The City of Lights: Paris Part 3&4.

2 Dec

On our third day in Paris we first headed toward the lock bridge. This bridge is just a small little bridge in a neighborhood that has turned into a huge attraction. People from all over the world come to put a lock on the bridge that has their name and the person they love, throwing the key into the river. It’s a symbol of everlasting love. Although it might be kind of gimmicky, this place gave me the goosebumps. Everyone was so in love and had such faith in this place. I was surrounds by thousands of locks that symbolized the love in the world. It was a really moving experience for me.

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Next door to the bridge is Notre Dame Cathedral. I enjoyed my chocolate croissant while waiting to enter the free cathedral. It looked just like I had imagined on the outside and I couldn’t help looking for the hunchback :) Inside the cathedral was really moving as well. Holy music played throughout and candles were lit everywhere. The stained glass windows were beautiful. We sat and listened to part of a service but because it was in French we moved on pretty quickly.

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We walked through market places, outside art exhibits, and Christmas displays, enjoying the city for our last full day. Ultimately we were passing some time before the sun set so we could head back to the Eiffel Tower. That night we would see the tower all lit up. It was something on my bucket list I couldn’t leave the country without doing. Right as we got underneath the tower the entire thing turned on. I looked straight up above me and it was so magical. It twinkled and shone bright. Everyone around us was so excited too and the energy was amazing.

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On our last day in Paris we didn’t have much time before our flight back. Our main goal was to make it the Moulin Rouge. I had seen the musical a hundred times and was dying to see the landmark in person. When we came off the metro and walked up the stairs I knew I would love this neighborhood. The club was surrounded by quirky bars and little shops. The area felt young and fun and alive. The Moulin Rouge was red and covered with big wall murals. The windmill on top was exactly like the pictures. I wanted to go in and have a drink and sing haha. I loved it here.

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For our final hour or two in Paris we decided to visit the Eiffel Tower one last time and say goodbye. I tried to take in the entire situation and remember every detail. I hope I make it back to this amazing city. It was beautiful and I will never forget it.

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Literally on Top of the World: Paris Part 1&2.

2 Dec

For our first day in Paris we wanted to get up early and head to the Louvre. This place is a HUGE art museum that contains paintings and sculptures I’ve seen in books and movies. I was most excited about seeing the glass prisms outside the museum and the Mona Lisa inside. The real Mona Lisa!! The museum was amazing and had four huge floors of different artifacts.

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After the museum we headed towards the Eiffel Tower. It poured rain on us the entire way there but we were so excited to be in Paris we didn’t even mind. We jumped in puddles the whole way there. Finally the rain stopped and we looked up and standing proud above us was the beautiful Eiffel Tower. It literally took my breath away. We found a little cafe right next to the tower and had a lunch people watching and scarfing down delicious pizza. Finished with lunch we walked the park that the tower is in, taking hundreds of pictures.

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We passed the time until it was the scheduled time for our trip to the top of the tower. I was so scared to go all the way up there and my stomach was flipping the entire way. It started raining again and was so windy when we got out of the elevator. It was terrifying! After about twenty minutes the rain finally let up and we were able to actually see the scenery. It was incredible. I was standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower looking out on all of Paris. I am so glad I conquered my fear of heights for this experience.

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Passing a lot of shopping and cafes, we decided to look around and relax. It was nice to just explore the streets and take in our surroundings. That’s so important on trips like these to not only see the tourist spots, but to take in the everyday streets. They can be the best part.

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For our second day in Paris we went to the Palace of Versailles. This is where Marie Antoinette lived. It was gorgeous, gold and huge! The gardens in back were massive and perfectly landscaped. It was insane thinking this is where people used to live.

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After the palace we did more shopping and then headed the long trek to the Arc de Triumph. I had seen this landmark in so many movies and was so excited to see it in person. It was so much bigger than I ever imagined and so ornately detailed. I was entranced by its beauty.

