When the Jet-lag Hits & Reverse Culture-Shock

Just over a week ago, I woke up for the last time in Kensington, London. It was the last time I woke up on my terrible bed with the springs sticking out of it. The last time I walked out the doors of Room E in Flat 17 of Manson Place.

I dragged my two 47 pound suitcases, my 26 pound backpack and my relatively light duffel bag down the six flights of stairs to the street. Then I was off to South Kensington station to take my last ride on the tube via the Piccadilly line to Heathrow Terminal 5 and board a flight to Chicago.

Most of the tube stations don’t have elevators and instead have stairs and escalators to get from the street level down to the trains. South Kensington Station is no different. I somehow managed to get both suitcases, my backpack and my duffel bag down the many stairs and onto the tube. I was on my way home!

I had an eight hour flight from London Heathrow to Chicago O’Hare Airport and was stuck in the middle seat. The joys.

 


 

Fast forward 10 days and I am still struggling to readjust to life at home. I never imagined it would have been as difficult for me as it has been. Between my struggle to get back on U.S. time (I continue to wake up at 4 a.m. no matter how hard I try to stay asleep), the various visits to the chiropractor due to the effects left on my body because of my heavy suitcases (“every chiropractor’s worst nightmare” as I was told), the tube stairs and stress, and the mess that is my room after dropping four months of my life on its floor, adjusting back to life at home has not been easy.

Prior to leaving for London, I had read that both transitioning to a new place when studying abroad and then transitioning when coming home can be difficult. The transition for me from home to London was most definitely not easy. I missed my family, friends, familiar foods and stores, as well as the simple things in life such as my bed. For some reason, I believed that it would be a simple transition when coming home. Why I thought I wouldn’t be affected this time, I do not know.

Many call this transition home from being abroad for a while “reverse culture shock” and its something I really didn’t think I would experience. My home is my home, something I’ve known for 20 years. How could it ever be difficult to come back to something I know so well? But, the last four months I spent away from the places, people and culture I knew, and London slowly became a place I allowed myself to call home. I didn’t realize that doing so would make coming home so difficult.

Every day, I still wake up thinking I’ll walk outside, make the short stroll to South Ken Station, and catch the District Line to explore some new place in London. Instead, I’ve traded in my Oyster Card for a set of car keys, the six flights of stairs up to my flat for a treadmill work-out and my raincoat for — oh wait, no, I’ve still been putting my raincoat to good use with all the rainy weather Wisconsin has been having.

One of the biggest things that I have had to adjust to, is how much free time I now have. In London, it was rare that I would have an hour to myself to watch a show on Netflix, take a nap or message friends. Since being home, I suddenly have too much free time than I know what to do with. AKA, I’ve already caught up on this season’s new episodes of Scandal and BOY ARE THEY GOOD. What I haven’t done, is finish unpacking or putting away all of my things from the last four months. I’ll get to it eventually, I swear.

I know that eventually, things will get back to normal, its only a matter of time. It will be easier when the rest of my friends are home from college, I start my summer internship and job and am busy again. Until then, I’m off to finish Gilmore Girls and run some more miles on the treadmill!

Cheers London, and thank you for an amazing four months!

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Let’s go to the Beach, Beach

Last Saturday, all of the UW-Madison students went on a trip I had been looking forward to since the beginning of the semester: Brighton.

Brighton is directly south of London and is an English seaside resort town. It is also known for its nightlife, shopping and festivals. We took a coach bus from London to Brighton and got there in about an hour and fifteen minutes. The bus dropped us right in front of the PEBBLE beach and Brighton Pier. From there, our tour guide took us on an hour-long walking tour of Brighton.

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On the walking tour, we mainly walked through the shopping and restaurant district in the main part of downtown Brighton. There were tons of people out shopping as it was a Saturday morning. There were the classic chain stores like Gap and H&M, but the smaller, more local shops outnumbered these big box stores. Apart from these local stores, there are also many local restaurants in Brighton. Many of these restaurants happen to be vegan and vegetarian, not something that is quite as common in London.

After walking through the shopping district, we made a stop at the Royal Pavilion, also known as the Brighton Pavilion. It was built as a seaside retreat for George, Prince of Wales, in 1811. This building looks as though it should be placed somewhere in India, rather than on the English seaside coast. I guess it just adds to the quirks of Brighton.

We were then free to explore on our own until we had to meet the bus to go back to London at 4 p.m. We had spent most of our time further inland where the shops were, and headed directly for the beach and water.

Normally, I am not a fan of resort towns and beaches. I hate beaches. Brighton is different though. It doesn’t have a normal beach, it has a pebble beach. Its fantastic.

