Saturday, May 19, 2012

Traveling with the Family

I have just finished cleaning gutters and weeding the backyard at my new home for the summer in Indiana. But I decided that I didn't like doing that anymore so here I am to tell all my followers of my last memories of my time abroad. (Over three weeks ago).

After our last exam on that Wednesday it became a mad dash to throw everything I owned into 2 suitcases and a backpack! This was because we had a train to catch and no idea where the house we were staying at actually was. All I really remember from these few hours was a mental breakdown to pack all my stuff, try to say good bye to all the friends I had made and watch over my parents. It was a mess. We eventually made it to the train station and were off to London for the rest of the week. When we made it there it turned into yet another mess as we had to figure out how to get to our apartment that was on the very outskirts of London and a half hour away. Long story short they got on a train with all my luggage while I stayed back with my friends Missy and Matt because Matt and I had a burlesque show to attend that night! I believe we got ready in the bathrooms at a McDonald's that did not have mirrors. Then we plopped Missy down at a Starbucks in the train station and caught a train out to our show.

Also long story short, I had bought two tickets to a burlesque show off of groupon a few months ahead of time and spent the time in between trying to convince Matt to go watch naked people dance with me. Thankfully he agreed and brought our $9 drinks! The show went from 7 to 2 with dancing after their performance. But because we didn't know where the apartment was we had to actually leave the show after two hours so that I could catch the last train out to the apartment. Anyways, the part of the show that we actually got to see was interesting and amazing! There was a red carpet leading into the place then we had to head down these stairs surrounded by mirrors. After that we walked into the room where there was a bar, stage and tables. The room was completely decked out like any burlesque movie with red curtains hanging everywhere, low lighting and fog machines. It was amazing and I was in love. Our table was directly next to the stage so we had greattttt views of EVERYTHING. The fun part came when we could not understand the waiters or how the system worked but we somehow managed to get drinks and our delicious three course meals! Then had to figure out how to pay for our drinks and sneak out while the show was going on. Somehow we managed and made our way back to pick up Missy. This is the sad part. When I left for England on January 5th all by myself, Missy and Matt were the only other people on my plane that were going to Harlaxton so they were the first people I met on my trip and some of the best friends I had made and now it was time to say goodbye to the last of my friends that I had made as the semester had come full circle. So there I left them at Starbucks and headed out to the ghetto of London that our apartment was in but it was ok because as I was powerwalking away from the men watching me I was greeted by my sister that I had not seen in months!

The next day was Harry Potter time. A little outside of London they had just opened up a Harry Potter Studio tour so we had no option but to go. Sarah would have shot us if we didn't go. It was really cool because we got to see thousands of different things that were used throughout the shooting of the Harry Potter series including many set pieces (I was in the Great Hall) and behind the scene secrets(like how Hogwarts is just a small model that they make look real and huge). It is still exciting because last night I watched the full first movie of the series! Tonight I will even get to see the second one for the first time! It's more of a game of searching for things that I had seen on the tour so it gives me quite the adrenaline rush. Oh and I also decided to look into animal training so I can train owls.

After Harry we headed back into London and found a cheap ticket booth for Broadway shows. So that night we got some tickets to go see Rock of Ages but we didn't see it until after I took the fam to my favorite steak house in London! The steaks were still amazing and the show was awesome. One of my favorites, I'm still listening to the soundtrack. After that we took the trip home, only to realize we were locked out of the apartment and had to walk to a hotel down the road to call the apartment owner.

On Friday we decided to venture out so the fam could see some more of London. We ended up taking a bus and boat tour around the city. We were able to see all the important stuff while on the bus/boat. My family brought the most terrible weather with them so we did not spend much time actually outside and walking. But I think they still enjoyed their time and we made the most of it. That night we finally decided that it was time to book our trip to Liverpool. So the next morning bright and early I headed off to the train station with Mommy and Daddy and just a few hours later we were in the land of the Beatles! We booked a tour and were able to take a tour through the life of the Beatles,  we had a little 4D experience which was interesting, and then there was another part of how Elvis influenced the Beatles. I have always wanted to go to Liverpool every since I listened to the Beatles on my cd player every bus ride in middle school and I was so happy to finally be there! I learned so many new things about the Beatles and also about Elvis. My favorite part however was when we went and found the Cavern Club where the Beatles played when they were just starting also but the Club has hosted pretty much every famous singer and band from Britain. We had to pay at the door then go down about 4 flights of stairs and there was already a band playing at 3 in the afternoon and the place was full of people! It was also nice because there was also another side stage that just played a video about the Beatles so me and Mom enjoyed a pint there and than got our souvenirs and headed out. Some how we also managed to book our trip to Liverpool on the same day as the Sea Odyssey Titanic. Which was basically a big parade that had a gigantic sea diver start at one end and a big girl start at the other end and they walked until they met up in the middle. The diver and the girl were literally taller than all the buildings they were passing and the streets were packed with THOUSANDS of people! It was the best way to end the trip as we were headed to the train station and headed home.

That Sunday Sarah, Kevin, Dad, and I had a nice relaxing day wandering around London crossing last minute things off the list. We spent sometime out at Abbey Road Studio and took our pictures on the street. We also stopped for awhile at a park and walked around Harrods. Then we tried to see where sand volleyball would be played at the Olympics but it started pouring rain so we settled for a walk around the National Gallery before heading home for the night.

On Monday morning we were up bright and early to begin our next adventure. ITALY! Our first stop was Rome and because we only had 2 days there we needed to use our time wisely. As soon as we got to our hostel we all climbed in our bunk beds and had a nice nap! After that we were finally ready to take on Rome! We began by getting our bus tour all scheduled. We bought a 24 hour pass to get on and off a bus line in order to see as much of the city as we could. On Day 1 we decided it would be best to ride the full bus tour in order to see everything and then we would spend the next day getting off to see the specific things we wanted. So after riding around on that Monday and enjoying our first two Italian meals we drank some wine and headed to bed. The next day we did a tour of the Colosseum and also walked around Vatican City. It is amazing how much history is in the city and that most of the things we were seeing were hundreds of years old. It was also cool to learn all the history of the Colosseum, I think the most interesting thing I learned was that in the first 100 days of the opening of the Colosseum around 5,000 Gladiators and animals were killed. It was just interesting after hearing of the history of it and seeing the movies it was crazy to actually be in the place where all the history took place. The other place we looked around was the Vatican and around the city. I wish we could have been there for a service to see the Pope but it was still cool seeing where the world famous services take place. After that we picked up a few souvenirs and had some gelato before our last Italian dinner.

The next morning we headed off to the train station (but not before we bought some cheap Italian shoes) to get to our next destination, Pisa. It was a long train ride so by time we got there we didn't have much day light left so we hurried on our to our last destination of Italy. The leaning tower is still standing. We helped it stay up as much as we could but then our arms got tired so we went and had our last Italian meal. After that we had a short last night in Italy then it was time to move on to the next country.

Early Thursday morning I got up with Mom and Dad. As we went our own way off to Ireland Sarah and Kevin stayed in Italy. After getting in many fights and sneaking past some security people with our over sized bags that they wanted us to pay extra for we finally made it to Ireland on an on time Ryanair flight with some triumphant music! After that we had a quick breakfast and found our hotel. We relaxed for a little bit and did some laundry then it was time for our first Irish tour. The Guinness Brewery tour in Dublin! In the tour we were able to walk around and see all the steps involved in making the world famous beer. It was even finished with a free pint on the top floor of the Brewery with a 360 degree panoramic view of the city. I think that was the highlight because the pint was hitting my parents just right so I heard many new stories that they had never told me before :) After the tour we searched for a pub with some live music and had some dinner and more pints. After that it was another early night to bed so that we could get up nice and early the next morning for the next tour on our list.

This was the tour I was most excited for while traveling with the family. The destination was Giants Causeway in northern Ireland with a few other stops along the way. We left at 6:30 in the morning and did not get back until around 7:00 that night but we saw soo much! One of our first stops was the Carrick-A-Rede Rope bridge. We got off the bus and had about a 20 minute walk in order to get to this old fishing bridge. Well it's no longer a fishing bridge and has been updated but it is still very known and very high up. I was impressed that I was able to get Mom to agree to go across it with me and we even got our own certificates for crossing! Our next main stop was the main attraction of Giants Causeway. Giants Causeway is an area filled with thousands of interlocking basalt columns that were created through a volcanic eruption (or so Wikipedia tells me). All of the columns were really cool to look at and even more fun to climb around, even if Mom got mad at me hanging over 30 foot drops. Our last stop on the tour was in Belfast, Ireland which has been known for being a troubling city of Ireland for a long time but has slowly become a nicer place. It is also the city where the Titanic was built. We only had an hour there which was just enough time for one more pint. After the tour it was time to head back to the hotel and relax for the night, which turned into me and dad going downstairs to the hotels pub for a few last pints while in Dublin.

After one last little flight we were over in Edinburgh, Scotland. The last stop on our trip before London and going home. It had been another early morning and we were all pretty exhausted from our entire trip so as soon as we got to the hotel we had a nice veryyyyy long nap. I was also pretty excited about this hotel because I had booked it and although it was a ways outside of town it was out on the water and had a great view! So we were able to eat our few meals there surrounded by great scenery. Anyways, after nap time we headed back into Edinburgh for a little fun. We were going to do a tour of the city but decided we had had enough of those so we switched it up a bit and decided to hit up the Edinburgh Dungeon which was basically an amusement tour through the history of the city. Kind of. They had actors and played through different stories of things that happened in the history of the city. There were even a few little rides involved. Ask Mom for the pictures (they are pretty entertaining). The next morning and our last full day of adventures we were back in town and decided to try out Edinburgh's Camera Obscura. I loved it! There was a tower up on top of this building and at the top there was a mirror that reflected the image of the city down onto a table in a dark room that we were in. By moving and twisting a rod attached to the mirror we were able to see everything around the city. We could even people watch everyone walking along the street without them knowing! After playing with the mirror we worked our way back down the building floor by floor and on each floor there was a different theme of optical illusions that we could look at and sometimes play with. We had a bit of fun the rest of the way!

Our very last tour was the Scotch Whiskey Experience. Although I had already been on the tour I decided that mom and dad needed to go on it as well. Unlike last time however, this time I was determined and finished my entire sampling of the whiskey. It was a struggle by I persevered and finished it. And that was the last of our adventures because we had a long train ride back to London. We got in late and headed right to our hotel and to bed. The next morning it was time to go home via a long airplane ride. I was not happy to be leaving at all and still wish I would have ran away or had done something to stay off that plane. But nevertheless I am back in the states now and back to real life.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Spain and Finishing School

After being back in the US for one week I have finally found time to talk about the last few weeks of my time abroad. They were filled with a few more trips, some papers and lots of bonding time with some great friends.

The first weekend of April was Easter. Although I could not be home to spend the holiday with my family I decided to try and make the most of it and head out to Barcelona for one last trip with friends. It was a short weekend since we had all used up most of our skip days but we definitely made the most of our time.

We left Friday morning and had a nice quality Ryanair flight. Which involved us sitting in the back row of the airplane which was also where the bachelor party on our plane decided to hang out and drink heavily. So after that long two hours we were happy to be on our own in Spain. We spent the first night checking into our hostel and walking around the city. Our hostel was one of the most basic ones I have stayed at. There were six of us in our group and our hostel room was basically a room with 3 sets of bunk beds and a set of lockers. We did not have windows that closed or locks on the doors. The doors just swung open right into the lobby where reception was. Needless to say we did not get any sleep the first night because we heard everything that was going on in the lobby. The showers were also fun as they were down the hall and flooded often. So it basically turned into get your hair wet, turn the shower off and put shampoo on your hair, turn the shower on and rinse it out, turn the shower off and put conditioner in, then turn the shower on to rinse off and that was basically it. Oh and I couldn't forget our complimentary breakfast of toast, cereal and warm milk! YUM!

Anyways the first night we decided to get a feel of the town. We went and walked along the water and looked at boats, then we found a nice park that led to the Arc de Triomf of Barcelona. After that we were in the downtown area and looked around some shops and had dinner at a Spanish restaurant. Dinner involved burritos and pina coladas! It was nice walking around the city because some of the apartments were decorated really sweet on the outside with pictures and paintings. After dinner we started walking back to the hostel and passed a big church that had people spilling out all around it. There was some event going on for Easter and thousands of people were there for it so it was cool to watch. After that is was beddy bye time or just laying in bed listening to people because they were so loud in the lobby. (Pictures: on the left is the church we passed and on the right is inside one of the shops).

Sagrada Familia
The next morning it was time to explore the city! I did not realize that these adventures were to begin at the crack of dawn. So that was interesting... there was definitely some Starbucks involved!! Otherwise survival would not have been an option. The first stop of the day was Sagrada Familia. It is a famous church and is absolutely beautiful! We wanted to go inside but the line to go inside the church wrapped all the way around the outside of the church (15 minutes after it opened). It was just amazing how much effort and thought goes into all of the architecture. That is what I loved about every trip I went on while abroad. Compared to the US everywhere else puts so much more work into their architecture. It is not just about how to build the biggest building for the lowest cost but there is much more thought put into every aspect of each building. It is amazing. 

Next on the list for the day was WALKING! We started with a combination of trains and walking to get up to one of the highest hills in Barcelona. It was a sunny and clear day outside so there were plenty of beautiful views. Which was also perfect for action shots! However the main reason we were on top of this hill was because it was where the 1992 Olympics were held. The main thing we were able to see was the track. It was really cool because the track is still in great condition and doesn't make it look like these Olympics were held 20 years ago. After that it was time to head up the hill to the next location. Kristin and I decided the best mode of transportation for this would be a clear plastic container type thing that ran up the hill on cables. It was cool because we could see all the scenery around us and had great views of the entire city. Once on the top of the hill we were able to run around yet guessed it...CASTLE! This one was a little different though because it was so high up and right on the water. So we could enjoy the water and have some more nice views of the city. This is also where we decided to have lunch. And by lunch I mean cheap hot dogs and sangria! The sangria was awful. Just awful (and strong). So that was fun!

Next we started making our way down the hill. This is when our afternoon crash started hitting. On our train down I believe about half of us were asleep. But it was not an option to slow down. Well except for on top of a mail box for a quick nap. After we got off the train we had to hike up this very steep hill. But once we got to the top we were on top of the second tall hill in Barcelona. So we walked around for some more views. After that we headed over to The Guell Park. It is an area filled with mosaics. Everything was decorated in mosaics and it was very pretty so we were able to spend some time here looking out at the city and relaxing while taking pictures.

When we decided to go to Barcelona our entire goal of the weekend was to lay on the beach and drink margaritas. Well the weather all weekend was windy and in the 60s so unfortunately this goal was never accomplished. However we did get to have some time on the beach. We spent our evening sitting on the beach all bundled up eating snacks. It was actually quite depressing. But also a nice relaxing way to end the day. After that we tried to find a famous fountain in Barcelona but once we got out to the location we realized that the fountain wasn't actually running. So we had nothing left to do except hit up the same Spanish restaurant for some more burritos and pina coladas! Just for the record, the bar tender will correct you if you say two pina coladas because it is actually dos pinas coladas! Oops! Anyways it was a fantastic dinner and ending to the night! By time we got back to the hostel at 11:15 we had been out on the town for 15 hours and we definitely all slept that night!

The next morning we packed up the room and headed out for a Sunday morning church service on Easter Sunday. It was kind of cool because we went to a non-denominational church that spoke mostly english. It was also neat because we were able to meet many other students that were studying abroad in other countries. I always thought it was cool that no matter where I was traveling or what I was doing in pretty much every country I was able to meet other people that were the same age as me doing the same thing as me. Did I mention that I love studying abroad? After church we headed out to the airport and began our journey home. It was a great weekend and wonderful last trip with friends.

Now time for the good stuff. All the fun really happened in the last week of school. It all began one Tuesday evening when we figured out that a local bowling alley had half off of bowling and drinks. So we headed out on the town for two games and some fun! After our games we decided that we needed to work off a little more energy so we walked a wee bit to get into town and hit up the local night club. Needless to say the place was completely empty which left plenty of room on the dance floor for us to show off our moves. Somehow this bowling and dancing was just not enough fun to be able to call it a night and take a cab we decided to walk the three miles home. Which was an adventure in itself. It involved many Disney and musical songs, threats of pushing each other in the street and wandering through a field in front of the manor. It was possibly one of my favorite nights of the semester! (The picture is how our walk started out).

The next exciting night of the week was Thursday. It was finally time for our valedictory dinner where we got our diploma-esk sheets of paper. It was basically just a fancy dinner that we got to dress up for and drink wine. I believe our table spilled the red wine at least twice. After our fancy dinner and bonding at the table one last time it was time for a slide show of  the semester and then most importantly it was the last night that the Bistro would be open for the semester. So it was our one last night to hang out with every one in the Manor before finals began.

Our one last fun night at the Manor was the last Monday night we were all together. It just so happened to be one of my friend's 21st birthday. (Happy birthday Matt!). Oh and we also had one last volleyball game at the prison. So we finished that athleticism up and then headed out to celebrate. It was our very last night to have fun together because Tuesday was the night to cram for our last test. So we danced the night away like usual. It was a perfect last night together and I'm truly going to miss the friends that I spent these nights with.
The Bestest Friends I Could Have Ever Made
The last day was spent packing up our room and studying for our last British Studies exam. It was very sad because we had to be out of the manor a couple hours after our test so we did not have much time to socialize and say good-bye to each other. So to everyone I didn't get to say good-bye to, Buh-bye and I will miss you! Thankfully my parents decided to show up on my last full day at the Manor so I could enjoy showing them my new home. That blog will be coming shortly. And these were my last few weeks at Harlaxton Manor.