“Your UK Visa Has Been Issued”

This is possibly the most glorious phrase I’ve ever heard (read). I don’t think it’s possible to describe in words the process I (and my wonderfully helpful father) have gone through in the past few months, mostly weeks, in order to procure this one single, but apparently eminently important, piece of paper. My first piece of advice to anyone planning on studying abroad is to understand the visa application process well enough that you’d be able to explain it, step-by-step, to someone else. My second piece of advice is START YOUR APPLICATION EARLY! Like, many months in advance. This will allow enough time for the many corrections you’re likely going to have to make.

*Anyway*, now that that’s finally taken care of just a mere twelve days before I leave for Huddersfield, I can finally relax and look forward to my trip instead of dread the possibility that it might not happen. The crazy part to me about my upcoming semester abroad is that I really don’t know what to expect. Since this is the first time in many years that New Paltz and Huddersfield are doing an exchange, both the students at the schools and the staff in the international offices don’t have as much knowledge on the programs as they would were they regular, semesterly exchanges. This is both exciting and somewhat anxiety-provoking. I know very little about University of Huddersfield itself, like what the vibe on campus tends to be, what the students are generally interested in, if the professors teach class (which I hear is sometimes optional??) with their underwear on their heads, etc. What I do know is that I’ll be taking mostly psychology classes in addition to one class on British culture, and that I’ll be living in a campus-owned flat with five other international students, including one from New Paltz, which is a converted insane asylum. At relaying this piece of information to my mother, I was given the response “Oh good, so you’ll feel right at home!” She just may be right.

Regardless of knowing or not knowing what to expect, I do know that this has literally been the longest summer of my life—mid/late May-early/mid September—and I am ready to leave it behind. Though it had its definite good, even great, times, my summer was also filled with a lot of stress, getting my heart broken by someone I really cared about, working a much less than thrilling job at Connecticut Muffin (this should be self-explanatory), a somewhat scary visit to New Paltz this past week, and generally not feeling like I did anything terribly productive. I am definitely ready to see what Huddersfield has to offer me.

Home Tomorrow?!

WOW! I cannot believe I am actually saying that – I go back to New York tomorrow. My head is filled with thousands of happy and sad thoughts, memories of my last four months here, and questions of how it all went by so fast. I’m mostly packed, with just the essentials remaining (toothbrush, etc).

It is truly a bittersweet feeling. For this past week, all I’ve thought about is going home – getting back to my family and friends and my boyfriend, getting to sleep in my own bed and have my own bathroom again. Also, I was offered an internship in the city, so that’s another thing to look forward to. But now that it’s crunch time and I have literally one last day here, I’m starting to get a little sad. When I first got here and started meeting all my friends, I hardly thought about having to say goodbye. Now that I am, I can tell it’s going to be a lot harder than I imagined.

People study abroad and have all sorts of different goals – some want to learn to live on their own, others want to learn about another country/lifestyle. Me? I’ve learned a lot about myself here. Sure, I’ve mastered London transport system and I have gotten lost enough times to learn how to find your way, but I’ve also grown a lot more than that. I’ve learned how to be myself, by myself – to be a person on my own – which I couldn’t always do because of certain people at home. People here got to know me as ME, and not as someone else’s friend. Becoming educated about another country and their way of life has made me aware of how little I actually know about my own country. While my time of exploring London may be coming to an end, I plan to start seeing the parts of my own country that I’ve never seen. With that, I also want to try a whole bunch of new things this summer, along with old things that I used to do and want to take up again – like painting. I miss it. I guess my adventurous side has been unleashed here!

My last week in London has been full of ups and downs. Between getting in some last minute London time, I also had to say goodbye to two of my friends, Josh and Melissa, who left a few days before me, which was pretty hard to do. Tonight, as my little sendoff, we’re all getting together one last time in Gubbay to watch a movie. Josh had everyone go to the local pub and get breakfast the morning he left, and we all went out to dinner for Cinco de Mayo/Melissa’s last night. I personally have an earrrrrrly day tomorrow (leaving my room at 6am) so I wanted to do something relaxing (and cheap!).

On Monday, I went to the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum with Laura. There was a Grace Kelly exhibit in the fashion section, but we decided not to do that especially since we hadn’t pre-booked the tickets. But even so, the museum was amazing! British Museum is still my favorite, but the V&A runs a close second. There was so much to see, all different kinds of things! One of my favorites was the section on movies: they had several original costumes from various different movies made in the UK, and there were also a bunch of dioramas of set designs for movies like Sweeney Todd and plays like Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Then, right next door, there was a whole exhibit on British Rock with photographs of many, many stars from the 60s and 70s from Harry Goodwin.

Although we loved this museum, we had started losing energy and getting hungry pretty early in the day. By the time we had seen just about everything, we were both on the verge of passing out. We left and instead of retracing our steps back to the tube station (which we later realized would be quicker and much more beneficial to our hunger pangs), we walked the opposite way to try and find food. Well, apparently the V&A museum is located adjacent to a very ritzy residential area with no restaurants in sight. We stumbled upon the Pakistani Nationalist Party, but no restaurants. Finally, after literally walking around in a circle, we found this little side street with several French cafes, grocery stores, etc. and went into the cafe. Finally, food! And delicious food at that! It was such a cute, little place with really nice owners. After being satisfied, and both leaving with Nutella crepes to go, we headed back to the tube station where we found a plethora of cafes and places to eat. OH WELL.

Yesterday, I went to my last museum, The Natural History Museum. Although I’m never big on science, I did enjoy this museum. It was very hands on, probably because a lot of children go there on school trips and with their families. Sadly, I spent so much time in the museum that I didn’t get to go to Hyde Park like I planned. Oh well. Then when I got back I literally passed out and took a 6 hour nap! Not good for my sleep schedule, but I totally needed it after being exhausted these last few days.

Now, I’m off to donate all of my books and kitchenware to Oxfam, a second-hand store that also does a lot of charity work. I figured it would be better than throwing all of it out, since I couldn’t sell back my books anyway. Then I’m hanging out with Ashley before I come back and finish packing and having the last movie night in Gubbay.

Well, it’s been lovely here. Next time you hear from me, I’ll be in New York!!!! 🙂

xx

Day Trips Galore! – part 2

Apologies to all of my readers (Like Joey, for instance) who may or may not have been holding onto the edges of their seats with my last post. I didn’t mean to let so much time go by before I finish my spring break adventures. BUT! The good news is, in the meantime, I finished ALL of my papers for the term. I AM OFFICIALLY DONE WITH SCHOOL! How insane is that?!

Anyway, more London talk later. We must get back to my Irish adventures! When I last left you, I had finished my first few days in Ireland, with the privilege of having my family as tourguides. However, from here on out, I was left on my own most of the time. Not in a bad way, though. In fact, I was excited to explore on my own and wander around as slowly as I wanted. And of course, they helped me figure out the bus schedule, and what the best mode of transportation was each day.

