The next day we went to Hluboka castle, which was covered in fog and really magical-looking. We could only view part of the castle, but it was full of antlers, fireplaces, and decorations.
I spent the first weekend of December traveling on my second trip with the International Students' House. This trip was to Prague primarily to visit the Christmas markets! We left at 4:30 AM which was far too early, but we got a full afternoon of exploring on a lovely walking tour! The city was full of history, including the 600 year old Prague Astronomical Clock, which interestingly shows the moon and sun rotating around the earth.
Prague, as well as the other smaller cities we visited, is full of Christmas markets decorated with trees and lights. Some are larger than others, but all have much of the same ornaments, gifts, and holiday food.
Our first night in Prague was St. Nicholas night. Some of the children dressed up like the saint, angels, and devils.
The next day we went to Hluboka castle, which was covered in fog and really magical-looking. We could only view part of the castle, but it was full of antlers, fireplaces, and decorations.
Next we took a tour of the Budweiser company. I'm not a fan of beer, but it was interesting seeing the giant caldrons that they brew it in.
My favorite part of the trip was the visit to Czesky Krumlov, a little town near the Austrian border. We arrived just at sunset and the view from the castle of the little houses and stream was gorgeous. The picture doesn't do it justice!
It was like something out of a fairytale, the most idyllic Christmas town imaginable!
On our final day in Prague, we visited a monastery with a massive library, the castle, and a cathedral. All of which were gorgeous.
Overall, the trip was amazing and a great way to experience the traditional European Christmas!
I realized that while I've been rather diligent when it comes to blogging about my travels, I've been negligent at reporting on the happens of London between my travels. So, here is an update!
London began decorating for Christmas as soon as November began and each of the boroughs and main streets have their own separate light up nights. So far, I've gone to light up nights at Oxford Circus and Regent's Street.
There are also a number of outdoor ice rinks around London, so I went skating for the first time since my arrival. I didn't bring my skates, so I had to use rental skates (which also happened to be hockey skates!) for the first time. It was so strange not having toe picks and I felt so restricted not being able to jump or spin!
When I first visited London with EFCollegeBreak last year, I stayed in Watford, a smaller borough an hour from the city center of London. It took an hour to reach Watford by the tube, but on Wednesday I returned via a fifteen minute train ride to visit the Making of Harry Potter, a tour of the sets and props used in the movies. I felt like I was actually walking through Hogwarts!
One of the items on my London bucket list was to see a musical. White Christmas is one of my favorite Christmas movies, that I've seen too many times to count, so I went to see the musical. It was great! It strayed a bit from the movie, but I liked the changes. We went to a discount ticket office early in the day and were able to get half-price tickets and front row seats. I think we lucked out!
I also visited ZSL London Zoo. It's a really nice zoo with a rainforest room, aquarium, butterfly conservatory, and penguin beach.
These two clown fish reminded me of Marlin and Nemo during the part of Finding Nemo when Marlin says, "and then we go out and back in...and then we go out and back in...and, sometimes, if you want to do it a third time..."
I've been slowly visiting the many markets that London has to offer. Last Sunday I finally checked out the Columbia Flower Market. There were more varieties of flowers than I realized existed! When I saw blue-dyed roses, I had to get them!
Thanks for following my adventures!
It seems like everywhere I go, I am progressively amazed by each country's beauty and culture. I almost always leave a place saying, "I loved it here, I want to come back someday." Rarely though do I say, "I really want to live here someday." Scotland though fulfilled that last statement , making it comparable only with my first visit to Colorado and London.
I've always been mildly interested in Scotland (Brave is my favorite animated film and I thought it was pretty in pictures), but my love and interest in England always overshadowed it. Scotland, however, proved to combine my favorite aspects of England (the quaint countryside, cobblestone, and the "culture"), Colorado (the mountains, waterfalls, and "Midwestern hospitality"), Pennsylvania (the colored leaves of fall and forests), and even Florida (there's an ocean) and wrap it up all with its own unique Scottish flair!
It was a three hour train ride between London and Edinburgh, but we passed through some of the most gorgeous scenery ever (cliffs above rocky beaches and cobblestone towns). On the first night, we briefly visited Edinburgh Castle, which had a spectacular view of the city.
Then, we briefly stopped at The Elephant House, where JK Rowling wrote the first book in the Harry Potter series. On the inside walls of the bathrooms, fans wrote their thanks and quotes from the series.
