Final Days in London

It’s official.  I’m back in America.  Sadly, this is my last London blog post, but I’ve enjoyed blogging so much that I may start another blog for the summer, so we’ll see!  I honestly can’t comprehend that I’m back in Dallas, sitting on my couch, after four months of living across the Atlantic.  While it is definitely good to be home, especially after a long plane ride, I miss London already and wish I could be back.  Coming home to none other than a House marathon isn’t bad, though.  However, the severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings are slightly concerning…but let’s talk about this past week!

Monday was beautiful, so I went on one last run through Hyde Park.  I’ll miss that place.  Then it was time to buckle down and finish my last presentation for Fritz due Tuesday, which I didn’t actually start until 8p.m….

Tuesday consisted of work, class, and a final CAPA Mizzou dinner.  I even got an “I did it in London” t-shirt, so thanks CAPA, I’ll wear it proudly.

Wednesday was my last day of work, during which my supervisors took me to a goodbye lunch at Pizza Express…doughballs..yum.  I’ve really had a great experience at my internship, and I was sad to leave my coworkers.  I might even miss that 1.5 hour commute just a little bit.  That night, Bre and I worked on our presentation for Joy about “pubs,” for which we went to The Warrington right down the block and talked to some very interesting Brits about why they love pubs and drinking.  Apparently British people love to drink and love to talk about how much they love drinking…who knew?  We even bought Magners as a prize for the winner of our pub quiz.  Definitely got an A on that presentation.

Thursday morning, I had coffee with my friend, Micah, before going to class.  After listening to presentations about tea, Tim the tube man, Top Gear, Alexander McQueen, the Beatles, etc, and eating way too much chocolate, I went to a final dinner with some of my favorite people to Cafe Pacifico, a Mexican restaurant in Covent Garden that really was actually good.  I was impressed.  After making a stop at the Icecreamists, we went home and got ready for our last night together in London…craziness.

So as everyone in the universe knows, Friday was the day of the royal wedding.  We had planned to get up at around 6am to get a good spot at Hyde Park, but didn’t actually wake up until 9.  We were out the door in about 5 minutes and on our way to witness history.  It would have been great to be right by the Abbey, but we opted to watch the celebration on the big screens at Hyde, along with more than 200,000 other viewers.  People were dressed up in veils and waving more English flags than I could count.  The wedding was fabulous – almost as fabulous at Kate’s dress.  So cool to think that I was at church in that same building a week earlier.  After watching the wedding, we went home to nap/pack to leave the next morning.  As a perennially last-minute packer, I didn’t really start packing until 9 last night, but it didn’t take as long as I thought it would.

Our cab came to take Callie and me to our flight at Heathrow this morning.  It was definitely a strange feeling leaving Sutherland Ave. for the last time.  I will miss London too much.  Our flight was mostly uneventful, except that there was a slightly abusive mother on board, sitting in the row next to us, who kept hitting her son, yelling at her husband to control him, and throwing tantrums when her wine spilled on her sweater.  I don’t think she realized she was in public, but to each his own.  We finally stepped foot onto American soil at DFW and breathed a sigh of relief.  I was greeted by my sister, which was the best surprise!

So now it feels like 3a.m. in my body and I’m ready to hit the hay.  This semester was one of the best and most exciting of my life.  I am so thankful to have had this opportunity.  I can say for sure that I will be back in London as much as possible.  But now, I have this whole summer to look forward to.  Can’t wait to see everyone in Columbia and Dallas!

Peace. Cheers. London.

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Brighton, etc

Well this past week was a whirlwind as they always are.  Can’t believe I am starting the last week of being in London.  It really feels like I’ve been here a day but way longer than 4 months at the same time.  But, I’ll try not to be too depressing and enjoy this last week for all it’s worth.

In lieu of detailed paragraphs, I’ll stick to summaries for now:

Tuesday after work – attempted to go to Ministry of Sound, which is very far away.  Got there.  Closed.  Fail.  Still a fun night, nevertheless.

