Saturday, May 2, 2009

Checking five more countries off the list!

It has obviously been awhile since I've last written. I think that just goes to show that I'm having a great time and unable to sit down to write these. A lot has happened since my last post. Again, to go in chronological order. I went to Cádiz on a program trip. I walked by my old school and home-stay again. It was a nice little visit. There's not really too much to do there and I had done virtually everything we did, but I still enjoyed myself. That night we went out for a friend's birthday back in Sevilla. When I was standing in line for the bathroom I thought I saw the program director from when I was in Cádiz. I went up to his table and it was indeed him! What a small world. He even had my mom's email address and he emailed her the next day.

The next weekend I was off to Paris and London with my friends. I absolutely loved Paris. It's such a charming city. When we got there we met up with my friend Meghan from IU. She was a doll and waited for us for an hour since getting back from the airport took longer than planned. We met up at Notre Dame and stopped by one of Meghan's favorite bookstores, Shakespeare and Co. From there we walked along the Seine to the Lourve. I knew the Lourve was big, but I did not expect it to be quite as big as it is! An entire army, or two, could live in it. I was in awe. We decided to buy a two day museum pass which gave us access to about 40 different museums for only 30 or so euros. After purchasing those at the Lourve, we walked through the Tuillery Gardens and had our first very important stop--crepes! (I really miss those.) From there we continued through the gardens on to Champs Elysses and then the Eiffel tower!

Allison, Briana and me at the Eiffel Tower!

Day 2: We met up bright and early at the Lourve to avoid the lines. We saw the highlights like Mona, Venus Di Milo, etc.

Meg and me in the Lourve

Our next museum was the Orsay. I think it was my favorite one of the entire trip. It's all pre-impressionist through post-impressionist art, which I've realized is the time period I enjoy most. The museum itself is also really neat, because the building is an old train station. I wouldn't call it a very efficient space, but it definitely works. After the Orsay we headed back to the Latin Corner for lunch. I might have had the best panini of my life. Thank goodness for french bread. Let's just say it was amazing. We ordered our paninis to go and then ate outside looking up at Notre Dame. It was a nice little view :P

Outside of Notre Dame

I have been startled by how aggressive beggars are here. Meg had warned us of some of the schemes they have. One is when these ladies come up to you saying they're from Somalia and that their family needs money, etc. Turns out they're not even from Somalia. They come up to you and ask if you speak English. Luckily, as I mentioned, Meg has warned us about this, so we said no. After lunch we walked through Notre Dame and the crypt. From there we headed to San Chappelle. The stained glass there is absolutely beautiful! A lot of the tourists spots in Paris are centrally located, so we never needed to walk far to our next destination. We walked about 2 steps to the Concierge, the jail where Maria Antoinette was jailed and executed. It was pretty cool to see her old cell.

At this point in time it was later in the day, so we were hoping the line to climb the tower at Notre Dame would have calmed down. We were in luck. Next to the line there's a man that imitates the hunchback of Notre Dame by wearing a mask. He walks around and scares tourists and then asks for money. I had seen him earlier in the day, but was still fooled. I was walking with two of my friends when I felt something suddenly around my arm. I heard my friend say, "Oh my god!" I looked down and yelled like there was no tomorrow. Needless to say, the tourists watching this in line got quite a kick out of it. I, however, didn't find it so funny. I wasn't the only one. He continued his routine while we were standing in line, but he scared one girl really badly. The girl's sister started yelling at him in French and that was all that we saw of the impersonator that day!

The view from the top was really cool. I'm glad we climbed it. One could definitely call Paris the city of steps--my goodness, they're everywhere! I've come to realize how spoiled and lazy we are in the States. After our decent, we headed over to the Pompidou museum. It's modern and contemporary art and I can't really say I was feeling it. The building, however, is great! All of the pipes are on the outside because they wanted to have more space for art on the inside. If you're headed to Paris soon, my personal recommendation would to be to check out the building, but skip the museum.

We made it to the top!

The outside of the Pompidou

Day 3: Sunday morning we took a train out to Versailles with about 10,000 of our closest friends. We tried to get out early to beat the crowds, but unfortunately didn't quite accomplish either. The palace was pretty cool. I enjoyed the Hall of Mirrors and Marie Antoinette's bedroom. We skipped out on the gardens because we didn't have enough time, nor did we want to pay an additional entrance fee for them. At this point in time, I spilt up with my friends to go back into the city to meet Meghan. We went to go see the Catacombs, which are amazing! My understanding of them is that it was constructed when the plague hit Paris. Hundreds upon thousands of people were dying and they had no where to bury them, so they dug up old graves and put them there. You can probably guess what the next problem was. Where to put the old bodies? They decided to arrange them in an artistic manner several floor below street level--all SIX MILLION of them. It's pretty creepy, but completely worth it. Thanks to Rick Steve's advice, we knew we couldn't steal any of the bones because someone checks your bags at the end. I can't say I was planning on stealing anything, but thank you anyway, Rick.

The very lovely catacombs

After the catacombs, I went to join up with my friends from my program at the sewer tour! Yes, you read that right, the sewer tour. We went because it was included in the museum pass. I can't say it would be high on my list of recommendations. From there we went to go climb more stairs at the Arc de Triomphe! It was a really cool view! Our tour guide told us that an accident happens once every 30 seconds there. When it was constructed they didn't plan for cars to drive around it, so there aren't any lanes. Let's just say, I was very happy I didn't have to drive there.

The view from the Arc de Triomphe

After the Arc and such a long day we were all absolutely exhausted! Our feet and entire bodies in general were killing us. After a little mistake with trying to read the map, we decided to just eat dinner close to our hotel.

Day 4: On Monday we slept in a little bit and then headed back to the Latin Quarter for the New Europe free walking tour. I don't know if anyone has ever heard of this, but I would really recommend them! There are all of these free walking tours around major european cities. At the end the guides ask for tips and they're really not pushy about it. I went on another one of their tours in London.

After the tour we headed up to an area called Monmontre (the area where Amelie was filmed). We stopped at a famous cemetery and walked around a bit. We were in search of Jim Morrison's grave, but to no avail. There's not really a map of the place, so it's hard to find specific the tombs.

Rachel street!

The Monmontre cemetary

Outside of the Moulin Rouge

From the cemetery, we walked up the hill to Sacre Cour, and of course we felt that it was necessary to stop again for crepes! At the top of the hill is the Sacre Cour cathedral. We made a quick lap through it and then headed back down to the touristy shops. Our next stop was the ever so important, Moulin Rouge! It was fun to see that, but I can't say it was anything too special. We met up with Meghan for our last dinner in Paris and then headed to Notre Dame to see it at night and say our final goodbyes to Paris.

Day 5: On our way to London! It was only my friend Allison and I that traveled to London. The other two girls we were with went to Barcelona instead. Our train from the airport let out at King's Cross, so we made sure to visit platform nine and three-quarters. (That's a Harry Potter reference, just in case you haven't read the books.) We were a little shocked when we got to the hostel. We had a lot of trouble booking it online, and just ended up settling for a 9 bed mixed gender room with bunk beds stacked 3 beds high. We got there at the same time as our five 30-year-old spanish male roommates we moving in too! There weren't anything problems or anything, but I think I'm going to stick to private hostel rooms from now on.

After settling into the hostel we took the tube to the Tower of London, with a stop for fish and chips on the way. I'm not really a fish eater, but felt it was important to try the famous English tradition and it was actually pretty good. The Tower of London was pretty neat. the crown jewels are kept there. They literally have a moving walkway going around them so you can't stop at take a good look. I went through twice, though. We also took a tour with a beefeater! Supposedly a lot of famous prisoners were kept there back in the day. Several of Henry VIII's wives were killed there, too.

After the Tower of London we went to Leicester's (pronounced Lester) square. It's the theater district and they have a lot of different booths like that one in NYC that sell discounted tickets to shows. Allison and I bought tickets for Les Misérables and Spring Awakening. Leicester's Square is really close to Trafalgar's square so we headed over there next. We had dinner in the area, headed to Picadilly Circus to check it out and then took the tube back to the hostel.

Day 6: We walked around Hyde Park for a little while before going on the New Europe free tour of London. Our tour guide had actually just graduated for University of Wisconsin, was from the Chicago suburbs and knew someone I went to high school with. All of this traveling has really made the world seem small! I really admired what this girl did. She didn't have a job coming out of college, so she just booked a one-way ticket to London and said she'd figure it out when she got there! I hope I have the chutzpah to do something similar, but hopefully I'll have a job before leaving (fingers crossed.) The tour took started at the Wellington Arch and from there we went to the following places: Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard, St. James Place, 10 Downing Street, Trafalgar's Square, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the houses of Parliament.

Allison and me outside of Buckingham Palace

Posing as a guard

Oh yes, this cheesy touristy photo was completely necessary!

Later that afternoon we headed to Harrod's. My friend Allison had never heard of it, but I made us stop by. I even got a famous Harrod's cupcake and then wait, get ready...ate it on Abbey Road! That evening we went to go see Les Misérables. When we bought the tickets the guy said it was restricted viewing, which he defined as not being able to see the back of the set. In reality, it meant we couldn't see the entire left side of the stage! All in all it wasn't that bad considering this was my third time seeing it. It was great to just listen to the music.

Eating my delicious Harrod's cupcake on Abbey Road

Walking across Abbey Road, I'm a few Beatles member's short though

Day 7: We headed to the British Museum bright and early. The one thing I was really interested in seeing was the Rosetta Stone, so that was our first stop. After that we walked all the way to St. Paul. When we got there it was closed. Oops. At least I got to see the outside. In the afternoon we went to the National Gallery. It's a really great museum and even better because it's free--as are most museums in London. To complicate matters a bit, I needed to register for fall classes in London. Of course the journalism department didn't have anything together, so the process was a tinsy bit stressful, but I ended up getting into all of the classes I wanted. (It's good to have senior status.)

We had heard that if you go to St. Paul's or Westminster for evensong it's free, so we figured that would be a good way to avoid the steep entry costs. We ran to Westminster and just made it in time for the evensong. I was expecting a choir, boy was I wrong. It was a full blown service, communion and everything included. I might have feel asleep for a little bit...After about an hour, we decided we would peace out a little early.

Me and my buddy, Big Ben

We were cutting it a bit close to Spring Awakening. I really enjoyed the musical. A friend had recommended it, but we went into it a little blindly, not knowing the story of anything. It's actually a play from the end of the 19th century that has been converted into a musical.

Day 8: For our last full day in England, we went on a tour of Hamden Court Palace, Stonehenge and Bath. We were supposed to go to Windsor Castle, the queen's residence, instead of Hamden Court Palace, but unfortunately it was closed for the day. Hamden Court Palace was still nice. King Henry XIII and William and Mary lived there back in the day. Stonehenge is pretty self-explanatory. We just stopped there briefly considering there's not actually too much to do there.

In Bath we went on a tour of the ancient Roman Bathes and then briefly walked around town. When we got back into London, we made our way to the first pub in a pub crawl we had heard about. It was fun, but neither Allison nor I had a problem with leaving early.

The Roman Bathes

Day 9: We headed to Portobello Market in Notting Hill. It's a cute area and the market was nice. I was expecting everything to be cheaper, though. We walked around the market for awhile. On our way back my dreams came true when we found a bagel store! It was fabulous. If I had to make a list about the things I miss, bagels would be number 1, and then free soda refills and Walgreens would be right behind that.

Perhaps one of the most important stops of the trip

The next weekend I went to Lisbon, Portugal with my communications interest group. The drive there is a bit on the longer side, about 6 hours. An hour and fifteen minute into the ride we stopped for breakfast. I don't know what it is with Spaniards and their breakfasts! Unfortunately, the weather while we were in Lisbon was on the verge of terrible. It rained the entire time we were there. Despite the rain, the beauty of the city still came through. I guess I'm just going to have to go back some day! When we got there we had a little bit of free time and then went to visit a Portuguese newspaper. Me and about 6 other kids got into the elevator to go up to the meeting room. We didn't realize it was just on the second floor, so the rest of the group walked up the stairs. Our guide didn't give us directions for where to go after we got out of the elevator so we just waited in the foyer thinking he would come and get us. After about 10 minutes of waiting, we went back downstairs and told the security guard we didn't know where our group was. He escorted us to the meeting room, where our guide had pretty much finished his presentation. Woops! The other kids in the group said it was kind of boring, so I guess we didn't really miss too much. After that we went on a small little tour. We got to see the famous monastery, a famous sculpture and some other things. Perhaps you can tell that none of the information really set in. That night my friends and I just stayed in the area for dinner.

