Once Chris and Kat left, I started sleeping a little more and relaxing. I felt like I hadn’t seen my friends in a while so I spent a lot of time during the week catching up with them which was nice! On Wednesday we had a field trip to the Imperial War museum and it was really cool. It was much bigger than we thought and there were a ton of different galleries that we spent the afternoon going through. My favorite section was the Holocaust exhibit, but it was obviously really sad to go through the whole thing. When we left the museum, the weather was beautiful, so we spent a little while walking around before heading back to the dorms for homework and laundry.
We left for Belgium early on Thursday morning and arrived in Brussels before noon. We walked to our hotel and got settled in before heading out for a walking tour. We planned to do the walking tour for a few hours and then split up to do our own thing, but we literally spent the whole afternoon walking around the entire city of Brussels. We stopped in a ‘traditional fast food’ restaurant for lunch. There were french fries, fried meat, hamburger-type things and a whole collection of fried foods. I decided on ‘frites’ and chicken nuggets—a meal that you can’t go wrong with :) It was delicious and they had so many different sauces for the frites, and the one I got was delicious. We ate outside—the weather was gorgeous—and enjoyed the sun. Toward the end of our meal, a homeless man came and sat at a table near us. Any time anyone would finish their food, he would yell at them in french and end up getting their left-overs. I have never seen someone eat in such a disgusting way in my life. We were all absolutely repulsed, so as soon as we were all finished eating we left. As I got up, he kept yelling things at me in French, so one of our trip ‘chaperones’ took my stuff over to him because he didn’t want me going over there. It was a very interesting experience to say the least!
After lunch, we continued walking around the city and hit the main square of Brussels. It is the cutest area and literally looks exactly like I’ve always pictured Europe. The square had a lot of outdoor cafes and restaurants and the square was enclosed by big, beautiful buildings. There were chocolate stores everywhere we looked, so we spent the day going in and out of the different ones obsessing about the chocolate and getting free samples :) Needless to say, the chocolate was amazing and we all became obsessed. We saw all of the major spots in Brussels, including the Royal Palace, Musical Instruments Museum and Orangery. When it got dark, we ended our tour at a bar near the main square that had over 2,000 different kinds of beer. We all tried a different kind before heading out to get dinner. We had dinner at a really touristy restaurant where the food wasn’t great, but I actually got some decent beef! We decided to get waffles for dessert. We got them at a little cart and took them to the middle of the square where we sat down and ate them. It was amazing! We decided to go back to the bar for a little while before heading back to the hotel to go to bed.
On Friday morning, we got up early and left the hotel to go to the European Commission. We had a meeting for about two hours where we learned all about the European Union and how it functions. None of us knew anything about it, so it was actually really interesting to learn about it. When we finished with our lecture, we walked around the whole political area and went to the European Parliament building. We couldn’t really go anywhere else because there was a meeting for all of the representatives from each country, so a lot of the areas were blocked off. The Parliament building had a room that had a ton of free stuff, so we went in and got posters, pamphlets, postcards, etc. After the Parliament building, we split up and a group of us decided to get lunch in the area, in a place called Luxembourg Square. We ate at an American-style bar called Fat Boys and literally had the best hamburgers that we’ve had in months. Needless to say, we were all really happy with our meal. When we finished, we took a bus to the main square and went in and out of all of the different shops, just hanging out. We went back to the hotel to drop things off and rest for a little while before going back to Luxembourg Square for happy hour. We left the square after a few hours and went back to the main square to get waffles for dinner and check out more bars in the area. After a little while, we were all pretty tired and went back to the hotel to go to bed.
On Saturday morning we checked out of the hotel and left to go to Brugge. The train there took about an hour and it was ridiculously busy. We ended up having to sit on the floor barely able to move, but at least we made it to Brugge! When we got there, we walked around for a little while and fell in love with it. It’s an adorable little town with shops, cafes and canals everywhere. We got lunch at an outdoor cafe in the center of town before walking around the canals. We were going to do a canal tour, but the lines were ridiculous, so we settled for walking around them :) We went through a big street/ antique fair that was really cute. There were horses and carriages all over the town and I couldn’t get over how cute it was. The weather got pretty cold and we weren’t really prepared for it since it had been beautiful for the past few days, so we decided to go inside a cafe to get Belgian hot chocolate. It was seriously the most delicious hot chocolate I’ve ever had and the portions were huge—I couldn’t even finish it and that’s saying a lot! When we finished it was time to catch the train back to Brussels so that we could take the Eurostar to London. Two girls were late, so we ended up missing the train that we were supposed to take because we all had to wait for them. We were all really annoyed, but luckily made it back to Brussels in time to catch our Eurostar. When we got back to London we were all exhausted from literally walking around for three days, so we went to bed once we got back to our rooms.
Belgium was amazing and I absolutely loved it. I went with a really great group of people and we loved our ‘chaperones’. They were really nice and knew so much about Belgium, so showed us all around but let us do our own thing as well. Obviously the food was amazing and I don’t know how I’ll ever eat normal chocolate again! I bought a lot to bring home for everyone :)
On Sunday, I couldn’t even sleep in since I’m used to waking up early. It was a gorgeous day, so I decided to get up and walk around London for a little while. I left the dorms and wandered around for a few hours before getting Subway (finally!) and heading back to the dorms. I ran into a few of my friends and they were going to Hyde Park to hang out, so I joined them and went to the park until it started to get colder (around 4). It was so nice sitting in the sun in London (for the first time) and people watch. I couldn’t believe how many people were in the park throughout the day! We went to dinner near our dorms at night and literally stayed there for like three hours talking. Overall, it was a really nice and relaxing day!
I’ve had a lot of homework and things to take care of during the past few days, so i’ve spent a lot of time working on that. Bryanna comes tomorrow and we’ll have a busy few days trying to get everything in! We’re going to a Taylor Swift concert tomorrow night and I’m so excited!
On Sunday morning I went to meet Kat & Chris at the airport when their flight got in. They were pretty tired, but decided not to nap in the afternoon so that their sleep schedule could get as normal as possible ASAP. After checking into the hotel and relaxing for a little while, we decided that we would go sight-seeing for a little while. We went down to Piccadilly Circus and walked to Trafalgar Square, where there was a big festival celebrating Saint Patricks Day. There were a ton of people, a band, food/souvenir stands and our personal favorite, an old woman dancing and juggling. It was a little overwhelming there, so we only stayed for a little while, but Kat definitely enjoyed a little bit of Ireland in London :) We headed toward the Thames River and the London Eye—we decided to ride the ferris wheel. I still hadn’t gotten the chance to ride it, so it was perfect! We ended up being on the eye at sunset, which was really cool because we got to see the views in both the night and day. It was so pretty! We walked along the river and headed back toward their hotel for dinner. We ended up eating at a little Italian restaurant down nearby and it was delicious—good to know for my next month and a half! They were exhausted after dinner, and I had a paper to write, so we went our own ways at that point.
I met them at their hotel on Monday morning and we went to the Tower of London. I hadn’t done that yet either and it was really cool. We got to see a lot of the armor from various Kings—it was really interesting to see how big some of them were, and how small others were. We wandered in and out of the different buildings and Kat & I naturally liked the Jewel Room the best. We got to see all of the crowns from the Kings and they were beautiful—so many diamonds and jewels were on them. Needless to say, we were obsessed with them. After the Tower of London, we went to get lunch at a pub before I had to leave for class. When I left, they planned to go to Westminster Abbey, but when they got there it was closed for a special event. After asking around, they learned that the Queen was supposed to be arriving sometime in the next 15 minutes for the event, so obviously, they decided that they would wait. Sure enough, they got to see the Queen arriving to Westminster Abbey. I am so jealous; I have been here for 2 1/2 months and have yet to see any royalty, and after being here for about 24 hours, they just casually ran into the Queen! After class, I met them at the National Theatre, where we waited for about 2 hours to get tickets to see Frankenstein that night. After dinner we saw the show, which was really well done, but I had no idea how messed up the whole story is. It was an interesting experience to say the least.
On Tuesday, I had class until 1:20, so Kat & Chris decided that they would do a bus tour of London that morning. They did a hop-on-hop-off tour that Bob, Margie and I did last week, and because they didn’t get the chance to tour Westminster Abbey on Monday, they decided that they would get off there and do a tour. They ended up getting to my dorm around 3:30, so we decided that we would go eat a quick lunch/dinner before catching our train to Paris. Our train got into Paris around 9:30 and after we checked into our hotel, we decided to go get crepes (obviously one of the first things necessary in Paris). We all got banana and nutella crepes and loved them—it was Chris’ first crepe! We were pretty exhausted, so called it a night once we were done eating.