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After lunch, I spent a lot of time on the beach taking photos with a few friends (probably the most time I have ever spent on a beach if I’m being honest). We had so much fun throwing pebbles around and a few people almost got caught by some of the waves coming in.

Post photo shoot, we headed up the stairs to walk along Brighton Pier. The pier is totally commercialized for tourists as it boasts stands selling 99 Flake ice cream cones (usually for 2.50 instead of 99 p…typical), carnival games and rides. The rides are at the end of the pier where there are typical rides similar to the Tilt-A-Whirl and Scrambler, but there are even two small-sized roller coasters. Its quite an interesting set-up.

We still had a few hours left and were yet to find the famous colorful beach huts of Brighton. From the pier, we weren’t able to see any sign of them, so we ended up asking a girl working one of the stands which direction we needed to walk in to find the beach huts. The beach huts are west of Brighton Pier, so we walked along the pavement near the beach. This path is lined with water-front restaurants, bars and shops. Being a Saturday, it was incredibly packed but began to thin out the further we got from Brighton Pier.

Eventually, after about a 25 minute walk from Brighton Pier, we spotted the beach huts. These beach huts are used by locals in the summer to keep food in, change clothes and just hang out in. They are pretty small but do the trick. It was a beautiful day out, and while still early spring, there were a few owners sitting inside reading a newspaper in their beach hut with the doors open. Quite cute.

The colorful beach huts again called for an impromptu photo shoot.

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It was then time to head back so we could catch the bus home. Along the way, we stopped to get a 99 Flake ice cream (for two pounds), and made it back with plenty of time to spare. If I had more time here in the UK, I would definitely make another trip down to Brighton to explore for a longer period of time. It is such a cool city and we barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer as we had a limited six hours there. Until next time!

Finally, a tourist in London

Last Saturday morning, I went to Heathrow to pick up my boyfriend, Ethan, from the airport. I was incredibly excited to see him as it had been just over three months since I had last seen him, but I was also excited to show him the wonderful city I currently call home, London.

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Since arriving in London in January, I have primarily been living life in London as someone who both works and studies here. Personally, I have not felt like a tourist here, someone who is only here for a few days to a week, frantically trying to see all the main attractions and sights. Instead, I’ve found myself seeking out different boroughs in London to explore in order to get a full taste of the area, rather than specific attractions. Because of this, I was actually quite excited to “be a tourist for the week” as I haven’t visited many of the main sites London is famous for.

While Ethan was here, I attempted to balance showing him some of the unique, pretty and eclectic boroughs I have visited and enjoyed with the well-known sites of London such as Big Ben, the London Eye, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace and so on.

The same day that he landed, I was able to combine these two ideas as we headed to Borough Market first thing. Borough Market is on the South Bank of the Thames River and is best known for its diverse food options ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables to delicious pastries and full cooked meals from different parts of the world. Being that it was a Saturday morning, it was quite busy, so I was throwing Ethan into the hustle and bustle of London as he had just gotten off an eight hour plane ride. After walking through Borough Market and sampling some delicious pastries, we headed across Tower Bridge and then past the Tower of London which was also really busy.

As if I hadn’t overwhelmed Ethan enough, I took him to a Fulham vs Wolverhampton football match in the afternoon. It was the first football (soccer) match I had been to while in London and the atmosphere was absolutely amazing. While we couldn’t understand any of the cheers, we shouted along anyways. Our seats were between the corner flag and the goal and only about six rows back, aka fantastic seats.

On Sunday, we took a train out to Cambridge for a day trip. While I had previously been to Oxford, I was more excited to go to Cambridge and just have a relaxing day walking around looking at the pretty old school buildings. We wandered through the main part of town and then went towards the river to watch the punters (the people on the gondola-esque boats with the long poles). We had brunch at a really  cute restaurant and then spent the rest of the day walking around.

Ethan’s birthday is in early April, and  as I will not be home for it, I decided to surprise him by getting tickets to a West End show while he was here. His favorite childhood Disney movie was Aladdin, and they just so happen to have Aladdin playing at the Prince Edward Theatre, so I bought tickets for us to go on Monday night. He absolutely loved the show and I was very happy with how surprised he was when we turned the corner and he saw the Aladdin sign over the theatre entrance!

On Tuesday, we took the classic tourist route. First, we stopped at Buckingham Palace, then walked through St. Jame’s Park and then walked through Westminster. In Westminster, we first stopped outside Westminster Abbey and then Westminster Palace to look at the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. We then made our way over Westminster Bridge to get a different view of Big Ben, then went back across to continue walking down Whitehall Street, stopping at 10 Downing Street where the Prime Minister lives, the Horse Guards Parade and finally, we ended at Trafalgar Square. The National Gallery overlooks Trafalgar Square, so we went inside and wandered around a bit before making the walk east to St. Paul’s Cathedral with our final destination being the Sky Garden.