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As the sun was setting we headed back to our severely creepy hotel. It was in a really weird part of Paris that didn’t always feel so safe. We liked to be back before it got very late. This experience taught me to research my hotels as much as possible before booking!! After day two we were ready for days three and four in Paris. The city had so much more to offer us.

The Most Beautiful Place in the World: Ibiza, Spain

21 Oct

Waking up in our hotel room the first morning in Spain we had no idea what to expect.  All we knew was that Ibiza was the island off the coast of Spain, meaning it had plenty of beaches.  Celebrating our half way point through the semester we were more than ready for a weekend of sun, beaches, sangria, and relaxation.  Because we had gotten there the night before in the dark we didn’t even really know where we were. As we made our way out of the hotel building we immediately were faced with the ocean, blue and beautiful as ever.  It definitely took my breath away.  I knew I was going to like this place.

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We had reservations set up with a company online to rent scooters to drive around the city.  So after taking a taxi down to the location we were ready to zoom around and have some fun.  Neither of us had ever driven a scooter before and I was more than sure this was a disaster waiting to happen.  I was terrified.  But the lady helped us figure out the basics and soon sent us on our way.  We slowly but surely made our way through the streets.  Trying to keep my cool but also take in my surroundings I suddenly realized what a beautiful place I was in.  Spain has a definite different culture of its own.

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The buildings are much different than England, all in bright beachy colors.  It was exactly like I had imagined.  Everything was warm looking, with murals and graffiti, and Spanish music floating around everywhere.  Everyone seemed so free, happy, and relaxed.  Not one person seemed to have a care in the world.  People in the streets were all dressed in bright, flowy clothing, or swim suits.  It’s really hard to explain the feeling and emotion of a place… but just trust me that I don’t think you can even be unhappy in Ibiza. It’s not possible.

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After a horrible attempt to put gas in our scooters, with many Spanish boys laughing at us, we made our way to the beach.  We immediately ran towards the sand.  The sun was shining and the water was lively.  There were families and couples strolling the beach but it wasn’t too crowded, given it was the tourist off season.   I just stopped on the beach staring out into the ocean and again had that feeling like how in the world was I so lucky to get here??? Neither Katie or I talked for awhile just trying to take the moment in and capture it forever.  We walked down the coast line for awhile, sinking our feet in the sand and taking pictures by the water.  

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Hungry for lunch we drove down to another beach with restaurants that sat at the shore.  We ate and drank tequila sunrises, watching people play on the beach.  Sitting and people watching in another country is one of the most interesting things.  You learn so much about culture just by watching and paying attention.  After lunch we decided to just drive around and see what happened.  We are definitely learning to simply go with the flow and see where our adventures take us.  

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We ended up driving up these steep hills, not having any clue where to go.  It was really scary driving the hills on a scooter for the first time and we almost debated turning around.  Since there wasn’t any place to really do so we decided to keep going to find a place that was easier to turn around at.  I am SO glad we didn’t turn around.  We were stopped at the top of a steep road that led out onto cliffs that overlooked the water.  It was by far the most beautiful place I had ever seen.  

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Hopping off our scooters we walked through the rustic trails over to the edge of the cliff and looked out all around us.  We could see over the whole city of Ibiza on one side and overlooked the ocean on the other.  I just looked at Katie and asked her if this was really happening.  So many of these experiences just don’t seem real until you’re looking back on them.  It’s too surreal at that moment.  We looked out at the islands, the harbors of boats, the sailboats out at sea, the beaches filled with people, and just the beauty in the natural surroundings.

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No pictures or explanations of this place will ever do it justice.  I’m just hoping I will be able to hold on to this place as long as possible.  I never want to forget the magic of it.  I could feel myself getting a major sunburn standing on a cliff under the heat so we decided to head down.  After dropping our scooters back off at the rental place we walked on foot back to near where our hotel was.  The streets were quiet and the businesses closed for siesta.  This is when for a couple hours everyday Spanish businesses close down to relax and rest. It is the strangest thing, but completely matches the lifestyle and vibe of this country.  We decided to partake in a little siesta of our own and relaxed at the beach.

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Hungry for dinner we grabbed a pizza from a nearby restaurant, bought a bottle of sangria at a local supermarket, and headed back to our hotel.  For the rest of the night we relaxed on our hotel balcony that looked out on the hotel pool, and part of the beach.  We drank and talked and relaxed, embracing the free way of life the Ibiza people seem to have perfected.

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All day Saturday we did what Ibiza does best… sat on the beach, drank sangria, ate near the water, shopped in little souvenir shops, and sat on the beach some more.  This place didn’t have great architectural buildings of history, or crowded streets, or anything like that.  But Ibiza definitely holds a special place in my heart.  It’s a place where you can feel free, at peace, happy, and full.  It is beautiful in ways many places wish they could be.  And I am so happy that I got the pleasure of falling in love with it for two short days.  It wasn’t goodbye….. it was just see you next time I have more money.

Shop till You Drop: Rome Part Two.

21 Oct

For our last day in Rome we decided to slow things down and just try to enjoy the city. Sometimes when you’re traveling you get so caught up in the checklist of things you want to see that you forget to just take in the city in itself. So for that Saturday we decided to walk the streets with no plan… other than to buy a lot of stuff.

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We roamed aimlessly around going in souvenir shops, street vendor carts, and anywhere else that looked appealing. It was so nice to just weave through the streets. I was trying so hard to remember every detail about everything. I am just so afraid of not remembering it exactly as it was.

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And somehow…. not sure how :) after wandering for awhile we ended up back at the Trevi Fountain. It was only right to come say goodbye. We sat there at the fountain for about a half hour just staring at it not really saying anything. It was one of those places that just shook up my whole perspective and washed me over with a feeling of pure happiness. It’s one of those places where you feel like nothing can go wrong.

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Unfortunately the rain shooed us away and pushed us on-wards to buy more stuff. The fashion in Italy at some of the stores was a little too intense for me, with fur, bright colors, sequence, and way too much going on. On the other hand some of it was extremely sophisticated, expensive, and high fashion. Italy was such an interesting place.

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The food was amazing everywhere we went. Everything was made on the spot with fresh ingredients. I will definitely miss the food a lot. Pizza Hut will never ever be the same. I will also miss the passion I felt in Rome. Couples who couldn’t keep their hands off one another, protests in the streets with songs and chants, the dramatic fashion and music, songs on the radio that are emotional and romantic, everything about this place. I never wanted to leave.

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But after a bottle of Italian wine and a good night’s sleep we headed back to the airport and flew to England… where the signs were readable and the people are almost all as pale as I am. I guess England’s not all bad.

Watch Out for the Gladiators: Rome Part One.

21 Oct

Bright and early we jumped out of bed to tackle the city of Rome by storm. We wanted to hit all the famous landmarks with no time to waste. Right outside our hotel was the bus station that would take us to the city center. Unfortunately all the signs were in Italian so we were kind of clueless as to what we were doing. But eventually we just kind of used common sense and put it all together and took a leap of faith. And after about a twenty minute bus ride we were put right next to the Vatican City. Inside I was amazed by the architecture and hugeness of the Vatican. The roof of the Sistine Chapel rose above everything else in its grandness. All around us were statues, huge columns, and immense white buildings that were ornately decorated in marble. Everything seemed so pure white and important, symbolizing the sacredness of the entire thing. There were people around us from every possible nationality, with a hundred different languages bouncing around. I truly felt like I was standing somewhere great.

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After the walk through the gift shop near by with every product known to man with the Pope’s face on it we got out our map to head toward the Pantheon. Navigating through the Roman streets can be extremely confusing. It has tons of tiny, winding roads with vespas and smart cars zooming through them. But walking through these streets and ally ways I began to really feel emotional. It was like a scene straight out of a movie, the Rome I had always dreamed of. The colors, the houses, the cobble stone streets. It was absolutely perfect.