After that, it was time for a creepy ghost tour through the underground vaults of the city. I somehow got selected to hold the torch (flashlight) and go in first. I was not pleased when the guide pretended to lock me in! The tour went through some old rooms and storage areas as we heard creepy ghost stories. At the end of the tour, the guide turned off all the lights and a masked person jumped out at us. The guide said, "That guy has one job. He's the jumper-outer."
The next day, we took a bus tour through the Scottish Highlands. We stopped several times to explore tiny towns and take photos along the mountains. It was seriously one of the most scenic rides I've ever taken! I can't get over how pretty it was!
Before the long drive back, we stopped in Loch Ness and took a boat ride. We didn't spot Nessie, but the town itself was adorable and gorgeous!
After the return to Edinburgh, I spent the evening and the next morning shopping and exploring. I love how they play bagpipe music everywhere! I just really liked everything about Scotland and could actually picture myself living there long term!
Last year, I visited Spain for the second time and loved Barcelona. For my reading week, I decided to go back and visit one of my favorite countries for the third time. I spent most of the time walking around Las Ramblas, reading on the beach, and exploring the Gothic Quarter. One afternoon, I rented an electric scooter and rode alongside the water, which was a lot of fun!
On one of the days, I took a day trip to Zaragoza, a city about a three and half hour bus ride away. I didn't know much about the city before I got there, but the castle and basilica were gorgeous! The city was less "touristy" than Barcelona and everything seemed very inexpensive. We were there on All Saint's Day, so some people were dressed in Halloween costumes again (there were lots of people dressed up on Halloween too).
Though Dia de los Muertos has its origins in Mexico, Barcelona also celebrates it to an extent so I was excited to see some of the alters where they honor their deceased relatives. After walking at least two miles, we only found one, but it was still cool to see.
As nice as biking, reading, buying exotic fruit from La Boqueria on Las Ramblas was, there isn't really anything interesting to report until the second-to-last day in Barcelona. I was alone on the beach reading with my purse right beside me. When I went to check the time, my purse (and my passport, visa, debit cards, student ID, dorm keys, Oyster card, US cell phone, UK cell phone, and other less important things like my earbuds) was gone. I found the first person I could find speaking English to borrow a cell phone and start an alert to get my cards turned off. Luckily, my study abroad program, ISA, has an office in Barcelona and was able to assist me with emergency cash and obtaining a temporary passport.
On my last day in Barcelona, I walked thirty minutes in the pouring rain to a train station, took a train to the outskirts of Barcelona to the American embassy, paid a large amount for a temporary passport, took the train back, picked up my belongings from the hostel, walked to the bus station, took a bus to the airport, took a shuttle to the terminal, flew back to London, took another shuttle, took another train, took the tube, and finally arrived back at my dorm!
Replacing everything is a tedious process, but I'm so grateful for ISA helping me out and for my friends' offers to loan me money and a spare purse and cellphone (thanks Victoria!)
I know everyone says not to carry your passport with you and split up your cards, but I thought I was being smart by carrying my belongings with me, as even a pair of jeans left out overnight was stolen at the hostel! Everyone seems to have a Barcelona theft story, so I guess the moral is that you can never be too careful!
Italy has long been high on my list of places to visit, so when the International Students House in London offered a trip to Sicily, I was quick to apply! The International Students House offers discounted trips for students from all across the world studying in London. I was excited when I got accepted, especially because Sicily is somewhere that will be harder to travel to later in life, as it is a bit out of the way compared to the rest of Europe.
On Friday morning, we left London bright and early and flew to Milan. We flew over the Alps, which were absolutely gorgeous!
We arrived in Sicily just as the sun was setting, making the sky a brilliant pink and red. Sicily looked different than I was expecting. There were lots of Roman ruins, streets made out of volcanic rock, tons of churches, buildings built around or using part of toppled ruins, and graffiti everywhere. It was like no where else I've ever been! After checking into the hostel, we went on a walking tour of the city. We stopped for gelato, which I of course was extremely excited about!
Then, we went on a group dinner to a restaurant where underground volcanic springs flowed right through the bottom floor of the restaurant! They served us a quite a few appetizers (included fried pumpkin!), pasta, and more gelato for dessert. I think I ate my weight in pasta, pizza, and gelato each day I was in Italy!
The next morning, we went on a hike of Mt. Etna, past areas destroyed in previous lava flows.
The volcano was gorgeous! Much to my surprise, there was a lot of snow at the top and it was much colder than the city. The view was so pretty!
