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

Why Wales? Entry #9: The Italian Adventure “Days 1-3”

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Day 1.  March 20, 2010

Day one was a day of travel.

We were all set to take the megabus from Cardiff to London and then another bus to the London-Stansted Airport, but we realized the night before that that the times we planned did not give us enough time to check in to the airport. So we had to replan. A big part of traveling, especially independently is not only planning, but replanning. We were not only ready to see and do everything, but we were ready for things to go wrong- and times to not match up properly. We were able to fix it by taking a train to London instead. We took the train from Cardiff to London, then the tube to abother train station- and finally another train to the London Stansted airport, which took us to Venice.

We arrived in Venice around 11pm, and got to our hotel by midnight. Venice was so quiet and beautiful at night. After checking into our room, we wandered around a bit and enjoyed some water. We didn’t spend too long out since we wanted to get up early and enjoy the day.

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Day 2 March 21st 2010

Venice and Piacenza

We started the day off realizing just how confusing it is to get around Venice. Since there are no roads, only waterways for boats, and small pathways for pedestrians; we seemed to be wandering aimlessly until we found a sign. The interesting thing is that even though there are official signs pointing to places of interest, there are apparently not enough. Some graffitti artists took it upon themselves to make sure that the tourists find their way.

We enjoyed some italian pastries and then went to the Rialto Bridge. The city is beautiful from all angles! We shopped in the stores and admired the multitude of Murano Glass. We then headed to St. Mark’s Square and enjoyed some pizza and gelato as the infamous pigeons flew about.

After a casual day in the city, we went to the train station to head to Piacenza. Piacenza is a small city where Marissa’s family lives. She has met these second cousins (Lorenzo and Miriam) several times, but this was the first time she visited them on her own. We arrived at their lovely home where a late dinner had been prepared for us. We met both of their mothers, who are stereotypical Italian grandmothers. They would make sure we were well fed, and taken care of. Even though I couldn’t communicate with them, I really enjoyed being around them. We also met Miriam and Lorenzo’s daughter who is 22 years old.

Dinner was delicious! Tortellini, and plenty of it! All the food was amazing. It was such an experience to be with a real Italian family and enjoy a real Italian meal.

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Day 3 March 22, 2010

Piacenza

We woke up around 9am, and enjoyed some breakfast as the grandmothers did their best with conversing. I was surprised how much I was able to understand without knowing any Italian. Since I used to major in French, the similarites, as well as the context and body language made it easier to understand.

After breakfast, Lorenzo and Miriam took us on a walking tour of Piacenza. It is a small city, but very beautiful. We saw many churches, and enjoyed some tea at the theater cafe. After a few hours out, we headed back to their home for lunch. This lunch had so much food I had to double check the clock and make sure it wasn’t dinner. I wasn’t expecting so much food for lunch!

We relaxed a bit more, and then headed back out to Castell’ Arquato which is outside of Piacenza. The views from Castell’ Arquato were amazing, and the castle was so grand. Then we headed to a mideval village called Grazano Visconti .

Upon returning home, Miriam provided us with cozy slippers and we relaxed until dinner. Dinner was pizza, with assorted meats, cheeses, and vegetables.

The time I spent in Piacenza with Marissa’s family was one of the best experiences. Not only did I get to have real Italian cuisine, but I met her wonderful family. Lorenzo and Miriam were so friendly and hospitable and really enjoyed having us there. It made me miss speaking a foreign language because I wanted to express how thankful I am for their generosity. I will be sending them a thank you card soon. Spending the time in Piacenza made the Italian adventure unique. 🙂

The view outside our window in Piacenza.

 

 

Why Wales? Entry #8: The Italian Adventure “Planning”

Why Wales?

Well the obvious reason is that we had 3 weeks off for Spring break!

Now, classes are important, but so is travel. Three weeks off allows us to choose places outside of the UK and truly taste that traveling bug that has been fluttering around us since we initially decided to study abroad.

PLANNING-

Planning 3 weeks of spring break is tough. There is so many places to go. Out of the 9 Americans here, only one knew where she was going.

 Meg had her trips planned early. Malta, Barcelona, and Ireland.  She had a friend in Malta and Barcelona, and her mom would be flying in for some quality time in Ireland. Everyone was welcomed to join her.

and most people did.

Christine, Maggie, Justine, and Meg spend their first week in Malta; a small island south of Sicily.

As for me, it took me a while to decide. It went from Italy to Greece, to Croatia, to Malta, to specifically Venice, and then back to the drawing board.

