Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"Whats the best thing to come out of England? The road to Scotland!"

If you are ever looking for a get away that includes rolling hills full of sheep, cobblestone roads, beautiful architecture, gorgeous scenery, and pretty hilarious people, Scotland is definitely your destination of choice.

A couple friends and I were able to squeeze in a 3 day trip to Scotland for the last of our traveling. And I would say we saved the best for last. Scotland was a perfect way to end the last of our major travels.

We traveled by train to Edinburgh, Scotland. The train ride was about 4.5 hours long but was totally every second. The scenery was amazing. There were fields and fields full of sheep for as far as you could see. We also traveled through some other bigger cities such as York and New Castle, so it was nice to be able to catch a glimpse of those beautiful city surroundings as well.

The first night in Edinburgh we checked into our hostel and headed out to wander the cobblestone streets of Edinburgh and find a place for dinner. We settled on a pub on one of the more popular streets called Market Street. There was a sign outside that said there would be live music so we figured that would be our best bet. We ordered some food and got some drinks and then realized the sign said that the live music wouldn't start for another 2 hours... but we still decided to wait it out. As soon as we started to talk about leaving and finding another place a giant group of about 20 guys walked in and sat at the large table next to us. Before we knew it we were being introduced to our first dose of Scottish sarcasm as they pulled our table over to join theres. It turned out that they were all members of the British Army. To say the least, it was very interesting to talk to all of them and they had many jokes and stories to tell. A little bit later another group of people came in and sat on the other side of us. They asked us to take a picture of them and while we were making some small talk, we found out that they were from Ann Arbor, Michigan! When I told them I was also from Michigan they got really excited and yelled 'GO BLUE' for all of the pub to hear! We ended up having so much fun with all of the new people we met. Needless to say it was a perfect first night in Scotland.

The next morning we went on a free walking tour that our hostel offered around Edinburgh. The tour guide was great and had a lot of really cool stories to tell, and we learned a lot about the different landmarks and buildings in Edinburgh. During the tour we also went to a famous graveyard called Greyfriars where we heard the story of Greyfriars Bobby. There we found the gravestone of Tom Riddle which J.K Rowling used to write Harry Potter. We also saw the school which Hogwarts was based off of. For lunch we went to a famous cafe called the Elephant House. This is the cafe where J.K Rowling wrote the first two Harry Potter books, and if you didn't know that fun fact you would have known as soon as you walked into the bathroom. The place is famous for its bathroom walls which are coated with signatures, quotes, drawings and about anything about Harry Potter. Everything from the door, to mirror, to sink were absolutely covered! The cafe itself was also very cute and everything there was about elephants.

After lunch we headed to Holyrood Park to climb to the top of a small mountain to get to Arthur's Seat. On the way there we saw a little candy shop and stopped to get some candy for the walk. We ended up talking to the owner for quite awhile and she gave us tips on the best way to get to Arthurs Seat! She said if we went the hard way we would each need to bring about a gallon of water with us and some hiking shoes, but if we waited until there was a fork in the road and started to head up the mountain, it was a much easier walk. She was so friendly. She also sold buttons, pendants, and magnets all made of maps. And crazily enough, we all found a button that had Kingston (where our university is) and London on it! Also, my friend who has lived in England before, found one button with the small town she had lived in on it! After we purchased some souvenirs and some candy of course, we got back on track and headed for Arthur's Seat.

Long story short, we ended up venturing up the side of the mountain when we saw what we thought to be the fork in the road. But after about 45 minutes and a couple breaks to look at the view (to catch our breath) we realized that that was far from the fork in the road the lady had told us about. Keep in mind we all had our purses and other stuff we had carried around for the day and we were nowhere near dressed for an intense hike up a mountain. We saw a couple walking down towards us and as we got closer we saw that they were definitely dressed for the occasion; hiking sticks and all. When they told us it was at least another 30 minutes if steep walking to the top. To say the least, we got our workout in for the day and it was quite the adventure. We were all very glad we decided to take that way up because the views the whole way up were spectacular.

When we finally made it to the top the views were absolutely breathtaking. All around us was a beautiful panorama of all Edinburgh. Although I will say that I am to blame for what started to happen within seconds of us reaching the top. On the way up I had commented on how lucky we were that it was not raining, because it was supposed to rain the whole time we were there. And sure enough, once we reached the top, not only rain came down on us, but mother nature decided to throw some hail and hurricane winds in there as well. We were holding on to rocks and quickly began taking pictures and then hurried down the 'correct' side of the mountain where it was a very easy walk. But the hike and the weather still could not make us say one bad thing about that adventure. We had so much fun singing silly songs on the way up like "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "The Climb". And the view was my most favorite thing about the whole trip.

Once we reached the bottom, we found ourselves in a little area of Edinburgh called Duddington. The lady we had met earlier that day had told us about a little pub there that we needed to check out if we had the time. After a little bit of wandering we found it once a runner ran past us, noticed where we were headed and said "the only thing that way is a pub!"And we said that was exactly what we were looking for. We were freezing and wet from all the rain and we needed somewhere to unthaw. Once we got there, we found out that it was the first pub in Edinburgh! It was really cute and the people were very nice.

