew from Barcelona to London (after a wonderful night of having NO roommates) and took the train from Gatwick to our hostel. It was raining. And it was wonderful. I love rain. It feels so fresh and pure and it just makes me happy. Good thing I’m in England I suppose. That night we went to Primark which is basically this really cheap department store – the US has nothing like it. No joke, Cristina and I spent four hours there. We got all our warm clothing. It was great. Except we kind of lost each other. See, we forgot that our phones didn’t work and we didn’t have WiFi so we both kind of just wandered around the store calling the other’s name in hopes that we’d find them. We did. But not after amusing several customers. We trekked back home (in the rain!) with our purchases and got ready for our first full day in London!

So, we woke up late and kind of missed the changing of the guard…but we decided to go see the Sherlock Holmes Museum on 221B Baker Street instead! We are huge fans of BBC Sherlock and I remember my Dad watching (and reading the Doyle novels) when I was little so I was excited. The museum did not disappoint. They’ve set it up so you see the living quarters of Watson and Sherlock according to descriptions given by Doyle. It’s very cool. And you can dress up as Sherlock and Watson in some of the rooms. Needless to say, Cristina and I jumped at the opportunity. Dad, should you ever be in London, you should come see this place.
IMG_0968

We took the tube to our next destination: Westminster Abbey and Whitehall Road! I had read in my UK travel book that Whitehall Road has a lot of the famous sights in London so we decided to walk that stretch. It starts at Westminster Abbey next to  Parliament and Big Ben and goes all the way to Trafalgar Square. It was a lovely walk. Too bad we didn’t know a whole lot of information about what we were seeing. Although Cristina fell in love with the Parliament buildings and declared that that’s where she wants to work. I rolled my eyes and ushered her out of the way of passerby’s (whom she excitedly pointed out were foreign government people due to their medals and badges). We pushed on! Noting all the fancy buildings and architecture. Cristina tried to sneak into some Scottish building which was amusing. We also met some friends. Namely the horse guards. And of course Cristina fell in love with the horses. We wandered a bit more and finally hit Trafalgar Square with Nelson’s Column and this more modern giant blue rooster. Very odd. But we had an appointment for afternoon tea so we hurried off after taking in the scene!

We were supposed to meet friends from Contiki for tea, but sadly they couldn’t make it so it ended up just being us. We got off the tube at Harrods at looked at the window displays for a bit before running to our reservation. It’s been unanimously decided between the two of us that afternoon tea is amazing! You get a pot of tea, little sandwiches, scones, clotted cream and jam (which is so much better than butter) and a little plate of desserts. We read that tea is supposed to be enjoyed and can take up to two hours so we were sure to take our time. In retrospect we probably took too much time as the dinner rush was starting to come in when we left and we were getting weird looks from the other customers.

IMG_1057

 

IMG_1061

After tea we took the tube again (dang that thing is useful), this time to the London Eye! We ended up getting a discount ticket from our hostel so that knocked off like 6 pounds for each of us. The Eye is best done at night…the city looks so much prettier and so does the eye. It was stunning. And it’s very high tech so there’s these tablets inside that have maps that you can ‘swipe’ with your finger to show where you are looking. You can even click on certain landmarks and it will tell you what they are and their history. I loved it. And you don’t even notice the height at night. After taking our ride, we decided we were too tired to do much else so we headed back to the hostel to prepare for our departure to LSE High Holborn the next morning!

Leaving was much easier said than done. We had so much stuff from Primark that Cristina couldn’t get everything into her bag. Thankfully I had these space bag things that Mumsy had given me that proved to be invaluable (Thanks Mumsy!). However Cristina decided that we’d just take a cab. Still, we had to try to be as quiet as possible for the other people in the room as we attempted to clear out. Sadly in all the fuss, I left my scrubby bath towel thing that my Nana had given me. Oh well. We dropped our luggage off at LSE and then took the tube (I just love that thing) to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guards!

The changing of the guard was…epic. It was so cool! At first they kind of just stand around, looking all official with their funny hats and marching and stuff. And then as it gets closer to time, more of em come out and they start congregating. Then the new guard comes with a band and the old guard comes with a band. There’s a bunch of shouting and foot shuffling as they form their lines and stuff. And then something happens where it’s all official  and suddenly they’re switched. But the cool part is when the band plays. Cristina and I thought that they’d play something old and official like some English march or traditional ballad. But no. The first band starts and we look at each other in confusion. It was Hairspray. They were playing a medley from Hairspray the Broadway musical. But it got better. They finished and the second band started. It was a ten plus minute medley of – wait for it – Les Miserables. England just got so much cooler. And they sounded soooooo good! I had tears in my eyes by the end. It was beautiful. And then of course, they played an official march and marched out of the palace courtyard. It was so cool!

After that, it was almost noon so we decided to get lunch and go back to Harrods (we wanted a picture with the doormen). So we decided to try Wagamama for lunch! I had read about it in my travel book and we thought that we’d give it a go. It’s this Asian noodle type chain and it’s pretty good. Everything’s made fresh which was nice and who am I to refuse noodles? After Wagamama we went to Harrods in search of the doormen and got our picture with one of them! And by then it was time to race back to LSE High Holborn to check in for orientation! And the study abroad experience begins!