We got up on Wednesday morning and went to Notre Dame. We walked through the church before getting on another hop-on-hop-off bus tour. This tour was pretty cool because there were three different lines, and if you took them all then you would literally see all of Paris. We started on the line that went to the most popular attractions— Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, etc. We got off at Arc de Triumph and after figuring out how to get to it, walked up to the top. I didn’t get to do that last time I went to Paris (and didn’t even know you could), so that was really cool. You could literally see everything from the top, but it was pretty foggy, so that made it more difficult. Once we got down, we got lunch and went to the most famous macaroon place in Paris that I’ve heard a lot about. We got a few and decided that we would share them all, tasting all of the different flavors (there were so many different kinds). They looked delicious and we couldn’t wait to eat them. We wandered around the area for a little while before getting back on the bus to see the rest of Paris. When we got on the bus, we decided to taste our first macaroon, only to find out that they gave us the wrong box :( We no longer got any chocolate or lemon, and were stuck with other random ones, including a Black Licorice one (and we all HATE black licorice). Needless to say, we were all very sad about it.
Our next stop was the Eiffel Tower. We walked up to the first level and hung out there for a while, looking at the views, watching a movie about the Eiffel Tower and Gustave Eiffel and wandering through the gift shops. We took an elevator up higher and wandered around up there. I love being on the Eiffel Tower and am so glad that I got to do it again! When we got down from the tower, we got back on our bus and decided to switch to a different line to see more of Paris, like the Bastille, etc. By the time we finished that line, the bus tours were closed for the day, so we went back to the hotel for a little while before going to dinner nearby.
On Thursday we got up and went to the Louvre. I’m still overwhelmed by how huge the Louvre is and can’t imagine seeing everything inside. We saw the major attractions inside—it was so crowded and hard to get close to things! We wandered around the smaller exhibits for a while too, taking pictures throughout our entire visit. After the Louvre, we decided to get on the final bus line and see Moulin Rouge on our way to Sacré Coeur Basilica. We walked to up to the Basilica and wandered through the church. There were some street performers near the church, so we sat on the steps and watched them for a little while. We headed down from the church to a major touristy area. We got crepes for lunch and sat at a park to eat them before wandering through several of the souvenir shops. We went back to the Notre Dame area (which was near our hotel as well) and did some more souvenir shopping before getting dinner and catching our train back to London.
On Friday, we planned to do the outdoor markets and if we had time, go through the parks and just wander around, but it was rainy the whole day, so our plans had to change. We started our day off at Harrods and wandered around the different levels and shops inside. We had lunch in a kids “Treehouse” restaurant which was actually really delicious and there was SO much food. It was also really crowded there, so after wandering around for a little while, we decided to go somewhere else. Unfortunately it was still raining, so we got a cab and asked him to take us to the nearest movie theater. We ended up at a theater that was showing Kings Speech like 10 minutes later, which was perfect because I’ve heard really good things about it and had wanted to see it. It was so good and I really like it—it was cool getting to see all of the London areas in the movie and actually know where they were! When the movie was over, the weather had cleared up, so we went to the Covent Gardens market and went through the whole thing (lots of shops and stands) before getting dinner in the area. I went back to Kat & Chris’ hotel and hung out with them for a while before coming back to my dorm. Since they were leaving the next morning, I said goodbye to them that night. It was sad to say goodbye, but we had a really good week and I had a lot of fun hanging out with them!
This weekend has been pretty low-key. I’ve been catching up on sleep and with friends! Yesterday after relaxing in the morning, I went back to Covent Gardens and hung out there for the afternoon/evening with some of my friends. We just stayed in last night and hung out instead of going out. Today has basically been the same and I’m just updating pictures/my blog and getting ready for classes tomorrow!
Bob & Margie arrived in London on Saturday afternoon and after problems with hotels and getting in contact, I was finally able to find them (and randomly appeared in their hotel room). We decided that we would go see Jersey Boys that night, and headed to the theater district to wander around and have dinner. We ate at a pub right across from the theater and it had great food—probably one of the best meals I’ve gotten in London. We had perfect timing and went directly to the show when we were done, with a few minutes to spare. We had great seats and were able to see everything really clearly. The show was amazing and it was really interesting to learn about The Four Seasons and all of the problems that they faced together. Although I knew most of their songs, I had no idea that they were all sung by the same group, so everything was new to me. We loved it and I would definitely like to go see it again sometime!
We got to sleep in a little on Sunday and didn’t have any major plans for the day. We headed over to my dorms and spent a little time there before going to Kensington High Street for lunch. We ate at a little French cafe which was good, but the service wasn’t great. We left lunch and walked around Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park for a while before catching a bus to Stansted airport. We were catching a flight to Italy on Monday morning at 6:10 am (with a final boarding call at 5:40), so we decided to spend the night at a hotel close to the airport.
It was brutal getting up so early on Monday, but definitely worth it. Getting through the airport was painless (despite the fact that it was ridiculously busy for 5 am) and the flight was really easy. We were at our hotel (across from the Colosseum) in Rome by 11 am and after checking in, went to lunch. Lunch was amazing (as per usual in Italy) and really close to our hotel. We got a driver for the afternoon and he gave us a tour of the city for three hours. We literally got to see everything in Rome and got out at the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and a few churches. We decided to have dinner at the hotel and once our tour ended, had a little bit of time to rest before dinner. Dinner was awesome and since they noticed it was Bobbys birthday earlier in the day when they saw his passport, they played happy birthday to him and put the dessert in front of him with a big candle/sparkler. It was really cool—and spending the day in Italy wasn’t a bad way to spend a birthday either!
On Tuesday we drove into Florence and struggled getting out of Rome and into Florence. The maps are terrible, the streets don’t make sense, there are no lanes and the drivers are all insane. There are so many stupid mopeds everywhere, and the people who drive them aren’t afraid of anything. Needless to say, it was really exciting when we finally made it to the hotel in Florence in the afternoon. We went to get a “snack” (which in my case was pizza) and then wandered around the streets surrounding our hotel. There were lots of shops and stands everywhere, so we spent a while wandering around (and ended up getting lost before making it back to the hotel). We went to dinner that our hotel recommended and it was so good. I love meals in Italy because it’s more of an event than it is anywhere else—you stay at the restaurants for a long time and just enjoy it. It’s much more relaxing than it is at home.
Wednesday was a big day—we planned to see the major things in Florence all day and then drive back into Rome in the evening. We got up and went to a church directly across from our hotel, Santa Maria Novella, and spent a while wandering around in there and learning about Florence’s history. From there, we went to the Duomo, where we went inside the museum and Baptistry. We walked through several streets in Florence (getting Gelato along the way, of course) and made our way to the Uffizi gallery, though we didn’t plan to go inside. There were statues and fountains surrounding the museum (with a replica of David), so we spent sometime around there before going down to the Arno River. We went back up to the Academia so that we could see the real David. We were all amazed by the David because it’s HUGE. I had no idea that he is 17 feet tall, so we stared at him in awe for a while. Once we left the Academia, we went back to the hotel to start our trek back to Rome. We decided to go to dinner in Tuscany and literally spent an hour driving around in the countryside trying to find a restaurant—apparently they don’t eat there. Bobby saw a sign for a restaurant, so we went down a terrifying (basically one-way) road in the dark with a car following right behind us. Margie and I thought that we were going to die, but we actually made it out okay. We talked to a woman who told us (at 6:30pm) that we were really early for dinner and if we waited 30-45 minutes we could probably find one that would be open. We drove around and still failed to find one, so went back the way that we came from. We made it to one right at 7 (when it was opening) and were literally the first people inside. The food was delicious and we definitely chose the right restaurant— we all loved what we got to eat. After dinner, we finished our drive into Rome and struggled to find the hotel. We stopped in a hotel and the man told Margie that we were at least 20 minutes away from the Colosseum (and our hotel), so we got a cab driver to lead the way for us. We ended up being less than five minutes away, so I think that hotel worker needs a new job. We finally made it to bed around 1 and had another long day ahead of us on Thursday.