After that we made the long walk back to our hostel to meet up with another friend who came to join us. After we went out and got some dinner we called it a early night and headed back to the hostel. We stayed in a 10 person dorm so when we got there we met some of our roommates. We met 2 Scottish guys who were our age. They had really thick accents so we found ourselves saying 'what' more than having an actual conversation. They laughed every time we couldn't understand them and it truly was quite funny because it wasn't like they were speaking in another language or anything. We quizzed them on some American slang and their guesses were quite funny. But as soon as they turned it around and started quizzing us, we also made some pretty silly guesses. And the fact that they used the popular Scottish slang and refereed to us as lassies was also pretty funny.

The next day we had a very early start and headed to Edinburgh Castle to meet for our all day bus tour through the Highlands. We boarded a coach at 7:45 am and did not get back until almost 9:00pm, it was a long day, but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat!

There were many stops along the way and the scenery around us was breathtaking. The highlands surrounding us the whole way was filled with valleys, hiking trails, trickling waterfalls, and beautiful vegetation. It looked as though we were just traveling through a movie scene the entire way! We made frequent 'photo op stops' and stopped at some popular landmarks as well. Our tour guide was hilarious and made the tour so much fun! He had enough interesting information, fun facts, and of course jokes and sarcasm to last us the whole day! He had many jokes about England, on of my favorites being the one I used as a title for this blog. He even wore a kilt and played bagpipe music throughout the tour as well!

Some of our stops, and sights of the tour included Fort William, Stirling Castle, Great Glen, Britain's highest mountain (Ben Nevis), Fort Augustus, Glencoe, Inverness (Capital of the Highlands), Grampian Mountains, Pitlochry, Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness. We also were able to meet many people on this tour! We met a couple American families, but the coach was filled with many different languages being spoken.

My personal favorite was stoping at Loch Ness and taking a beautiful boat tour out on the 24 mile long, and 700 feet deep loch. Of course, we spent most of our time trying to spot the famous Loch Ness Monster (Nessie), but we figured he was probably just taking a nap.

Although it was a long day, we did not let that stop us from enjoying our last night in Scotland. We headed out to a pub for some dinner, and after going in and out of many, finally found one with an available table. In one of the pubs we were in and out of, we ran into one of the American families that was on our tour!!! We laughed about it for awhile, but we never thought we would end up running into them 2 more times the next day! Perfect proof that it really is a small world!

The pub where we at dinner was blasting Scottish music and because it was a Saturday night and getting late, many Hen and Stag parties (Bachelor/Bachelorette parties) were making there way in to enjoy their nights. So we decided to head to another pub. There we tried some famous Scottish Highland whiskey (I don't recommend it!!!) and ended up meeting 2 other study abroad students from America who were traveling! (Again small world) Also, one of them was celebrating her birthday! We ended up hanging out with them, and playing card games at the pub, and dancing for the rest of the night. It was so awesome to be able to meet new friends and have so much fun on our last night in Scotland. The only downfall of the night, was finding out that those who say that Scottish men wear nothing under their kilts are 110% correct. Needless to say we left after a Scottish man in a kilt decided to prove that rumor to be true to everyone around.

The next day was quite rainy, so we spent it wondering around some more and huddling under umbrellas. We decided to go to the National Museum of Scotland (which was free)! We spent a few hours there and it was an awesome museum! There we again ran into the American family from the tour, TWO separate times... It was quite crazy, and funny. At the museum we were able to see Dolly, the first cloned mammal ever, and some other interesting treasures and displays. We then headed to the top floor terrace of the museum where we were able to get yet another incredible view of the beautiful city of Edinburgh.

The long train ride home was just as beautiful as the long train ride there as we passed through many fields full of sheep and other landscapes. We all had a wonderful time in Scotland, and I definitely hope to go back someday! The people were great, and always telling jokes, and everything about Edinburgh was beautiful! I was sad it was our last major trip outside of England, but I was glad we saved the best for last.

As soon as I was home I spent much of my time studying for my last exam which I just had today! So my summer has officially started. I will say I wasn't exactly as thrilled as everyone else was who was cheering and throwing papers as they left Kingston University. Yes of course, I am happy to have a break from school for awhile. But being done at Kingston University was the first sign that makes it real that I am really coming home. Time has gone by so incredibly fast that sometimes I almost forget that I will be home in just a couple weeks. I had such an amazing experience at Kingston University and came out learning so much more than just lecture material. I am happy with the opportunity that Kingston University offered and the students and faculty I was able to meet, but I still can not get over that fact the it doesn't seem like that long ago that I was anxiously awaiting my acceptance letter.

