I know it's been forever, but I promise I will update more often from now on! I have so much to tell you! I've been to five new countries since I last wrote you and am now writing to you from Italy, so I'm going to do my best to tell you all about my travels!
The first of my trips was to Paris with the entire study abroad program (about one hundred students in all). We took a train through the Chunnel, which was a boring but surprisingly quick ride. We checked into the hotel and left right away to begin our sightseeing. We were extremely lucky because we were able to go up in the Eiffel Tower right at sunset. It was amazingly beautiful and such a great view of the entire city! That night, we got pizza at an adorable little Italian restaurant, walked around the beautifully lit Eiffel Tower, and then returned to our hotel.
We woke up early the next day for a bus tour of the city, on which we saw most of the famous sights including the Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides and Notre Dame. After our bus tour, I got a crepe and walked along the Champs Elysees with my friend Kevin. The weather was absolutely amazing, not a cloud in the sky. After walking around for a while, we went to the Louvre. I wish I could tell you that it was the most magnificent museum ever and I loved every part of it, but I would be lying to you. By the time we got to the museum, I was honestly feeling very overwhelmed. Whenever I go to an extremely famous place, there’s always the underlying feeling that I have to enjoy it, but I simply wasn’t in the mood to look at tons of art. We walked around and saw a few of the major pieces of art: the Winged Victory of Samothrace, tons of sculptures, and of course the smirking Mona Lisa. We played some silly little games in attempt to entertain ourselves and, after about thirty minutes of wandering around, left the museum to enjoy the fresh air and beautiful gardens, which I found to be much more wonderful than the museum itself.
The Louvre gardens
We took a nap on the grass, spent some time in the gardens and then decided to get some dinner, which was much more of an adventure than we had expected. We were in a very expensive, touristy area and decided to wander a ways in attempt to find something cheaper. After looking at a dozen menus, we soon realized that, not only was price an issue, but neither of us spoke any French. I hadn’t anticipated the language barrier to be so overwhelming, but I think both of us began to feel like we might not eat again until our return to London. We wandered around for a while and finally decided to go back to our hotel so we could regroup. We were able to meet up with my roommate Brittany and our friend Kendall and had a delicious dinner with them. By that time, we were all too exhausted for a night out on the town and went back to the hotel for some much needed rest.
As I write this, I am looking out of an airplane window over the beautiful Italian countryside, with the Mediterranean Sea off in the distance, and simply can't help but remark on how magnificently gorgeous our world is. Anyways...
The next day, we went to Montmartre and climbed the hill to the beautiful Sacre Coeur, where I fell absolutely in love with Paris. The top of the hill provided a remarkable view of the entire city, with the Eiffel Tower off in the distance. The church itself was amazing and I couldn’t help but feel joyful as I thought about the charming scene in Amelie, where she leads Nico on a wild goose chase to the front steps of the Sacred Heart, only for him to see her hundreds of feet below. We walked around the church for a while and then wandered the streets of Montmartre before having to return to the hotel for our departure. I wish I had more to say about Montmartre because it truly was delightful, but I don’t think I could even begin to describe its loveliness to you.
Truthfully, Paris was wonderful. But I think everyone felt very relieved to return to London. For me, this is when London started to feel like home. I had my fun in Paris, but was ready to get back to familiarity, which in this case was London. Upon our return, I began to feel safe, comfortable, and more confident in London. It’s a strange feeling the first time you regard a new place as home, but that’s now what London is to me.
The next weekend was my adventure to wild and sexy Scotland! This trip was with a smaller group of students from my study abroad program. We left London in the afternoon and took a four-hour train ride to Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. We arrived at dusk and were met by chilly winds, which seemed to be much colder than our usual London weather. I went out to dinner with a few other students, and then we walked around the city a little bit. Unfortunately, everything was closed and we were freezing, so we went back to our hostel pretty early. I really wish we had more than just one night there and would really love to go back someday!