 

 

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Boats and Barcelona! – The Last 48+ Hours

As I type this, I am sitting in our hostel in Barcelona attempting to use a Spanish keyboard. It doesn´t sound that hard but there have already been a few difficulties. Like how to capitalize letters and how to use the little “@” symbol. I mean I barely understand how to use my American computer properly; I´m not advanced enough to be moving onto other countries technologies.

Anyways, Thursday night Cristina and I said farewell to Italy, board a boat and sailed onward to Barcelona! And other than Cristina falling under the weather, it was a pretty fun experience. Except we got bored. Really bored. It was too windy to be allowed on the top deck so we explored the rest of the ship. And since we don´t gamble or drink and we have a limited budget, there wasn´t much we could do. And we´d watched all the episodes of How I Met Your Mother that Cristina had on her iPad. So we did what any normal person would do. We made a video of us pretending we were on the Titatic. Specifically the James Cameron film. Obviously it´s no cinematic masterpiece but we find it hilarious. We ran around with Cristina´s iPad tilting it so it looked like the boat was capsizing while I ran, stumbled and fell down the stairs and through halls. It might get uploaded if Cristina finds the time so definitely watch it if we don´t procrastinate that task too much.

We picked boat as our way of travel because it ended up being the cheapest option and neither of us had ever been on a ship that big before. It was ENORMOUS! It holds a few thousand passengers and like 216 motor vehicles. We met two girls traveling from Germany and we all watched as at least a dozen 18-wheeler trucks drove into the garage in the bottom of the ship. It was insane. We departed at around 10pm that night so we went back to our pullman seats in third class. We were quite amused by everything. Our area was empty so we all stretched out across rows of seats to sleep until we were all awoked at about 5am. We had stopped at another port and were loading our other passengers on. This lady shook all of us awake and told us “only one seat”. Groggily, we all got up and made it back to our original seats. Not that it mattered as we later figured out that the other passengers slept in various chairs, couches and corners of the ship for some reason. By now Cristina was having problems breathing so she was using her inhaler more frequently than she had in the past few weeks and she had this lovely, load cough. So we went on a hunt to find the infimary because thats apparently the only way that you can get cough medicine on a ship. We never found it. We found the crew barracks and a sign saying alcohol and drugs in use but we never found the infimary. So we decided to take her mind off of everything by making our cinematic spin off of the Titanic. And then we finally docked in Barcelona.

Compared with Italian public transport, Barcelona´s is very nice. Actually, compared to any public transport, its systems are very nice. We took a bus from the port to the subway station where we had no trouble getting our tickets and finding the correct station to get off. The issues arrived after the subway. We´re standing on La Rambla as it´s getting dark with all our baggage attempting to find our hostel. And by now Cristina´s having more problems breathing after the exhertion of dragging luggage everywhere so I set off to find the hostel, leaving her to watch the bags on the side of the road. Now, I´m horrible with directions. If Josh was reading this (which I´m pretty sure he isn´t) he´d be laughing at this predicament. Seriously, when I first got my drivers permit I tried to drive to my grandparents and almost got lost. And I´ve been visting their house weekly since I was a baby. Cristina and I had an agreement. She does directions and I drive. Well, here I was running around trying to find our hostel before my best friend collapsed on the side of the road. All in all, I think I did pretty well. I asked for directions and once I got the actual address from Cristina, I managed to find it in about 15 minutes. So I run back to Cristina and we drag our bags down the street, down the alley, through the small plaza and arrive at our hostel. Yay!

After arriving and settling in we decide the first thing we need is medication for Cristina and food. So we wander off down La Rambla looking for the green cross that indicated a pharmacy and any open eatery. It was amazing. It´s like ten at night and everything is in full swing. I loved it. There´s flower vendors, random eateries, various shops and flags everywhere. But we found Cristina pharmacy where she purchased cough syrup and decongestant and then we found her some water and food before trekking back to the hostel.

Now by this time we´re fairly tired and we´re looking forward to showering and going to bed. Now we were already aware that we were sharing the room with 6 other people. What we weren´t aware of was that they´d be in bed asleep by 10:30 on a Friday night. So we walk into our room and the lights are off with 5 sleeping French guys, stripped down to their underwear because it´s so hot in the room. Wonderful. So we try to make as little noise as possible as we hunt for our pj´s and toiletries. And then I realize that one of them is on my bed. By now they´re half awake, staring at us blankly and rather confused. So Cristina tells them that they´re on my bed and they mumble something in French. Me, not wanting to cause any trouble just take the only other bed available. By now, they´ve realized what´s going on and they´re giggling. Not laughing, giggling. In their underwear. And then they start talking in French and Cristina and I have no clue what´s going on and before we know it, they all pull pants on and run out of the room. Too tired to care (and Cristina is now 30 minutes into her drowsy cough syrup) we just shrug, get changed and climb into our bed. And that was the first night!