We got up on Thursday and went to the Vatican. The museum is so much bigger than I expected, and we spent forever trying to make our way to the Sistine Chapel. It was well worth the maze though because it was incredible. I’ve learned about it in school, but actually getting to see it in real life was really cool. Bobby had a guidebook with him and read what all of the different scenes meant. We spent a long time in there before following the guidebooks advice and sneaking out with a tour group through a special exit that led directly to Saint Peter’s Basilica, saving us a 30 minute walk (thanks Rick Steve). The church is giant and there are so many details and different things to look at throughout the building—it was amazing. After the Vatican, we went to lunch in an area called Campo de’Fiori, which has a bunch of little restaurants, shops and an outdoor market. We sat on the patio with the sun on us, so I actually got hot for the first time outside! After lunch we went to the Colosseum and wandered through it. It was massive and really cool to see in person as well. We had a flight on Thursday night, so headed out of Rome and ate dinner near the airport. Our flight was easy again, but it took us over an hour to get through customs in London (at midnight!). We finally got to our hotel and into bed around 1:45—needless to say, we were all exhausted.
Luckily we got to sleep in on Friday morning before catching a bus into London. We got into the city in the early afternoon and checked into our hotel/ dropped off our bags before getting lunch at a pub. We did a bus tour in the afternoon and got to see all of the major things in London (Westmister Abbey, House of Parliament, the Eye, the Thames, Buckingham Palace, etc.) during our three hours on the bus. We went to Harrods, the biggest department store in London (with all of the high-end stores and ridiculous prices) to see it and have dinner. We ate at a great Tapas Bar and all of the food was amazing. We wandered through the rest of the food/candy before getting gelato (also in Harrods) and heading back to the hotel.
Bob & Margie left early this morning which was sad, but it was great getting to spend the week with them. It was so much fun getting to tour Italy/ London together and show them where I live/ introduce them to some of my friends. After saying goodbye, I spent the rest of the day organizing my life- laundry, cleaning, homework, catching up with friends, and now blogging- to get ready for the arrival of Kat & Chris tomorrow! It’s definitely nice to have family time in the middle of being away :)
This week has been insane—which is why I’m just now getting around to update my blog. We had midterms this week and I actually had a lot of work and two midterms to study for; I went to the library here for the first time and it was a really weird experience! Luckily I didn’t have any field trips this week, so I got to spend Wednesday (after one midterm) studying for my next. Overall, I think both of my midterms went really well and I felt confident with them. Once I was finally done, I spent yesterday afternoon relaxing and looking forward to the week of spring break (and Italy with mom & dad) ahead of me.
Yesterday my roommate got a lot of bug bites, so fearing the worst, arranged for our room to get sprayed and searched by an exterminator. They ended up coming at 10 this morning and I had to be out of the room until about 2pm. Although most of my friends have already left for their trips, a few were still around and we planned to go out together today (which was a nice change because all week I thought everyone would be gone & I would be spending the day alone). We decided to spend the day shopping and so far, spring break is off to a great start (despite the fact that when I got back a little while ago, my room was completed ripped apart and a huge mess because of the bed bug search)!
Last week I left for Scotland on Thursday afternoon—we took a 4 ½ hour train ride to Edinburgh, and it ended up being over an hour late. Why were we late? Because a swan made its way onto the train tracks and they had to call someone to move it. It was really weird, haha. We were pretty bummed because we didn’t make it to Edinburgh until about 7:30, so it was already dark out and most things were closed (it was the only time that we got there before heading up to the Highlands on Friday morning).
We met our tour guide for the weekend the next morning and he was great. He was really nice and knew SO much about Scotland and it’s history. We basically spent the next three days on and off of a bus, getting to see all of the major sights. It was the most gorgeous place I’ve been and completely fell in love with it. On Friday, we drove through Stirling and walked up to the monument of William Wallace—it was up a hill and had the most amazing view of the city. A little while later, we stopped at a rest stop and saw an old famous bull named Hamish—he was actually gross and disgusting, but the tour guide had told us that he was one of the most gorgeous men in Scotland and was only 18 years old, so he was in our age range and we would all fall in love with him—naturally we were all very surprised to drive up to a bull. We traveled through Glencoe and got out at several different spots in order to take picture and see all of the different views. We went through Fort William, but the weather was too foggy and grey, so we didn’t get the chance to see Ben Nevis. After several stops, we made it to Fort Augustus, where we checked into our hostel for the next two nights. We ended our evening by seeing a little show about traditional Scottish life in the olden days and learning how to wear kilts. It was really interesting!
On Saturday, we got up and got ready to spend the day exploring the Isle of Skye. Our first stop was absolutely gorgeous—it was on the top of a mountain overlooking a loch. Since it was still pretty early, there was a ton of fog and it was so pretty. We left there and headed to Dunvegan Castle—the movie Made of Honor was filmed there. It was really pretty, but is closed during the winter months, so we didn’t get to go inside. That was our last stop before making it to the Isle of Skye, which was also beautiful. We stopped at a waterfall and all wanted to get closer to it, but since the weather was rainy the whole time, the dirt and brush were soaking wet. I was just wearing tennis shoes, but decided to walk through the muddy puddles anyway—soaking my feet and getting my shoes so wet & dirty. It was freezing, but I didn’t really care and by the time we had lunch, my feet were dry again.
We ate lunch in a little town in Isle of Skye and our tour guide told us that when we were done eating, we needed to get dessert at a traditional Scottish bakery that “is the best in the world”. Naturally, I needed to try shortbread from Scotland, but was actually so disappointed in it—Margies is WAY better.
After lunch, we stopped at Trotternish ridge, which is a huge hill that has a big narrow rock standing straight up on it. It was freezing and rainy, so after debating if it was worth hiking up the hill to get a picture of the rock, I decided I’d quickly go up, take a picture, and come back down. On the way up, every step I took soaked my feet and by the time I made it to the top, my feet were dripping wet. Once up there, I decided it wasn’t even worth it, and after my picture decided to book it down the mountain. I didn’t care where I stepped because I couldn’t possibly get my feet/ bottom half of my pants any wetter, so I wasn’t looking where I was going. I ended up slipping on something and literally falling down the hill. My entire lower body was soaking wet and we still had about 5 hours before getting back to the hostel and dry clothes. It was so uncomfortable, but hilarious at the same time. This is just another example of why I don’t do nature.
We stopped at Kilt Rock next, and I fell in love. It was an area with a big waterfall and behind it was a rock that looked like the folds in a kilt. It was really pretty (like everything else in Scotland), so we spent a while overlooking the water and taking pictures. After that, we stopped at a huge mountain that overlooked pretty much all of Isle of Skye and had an hour to run around and take pictures, etc. My friend Lindy and I spent the trip fascinated by the sheep and were determined to touch some and take pictures with them, so obviously, we were really excited to see sheep here and immediately began running through the hills in order to catch them. After literally running for 15 minutes and making it to them (they were a lot further than it looked, and we had to go up and down several hills), we got close to them. Unfortunately they didn’t want to hang out with us and ran further away. We decided that we were defeated and took pictures from far away :(. We did get some awesome pictures of the view though and spent the rest of our time trying to get the timing right while taking jumping pictures!
We got back to the hostel a little while before dinner and took a walk down to the Loch to see the view in the evening. The town we were staying in was pretty small and didn’t have much to do, so we stayed at the hostel. Luckily they had a bar in the hostel and Saturday was karaoke night, so we spent the night in there listening to terrible performances (haha). All three nights in Scotland were early nights for us and I went to bed earlier on the trip than I have in months (before midnight).
On Sunday, we needed to head back to Edinburgh to catch a train at 5pm. The first stop of the day was to the river and the little cottage that inspired J. M. Barrie to write Peter Pan. We drove the length of Loch Ness and heard so much about the “monsters” and everything going on with the Loch—I had NO idea how massive it is! Along the way back, we stopped in Inverness to take pictures at the River Ness and do souvenir shopping. Our next stop was Culloden Moor, the site of the last pitched battle on British soil. We stopped at a place called Ruthven Barracks, which is the best preserved of the four barracks built after the Jacobite rising. It was really cool, but we didn’t have much time to spend there because we needed to catch our train.
Overall, my trip to Scotland was probably one of the best trips I’ve been on so far. It was gorgeous and we got so much ground covered in the short time that we got to spend there. Our tour was literally the best way that we could have possibly seen Scotland, and I never would have had such an amazing trip had I tried to plan it on my own. It was the first place I’ve been that I wasn’t ready to leave after 3 days and could seriously spend weeks there. It was awesome getting to see Scotland, which i’ve heard so much about for years. I fell in love and want to go back as soon as possible!