Monday 12/4 – Monday was the day of the hop on/hop off bus! Basically, you pay one standard price (€13) and you have the chance to get on and off at any stop you please. That way, you have the opportunity to actually explore the sights as opposed to just seeing them from a bus. Although I’ve obviously heard of tour buses that show you around the city (they also have them in the States), I never knew there were buses that allow you to get off at different stops and get back on. Sweet! Only thing, most of the stops were museums (exactly why I was so excited to go), but museums are all closed on Mondays. Curses!! Before getting on the bus, I explored Trinity College. What a beautiful campus! Really puts New Paltz to shame (although I love New Paltz, of course!). And it was the perfect day to see it. I didn’t get to see the Book of Kells, but I’m glad I got to see the campus at least. Then, I got on the bus and it took us to St. Stephen’s Green. I was already there, but I got off to look in the Carroll’s (great souvenir shop) for postcards. Ended up getting myself a green sweatshirt 🙂 Anywho, later I went to Dublin Castle. It was closed because of “state business” but they offered to give us an abridged version of the tour where they could let us in. It was pretty interesting, and I love that part of the castle is rainbow colored! Afterward, I walked into Dublin Garden behind the castle, but I didn’t stay for long, had to get on with the hop on/hop off tour! Naturally, I had to go into the Guinness Storehouse. At first I didn’t want to because it seemed too touristy for me; other people I know just did the Guinness Storehouse and that’s it. Lame! However, I’m SO glad I went in; it was fascinating. And HUGE!! Did you know the building is actually structured to look like a pint glass? If you’re ever there, go to the bottom floor and look up, you’ll totally see it! The first floor explained the main ingredients used in Guinness (water, barley, hop, and yeast) and then as you go upstairs you learn more about the process of making and distributing it. I think my favorite room was the advertising room; you get to see all the old and modern adverts for Guinness. Really cool stuff. They also teach you how to pour your own pint of Guinness. I didn’t realize there was a whole process to it, but apparently it’s very particular. Also, you’re not supposed to drink it until all the gas has fizzed away and it’s all black. Otherwise….well it won’t feel too great in your belly, and it won’t taste as good. After I finished with the bus tour, I met up with my cousin Katie and she took me to Ranelagh, a small town in Dublin. That’s the cool thing about staying with Irish people; you get to see all these weird little places. To get there, we had to ride the Luas, a tram system that runs through Dublin. Luas is Gaelic for “speed” which I thought was ironic because they weren’t moving that quickly. After that, it was back home for us.

Trinity College

Dublin Castle from Dublin Garden

Dublin Castle close-up

ALSO Dublin Castle!

Self-explanatory

Guinness through the years

Probably my favorite advert!

Tuesday 15/4 – For Tuesday, I bought a ticket for a day tour to Northern Dublin (same company as the hop on/hop off bus). The driver took us up to Malehide Castle and Howth, passing beautiful landscapes and the coast of Dublin on the way. Ugh, the coast was beautiful! Probably my favorite part of that day. Afterward, I wandered around O’Connell Street (major street in Dublin) and City Centre a bit, and ended up in the Dublin Writers Museum. Even though it was pretty small, it was actually really interesting for an English major such as myself. There were original prints of books by James Joyce and other Irish authors. Pretty cool! I also got to see Garden of Remembrance which was a small, pretty garden by the museum. That night, my cousin Katie went with me to one of the many Dublin ghost tours. This one was a little lame, unfortunately. Apparently the best one is the bus tour, which was about €28 or something, while this walking tour was about €12. The tour guide was obviously new (he let that slip) and messed up about 5 times before we even left the meeting point. Oy. I guess it was a little creepy at times but his way of speaking was so blatantly rehearsed that it took away from it. Anyone who ends up in Dublin wanting to do a ghost tour, I recommend spending the extra money for the bus tour.

Malahide Castle from a distance

Aaaand nice and close up 🙂

The Northern coast of Dublin

Beeeeeach!

<3

I took so many pictures here!

Me and Ireland, you know

Garden of Remembrance

The Liffey in the afternoon

Thursday 15/4 – Yes, I skipped Wednesday on purpose. I didn’t do anything that day, just relaxed that day. Anyway, another day, another bus tour! This time it was the Wild Wickl0w tour. Hands down, FAVORITE DAY IN IRELAND! For the Wild Wicklow Tour, we started out with a drive past another coast – Dunlaoghaire, Killiney, and Dalkey – and then we stopped at this little shop called Avoca. Mainly they’re a hand-weaving shoppe, but they also have a cafe. I had the BEST scone I’ve ever had in my life (not that I’ve had many). That’s when I knew this day was going to be amazing. After breakfast, we drove past the mountain lakes and heather and Guinness Lake along with loooots of barren expanses of bog land. True Irish countryside. 🙂 We even got to climb up this really big mountain, the name is escaping me at the moment. I was a little disappointed because when Tara did this same tour with her friends a few weeks before, her driver actually stopped where PS I Love You was filmed, and they were able to take pictures by the bridge, and by Dunlaoghaire. However, our driver just briefly mentioned it, barely. Anyway, we also stopped for lunch, and then headed to Glendalough, which is a monastic site that dates back as early as 6th century BCE. I got some of my most beautiful pictures at Glendalough, but I’m not going to put all of them up obviously. A very beautiful but exhausting day.

ALSO – the most important part – this was supposed to be the day before I visit Allison in Rome. However, I was at lunch when I heard about the Icelandic volcano that erupted and caused massive ash clouds over the UK. JUST MY LUCK! Basically, my flight to Rome was canceled – obviously – and instead of rescheduling, I just got applied for a refund. After all, it seemed like the effects of this volcano were going to last for days, maybe weeks. Slightly disappointing, but I was at least happy to be safe with my family in a house (free of charge). So now I was going to be in Ireland for an extra five days…

Me at Dunlaoghaire

View from the bus

Stream leading to Guinness Lake

Just like a painting!

So is this!

The Round Tower at Glendalough

Beautiful scene from the Lower Lake

Scene from the Upper Lake

One of my favorite pictures of the day 🙂

Friday 16/4 – I spent most of this day at the computer, freaking out about what I was going to do!

Saturday 17/4 – Because I had only planned to be in Ireland until the 16th, I didn’t really have a game plan from this point on. On Saturday I went to Temple Bar, this section of Dublin that is very young, full of students and tourists. There is a Photo Gallery in the Temple Bar area that I figured I would check out. Turns out, it’s this incredibly tiny gallery with barely anything in it. Okay….that took about 10 minutes of my day. Now what? Well, when I was heading over to the Gallery, I realized there was a market going on in Temple Bar! (There’s one every weekend.) Knowing how much I love markets now – especially food markets! – I decided to check it out. Had spanakopita (Greek spinach pie) and a fruit smoothie. Mmmmmm. After that delicious lunch, I decided to go back to the Chester Beatty Library, next to Dublin Castle. The reason I say “go back” is because, actually, I thought the colorful building was Chester Beatty Library when in fact it is the Dublin Castle! Didn’t know that until I went to find the Chester Beatty Library to actually go inside as opposed to just take a picture of it, and realized what my confusion was. Either way, CBL was pretty neat. I’m not usually into religious exhibits, but there was an exhibit on all different religions including some original religious texts so that was interesting. There was also a section on Asian Art which was cool. After that I actually took some time to relax on the grass in the Dublin Garden. That night I went to the cinema again with Katie and we saw Dear John. I heard it was lame, but I actually really liked it!

Monday 19/4 – Sunday was another lazy day, but Monday I went up to Limerick to visit Shaina and Dylan (fellow New Paltzers!) who are studying abroad there. I didn’t think about how Limerick isn’t exactly a touristy place, so there wasn’t much to do. So after exploring the city centre (complete with an O’Connell St. just like Dublin and apparently every other place in Ireland), I met up with Shaina and she took me to University of Limerick. I only stayed until the following morning, so I didn’t have a lot of time in Limerick, but their campus is SOOOOO much nicer than Middlesex! Apparently, it’s only about 30 years old, so all the buildings are pretty modern. The only problem was that her building is so far away! Literally in a different county, County Claire! Anyway, it was nice to have a mini New Paltz reunion over in Limerick.

View from campus in Limerick

The next two days were semi-relaxing. When I came back on Tuesday, I booked my new return flight home (London) and on Wednesday I registered for classes in New Paltz from Ireland. Of course, I had to re-research my classes because all my info was in London. But it was a success and I am all set for next semester – as a senior!!! (Eeek!) Also on Wednesday, I booked yet another bus tour, this time to Galway on Friday!