Of course between studying I managed to find a day to take a break and explore London with a friend who was leaving the next day. We managed to check the rest of the things off of her 'to do in London' list including strolling across Abbey road just like the Beatles, having lunch and riding bicycles through Hyde Park, doing some last minute souvenir shopping and some last minute wandering through the city, touring Little Venice, climbing to the top of Primrose Hill, and of course saying goodbye to Big Ben. It was another wonderful day in London to add to many. We ended the night at our favorite pub and met up with some friends to say goodbye. She is the first of my friends to leave, and that was another shot of reality that soon I will have to leave too. We were all very sad, but I can't wait to visit her in the Fall at her school in New York! I was so thankful to have met such a great friend across an entire ocean and find out that she lives just over 6 hours away from me at home. Another study break we were able to make was one last trip to Richmond which was gorgeous as always. And I can only wish to be back and living there someday. It is by far my most favorite part of London.

Some other highlights of the past 2 weeks include me going to a park with Emily and teaching her how to ride a bike! I had so much fun with her and some other members of the family that day! It was a gorgeous day and I will definitely miss her when I am home! I also decided to leave a little bit of myself behind and donate 8 inches of my hair to the Little Princess's Trust which makes wigs for little girls with cancer.

Tomorrow I am going to start my summer off right by exploring London for the day! The more I realize that the time is ticking the more I am making sure that every second counts. 

Here is the URL for my 'Final Countdown' photo album of my last weeks in London

Also here is the link for my album of Scotland pictures!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Lions, and Tigers, and Royalty... Oh My!

I find it so hard to believe that school is actually over with! It feels like just a week or two ago I was trying to find the room for orientation! But this past week marked the end of classes and the beginning of the exam period, which unfortunately means it is getting closer and closer to the time where I will have to start packing and head home.

These past 2 weeks have been among the most stressful I have ever had. Many assignments, big projects, papers, labs and presentations were due, and it was also the first time we had received any grades back. The grading scale still somewhat confuses me and it just feels weird celebrating a 67% even though it truly means an A-. I even had a Skype interview for a job on campus to add to the craziness. But I will say I think that the final week of classes is the same no matter what country you are in; it consists of no sleep, too much caffeine, and camping out in the library. Among school work, all of the study abroad students are trying to squeeze in anything and everything we have not done before we leave, as well as saying goodbye to the students already leaving soon.

However, I was very thankful to be able to get some breaks during the two crazy weeks. In London, there is always, always, ALWAYS, something to distract you from what you should be doing.


On one of the nice days a friend and I headed back to Richmond Park to try and tackle the rest of the largest of the royal parks. Our goal was to head to one end, rent some bikes, and ride through the rest. But unfortunately when we got to the bike rental area they were much more than expected, not only in price but also in style. In our heads, we pictured renting the cute bicycles you are able to rent all over London, but what was available to us was intense, and very uncomfortable looking mountain bikes. Needless to say, people take their biking seriously in Richmond Park, so instead we settled on some ice cream bars and walked through what we could. Again, we found ourselves leaving through the gate leading to Richmond so we could catch a glimpse of our favorite area. We headed to the same little pub on the water we had been before and ordered our favorite drinks, which we swear taste much better in Richmond. While we were there we made talked with a friendly group of people sitting next to us and talked about some of the differences between the States and living in England. It was a wonderful way to escape. And I can only dream of someday living in such a wonderful place as Richmond.

On the weekend some friends and I went out in London to celebrate making it to the last week of classes. It was really fun and memories were made by all that will never be forgotten. That weekend we also made it to the London Zoo which was by far the best zoo I had ever been too. I felt like I was a 5 year old girl again running to gorilla kingdom and tiger territory. The whole zoo was so big that it took us about 4 1/2 hours to get through! We saw monkeys, hippos, penguins, owls, tigers, lions, snakes, lizards, jellyfish, lemurs, turtles, camels, giraffes, zebras and so much more. Again, it was another great chance to relax and forget about school for a bit.

On one afternoon I came back from my evening run to find Emily over at the house. I am always glad to see her and I went outside in the garden (yard) to find a wonderful tea party set up for her and her various stuffed animals and of course Tigger the cat. As I sat down and joined her we talked about almost anything, and of course talked to her friend bear the stuffed animal. One of the more interesting conversations...

Tea time with Emily
Emily: "can I tell you a secret?! I have a boyfriend! His name is Freddy and he doesn't even wear glasses. He saw me at lunch today and he looked like someone who needs a girlfriend, so I smiled at him and played with him at recess...Do you have a boyfriend?
Me: "No, boys are silly.."
Emily: "Well go out and find one! You have nice hair, so boys will like you. And I know I know!!!! If you can't find one, Tigger really likes you, so he can be your boyfriend!!!"

She never fails to make me laugh, and brighten my day even though apparently my boyfriend is a cat.

After our British Life & Culture exam on Wednesday, all of the international students celebrated by going on a boat party on the Thames River. I will say it was one of the most fun things I have done since I have been here. We were able to go out on the deck and watch the sunset as we cruised along the river. The whole top floor was a giant dance floor by the end of the night, and we were even able to get our lecturer (professor) and the international director on the dance floor busting moves to 'Thrift Shop'! Although I will say the highlight for me was when all of the students, of all cultures and ethnicities, were singing 'Im On A Boat' at the top of our lungs. It was definitely an unforgettable night, and a great way to celebrate the end of classes.