Thursday – class trip to Brighton!  Joy took our British Life and Culture class on a day trip to Brighton, which was one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been to.  It was gorgeous weather, and we strolled around the town, up and down the quirky shopping streets, around the Indian/Chinese inspired castle, and along the beach, packed with sunbathers.  I wish I had come here earlier this semester!  But it was a great few hours spent soaking up the sun and seeing one of Britain’s most unique cities.

Thursday night – Tiger Tiger with CAPA friends whose program ended on Saturday.  So so sad to see them all return to America already…I’ve had such a blast with you guys this semester.  Road trips – yes please!

Friday – not much to show for Friday except a trip to Hyde Park with Mizzou friends.  Frisky puppies, shirtless man posing for photos in a tree, etc.  Normal things.

Saturday – Teal Twaddle comes to Londontown!  We hit up Borough Market, fave, with Mizzou friends and ate some reliably delicious food.  We then ventured to the St. George’s Day band festival in Trafalgar, listened to singing and harmonica and saw many characters.  Came home and rested, and somehow I ended up out that night even though I wasn’t planning on it.  Vinyl in Camden may have been a bust, but those breakfast sandwiches, whatever they were, certainly weren’t…Abi Getto…

Teal, Callie, Brittany and I went to Easter Evensong at Westminster Abbey today, which was a great service.  Not much else has gone on, except eating nutella and raspberries and gearing up to work on a presentation all day tomorrow during the bank holiday, which means no work!  Hopefully Hyde Park will make an appearance tomorrow as well…

Despite final presentations and packing, this last week in London will be great.  Last minute outings with Mizzou Londoners…and the royal wedding is on Friday!

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Thoughts on leaving London in two weeks…

I’m on my lunch break at work, and with nothing better to do (besides be on facebook…..), I decided to make lists containing the top 10 things I will miss about London, Europe, and study abroad in general and the top 10 things I am most excited to return to in the USA.  (#1 being the most missed and most exciting.)  To whoever reads this, if you think I missed something crucial in either list, let me know and I will certainly add it.

First things first.  What I’ll miss most about my semester abroad:

1. All of the wonderful people I’ve met, both British and American.  Between the CAPA program, Christ Church, and traveling, I have met amazing people that I will miss very much.  For you Americans, I see a roadtrip in my future, so get ready.  Good thing I love long car rides.

2. British accents.  This may seem a bit ridiculous, but I have really become attached to the soothing voice of a British speaker.  Shout out to Fab 5: let’s talk in British accents like we did in SB ’08 (plus Catp5 and Lees) at least for a while so I can slowly integrate myself back into America.  Ok thanks.

3. Taking the tube and walking everywhere.  When I first got to London, I was annoyed by the amount of time it takes to get places when you use public transportation.  Now I’m not sure if I want to drive again.  I’m planning on riding the DART in Dallas as much as possible and walking wherever possible.  I might even walk to Walmart back in CoMo.

4. Living in Flat K with my amazing flatmates.  London would NOT have been the same without you.  Mark many reunions/sleepovers back at Mizzou down on your calendars.

5. Notting Hill/Portobello Road, Borough Market, and Brick Lane.  Sorry I had to lump these together, but I want this list to stay at 10 and there are too many things to miss.  Portobello, you know how much I love you, your crepes, your fresh fruit, your shops, your Hummingbird Bakery, your antiques, etc.  I actually feel like we have become good friends, and I will miss you dearly.  Borough, I’ve never had such amazing food in my life.  Never change.  And Brick Lane, my love for ethnic/Indian food/lamb/vintage clothing/artsy people makes you a keeper.  All I can say is I’ll be back.

6. Traveling.  I have never been to so many countries in this amount of time, and it makes me wish I had more time to see more of Europe.  During my semester, I went to Edinburgh and St. Andrews in Scotland; Paris; Barcelona, Granada, and Madrid in Spain; Amsterdam; and Florence.  Some of the best experiences of my life with some great people.  Don’t worry, other neglected European countries, I’ll be back before you know it.