Friday 23/4 – One of my last days in Ireland! SO, I get to the pick-up point for the Galway bus thinking the following: that this shuttle bus would take us to Galway, then we’d get on another bus that takes us around Galway to various sights – all for €20. Before you laugh at me for thinking such a ridiculous, unrealistic notion, I’ll tell you that that’s how the website advertised it. Faulty advertising!!! Anyway, I realized my error when I got to the first bus; you have to pay extra for the second bus. So since I didn’t want to go all the way out to Galway and not know what to do (AND I didn’t want to waste €20 on nothing) I decided to pay the extra price to take another bus to the Cliffs of Moher. Let me tell you – one of the best decisions I’ve made in the longest time. Absolutely BREATHTAKING. I don’t even have anything to say, so I’ll just say it in a few pictures:

Cliffs of Moher!!!!

Me on one of the other cliffs! Notice how far away I am from the edge LOL

The other side of the Cliffs

Dunguaire Castle

More Cliffs

An artistic shot in the grass 🙂

After the Cliffs we had an hour in Galway City before the bus to Dublin left, so I had just enough time to run down to city centre and pick up an authentic (sort of) Claddagh ring from Galway! I wish I could’ve actually gone to the port Claddagh, but there’s always next time. For now, I’m happy with my ring. 🙂

So dudes, that was my Spring Break! I had another lazy day of laundry and packing on Saturday, and on Sunday afternoon it was back to good ol’ Londytown! So, I didn’t get to explore all of Europe like a lot of my friends did, but I got to spend time with my family and really see all of Dublin and a lot of Ireland. Plus, I’m glad I was safe at a house and not stranded in an airport or something. But, I’m even more glad I made it back to London in one piece, and with JUST enough time to study for my exam this past Tuesday. Now that that and my papers are out of the way, I have the rest of the week (now only 3 days!) to explore London for the last time! But right NOW, it’s 1AM and I’m exhausted. Check in sometime in the next few days for my last London adventures! Goodnight everyone!

xx

Irish Countryside and…Icelandic Volcano? part 1

So, now that I’m all settled back in London, with my one and only exam out of the way, maybe I should finally tell you all about my Spring Break with all of its disasters and semi-blessings in semi-disguise. Let me elaborate:

Wednesday 7/4 – I already knew this holiday would be an adventure based on how it began. I had to get to the bus stop by Brent Cross Shopping Centre, a place I’ve never been before that day. Well, I figured, there will probably be signs when I get out at the tube station. There was one, and it was somewhat lacking. An arrow pointing in a very vague direction, not telling me that I’d hafta walk down a residential street, make a few turns, and somehow end up in the middle of a busy highway. What? Once I got to this highway intersection of madness, there were no signs for the shopping centre, and the woman who was also looking for the shopping centre had suddenly disappeared. Was I really lost? Alone, with a backpack full of my stuff, screaming “Take me! She’s a tourist!”? No, don’t worry. I finally saw a tiny sign across the street for the centre. Only, it was pointing towards this never-ending walkway. I started walking it, after hesitating, and came to another sign for the shopping centre, pointing right. I knew that the bus stop was by the shopping centre, so I decided to go right instead of straight. To make an already long story slightly shorter, I ended up walking all the way to the shopping centre (15 minute walk) only to find out that the bus stop is not as close as the map suggested, and I needed to take a bus back to it. Basically, I walked around in a giant circle and I didn’t realize until coming back to London 2.5 weeks later that if I would’ve just gone straight, I would’ve been there in 5 minutes. Not even.

Anyway, enough of that. So the airport was typical – I was nervous about flying completely alone to/from foreign countries, but after a minor delay, I made it to Dublin! My uncle picked me up and drove me to his house, which is about 15 minutes from the airport. By the time I got there, it was about 11pm, so I didn’t do much. Just caught up with my family, had some soda bread, and went to sleep.

Thursday 8/4 – Everyone had off from school/work this week, so my uncle and my younger cousin Ciara were able to show me around Dublin – the basics. They took me to Grafton Street, which is this street full of shops, mostly big names and high-end shops like Debenham, BT2, H&M, and Penney’s (an inexpensive shop like London’s Primark). Then, right nearby, we walked through St. Stephen’s Green park, which of course was pretty. Then we stopped into the National Gallery. It wasn’t as big as I was imagining, or as big as the National Gallery in London, but it was still interesting. I always get really tired in museums though. Then later that day, Ciara wanted to go skateboarding, so they took me to Pope’s Cross in Phoenix Park, which is, as it sounds, this hill with a giant cross coming out of it. But apparently the cross is a monument of sorts for when Pope John Paul II came to speak in Dublin at that very spot over 30 years ago. A little bit of history on my very first day! That night I had a relaxing evening and went to the cinema with my cousin Katie and saw The Blindside. So emotional!

St. Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre on Grafton St.

Pope’s Cross

Friday 9/4 – My aunt and uncle and my two youngest cousins went up to Newgrange, which is basically “the Irish Stonehenge” in that these rocks appeared thousands of years ago (around 3100 BCE) and it is a mystery how they got there, or what it was used for though theory says it’s probably a tomb mound of sorts. It looks so much bigger from the outside than it actually is – we were only inside the actual sight for about 5 minutes – but it was pretty interesting. Especially when you have to practically crawl in, since the openings where TINY! The most interesting part is when the guide shut the lights off and simulated a sunrise to show back in the day, they only saw light for 7 minutes from inside the mound, because of where the openings were located and where the sun rises. Pretty neat!

Newgrange

Ancient stone at the entrance

Close up of the carving

SHEEP!!!!

My cousin, the farmer. LOL (Candid shot)

Saturday 10/4 – This was a somewhat relaxing day. I spent the afternoon at Ciara’s gaelic game (they won 2-0!) and then went to Blanchardstown shopping mall (where the cinema is) where Katie met up with me and did a LITTLE shopping. That night we went out with my other older cousin, Megan, and her friend Claire. We went to a bar, Capital, and then to a club, The Village, where apparently we saw an Irish celebrity completely drunk! I didn’t know who this woman was, but it was a big deal to them. We got back at around 2 and I was exhausted!

Me, Katie, Megan, and Claire

Sunday 11/4 – This was the last day before everyone went back to work/school and everyone’s schedules started colliding, so I got to spend some more time with my cousins. Megan took me and Ciara to this park, Farmleigh’s because it was a beautiful day and we thought there’d be a bunch to do. Apparently it was Japanese Culture Day? We didn’t catch on until we saw people dressed in kimonos and other Japanese attire, with booths set up for karate and sushi. Very bizarre! There wasn’t as much to do as we thought, it was PACKED, and we didn’t bring lunch so it would’ve been pointless to sit down on the grass, so we just walked around a little. It was actually a really beautiful place, too bad nothing was really going on. After that we went back to Grafton Street to do some window shopping, and then Megan took us back to her apartment to show me around. Swank place! Then I went back and watched TV with my other cousins, which became routine for us on Sundays – Jersey Shore! Then I went to sleep to prepare for my first day on my own as an American tourist in Dublin!

The mansion at Farmleigh’s

More of Farmleigh’s

Well, it’s almost midnight here and I’m exhausted. Look’s like you’ll have to wait til next time to find out the rest! 🙂

More Than I Bargained For

This Spring Break is not at all what I envisioned. The plan was to visit my cousins in Ireland from the 7th to the 16th, go to Rome to stay with my friend until the 20th, and fly back to London from Dublin on the 21st. Thanks to this epic Icelandic-volcano-eruption chaos, it is the morning of the 21st and I am still in London. In fact, never made it to Rome because it just so happens that the volcano erupted the day before I was due to fly. I guess it’s a miracle in disguise – it could have erupted while I was en route, or after I already arrived, OR I could’ve been like my other friends who were traveling all around Europe staying in hostels. Point is, I am quite lucky I am with my family, safe, in a bed that I don’t have to pay for, as opposed to stuck in an airport because I have no money to pay for another night in a hostel. Sure, I would’ve loved to see Rome, but this is a much better situation.

I know I must sound unusally calm for being “stuck” on my spring break, but trust me, this past week has been maddening. Aside from worrying about my safety, I also can’t help but worry about my upcoming exam and papers. I have an exam on 27 April, and of course I didn’t take any study material to Ireland with me (when/why would I have had the chance to study?) so I can’t even study. Same goes for my papers, which are all due on 5 May. When I first learned that my flight for today was cancelled, I was scrambling to find the quickest solution that will get me back to London ASAP because of my assessments – what if I have to reschedule my exam and I can only take it after I’m supposed to be leaving back to the states? What if I have little/no time to write my papers? All sorts of worst-case-scenarios were floating in my head until I eventually shook them all out of me. Even though the thought of me being thousands of feet in the atmosphere so soon after this volcanic eruption scares me to pieces, I realize that flying woukd probably be the best option, despite the issue of time.

As it turns out, I am (hopefully) getting back to London on Sunday afternoon (25 April), which will give me a little more than a day to study for my exam. I’ve pulled all-nighters and last minute study cramming before, so hopefully I can pull it off. But just in case, I e-mailed my professor explaining my situation. As for my papers, I have a little more than a week, which I hope will be enough time for three papers (one of which I started working on before I left). Don’t worry, during this time I’ll allow myself some time to update everyone on what I did here in Ireland, complete with many pictures! Hope everyone else is doing well, and I hope all of my friends around Europe can make it back to London safely. Hopefully, I’ll see everyone on Sunday!

xx

Dan’s Visit – SUCCESS!

Wow, guys. As I sit here on this (of course) cloudy day in London, I can’t help but think about how quickly time is flying. Just this past Thursday was our last day of classes for the term. Seriously?! It feels like just yesterday I was getting to JFK with my luggage and my anxiety (especially about this “blizzard” if you could call it that), and then landing in Heathrow ready to embark on this epic journey. And now, it’s already over!

Well, not exactly; I still have about a month left. But it’s going to be pretty lax for the most part. Starting yesterday, I am officially on Spring Break for the next two weeks. (Side note: I think it’s a little strange that they call it Spring Break. It’s not like we go back to classes; we just have finals when we get back.) I have one actual exam on the 28th, and the other three are just papers that are all due May 5th. Pretty sweet if you ask me. For Spring Break, I’m going to Dublin to visit my family and staying with them for the whole two weeks. During that time, I’m also visiting my friend Allison (the same Allison who came to visit a few weeks ago) in Rome. I’m SO excited for this upcoming vacation; I’ve been waiting to go to Ireland for so long. Also, a bunch of my friends just got back from Ireland and told me it was fantastic which of course got me even more excited! But before getting excited for this trip, I had something else to be excited about….

Last Saturday, my boyfriend, Dan came to visit for the week! It was SOOOOOOOOOO good seeing him again; I’ve missed him a LOT! Also, we’ve been talking about this week since the end of January, so it was great to have it finally happen. You see, this trip was more than just a week together after months apart: even before we were dating, we would talk about London and how we both have always really wanted to go. We would say that we should go together, since it was a big dream of both of ours, knowing it would probably never happen. But look, it did! It felt great to actually be in London with him, like we always talked about.

It was also great to see someone from New York; it made me feel at home and miss it quite a bit. Anyway, that’s why I haven’t been around to blog this past week; I’ve been showing him the greatness that is this beautiful city! From what he’s told me, he loved it! While we covered most of the major “London-esque” things (Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, etc.), we also got to do a bunch of things I haven’t even done yet. Here’s how it went:

Saturday: He got here in the morning and of course was exhausted, so we didn’t do much. Had fish and chips of course! Showed him around Oakwood and Southgate and went food shopping for the week. A pretty anti-climatic first day in London. Afterward, we made dinner in the Sassoon kitchen and had an early night.

Sunday: We made some breakfast, then headed over to Covent Garden since it’s the best on the weekends. Saw a few street performers, went into a bunch of the shops, had Ben’s Cookies (Mmmm!), and ate British pub food. Later that night, we met up in Central London with a bunch of my friends so he could meet them.

Monday: This was our busiest day! After Dan had his very first English Breakfast (and loved it, of course!) we started off with something I had yet to do – see the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace! We got there early, but not early enough; it was PACKED. Got to see it with a limited view, but it was still cool. The band played an assortment of ABBA songs which we weren’t expecting at all. Afterward, we took a stroll in St. James Park, right next to the Palace, and got some hot chocolate. Then we headed over to Big Ben and Parliament – which, of course, was a favorite – and got a few shots of Westminster Abbey. Then, because we had time and we were semi-close, we headed over to the Imperial War Museum. We didn’t get to see all of it, obviously, but I knew there was an exhibit on the Holocaust which I was interested in. Not exactly the cheeriest moment of his trip, but interesting nonetheless. We were both pretty exhausted – museums wear me out and we had already done a lot of walking – so we headed back over to Parliament Square for our next adventure: The London Eye. This was one of the things Dan told me he wanted to do and, even though I am absolutely TERRIFIED of heights, I agreed. Plus, it was a reduced price because it was the 10th anniversary of the Eye, so why not? BAH, I would not recommend this for people afraid of heights. It was amazing to see the view from the top, but for about 80% of the ride I was glued to the seat, along with an older woman who seemed to be cursing under her breath in a different language, out of fear. I felt bad because Dan was totally enjoying it; I wished I could’ve been more into it, but I think he understood.

Tuesday: Didn’t do much during the day, especially since it was pouring. Well, at least he got to experience typical London weather. At night, I had planned on going to see Avenue Q, but because of “the holiday” (Easter, I’m assuming?) ticket prices weren’t as reduced as they normally were. We didn’t really want to spend 36 quid each, so we saw a movie instead. Not as thrilling, I know, but oh well. We saw Bounty Hunter, and it was pretty good. Probably not as good as Avenue Q would’ve been, I imagine, but it was good to get out of the rain. Before the movie we got these coupons for a free dish at Yo! Sushi, a sushi bar that ran on conveyor belts. We were both getting hungry so we figured we’d take advantage of the offer. It was pretty tasty, and a cool thing to experience. I don’t believe I’ve seen anything like that at home, but I’ll definitely keep my eye out in May. 🙂

Wednesday: We went to Bath for the day, which we were both really looking forward to. From what I saw on the website, it was beautiful. But OY! What a morning! We got up at around 6am, got the first uni bus at 7, and stopped into Tesco for an amazing chocolate croissant. No croissants! The manager told me they’d be done in “about 10-15 minutes, not long.” Me being the ridiculous person that I am, I insisted on waiting because these croissants are just THAT good. Well, almost a half an hour had gone by before I realized how long we’d been standing there. Then Dan told me the guy was JUST starting to make them. You think I’m joking, but I’m not. I was starving and stressing about time, so we got coffee/hot chocolate and muffins and left. Took a long tube ride to Paddington station for the train to Bath. Upon arriving at the ticket kiosk, I realized how crucial it was to buy tickets online/in advance. I was expecting we would pay £29.50 for two tickets to Bath, but it was A LOT more. Then we JUST missed the train by seconds and had to wait a half an hour for the next. This whole morning was turning into a giant fail and I got really upset, but once we were on the train and finally arrived at Bath at 11, I had calmed down. Only to realize that I never wrote down the name of the B&B we were going to stay at! AH! After what felt like a wild goose chase, we finally got the name and address of the place and after lunch, we checked in to the Radnor (an adorable and pretty inexpensive B&B for anyone planning a trip to Bath – I recommend!) and continued our Bath adventure. We originally wanted to visit Bath Abbey first and do the Tower Tour, but we had missed the last tour by 15 minutes. Oh well, we got to walk around the church for a bit. So, first stop was the Roman Baths. We walked around for about 90 minutes and even got to taste Spa water! I thought it was pretty gross because it was hot, but it was cool to drink water from the actual spa. Then we went to the Fashion Museum (sounds random, I know, but we got a discounted ticket with our ticket to the Roman Baths). It was interesting I guess, but if it hadn’t been for the discount, I probably wouldn’t have gone in. After that, we walked around a bit more. I realized that Bath was different than I expected. Sure, there were historical buildings/sights, but it was also this really cute, small town with a lot of small shops. But then you turn the corner and BAM! There’s an H&M and Quiksilver? So it had its modern moments. Then we reached The Circus and the Royal Crescent. Walking back to the B&B to change for dinner, we also saw Pulteney Bridge. I was confused because as I was walking along this path with shops on it, I was looking in the distance for a bridge, only to discover that I was walking Pulteney Bridge! Apparently it’s the only bridge in the area to have shops built along it. Later that night, we went to a cute restaurant called The Real Italian Pizza Co. It was a very colorful place with great Italian food at a good price. After an exhausting day in Bath, we SLEPT!

Thursday: We woke up at 7am and got ready for our full English Breakfast (included with the price of the B&B) which was delicious! They also had a bunch of cereals and juices and teas, all of which I took advantage of. Mm mm mmm!! Then we checked out at 8 (after purchasing our tickets back to London ONLINE this time) and headed back into the city for our guided tour to Stonehenge! I’ll admit, it wasn’t all it was hyped up to be. Sure, it was really great seeing something that’s so historically famous, and it was obviously something I needed to see during my stay in the UK, but there wasn’t much to do. The tour gave us an hour on the site, but Dan and I were done in about 30 minutes. It was SO WINDY at the sight, so we didn’t mind heading back to the tour bus early. And I felt like such a jerk that day, because when I went to take a picture of Dan with his camera and dropped it!!! The screen cracked 🙁 It still works, but if you can’t see what you’re taking a picture of, what’s the point? I felt awful for the rest of the day/his visit. I still feel bad. Oy, I’m so clumsy sometimes… Anywho, we got back to London at around 5 and met Ashley for dinner; she wanted to meet Dan.

Friday: LAZY MORNING! After an exhausting and jam-packed week, it’s exactly what we needed. At around 11:30, we went over to Tesco; I needed some ingredients for lunch and dinner that night. Lo and behold, they had croissants! They weren’t on display yet, but the guy let me have 2….straight from the oven. OMG. Best croissants I’ve ever had from Tesco. Yum! After making lunch, we headed over to Tower Bridge, the last must-see on my list. It was around sunset when we got there. I figured we could walk the Thames Path for a bit – between Tower Bridge and Millennium Bridge – as the sun was setting. A nice romantic, laid-back way to end the week. And it wasn’t even that cold! (Forgot to mention that I stupidly told Dan not to bring a heavy coat because it was getting nicer; naturally, it was cold and rainy this whole week, despite the conditions last week.) We got back to Middlesex and made another delicious meal and had tea and crumpets for dessert. 🙂

Today: Woke up, Dan wanted another English Breakfast before heading back to New York. Then chilled out in my room until around 1:30 when we left for Heathrow. This week seemed to fly by, but like I said before, it was great to be in London with him. And just to see him in general – I’ve missed him so much! This goodbye wasn’t as emotional and heart-wrenching as the one we had in January, mostly because we know we’ll be seeing each other in about a month. But I know I’ll still be missing him until May.

Now I just have to upload my pictures, clean my room, do some laundry, and prepare for MY upcoming trips. Also, I’ll wish everyone a Happy Easter! 🙂

xx

I Want to See Everything!!

In an attempt to post more frequent entries, I’ve decided to let everyone in on my plans for the next 2 months (that’s right, I already have less than 2 months in London!). Okay, so I don’t have an exact plan per se, but after I realized how little time I have left in this amazing city, I realized how much I still have left to see and decided to research some exciting places. Here’s a few I’ve found:

Shakespeare’s Globe: Duh. I’m an English major, and I love Shakespeare, AND I’m in the home of Shakespeare. Why would I not tour the Globe and possibly see a play? More importantly, why haven’t I already?! This one is pretty self-explanatory, but for those who don’t know, the guided tours basically explain the London in which Shakespeare lived and the theater for which he wrote. They also talk briefly about the theater’s reconstruction and how it evolved over the years. They also offer exhibitions on different things like printing and costumes.

Museums!!!: Almost all of the museums here in London have free admission, so I plan to see as many as I can. As you know, I’ve already seen the Childhood Museum, British Museum, and National Gallery. Next on my list is first the Bank of England Museum. After the money exhibit at the British Museum, I’m now really interested in seeing a whole museum devoted to currency and its history in England. Next are the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A for short) and the Imperial War Museum, which supposedly has a really interesting exhibit on the Holocaust. There’s also the Saatchi Gallery, right by Sloane Square (the headquarters for the Duke of York), which is a pretty interesting looking contemporary art museum. Much to my surprise, I’m also interesting in seeking out the Hunterian Museum, one of the many medical museums of London. I don’t even know why I’m so interested in it; I guess I’m just curious to see how medicine has improved/changed over the years.

London Sea Life Aquarium: Call me a nerd if you will, but aquariums fascinate me! This is apparently one of Europe’s largest collections of marine life, and according to their website, “the jewel on the crown of the 28 SEA LIFE attractions in the UK and Europe.” Wow! Of course, it’s pretty pricey (£16, £14.40 if I book online) so I’ll probably leave this to the end of my trip.

Speakers’ Corner: Located in Hyde Park, this is a place where public speaking is allowed, often controversial topics and debates. There are other speakers’ corners in London, but this is the most famous. These speeches and debates are obviously monitored to a certain degree. I found out about it when I was looking up the Marble Arch (located right by Hyde Park) and it seemed really interesting – not to take part in, but just to walk by and see what it’s about, on my way to see the Marble Arch.

Tour of BBC TV Centre/Broadcasting House: Pretty self-explanatory, but tickets are only £7 for students!

Trips out of London: Wales, and Canterbury are the top two on my list, but I haven’t done too much research yet. My friend Tara just took a day trip to Cardiff and said it was amazing.

Alright kiddies, that’s all I’ve got for now. Let’s hope I get to do most (if not all) of this! I’m running out of time!

Arts, Antiques, and Allison

So I realize how long it’s been since I last ACTUALLY updated (not counting, of course, my Paris pictures from earlier). This past weekend my friend from home, Allison, came to visit from Rome where she’s studying abroad. But more on that later. This is going to be another LONG post!