The next morning…we wake up, eat some cereal, and shower. Pretty uneventful except that the shower water lasts for all of 14 second before you have to press the button again to get the water to run. Very water efficient. Very confusing if you´re still half asleep. But still! It was a better shower than most of the ones in Italy! After that, I went looking for Roxanne; a friend of a friend from back home who had so wonderfully offered to show us around Barcelona. She told us she´d meet us outside and that she was wearing and away game jersey. So I´m scouring the street out front looking for someone fitting that description and can´t find her. Well in Italy everything is an “ish” time so I´m thinking maybe it´s the same here. So I wait a bit longer. Then I get concerned. So I walk back inside (because I can only communicate with people via wifi) and learn that she´s found a hostel with the same name as ours down the road. So we both correct ourselves and find each other a few mintutes later standing frazzled in the street. I don´t know who was happier to find who. Cristina came down a few minutes later and we embarked on the days adventures!

Roxanne showed us the Boqueria which is this wonderful, busy marketplace right next to our hotel. There´s fresh fish, tapas, mushrooms, produce, meats and wonderful sights. Dad, you would have loved looking at all the seafood like the tuna and razor clams. It was very cool with some items I´d only ever seen on Iron Chef or Chopped. After that we headed down a winding variety of streets stopping at so many places I lost count. It was wonderful and Roxanne was super informative about everything which was great. We visited this wonderful gothic church, very reminiscent of the cathedral we visited in Milan. We saw some Roman ruins and we saw some government buildings for Barcelona and Catalunya and learned about the Catalan desire for independence. Cristina and I are now very aware of this and noticed the indpendence flag everywhere when we browsed the streets. After running around for an hour or two, Roxanne and her husband took us to tapas at this restaurant next to El Born. The food was lovely and I never would have ordered any of the dishes without their guidance. We had these roasted and salted sweet peppers which were amazing. Dad you would have loved them. And then this potato, egg, cheese and jamon dish that was wonderful as well. And then there were friend artichoke hearts with this sweet sauce which reminded me of all the times we´d get artichoke hearts in Montery. There were these garbanzo beans cooked with this salty mean and sprinkled with what I think was paprika which was strangely delicious. And lastly there was this roasted meat with mushrooms! So yummy.

After lunch, we looked at El Born a bit and then walked to the beach where we biked to Roxanne´s house. Barcelona has this system called “bicing” which is where they have bikes set up all over the city for residents and you pay a yearly fee and you can use them for 30 minutes at a time. It´s wonderful and apparently San Francisco just started it as well! Although I´m not sure who´s insane enough to bike up and down those hill in SF. But back to biking down the beach! I haven´t rode a bike in years. I suppose it´s true that the ability stays with you but just barely. Although part of my lack of talent might have been due to the fact that my feet could barely touch the ground. Rergardless of why, Cristina and Roxanne stayed ahead of me while I tried not to hit pedestrians, poles, trees and anything else that was in the 10 foot radius around me. And I succeeded!

At Roxanne´s place we had a lovely view of the beach and the city where she pointed out all the landmarks within view. It was magnificent. And then, after much effort, and to Cristina´s excitement, we bough tickets for the Barcelona futbol game. Although I have to admit, after hearing her talk about it for days, I was rather excited myself. Tickets in hand we departed for the stadium, buying our Barca gear along the way. Cristina opted for a jersey and I for a hat. At the stadium, it was impressive. It holds nearly one hundred thousand people and everyone is super exuberant. It was definitely an experience I will remember. And the soccer was amazing. I´ve never seen a team play that well together. It was spectacular. And Barca won! Scoring in the last minute in injury time. Although my favorite was watching everyone. Cristina was distracting as she mumbles critiques to the team every minute. Comes with playing soccer for 14 years I suppose but still, you´d think you wouldn´t critique Barcelona but that´s just me. The sound was astonishing when everyone got up and cheered or when everyone was pissed off. I also enjoyed hand signs. In America, holding up your pointer and middle finger means peace but here it means something totally different…so that was amusing as well!

After the game we trekked back to the subway and made it home to our room at the hostel where we were greeted by the pungent aroma of young teenage boys. Yuck. But the other guy rooming with us was really nice and from England so he was fun to talk to. After using wfi for a bit we headed to bed and attempted to sleep but were awakened numerous times by the teenage boys. The British guy finally told them to shut up and I think they did. But at around three in the morning the heat and the aroma got to be too much for me so I went to the laundry room where I´ve discovered there is a comfortable chair and I slept there in the cool air for a bit. I envied Cristina in her drugged up sleeping state. Thankfully we´re pretty sure they left this morning so hopefully we get different roommates tonight! All in all though, we´ve been pretty happy with our hostel experience. It´s rather clean and we´ve met a lot of interesting people from everywhere! It´ll be exciting once we leave Tuesday for London!

Oh and as a side note, I´ve apparently typed this entire blog use a tilde as an apostrophe.

Posted in Barcelona | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment