Monthly Archives: June 2014

Exploring England

IMG_0789The fact that I’m almost too busy traveling to update my travel blog is definitely a problem I am not complaining about. Europe is on my doorstep now – so traveling is an almost-every-weekend occurrence – but I’m also determined to explore as much of the UK as possible while I’m here. So far, I have seen Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, and the White Cliffs of Dover. I’m looking at going to Brighton as well as a few more of the royal historical palaces on the list before the end of July. I really do love the UK, and I’m glad I’m getting the chance to explore the country I’m temporarily living in.

Hampton Court Palace: Laura, Lily, Angela and I hopped on the train out to Hampton Court Palace late one Saturday morning. (I like train travel more than tube travel, I think.) The cute little lady that worked in the ticket office was so excited to give me my temporary historical royal palaces membership card as I wait for the official one to come in the mail. I think we spent a solid 5 hours at Hampton Court. Can you imagine living there? The palace and the grounds around it were all gorgeous. We only left because it was closing time.IMG_1134

The Tower of London: A group of us got to the Tower in the middle of the afternoon one Sunday (we had just arrived back in the
UK from Dublin that morning – remember the whole too busy to update thing?). There was a fantastic display on armor for past kings and their horses, with life size horse replicas – I didn’t expect the horses from those years to be so huge! Since we had arrived too late for the Beefeater tour, the armor display was definitely the highlight for me. And the crown jewels, which were gorgeous. (Also, I’m definitely going back later on to listen to the Beefeater tour!)

White Cliffs of Dover: Dover was windy and slightly rainy (it may be on the coast, but Dover is still in England), but it was the best picnic I’ve ever had. The girls and I trekked up the road (the long way) from the town center to the cliffs, set out our towels and unpacked our food with an amazing backdrop of hills and cliffs and the ocean. If you ever get the chance to see IMG_0876these cliffs in person, DO IT. It’s only a 4 hour bus ride from London.

 

Dover was a bit last-minute, because our plans to go to the Isle of Wight fell through. I have to say, this was the best last-minute destination I have ever helped make a decision for. I also love how easy it is to do things like this last-minute from London – we went to the coast – but in the entirely opposite direction we had first planned. Thanks, list of Best British Beaches!

 

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”

Lao Tzu

 

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How to Tell if Something is Important: The Basics

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Pretty buildings are important to me.

If you’re in a foreign country without a guide (AKA, on the budget DIY tour) and want some memories in the form of pictures to take back home… sometimes you need to do a little guesswork. Taking pictures of everything is possible, but impractical. Also, taking pictures of EVERYTHING means you might miss seeing something awesome because your eyes are glued to the screen of your phone/camera. So, while in Brussels the girls and I determined How To Tell If Something Is Important (and therefore, whether or not you should take a picture).

 

 

  1. There is a statue of a man on a horse.
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This was a Man On A Horse right NEXT TO an Elaborate Garden. Must have been a Very Important Place.

Of course, usually statues in and of themselves are important, but sometimes you never know if there is historical significance or if the statue/sculpture is just really fantastic art for the elaborate fountain. My first hard and fast rule to Finding Important Things is this: men on horses are always important. They usually end up being kings, princes, war heroes, or other famous people. Since you don’t have a tour guide, feel free to make up your own story. Or you could google it.

 

  1. There is an elaborate garden.

Most likely someone royal decided the area wasn’t pretty enough and decided some grass/flowers/trees should be planted. Make up your own story about how the garden/park/green space came to be. Or, again, google it. Bonus if there’s a sign telling you what the garden/park’s name is – easier googling.

 

  1. You feel like taking a picture.

Most likely it is a pretty building, or a statue, or a fountain, or a landscape. Even if taking a picture of it makes you feel like a tourist, if you have the urge to take a picture of it… it is important. Regardless of historical significance, I just like pretty European architecture, so I tend to take a lot of pictures (like a tourist) wherever I go. But my scrapbook will be filled with important pictures when I go back home!

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Elaborate Garden Selfie (Side note: I’ve never taken so many selfies in my life.)

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A Brief Stay in Brussels, Belgium

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Cafe lattes at the first cafe in Brussels we saw. Yum.