The next morning we began our tour on a bright yellow bus with the words “Wild and Sexy” written on the side. We had a wonderful tour guide named Matt who told us that we would soon be experiencing some DSL (Deep Scottish Love), and he was certainly right! This is an extremely tough call to make, but I think Scotland might be the most beautiful place I have ever been to. In some ways, it seemed like a mix between New Zealand and Oregon. The weather was quite cold, often rainy, and extremely misty, which might have ordinarily made me disappointed, but actually was quite nice because it resulted in tons of rainbows and hundreds of waterfalls! We spent the next three days driving around the Scottish highlands in our bright yellow tour bus, stopping often to take photos of the scenery, which was absolutely stunning. We stopped at Wallace Monument, dedicated to William Wallace (the guy from Braveheart). For lunch, Matt took us to an extremely old restaurant called the Drover’s Inn. It was in an old building that was decorated with a bunch of animals, trinkets and old paintings, and was lit only by candles. It was somewhat of a cabinet of curiosities. After lunch, we drove around a bit more and saw a bridge that was in one of the Harry Potter movies. We finally made it to Fort Augustus, where we spent the night in a hostel at the southern tip of Loch Ness.
In the morning, we boarded our bright yellow tour bus and drove to the Isle of Skye, which is in northwest Scotland. We spent all day on the island, which was absolutely stunning! We had lunch in the quaint town of Portree, which is the capital city of Skye. The Isle of Skye is where a lot of Scottish folklore comes from, and Matt told us stories about the faeries and giants. He took us to The Enchanted River that supposedly has the power to make anyone beautiful if they stick their face in the rushing water. Afterward, we went to Eilean Donan Castle, which was built in the mid 13th century and has been in several films, including Highlander and Made of Honor. Back in Fort Augustus, we went to a show where we learned how kilts were traditionally worn. One of the guys from our group, Danny, was chosen as a model and required to drop his drawers in front of the audience. There was another group of American students at the show, who were from Minnesota. Some of the guys in their group were drunk and wouldn’t stop talking and messing around, so the Scottish guy who was giving the presentation kicked them out of the show. Unfortunately, the guys got mad and broke one of the windows of the building we were in! The police came and the kids said they were innocent (even though everyone knew they were guilty) so there was a ton of drama with all of that. I’m sure you don’t want to listen to me rant about it, though I probably could for quite awhile. I’ll simply say that sometimes I can't stand Americans, and I’ll just leave it at that.
Danny in his kilt
The next day, we drove the entire length of Loch Ness in attempt to spot Nessie. We stopped at Urquhart Castle, which was a beautiful spot to look out over the Loch. We went down on the shores of the Loch to do a chant and a dance in attempt to convince Nessie to come out of the water. Unfortunately, Nessie is a very busy creature. She was preoccupied and unable to come visit us, but I’m sure I will see her next time… Our last three stops were relatively short. We went to Culloden Battle Field, where one of Scotland’s largest battles took place. Today it is a large open field and serves as a memorial to all the people who lost their lives in the battle. Our next stop was to see some old stone circles, which were thought to have healing powers. The circles were pretty interesting, but I don’t feel any healthier after going in the middle of them. Our last stop was in a small town with a big church, the name of which I cannot remember. The church was absolutely gorgeous, as was the river next to it. It was a beautiful ending to an equally beautiful trip. I absolutely loved Scotland and might want to move there if the weather wasn’t so cold. However, I most definitely want to live there for at least a summer, and maybe make the 93-mile hike along Scotland’s West Highland Way. If you ever get the chance to go to the Scottish Highlands, I definitely recommend it!
The beautiful church
The next weekend was my biggest adventure yet. I went on a five-day journey to central Europe with my friend, Kevin. After our Friday classes, we flew from London to Bratislava, Slovakia. We were only in Slovakia for about an hour before we boarded our bus to Vienna, Austria. The bus took about two hours and we were graced with the presence of a crazy Middle-Eastern/Canadian man who told us to go to a delicious meat restaurant in a tunnel in Vienna… We decided not to trust his recommendation. By the time we got to Vienna, it was pretty late and we were exhausted. We checked into Wombats City Hostel, got a quick bite to eat, and went to bed.
Our time in Vienna was filled with gorgeous historic buildings. We walked around the Museums Quartier and Volksgarten, and stumbled upon the city hall building/circus/market, which was a random yet fun experience. I ate apple strudel at the market before venturing to Stephensplatz, where we climbed the 343 stairs to the top of Stephansdom (Saint Stephen’s Cathedral). The view from the top was stunning! One of the most enjoyable parts of our trip, though very random, was our lunch at a Japanese/Thai restaurant called Akakiko. We had seen quite a few signs for the restaurant and stumbled upon it just in time for lunch. I was nervous about what I had ordered, and we were both intimidated at the thought of having to use chopsticks, but my meal was absolutely delicious and the chopsticks were not nearly as tricky as one might expect. That night, we saw Camera Obscura play at a small music venue on the edge of the river. It made me realize for the first time how depressing their lyrics are, but they were amazing nonetheless.
The view from Stephansdom
The next day, we decided to go to Donauinsel, a long, skinny island east of the city center. We stumbled into a huge and beautiful church that looked like a castle. We wandered around that area of town for a while and then headed back to the main part of the city. After spending a little time at the beautiful Karlskirche, we jumped on a bus and headed to Prague, Czech Republic. We arrived quite late and checked in to our hostel, which ended up being pretty sketchy. By that time, we were extremely hungry and overwhelmed with the Czech language, so we jumped at the chance to eat dinner in an Irish pub where we could speak English! I had a burger and French fries, and they were absolutely delicious. We couldn’t decide if this was cool or just creepy, but you can check out their live webcam, if you’d like.
The next day was our main day for sightseeing in Prague. We walked around the Old Town Square, saw the famous astronomical clock, and walked along the beautiful Charles Bridge. We stopped for mochas at an adorable little coffee shop and wandered around the quaint little streets. We eventually made it to the John Lennon Peace Wall, which has been covered with beautiful graffiti of Beatles lyrics and quotes about peace. We made our own contributions to the wall, of course, and then returned to our hostel to bundle up for the cold night. Once we realized that our hostel was located really close to the city center, we were much less hesitant about exploring the city after dark. We walked around the square again at night, got some gelato, and walked across the bridge one more time before heading back to the hostel. The next morning, we packed up, ate lunch, and then headed to the Prague airport. Unfortunately, our plane was delayed about an hour and a half, but it finally came and we made it back to London safely.
The astronomical clock
The next weekend, Kevin and I took a short trip to Birmingham, which is about a two-hour bus ride from London. We saw Noah and the Whale play and I really, really enjoyed their set! They’re an amazing band and if you haven’t heard of them, you should look them up! Afterwards, we wandered around Birmingham a little bit and went into a wonderful second-hand clothing store that had some adorable dresses. I should have bought one but I regret to inform you that I did not. We took the bus home and I was able to enjoy at least half of a weekend in London (my first in a long time).
So, that’s a little bit about what I’ve been doing on my weekends, but I’ve also been extremely busy during my weeks in London! I had midterms this past week, so my days have been packed with lots of homework and projects. Nonetheless, I’ve managed to fit plenty of fun things into my schedule… I recently celebrated my twenty-first birthday, which was a ton of fun! I had cupcakes, enjoyed a nice Italian dinner, and went out to Imperial with a bunch of friends. (And just to let you all know… NO, I did not have a hangover in the morning.)
My birthday cupcake...
red velvet with vanilla buttercream frosting :)
Brittany, Zeny, Kevin and I on my birthday
Kevin and I went to see Sondre Lerche, J. Tillman, and Pearly Gate Music play in northern London, which turned out to be a really good show. Brandon, a friend from San Diego, happened to be travelling through London, so I had dinner with him and we hung out a little bit. It was really nice to see a familiar face and to catch up with him. I’ve also been going to weekly prayer meetings with my church here, which has been a huge blessing. Everyone has really welcomed me in and I feel like this is truly where I’m meant to be right now. And now, I’m in Italy with my parents for my fall break! I know I’ve been horrible at updating, but I really will try to stay on top of things and will tell you of my Italian adventures upon my return to London!
Miss you all and would love to hear from you!
Da Italia, con amore,