On Thursday, a friend and LAS cohort member, who is studying in France was traveling and was in London! We met in front of Buckingham Palace (Casual right?!) and then made our way around London. We went to Camden Market, SoHo, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, Borough Market and Kingston. She was the first familiar face I have seen since I have been here so it was really nice to be able to catch up!

Prince Charles! 
At one point when we were heading to a tube station, we noticed a large amount of people peering over the edge of a balcony on the street with cameras ready, as we walked by we decided to check it out. As we got there, we looked down to a street filled with people! As people started exiting the a building located on the street, everyone started to cheer. Even more people started to gather around to see what was going on and we kept getting asked who everyone was waiting for, but we had no idea! Suddenly everyone went wild and we looked down to see Prince Charles exiting the building, and waving to all! Although it might not have been Prince Harry or the the Queen herself, it was still pretty cool to see royalty, especially unexpectedly like that. That day we also passed a giant premier of the new Star Trek movie! Just goes to show that there is no such thing as a dull moment in London.

This weekend I have been catching up on some sleep, working on my last assignment I have left, studying for my exam, and watching way too many episodes of Downton Abbey, which is my new favorite show. Last night, my host dad and his friend, who is in a band, asked me to join them and go to his gig at a pub. Of course I said yes. I can never say no to live pub music, it is definitely one of my most favorite things to do here. It was quite an interesting experience and quite a funny one. We watched the band play and the local's at the pub dance to the music. All in all, it was another great night to add to the list of many.

This weekend is a bank holiday weekend which means tomorrow (Monday) almost everything will be closed and almost all will be off of work. My host parents invited me to join the barbecue that apparently is taking place at their house tomorrow. I am excited for another day of sunshine (knock on wood) and fresh air.

This Wednesday I will be leaving for Scotland with some friends! Also, my mom is coming to visit the week before I leave, so we have been planning and figuring out our game plans! There is so much I would like to show her!

Trafalgar Square
Because the time is ticking, and I only have about a month left here in England, I have been thinking lately of all that I will miss, but the thing is, it is so hard to pin point certain things I'll miss when I honestly will just miss it all! I also think that I have already gotten used to the differences here that it has been hard for me to recall all of the daily differences between here and the U.S. For example, I now call fries 'chips' without thinking twice, and when someone says 'cheers' instead of 'thank you', I automatically say it back or say 'no problem'. It's in all the little things that I am going to notice the differences in again when I get home.

One day last week, I stayed after one of my classes to talk to one of the girls who sat behind me, who I had never seen before. I was asking her about the class but it soon turned to talk about how much I loved London. It was funny, how I did not know her, yet I suddenly found myself telling her how much I loved London and how although I would be glad to see my friends and family once I am home, I knew I would miss it terribly and I hoped to be back someday, hopefully sooner than later... She stopped me right there and told me the most meaningful advice I have gotten since I have been here. She said "At least you have had this chance and you know how you feel about it, don't dread leaving, you can always find your way back here. Go home and finish what you started there, then who knows maybe your next chapter will start here, but you will never know until you finish the chapter you're on..." It was just what I needed. Although I love it here so much, I know I am where I am meant to be right now at CMU. I have started an amazing adventure there and I need to focus on finishing it before I think any further ahead. I am so thankful for every opportunity I have been able to have. I have met countless incredible people from all over the world. This experience has taught me more than I will ever be able to express, and I have made so many memories that a scrapbook and a few photo albums will never be able to do justice. But I will always know what I felt during those moments, and those feelings and memories will never go away.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Here Comes The Sun

Another gorgeous London sunset!
Another week has flown by. I can not get over how fast the time has gone and the fact that I only have 7 weeks left! Everything has gone by so fast that it all seems like a blur... so I am glad I have lots of pictures to remember it by.

Last Sunday, my host family asked me to join them for a family barbecue in a nearby town. It was the first beautiful warm day in England. Apparently the first nice day of every Spring, my host family and their family members get together and have a barbecue! It was wonderful! I was able to meet some more family members, and of course hang out with their 6 year old granddaughter Emily. We played Chinese Whispers (or 'telephone' as it is called in the U.S), and some tether ball. We had hotdogs, and burgers on the grill and sat outside in the warm sunshine. On the way back, we drove through Wimbledon so I could see what it looked like. My host dad is a driver for Wimbledon players during the tournament and has driven many players who have made it to the final rounds. He picks up players and brings them to the courts. So he was able to tell me all about the area and the courts and the inside of them where we weren't able to see. He also was explaining how hard it is to get a ticket now because it has become such a popular tournament. Wimbledon was a gorgeous area, and there were many people out and about walking and sitting in the grass enjoying the warm day.

Some of the many deer in Richmond Park! 
Monday was the first day back to school after 3 weeks so it felt like quite a long day, especially after finishing and turning in a 33 page report for one of my classes. I had a lot of things due this week: the grade in all my classes depends on only a few assignments so after doing mostly reading all semester it felt like a lot of work. After 2 research papers were turned in, and a presentation was done and over with, it was finally Friday. Although I can't complain about the work I do here, because living in London makes it bearable.