Nina was originally going to spend the week with Marissa and myself in Italy for the first week, but then decided to go the independent route. She ended up having a great time in Amsterdam with the psych club.

Garrett was planning on skiing the alps, and Elysse was set on Italy. She had a friend in Italy, which always helps travel. Having friends around the areas makes it easier to plan the days, since one city is more probable to match with the dates that the friend is available.

The problem was that there was so many places to go. How do we get there? How do we get around once we are there? Some of us were considering meeting others inbetween their travels. How could we assure we would meet up?

After a lot of planning, we finally set an itinerary. Everybody had a place to go, hostels/hotels were booked, and flights there and back had been arranged.

The first week was to start off like this:

  • From Cardiff- to London.
  • Fly from London, England to Venice, Italy via RyanAir.
  • One night in Venice.
  • Spend most of the next day in Venice, then
  • take the train to Piacenza where Marissa’s family lives.
  • 2 nights with her lovely italian family.
  • back to Venice via train for one more night.
  • head to San Marino via train.
  • 2 nights in San Marino
  • head to Rome via train to meet Maggie and Justine (who were in Malta with Meg and Christine for week 1)

Week 2:

  • Rome
  • Naples
  • Florence
  • Venice

Week three:

Originally I was determined to spend all 3 weeks out, but as expences greatened- and laundry dirtied…. being back on campus for the third week sounded better and better. Original plans included more of Italy, Romania, and random Welsh adventures. We ended up just relaxing and doing laundry, but more about that later.

I packed my favorite suitcase (15 days worth into a carryon!!) and was ready to go!

My suitcase fit 15 days of travel, and can be used as a backpack or with wheels! 🙂

We (Maggie, Justine, and myself) also purchased EURAIL passes from eurail.com. This way all our tickets for local trains were taken care of.  We only needed to purchase a seat reservation if it was a high speed train.

More on its way: from day 1 to day 15!

🙂

Why Wales? Entry #7: Ireland Adventure.

Ireland. was. amazing.

Reading Week. It is a week given to the students so that they have extra time to prepare for exams, and catch up on their reading, etc. Needless to say, ‘reading’ was not going to be a part of my Reading Week- except for maps, street signs and menus. My reading week was going to consist of an Irish adventure… with 3 of my best friends whom I only met less than 2 months ago. Go Figure! I received this message from Christine, which opened the invite up to everyone and further confirmed that this trip was happening.

 OKEY so for those who want to go to Ireland during reading week, we should start to book flights. I was thinking we should go Saturday February 27- Wednesday or thursday March 3rd or 4th! Sound good? I wanted to leave thursday or friday but they are expensive because they all have extra fees and taxes and they are at 6am which would be ridiculous to try n make. So Saturday has a 8:25pm flight for 35pounds total and then for leaving wed or thursday there are no fees and it is only 8pounds! Lemme know cuz we gotta start booking!!!

That was only the beginning. As it turned out, the only people able to come were the same people who went to London weeks earlier. As sad as we were that the others couldn’t adventure with us, we were happy that the four of us were traveling together again. 🙂

We decided to fly into Dublin. I bought a new suitcase that I can test out and see if it will work for the Italian adventure to come over Spring break. Anyway, we flew into Dublin via Ryan Air, and took the bus to our hostel. This was our first hostel where we didn’t have a private room. It was definately an experience being in the room with strangers and trying to avoid awkward situations. The Shining Hostel was actually really nice! The people were really friendly, and the rooms were clean.

top bunk! Our hostel.

We were delighted with a plentiful breakfast of bread and butter. 8 beds in the room, 4 of us. The first night we met 2 really nice girls who were studying in England I think. We actually saw them the next morning when we were leaving for our bus tour.

That's our roommates, riding bikes!

We  also met two girls traveling from outside the UK- it’s so cool to meet so many different people. So as I said, we started day one with some delisious bread and butter. But since bread and butter isn’t filling, we had to go elsewhere and get some real food.

This was the day we were set to discover Dublin. We bought a bus ticket that takes you around the city and provides you with an audio tour. These tickets were valid for 24 hours, so we could hop on and hop off the bus at any time and spend time at a museum or whatnot. We didn’t do too much the first day besides the bus tour. A lot of the things that are typical things to do didn’t seem worth the money once we got there. We ended up walking around the city taking a lot of pictures and enjoying eachother’s company.

We did some shopping (I bought some doughnuts, as usual) and went out for the night. We went to a club called Sin, where some Irish boys were telling us (over and over again) how amazing Ireland is. Ireland is amazing. 🙂

The second day was the most adventurous, and is tied with the third day for different reasons. We were set off to try to find the location where ‘P.S I Love You’ was filmed. It was in this park with a waterfall and whatnot. We never made it to that location, but where we did end up made the entire trip so worthwile.

We took the bus to Eniskerry, which is the small town that was supposed to lead us to the scenes of the movie. We got off the bus, and our good friend Christine led the way with her wanderings. We went down a small path to a beautiful church and cemetary alongside a field with ponies. We then headed back on the road up the random road. We knew we were headed in the right direction for the Wiklow Park where the movie was filmed- we just didn’t know the distance.

Ireland is beautiful.

The air was so crisp, and it was so nice to finally get out of the city for a while and see the green green grass of Ireland. We veered off the road and discovered a stream and collected unique rocks.

Pac-Man Rock!

As we were walking down the road, we came across our only sign of human interaction. Along the side of the road, a coach bus driver was stopped at a station of some sorts and was washing his bus. We chatted with him for a while and the asked him for some directions. Since we were wandering about for such a long time, we were sort of hungry. He told us that the closest place with food was a gas station that was pretty far, but not nearly as far as our original destination. So, we headed to the gas station, which the man also informed us is right by a bus station to take us back to Dublin.

Along the way, we kept the same leisurely pace, and took lots of photographs. We passesd a house where a little boy was in the front, and he was singing the “mama mia” song. It was adorable. Then as we’re walking, we here a car coming, and to our surprise it was our friend with his coach bus. He offered us a lift, not only to the gas station- but to a great city on the coast, Dun Laoghaire. We accepted. On the way there, he pointed out several points of interest including Bono’s house. He suggested a few things to see in Dun Laoghaire and also reccomended to take the train to the peninsula of Howth.

We decided to do that, and immidiately fell in love with it. Howth is a small fishing villiage on a penninsula of Ireland. We ended up spending a good part of the last day there hiking. We hiked up a tall mountain and saw incredible views.

At the top of the mountain in Howth.

Ireland was one of the greatest trips, because my experience was so unique. It was the first trip where we left the city and explored some of the country. It was nice to see some of the country, because it really made it special. The city attractions are nice too, but the balance of city and country on the Ireland trip made it extra special!

🙂

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….

Why Wales? Entry #6: I’ll take Welsh weather over NY weather any day.

The one thing people warned me most against Wales was the weather.

Everyone warned me that is is rediculously wet and cold all the time.

I for one, have not experienced this at all.

I can officially say that Spring has sprung in Cardiff, and I love it. Today is the first day that I can walk outside with short sleeves. These are my favorite kinds of days.

On my walk to campus today, I began to think about the winter we just had. Wales has incredibly mild weather. Yes, it has rained a lot, but it has never been a rain all day type of rain.

New Paltz weather… no thank you. (Photo courtesy of Nicole Cooper)

Cardiff Weather…. it doesn’t snow here
😀

And comparing the weather we have had in Wales, to the winter everyone has been experiencing in New Paltz… I’m glad I’m here.

I came to Wales prepared with a giant winter coat, which I didn’t need. By the second week I already bought a smaller jacket. In NY, when it gets cold, it gets cold (this is where actual temperatures would be useful, but I don’t have those). I feel like by studying abroad I missed a horrendous winter I would have otherwise experienced. That is good considering I hate winter. 🙂

Along with enjoying the beautiful weather, we have also been going on lots of adventures. Cardiff is an amazing place to live. One of the days, we headed down to Cardiff Bay. One of my friends, Marissa wanted to go to the Doctor Who exhibit. (Doctor Who is a well known welsh TV show which she is very into.) I went down to the bay with her and enjoyed the exhibit, while the rest of our group joined us later for lunch.

We enjoyed some delicious fish and chips and then some ice cream by the water. The entire area is beautiful and it makes me realize how much Cardiff has to offer. Since the bay is separate from the city center, I often forget about how beautiful it is, or how much there is to do down there. There’s plenty of stores, restaurants, and a movie theater too.

While at the bay, we saw the Welsh Bockers practicing. It was very cool!

After hanging around, we went back to our rooms, and watched some movies.  🙂

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??

Why Wales? Entry #5 London Love

One of my friends here was planning on going to London for the weekend to meet up with a friend that she hasn’t seen in 13 years. Since she was planning on going anyway, she decided to invite some others and make a mini-vacation out of it.

I went to London last year with some friends while one friend was studying abroad there. For some reason I forgot how amazing London is. Of course when people asked if I wanted to go, I accepted the offer- but I wasn’t nearly as excited as I should have been. I figured I would be seeing the same things, and doing the same stuff, but with three different people- the entire experience was unlike my previous London adventure. It was an experience that ultimately bonded us four travelers and created everlasting friendships amongst the four of us.

We got to London on Friday evening and had dinner at The Shakespeare Pub. It was just the three of us (me, Maggie, and Christine) until our other friend Justine met us there.

When Justine arrived, we had to figure out how to get to our hostel… bus, tube, taxi… how to get tickets…

We finally decided on a taxi, just because we were so tired. We took it to Hyde Park, and checked into the Hyde Park Hostel. This hostel was rather sketchy, but that made the experience more rich and lively. We were lucky enough to get a room just for the four of us. This was nice because we were able to relax in the room whenever neccesary.
Justine didn’t eat yet, so we found this waffle house near our hostel… This waffle house had the most amazing waffles ever, and was perhaps the highlight of our trip. We would travel back to London just for the waffles!

After Waffle-mania, we headed to experience the London night life. We ended up going to this cool London club, and after leaving decided to walk back to our hostel. Although it was freezing, this walk back gave us a unique view of the beautiful city, because London was so quiet. It is interesting to see a city that is so busy all day long, so silent. We walked home past Buckingham Palace, and saw many sights in the late late hours of the night.

Since we really only had one day in London, we needed to plan accordingly. I didn’t really put much say in, since I have seen and expirienced London’s magic previously. We headed to the Natural History Museum, which was an amazing museum. As an education major, I really enjoyed this museum. It was so hands on and interactive. It was filled with sayings and quotations which brought the facts all together. I would love to take my class here on a field trip… perhaps it’s just a bit too far.

We only saw one aspect of the museum (the Earth, volcanoes, etc), since our stomachs were growling. Believe it or not, there were not many places to eat around the museum, so we went to Kings Cross, and prior to finding food- we went to platform 9 3/4. We found a great little cafe to eat at, and had yet another plate of fish and chips (I can’t get enough!).

After that, we decided not to go back to the museum, but to head to see Big Ben. Big Ben is beautiful. We took un obseen amount of photos, and proceded to adventure into the city.

Somewhere along the way we hit Buckingham Palace. We also rode the London eye, and enjoyed the 4D expirience.
Our stomachs were growling yet again, so we searched, and searched for dinner. We almost ate at the Sherlock Holmes pub, but it was too pricey/crowded. We ended up at Garfunkle’s- to enjoy a lovely burger and chips.

Then, the best part of the night! We decided not to go out again, we went back to the WAFFLE HOUSE… we got waffles to go. We also went to the store around the corner, and bought cans of whipped cream, and large amounts of junk food. We felt sick afterwards, but it was sooo good! Poor Christine dropped her chocolate covered waffle all over the floor. (I wouln’t eat anything that fell on the hostel floor, but she tried to pick at it, haha)

Next morning, we got ready, and went to see Peter Pan. There is a statue of Peter Pan, which was put there by JM Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. The statue was erected in the middle of the night, to seem as if Peter arrived by magic for the children. This was in the newspaper following the statue being erected.

“There is a surprise in store for the children who go to Kensington Gardens to feed the ducks in the Serpentine this morning. Down by the little bay on the south-western side of the tail of the Serpentine they will find a May-day gift by Mr J.M. Barrie, a figure of Peter Pan blowing his pipe on the stump of a tree, with fairies and mice and squirrels all around. It is the work of Sir George Frampton, and the bronze figure of the boy who would never grow up is delightfully conceived.”

After viewing the statue, Maggie left us to go back to Cardiff, as Christine, Justine and I kept exploring.Along one street we found all artwork for sale. We strolled down the street admiring the amazing talent. We all discussed our wishes for the money to buy all of this artwork and fill our homes with it. We then grabbed a bite to eat, and headed to the British Museum.

After the British Museum, it was time to say goodbye to Justine. She was off to reunite with her  friend she hasn’t seen for 13 years! This was the sole purpose for going to London. Christine and I ventured off to enjoy some crepes at a creperie, and then did some shopping/wandering.

We got our bus back to Cardiff at around 6:30, and got back home in time for the superbowl! I, thankfully opted out. I must say I was happy to be in the UK for the superbowl, where it didn’t really matter if you watched it or not.