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We found the Pantheon, tucked away in between houses and little restaurants. It seemed so out of place in this modern place, a historical landmark symbolizing one of the oldest buildings in the world.It was huge and worn, but still so beautiful. The columns rose up for what seemed like forever and I couldn’t wait to go inside. The inside was quiet, with alters all around for kings, saints, and other prominent figures. People were praying, taking pictures, and just staring in awe. I really felt like a part of history in this place.

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Next we decided to tackle the task of finding the Trevi Fountain. This landmark was probably the one thing I have been most excited about ever since I decided to come to Europe. I feel like there’s something magical about this place and the way people come from all over the world just to toss their wishes inside. It is not an easy place to find and we walked in many a circles trying to track it down. But from about a block away I swear I could literally feel the excitement. I knew it had to be close and I started to walk faster and faster. Also, tucked in the middle of normal shops and cafes, just plopped in the middle of everyday life, was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. It was exactly like I had imagined. Huge, white statues of sea creatures and warriors. The bluest water imaginable with coins sprawled all over the bottom. Hundreds upon hundreds of people everywhere. I felt tears come up. I never in my life thought I would have the experience of being in this place and being there was a feeling I can’t even describe. I felt like I had really been blessed.

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Making our way to the water I was so excited to throw my coin in and make my wish. But what do you really have to wish for when you’re standing in front of the Trevi Fountain? My only wish was that I could see more places like this and feel the way I felt standing there forever. It was amazing. I never wanted to leave.

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But…. there was more to see. Soon we found the capital building with its gardens, pigeons everywhere, and food carts that smelled oh so good. We hunkered down for a lunch outside with paninis and cokes, soaking up the sun and the sites. We decided the Colosseum would be next. After scarfing down our food we walked the long road to the landmark. The street was covered in vendors, street artists, musicians, and anyone trying to make money off the tourists. There were also men dressed as gladiators everywhere! Little did we know… these guys pull you in for pictures and give you little choice about the matter. Then they charge you five euros each for pictures you took on your own camera. Beware my fellow travelers. Beware.

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Finally we saw the Colosseum and I began to get butterflies in my stomach. This couldn’t be really happening. It was so tall and immense, and I was just too excited. I started thinking off all the history this building contains and how lucky we are to still be able to witness it. I was standing where gladiators fought. How stinking cool is that?! We decided to pay to go inside, which was completely worth the money.

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Exhausted and with sore feet we headed back to our hotel with gelato in hand. It was so refreshing and just delicious. Later we visited the restaurant near our hotel again and scarfed down more pizza… what can I say? It was too good not to. Italian pizza should be tasted by all. Then after a few hours of Italian MTV I was out for the night, reliving the day over and over again in my head.

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Confessions of a European Shopaholic: York Trip

23 Sep

On Saturday I headed to York about two hours north of Harlaxton.  I had heard good reviews of previous students that had gone on the trip and one characteristic of the place definitely stood out.  It has the best shopping.  And those people were right.  York is street after street of shops.

There are high end shops, antique shops, boutiques, and everything you could possibly imagine.  Kristina, Katie, and I just dove in right away weaving through  the streets and going into any store that looked promising.  I found the cutest art shop that sold prints of lots of different art works.  I bought a painting of London that had  the Eye, a double-Decker bus, the bridge, and many other things that I loved oh so much in London.  It looks exactly like the illustrations in a Madeline book which made it all the better.

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I also ended up buying clothes and jewelry from multiple places.  The fashion here is much more sophisticated and put together than in the States. I feel like it’s so much classier and attractive than the shopping at home and I feel like it fits me more than anything in America.  And I’m definitely showing my love for it by buying way too much…. Oh well, I’ll be very well dressed when I get home.

In a couple stores we ended up talking to sales associates who were beyond fascinated with our accents and wanted to talk to us about our language, culture, and other things.  I learned a lot of new things from these people about words used in British I had never heard before.  I learned more about how Americans are depicted as obnoxious and rude, thankfully she said we were the opposite of what she expected.  It is SOOO interesting talking to these people and learning about British culture in such a hands on way.  It’s also really fun to tell people about home and to show them that not all Americans are the same.

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For lunch we stopped by the Blue Fly where again we felt extremely awkward not knowing whether to sit down, how to order, or anything we were supposed to do.  But eventually we figured it out and my chicken and chipotle mayo pita was probably the most delicious thing I’ve had since I left the states.  It gave me just enough energy to keep moving throughout the city shopping and sightseeing.  York also had beautiful castles and cathedrals similar to the ones we had seen the day before.

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By 4:00 I was exhausted and broke so we headed back to the bus to go home…. it was actually the first day I referred to Harlaxton as home.  It was strange and a bit heartbreaking making me feel like a traitor.  But I guess this place really is my home.  My second home.

British Lesson for the Day: A ladybug is called a ladybird.  Isn’t that the cutest thing ever?!

A Literal Walk Through History: Lincoln Field Trip

23 Sep

So last Friday everyone in Harlaxton was required to take a field trip to Lincoln.  We were told that Lincoln would bring to life many of the concepts we were learning about in our lectures.  And it’s crazy how accurate that is.

First arriving to Lincoln it was a quaint little town lined with shops, cafes, coffee shops, and souvenir stands.  I loved it already.  It had a peaceful, historical vibe that I have never felt in the states.  History was actually created here.  There were pubs in that town that were older than the country I was born in.  It is a surreal feeling being in places like that.  I will never forget it.

My first stop was Lincoln Castle.  Unfortunately most of the site was under construction but I got to see bits and pieces.  The castle itself is from the first century, built by the Romans when they took control of England.  It actually has a wall built around it for defensive purposes and a big grass area in the middle where there used to be a little Roman town where they could live and defend themselves.  I took a walk on the wall and could see basically the whole town from up there.  I tried to imagine what it must have felt like living here, trying to rule a city like this in the FIRST century.  I can’t even wrap my brain around that.SAM_0931

Our second tour was in the Lincoln Cathedral, built by the Normans when they invaded England and took control I think in about the 5th century…. My test isn’t until next week so give me a break.  This cathedral was actually the first Catholic church I have ever been in and it was an amazing experience.  When you step inside you immediately have a new feeling wash over you of serenity and peace and spirituality.  It was an intense visit.  The place is lit by intricate and vibrant stain glass windows. The worship area was huge and beautiful with carvings in the walls and gorgeous archways.

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We also saw in the cathedral multiple tombs of bishops, wives of the monarchs, saints, and many other influential figures.  It was eery in a way but the tombs were beautiful, like everything else.  I also walked around to see the chapter house where the heads of the church would meet and the place where the clergy would be seated during Mass.

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Outside the cathedral we saw the engravings in the walls and the beautiful doorways and archways.  This was another extremely surreal moment when we were looking at these.  One thing that hit me was how much religion and spirituality played a role in these people’s lives.  There were little stories engraved above the doors of the good people being sent up to heaven, while the naked lustful sinners were being dragged down to the devil’s mouth.  It was really creepy and disturbing.  The second surreal moment came when I saw a saint statue on the side of the building beheaded.  This happened during the Reformation when Catholicism was taken out of the country and the church wanted to show their power over the Pope.  It was like history hit me like a ton of bricks.  I’ve been learning about these things my whole life but it didn’t feel real until that moment.  These things really happened.

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Next we went on a Roman walk through town where we saw various Roman remains throughout the city.  I saw a Roman underground well used for “running” water during the time.  I saw a Roman wall used to defend against foreign enemies that cars still drive under today.  I saw the layout of a Roman church that had been engraved into the ground.  And lastly I saw the ruins of a Roman defense building that let people in and out of the city.

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After a quick shopping stop at Primark…. I seriously have an addiction to this place… we hopped back on the bus to make the hour trek back to campus.  It was a tiring and extremely educational day that really made me look back on history with a whole new perspective.

British Lesson for the Day:  The English are much quieter in general than we are.  Our obnoxious laughing and our loud conversations really thrown some of them off. So watch your volume in public places!

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