7. Hyde Park and all of London’s royal parks, but especially Hyde Park.  I will miss running on a sunny Saturday afternoon, relaxing in the grass with friends, and even almost being hit numerous times by Hyde Park’s dangerous bikers (they’ll get ya).  This park holds a special place in my heart.  The next time I’m running in Dallas or Columbia, I’ll just close my eyes, feel the sun on my face, and pretend I’m watching paddle-boaters on the lake and British men playing football.

8. Sports Cafe, Oneill’s, and the rest of London nightlife.  To anyone who’s ever experienced the craziness of Tuesday nights at Sports Cafe, the live music on Thursday nights at Oneill’s, the hipster places in East London such as Koko, Fabric, Cargo, and even Mother Club, the overpriced ripoff that are all destinations in Piccadilly, and any of London’s great pubs, you know how much you’ll miss them.  There is really nothing quite like these experiences, especially when shared with good friends.  My Tuesday nights back at school will need some serious help.

9. Musicals.  As you all know, I am a music lover and musical theater nerd.  I have been spoiled during my time here by easy access to the world’s greatest musicals of all time.  Throughout the past few months, I have seen Phantom of the Opera, Jersey Boys, and Les Miserables, all of which were phenomenal.  Guess I’ll just have to stick to singing the music when I get back…I’m sure you all won’t mind 🙂

10. Last but not least, nutella.  Yes, I’ve developed a consistent and incurable addiction.  Not that they don’t sell it in America, but it is just way more prevalent here.  This is one thing from this list that I will definitely carry on in the U.S., for better or for worse.

Now for the things to look forward to back in America:

1. Friends and family.  Dallas friends and Mizzou friends, I’ve missed you so much and cannot wait to shower you with love and stories because skype just doesn’t do it.  Family and Grandma Lo, I love you and can’t wait to see you.

2. D-town.  Even though I’ve fallen in love with London, I can’t betray my city.  I will love Dallas forever.  And although I plan on walking more, you know I can’t wait to be behind the wheel of my Passat again.

3. The Cottage and Anthony Street.  I’ve missed our cozy cottage and can’t wait to reunite on May 5th.  Also, getting so excited for Anthony Street in the fall!  Yesss East Campus!  Great things are sure to happen with roommates as well as my hundreds (maybe not hundreds) of friends also living on Anthony.

4. Tex-mex.  Can’t deny it.  I love Tex-mex.  Admittedly, London does have a Cantina Laredo, Chipotle, and the Texas Embassy, but that’s about it when it comes to good Mexican food.  La Duni, Blue Mesa, Ojeda’s, Mi Cocina, Cuba Libre, Mattito’s, Luna de Noche, and many others – here I come!  Chips and salsa.  Blue margaritas.  Love.

5. Football season at Mizzou.  If we have another game like the one against Oklahoma last semester, I’ll be a happy girl.  Tiger football is one of my favorite things about college, and I can’t wait.  This will be the last football season of my college career sadly, so I’m going to enjoy it to the fullest.  M-I-Z!

6. Northpark mall.  I have to say the shopping in London is better between Harrod’s Selfridges, Oxford Street, and markets, but I do love my Northpark for so many reasons.  Can’t wait for sister-bonding outings to Nordstrom and Anthropologie.

7. Biking around White Rock Lake.  One of my favorite things to do during the summer, and since I will miss Hyde Park so much, I will be making frequent trips to the lake (Sally Wyatt).

8. Pi Phi, especially my lovely seniors, whom I’ll miss so much after graduation.  Excited to see the 511 and everyone in it!

9. House summer marathons on USA.  I have made it an entire semester without watching a single episode of House, my favorite show.  Countless Friends reruns in London have compensated, but it’s time for some Hugh Laurie again.

10. My bed.  Although I can pretty much fall asleep anywhere (even standing up on the tube) I do miss the comfort of my bed.  Bunkbeds that you can’t sit up in with springs you can feel through the mattress aren’t exactly luxurious, but I wouldn’t trade four months of sleeping in one such bed for the world.

There you have it.  I know I still have two weeks left, but I decided it was a good idea to get this down.  Do not worry, I’ll still keep blogging to the end!


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Ciao Bella

Not enough sleep and not enough time to write a full length blog post about this past week/weekend, so instead I will hit the highlights:

Monday: work.