On Friday, I saw a friend at a cafe where I was working on some homework, and she asked me to go to Richmond park with her. Although I was not dressed for it, I said yes without the thought of walking miles through a park with my heavy backpack. But it was worth every second and my very sore back the next day. Richmond park is the largest of all the royal parks in London and it is perfect. It is also where part of the course for the 2012 Olympic cycling race was held. We walked through it for about 3 hours. It had everything! We saw some people galloping through on horses, we saw a ton of deer and sometimes you could get really close to them, even though there were signs everywhere that said not to. We stopped at a cafe and banquet area we found where a wedding was being held, and had some coffee on a large hillside where you could look down on all of Richmond.
Alex looking through the telescope at Thames Valley! 

Then we made our way to what is called King Henry's Mound in the park. The mound is the highest point in the park with amazing views. There is a telescope placed in the middle for even better views. One one side of the mound you look down on Thames valley. There are arrows on the ground pointing to monuments such as Windsor Castle and telling how many miles away.

We had heard that there was an excellent view of the famous St. Paul's Cathedral from the mound! We were looking through the telescope and couldn't find anything or any signs! Suddenly we looked behind us and saw a hole through the bushes behind the telescope, then we looked down and saw an arrow in front of the bushes pointing towards the hole that read 'St. Paul's Cathedral - 10 miles'. As we looked through, and then realized the telescope could be turned around, we were able to look through it, past a distance of 10 miles and see St. Paul's Cathedral. It was gorgeous. The view is protected, so although there is park all around, you look through that hole in the bushes, and see 10 miles of clear pathway so you can see the cathedral.

After squinting through the telescope for awhile we decided to walk towards it. It didn't take us long until we came to this gate that was installed in 2012 to celebrate the tercentenary of St. Paul's cathedral. The gates looked like something that belonged in a fairy tale. It was beautiful and at the top were the words 'The Way'.

A tee-pee we found in the park! 
The park was a perfect get away. There were many times when we were walking through areas where it was only the 2 of us, and a few deer. It was quiet and nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city for a little while. We were so excited to just be walking through woods and fields, that it made me realize how much I take my surroundings, and ability to walk through woods, or by the lake at home for granted. After our legs couldn't take anymore walking we exited out of the Richmond gate which led us to the city of Richmond.

Richmond is known as one of the wealthiest areas of the United Kingdom, so of course everything was perfectly placed and incredibly beautiful. Another fun fact I learned about Richmond is that it was also assessed as one of the happiest places to live in the United Kingdom, and after walking through I would not doubt that one bit. Every little park we passed, or outside cafe was full of people sitting outside enjoying the day. We walked along the river and passed some people making boats, and many little river side cafes. We stopped at a busy little pub along the riverside and sat and told each other we would be back in Richmond park as soon as possible, except next time maybe with bikes.

Saturday morning came to early. We met at the school and hopped on the coach (I got in trouble from the driver for calling it a bus...) and we were off on our last class field trip to Stonehenge and Bath. It took us about an hour and a half to reach stonehenge, but the scenery from the top of the double decker coach was stunning. It was all rolling hills of country side. Fields, little cottages, and sheep were all you could see. It looked like it was all from a movie scene.

Although I had heard and knew what Stonehenge was, I did not know much about the facts or reasoning behind it. Nor did I know what to expect as we got there. But as our coach pulled into a field parking lot, and we got the first glimpse of Stonehenge, it was another thing that looked so surreal. Against the green grass and blue sky, there was the formation of rocks. There was a roped off area all around it that people walked around. So we were not allowed to get close.

While our professor was explaining some of the facts to us about the stones, it occurred to me that it was ok that I did not know much about them, because neither do archeologists, scientists, or anyone else for that matter. They have guessed that the earliest building of this world famous monument probably started in 3100BC. It is also known that it has served as a giant burial ground. People are unsure why this area was so significant, but more importantly how people made this formation so long ago. The total of all the stones is equivalent to about 84 elephants. So the thought of this formation being built that long ago with out any technology or equipment we have today is astounding.

After walking around Stonehenge, we hopped back on the 'coach' and headed to the city of Bath. On the way, we all had to practice saying Bath, because it is not at all pronounced like 'bath' as in a "bubble bath". It is pronounced more like' Bah-th'. So the whole coach full of students rehearsed pronouncing it on the way.

Once we arrived, we were free to go anywhere we liked for lunch. One of our friends is vegetarian, so we all decided on a cute little vegetarian pub we found. Of course, they all ordered vegetarian food, and I ordered the only non-vegetarian thing on the menu...a burger. We were able to sit outside and take in some of the city of Bath.

After we wandered through some of the streets and then headed to meet for our walking tour through the city. Bath is an incredibly old city. Also it is incredibly beautiful. All of the buildings built are of the same color so the city is uniform. All buildings that are built in Bath must match this golden color of stone. In our tour we were able to learn about much of Bath's history. We also walked into the Royal Cresent which is a very popular area of Bath which includes a famous 5 star hotel where many celebrities such as Tom Cruise have stayed. We also passed a house in Bath which was owned by Nicholas Cage that he sold only months ago.

The main reason for our visit to Bath was our tour of the Roman Bath's. Which is a giant spa area where (much like it sounds) the Romans used to bathe. There were four main features we were allowed to tour: the sacred spring, the Roman temple, the Roman Bath house, and the museum itself which held many artifacts and objects found there. The natural bubbling water which averages at about 150 degrees Fahrenheit or above, fills the Roman bathing area and gushes out of the natural hot springs. There is now a spa in Bath that accommodates this hot spring that people can use. It was advised not to touch the water in the Roman Bath because of the temperature and contaminants. To say the least, it did not look like anything I would want to bathe in. But like everything else in the city of Bath, it was gorgeous and truly unbelievable.

Yesterday (Sunday), was yet another sunny day, and I was able to spread a blanket out in the garden (backyard, they call it the garden here) and do some studying in the fresh air and then go for a long run through some areas that I have not been yet. Also I have booked my tickets to Scotland that will be coming up very soon on May 8th through the 11th!

I also have a Tigger update. He is now to the point where when he hears my voice when I come in, he comes running to me. I can always count on him to be in the kitchen keeping me company when I make dinner, and also sitting in the chair next to me at the table purring away. The other morning I again woke up to him on my bed laying on his back waiting to be pet. I told my host parents about this and they were completely shocked. Apparently he usually doesn't like the students that stay and has never done that before. They even said that now when I come through the door, he will even jump off his favorite spot by them on the couch to come and see me. So basically, I will be secretly bringing Tigger back in my suitcase. Although I highly doubt he would fit...

This week is another busy one with school work. I have a big presentation tomorrow, as well as a couple more reports due and some studying for an exam next week. It is so hard to believe that there is only 2 weeks of school left! Time flies.

Here is the link to my album of Stonehenge & Bath photos! https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10200918854630548.1073741830.1140914263&type=1

Saturday, April 13, 2013


Alright, I am going to start of this post by apologizing for writing a novel. Because I know its going to happen. I feel like I could talk about this past week and a half for days, so minimizing it to the size of a blog post might be a little difficult...

some self portrait drawings! lol 
First I will start with Easter. My host family was kind enough to invite me to join in on their family Easter dinner! It was wonderful. I was able to help hide easter eggs for their 6 year old granddaughter who I enjoy being able to see every Thursday when she comes over after school. After that we did some coloring, and played 'hairdresser' which is always fun. There were 12 of us total, and as we sat down for dinner, I realized that I was apart of a British family! They treated me as if I had been attending their Easter dinners for my whole life and I felt very welcomed. We laughed and shared stories and ate some delicious traditional British foods. As we were eating desert we found some old records and starting playing them. They came upon one that had a song titled 'I Love You Samantha' which they played and laughed because I had never heard it before. One of the grandchildren brought along his French girlfriend who was also attending Easter dinner with them for the first time. So they made a toast to us, and we spent the rest of the time sharing stories, and discussing differences between the countries. Later that night, I was able to Skype my family at home as they had their Easter dinner. So after waking up that morning, not knowing how I would feel about being so far away from my family on Easter, I ended that day feeling incredibly blessed to be exactly where I was, and I wouldn't have changed it for anything.

Next up is by far my favorite trip I have taken, and I imagine it will always be my most favorite no matter how many places I go. Feeling adventurous, I booked my flight and hostel for 5 days in Barcelona, Spain by myself about a month ago. As it got closer to actually going to Spain by myself, I started to get a little nervous, especially because I am not fluent in Spanish. Also, because it had snuck up on me so fast, I didn't really have anything planned for while I was there! But a day or two before I left, as I was walking to my room, I found a pile of brochures and flyers from Barcelona as well as a travel book that my host dad had left for me. The best part was that included with all of that was a big map, which made me feel much better about my upcoming adventure. Before I left they shared tips with me such as always keep your eyes peeled for pick pocketers.

My favorite views are ones from a plane window.
The day came to leave, and because I had chosen the cheapest flight, my plane happened to be leaving from the farthest airport from me. Which happened to be a bus, a train, a tube, and another bus ride away. I managed not to miss any of them and got to my flight on time and accomplished my goal of getting a window seat. My flight was at night, so I was able to see the gorgeous sunset from a birds eye view. As I was taking pictures with my phone, the little older lady sitting in the aisle (who spoke hardly any english) asked me to take some pictures with her phone. The only problem is that she still managed to be working with a brick phone that looked like it was possibly the first to come out with a camera, so the pictures were very unclear and really didn't show anything. You could tell she was disappointed, because apparently that was her first time flying and she couldn't get over how beautiful the view was. I offered to email her the pictures I had taken and she was thrilled (although the guy sitting between us probably wasn't because he was being the translator most of the time). She kept telling me not to forget her, and she also told me many tips for my stay in Barcelona. She was also fascinated that I came from a small town of less than 2,000 people and was now living in London where the population is over 8.1 million. She kept commenting on how brave I was, and for that moment, between going from small town to living in London, and heading to a country by myself where they spoke another language, I did feel pretty brave.

The confidence booster of being brave was probably a good thing to have before I got off the plane and arrived at the Barcelona airport at 11pm where all information centers were closed. The hostel I had booked with had given me directions on how to get there, but first I had to find a bus stop with a bus to get me there. The feeling of being overwhelmed soon decreased when I heard a few other girls speaking english walking behind me. It turned out that they were also headed where I was and together we were able to find the bus we needed, and get past the non english speaking bus driver. On the bus there were a couple locals who were nice enough to help us out and told us what bus stop to get off at. Once I was off the bus it was wonderful to step out into the warm air and see palm trees! And at that point, it was midnight on a Thursday and the streets were still full of people! I found my hostel and it was at a great location! Right off of the Ramblas which is the main street in Barcelona.

As I walked into the hostel I was shocked. Everything was so nice! The walls were all very decorated and the quote 'Live Your Life' was written everywhere. There was a pub connected to the ground floor and it was full of people, as well as nice sitting areas and lots of big screen T.V's. As I checked in they mentioned that there was a problem with my booking, and I couldn't get into the room I booked for, the catch being that I was being put into a better room, where I was only sharing with 8 people rather than 12. Which I was fine with. As the very friendly receptionist explained everything about the hostel I continued to be impressed. It was 6 stories high, with the whole first floor being a lounge area and including free breakfast. I was so happy with it! I found my room on the 4th floor and found myself to be the first person in the room. But shortly after another person walked in. We introduced ourselves and I found out that he was also traveling by himself, which made me feel much better about me doing so. He was from Brazil but was studying in Italy and he was very interesting to talk to. A few minutes after that a group of girls from Chicago came in! We all talked for a bit, and then went on a walk through Barcelona and on the beach at night. It was beautiful with the ports and streets all lit up. And at that point it was getting very late, but again, the streets were still full of people! We later came to find out that people there do not eat dinner sometimes until 10pm and everything is open very late! Which means that when people go out for the night, they don't go until around 1 or 2am! It was a weird change coming from London where everything closes relatively early.

one of the many beautiful narrow streets
of Barcelona 
The next day, the guy from Brazil and I went to the lobby to meet for a free walking tour that they offered. Come to find out, we had already missed the first one and we had a couple hours to kill before the next one left, which was no problem to us. Although it was pretty rainy the first 2 days, it didn't stop us from wandering the narrow streets of Barcelona and sightseeing. Our tour took us through the whole city and pointed out some of the major landmarks. After, our tour guide suggested some good places to eat and we headed into a little restaurant with some other students we had met on the tour, who happened to also be studying in London. As we sat down we noticed that there was a large sign posted that said 'No Hablan Ingles' meaning they didn't speak English. That made our decision about what to order much easier since either way we weren't really sure what we were getting. We pointed at something on the menu, and everything of course ended up being delicious. As we left is was still raining, so we ended up visiting the Picasso museum. Picasso is one of my favorite artists, and his connection with Barcelona is very strong from living and working there. The museum was wonderful and very interesting, and perfect for visiting on the rainy day.

After that we headed back to the hostel where we met two other Brazilian guys who were staying in our room. It was quite funny because one spoke english very well, but the other didn't and only spoke Portuguese, so when we ended up going out with them that night, the one who knew english ended up being the translator all night because I did not know any portugese. Although I can now say I know some. We ended up going to a little pub called the L'ovella Negra (or the Black Sheep) for some homemade sangria. It was an awesome place and it was full of people. There I met someone who had just moved from London to Barcelona to teach english! He shared with me his stereotype for a typical American, which was like most I have heard; loud, obnoxious, and mostly drunk. It was quite funny because I was trying to convince him that his stereo type of americans was wrong because he was there talking to me and I was being none of those things. But right as I had him convinced that not all Americans live up to that title, a guy came over, put his arm around us, and with slurred words told us to quiz him on countries and capitals. Keep in mind, I had never seen him before, but he put his arms around us like we were long lost friends. I could tell by his accent, and I was scared to ask where he was from, but of course, the British guy asked. And his slurred answer was Boston. It was perfect timing for the worst timing. We laughed and I told him that after that night he had to refresh his stereotype on Americans, because we all don't usually drunkenly go up to strangers and ask them to quiz us on countries and capitals.

The next day many of the people I had met in the Hostel left, so I ventured out on my own to Gaudi's museum. For those of you who do not know, Gaudi is one of the most famous architects in the world and his work is found in many places in Barcelona. Most of his work is based on forms of nature and a a lot of his work contains beautiful colored tiles in mosaic patterns. I toured his museum which was the building with the famous chimneys.

As I was taking some photo's of the chimneys, out of the corner of my eye I saw a group of Asian kids slowly approaching me. As I turned and said hello, one of them held out their camera, so I gladly took it thinking they wanted me to take a picture of them. But immediately one of them (I am pretty sure the only who spoke english) said 'no no we all want picture with you, Taylor Swift right?'  I laughed and said no I wasn't and he acted as though I was not telling the truth. He then continued to ask if I was related. Again I disappointed them by saying no, and he replied with 'its ok, you american so you still cool...' So, they still all wanted a picture with me... individually. It was an interesting situation to say the least. After I had taken hundreds of pictures of the rooftop and the city view (literally hundreds of pictures) I wandered back through Barcelona. It was still rainy that day, so I spent a lot of time dodging the weather by stopping in little cafes and shops.