Before I delve into all the fun stuff – AKA the more interesting and, dare I say, more important part of this experience – I’ll briefly share that I got my first paper back on Wednesday. I got a 3! Now, before you wonder why I’m so excited about this, let me remind/tell everyone about the grading system in London. It’s on a scale of 1 to 20, where 1-4 are equivalent to high mark (an A), so a 3 is basically an A! I’ll admit, of the 3 papers I had to write last month, this one was the easiest to me; it was basically picking one of the passages from Midnight’s Children she gave us and doing a close reading and thinking up your own thesis. That’s basically what I’ve been doing since junior year of high school. Easy peezy. I felt bad because a few people around me apparently didn’t do so well, but I was still (understandably) proud that I managed to snag an A on my first paper in London. 🙂

Okay, anyway. Last week – Wednesday to be exact – was my birthday! My 21st birthday, even!! What an amazing way to celebrate; after having a handful of pretty uneventful or un-enjoyable birthdays since middle school, it was great to be in London for this major birthday, although I kind of wished I was around my family and friends. I didn’t do much on my actual birthday because many of my friends have class on Thursday even though I don’t.  Orange phone service has this deal for Wednesdays where they give 2 for 1 movie tickets and coupons for Pizza Express. Because we all still have our Orange simcards from when we first got here – we all switched to better plans since then – we decided to take advantage of this. So that night I went to Pizza Express with Tara, Melissa, Aminta, Laura, and Joey and then went with Tara, Melissa and Laura to see Leap Year. The food was AMAZING! The staff was really nice, too. We got an order of garlic bread and dough balls which were both delicious, and I can’t remember what I got for the main dish but I remember it being amazing. Even without the Orange deal, the prices aren’t too bad for a restaurant that looks pretty fancy at first glance. Definitely going back there another time. The movie, on the other hand, wasn’t too impressive. None of us really liked it except for the really beautiful Irish scenery. We all got a little excited about going there on our separate Ireland trips. Oh! I forgot to mention that they also got me a Hannah Montana cake (which was pretty good but went stale pretty quickly) and a “blow up husband” which was not what I originally thought it was, thank God. He’s now inflated and sitting in the corner creepily.

On Thursday, since I didn’t have class, I finally got myself over to the British Museum and the National Gallery. Laura came with, because she never got to see the Rosetta Stone the last time she was at the British Museum, and had never been to the National Gallery either. Tara also wanted to come to the National Gallery, so we were going to meet her when we were done at the British Museum.

British Museum and a lovely day

Inside the British Museum

I hafta say, I think preferred the British Museum over the otherwise-popular National Gallery. I’ve always heard such amazing things about NG and how monstrous it is, but I think BM had more interesting things to offer. For example, Rosetta Stone was there along with a clock room – I happen to think clocks are fascinating – and an exhibit on world currencies over the years. There was even a hands-on station where we could touch and look closely at ancient currency from Africa and Rome (I think). Sweet!

Rosetta Stone!

Yep, this is a clock

World currencies through history

In contrast, National Gallery (not to be confused with the National Portrait Gallery, which Tara did) was mostly paintings and portraits, which made me laugh since there’s an entirely other building devoted to….more portraits? Anyway, they didn’t let us take any pictures but the building itself is probably what stood out to me more than the art. High ceilings, elaborate ceiling artwork and a lot of gilding.

National Gallery from the outside

View from Trafalgar Square after the National Gallery

My real birthday celebration took place on Friday when we all got together to go to a club in Central London, On Anon. It was a beautiful club, although I’m not usually a big club goer. But it was a cool way to celebrate, although it was like Amazing Race to get there before 10 for free admission. We just made it! Josh also offered to cook enchiladas before we left for Central. Soooo good!

(Some of) The group at On Anon

Although I had every intention of sleeping in that day, my friends texted me the next morning about going to Portobello Road, a huge outdoor antique market in Notting Hill. I heard good things about it, and my friends hadn’t left by the time I got up, so I decided to go. It was really cool, although I wasn’t about to splurge on antique knick-knacks or vintage clothing. I did, however, get some paella which was TODIEFOR.

Portobello Road

The paella!!

Anyway, after walking up and down Portobello Road, Aminta and I had somewhere else to be – A DAVE MATTHEWS BAND CONCERT AT O2 ARENA! That’s right, I said it! That was my birthday gift to myself, I guess. It was one of the most expensive things I’ve bought in London (aside from airfare) but it was totally worth it! I’ve been wanting to see them live for years and what better place to do it than in London – and the O2 arena no less! It was such an amazing venue! I mean,the arena itself was basically as big as Madison Square Garden which I’m obviously used to, but it’s located in this huge mall-type place that was really colorful and futuristic looking. It was the kind of place you could hang out in without actually seeing a concert. I also bought a T-shirt which I just realized I’m wearing right now, lol!

Cool looking wall by The O2

Movie theater in The O2 by the arena

Inside The O2

Anyway, before we could enjoy the show and all that, we had to pick up the tickets which of course had to be a whole adventure in itself. Aminta didn’t realize she needed the confirmation number, and she didn’t remember which credit card she paid for the tickets with, so she had all of them with her. True, she probably should’ve thought of these things, but I was still shocked at how difficult this had become. Finally, we realized that the problem was that they were looking under the TicketMaster list, and couldn’t find her name, so she probably ordered through a different company. I didn’t think they had different lists – and didn’t understand why they did –  which was why this was so baffling to me. Then the woman told her to check her e-mail, but she didn’t have her Blackberry with her so the woman directed us to the O2 store to use their computers. But they didn’t have public computers, but thankfully a really nice employee let us use the store computer and print out the e-mail. After 10 minutes of thinking she accidentally deleted the e-mail, Aminta found it and printed it and brought it back to the line. UGH! Altogether, this process took about 15 minutes, but it was finally taken care of. We had gotten there pretty early so we had plenty of time to get a coffee and relax until the doors opened. Then the show! I loved it! We were planning on moving our seats if it wasn’t sold out, but it got pretty full and we liked our seats anyway, so there was no need. I was a little disappointed that he didn’t play a lot of his older/more popular songs, but he played a handful of my favorites, so again, I didn’t care! I was in the same room as Davey I didn’t care at all!!!

Best picture of the night!

I didn’t do too much last week, but on Monday Tara, Melissa, Aminta and I went to “Every Other Monday” comedy show in Angel Islington. I heard about it in an e-mail newsletter I got from the International Office at Middlesex. I know I LOVE British humor (hello, The Office and Whose Line is it Anyway?) but I wasn’t sure of what to expect. It was basically a free comedy night where regulars come to try out their new material. They’re all on for about 8-10 minutes and if the audience laughs, they’re mostly likely going to keep the joke; if the audience sort of laughs – or there’s a mixed reaction – they think about tweaking that part; if the audience doesn’t laugh at all they obviously toss the joke. A lot of them were really hilarious – I preferred the second half – but the first two were INCREDIBLY nervous; the woman was literally shaking all over. I realized that for a comedian to be funny, they have to be more confident or else the humor is kind of lost. This poor girl didn’t have any transitions between jokes it was like a grab bag of random one liners. Anyway, I realized I could never be a stand up comedian, but I had a great time being an audience member! We sat in the first row, so of course we were a target for many of the comedians, especially once they found out we’re Americans. And the MC looked JUST like my brother, only he had a British accent which was jarring as hell, but pretty amusing still.