The Sky Garden is one of the few skyscrapers in London and is uniquely shaped, some call it the walkie talkie. It is best known for its top-floor viewing deck and restaurant that boasts a large indoor green garden. It is quite difficult to get tickets to go up to the top, despite the tickets being free. They sell out weeks in advance. Luckily, I had been watching the website and was able to book two tickets for us at 4:45 p.m. so we were able to see all of London in both the daytime and as the sun was setting. If you ever come to London and are looking for a fantastic view of London and don’t want to spend money to go up in the London Eye, I highly suggest getting tickets to go up to the Sky Garden! (Its the cheaper and better version of its skyscraper neighbor the Shard.)

Throughout the rest of the week, I was able to take Ethan to see the area where I work, in the borough of Shoreditch. I work on Brick Lane, which is known for its Indian Food, the Spitalfields Market and street art. While I wasn’t able to show him around most of the day, we still managed to see the market and some street art. On Thursday after I got out of my internship, we took the tube to Camden town where we wandered through Camden Market. Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of Camden, it is quite different from the rest of London. There is more of a hipster and goth influence and is usually quite busy. Ethan had similar feelings about the area, so we didn’t spend much time here and ended up walking to Regents Park and Primrose Hill where we were able to watch the sunset. Primrose Hill also has amazing views of the London skyline and is well worth the climb to the top of the hill.

Saturday morning, we got up bright and early to make it to Portobello Market in Notting Hill. Of all the markets in London that I have been to, Portobello Market tops my list and it ended up being one of Ethan’s favorite places in London as well. We slowly made our way through the crowds of people as we walked down the street. We stopped to get donuts from a street vendor, and they ended up being the best apple and jam (not jelly, that’s not a thing here!) filled donuts we had ever had. Highly suggest! When looking for nice and cheap souvenirs in London, I also suggest going to Portobello Street Market as they have many permanent shops that sell sweatshirts, mugs, t-shirts, etc. and for good prices! After Notting Hill, we made our way back to Westminster and across to the area by the London Eye. We were going to do the London Eye, but had not made reservations and sadly they had sold out for the day. Instead, we decided to do a boat tour of London that actually ended up being really pretty. It was also such a nice day out and I swear I got sunburned as we sat on the top deck of the boat!

The next morning, Sunday, Ethan and I took the tube back out to Heathrow where he was flying out of. We had such a full, fun week and I still cannot believe how much we were able to fit in, despite the fact that I was still in classes and an internship on the weekdays!

Seaside Towns and the Harry Potter Studio Tour

Do you ever have one of those day where you just have an urge to go out and explore someplace on your own? Yes? No? Well, last Saturday was one of those days for me.

Despite being back at the flat for less than a week after my long spring break, I already needed to get out of my flat, out of London, and spend some time on my own.

Earlier in the semester, the Imperial College Woman’s Football Team that I am on had tried to gather enough girls to take a trip to Bournemouth on the southwest coast of England to play a match. Sadly, that never happened as there weren’t enough girls able to go on the trip, but since then I was intrigued by Bournemouth and wanted to visit.

When looking up photos of Bournemouth online, it looked beautiful. The ocean and cliffs were stunning (some would add the beach into this category but as I’m not a fan of beaches I’ll skip over this part…) and it seemed like a good break from the rush of the city of London.

On Saturday morning, I took a bus from London Victoria Coach Station to Bournemouth Coach Station. It was about an hour and a half long ride and was quite pretty the closer we got to Bournemouth. When I arrived in Bournemouth though, I was met not with the views of the ocean from over the cliffs, but instead with a view of the incredibly thick fog. Standing on the sidewalk near the beach, I wasn’t even able to see the water. It was that thick.

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I decided to go explore the city center and quickly discovered that Bournemouth was in fact known as a resort town. How I missed that when researching the city before going is still unclear to me.

As I couldn’t see much and wanted to explore more, I  decided to rent a bicycle and bike down the coast toward Southbourne and Christchurch. As I biked along the coast, the fog slowly began to clear up and I was able to see more of the ocean and the cliffs. I ended up biking 10 miles to Christchurch and back to the main center of Bournemouth. While it was a leisurely bike ride, it was still a long distance and I was pretty tired after.

As I biked along the coast, I passed many of the little beach huts that lined the cliffs. Many of them were brightly colored and so cute! Most of them were closed, but a few of them were open and you could see their owners sitting inside drinking tea or coffee and reading the newspaper. They were so quaint. I wish I could take one of the little beach huts home with me!