It is still a bit surreal for me to realize how easy it is to travel right now. We hopped on a bus (which then hopped on a ferry/train for a short period of time) and with 8 or so hours of driving were in our destination country. Belgium is officially the third country I’ve ever been to (unless you count France – we had to drive through France to get to Belgium. But we didn’t stop) outside of the US. It also isn’t really a place I ever thought I’d visit, but I’m really glad I did.

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I may have had an allergy attack of epic proportions, but the gardens were beautiful.

There were six of us in total, Angela, Angelica, Laura, Lily, Chelsea, and myself. The Megabus dropped us off just after 6 am in Brussels, before most businesses (including our hostel) were open. So we trooped around, luggage in tow, in the direction of our lodgings. Luckily there was a cafe that was just opening as we passed. We sat around and waited until they opened, because, well, coffee. We were hardly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after an overnight bus trip. Plus, this cafe had AMAZING looking tarts and meringues. The fact that they had wi-fi also helped us stay, chat, and kill time until we could see if our hostel room was ready.

As the day progressed, we checked in to the hostel (read: really nice loft), showered and changed, and headed out again for our first order of business: Belgian waffles. (What else could we have possibly done first?!) The “tourist” waffles were piled high with so many toppings you almost lost the waffle. The next day we all tried the “local” style waffles: just a waffle sprinkled with powdered sugar. I definitely preferred the powdered sugar waffle. It was better than a funnel cake!

There is one incredibly convenient thing about Brussels: you’re almost always slightly less than a mile away from wherever you want to go. We were able to see the entire city on foot, using online articles to decide where to go next. And it is a beautiful city! I loved all the architecture and cobble-stoned streets. It is so different from London, which I’m almost used to now.

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All of us at Grand Place / Grote Market! Loved the architecture.

Of course, I could not write about Brussels and forget about CHOCOLATE. Chocolate everywhere. So, so much chocolate. And yes, the chocolate is all as good as you would imagine Belgian chocolate would be. My favorite sample was a dark chocolate covered hazelnut. I never got to try the chocolate covered orange peels, but I bet they were fabulous.

All in all, our just-slightly-over-24-hour trip to Brussels was pretty amazing. I enjoyed the weather and the architecture and the FOOD. There was so much food. Waffles and chocolate and fries and pizza and tarts and macaroons and croissants. The quirky local things that no one can make up, like the statue of the peeing boy that has a larger wardrobe than I do. The picturesque cobblestone streets that made three carry on suitcases sound like a small army of travelers. Crossing the English Channel at 2 am on a noisy, crowded ferry. I have always loved traveling, but now I think I am officially addicted – especially if it is a slightly out of the way place that is less crowded. If I could, I would travel every weekend – even knowing how exhausted I would be on Monday morning.

 

 “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

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Making Friends in a Foreign Country

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risking life and limb to reenact the Abbey Road cover

Being in a foreign country by yourself makes for a unique social experience. The type of friendship that takes weeks or months to develop back home in the States takes about two hours when you’re abroad. What is this phenomenon? Is it shared experience? Is it gravitating towards other expats? Is it a different mindset? Is it fear or loss of inhibitions?

I think it could be a little bit of all of the above. Before arriving in London, I read somewhere to say yes to everything, and b aggressively friendly in order to make friends abroad. I guess I kind of took that to heart, because I went from being by myself to suddenly having a facebook group full of friends overnight. I’ve already been on a pub crawl, to dinner, shopping in markets, exploring public transportation, and even to Abbey Road, with girls that feel like good friends. Somehow, getting almost run over while trying to get a fantastic picture of your Beatles-moment is funny instead of traumatizing when there are friends nearby. Someone is rearranging their trip to the Harry Potter Studios London tour so I can tag along, and I have jumped into a weekend trip to Brussles during the last minute planning stage. There is no awkwardness, no wondering if I’m annoying others with my constant requests to go find something to do, and a degree of comfort I usually don’t feel with people I have known for less than a week.

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Me, Lily, Amie! Photo cred to Amie.

I have made a conscious effort to say yes to everything I think I can reasonably afford, and so far everything has paid off! We all know that we’re in the same boat, I guess. The same things brought us all to London, and we’re all looking to have an unforgettable experience. Regardless of the reason, I am thankful for this phenomenon because I know some of the memories I’m about to make couldn’t happen without these girls and the other people I have yet to meet. So, if you ever find yourself alone in a foreign country, remember: the key is aggressive friendliness. Become a stage 5 clinger, even. Because others secretly want to be aggressively friendly, too.