I’m so excited for the next few weeks—Bob & Margie come to London tomorrow and we’re going to Italy from Monday through Thursday. They leave on Saturday and then Chris & Kat arrive on Sunday. We’re going to Paris for two days while they’re here and spending the rest of their time in London! I can’t wait for two weeks of family time :)
Last Thursday I left for Barcelona around noon and was prepared to travel alone all day. I gave myself a ridiculous amount of extra time at the bus station and airport to ensure that I would make my various forms of transportation. My bus was set to leave the station at 2:15pm, so at 12:30, I caught the tube and began my journey. I was sitting at the gate at 1 and sat around while buses came every 20 minutes (so all in all, I watched three come and go before I was set to leave). My bus finally came and as soon as I got on it I fell asleep; i slept until we were about an hour into the trip and realized that we were in a lot of traffic. Once we had spent our hour and 48 minutes on the bus (and reached the time that we were set to arrive), my bus driver decided to take an alternate route to the airport, and as he got off the freeway, all of the traffic cleared. I assume that it was basically the same length and we would be to the airport in the next few minutes. After about 10 minutes, he told us that if all went well and we didn’t hit any more traffic, we should arrive at the airport in 45 minutes—which took us to 15 minutes before my flight left. I got a little panicked and asked him what happens if we miss our flight. He told me that since it wasn’t their fault, it was the traffic, there was nothing they could do. Obviously I began to freak out and didn’t know what to do; it was my first time traveling alone since being in Europe and also my first time flying since being here. I had NO idea how anything worked. I started crying and texted my mom to figure out what to do.
Sure enough, we arrived at the airport at 4:50, with my flight scheduled to leave at 5:15pm. I still had to go through a passport check, security, and make my way to the gate, so as soon as I got off the bus I began sprinting. I made it through the passport check and had to anxiously wait in line for security. Once I finally made it through the line, I grabbed all of my stuff without getting it together and started running again. When I found the departure screens, my flight said that it was on “Final Call Boarding”, so again, I began to panic and run. I saw the sign for my gate and it didn’t look like it would be too far, so I was more hopeful; little did I know, it couldn’t have been any further from where I was at the time. I ran through the entire airport (faster than i’ve ever run in my life) yelling “excuse me!!!” to everyone in my way. I had to run (and by run I really mean sprint) for about 15 minutes, through never-ending hallways and up and down FOUR different sets of stairs. I didn’t think I even had a chance of making it but wanted to try anyway. Luckily, my flight ended up being a little delayed when leaving, so I made it to the gate with just enough time. I couldn’t breathe, was crying, and sweating like crazy, but I made it!
I slept for the entire flight and was so excited when I finally reached Gerona, even though that meant I still had an hour and 15 minute bus ride ahead of me. I got on the bus and we finally made it to the Barcelona airport where I was meeting Bryanna and Gianna (or so I thought). I wandered around the bus station for a while before realizing that I wasn’t at an airport at all—luckily I put international minutes on my phone, so I called Bryanna and we decided that I should just take a cab to the airport (which ended up being 20 minutes away). Once I arrived at the airport, I FINALLY made it to Bryanna and literally started crying because I was so relieved and exhausted. We still had to take a 30 minute bus back to Barcelona, before taking the Metro to her apartment. After twelve hours of traveling, a trip on the tube, three buses, an airplane and the metro, I was finally there!
We ate dinner around midnight and got ready because we were going out for our first night in Barcelona. We went to a club on the beach called Opium and it was really fun—it was SO exciting to see the beach for the first time in months!! We didn’t get back to the apartment until pretty late and slept in the next morning. Bryanna’s friend Bianca and her friend Jordan arrived on Friday around noon, so we got ready and headed out to explore Barcelona.
We walked around for a long time exploring the area around her apartment before heading to a huge church called Sagrada Familia. It’s a gorgeous building designed by an artist named Gaudi that is still in the process of being built. Apparently he died before it was able to be completed on the outside, so the funds to finish it are only coming from people who pay to go inside of the church. We decided to go inside and waited in line for about an hour, but it was totally worth it. The church is huge inside and has so much stained glass that you can’t even see from the outside. The stained glass is gorgeous and gives the whole church a beautiful glow. Gaudi’s art is totally different than anything I’ve ever seen before—it’s a strange mix between modern and gothic art. After the church, we continued to wander around Barcelona and ended up eating lunch at a restaurant called Fresc Co—it was basically Spain’s souplantation, so needless to say, we were all pretty happy.
Once we all finished eating, we met up with Bryannas roommate and one of her friends who was visiting to go to a place called Park Guell (which also happens to be a work by Gaudi). We hiked up steep streets and got lost a few times before making make our way to the top, but once again, it was worth it. The park was at the highest point in Barcelona, so we got a gorgeous view of the entire city. There were so many cool buildings and structures, so we spent a really long time up there taking pictures and staring at the view. It got late, so we decided to head back to Bryannas apartment for a “siesta” (apparently they really do them in Spain..) before going out to dinner for Tapas. We had our tapas (which are delicious) and had gelato before going back to the apartment to get ready to go out to a bar called Chupitos for the night.
On Saturday, we got up and went to the beach again; it was wonderful. The weather was so nice the whole time we were in Barcelona and the sun was out; such a nice change from London! We got sandwiches at a famous place called Bode B—it was literally one of the best sandwiches i’ve ever had, but spilled it all over my clothes and purse :(. We walked along the beach for over an hour and (again) took a bunch of pictures. After the beach, we went to a place called Montjuic, which is another huge hill that overlooks Barcelona. It has a giant, gorgeous art gallery at the top and several fountains surrounding it. On our way up there, we stopped at an Arabic exhibition and the Caixa Forum Roof. The Arabic exhibition was basically just a big museum (and we didn’t have much time to spend there), but the Caixa Forum Roof was awesome. Like everything else we went to, it had amazing view of the city and the roof wasn’t flat, it was wavy and so cool. After going on the roof and making our way through the museum, we went to the biggest fountain on Montjuic. There was a “Magic Fountain” show and it was amazing—we happened to be there a Disney theme night. There were so many different songs that they played and so many different colors and things during the show. We all fell in love and were obsessed with it.
After the show, we headed back to the apartment for another siesta and to make dinner. We had pasta and vegetables; it was nice getting to use a kitchen again! We went out again on Saturday night—before we left for Barcelona, Bryanna messaged Bianca, Gianna and I telling us to bring sequins because she wanted Saturday to be “sequin night”—obviously we were all really excited. So naturally, we were all sequined out and first went to a cool bar called Oveja Negra, followed by a giant club called Razzmatazz.
Sunday was my final day so we decided to hit the major touristy attractions—we went to a place called Placa Catalunya, which is basically the major city center in Barcelona. It was pretty terrifying there though, because there were literally thousands of pigeons everywhere. Needless to say, we didn’t spent a ton of time there. Aside from the birds, it was pretty because there were a ton of little fountains and statues all over. We moved on to an area called Las Ramblas. It’s a huge street that has a ton of little shops and stands full of souvenirs and typical “Barcelona foods”. As we walked down the street, we ate baguettes with Spanish Ham inside, and sat on a huge fountain to finish it and people watch :) After walking around for another hour or so and getting souvenirs, we went into a restaurant that had chocolate churros. There were three churros with a mug of hot chocolate—it was literally melted chocolate. They were delicious and it was the perfect way to end my trip to Barcelona.
Bryanna walked me to the bus station (which was about 30 minutes from her apartment) and I gave myself more than enough time to get to the airport. It literally took me less than ten minutes to get off of the bus, through security, and to my gate once I arrived at the airport, so I had a few hours to kill and nothing to do. It was nice though—very relaxing to know that I was where I needed to be with plenty of time. The flight was painless and I landed in London at 10:30 and needed to go through customs before catching a bus to Kensington. Naturally, I went through the wrong customs line (UK residents only), without realizing until I reached the front and had to go through the entire non-citizen line too. After my travel day on Thursday though, I was just happy to have made it back easily and didn’t even mind! I caught my bus on time and spent an hour and a half on that before getting a cab and arriving at my dorm. Overall, my trip was so much fun and definitely worth all of the travel hassle. It was so exhausting because we were constantly on the go and didn’t get much sleep, but I got to see so much and really experience life in Barcelona!