On our way down the volcano, we stopped at the lava tubes that were made in a prior eruption. With helmets and flashlights, we climbed down a ladder and through the tubes. Before long, there was a blocked off passage and a massive drop off, where we weren't allowed to go. It was such a neat experience.
We stopped an organic farm that uses volcanic soil and sampled their honey, olive oil, olives, and wines. They had a Mt. Etna lava liquor that was 70% alcohol, but I wasn't brave enough to try it!
On Sunday, we went to the beach! The weather was totally different than on the volcano! We explored one of the towns on the mountain and spent some time on the pebbly beach. We waded across the ocean to a smaller island to check out a former house. The house was like a castle!
We spent the evening indulging in pasta, pizza, and gelato. I think I ate my weight in all three each day I was there!
We left early Monday morning. I didn't want to leave! I had so much fun exploring Sicily and meeting fellow London students!
Thanks for reading!
Sweden was high on my list of European destinations to visit during my year abroad for several reasons. I always thought Scandinavian countries looked beautiful, I was interested in culture, and it is the home of my University of Colorado at Colorado Springs iBuddy, Amanda! I am fortunate to only have classes Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, so after class on Wednesday, I hopped on a plane to Stockholm! Surprisingly, the flight was reasonably priced and only two hours.
When I arrived, I realized that I didn't know anything in Swedish nor how exactly (or at all really) the currency worked. Luckily, most everyone that I encountered spoke English as well, even if they did initially begin speaking in Swedish. On my first cold and rainy morning in Sweden, I was standing in line at a coffee shop when a friendly, elderly woman started talking to me in Swedish. I replied in English that I was sorry, but I didn't know her language. Unfazed, she kept on talking and laughing in Swedish! I would have liked to pick up a few words in the language, but it is so different from English!
My first tourist activity was a hop-on, hop-off bus tour while listening to an audio guide. This gave me a great opportunity to see the city and decide where I wanted to check out further! I ended up stopping in Old Town and wondering around for most of the day. It was quite nice! For dinner, we went to a Thai restaurant that was decorated like a bungalow. At our request, it even "stormed" like at the Rainforest Café!
The next morning, I went to the Vasa Museum to check out the Viking ship that sunk in the Stockholm harbor. It was massive! I didn't know much about the Vikings beyond what I learned in elementary school history classes, so it was really neat! They also displayed lots of artifacts that were discovered within it.
We went to Herman's all vegetarian buffet for lunch, which had a gorgeous view of the harbor! I love how most Swedish restaurants include tea or coffee with lunch.
I found that hat and mittens I'm wearing in Old Town. I heard that the mittens were made in northern Sweden out of wool and are fantastically warm. The hat says "Sweden" on it.
Later that day, we went to Kaknastornet, which is a tower overlooking the city and harbor. Even though we both hate elevators, we braved it for the views! And it was worth it! We arrived right as the sun set and it was a gorgeous view in all directions! It looked way better than the photos portray!
The next morning, we went to Skansen museum and zoo. The museum included historical re-enactors, complete with a book binding store, a bakery, a glassblowing demonstration, and a pottery shop. The zoo had a variety of Nordic animals. I especially enjoyed seeing this owl!
There was also an adorable little chipmunk hanging out by the caramelized nut stand.
Amanda and her family generously hosted me and really made me feel like part of their family! On my last night there, we went to an Italian restaurant for dinner and then to a go cart park, where I rode a mechanical bull for the first time! It's amusing that my first time on a mechanical bull wasn't in Butler, but rather in Stockholm! The padding was an American flag inflatable, which I also found amusing!
The next morning, I flew back to London and my neglected reading! A few last random comments:
1) I really like how most shops and restaurants burn candles in front of their buildings. It makes it look so cozy and comforting.
2) Did you know Swedes eat more bananas than anywhere else in the world? Below is the place where they store all of the imports!
3) It was a lot colder in Sweden than London and it gets dark so early! I think the sun started to set around 5 PM.
Thanks for reading and many thanks to the Moser family to the incredible stay!
If you talked to me at all in the weeks leading up to my departure for England, chances are you heard me mention the "Cat Café." Yes, that's a café that serves tea, scones, and such and that also hosts ten cats. And yes, it was everything I hoped it would be!
The walls were lined with shelves for the cats to crawl on, a cat house, and a cat-sized hamster wheel. It was delightful!
I'd go back in an instant! On Saturday, I took a day trip to Brighton, known as "London-by-the-Sea." It was windy and rainy most of the day, but we made the best of it, visiting the Royal Pavilion, the pier, and the beach. The beach was pebbly and not sandy at all, which was different for me. It was still really pretty!