 

 

 

 

“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” Tim Cahill.

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I’m Not Homeless!

20140525_170508After extending my hotel stay an extra night, emailing (way too many) flat owners and agents, 20140525_103438and some  stress due to making a decision about which option to choose in such a short period of
time, I managed to put a deposit down on a flat! It is a tiny room with a set of shelves and a bed, but it is in a really nice neighborhood. The view out my window is directly into the cute little front courtyard, a nice school is literally the next building over, the whole flat was recently refurbished, and the kitchen is extremely cute with a new tile backsplash.

This is the first time I have ever signed a lease. My first lease is in a foreign country. Sometimes I don’t feel like this is real! I graduated, turned 23, moved to a different country, and signed my first lease in the same month.

 

 

“Home isn’t a place, its a feeling”
― Cecelia Ahern

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Exploring Solo(ish)

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Victoria & Albert museum – selfie time! I don’t trust asking strangers to hold my camera for me.

 

You learn a lot about yourself when you are completely by yourself. Time zone differences meant no communication until late in the day, so I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted… Which in my case was to grab (yet another) meal from Pret (yes the one by the TARDIS) and head off to a free walking tour. After purchasing my Oyster card I went on down to Covent Garden (always liked that place!).

Of course the previous day, right after I had landed in London I was definitely exploring solo. I spent a good 4 hours wandering and taking pictures. (The selfies started – because who else is there to take your picture?) Today though, going on a tour meant people. Some of them were hilarious (the IU student who put a bath robe on for ALL of his pictures), some were unexpected (TULSANS!), and others gave me my first glimpse of accelerated expat bonding (yay friends for a day!). The tour consisted of all the big things – Buckingham Palace, the changing of the guard parade, standing on top of Churchill’s war rooms, the houses of parliament, 10 Downing Street, and of course Big Ben.

I didn’t tell the tour guide when she apologized for the “smell of horses” as we passed the Horse Guards that it smelled like home.

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Best do it at a bit of a run if you’re nervous.

After the tour, I had my first official fish & chips of the trip at a nice little underground pub. It was there I cemented my friendship with two American girls on a European summer trip, because they were planning on visiting Platform 9 ¾. (Yes, it exists, I don’t care what station employees have to say.) So we sprinted through the pouring rain (without umbrellas), navigated the tube, and found the King’s Cross train station. Right there, MAGIC HAPPENED.

The girls and I became facebook friends after our Pottertastic pictures before we went our separate ways. And that was my first day fending for myself. (I’ll spare you the flat-hunting details.)

In the following days, between viewing flats for rent, I got my bearings on the tube and really went exploring. I returned to Buckingham Palace for a few selfies, took a longer stroll through Green Park than we had on the tour, and took myself through the National Gallery. Really, I’m quite content to have several days completely to myself. However, I also learned that around day #4, I need a bit of human interaction with someone other than a stranger.

 

 

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” Miriam Beard

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Travel Day(s)

Tuesday May 20- Wednesday May 21

Two suitcases, an entourage at the airport, and two flights.

20140521_150636For my first solo international flight, things were pretty low-key. I was excited, of course, but it is hard to feel too excited while on a nine hour flight. And hey, AISLE SEATS the whole way.  I also think I heard the hallelujah chorus when the line for the UK border was short, because I had already made my way through a good half mile of the London Heathrow labyrinth. Another happy event was when my suitcase rolled past me right as I walked up to the conveyor belt.

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(Don’t Blink!)

So far, so good. The currency exchange was a bit more painful, even though the man at the counter was friendly. He gave me advice on transportation, and told me I had a good plan to use the tube. “You look tough, you’ll get there no problem.” Thanks, I think?

One day travel card purchased and a 45 minute tube ride later, and I was at Earls Court. YES! There was no lift (elevator). Sigh.
Thus began my trek all over kingdom come with my huge suitcase, carry on suitcase, and purse to find the hotel. It took me about 10 minutes to make the 5 minute walk due to stopping for directions multiple times, and stopping to rearrange my luggage.

But I made it! I was too tired to rush off to the free walking tour I had planned on, so I set off on my own. I forced myself to walk around until it was almost dark so I could nip jet lag in the bud. It worked out pretty well, since I found a Pret, a really cool old cemetery, and my first TARDIS sighting.

Then all I had to worry about was finding a place to live.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

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