I’ve been exhausted all week and am still working on catching up on sleep, but failing. On Tuesday night, we all went to the Ice Bar because Taylors family was visiting and it was her sisters last night. It was so cool, but I don’t think that I ever need to go back there. When we got there, they put these huge coats on us and led us into a giant rom that was literally all ice. It didn’t feel as cold as you’d expect, despite the fact that it was -5 degrees in there. We got to spend forty minutes in there and the time seriously flew—it didn’t feel like we had been there for more than 5 minutes when they were telling us we had less than 5 minutes left! It was funny because there was a countdown on the wall and we all felt like we were waiting for New Years or something to happen.
I had two field trips again today and it was the longest day of my life. For British Art and Architecture we went to the National Portrait Gallery and spent two hours listening to my professor talk about a few paintings—it was pretty brutal. I wish that she would just allow us to look at things on our own for at least some of our time, but instead, lectures the whole time. We were relieved once that was over and headed to our second field trip for History of London, hoping that it would be better. This week, however, we didn’t go to a museum or anything and literally spent over two hours walking around outside in pouring rain and 40 degree weather. None of us could even focus on what he was saying because we were all numb and ready to go back inside. Three o’clock literally couldn’t have come faster today and we all spent the next few hours defrosting before dinner.
I’m not going out again tonight and have spent my time working on homework, doing laundry and getting my life together. I’m leaving to go to Scotland tomorrow afternoon and am so excited! I’m going with my university and we have a full itinerary—we get to go to so many different places and experience way more than I ever could on my own in one weekend. The process of getting there should be much smoother as well since I’ll be in a group with tour guides :)
This week has flown by already. I can’t believe that it’s Thursday morning and I still haven’t updated my blog. Last weekend was pretty relaxing and I had a lot of time to catch up on sleep (for some reason I’ve been really tired recently—no matter how much I sleep!). All week I thought that I would have a lot of free time, but I have been so busy with field trips, homework assignments (weird..I know), trip planning (Italy with my parents for Spring Break is officially booked, and so is Paris with Chris & Kat when they visit!!) and trying to hang out with everyone that I literally haven’t had any alone time.
Last weekend was a really nice break from traveling, and the rain was a perfect excuse to relax inside. A lot of people went to Amsterdam for the weekend, so there weren’t a ton of us here which was pretty different. We spent a lot of time shopping throughout the weekend and went to Londons Westfield Mall on Friday. It’s one of the biggest malls i’ve ever seen and we literally spent ALL day there. When we first walked in we were in an area called “The Village”, where they had some really expensive stores like Jimmy Choo, Burberry (LOVE), Prada, etc. We knew we were in for a dangerous day and were so excited to shop. Miraculously, I ended up leaving the mall with nothing more than an ipod case (which I actually needed beforehand). It was a really fun day though and it’s so interesting to see the different fashion between England (London in particular) and America. We were pretty exhausted when we got back and just went out to a local pub for a low-key night.
On Saturday the plan was to get up and go to Harrods and wander around the carious streets surrounding it before deciding what to do for the rest of the day. We were ready to go when my friend Michelle came over with a really bad ear-infection and asked if we would go to urgent care with her. Of course we agreed to go and since it was mid-day on Saturday, it was packed; we ended up spending about 5 hours there. We got home in time to relax for a little while before going out to dinner. As per usual, we ended up a whole foods again (it was my third time that week) and I had mexican food (…again). I was pretty exhausted that night, so a few of us stayed in and watched movies while everyone else went out.
Sunday was a rainy day and we all had a lot of work, sleep and blogs to catch up on. We went to breakfast in the morning and walked around our area until the afternoon. It was a quiet day and we all took care of what we needed to do before going out for dinner at a restaurant nearby.
Monday was just a normal day, with classes and hanging out. Since it was Valentine’s Day, we all decided to hang out together for some chocolate and strawberries—such a romantic night haha.
For my religion class we need to visit a place of worship (different from anything we’ve ever experienced) and write a paper on it. On Tuesday, my friends Gina and Danny and I decided to go visit a Mosque. It was quite the experience. When we walked in the man working at the front desk agreed to show us around, but handed Gina and I headscarves, telling us that we needed to wear them. We didn’t even know how to put them on, so we actually had to ask for his help. He then led us to the “Women’s Prayer Room” and once we entered, we saw several different groups of women sitting in groups reading the Quran. They all looked at us immediately and began speaking within their groups. One of the clumps told us to go over to them, so we did, and they started asking questions about what we were doing. We explained that we were in a class and wanted to see what a Mosque was like and other groups of women began coming over. They all spoke to each other in Arabic before leading us out of the room and back to the man who had been showing us around. I have never felt so out of place in my life! The man ended up showing us the rest of the Mosque and explained the religion to us; he gave us several little books and pamphlets on Islam that we could take home with us. He was really nice and our visit ended up being very interesting, but we clearly didn’t fit in and felt so uncomfortable in the beginning.
Yesterday I had another day with two field trips, one for my History of London class and another for my British Art and Architecture class. Although I really like that we get to go out and experience London in a way I wouldn’t otherwise see, those days are completely exhausting. I had to leave for my first field trip (back to the Tate Britain) at about 9 am and once it ended at 11:50, I needed to go straight to the next museum (the Victoria & Albert Museum) to be ready to start at 1pm. We’d already been to the Tate Britain and it was a really long morning, so none of us were really looking forward to it, but it ended up being better than it was the first time. I just wish that my professor didn’t insist on doing a guided tour the entire time and would give us the option to walk around and see things on our own (at least for a little while). The V & A Museum was really cool, but my professor for that class only let us look in one section and there was SO much more to see. Luckily, it’s walking-distance from our dorms, so I definitely plan to go back and explore the whole museum.
Last night I spent a lot of time getting organized and figuring out logistics for trips. I’m leaving for Barcelona today to visit Bryanna! I can’t wait to go, but I’m also a little nervous because I have to travel there on my own—it’s going to be a long day, but it will be so worth it! Two of her friends from school are going to be there this weekend too, so it’s going to be a big touristy weekend. I get back to London late Sunday night and I know that I will be completely drained. I’ll try to update again early next week!
Last week was pretty basic—for the first time I had some homework to do, so I actually began to feel like I was in school and not just on a long vacation. It was a weird feeling, but quickly went away once Wednesday came. We had another History of London field trip and went to the Museum of London Docklands. It’s basically just a huge museum with all of London’s history as a port. There was a ton of information throughout the museum with a lot of artifacts from hundreds of years ago. We took a lot of pictures in the museum and got yelled at for getting into a huge basket to take a picture (there were no signs or anything) and also for using flash on our cameras. It’s pretty common that we get chastised everywhere we go despite the fact that we never actually do anything wrong..so we just added it to our list.
After the field trip, we were done for the day, so a few of us decided to stay in central London and go to the area with Westminster Abbey, the House of Parliament, the Thames and the London Eye for the evening. Once we got out of the tube station we were all in awe; it was already dark out and everything was lit up right next to us. It was so pretty. We spent the next few hours walking around taking pictures and learning the area—I am so in love with London and STILL don’t feel like my life is real. We got pretty hungry and, after hearing that there’s a Chipotle in London, made it our mission to find it and have dinner there. After about 30 minutes of wandering around aimlessly and no luck asking people where it was, we finally figured it out and made it there. It was so nice having ‘mexican’ food.
We headed back to campus and ended up leaving the tube station at one point instead of transferring because the crowd waiting was massive—it wasn’t worth waiting and we decided we could walk it. We ended up going the wrong way in the beginning and it took us about an hour to get back to our dorms, so we were all pretty tired by that time. Instead of going out, we stayed in and watched Dirty Dancing while uploading our pictures to our computers.
On Friday morning we left for Paris and were so excited. The trip was organized through AIFS and almost our entire group (100+ people) ended up going. We had two tour guides and they were great—always pleasant and happy to help us with any questions that we had. We took the Eurostar to Paris, which only takes about 2 hours, and then buses picked us up to take us to our hotel. The hotel was really nice and it was a completely different experience than our hostel in Amsterdam had been the weekend before. We had about an hour to get settled in and grab dinner before heading to the Eiffel Tower and Seine River for a night boat tour. When we initially saw the Eiffel Tower we were all in awe—most of us had never seen it before and I had no idea how massive it was going to be. We were the biggest group of tourists ever and all of us stood there with our cameras out, taking a ton of pictures.
The boat cruise was really cool and we got to see some of the major sites in Paris in the short hour that we were on it. We got to see the Eiffel Tower from every angle (and it lights up every hour at night—that was something that I wasn’t expecting at all!), so many bridges, the Louvre, Notre Dame, chapels, etc. It was so cool getting to see everything at night because it is so beautiful when it’s all lit up. It was freezing (as usual) on the boat and we were all pretty exhausted by the time it was over. We made it back to the area with our hotel around midnight and went for dinner at a restaurant nearby. Our meal consisted of Ham & Cheese sandwiches where the cheese is on one side on the outside of the bread with a single slice of ham on the inside—not exactly something we were expecting, but were just happy to eat. We ended our meal with creme brulee, which was just as delicious as you would expect. Dinner took forever (paying debacle and the fact that there were 10 of us), so we didn’t make it back to our hotel until around 2:30am, and needed to get up at 7am.
We started our day really early on Saturday and had breakfast in the hotel before heading out for a bus tour of Paris. On the bus tour, we learned a lot of Paris’ history before stopping at Notre Dame for 45 minutes and getting to explore it. I was so amazed by it—I had no idea how ornate and intricate it was and fell in love. It was so cool to me that from the outside you see so much detail in the building, but no stained glass, and as soon as you went inside, all you saw was stained glass windows. They were all breathtaking and I couldn’t stop staring and taking pictures. It was just incredible and our 45 minutes went by way too fast.
After the bus tour, we all had tickets to go up the Eiffel Tower, so made our way over there. Going up in the elevator was pretty terrifying, but the views from the second floor (we didn’t go all the way up) were amazing. Again, we took an obscene number of pictures and I was amazed by how many different views you can get from the different sides. A lot of us got split up on the Eiffel Tower, and since our phones aren’t international they didn’t work in Paris, making it impossible to find the rest of the group. We had the rest of the day and until 7:30 pm on Sunday to do whatever we wanted in France.
We made our way down the Eiffel Tower and walked along the river to the Louvre. I couldn’t believe how massive the Louvre was— it was exhausting! Someone told us that if you were to go through the museum and look at everything for 4 seconds then it would take you three months to get through the whole thing. I definitely believe that because it took us over four hours to get through a small fraction of it. Our first stop once inside was the Mona Lisa and it was crazy how small she is! It’s pretty funny because on the wall across from here is the most massive painting i’ve ever seen in my life, making her look even smaller. By the time we were leaving the Louvre, we were all completely exhausted and went back to the hotel to rest for a little while before going out.
On Sunday we planned to go to Versailles to visit the Palace. We didn’t really know what that was, but people were talking about how incredible it was and that we needed to go, so we agreed. We decided to meet for breakfast at 8:30 so that we could leave by 9 am. I woke up at 7:30 and was leisurely getting ready and packing up all of my things. As I was leaving my room, I glanced at my watch and realized that it was an hour later than I thought! I had forgotten that I didn’t change the time on my phone (alarm) to Paris time and needed to add an hour. I knocked on all of my friends doors and nobody answered, so I had a minor panic attack because I thought that I was stuck alone in Paris for the day. I went down to breakfast and thankfully they were all still there and said that when they knocked on my door before my roommate said I was still sleeping. It was seriously traumatic!
After breakfast, we headed to Versailles and ended up getting lost on our way there. We ended up meeting a girl who is studying abroad in Paris for the year (and is fluent in French) and her mom, who were also going to Versailles, so they helped us make our way there. They were talking about how amazing the Palace was, but we had no idea until we were actually there, standing in front of the golden gates. The palace itself is enormous and gorgeous—there is gold all along the top of the building. Behind the palace there are so many beautiful gardens, rivers, lakes, etc. to wander through. Everything inside of the palace was beautiful and so full of history and we literally could have spent all day there (if not several days). After about four hours we had to leave in order to make it back to Paris in time for the train, but are talking about going back to spend an entire day there once were done with classes and before we go home.
We made it back to Paris and went back to the area where Notre Dame was so that my friend Becca could get her mom a gargoyle and we could do some souvenir shopping. We had some extra time once we were done, so decided to find our way back to the hotel walking instead of taking the metro. I was so proud of us because we actually found our way and made it back to the hotel with time to spare before heading to the train station. By the time we got back on the Eurostar, we all realized how much we had fit into two days and how exhausting it had been. I slept the entire way home and am still so tired despite two good nights of sleep in between. Ironically, I was way more tired after Paris than I was after Amsterdam (where we had two overnight bus trips). We’re coming to learn that traveling every weekend is completely exhausting and I’m really looking forward to a weekend “at home” this weekend!
Overall, our trip was absolutely amazing and I am completely in love with Paris. I was surprised by how dirty Paris is overall and disappointed with how rude the people were. It was a major culture shock being there and realized how grateful I am to be in London; I definitely made the right choice on where to spend four months of my life. That said, I would LOVE to go back to Paris because I didn’t get to see so much that I would have liked to and felt like our entire time there was rushed. My mom told me that I definitely needed to try the chocolate croissants and she was right—they are amazing and I could live off of those alone. I ate several there and bought two to bring back to London with me :) I also have a newfound love for nutella and should have listened to Kat when she came back from Ireland obsessed with it, rather than telling her how disgusting she is!
I know that I say this in every blog I write, but I still can’t comprehend my life right now. It’s still so crazy to me that I am living in London and will continue to be here for the next three months, traveling over several weekends. While we were getting ready to go to Amsterdam, we just kept saying “oh yeah, we’re just taking a casual weekend trip to Amsterdam, no big deal” because everything is so surreal right now (hence the title of this post). I’m so glad that I have this amazing opportunity and don’t think that it’s ever going to fully hit me that this is real life until I get home in May. I am loving every second of my life right now and can’t wait for more adventures.
On Thursday we left for Amsterdam—supposedly a 12 hour over-night bus ride. We got ourselves ready to go, picked up sandwiches along the way and were headed for The Netherlands. We were prepared for the longest, most painful bus ride of our lives and didn’t think that we’d be able to move much at all and would hate it. We quickly learned that we were wrong. After about two hours on the bus, we got to the French border and had to go through customs before getting back onto the bus and entering a ferry. Once we made our way to the ferry, I complained that I didn’t want to get off and actually made the claim that I was just going to stay on the bus (the only ferry i’ve been on was in Korea—it was tiny and we actually had to sit on the ground with hundreds of people and nothing to do in the 100 degree weather), but the man next to us said that there was a lot to do up there. I reluctantly got off the bus and went up the stairs only to find out that this ‘ferry’ was literally like a cruise ship. There were restaurants, stores, slot machines, bars, couches, TV’s and so much more. Needless to say, I was glad that I got off the bus and my friends made fun of me the entire weekend for initially refusing.
On the bus, we stopped several times and got the chance to go to the bathroom, get food and just walk around. We had so many stops that we actually got over them and just wanted to keep going. Despite all of our breaks, we ended up getting to Amsterdam about 2 hours early—at 5:30 am. When we got into the bus station, we realized that everything was in Dutch (it didn’t even cross my mind until that point) and that we were in for quite the weekend. We miraculously made our way to the train, and finally, to Central Station in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, we got to our hostel around 6:30 and the front office wasn’t going to open until 8 am, so we were literally homeless and had nowhere to go. We walked around the street until we found a little hotel and the man working let us sit inside until we were able to check into the hostel.
We talked about all of the sight-seeing that we wanted to do and went through a lot of the hotel’s pamphlets, but were exhausted and ready to go take a nap. We checked into the hostel and went straight to our room for a nap before going out for the day. The hostel was interesting to say the least and had graffiti all over the walls, mold in the showers and was really dirty throughout. We all had a momentary freak-out when we walked in but were too exhausted to actually care and went to sleep anyway. We slept from about 8:30 to 2 pm and all felt so much better once we were up and showered. That afternoon, we went wandering around Amsterdam and getting an idea of where we were in relation to everything else. We decided to go on a “Candlelight Canal Cruise” on Friday night and when we bought the tickets, the man assured us that it wasn’t just couples and groups of people do it all the time.
Apparently he lied to us, because when we got there, there were only couples and the tour guides literally had us go on the boat first, telling everyone in line that we were a group of “seven loud American girls” and that they would “thank him later” for putting us in the back of the boat. There was literally an empty row of tables between us and every other couple. It was actually really amusing and we just kept to ourselves the entire night. The cruise was so much fun and I am in love with the canals. Everywhere you turn there are canals, lit up at night, and it is gorgeous. On the cruise, we stopped in the Red Light District and our tour guide took us through the streets. It’s insane there and really uncomfortable. Everywhere you turn there is a woman dancing in their windows in lingerie—it was actually pretty depressing. I don’t understand why a ‘romantic’ cruise would stop there, but go figure. I’m glad I saw it, but was definitely happy that we were only there for about 5 minutes with a guide.