On top of the large nautical statue (from left to right Julie, Me, Lauren and Molly)

On Saturday morning we drove out to Sintra. It's turned into a little touristy town and it's known for it's amazing old palaces. I really enjoyed going there. After Sintra we drove back into Lisbon and went up this sight seeing tower. It's wasn't closed in and it was still raining. Needless to say the rain won and we headed back to the hotel. That night we went out for dinner in the one of Lisbon's "trendy" areas. It was a nice little dinner. Overall, we didn't actually do too much in Portugal. I would definitely like to go back though!

Posing in Sintra (from left to right: Julie, Me, Molly and Lauren)

The following weekend I left for Italy and Prague! There's a week long festival called Feria, so I had another week off of school. This is certainly the life over here. One thing I've learned is that traveling is all about being flexible. My first "setback" was when my friends I was supposed to go to Venice told me they couldn't go anymore. I had already booked my plane ticket, which couldn't be cancelled, so I decided I would just go by myself. Venice was always a city I really wanted to see. When I got there I took the waterbus to the hotel. I seriously think Venice should consider renaming it to the water-slug considering it took well over an hour for me to get to my stop. After finding the hotel, I crashed for a few minutes. My flight was at 6:30 that morning and I had only gotten about 2 hours of sleep. After convincing myself that I had to get out of the hotel room because I was in VENICE, I wandered around for a little and then went to lunch. After lunch I went to Murano, the glass blowing island. That was one of the coolest things I've ever seen. I got to see several steps of the process. I think my favorite was seeing one guy mold glass into a bird. Murano also has tons of little shops with artwork made on the island. I couldn't resist walking around for awhile.

Glass blown art in Murano

Softening the glass

The bird sculptor himself!

When I got back from Murano, I decided it would be best to go and buy my train ticket to Milan for the next day. After having some more waterbus/slug trouble, I finally landed on the main island to start my search for the train station. I figured it made sense to make a gelato stop in an attempt to calm my nerves. The gelato was long gone before I even got close to the train station. I used several navigating techniques that would have landed Columbus in the Central Africa Republic, an African nation that does not border general navigation technique was called, well, I can't find myself on the map, so I'm just going to keep walking until I can. After at least an hour of searching I found the train station! Unfortunately, coming back was just as much of a problem. It might have taken me even longer to find the hotel. After wandering for awhile I decided to have dinner on the grand canal. That was pretty cool. After my exhausting day and being so tired from not really sleeping the night before, I called it quits at like 9:30pm. I headed back to the hotel and passed out. It might have been the earliest I've gone to bed in years.

On the grand canal

The next moring I was nervous about getting to the train station so I literally gave myself three hours to get there. I'm glad I did too! It was some sort of national holiday so not only were the tourist flooding the streets, the locals were too. It's didn't quite take me the three hours to get there, so I sat outside and took in the sun for awhile. While it's always good to plan in advance, I really don't think I needed to go the day before to buy my train ticket. In my car of 105 seat, there were 5 people. But hey, better safe than sorry!

When I arrived in Milan I took the metro to Anna's house. Anna was my cousin's babysitter when they were young. They've stayed in touch with her and she was very generous to lend me her couch for the night--on top of being my tour guide! When I got to her house she put out a "little" lunch spread. We had 3 different types of ham, melon, salad, fresh buffalo mozzarella, wine, etc, etc. I was in heaven! After our "little" lunch we set out to explore Milano. The area that Anna lives in is a popular night club district. During the day it was relatively quiet, but when we got back it was bouncing. On my tour, Anna took me to the duomo and many other sights. The weekend I was visiting there was a furniture and design expo. There were exhibits throughout the city. Some were just on the street and others were in stores. We stopped in this temporary store where we got some free martinis. There was an open showroom at Missoni, so we stopped in there too.

Anna's apartment building

This was a water fountain and it was part of the furniture and design expo

Well, in an effort to keep my sanity and also keep this blog from being obnoxiously long, I will carry on with my other adventures in another post. As your can probably tell, I wasn't able to keep up with my writing too well. Much of this post was written while I was still in España. I am still interesting in blogging despite the fact that I'm home, because this has served as my journal and I wouldn't want to leave that unfinished.

Hasta pronto,