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The next day was a day I had been looking forward to for most all of the semester. It was the day we traveled to Leavesden, home of the Warner Brothers Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter.

We left on a coach bus from Kensington to the Harry Potter Studios at two in the afternoon and got to Leavesden around three. Then, it was time to enter the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. After watching a short film where Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint welcomed us to the studios, the doors to the Great Hall opened and suddenly we were transported to Hogwarts. Two long tables lined the walls and at the end of the hall stood mannequins of professors such as Dumbledore, Snape, Hagrid, McGonagall and more. The life-sized mannequins wore the actual costumes of the characters and it was incredible to see up close. Sadly, the ceiling to the Great Hall was non-existent and therefore there were no magically suspended candles in the air.

We then walked into a large room of the studio that housed many of the props, costumes, wigs and major sets from the movie series. Some of my favorite parts included the set for the potions classroom, Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor common room. It was so interesting to learn how long it took to perfect each set, costume or prop and how they were maintained for the duration of all of the films.

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After this room of the studio, was turned a corner and were suddenly at Platform 9 3/4 and the Hogwarts express filled the length of the room. It was unreal. After taking the classic Platform 9 3/4 photo, I boarded the Hogwarts Express. Okay not really, but I did get to walk inside the train and down the hallway. Each compartment depicted an important scene found from each film that featured the train.

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We then came to the cafeteria where they served Butterbeer and Butterbeer ice cream. We decided to go outside to see a few more of the sets before sampling a Butterbeer treat. Outside, we saw the Knight Bus, 4 Privet Drive, the main bridge at Hogwarts, the flying car and Hagrid’s flying motor bike. WOW. So many cool, magical things in one space! After that, it was finally time to go inside and get a Butterbeer product. I opted for the ice cream as I’m not a soda person, and was pleasantly surprised by the butterscotch taste of the ice cream.

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The next portion of the studios included a walk down Diagon Alley (pronounced diagonally by the Brits), introduction to some of the most important technical props like Dobby and Buckbeak (the Hippogriff), and then a large replica model of the entire Hogwarts Castle and surrounding campus. This was probably my favorite part of the entire tour as the Castle was so detailed and large. The model itself was created so that the directors could film the castle with a green screen in the background and it would look life sized in the films. Crazy what a camera and the perfect set can do!

 

The tour ended in the gift shop where I spent almost 45 minutes trying to find the perfect gifts and souvenirs. Apart from that, there was just so much to look at in the shop that it took me three times longer than it really should have.

I still cannot believe that I was able to go to the Harry Potter Studios and see how the Wizarding World I grew up with was really brought to life. While this was so cool to see, it also made me a bit sad and nostalgic inside. Also, I’m currently feeling the urge to do a Harry Potter marathon of all the films. Where is ABC Family when you need them???

Week-Long Whirlwind of Travel in Italy, Switzerland & Liechtenstein

On Saturday morning I arrived back in London after traveling for ten days in Italy, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. I have been in London for four days and I still feel exhausted from my travels.

I visited five major cities over break which include (in order): Rome, Italy, Florence, Italy, Pisa, Italy, Venice, Italy and Zurich, Switzerland. I traveled by plane, train, car and bus and needless to say, it was a whirlwind of a trip.

The trip itself had taken a few weeks to plan and I was constantly adding places to it. It wasn’t until I was actually in Rome and leaving for Florence that I decided to book a train to take a day trip to Pisa while staying in Florence. So some things I did were spontaneous and others were planned well in advance. One thing I learned through this trip, was how easy it really is to travel once you are on the mainland of Europe. My preferred means of travel is easily by train. Trains are usually really cheap and stations are easy to get through and are in basically any city you could ever want to go to.

My first destination was Rome. For this leg of my trip, I traveled with five girls and two guys from my flat. I stayed at an AirBNB with the five girls and it was really nice and big as well as in a good location in Rome. We arrived at about 2:30 a.m from the airport and our host, Luca, greeted us as soon as we got out of the taxi. He showed us up to the apartment and provided us with a map and suggestions about what we should see, do and eat while in Rome. This was my first time staying at an AirBNB and I was surprised at how easy it was.

On our first full day in Rome I set off with my friends Abby, Sophia and Kendall to do many of the touristy things of Rome. We went to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum (ruins), Palatine Hill, the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. It was a full day of walking but I was incredibly happy with how much we had seen. I will add that we walked everythwere, which seems like a lot, but walking at least 8-13 miles in a day became a regular occurrence for me over the next nine days.

The next morning, Sophia, Abby and I got up and made the trek over to Vatican City. While the city is historic and grand, I was disappointed with it because as soon as we hit the main square outside of St. Peter’s Basilica, we were bombarded with panhandlers attempting to sell us selfie sticks and phone chargers. Not only that, but in both Rome and Vatican City, it is extremely difficult to know who to trust. Everyone acts as if they are an official guide with a discounted tour to sell you that has a fast pass to the front of the line. WARNING: THEY ARE ALL FAKE. Literally every person is just trying to rip you off and make money and sell tours that are about $10-20 over the  actual price.

We were heading for the line for the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel and were accosted by numerous fake tour guides and panhandlers both on the way to the line and even while we were in line for an hour. They don’t give up and its quite obnoxious.

Finally, we made it into the Vatican Museum and made our way through the “museum” which was only a long hallway filled with old relics and no information that eventually led to the Sistine Chapel. There, the crowds of people were herded in and only allowed to stand in the middle to look at the beautiful ceiling. While the ceiling and Chapel itself was stunning and so intricate, it was difficult to concentrate on how pretty it was as the security was constantly yelling at people for “SILENCE” and “NO PHOTOS.”It really took away from the overall experience. While I am happy to say that I’ve been to Vatican City and seen the Sistine Chapel, it was not a great experience in my opinion.

On Sunday morning, I left for the next leg of my trip. I was off to Florence by train and was traveling on my own for the next two days. While for some this might be nerve-wracking, it was a part of the trip that I was most excited for. In London, I share a room with three girls and a flat with with 11 other people. It is incredibly difficult to get any alone time, so two days to myself was a very exciting idea to me.

On my first day in Florence, I was able to check into my hostel and then go out and explore for the afternoon and evening. I first went to get lunch at el Mercado Centrale, an indoor food market in Florence that is really more like a nice cafeteria with authentic Italian cuisine. I found a pasta place and asked for “spaghetti with marina sauce” and was quickly corrected by the man over the counter. He pointed across to the pizza stall and said “Pizza uses marinara sauce. Pasta? No marinara sauce. We use a rich tomato sauce with special herbs and spices from Tuscany. Got it?” Oh, yes. I got it. Mistake made,  never calling red sauce for pasta “marinara sauce” when in Italy ever again.

After el Mercato Centrale, I walked to the Piazza del Duomo where I climbed Giotto’s Campanile, a free standing bell tower. To reach the top, one must climb 414 steps up an incredibly narrow spriraling cement staircase. That wasn’t great, but I made it to the top and the views of Florence were phenomenal. Definitely worth the climb. I also went into the Florence Cathedral that was right next to the bell tower.

I walked across the oldest bridge in Florence, Ponte Vecchio, that houses many shops. Sadly many of the shops were closed by the time I was crossing it, but there were still huge crowds of people crossing over the river via the bridge. It was getting close to sunset so I made my way to one of the highest places in Florence to watch the sunset. I walked up to Piazzale Michelangelo, where an outdoor replica of Michaelangelo’s David overlooks the city. The sunset and views of Florence were amazing from here. I sat on the crowded steps enjoying the sights and did some people watching.

A friend who had studied abroad in Florence last semester had suggested some of her favorite restaurants in Florence to me before I had left. I was off to Gusta Pizza after watching the sunset. Well-known and loved by locals and tourists alike, the pizza place did not open until 7 p.m. and there was a line outside with people waiting for the doors to open. I got a pizza from there that was AMAZING and made my way back to the hostel.

On my way back, I got a few texts from my mom, but didn’t respond right away as I was using my phone’s maps to get back. I then got a call from her. She simply said, “I’m not telling you why I’m calling, look at what I texted you,” then hung up on me. Okay? So I looked and OH MY GOODNESS. She had been going through the online version of People Magazine and came across a photo of ED SHEERAN AND I from the BBC Radio 1 studios from a few days before. Needless to say I freaked out then called her back and continued to freak out for the rest of the night. Still can’t believe that happened.

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Anyways, the next day, I woke up and took the train to Pisa. The main sights of Pisa, including the Leaning Tower, Pisa Baptistery, the Orto Botanco di Pisa and Pisa Cathedral are all located in the Piazza Demi Miracoli. I spent a couple of hours wandering around the square, taking photos for strangers and asking them to do the same for me until I got my perfect Leaning Tower shot. No shame. It started to rain right as I was leaving, perfect.

The next morning, I left early in the morning to take a train to Venice. There, I met up with my friend Allie who I did the rest of my traveling over break with. We spent the first couple hours carrying our luggage around the narrow streets and over the tiny bridges of Venice because our AirBNB lady wasn’t responding so we couldn’t check in yet. That was quite the experience… We were finally able to drop our stuff off later and did some shopping. We were searching for deals in the leather stores as both of us were looking to get an Italian leather purse. We were eventually able to decide on a purse and do some bartering to get the price down.

We met up with two other girls from our program to do one thing that Venice is most famous for, its gondola rides through the canals. Each gondola ride costs approximately 80 euros for “about” a thirty minute ride. TripAdvisor suggests doing the ride with a group to help cut down on the costs. Luckily we were able to meet up with the two other girls so it was only 20 euro a person because the gondolier conned us out of our time on the gondola and to me, was nowhere near worth the 80 euros we had to pay for it. Despite my arguing and displaying the stopwatch I had that showed how long we had been in the gondola, the gondolier ended the ride after about 20 minutes. We refused to get out of the boat and sat in it while it was docked for our final ten minutes. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy. The experience itself was cool, but not for the amount of time we were in the boat and the price we had to pay for it.

The next day, Wednesday, was a full travel day for Allie and I. We took a bus from Venice to Milan and then transferred to another bus that took us to our final destination of Zurich, Switzerland. While the bus took the whole day, I treated it as a tour of Italy and Switzerland as the views as we drove through the mountains were stunning. It was also a good rest day for us as we were about halfway through the trip and already exhausted from our traveling.

The next morning (Thursday), we met up with our friend Kendall again and did a free walking tour of Zurich. The guide was really informative and we saw a lot of Zurich during the trip. I was surprised at how clean and small Zurich is. It is known as one of the banking capitals of the world, so is very modern, but it’s Old Town is very rustic looking and is home to some great shopping. Kendall left later that afternoon to go back to Italy, but Allie and I were staying for another full day. We spent the rest of our afternoon hiking.

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I knew we were hiking, but at the time, I was not aware that we were hiking up the side of Uetliberg, Zurich’s local mountain at almost 900 meters high. We literally went from the city center of Zurich where our AirBNB was, to the top. We didn’t pass on anyone on the path we took, which was muddy and filled with sketchy stairs, and it wasn’t until we reached the top that we discovered that there was a paved path that went all the way up. Go us. The hike was worth it though and I felt fully deserving of the awesome view that rewarded us at the top. Needless to say, we didn’t walk back down and instead opted to take the train that goes up and down the mountain back to the city center.

The final full day of our trip was Friday, and Allie and I decided to take different day trips. She went to Jungfraujoch, one of the highest points in the Swiss Alps, and I decided to take the warmer route and travel to Raperswil, Switzerland, Vaduz, Liechtenstein and Heidiland. I really enjoyed my day trip and the cute little villages that we stopped at on our way to Liechtenstein, one of the smallest countries in the world. There wasn’t much to do in the capital city of Liechtenstein, and much of it was under construction. I was able to see the castle where the Prince of Liechtenstein lives with his family, but sadly no flags were out so they weren’t in the country. After leaving Vaduz, we went to Heidiland where the book written about Heidi takes place. It was a quick stop, but we were able to get out and enjoy the mountain views for a bit.

The next morning, Allie and I flew out of Zurich and into London Luton Airport. It felt so good to be back in London. While traveling and seeing so much of Europe is incredibly fun, it is also extremely exhausting. But I’m not complaining! I’m just happy to be back in London, walking less and sleeping more!

Paris on a Budget

So last Thursday was one of the longest days of my life.

After class, I went to Victoria Station and boarded an overnight bus to Paris, France. Why an overnight bus you ask? Well, they are extremely cheap. Not only do they provide transportation, but they also alleviate the need to book a hostel. Normally for a weekend trip, I would fly out Thursday night, have to pay for a hostel Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, and then fly back to London on Sunday morning.

So, we decided to try something different this time. It worked out well as Paris is not only close, but the buses are so much cheaper than taking the Chunnel or flying. When using the bus, you also don’t have to pay for the extra expense of getting to and from the airport which also GREAT.

So anyways, enough about expenses. We left Victoria Station in London at 10:20 p.m. and headed off on our overnight journey. We took the ferry across the Strait of Dover, so that was pretty cool. What wasn’t cool was arriving in Paris at 6:30 in the morning. Yep. 6:30 a.m. It was still dark out and we were extremely tired, as you can imagine, its slightly difficult to get good night’s sleep on a bus. But we powered through-the motto of the day.

After getting off the bus, we walked to the closest Metro station and made our best purchase of the weekend: a two-day pass for unlimited Metro rides in zones one and two. If you ever go to Paris, I highly suggest investing in a Metro pass like this as it allows you to get to all the monuments and touristy places quickly when you only have a few short days to see everything you want to. It was only about 16 Euro, and we definitely used more trips with it than 16 Euro  would have paid for within the first four hours of being in Paris so…yeah. Buy the Metro pass and save yourself the time and money it takes to get around via walking or taking taxis.

One of our first destinations was the Eiffel Tower. Despite it being a relatively overcast day, we had to go to the Eiffel Tower. When in Paris, right?

I definitely suggest going to the Eiffel right after it opens at either 9 or 10 a.m., that way you can avoid the two hour long lines that TripAdvisor says you can usually expect. TripAdvisor also suggests buying your tickets in advance so you can skip the lines, but luckily we were able to walk right up and buy our tickets with our student discounts (YAY) and then we headed right up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. If you’re going to the Eiffel Tower, buy the ticket to go all the way to the top floor. Its worth it. The views were incredible despite the slight fog.

After the Eiffel Tower, we used our wonderful Metro passes to visit a bunch of the other famous (and free) monuments of Paris. These included the Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur (AMAZING VIEWS, but go early before all the panhandlers come out), Notre-Dame Cathedral, and of course, the Lourve Museum.

At the Notre-Dame Cathedral, they offer admission inside the Cathedral for free as well as free tours on certain days at certain times. If you’re interested in a tour, be sure to look that up ahead of time. We didn’t do a tour, and instead decided to walk through the Cathedral on our own. There were still many signs to read that talked about the history of the Cathedral and its architecture and we also got to spend as much time as we liked admiring how pretty it was inside.

We waited until later at night to go to the Lourve. After 6 o’clock to be precise. Every Friday after 6 p.m., admission to the museum is free for anyone under the age of 26 who can present a valid ID. We are currently under 26 and of course had our IDs so hellooooo free trip to the Lourve. While I’m not really one for museums, I was able to see the Mona Lisa (its pretty small tbh, but ts the Mona Lisa so).

On our second day in Paris, we planned to take the train out to Versailles. We thought it would be easy to get there, being that we had our Metro passes and only would have to pay a whopping seven Euros for a round-trip ticket. But, we ended up taking the right train, only going to the wrong end place. Needless to say, we ended up switching back and forth trying to get to the correct train station for almost four hours. Not great. But we eventually made it to Versailles.

In Versailles, we walked to the Palace of Versailles. The line to go into the Palace was extremely long, like two hours long, and we didn’t have that much time to spend there so we decided to simply walk the grounds. We braved the cold and explored the grounds for about an hour and a half and then took the train back to Paris.

Night bus round two happened Saturday night. I turned 20 on the bus ride back to London and celebrated with M&Ms and opening a few letters from home. It was a long but good  (and inexpensive) weekend, and ending with my birthday was the ‘icing on the cake!’

Fui a Barcelona!

Over the past weekend I went to Barcelona, Spain, and it was absolutely beautiful!

In high school, I took a semester long course on Spain, the culture, geography, food and history, and since then it had always been a dream of mine to go see and experience the unique country.

Our flight got in very late on Thursday night, and we took a taxi to our hostel. When I say very late, I mean that we got to the hostel by two in the morning. But it didn’t feel like it was that late at the hostel. Literally everyone was awake and the hostel was incredibly busy with people in the lobby, bar and lounge area.

When we got to our room, we were surprised to see a couple from Mexico also just getting to the room and unpacking. There was one girl asleep in a bunk bed and then two empty beds. We went to sleep rather quickly, only to be woken up at five in the morning to two Italian guys coming back rather loudly after having been out all night.

Bienvenido a España!

We were up and out the door by 8:30 a.m. the next morning and it was like a ghost town. In high school, I learned how unique the daily schedule was in Spain (waking up late, lunch at two, siesta around four, dinner at nine, sleep by two a.m.), but being in a big city like Barcelona, I thought things would be somewhat regular. They weren’t.

As we made our way to La Boqueria Mercat, one of Barcelona’s largest markets, barely any of the coffee shops or stores were open. Once we arrived at the market (a good hour and a half after it had already opened) almost half the shops were still closed. Spain takes their sleep and later schedule very seriously-clearly.

La Boqueria was (for the most part) very colorful and pretty. There were stalls everywhere filled with the most colorful fruit and juices I had ever seen. Many of the juice colors looked like they had to be artificial, but I highly doubt that they were. There were also shops selling baked goods, traditional Spanish croquetas and empanadas, and finally the ever disgusting meat stalls. The meat stalls showcased animal legs with the hooves still on as well as chickens with their heads or feathers still in tact. It was not very pleasant to look at, so we would quickly move away from those stalls and on to the prettier, more colorful fruit stalls.

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After La Boqueria, we made our way onto one of Barcelona’s most famous streets, Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas is a street in the heart of Barcelona that is quite busy each days as it fills with both tourists and locals. It has many little shops on it that feature tourist gifts as well as gelato and other food. It connects Plaça de Catalunya in the center with the Christopher Columbus Monument all the way near the water at Port Vell.