Then on Thursday my friend Allison came to visit! Before she got here, I bought an air mattress (which I just returned today now that she left – yeah, I cheat the system like that!) but it didn’t have an air pump, which of course made for an interesting experience of blowing it up manually. Anyway, Thursday I went to Stansted to meet her at the airport. Her flight was a little late landing, so I didn’t meet up with her until about 8, and we didn’t get back to Oakwood until about 9:30. We got dinner at the fish and chips shop next to the tube station and then just hung out at my room. I loved having a guest here because I got to do all the touristy things I did at the beginning, again 2 months later. 🙂 Friday she went to the British Museum while I was in class, and later that night we took the Jack Ripper walking tour. Spooky! Basically a tour guide takes you around to the different places where the actual murders took place; most of the locations have since been renovated, but you can still see the same doorways or windows, etc. We were literally at the scenes of the crimes! And it wasn’t the greatest looking neighborhood so that made it even spookier! I didn’t really know much about the JtR story prior to Friday night, but now I know the full story. Basically, for those who don’t know, his victims were all homeless and drunken prostitutes whom he literally ripped (hence the name) apart to very gruesome extent. In the process of brutally slaughtering these women, he removed their wombs. I think the eeriest part of the whole tour was when Jenny (our tour guide) explained how Jack was never caught, never identified, and how he probably got away with it – which I never thought about (how does a man not get noticed walking down the streets of London covered in blood? how does he even know how to properly slaughter a person?) Her theory is that he was probably a professional slaughterer: back in the day, before there were freezers, the animals were hunted, slaughtered, packaged, and sent to the butcher shops by 6 am. Therefore, a man walking around in an apron covered in blood at 3am was probably common. And the only way he would know how to properly slaughter his victims (slice the throat, then down the chest, etc.) would be if he studied it in books and practiced; thus, he was probably a slaughterer. We also got to read an actual letter presumably written by Jack in which he coins himself “Jack the Ripper.” Altogether scary! On Saturday, we did pretty much ALL the tourist spots – Westminster Abbey, Big Ben/Parliament, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s, Tower Bridge, Millennium Bridge:

Obligatory phone booth photo

Westminster Abbey

Me and Big Ben

Houses of Parliament and the River Thames

Me and the statue at Buckingham Palace

Our amazing lunch at The Albert!

Another picture of the Tower Bridge to add to my collection

Millennium Bridge at sunset

St. Paul’s Cathedral at sunset

Sunday, we went down to Trafalgar Square for the St. Paddy’s day parade/festival. It was pretty cool, since I’ve never been to the one in NY (which I know is WAY more elaborate and insane than this one was) but it was nice to finally go to one and be surrounded by all that orange and green! There were tables with Irish food and Irish music/performances and everything. I almost felt Irish myself! Afterward, we went to another pub for some English food (we had gone to one on Saturday and FELL IN LOVE with it and its amazing food!) but it wasn’t the same as The Albert; still good though.

Later that night, Allison wanted to go to a real London bar. I realized that there aren’t many places in between laid-back pubs and high-energy clubs. But luckily our friends were on their way down to B@1, a bar in Soho. Perfect! Even though we got there just as it was closing (everything closes pretty early here in London), she was still happy she got that experience, even just for a little. It was a really cute little place that played good music, so I’m glad I found it. After that, we came back here and she slept for a few hours before we had to trek back to Stansted in the middle of the night/early this morning. Her flight was at 8 so she had to get there by 6ish, which means we left here about 4:30am. That means night buses for us, UGH. One thing I don’t like about London is the night buses. Sometimes a little creepy, but always looooooong rides. I went with her up to Tottenham Hale train station, but not to the airport. It was perfect, really, because I was able to get the first tube back to Oakwood from there. I treated myself to a very fresh croissant from Tesco and put myself to BED until 2. Oy, I probably screwed up my sleep schedule for tonight, but whatever.

So that’s what’s been happening here! I also learned yesterday that Daylight Savings Time is different for different countries. Call me dumb, but I didn’t know that! It’s strange because now, for the next two weeks, there’s only going to be a 4 hour time difference between London and New York, as opposed to 5. Weird! Also, yesterday was Mother’s Day here in the UK, so Mum if you’re reading this, Happy Belated (but not?) Mother’s Day! It’s also been getting a LOT nicer weather-wise; it was actually pretty sunny today! Recently, it’s been sporadically sunny while still being pretty windy; how deceiving! I can’t wait until it’s actually spring and our big, green campus is filled with dandelions and pretty-ness! 🙂 Sorry this was so long, I’ll try to post a little more frequently so I don’t have to write a novel every time. But I guess that just means I’ve been having a busy and exciting time here! I still can’t believe it’s already half-over though (or half-left, depending on how you look at it). Wonder what I’ll do next….

Paris Pictures!

I know, I know. I totally forgot to upload my pictures from Paris! Apologies, apologies (although I’m sure anyone who is friends with me on Facebook is not at all disappointed – all my pictures from the last two weeks are up there. But for those reading this who did not get to see on Facebook, here are some highlights from Paris:

Me, Melissa, and Laura outside Notre Dame

A view from inside Notre Dame

And another!

Me and the Pantheon

My creepiest photo from inside the Catacombs

Me outside the Louvre – amazing museum!!!

I got to see the Mona Lisa in person – I loved it!

One of my favorite parts of the Louvre – Napoleon’s apartments

A walk in a park in Paris – just past the Louvre

NEED I SAY MORE??

Bonjour! Je voudrais…

Hello! Apologies on slacking with my posts, I’ve just been incredibly busy! When we last left off, I was leaving for Paris. My flight took off last Thursday (18 February) at around 7pm. However, that day (and the night before) was way more stressful than just hopping on a plane:

That week was my reading week, which basically meant that there were no classes so that we could catch up on reading/work for our classes. But of course for me, that means travel time! Also, the following week my first papers were due in all of my classes. Obviously, I wasn’t about to write my papers in Paris, so that week up until Thursday was spent writing papers. And since I am the world’s biggest procrastinator (despite the fact that these papers were done 4 days before they were due), I spent the night before finishing up my last paper, and spent the morning of the 18th printing two copies of each of my three papers, handing them all in, and doing some last minute packing. It was definitely a game of beat the clock for me.

For Paris, it was me, Tara, Melissa, Laura, Aminta, Josh and James, but Tara, Melissa, and Laura got a flight on the 17th, and me, Aminta, Josh, and James were going Thursday night. The four of us grabbed food (McDonalds UGH) before heading off on the tube to the airport. It’s quite a process getting to Luton: take the tube to King’s Cross, get a train from King’s Cross to Luton, and then a shuttle from there to the airport. Okay, it seemed a lot more complicated when it was happening, but altogether I feel like it took about an hour and a half and we were all stressed about time, even though we gave ourselves more than enough time.

Fact: Security at Luton (and Charles de Gaulle on our return flight) is MUCH less intense than at JFK, or anywhere in the US for that matter. Sure, we still had to take our shoes off, but I don’t feel like that much attention was paid to what’s in our bags. For example, my friend was able to bring her razor and a big thing of shampoo on the plane with her. Also, in America our little 8 oz bottles have to be in their own individual bags, but here they can all be put together. Funny story: As if the day wasn’t stressful enough, in my hasty attempt to get myself out the door that afternoon, I threw my shampoos at the bottom of my bag and therefore had to stop on the line and dig through my bag for them, completely messing up all of my stuff. AND I had to buy ziploc baggies for £1 (total rip-off) at security.

The flight felt like it took about 5 seconds. We literally took off and then landed! Once we landed, it was the moment of truth. We had to figure out how to get to our hostel, which was apparently simple to get to. We just needed to buy a ticket. And none of us spoke/read French, which naturally made the journey even more difficult. We found a ticket place, and by our silence, the woman gathered we spoke English. She was really nice about it though, gave us all maps and told us where to go. We had to take the metro from the airport and then transfer to another line, and then it’s just one stop. Well, when we got on that metro, we realized (thankfully only one stop in) that we were going the wrong way! We got off, went two stops in the RIGHT direction, and then had to find the actual place. Let me tell you, we were staying in the armpit of Paris – of course, at only €16 a night per person, what else should I expect? But trying to find our way in a dangerous-looking part of a foreign city at 11pm was not my favorite part of the trip. Apparently we took the wrong exit out of the metro station – the other exit would’ve been 2 minutes from the place – so we actually arrived at the hostel at midnight. According to the website, check in started at 12am, so our plan was to wait til midnight to check in (we ended up not having to wait), but the guy charged us for an extra night because he said check-in began at 9am. LAME! But again, it was only an extra €16, and we were all too tired to be mad about it. We found our friends in the 13-bed room. Not the nicest room – one bathroom for potentially 13 people (there were only 7 of us most of the time), and no windows, and the bedroom door didn’t lock. I figured that’s what we were getting, and we were really only using the hostel for a place to sleep anyway, so we all dealt with the gross conditions.

(If I go into incredible detail about the whole trip I’ll be writing for the next 3 days, so I’ll shorten this part)

Friday: We went to Notre Dame first thing in the morning. WHAT A BEAUTIFUL BUILDING! And inside had so many beautiful stained glass windows. The only thing I didn’t like was that they were charging people to light candles; it made it more of a tourist spot/a way to make money than an actual church. But I wasn’t there to pray, I was there to just explore it. We wanted to go to the top, but the line was outrageous and I’m pretty sure it was going to be expensive. After Notre Dame, we headed over to the Pantheon. At the time, we didn’t realize that we could probably have gotten in for free (as students or EU “citizens” under 26), and since Tara has a British passport, she was the only one who went inside; I wasn’t really sure what the Pantheon had inside, so I wasn’t going to spend money on it. The rest of us explored the local area for a bit. Even got to see the Eiffel Tower in the distance! 🙂 After that came the Catacombs. I had heard of catacombs before, but I didn’t realize we were going to be walking past actual skulls and bones of actual dead people from Paris! Creepy! It took about an hour to walk through the whole thing, and when we got out we were in a different part of the city (they’re underground most of Paris). By the late afternoon we were exhausted, so we went back and napped, and then got ready to go out and explore at night. Not as much of a nightlife as I expected; maybe we weren’t looking in the right places.

Saturday: Another early morning, but it was time to explore the Louvre!! Mona Lisa here I come! Most of us were able to get in for free, which was awesome. Unfortunately, since it was a Saturday, Mona Lisa was hard to see. I was able to take a few pictures, but they had a rope that was pretty far from the painting. I heard that on days that aren’t busy they let you go up to it and really stare at it (and test to see if her eyes really do follow you everywhere!). Oh well. But seriously, the Louvre is ENORMOUS! We were there for about 3-4 hours and I only saw about 3/4 of it. Other than the Mona Lisa, I got to see the Code of Hammurabi and Napoleon III’s apartment (how come my apartment doesn’t look like that?!) and a load of famous sculptures like the Winged Victory, Aphrodite, and Psyche and Cupid. Even though we only did one thing really, it was a long day. After the Louvre, we met up and started walking towards the Arc de Triomphe where there was a Paul’s (delicious pastries!). I had a quiche and a macaroon (unlike the macaroons in America).

Sunday: We got a little bit of a later start than usual, but we headed over to Versailles. It took forever to get in: we tried getting in for free but since we don’t have visas except for Tara and Melissa, we had to get on another line, but when we got to the front of that line, we asked the guy about our student IDs and how we’re in the UK for 6 months and can’t we get in for free so he sent us back to the other place, but this time the line was out the door, and when we got to the front of THAT line, Aminta was the only one without her Middlesex ID, so she was going to have to pay. The woman was kind of rude to her, and she got upset, so I went to stay with her instead. I didn’t mind not seeing Versailles; I’d rather not have Aminta – the youngest of all of us – stand outside for an hour or two by herself. In the meantime, we went to find a gift for Josh who was turning 21 the next day. We had our own little adventure – I walked into a glass door and got a free Kinder bar (2 separate occasions). We ended up getting him a bottle of champagne and some Nutella (he loves Nutella; it’s not as weird as it sounds). That night, we headed over to the Eiffel Tower; Josh wanted to celebrate his birthday at midnight at the Eiffel Tower. It’s so beautiful at night. Since it was so late, we were pretty much the only people there – save a handful of guards – and it was so peaceful. While Josh popped his champagne bottle at midnight, the rest of us just sat on a bench right underneath the tower and just looked up in silence for about 20 minutes. It was so serene – favorite moment of the trip by far. It even lights up all pretty at night! 🙂

Monday: Happy Birthday Josh! Because of our late night – we didn’t get back til like 3 because we had to take a cab, which was much cheaper than I thought – we slept in til about 1 that day. We went to Sacré-Cœur and walked all the way to the top to see the sunset. Apparently, it’s known for being full of pick-pockets so we held onto our stuff for dear life, lol. Despite that, from up there, you can pretty much see all of Paris. It was an absolutely breathtaking view. Seriously. After the sunset, we went back because I had left a few things at the room and I felt uncomfortable not having them with me (one being my camera!) and then went back out to go to dinner for Josh’s birthday. Before dinner, we made a pit stop to see Moulin Rouge! We didn’t go in – it’s probably really expensive anyway – but from the outside it looked a lot different than I had imagined. Anyway, for dinner we went to this really cute area in St Michel. It was basically a really long street with dozens of little shops and restaurants that had pretty good deals on 3 course meals. The one we went to was 3 courses for €8! And the food was sooo delicious! I had the onion soup to start, fish with this really amazing sauce for the main course, and Neapolitan ice cream for dessert. Then we stumbled upon this little jazz club with live music. Josh wanted his first legal (in the US) drink, which was actually €12. Ouch. But we had a really great evening, and by Monday night we were ready to go home the next day.

Tuesday: I woke up very exhausted. We had to check out of the hostel at 9am, which meant that we had to carry around our bags all day until we left for the airport at 4pm. A) It was incredibly painful to walk around with a 10 lb bag on my back all day, and B) I was afraid we were going to stand out as tourists and get pick-pocketed or something. Tara and Laura wanted to go back to the Eiffel Tower to go to the top. Josh, Aminta, James, and I hadn’t seen the Arc de Triomph yet (we didn’t really go to it on Saturday, only saw it in the distance), and Melissa was exhausted so she came along with us too. After we saw the Arc – which took about 5 minutes – we went to relax somewhere. Stumbled upon a McDonalds (our third for the whole trip, UGH!) and went upstairs to just chill out; we were all exhausted and ready to get back to London. We spent a few hours there which I wasn’t too happy about, but at least we got to relax. I got a baguette from a shop next door, and got a hot chocolate from McCafe (mm mm mm). Eventually, we heard from Tara and Laura and met up with them at the Arcade (not an actual arcade, but a shopping center) and looked around in a few stores. Then we went wandering around Paris for a few hours. Accidentally stumbled upon the site of Princess Diana’s murder which was really sad. But on the overpass above where the accident took place, people wrote really sweet messages on the ledge. We also ran into a famous bridge (not sure of the name); the one thing I know about it is that it was featured in the last episode of Sex and the City. Regardless, it was a beautiful bridge, covered in gold with really pretty streetlamps. It was great seeing the last few sights of Paris before heading to the airport. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get any souvenirs before we left, but at that point we were all just ready to go to the airport. We had to wait a while to find out which gate we were going to, but we eventually made it (I was prepared with my liquids in a bag and with easy access to them) and had a safe and quick flight home. It was a little stressful trying to beat the clock again – we had to make the last tube AND we had to get back to Oakwood station in time for the last shuttle bus to campus. But we did it! It was nice getting back to my own room in a big, more-comfortable bed.

And thus concludes Liz’s epic adventure to Paris! Unfortunately, I hafta get back to reading so I don’t have time for pictures. But either tomorrow or Tuesday I’ll come back with pictures. Promise! (Those who are friends with me on Facebook can check out my Paris albums there in the meantime.)

xx