On Saturday we decided that we were going to go to the Van Gogh Museum and do a tour of the Heineken Brewery. Our hostel was about a 40 minute walk from them (they were close to each other) and it ended up taking us over an hour to get there because we kept getting lost (surprisingly none of us can read Dutch). The Van Gogh museum was really cool and we got to see hundreds of paintings and learn a lot about his life. I didn’t know much about him and came out with a lot of new information—he only painted for 9 years and ended up shooting himself. None of us had any idea, so it was a really good museum for all of us. Our next stop was the Brewery, where we got to learn about the roots of the brand, go on a ride, see where the beer is made and learn how they make it. It was a really cool tour and ended up spending over two hours getting through everything.We were craving Italian food, so we found one around the Brewery and decided to eat there. It was a random little restaurant and had one of the best meals we’ve had since leaving America. We decided to take cabs back to the hostel instead of trying to find our way back in the freezing cold and dark. That night, we just went out around the hostel before heading back and going to bed.
My favorite day in Amsterdam was Sunday. We checked out of the hostel in the morning and went to the Anne Frank House once we were done. When we got there, the line was ridiculous and wrapped around the building. It went faster than we expected and only had to wait for 45 minutes before getting in. It was an amazing tour and we all fell in love. The way they have it set up is awesome—they give you a book in the beginning that goes through each room in the house, giving quotes from the diary and telling the story. It was so cool and eerie going through the actual house where they hid for years. There are still the original decorations on the wall, including a wall where they measured the height of the kids and the pictures that Anne put on her wall. There are quotes from the diary everywhere and so many original documents and pictures in cases. There are current interviews with Miep Gies (the woman whose house they stayed in & helped them hide) and Otto Frank (Annes dad) that we got to see as well. We were able to see the diary where Anne began writing in as well as several of the other journals and pages that she continued working on. It was an amazing tour with the saddest story ever. We were leaving that night, so after dinner, we headed to the bus station and waited until it was time for our bus to leave.
Our trip to Amsterdam was amazing, but it’s somewhere that I don’t ever need to go again. We were there the perfect length of time and got to see and do everything that we planned to do going in. It was so much fun and I really like (almost) everyone that went on the trip with me. Like I said before, Amsterdam is a beautiful city with so many canals and things to look at and it’s definitely worth going to once. It was freezing and I was dying the whole time we were there, but wore a ton of layers out everyday. The streets are all pretty dirty, and everywhere you go reeks of smoke—I literally put every article of clothing that I took with me in my dirty clothes hamper as soon as I got home.
I haven’t had too many eventful things happen since I last updated—but have promised people that I would update more often than I have been. Our sleep-deprivation isn’t getting any better because even when we stay in for the night, we stay up watching movies and hanging out until the middle of the night anyway. On Sunday night my friend insisted that we watch “Sorority Row” because she’d never seen it before, and not knowing what we were getting ourselves into, we agreed. It was a terrible movie and after about 15-20 minutes, we all refused to watch any more and watched “Love & Basketball” instead. That was actually a good movie, but long, so we stayed up until 3 am watching it, so naturally slept in on Monday.
Monday and Tuesday were both pretty basic and aside from a few random outings, it was pretty much just class and hanging out here. It’s been really cold this week so I’m lacking any motivation to go out and do anything outdoors. Hopefully next week should be a little warmer! Since I am in two classes that have field trips, Wednesday was just a day in museums for me. We started at the Tate Britain museum, which is the national museum for British art from the 1500’s to today.Some exhibits within the museum change monthly, but we were focusing on things that are a constant. The art was great, but the field trip itself wasn’t the greatest. Apparently our professor isn’t great when it comes to guiding field trips. We spent over two hours walking back and forth to about 8 paintings where she spent a very long time explaining each one. It was noon (which was when it was supposed to end) and she still thought that we had an hour, so we got out of there a little late and had to head over to a different area of London for field trip #2.
We got to the next area with about half an hour to spare and spent our time in a coffee shop people watching. It was a really nice area and is apparently their financial district so we were enjoying watching everyone. We met up with our group and started another “walking tour” on our way to The Museum of London. We spent about an hour looking at different landmarks, going into churches and learning about different historical aspects of London. It was interesting, but again, freezing, and actually raining this time, so we were definitely happy once we made it to the museum. As soon as we got in, our teacher let us loose and we were able to look at whatever we wanted.
The museum was really cool and I loved it. It had so much history in it and was separated into time periods, so we got to see the progression and development of London. Throughout the whole bottom floor there was a huge wall that had a timeline marking every important event in history. It was really interesting for all of us because we know so much American history and sometimes you forget that every country is so different. There were awesome displays around the museum, and we made sure that we got to see everything the museum had to offer before leaving. By the time we got back to the dorms, we were all freezing and exhausted (especially after 6 hours of tours) so went to our respective rooms for naps/movies/facebook :)
We’ve finally started slowing down, and don’t go out at night as much anymore, which is a nice change. I’m still loving London and experiencing new things daily. A few more random observations about London: there are very few trash cans along the streets, but everywhere we go is incredibly clean—I don’t understand it; and the service at restaurants is really bad. I think I mentioned this before, but I’m already missing American food and people so much.
I’m leaving tonight to go to Amsterdam with some friends for the weekend. We leave here at 7pm and arrive in Amsterdam at 7:30 tomorrow morning; hopefully I’ll be able to sleep on the bus! We’re there until Sunday night, where we’ll take another overnight bus and get back on Monday morning. We plan to do a lot of sight-seeing while we’re there (Anne Frank house, Van Gogh museum, walking tours, etc.) and I’m really looking forward to it! I’ll update again early next week!
The last week has been really busy, but it’s still so hard for me to believe that we have almost been here for two weeks already. We started classes last Monday and it finally began to hit me that I’m not just on vacation and will actually be here for the next three months. I started getting pretty homesick early in the week, and it didn’t help that I got sick again and rarely slept. Luckily, my family was always there and I could call any of them whenever I needed to talk. As the week went on, I got more settled and was actually able to sleep for longer than a few hours a night and started feeling a lot better about everything. I’m still trying to get over the cold that I have, but it’s way better than it was last week. Everyone else is starting to get sick now too, which is apparently the norm during the first few weeks.
Every day I learn more things about London and Kensington. I recently learned that Kensington is the nicest and most expensive area, but also the safest. We feel safe everywhere here, no matter what time it is; definitely a nice change from San Francisco! It’s so easy to get everywhere on the tube, so we’re able to go sight-seeing and exploring whenever we want. I’m starting to realize how much I miss food from America—everything here is different, even the basic stuff. We only get breakfast and dinner Monday-Friday in our cafeteria, so we have to eat out a lot and have yet to find somewhere (other than Pizza Hut and the Whole Foods Food Court) that we actually like. Everything here is pretty bland and flavorless. I can’t wait until I get to get Mexican food when I’m back at home :) The weather here has been really cold (for me) during the last week. I have been freezing everyday and it doesn’t even matter how many layers I wear. Even my friends who actually live where it snows and gets into the negatives have been cold here. It’s been so brutal seeing the 80 degree weather in San Diego compared with London all week! We all need to buy heavier coats here and have been looking for a few days now.
I’m only taking four classes (12 units) this semester, which is the lightest load i’ve ever had (but I’ll pay for that when I have to take three classes during the summer). None of my classes seem like they will be too bad and I still have yet to get an assignment..apparently I picked the right classes! I’m in a class called History of London and we have class on Monday afternoons and go on a field trip in London every Wednesday afternoon. Last week we were going to see the “8th Wonder of the World” and were all pretty excited about it and thought it would be really cool. When we got there, we waited outside the tube for our tour guide in the 40 degree weather plus windchill (so it actually felt about 20..or so my friends from cold places told me :) ). We then spent the next two hours walking down the Thames River, stopping every few minutes while our guide gave us information on London. It was a beautiful view and awesome to see—but it was unbearably cold and we were all dying. We finally got to the “8th Wonder of the World”, which was supposedly the first tunnel ever built under a river. We had to crawl into this place and walk down unsteady scaffolding in order to get down to it. Turns out, it was just a big circular room that they are turning into a “party room”, and was also freezing inside. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly the field trip that we were all expecting and were pretty happy to head home to heat.