The pier consists of shops, restaurants, arcades, ice cream stands (it is never too cold or rainy for ice cream!), and even carnival rides. It was quite pricey to ride the carnival rides, so I just picked one to ride. It was well worth it, even though it was raining! To get warmed up, we spent some time in the arcade. I grew up having birthday parties at my dad's arcade so I enjoyed playing my favourite childhood games like ski ball!
On Sunday, I got to do one of the coolest things ever for a literary nerd like me: watch a play at Shakespeare's Globe! We stood in the audience, much like the peasants of Shakespeare's day. The theatre is small, without a large audience. I haven't read The Comedy of Errors prior to seeing the play, but it was very well acted and I enjoyed it very much!
I have some exciting trips planned both within England and beyond to other parts of Europe so stay tuned! Thanks for reading!
This weekend I took two separate day trips in different directions outside of London; both called for early mornings! On Saturday, my tour group with International Studies Abroad took a bus to Canterbury. I am currently reading The Canterbury Tales for the third time and taking a Chaucer course, so I was especially excited to see this historical city. The day started off with a flat bottomed boat ride. The boats were really tiny holding only twelve people each with one rower in the front who also served as our tour guide. The boat was rather rocky and we also went under some seriously low bridges in which we had to duck to go under!
The tour itself was really relaxing and informative and a fun way to see the city from a new perspective!
After that we went to see the Canterbury Cathedral, which was so massive and absolutely gorgeous. The stained glass windows and architecture was stunning! None of the photos I took actually compare to what it looks like to in person.
After the Cathedral, a couple of us went to an adorable little tea room that we saw advertised called Tiny Tim's Tea Room. It is one of the oldest and allegedly most haunted buildings in Canterbury! We enjoyed scones called "the plump pilgrim" with raising, sultans, and cherries. It was so cute and definitely one of my favorite tea rooms ever!
After that, it was off to see the Dover Castle and the Secret Wartime Tunnels. The castle and the tunnels are unique in that are up-kept as if people were still using them. For example, the trip through the tunnels was complete with an "expected air raid." The lights flickered and even went off for a few seconds...all while we were in a tunnel deep underground! During part of the tour we visited the operating room, complete with manufactured disinfectant smells. We weren't allowed to take photos during this tour.
The castle itself was gorgeous. We climbed to the tower, which consisted of way too many steps! My legs were shaking the rest of the entire day! It was worth it though, as we could not only see the castle grounds, but over the White Cliffs of Dover to the English Channel and even the distant coastline of France!
On our way back to London, we drove past the White Cliffs so we had the chance to see them in all their glory! Sunday called for an even earlier morning: 5 AM! This trip was with the International Students House in London and any student from any university can join their travel club. This trip had students from all over the United States, China, Canada, Austria, Germany, and Belarus. It was really cool to travel with new people and explore the English countryside together. Our first stop was Cadbury World. We were clearly the oldest group there, as everyone else there seemed to be part of a family with small children! Our journey began in the Aztec Jungle, went through a replica of the town of Bournville, through the packaging factory, and yes, there were free samples. Each person got three full size bars, but got to sample some warm chocolate out of a cup with our choice of mix-in. They beat Hershey's Chocolate World in that department, though their chocolate store is a lot smaller than Hershey's. There was a also a little ride with personified cocoa beans, complete with a Christmas section and hieroglyphic cave and stars section. It was great! I loved the chocolate teapots they had in the store!
Then it was off to the Severn Valley Railway. The railroad is a steam engine train that does between the tiny towns of Bridgnorth and Kidderminster, with stops at some little stations along the way. All of the trains date from the 1920s-1960s so it was like stepping back in time. I absolutely loved it! We passed the rolling hills of the countryside and lots of farms with sheep, cattle, and horses.
I watched White Christmas the other night (yes, I know it is only September, but it is never too early to start watching Christmas movies!) and felt like I was on the train they took from Florida to Vermont.
There was also an odd moment when we spotted elephants amongst the landscape of farm animals. A few confused moments, we realized that there was a safari park beside the train tracks.
I loved the little town of Kidderminster that we ended in. It was so small and quaint! For some reason, I've been drawn to the idea of small towns and farmland lately. London is lovely and a great connecting point for the rest of the UK and Europe, but it is just so massive and busy!
I got in late last night and now have a lot of reading to do this week!
Do you prefer large cities or small towns?
I've had quite a busy week here in England! My classes started this week. The school system is quite different here, but I'll save that for another post!
On Wednesday, I got to go to Harrod's for afternoon tea! It was so formal and proper with the servers pulling our chairs out for us, calling us "madam," and saying things like, "here is the green tea for the lady." The terrace at Harrod's is gorgeous with ornate architecture and a piano player.
They brought a selection of finger sandwiches, little pastries (my favourite was the fruit cake), the best scones ever with clotted cream, jam, and lemon curd, and a Harrod's Trifle.
Afterwards, we looked all around Harrod's. That place is massive! They have everything imaginable including: designer baby clothes, formal evening wear, furniture, perfume, and groceries. My favourite section was the Christmas and holiday area. There were so many British Christmas items that I was relatively unfamiliar with like Boxing Day chutney. When I saw a Christmas tea advent calendar, I knew that had to be my souvenir! Each day of December there is a different type of Christmas tea with flavours like Spiced Pumpkin, Candy Man, Gingerbread Man, Silent Night, Sleigh Ride, and Christmas Night. I also found canned pumpkin for the first time since arriving so I bought a can to make some non-American friends their first pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving!
On Thursday, I went to the movies to watch Box Trolls, which was adorable! Before the movie started, they showed some British TV commercials, which seemed infinitely nicer than American commercials, mostly because they were wittier.
On Friday, I went to the British Library, not really knowing too much about it. Sadly, we weren't allowed to take photos within the galleries. I saw manuscripts by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, and many, many others. There were Bibles and prayer books illuminated by Medieval monks, Indian and Chinese texts, and letters of historical significance. It was so neat! There were also a lot of tables and quiet corners so I want to go back to study!
Afterwards, I walked about forty minutes along Regent's Canal and back to Camden Town. The walk was gorgeous and there are so many options at the stalls on Camden Town that I could just window shop all day!
After Camden Town, I went to Borough Market. Borough Market is a really nice farmer's market with a ton of options. Some things were really inexpensive, like the five oranges I bought for a pound. There were tons of bread and cheese stands, pastries strands, and a Turkish Delight stand. Turkish Delight always makes me think of Narnia so I had to try it! I got a mix of pomegranate pistachio, orange cream, and cherry.
I have much more to say about my recent adventures, but I have to be up at 5 AM tomorrow so that's all for now. Check back tomorrow for tales of Canterbury and Dover, plus all the places I am going tomorrow!
One of the many marvelous things about the museums in London is the entrance to the main exhibits are free! Sometimes the temporary exhibits have a small entrance fee, but there is usually a student discount. Yesterday, I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The museum has a massive collection and I spent hours in really only three exhibits. The free cost allowed me to take my time without worrying about having to see everything in one day. It's only a short tube ride away, so I can pop back in to see more some other time! I saw the Disobedient Objects exhibit, which featured protest objects from numerous countries in a variety of time periods and then a fashion exhibit, followed by the temporary Wedding Dresses exhibit, which featured dresses from the late 1700s to present day. It was really interesting to see how fashions change and evolve. There were some absolutely stunning gowns! We weren't allowed to take photos in that part of the museum, but I took few photos of the exterior and interior in other parts.
I've met a few British students so far and, at the risk of making a sweeping generalization, it seems that everyone participates in the cultural activities: going to the museum to see temporary exhibits, going to all of the musicals, and even attending opera performances. I've noticed that in the US, most people don't fully utilize the cultural opportunities their cities offer. I think this is something we should strive toward in the US!
Afterward, we enjoyed people and pigeon watching over some delicious crepes. I liked the Kensington area of London, as it seemed a bit less hectic than other parts. I'd like to go back to see more the Victoria and Albert Museum, as well as the Natural History Museum!
Today was the Buckingham Palace tour! This was probably my favorite tourist-y activity in London so far! We weren't allowed to take photos inside, which was probably a good thing because I would have stopped every few seconds to take a photo! The throne room and state rooms were absolutely gorgeous and so detailed! They had a special exhibit called "Royal Childhood" which featured items from royals childhoods throughout the years from a doll house decorated by the daughters of King George III back in the eighteenth century to the current Queen's large play house to the blanket President and Mrs. Obama gave to Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as a gift for Prince George. The tour was a self-guided audio tour and gave lots of interesting facts, like how when the Queen hosts a dinner, the menu is in French and she proof-reads the French herself and pointing out a table that was specially designed for Napoleon. I loved the tour!
Classes start tomorrow! I have an exciting week planned: stay tuned!
Have you ever visited a palace or castle?