We walked along Las Ramblas until we reached the Christopher Columbus Monument and then we began to walk through the bay area. While doing so, we looked up and saw a sky gondola that stretched from the water near us, up into a small mountain in the distance. After looking up the sky gondola, we decided to do it.

The Teleferico del Puerto Cable Car offered amazing views of the city of Barcelona. We could see all the way up into the mountains and across the city to La Sagrada Familia Cathedral. There were also great views of the ocean! I am so happy that we did because the view of the city was stunning. The ride is only seven minutes long from the port to Miramar which sits on Montjuic Mountain, but is well worth it for the view and price.

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We walked around on Montjuic Mountain for a while and talked with two locals. It was so interesting to hear about how badly Catalan wants its independence from Spain and how long they have been fighting for it. I began speaking Spanish with them, only for the woman to correct me and say “We speak Catalan here, not Spanish.” She continued on to tell us how Catalan is the first language they learn, then Spanish. She also told us that she then learned English and then French and Italian. Incredible. The woman was an older woman who had retired from her job as a teacher and has now published one book and is about to publish another. Both were very pleasant and offered us ideas on what else we should see while in Barcelona.

After talking with the locals, we took the cable car back to the port and then walked around the beach for a while (yes, I know, I can’t believe it either. I went on a beach and touched sand. It was awful.) And then we found lunch. After lunch we made our way back into town and explored the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona.

The Gothic Quarter in Barcelona is known for it architecture, narrow winding alleyways and numerous little shops. We walked through the area for a while and stopped in a few shops. We then headed out of the area and toward the Arc de Triomf. Along the way, I made a pit-stop at the famous El Corte Ingles. In my Spanish class in high school, my teacher raved about El Corte Ingles, the largest department/supermarket chain of stores in Spain. She wasn’t wrong in doing so. The store was monstrous, super busy and had basically everything. It was crazy.

We then continued on to the Arc de Triomf, took some photos and explored the square area. Then FINALLY we started the walk back to the hostel. By the time we got there, I checked my Fitbit and we had walked just over 13 miles. CRAZY. But well worth it as we had seen a ton in only one day!

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On our second day in Barcelona (Saturday), we once again woke up “early” in local time and left the hostel by 8:3o a.m. to start our walk up to Park Guell. It was a primarily uphill walk to Park Guell, but luckily when it began to get incredibly steep, something amazing happened. We spotted OUTDOOR ESCALATORS ahead of us. And not just one, not two, but three escalators that took us up even higher. It was insane but really, thank goodness!

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At the top of the third escalator we turned around to look at the view and it was beautiful! Only thing was, we still had some climbing up to do still to get to the Park. We entered the park and wandered around a bit before going to the ticketed area.

For 7€ you can buy a ticket to enter the Monumental Zone of Park Guell that has the great views of Barcelona, the tiled mosaic seating area, the Casa Del Guarda, the gift shop and restaurant. The park was designed by Gaudí  between 1900 and 1914 and was officially opened as a public park in 1926. It was packed when we were there with countless tourists looking to see the park and the views of Barcelona.

We then left the park and made our way back down towards the heart of Barcelona to another Gaudí piece, La  Basilica de la Sagrada Familia. The basilica has been under construction since 1882, which sounds crazy but makes perfect sense once you actually see the basilica. One side is the original part while the rest of the basilica looks as though it was all made out of different stone colors, different designs, color schemes and pieces of history. Personally, I didn’t like how it looked (not the most visually appealing as it doesn’t match), but it is one of the most well-known tourists spots in Spain and the Spaniards are quite proud of it. I guess you can make your own opinions about it, but it was still cool to see and look at!

We walked to the beach again after and just sat around watching the waves crash for a while as it was a beautiful day in the mid 60’s. After a couple hours, we headed back to the hostel and I was able to watch the FC Barcelona game in the bar which was cool!

I had to pack as we had to be out the door to the airport by four in the morning the next day, so I headed back up to my room. The two Italian guys were also in the room packing. I didn’t say anything to them at first, but then I noticed while they were talking that they were speaking Spanish so I decided to attempt to speak to them in Spanish. They looked really surprised when I asked them a question, but understood me and responded. I understood them to and so we talked for a while. It was so cool to actually be able to carry on a conversation with people from a different country (Italy) in a different language (Spanish) and understand the other people and be understood as well. Thankful for all the Spanish classes I’ve had up until this point!

Overall, Barcelona was amazing and everything I had hoped it would be! Being immersed in the daily culture, seeing the sights and learning more about the history was amazing! My only regret is that I didn’t buy some of the delicious looking strawberries while at La Boqueria. Next time!

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