I have another class called British Art & Architecture that only meets for three hours on Wednesday mornings, and every other week we have a field trip to galleries/ museums instead of class. So every other week, I will have two different field trips every Wednesday—it will be cool to get tours of so many different places in London that I probably wouldn’t see otherwise. My other two classes, Psychology and Cinema and Comparative World Religion are pretty interesting so far, but we don’t do any field trips.
I’ve spent a lot of time planning out my weekends and deciding where and when I want to go places. I still have a huge list of places I want to go and only have two trips booked so far—Amsterdam next weekend and Paris the weekend after. I’m so excited to go other places and explore and need to narrow down my choices. We have also spent a lot of time exploring the different shopping areas of London and spent hours in a store called Primark—it’s like a Nordstrom with really cheap prices. I am obsessed! We’re still going out a lot and found more fun clubs/pubs in the past few days. It’s fun because we stick in big groups to go out and literally everyone is becoming friends. Everyone in the program is really nice and so much fun to hang out with! I’m loving being here and can’t wait for our first trip this weekend!
I honestly can’t believe how fast time is going right now. I feel like I’ve known everyone here forever, but can’t believe it’s almost been a week since I left home. Today is the first time that we’ve had a ton of downtime and I spent the day getting myself organized and catching up on sleep. I was planning to go on a tour of Chelsea Stadium this morning, but my sleep deprivation was seriously catching up with me, so I gave my ticket to a friend.
The Lion King was really good on Thursday and we all had a great time. It ended around 10 and the theater was in an area called Piccadilly Circus, which is an amazing area (like Times Square). We walked around for about an hour before settling on a place to stop. We ended up at a place called O’Neills—it’s an awesome club with three levels to hang out on and was packed with people. We found a lot of people from our program there and met so many locals and other Americans who are studying abroad. We ended up staying out really late and had to make our way back with the buses because the tube was closed for the night.
On Friday we slept in and had Library Orientations at different times throughout the day. In the afternoon, we went exploring around our dorms and to a store called Sainsbury’s..it’s similar to a Target. We were in there for about half an hour and by the time we came out, it was dark outside and POURING rain; it made the walk back to our dorms interesting. We had a boat party that night on the River Thames and it was great. It was so cool getting to see everything at night and from a different perspective.
Our plan for Saturday was to go to Westminster Abbey and get a guided tour. My roommate and I thought that we were meeting at 12 to go, so I planned to get up at 11 to shower/ get ready for the day. At 10:50, she came in from the bathroom and told me that she just heard two girls talking about how we were leaving at 11—I literally jumped out of bed and threw clothes on and we barely made it (ironically, this was one of the only events I wasn’t late to). When I got back, my friends Gina and Taylor were up and ready to go do something. I planned to take a nap, but didn’t want to waste one of our last free days, and went out with them instead. We explored the area around our dorms more, and by the time we were ready to leave Kensington, it was dark out and we decided to find something to do around here. We met up with our friends CJ and Danny and went to a pub to hang out and watch the soccer game. After that, we went to Pizza Hut (which apparently is an actual restaurant here-sit-down and everything..that was pretty weird). Everyone wanted to go out one last night, so we all went to O’Neills again. There were SO many people there and it was pretty overwhelming.
I slept in pretty late today and like I mentioned before, spent the day getting myself organized and ready for school to start tomorrow. We need to start planning our trips soon, because the only thing we have planned right now is Paris in two weeks. Since this is the first time I’ve really had to sit, it’s been nice catching up on everything. I’m starting to feel a little homesick now that things are slowing down a bit. I love being here, but am beginning to realize how long i’m here for! I need to set up more skype dates with everyone at home :)
Sorry I haven’t updated this in a few days—I’ve been pretty busy since I got here. Matt kindly told me that I’m terrible at this, so I promised him that I would update it today :).
I got to London safely on Tuesday afternoon after being delayed a little bit because we couldn’t land. Everything went well until I realized that I accidentally left my north face jacket on the airplane :( I filed a lost items report and was told to call for the next week to see if they found it. So far, no luck, but they told me that it has to go through a whole security process so they wouldn’t expect it to be there anyway yet; I’m crossing my fingers. Once we got to the dorms, we were given our roommates and had the afternoon to unpack and get settled. We had an orientation at night and were supposed to go out for drinks after, but we were all way too tired to even think about anything but bed, so stayed in instead.
On Wednesday we went exploring Kensington and buying some toiletries, etc. We have a street less than 5 minutes away from us called “Kensington High Street” that literally has hundreds of stores and restaurants. It’s so convenient yet dangerous. We looked in about 5 different phone stores to see which store had the best deal and weren’t really happy with any of them, so decided to wait. We don’t get lunch in our cafeteria, so we ate lunch at a pub down the street. We initially tried to find a sandwich place that we knew was around campus but couldn’t find it. We asked a man in a store if he knew where it was and he honestly didn’t know what a sandwich was. My roommate tried to explain it to him by saying “you know, a piece of bread with meat on top and then another piece of bread”. His response was “seriously? you eat that?”. We thought that it was hilarious.
After lunch we rushed to meet our group to do a bus tour of London. It was three hours long and got me so excited to be here. I can’t wait until we get the chance to go out and explore the entire city. We saw all of the major “touristy” sites and got to stop at Buckingham Palace for a little while as well at St. Paul’s Cathedral (the place where Princess Diana and Prince Charles were married). Our tour guide was great and gave us a ton of information that will be useful throughout our time here. Once we got back from our bus tour and had dinner before heading to a hall meeting. At night, we went to a bar that is on a campus that we’re associated with called “Imperial College”. A ton of people from the group came (there were literally about 50 of us going just from my program) and it was so much fun. I’m amazed at how nice everyone is and we spent a lot of the night not only meeting people from our program, but a ton of locals as well.
My jet-lag has apparently caught up with me and I didn’t wake up until 11:30 today. I honestly could have slept for the rest of the day. We went to an activity fair and learned about so many different trips that we can take. I’m ready to start planning everything now! We spent the rest of the afternoon getting our phones and shopping on High Street again (I got a nice phone that was literally £5 with £15 for the service). It was definitely the best deal out there. Tonight I’m going to see the Lion King and were all planning on going out again after, hopefully in the area surrounding the theaters. I’m having so much fun already and am completely in love with London!
I finally leave for London tomorrow; I have been anticipating going abroad since Kat went to Ireland during her junior year (in 2007) and it feels so surreal. I am almost completely ready to go—with two checked bags (shockingly) under 50 pounds each and a massive backpack as my carry-on. Despite the fact that I can’t sleep at the moment, I have been strangely calm & relaxed throughout this entire process (which is honestly a little disconcerting). This isn’t how I normally am before I am about to experience something so different with so many unknowns, but maybe my ridiculous break-downs before Korea proved themselves to be unnecessary :)
I’m flying out of LAX, so after a hair appointment in the morning, my parents and I are driving up there. When they drop me off at the airport, I will literally be traveling to Europe without anyone I know, to enter into a program without anyone I know. I don’t understand why I’m not having extreme panic attacks right now, but I am definitely okay with it! Luckily, a few people in the program will be on my flight and one of the girls and I get to sit together…for all 10 hours and 40 minutes of the flight. I can’t complain though— its non-stop and my flight to Korea was way longer (not to mention the fact that I couldn’t understand anything that the pilot/fight attendants said).
Naturally, we did a final family dinner at El Comal (so I could get my Mexican food fix), but Andrew, Kat and Chris were all out of town. Rather than finishing packing for the rest of the evening, I spent hours trading phones with my mom (it’s time for her to get an iPhone, so I got her to use mine while I’m gone to see if she likes it :) ) and setting up a Facebook for her. She finally decided that since it would be harder to communicate with me she would get her own! It was a big day in the Petersen household. I decided it was time to get everything together and tie up loose ends around 11. Since we’re moving everything out for the remodel, my room is creepily empty and the walls are bare. That’s also a pretty weird change, but I can’t say I’m unhappy to return to a completed remodel in May!
I’m really excited for everything that’s ahead of me! This whole week will be filled with orientation activities and getting to know everyone else in the program. I got to choose the activities that I wanted to participate in, so I chose a bus tour of London, a Chelsea Stadium tour, a tour of Westminster Abbey (the location of the royal wedding..which i plan to stalk not only on April 29th..but also my entire time in London), seeing the Lion King and a boat party on the River Thames. I’ll try to update my blog as often as possible and keep you all posted on my life :)