The next day was gorgeous and I decided to take a day trip to Montserrat which was about an hour train ride away. Montserrat is a beautiful mountain with a little town on top. It is also where the Virgin of Montserrat is hosted, and the beautiful church is one of the most well known in the world. I took a cable car to get to the top of the mountain and the view looking down was gorgeous. Everything there was beautiful.

I was able to walk around the mountain (well around part of it, the hike for the whole thing was 13.6 miles...) and sit in the church for a moment of silence. It was absolutely breathtaking.

The next day, I spent a lot of time wandering down the Ramblas where there were many little souvenir, flower, and other little stands to shop at. There are also many fresh food and flower markets located around the Ramblas which I stopped in as well. One of my most favorite things about Barcelona is that almost all restaurants have their seating outside near the beautiful narrow streets, or the many little plaza squares, and that means that there is always people outside singing, or a band playing, or both! Live music of some sort always filled the streets.
One of the many spectacular views from
Gaudi's park. You can see Sagrada Familia! 

Next I went and visited Gaudi's park which was insanely beautiful! It looked as is it were a scene from a movie the entire time. It was perfect! And of course the architecture and design of the entire park was incredible and very well done. While I was on top of the highest point of the park, I met a man from Tennessee, who then introduced me to the cop on duty who had family in Michigan who were on there way to visit! Funny how you can be half way around the world from home, alone on top of a mountain looking down as far as you can see, but a moment like that can make the world seem so small.

The next day, I put my map away and just walked. I explored every street, and came across little cafes and bakeries. I walked so far that I ended up stumbling on Olympic Grounds from the games held in Barcelona in 1992! The area was beautiful! I was able to go into the stadium, and explore the park around it. I spent a lot of time there imagining the people there 11 years ago from all around the world competing for gold medals.

That day I also found La Sagrada Familia. It is a famous church that has been being built for the past 100 years. It is based on a Gaudi design and is absolutely huge. Although it is incomplete it is a world heritage site and in 2010 was proclaimed a minor basilica by Pope Benedict XVI.

That night one of the weirdest things ever happened to me. I was sitting in a large plaza square, watching the sunset. And I noticed a Jamaican man approaching me. He came over and starting confessing his love for me, saying that he had been working up the courage to come over and talk to me. As he is telling me this, I am thinking that he is distracting me and someone is going to try to pickpocket me (I saw people do a lot of weird things to distract people for pick pocketers), but as I looked around there was no one besides a few families and other kids around. He continued confessing his love and kept saying 'when you know, you know, ya know?' At this point I was getting a little freaked out, especially because this guy seemed so serious, I figured at any minute someone was going to grab for my purse or something. So I stood up to walk away. But at the very moment I stood up, he got down on one knee in front of me and started proposing. This of course, attracted other nearby tourists who started gathering around and 'ooohing' and 'awwwing'. To say the least I was panicked. These people thought it was legit but little did they know I had no idea who he was. Then I got the idea that this was a distraction, and now people were going to pickpocket the people watching this proposal (again, it would have not surprised me by the pickpockets I saw). As I looked around trying to see behind the people watching, I again saw no one. People were just watching as this man was on one knee in front of me and finally ended his speech by asking me to move to Jamaica with him... Everyone stared at me waiting for an answer, and the only thing I could think of to say was 'I'm sorry I can't, no thank you'. And that reply got a 'boo' from the crowd watching. I actually got boo'ed for not marrying a man I did not know... As I quickly walked away I was waiting for someone to jump out at me and say 'YOU'VE BEEN PUNKED' or a sign anywhere that said 'Just Kidding!' but there was nothing. It was honestly the weirdest thing that has ever happened to me.

On my last day in Barcelona, I headed to the beach and became a Barcelona beach bum for the day. It was a perfect way to end a wonderful trip. I had so much fun exploring things on my own, and although I was traveling by myself it was so easy to meet people. Although there was a language barrier, the little Spanish I had learned came back to me. And although it was a challenge ordering, and talking to people, it was always interesting and was definitely a learning experience. Being able to travel and go to a foreign country completely on my own was such a great accomplishment for me, and I truly learned so much about myself along the way.

When I got home, and started uploading my pictures, I realized I had taken almost 2,000 of them... So please feel free to look at my album on Facebook where I have uploaded about a quarter of them.


The past couple days I have been catching up on homework since our 3 week break is coming to an end. School starts again on Monday, and this week I have 3 papers, and 2 presentations due. So it may be a little busy. Tonight I am meeting other study abroad students at a local pub to celebrate our last night of Spring Break (or Easter Holiday as they call it here).

My favorite view in Barcelona, which is very fitting with one of my favorite
quotes by Mark Twain...

"20 years from now, you will be more disappointed in the things you
didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away
from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover"