Archive for March, 2011

March 28, 2011

Stratford, Oxford, Bath, Castle Combe, Salisbury, Stonehenge


Does that title seemed like I crammed a lot into a small place? Funny, it’s sort of like our past weekend.

We left Thursday afternoon from London to Stratford-upon-Avon. It was absolutely beautiful. The birthplace of Shakespeare had the quaint atmosphere that most would expect. We checked into our bed & breakfast, Craig Cleeve House, and had free time to wander and eat dinner before King Lear. Sarah, Laura, Kelly & I found a cheap pub, and I had my first pie in England. I deemed it appropriate to finally have one in an English village. We saw King Lear Thursday night at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and the show was amazing. Afterwards, Charles Aitken, who played Edgar, came to talk to us about the show and his life. He was so outgoing, friendly and played the part really well (plus, he was really cute!) Since the show was about four hours long and he talked to us for about an hour, it was after midnight and we all conked out for the night. We woke up in the morning for a brisk tour of Stratford. We first went to Anne Hathaways cottage (No…not Anne Hathaway the actress.) Shakespeare’s wife, Anne, had a cottage right in the city and it was so cute! Not to mention that the absolutely amazing weather continued to this weekend. After the cottage we went to a the Holy Trinity Church, saw where Shakespeare & family is buried, and then went to Shakespeare’s birthplace. We grabbed a quick bite to eat for the road and hopped back onto our coach. Next stop…Oxford.

Oxford was not what I was expecting. In a nutshell, I expected Harry Potter. (Don’t blame me! It’s based off of there.) Instead, Oxford is it’s own city with massive amounts of colleges making up the university. We went on a two-hour tour and learned about the history, getting in, tuition, different colleges, etc. Speaking of tuition…while we were gone this weekend, London decided to be the home of intense protests. Rioters were lighting things on fire in the streets! I got some worried/curious phone calls from my parents earlier tonight. No worries, we are all safe because we were tucked away in Bath. We all grabbed our Oxford University sweatshirts (of course) and got back on the bus yet again. Next stop…Bath.

Bath! What a beautiful town. We got there around dinner time Friday night so we found a vegetarian pub called The Porter. After eating and drinking for a long time we made it back to our bed and breakfast. Hallelujah, our bed and breakfast had the nicest showers, ever. Such a refreshing thing to have, and how appropriate, being in Bath! Saturday morning we woke up and went on a double-decker city sightseeing tour. After that we had an hour to browse and then did a tour of the Roman Baths. After that we had a free day. Laura, Sarah & I did some shopping and wandering, and after we decided we’d had enough, we found a river walk that we decided would be nice. That was the beginning of an adventure. We get down to the river and there is an outdoor pub, entirely full with a crowd, half in blue, black & white polos and the other half in green, orange and white polos. “Hm, there must be a game going on.” As we keep on walking, we run into the Bath rugby stadium. We asked the ticketholder if there were any for sale, and as we expected, there were not. We found a little hill that we could see the pitch perfectly from, so we decided we would come back there when the game started. We asked the guy checking tickets if we could just sneak into the field to take a picture (since the game didn’t start for another hour.) We took our picture, thinking that was the highlight of the day. Scan ended up being alone and was meeting up with us, so we went back up to the street, found her, and then decided to go to that outdoor pub crawling with rugby fans. A few drinks later we headed over to our hill. We stopped, just to ask, to see what happens to the tickets that people do not claim. Long behold, there were 5 tickets left, and another group of 4 was headed to the spot we were standing in. An impulse decision to the best day of the weekend! We ended up getting third row seats directly next to the pitch. Rugby games are a thousand times better than American football. I’m just throwing it out there. After the game (Bath lost…by a lot) we waited around the locker rooms to get autographs! There we were…a crowd of mostly 10 year olds and the four 19-21 year olds. I really didn’t mind, this was a big day for us. After getting every single autograph and finding out that half of our dream men were, in fact, married, we went to meet up with the rest of our group who were out to dinner. We picked up Kelly because she hadn’t eaten yet and went to Enzo, an Italian restaurant. After a very delicious margherita pizza, we were on our way to go to a bar some of the rugby players said they would be at, when we ran into some people who lived in London, went around the corner to a big bar with them. We only lasted for about one drink due to exhaustion. We went back to the bed & breakfast and fell asleep for a great night’s sleep. Daylights savings time finally happened in Europe, so we lost an hour.

This morning we woke up, ate breakfast, and then took the bus to Castle Combe, a quaint little village that has nothing really going on in it except for the fact it is picturesque. After a couple of photo snaps, we got back on the bus and went to Salisbury. We got to the Salisbury Cathedral, and were expecting to have a guided tour or audio guides. Unfortunately, they did not provide either on Sundays, so we had an unexpected two and a half hour slot in Salisbury. Nobody was really in the mood to shop and there wasn’t much more going on, so we basically ate for two hours. We sat at a place called The Boston Tea Party, and there were great paninis and pastries for us to last for those two hours. We got back on the bus and drove 20 minutes to Stonehenge. What is Stonehenge? Why was it put there? Who made it? These are questions you come to Stonehenge with and you leave with as well. The audio guides basically ask the questions right back at you, and throw possible myths and reasons as to why Stonehenge exists. It is one of the world’s most famous sights though, so I’m glad we got some pictures. After Stonehenge we got back on the bus for the last time this weekend and came back to London! Here we are, the amazing weather still waiting for us when we returned 🙂

Coming up this week: Ecstasy for theatre, Taylor Swift concert on Wednesday, a tour of the Olympic Sites Thursday and Paris on Friday!

Let the last month fly by…

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March 27, 2011

The week Danielle & Jess visited London


Monday morning for politics we went to the Science Museum. We went to the World Wide Web exhibit, and we watched this big make-up of small screens that stream live feed from public chat rooms. It changed information like usernames, conversations and key words and we were just watching a constant streaming of people’s conversations. It was a little creepy; the Internet in general is creepy. Monday night for theatre we didn’t see a show for class, because we had King Lear planned for Thursday night in Stratford. Instead, we had a group outing to the Royal Opera House to see Swan Lake. The ballet was so fun. Granted, we missed a lot of the story line because we were so high up (For example, we thought the main characters lived, because we never saw them jump off a ledge on the left of the stage to commit suicide). Regardless, it was amazing just watching how talented all of the ballerinas are. They literally spend the entire time on the very point of their toes. Everyone was extremely talented and it was a little excruciating to watch. Tuesday for Media & Society we went to the Saatchi Gallery, and we had a quick tour by an American intern from Wisconsin. The gallery is a collection of art that Saatchi owns, and honestly, it’s all a little weird. But it was interesting seeing the different styles and interests people have in all kinds of artwork.

Tuesday was a special day, because my best friend Danielle Fraser and her roommate from URI, Jess, arrived in London! I work Tuesday afternoons, so I met up with them in Covent Garden when I got out, and then showed them around that area, Trafalgar Square, and the area over by Embankment. We ended up having dinner on one of those restaurant-boats and it was lovely. The two of them brought gorgeous weather to London all week. After dinner we went back to my flat and then went out to Cornwallis with a group of Madhouse people. We stayed there until it closed and then headed over to the Rocket, which wasn’t open much later. Since the tube was still open, Danielle & Jess just took that back to their hostel, and prepared for their very busy next day. I work my long days on Wednesdays, and they spent their day doing the NewEurope free tour, rode the London Eye, did a Grim Reaper tour, and then met me at Holborn Wednesday night. In terms of my day, the annual budget announcement was on Wedneday, and I was a little surprised to see that it is treated with importance equivalent to our State of the Union. During our lunch hour the TV was turned on, and everyone had earphones plugged in watching live streaming. I’m not exaggerating when I say this week was the best weather we have seen in London so far, so I walked home from work to soak in as much sun as possible. We had our weekly meeting, got our calendars and itineraries for the weekend, and then I had time to organize myself and relax before meeting up with Danielle and Jess. Will wanted to go to a bar called Moonlighting for his birthday, but through a series of unfortunate events Danielle, Jess and I had bad luck getting into bars this particular night. We ended up at O’Neils, which is perfectly fine by me because they got to see our favorite bar! We were the last people to leave O’Neils, and since the tube had closed I was determined to send them home on a bus because they had an oyster card, which buses accept. Unfortunately, I’ve been living here for 2 months and have no idea how the buses work or which ones go to the area their hostel was in. After failing to figure it out, we all just grabbed cabs and headed home. Thursday morning was quite an adventure, as I woke up and went to their hostel to meet Danielle & Jess, but they were at King’s Cross station. Then we had to go back to West Brompton tube stop, but they missed their Easybus to Gatwick, so we headed to Victoria so they could catch the Gatwick Express to the airport. If it sounds confusing & chaotic, that’s because it was. It was actually really funny though and everything worked out in the end. It was so nice having visitors and I’m glad they had such a lovely time in London. J I headed home, showered, ate & packed for the upcoming weekend to Stratford upon Avon, Oxford, Bath, Salisbury and Stonehenge.

 

Cheers!

March 27, 2011

Post Spring Break: Saint Patrick’s Day and Ireland!


Sunday night after break we went bowling to All-Star Lanes, which is conveniently located at the end of our street. We got a group discount and paid 5 pounds for a game of bowling, a burger and a beer. It was a lot of fun rejoining with everyone after everyone was away traveling all week, and the burger was really tasty. The Monday after spring break we saw Frankenstein for theatre class. The show was phenomenal. Danny Boyle was the director, who also directed Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours among many others. Before the show began, we had tickets for a pre-show discussion with him and the scriptwriter. It was a great introduction to the show. The special effects were incredible; you could clearly tell that a film director had worked on this show. There was a huge bell in the center above the audience, which the actors were not shy to ring. The dong was loud enough to scare you each time, even when you were watching them grab the rope and you knew it was coming. Apparently the show was/is in high demand in the city, because when I mentioned that I saw it at work later that week, they were shocked and asked how I managed to get tickets. So, thank you, JMU, for booking an awesome show so early in advance.

Class went as normal that week; for Media & Society class focused on British media, specifically newspapers, and then we went on a Fleet Street walk. All the newspapers used to be located on Fleet Street, before Murdoch moved them all out. The only thing that remains in terms of that history is St. Bride’s Church, which is the church for the press. I didn’t understand what that meant either, until we went in. The pews have designated plaques for members of each publication (ie, we saw plaques for The Daily Mirror, The Sun, The Times, etc, etc) and all the people that have memorials there were mostly editors, journalists, reporters, and so on. For Pop Culture we had an outing to the Jewish Museum out by Camden Market.

Thursday was Saint Patrick’s Day, and the perfect weekend to travel to Ireland. Thursday night we went to O’Neils, one of our favorite bars, and even though we went really early, the line to get in was around the block and approximately two hours long. Being girls, impatient and friendly, we made friends in line and got in with little waiting time. We listened to a ton of Irish music and (semi) learned to Irish step dance. O’Neils was also giving out huge leprechaun hats, which we all got, except they were blue. Proabably only reason they did that was for marketing; everyone knew the cool blue hats everyone was wearing were from O’Neils. We didn’t get much sleep that night, and left at 4am to head to the airport. Once we got to Stansted, I skipped out on my favorite breakfast from Stansted that I’ve raved about (ham and cheese croissant, incase you forgot) because my mom had sent banana bread earlier that week J I still have one more flight out of Stansted before I return to the states, so it was a win-win situation. I also ended up wandering in stores and found a camera that had an airport special for 67 pounds. Since I was in withdrawal from missing my little camera, I got it. There are many moments that I want a camera for but don’t want to risk breaking or losing my big camera, so in my mind this purchase was very well justified. I’m addicted to taking pictures, and I’ve accepted that. We all fell asleep on the plane before it even took off and woke up as we slammed to the ground and as Ryanair’s charming little alarm went off telling us we’ve arrived. The shining sun greeted us as we got off the airplane and into the city of Cork. Cork, Ireland is exactly what you are picturing in your head when you think of Ireland. The city is small, manageable, with pubs and cobblestone everywhere. There are fields with sheep surrounding the city and Irish accents everywhere you go. I absolutely loved Ireland. We got there around 7am, by the time we got to our hostel and got situated it was almost 9am, and we decided that naps were for quitters. We went to the bus stop and grabbed the bus to Blarney to see the Blarney castle. We got much more than we bargained for, because there a) it was the most beautiful day ever and b) there is much more to the Blarney castle than the castle. There is a gorgeous park surrounding it, and we went into caves, through the forest, pet horses, sat in tulips and went on a lake walk, just marveling at how amazing the scenery was. Once at the castle we kissed the Blarney stone…now we are all eloquent. After the castle we all sort of split ways, some to eat, some to explore. Laura, Sarah, Liz & I went on another walk through the park, which ended up being “magical.” We saw the witches cave and walked up and down the wishing steps. We also found waterfalls and rocks to climb on 🙂 Magical seems like a pretty accurate way to describe the entire property; the place felt like a fairytale.

Once we caught the bus back to Cork, we found a great pub that had great food for so cheap! (My sandwich was 4 euro, coffee and a muffin for 1.50 euro) We browsed and shopped a little, and then went to our hostel to shower. We met up with everyone at a pub that also had cheap food! (Burger, 4 euro. I love Ireland.) We just ate, drank and talked as our group started to come together again. Eventually we went back to hostel to crash. Our hostel was the Kinlay House, and we had a room with 14 beds. Fun is the least way to describe the weekend. Saturday we adventured all day. Literally, almost an 11 hour day with Paddywagon. We hopped on the Paddywagon and headed all over Ireland. Our first stop was to Limerick, where we saw a castle, a church and listened to history of the city. Our next stop was at the cliffs of Moher, and I felt like I was inserted into a postcard. They were amazing, and also really scary, because you are walking on the edge of monstrous cliffs. After an hour on the cliffs we hopped back on the paddywagon and went to a place for lunch that ALL of the paddywagons go to, so we basically waited in line for 45 minutes. I decided to be really Irish for this meal, and got beef & guiness stew and an Irish coffee. The stew was really really good, the coffee not so much. I think I’ll just stick to regular black coffee from now on. After lunch we went to the Burren, a huge section of limestone right on the ocean, a table-top tomb and last but not least the ___ castle. We went back to the same place as the night before for the cheap food, except they didn’t have that special menu anymore L Regardless, they could accommodate 14 people, so we stayed for dinner and drinks. We spent the night going in and out of different pubs until going back to the hostel. Sunday morning we checked out of the hostel, got breakfast, and more than half of th group left to go to the airport. Erin, Annalina, Liz, Kelly and I had a later flight, so we explored Cork and then went to the University College of Cork. It was really pretty, and we got to see more of the outskirts of the city. We grabbed lunch and then it was time to head back to the airport.

Ireland is definitely in the running for one of the top trips this semester. Pictures coming!!!

Cheers!

March 27, 2011

Prague: Czech Me Out


Erin, Kelly and I took a train from Berlin to Prague, which took about 4 and a half hours. Annalina had an early flight back to London because she was going to Scotland on Friday. I’ll just start out by saying I had no idea what to expect from the Czech Republic. I had heard that it was really cool and really cheap; that’s all. The scenery on the train ride over really surprised me because we were alongside a river for some of it, there were beautiful fields and the closer we got to the city there were pretty-looking buildings up on hills and near the water. Erin printed out directions to our hostel and thank God she did because we had difficulty finding people that spoke English. We also still had only euros, no crowns (Czech Republic’s currency. We took out about 2,400 crowns and it was equivalent to 99 euros.) But we made it quick and easy to our hostel, Mosaic House, a branch of St. Christopher’s Inns and by far the nicest hostel we will ever stay in. It was very similar to our 4-star hotel in Bologna except we did not have our own room, there was a little more lively of a crowd & lobby, and it was in the center of the city.

After checking in, meeting our roommates (2 Australians and a Canadian. The Australians had been traveling for 9 months, and started with a group of 10 I think? And had dwindled down to 2 because everyone else ran out of money. WEIRD story….they were the same roommates Sarah & Laura had earlier in the week and the same roommates Laura’s friends had in Paris.) and dropping off our bags, we went and found Old Town Square. They had an astronomical clock tower you could climb, so naturally it was the first thing we did. It was perfect timing because the sun was starting to set, so we saw that for starters, and the clock tower is “famous” for it’s bells and figurines on each hour, and since we were at the top, a guy in a jester-looking outfit blew his trumpet right next to us! (I say famous in quotations because it was listed as one of Europe’s most disappointing sight to see.) We did a “pub crawl”, also in quotations because it can qualify as another disappointing event. The three of us WERE the crawl. So we ended up just getting drinks at the place where it started, The Drunken Monkey, and talked to the bartender and the guy in charge of the pub crawl for most of the time. The drinks were really cheap and we weren’t doing anything else, and to top it off we got a free t-shirt! Mackenzie & Alex, two girls from our program, also were in Prague the same days as us so we met up with them when they arrived into the city, but we just ended up getting drinks in our lobby for a little and then going to bed. In the morning we did Sandeman’s free NewPrague tour, and our tour guide was Christian. Definitely NOT a Barnaby or a Pen. We weren’t really a fan. But we did see some really neat stuff and learned a lot about Prague. After the tour we grabbed lunch and then did a little bit of browsing/shopping. We went back to the hostel to shower/unwind/relax, and then we went to happy hour in the lobby of our hostel before going to a place called The Beer Factory. This is the night that I lost my camera, so those pictures are also gone. But it was set up so each table had their own taps on them, and how much you pour from your tap shows up on the big screen, so it becomes a competition between tables to see who can beat each other. It’s a fun scene, and different than any other place we’ve been to. The next day we had the morning to shop and browse, and then we did a castle tour on the other side of the city. We went up to the castle, saw the changing of the guards, went into St. Vitus Cathedral, saw all of the castle and then ended near the Charles Bridge. One fun part of the castle was a section near a garden and it had a mini amphitheatre. If you stood in the middle of the circle, when you spoke it sounded like there were walls and your voice was echoing back to you from all different directions. It was really cool, especially because it was in this really open space. After the tour we walked across the Charles Bridge and also saw the John Lennon Wall. When you first see it, you think to yourself, “Okay, why is this famous? What’s the big deal?” But once you get close it’s actually really cool and there are so many inspiring quotes. I enjoyed taking my time and reading through a lot of them. Here are some of my favorites:

 

To get from the hostel to the airport we had to ride the metro (the green line, if I remember correctly) and then a bus to the terminal. We arrived back in London right in time to catch the tube before it closes at 12:30am. We had the rest of the weekend in London to unpack, do laundry, and relax in our temporary hometown!

 

March 27, 2011

Berlin!


The one thing we constantly thought when in Berlin was, “Well, this is different than spring break last year.” This time one year ago we were the typical college students off in Panama City Beach, Florida, and this year we are sophisticated college students (hah) traveling Europe, learning history and not caring so much about our tan. It’s hard to describe our trip to Berlin in a short statement. I can’t come out and say, “Yes, Berlin was amazing and so much fun,” because we were doing things like standing on Hitler’s bunker and touring a concentration camp. However, I did love Berlin and think it was one of the most important trips we took this semester. I left Berlin having learned SO much information. I can tell you all about the Berlin history, thanks to Barnaby, our fantastic tour guide. For anyone that’s studied abroad, chances are you’ve done a Sandeman’s tour. They do free tours (NewEurope) in a lot of major cities and then have a bunch of other ones that hit all the things to do in the city.  We usually do these tours, but we did ours through Insider Tours in Berlin. We didn’t get to Berlin until late Sunday night/early Monday morning, so we checked into our hostel, grabbed some quick food (which was an adventure in itself because everything was closed) and then headed to bed. We woke up and went on a tour with Barnaby. We saw everything; starting with Museum Island, the center square where the famous book burning happened (plaque on the ground says, “Those who burn books will burn people” way before the Holocaust.)

We saw Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall, Hitler’s bunker, the Jewish Memorial, Reichstag and ended with the Bradenburg gate. Checkpoint Charlie was nicknamed
“Disneyworld” by Barnaby because it is just actors dressed up to show the fake representation of Checkpoint Charlie.
picture Barnaby showed us of the actual Checkpoint Charlie:

We went into Fassbender & Rausch, chocolatiers who used to be the royal chocolatiers. The store was amazing. Needless to say we walked away with some sweets. They also had models of the Titanic and Reichstag.

We also learned a funny fact about Berlin; they have a lot of the same tree, and they are all numbers. Around 1, 280 trees I think. “A very German thing to do,” Barnaby told us.

After the tour we grabbed lunch and I had my second favorite meal of Berlin (first was my veggie enchilada from a restaurant named Que Pasa). It was a potato au gratin casserole with veggies and some pita bread for dipping. I just remember being amazed how delicious it was for a few hours after actually eating it. Same goes with my veggie enchilada, except for days. I still think about it. J We went into the Radisson to see the biggest fish tank in the world, and we rode the elevators illegally (needed a room key to swipe and ride up) instead of paying 17 euros to ride up the elevator through the fish tank. That night we got drinks for happy hour in our hostel lobby, then got dinner at Que Pasa. You already know how I feel about that meal. Del-i-cious.

Tuesday we went on a full day (6 hours) tour of Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp just about a hour outside of Berlin. What an eerie day. There was one bunker that was still standing and is now partially a museum. The rest of the camp’s bunkers were destroyed by the Germans before the camp was shut down, but there are memorials to represent where they would have been. The camp was ginormous, and we learned a lot of history/heard a lot of stories. We went through the same tour company as the day before, and our tour guide was Pen, short for Penelope. Also a 5 star guide. She was awesome.

When we got back to Berlin we grabbed a mid-afternoon snack at a really good restaurant near Hackescher Markt, then took off to see the East Side Gallery, a huge section of the Berlin Wall still standing that is entirely decorated with local artwork. Unfortunately, I lost my little camera in Prague just a few days later so I don’t have any of those pictures, but I personally think it was a really cool and neat thing to do. The artists were mostly local citizens, people that actually lived through when the Berlin wall was actually standing and dividing their city. Tuesday night we just grabbed dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant and relaxed before going back to the hostel.

We stayed at a hostel called CityStay and I would highly recommend it to anyone that is visiting Berlin. The hallways are brightly painted, there’s free wifi, the rooms & bathrooms were clean, the lobby has a bar with cheap happy hour drinks, and the staff was friendly and helpful. Not to mention our awesome location which was right next to Hackescher Markt.

Next stop, Prague!

March 27, 2011

Barcelona: land of Sun, Sangria & Spectacular Scenery :)


Friday the 4th we left Madhouse later than our usual hour, around 4am. We changed things up this trip and flew out of London Gatwick instead of Stansted, so we got our cab to Victoria station and then took the Gatwick Express to the airport. Personally, I LOVE the train over the bus. There’s something about the smell of the buses at 4am that irks my stomach. The airport, however, loses. Stansted (in our experience) is quicker, cleaner, more efficient, and has better breakfast (a dedicated customer of the ham & cheese croissaint at Est-Presso!). We didn’t know our gate until 10 minutes until the gate was supposed to close, resulting in a mass overload & backup at the door to the gate. Add in groups of friends, couples, and a couple stag and hen parties here and there, and you’ve got yourself quite an uncomfortable situation. We finally got on the plane though, as did everyone else who was pushing in line, and when we walked off the plane we were greeted with a welcoming sun and a warm breeze 🙂 We went through customs quickly and were soon on the bus (5€ one way) to Las Ramblas. Our hostel was Center Ramblas, only one side street away from the heart of the city. Up and down this strip were street vendors, characters dressed up for money/photo ops, lots of food and numerous men with annoying squeaky toys that still leave a ringing in my ears. The first thing that we did after checking into our hostel was go into the food market right off Las Ramblas. We ate some Spanish food, the only thing that I knew for sure was paella, the other stuff on my plate I have no idea. It wasn’t too bad though. I bought my Barcelona bag which became attached to my hip for the rest of the week and then we went off to find the Picasso Museum. By this, I mean we wandered for over an hour, exploring the city and walking in the relative direction. Once we finally got there, it was amazing. We spent some time there, did our gift-shop souvenier shopping, and then set off towards the water. We reached the marina, took a lot of pictures, and then went to the biggest pier in Barcelona to eat. We ate at a restaurant named Tapa Tapa, and tried different tapas and had pitchers of sangria while soaking up the sun and looking out to the water. We had no problem adapting to the culture as we set off for our siesta afterward. After our much needed nap, we went to dinner at a restaurant called La Fonda. The food was delicious, the company was great and the atmosphere was comfortable. Erin & Annalina went back to the hostel as Kelly and I went on an adventure. We found a bar in a restaurant where we just ordered a drink, and soon we were surrounded by a group of men (a stag party, we soon found out) on each side of us. We quickly discovered that they were from London, and although they didn’t believe us right away due to our American accents, we eventually exchanged study abroad stories and bonded over our common city. They left, but let us know if we wanted to get into a club for free, we could go to BLVD and ask for Simba on the guestlist (“Yes, like the Lion King” was his immediate comment.) Small world, since that was the club that Kelly and I had free passes to already from a club promoter on Las Ramblas! The thing about Barcelona is that the clubs don’t even really get going or crowded until 2am, hence their stereotypical image for late night/early am partying. We went to BLVD and had a great time with our new London friends.

We woke up Saturday morning and got breakfast at a small cafe right near our hostel. Ham and cheese croissaint, of course. Our mission was to get to the Sagrata Familia, and it was gorgeous.The Sagrata Familia is the famous church in Barcelona and is something you can’t leave the city without seeing.  We waited in a line that wrapped around the block, but was a) well worth the wait because the church is incredible and b) was not that bad because we were waiting with the sun shining on our faces!

I don’t think I can emphasize enough how amazing it felt to see that much sun. The London weather has been very generous to us; there have maybe been three rainy days. However, we still don’t see the sun, let alone the amount of sunshine we basked in in Barcelona. Just a warning, particularly to my parents and family (who will be forced to look at my photo albums in May), from Barcelona alone I have 688 pictures. The pictures from the church do not do it justice (but I tried as hard as I could.)

European cities are known for their history, architecture and especially churches, but this was unlike any other one I’ve seen. It’s a more modern church and the massive-ness of it is extraordinary. Ten euro with a student discount but still well worth it. After we left the church we made our necessary stop in the giftshop and then headed to find la playa. (THE BEACH!!!) I think it took us close to an hour or a little more to finally get to it, but we got to see lots of the city, got our exercise, and the final destination was beautiful. We breathed a sigh of relief as we heard the waves, smelled the salt water and felt the sand.

We got lunch at a café overlooking the beach and the boardwalk and mostly just sat with the sun beating on us. When we were almost done with our meal, a stag party of about 20 English men graced us with their presence and got three huge taps of beer. I’m saying taps because I don’t know what else to call them…just a big tube with a spout at the bottom.

We walked along the beach, put our feet in the water and took so many pictures before getting some gelato and heading back to Las Ramblas. We found a whole bunch of markets along the way. I prefer shopping at markets than actual shops so much more. I love the whole off-the-beaten-track feel of markets’ products, even though at most of them ten tents will have the same stuff. The bargaining, cheap prices and crafts are so much more fun than just walking into a store, and chances are that you won’t run into twenty other people that have the same thing later in life. A lady at our hostel told us that as a group the hostel goes over to this club, we get free entry and  free glass of champagne, so we decided to go to dinner and then join the group. We grabbed dinner at a restaurant right down the street, where the atmosphere was trendy, the service friendly, the drinks were cheap and the food satisfying. Overall, a good time. After we ate we went back to the hostel to find that we were “the group.” So, we decided to do our own thing. We walked over to the beach, where we had lunch earlier that day, and went to go to a club called Catwalk. The cover was fifteen euro, and we assumed that was an indication of how expensive everything else would be inside, so we grabbed ice cream instead and headed back to Las Ramblas (party animals.) Sunday we woke up and we checked out of our hostel, grabbed breakfast at the same place from before and then went up to the castle on the hill. It ended up being a huge park and we rode the gondola up to the top. We walked around the castle for a while, up top there were amazing views and the weather on Sunday was so beautiful. Also happening on Sunday was the Barcelona Marathon! We were passed by thousands of runners as we explored up to the hill. After the castle we saw the Olympic Stadium, the Art Gallery and ended up in Plaza Espanya. It was the finish line for the Marathon so there were people everywhere.

Our legs were killing us and we had to catch our flight, so we grabbed a cab back to our hostel, picked up our bags and went to the airport. Next stop, Berlin!

March 16, 2011

Midterms


Midterms this semester was a little different than my other midterms at JMU. For example, I successfully left the week with spending 0, yup, zero, hours in the library. I can hear the moans of hatred from JMU students now. It’s not like we didn’t have anything to do, though. The week involved papers and presentations before our outings. It’s work we sort of enjoy doing, unable to stop soaking in all the information around us…rather than being glued to a textbook, cramming & trying to force information into our heads.

Our theatre Monday night after Amsterdam was Clybourne Park. My favorite show thus far. Since the next week was spring break and we wouldn’t have class time to discuss with the show fresh in our minds, we met at MadHouse after the show and snacked on digestives while discussing the show we all adored. It was based in the 50s and modern time (2 acts split in time periods) and was all about racism in America. Maybe it hit home because it was about our country, maybe it was just really good. Probably both. Either way, I loved it, and if you ever come to London and want to see a show, go see it!!

For Media & Society we had a vocab quiz  based off University Challenge..ie a Jeapordy game. For our outing we did another Soho walk…this time dedicated towards all the musical history in Soho, and then ended in a French pastry shop. Worked per usual at Wriglesworth Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday long day and Thursday morning. Thursday for Pop Culture we had our midterm..my first exam so far, and then went to The British Music Experience in the O2 Arena. So much fun and the perfect introduction into spring break! The BME was totally interactive, our ticket checked us into different hotspots to learn more or hear more about a certain era. The museum was sort of designed as a sun– one central room and a bunch of aisles/rooms breaking off from that. Each extended room was a musical era and you learned about everything going on at the time, mostly in London but in other countries as well. Best part? I learned to play the drums. Not exactly a professional, but I got a tutorial for a few minutes! We did a group singing recording session (and you can check it online using your ticket afterwards) and a group dance session. Thursday night involved packing, printing and clearing out the fridge. Bright and early Friday morning we took off for Barcelona!!

Spring break will have its own post…up next.

Cheers =)

March 16, 2011

Amsterdam!


Amsterdam weekend was definitely one of the “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore” moments you sometimes get in life.

We took a 4:30am EasyBus to London Stansted and our flight to Eindhoven was only about 45 minutes long. That’s about 5 minutes when you’ve fallen back asleep. After landing and going through customs we caught the bus (3 euro) to Eindhoven Centraal, the train station. We took a train, a little less than an hour and a half, to Amsterdam and once we got there we got started immediately. There’s an hour time difference so by the time we were out and about in the city it was around 11:30. We hadn’t eaten really so we found a place that had cheap burgers and breakfast. Long behold we walk in and were immediately hit with the strong smell of weed. We’re-not-in-Kansas moment #1. We stumbled into one of the thousands (probably) of coffeeshops scattered throughout the area. After we ate brunch we set off to find the Anne Frank house. The line was around the block but it moved pretty quickly, and we were in and exploring after only a few minutes. We had to carry our backpacks in the front and by the end of it my shoulders were absolutely killing me. The Anne Frank house was so interesting and an emotional thing to go through…seeing the Annex, where they actually hid, and just relearning history about the Holocaust was tough/hard to hear. In the bookstore I ended up buying a book, not her diary-I figured I could get that really anywhere-but about the last 7 months of Anne Frank’s life. The book is the accounts of 7 women who survived the concentration camps and who had seen the Frank family, or just the girls, along the way. I read it on the way home and it’s so good-willing to let anybody borrow it when I return to the states.

After the Anne Frank house we wandered around Amsterdam, into random little shops, until it was time to check into our hotel. Hotel Continental was in the busy part of the city and basically right next to the train station, making our lives very convenient. The inconvenient part of the hotel was that we booked a double room (because it was all that was left) and figured we would just squeeze. Too bad the room was less than half of the size of the room I’m sitting in right now and the beds could BARELY fit one person. To make our lives even more stressed, the sign in the lobby said, “No guests allowed in rooms.” Is this legal to put on here? Sorry, Hotel Continental, if you read this, but we fit 4 all weekend. We made-do with what we had and it actually wasn’t as bad as we expected. We didn’t really spend a lot of time in the room anyways…who comes to Amsterdam (or anywhere, for that matter) to sleep? Friday night we went on a tour of the red light district. We’re-not-in-Kansas moment #2. In case you haven’t heard anything about Amsterdam, prostitution is also legal there. Yup, it’s the city of sex and drugs. Our tour guide was really funny and nice and we got to see the district and learn about how it works today & the history of it in the city. Huge culture shock passing windows with prostitutes in them and actually seeing the coming and going of men into many of these windows. In class on Thursday, don’t know if you remember or not, but we talked about making rules to regulate prostitution. A+ for us for making all rules that already exist and are enforced. We brought up an alarm system in class, and sure enough, when in the actual red light district we witnessed one going off and the quick collection of police to take control of the situation. “The guy must’ve done something he wasn’t supposed to”, said our tour guide.

After our tour it was closer to 9pm so we followed directions to a place that was featured in Ocean’s Twelve. When we got there, they told us they didn’t serve food, so we ventured on to find a restaurant. We ended up eating at this delicious Italian place, and the couple next to us was American. Apparently, American and the nicest people in the world, because they gave us half of their bottle of wine and secretly paid for ours! Little things like that make me smile so big, and they made the rest of our night 🙂

Saturday we woke up and went on a canal cruise, and then headed over to the Heineken brewery, where we in fact spent close to three hours. “It’s like the Willy Wonka factory, but for adults!” is what we liked to say. If you ever go to Amsterdam, the brewery is highly recommended. At the end they give you two beers, but we chose to do the draft challenge and got a certificate for knowing how to properly pour a Heineken from tap. (We like to collect things for the scrapbook) We grabbed a late lunch after the factory and then went back to the hotel. Saturday night we just grabbed dinner at a nearby restaurant and went to a bar for a little bit.

Sunday we woke up and were determined to get to the I Amsterdam sign, right next to the van Gogh museum. (We wanted to make it on Saturday, but by the time we left Heineken it was closer to 5:30 and the museum was closed. Reason to go back someday!!) We took the tram, trekked through the wind and rain, snapped our pictures and hopped right back on the tram to head to the train station. Our flight took off from Eindhoven at 2:30pm and landed in Stansted at 2:30pm. Reason to love the constant time differences I’m experiencing abroad! We took the EasyBus back from Stansted and unfortunately hit traffic…it took us about an hour to go 4 blocks, and the bus driver would not let us off, even though we lived less than 3 blocks away from where we were sitting in dead-stop traffic. Came home Sunday night and worked on our midterm papers!

More to come,

Cheers!

March 16, 2011

Updates Coming!


Amsterdam, midterms, Clybourne Park,  British Music Experience, Wriglesworth, Barcelona, Berlin, Prague, Covent Garden, broken computer, Danny Boyle, Frankenstein, The Pheonix, Archipelago…STAY TUNED!!!