Tuesday: work, class, Sports Cafe of course

Wednesday: did not work due to illness, wrote one page of a 6-page paper due the next day

Thursday: got up early and went to CAPA to write 5 pages by 2p.m., class, Oneill’s!

Friday: woke up at 2:55a.m., 5 minutes before my 3a.m. taxi was supposed to pick me up, made it to the airport for my 6:30a.m. flight to Pisa!

The rest of my weekend was spent living it up in Italy with my dear friend Elisa Fisher, who is studying abroad there.  I arrived in Pisa late Friday morning, caught the noon bus to Florence, and Elisa met me at the bus station!  Highlights from Friday are as follows:

– Ate delicious sandwiches for lunch, followed by amazing gelato

– Walked around the Duomo and the leather market, where I purchased leather sandals that smell so great

– Saw the outdoor version of the David, since I had already seen the real one

– Walked along the Ponte Vecchio and wished I could buy all the jewelry

– Ate the best pizza of my life for dinner at a place called Spero

– Came home and crashed.

Saturday morning, we woke up fairly early to beat the line at the Uffizi.  Turns out there was no line on a beautiful Saturday morning at 10a.m….weird.  Now for Saturday highlights:

– Walked around the Uffizi for approx. 2 hours and saw some amazing art (thanks to artist Elisa for the shortened version of an audio tour)

– Ate caprese, pasta, and tiramisu for lunch

– Walked around the Boboli gardens, which were so beautiful, while having heart-to-hearts

– Went to Piazza San Michelangelo and ate more gelato.  We then listened to some guitar music for a while and realized an old camp friend was sitting behind us on the steps…small world.

– Seriously considered getting tattoos.  Then realized they started at 70 euros…no thanks

– Took more pictures by the Duomo

– Went to Kitsch for dinner.  Ate way more apertivo than was healthy

– Bar hopped, stole a basket of bread from another table, shrunk my jacket to baby size when attempting to wash out the sangria, ended up at Twenty-One, met some interesting Italians, walked around trying in vain to find some nutella and annoying everyone (surprise), finally made it back to Elisa’s precious Italian abode in the wee hours of the morning.

I woke up today, quite sleep-deprived, caught the train to Pisa, flew back to Londontown, skyped with my faves, and here I am.  Florence was just as amazing the second time around.  So glad I got to see Elisa!

The weather is looking lovely for this week, and I’m determined to enjoy it despite the school work that has been piled on for the last two weeks here.  Ciao and cheers!

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Amsterdam in 24 hours

I got back to London last night from a whirlwind 24-hour trip to Amsterdam.  We packed it in, however, and I definitely think I got a good feel for the city even in just a day.  Loved it!  Before I recap, I will briefly go over the few days leading up to it.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday = work, as usual.  Tuesday after work, I went to my International Issues Reporting class with Gareth, who gave us all some great tips for success in our journalism careers.  Careers?  How did this happen so fast?  Just thinking about it stresses me out.  I am in total denial of the fact that I have only one year of college left.  Not going to think about that right now, or possibly…ever.  Back to Tuesday.  After class it was yet again Sports Cafe night, which met the usual expectations, I would say.  Wednesday night consisted of not a lot, except packing for Amsterdam.

I usually have afternoon class on Thursdays, but since my bus to the airport left in the middle of my class, I joined the morning class, which has different students but follows pretty much the same curriculum.  Running a little late because I have picked up a bad habit of turning my alarm off and falling back asleep, I met the group, including some LCC members, at West Ham tube station (which is really really far from Warwick Ave.) and barely made it for our tour of the 2012 Olympic sites for my British Life and Culture class.  It was gorgeous weather, which made seeing the future Olympic stadium and swimming and basketball arenas that much better.  After class, it was time to go home and grab my bag before our adventure to Amsterdam!

Later that afternoon, I met Brooke and Alisa, two lovely CAPA friends, at the West Brompton bus station to go to Gatwick.  Our bus driver had very unfortunately driving capabilities, but thankfully we made it to the airport alive, where we got on our plane with Mizzou Kappa friends.  After the shortest plane ride of my life, we were in the Netherlands!  (Where everyone speaks English, thank goodness.)  Although we got off at the wrong bus stop and wandered around for a bit before asking for help, we finally found the Flying Pig hostel, which we had heard great things about.  I think finding our hostel took longer than the entire plane ride.  Anyway, yes, the hostel was awesome.  It was already almost midnight by the time we checked in, but we were starving and had to eat.  So we ventured to Leidesplein in search of food.  The first few places we entered told us their kitchens had already closed, so we ended up at…Sports Cafe.  Clearly no resemblance to that in London, but still.  I ate a very delicious pancake, which is more like a flattened crepe in Amsterdam.  We relaxed in the square for a while, and then decided to go to sleep so we could get up early the next day, but not before I managed to eat a Twix bar from the hostel’s vending machine.  Food overload.

On Friday morning, we got up, ate breakfast (which again provided free nutella…I love hostels), and set out for the Anne Frank house.  The weather couldn’t have been nicer for our one day in Amsterdam.  We walked past beautiful houses and canals on our way to the museum and were constantly surrounded by bikers.  I didn’t realize it until I was there, but people in Amsterdam really love their bikes.  There was quite a long line for the museum, but it went pretty quickly, and we were able to see Anne Frank’s house, which was so incredible.  It’s hard to imagine a life like that.  After we had gone through the whole house, we did some walking around and headed back toward Leidesplein for a bit.  We got hungry and decided it was time for lunch.  Alisa knew of a place called The Pancake Bakery, which was supposed to be the best pancakes ever.  We realized that it was by the Anne Frank house after we had walked all the way back, but we wanted to try this place, so we decided to find it.  After asking multiple people along the way, we finally found it.  We all know I’m not a tough critic when it comes to food, but this was possibly one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth, and I’m not just saying that.  I had a Brazilian pancake, which was a very large crepe covered in almonds, amaretto sauce, pecan/caramel ice cream, mocha sauce, and whipped cream.  I basically ate the entire thing and almost died of happiness (aka sugar intake).  Feeling way too full, we decided to take a tram to the Van Gogh museum.  I think I was a little dehydrated and that amount of sugar didn’t help because I didn’t feel too well on the ride over.  So instead, we ended up sitting outside the museum in the sunshine for a while and decided we didn’t need to spend euros to actually go in.  Right about now, it was time to head back to the hostel, grab our bags which were in holding, pass by the red light district just to say we saw it, get dinner and go to the airport.  We stopped at an Italian restaurant for dinner and had some amazing pizza before saying goodbye to this wonderful city.  Although not a long journey home to London, it felt like forever because we were so exhausted.  But we made it back safely and the immediately noticeable temperature difference made me glad to be back in Londontown.

Today was not as exciting as Amsterdam, but a day in Hyde Park is a day well spent.  Went for a 1.5 hour run in the sun amid London’s entire population squeezed in the park, did some errands, got some groceries, did some laundry, talked to my sister and blogged.  All of my roommates are out of town this weekend, so it’s a nice chance to relax.  I unfortunately have to write a paper tomorrow when the weather promises to be even better, so we’ll see what happens.

Florence in 6 days!  Until then and for the next few weeks, I’ll be trying to soak up as much of London as I can.  Not ready to leave.

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SB ’11: Espana

I realize I missed blogging the week before this past week (spring break), but there’s no way that’s gonna happen now…sorry.  I will have a hard enough time remembering everything I did this past week, which was one of the best and most exhausting weeks I’ve ever had.

Spain is a truly fascinating country.  I had never been there before this week, and I am so glad I chose to go during my spring break with my flatmate/translator/partner in crime, Amanda Bell.  If you’ve never been there, you may have a list of preconceived notions about the country in your head.  I did as well.  Some of them turned out to be very true and others completely false.  For example: the stereotype that Spanish men have no shame is most definitely true.  But I think that people have a tendency to group all of Spain together into a homogeneous culture/personality, which couldn’t be less true.  The cities we hit were Barcelona, Granada and Madrid, and each was very unique.  We wore ourselves out trying to do as much as possible, but I’m so glad we did.  Unfortunately, Amanda now has the voice and sinuses to prove it, but I guess that’s the price you might pay for an incredible week.

So, our journey started last Saturday afternoon as we took the tube to Finchley Road station to catch our hour-long bus to London’s Luton airport.  We made it to our gate and boarded our plane to Barcelona.  When we landed, the air was noticeably warmer – a great sign for this week.  Starting things off right, we waited in line for the wrong passport check.  Laughing for 10 minutes in my usually loud and obnoxious fashion, we finally made it through to the bus stop, where we would catch a bus into the city.  Next, we tried to get on the bus without having bought tickets.  We were having a difficult time blending in, clearly.  Once we got on the bus, there was exactly one seat left, which I proceeded to sit in and immediately stand up again.  Some strange, unknown liquid had soaked the seat, so I was forced to sit/stand on the armrest of Amanda’s seat for an hour in the aisle of the bus.  Only me.  But it didn’t matter because I was in Barcelona!  Once we got to our bus stop, we had quite a difficult time figuring out which way the metro was due to construction.  Some very kind man guided us in the right direction (thanks to Amanda’s mui bien Spanish).  We were staying with a friend of a friend in a town called Bellaterra just a 20-minute train ride outside the city, however, which complicated things once we got to the metro.  Amanda proceeded to have a mini panic attack that we were never going to get there, while I assured her it would be fine.  Of course, she was the one who spoke Spanish so none of the pressure was on me, but I did what I could.  We eventually found our train back out to Bellaterra and arrived at the train stop after 30 minutes of sitting across from three 15-year-old Spanish guys who were trying to be impressive by listening to extremely loud Spanish rap and downing a bottle of whiskey.  Guess they were in for a crazy night.  We waited for a while on a bench outside, got yelled at by some guys who tried to get us to jump in their van??, and were eventually picked up by our friend Keila’s mom and dad, who graciously let us stay with them for three nights.  Their home, just a 2-minute drive from the station, was so Spanish and so beautiful.  And their dog, Luca, was about the size of a horse and just about the most precious thing I’ve ever seen.  I would have been content hanging out with Luca for the next three days, but I figured I should probably see Barcelona too.  True, it was a Saturday night, and we knew that the city would be getting busy at around midnight, when we arrived at their house, but sleepiness set in and the bed was so comfortable.  After eating sandwiches made of bread, butter and ham, we decided to get a good night of sleep and wake up ready for a day of exploring!

Sunday morning.  We woke up to the sound of rain on our windows.  Bummer.  But we got ready and decided to make the best of it.  After I sufficiently annoyed everyone by taking pictures of everything in the house and backyard, we ate a delicious breakfast and headed into the city.  To our delight, we popped out of the metro and the rain was gone.  With the sun blazing, the air warmed up very quickly and I soon regretted bringing a jacket.  Our first destination was La Sagrada Familia, probably the most famous tourist sight in Barcelona.  It is an old Catholic cathedral that is still undergoing construction, and it was quite impressive.  The artist of most of the architecture inside and outside the church was Gaudi, who created giant masterpieces out of different biblical scenes.  I can definitely see why the long was so long to get in…it was pretty unbelievable.  After a few hours, we headed to the famous La Rambla street in central Barcelona to walk around and eat lunch.  Although very touristy, it was fun to do some sightseeing and get a better feel for the city.  We stopped at an outdoor cafe to eat some tortilla, which is actually an egg and potato sort of quiche.  We then continued to walk down the strip, which eventually led us to the port of Barcelona.  The weather couldn’t have been better, and we relaxed on the dock for a while.  Then we both realized we needed gelato, so we sat by a fountain and devoured it quickly.  We decided to wander through some adorable streets and explore for the rest of the afternoon/evening, stumbling upon a market filled with cheese, honey and wine.  And samples.  After eating an embarrassing amount of cheese cubes, we stopped in a bar called Stoke to have our first sangria of the week.  Now of course people still stay out late in Spain even on Sunday, but we (and by we I mean mostly I) encountered a thing called exhaustion, so we ended up going back to Bellaterra fairly early.  Wonderful first day in Spain.

Feeling rested Monday morning, we headed out to the city early to make our 11a.m. Fat Tire bike tour, which was to last four hours.  It may have cost us 20 euros, but it was worth every cent.  Our tour guide had dreads and was from Australia and his name was Buddha.  This was going to be great.  Now, I bike at home all the time, but this was a bit different as we had to weave past people in sometimes narrow alleys, which created some problems for me at first.  Ran into a motorcycle straight out of the gate.  Don’t worry, it was standing still, but that didn’t stop onlooking Spaniards from laughing at me.  After about a minute, I got the hang of it though.  We biked all around Barcelona, stopping at about 10 places to hear very entertaining stories about the sites.  I’d by lying if I told you I remembered everything we saw, but some of the high points were an old bull fighting arena, the Spanish version of the Arc de Triomphe, a very picturesque park, the Sagrada Familia, again, and lastly, the beach.  We were able to take in much of Barcelona’s gorgeous architecture during our sunny ride, and ending at the beach made it one of the best bike rides I’ve ever done.  We stopped for lunch at a beach cafe, and Amanda and I quickly headed straight for the water.  However, I was very confused by the fact that no one else on the tour even stepped foot on the sand.  People are really strange sometimes.  Anyway, after we rode back to the bike shop and I bought a Fat Tire t-shirt, we wandered into the St. Joseph food market, which was incredible.  Although I didn’t buy anything, Amanda bought some fresh pineapple which looked amazing.  We had heard that the Park Guell, a few metro stops away, was a must-see, so we headed there after the market.  The views of the city from the top of the trails were breath-taking.  After spending a while in awe, we made our way down the other side of the main hill to the main gathering spot.  Two Jamaican men were playing reggae, so of course when I walked over to listen, they made me put on a Jamaican hair hat, sit down with them and take a picture.  I probably would have done that eventually anyway though, so that’s ok.  After a long afternoon at the park, we went back to Stoke, where we ran into one of the bike tour guides.  We talked to him for a long time while eating nachos y mojitos.  Wiped out from our day, we decided to just take a long walk around the port, sit at Starbucks for a while, and then head home.

It was good that we went home when we did because we had to leave our lovely hosts at 5:30 in the morning to catch our flight to Granada Tuesday morning.  Our friend, Keila, took us to the airport and we passed out for the short flight to our second destination.  Everyone in Barcelona had told us that Granada would be much warmer and nicer.  Well, when we landed it was misting and colder.  We took a bus into the city and I dragged my little carry-on case over the bumpy cobblestone roads to the Oasis Hostel.  We checked in and immediately hopped onto an 11a.m. free walking tour of the city.  The sun still refused to shine, but Granada was beautiful in spite of this.  The heavy Moroccan influence gave it an African feel, much different from the beach city of Barcelona.  The old part of the city was nothing but a vast landscape of white houses, which made me feel like I was in Spain, Morocco, and Greece all at the same time.  I must say that the architecture in Granada was probably my favorite of the three cities.  Our 3-hour long tour ended with tapas y tinto de verano.  Still feeling very hungry, we, along with our new French friend, ate probably the best kebabs I’ve ever had near our hostel.  We then decided it would be smart to take a siesta given four hours of sleep the previous night.  However, I heard some amazing guitar playing coming from somewhere upstairs and decided to investigate the source.  It turned out that we had a rooftop terrace at our hostel (this hostel was awesome), and there was a guy playing away while a few others relaxed in the sun, which eventually decided to show its face and warm us up.  To my delight, he also happened to have a singing voice like John Mayer, and when I told him I sang, we ended up having a spontaneous singing/guitar playing session on the roof.  So great.  Before I knew it, it was time for our 6p.m. hiking tour in the hills of Granada.  I knew it would be a work out, but I didn’t think it would be quite as intense.  Our Australian tour guide (I think there’s a pattern here) took us up very steep rocks along the hillsides, telling us all about how the city’s nature complements its history.  After a somewhat grueling hike, we ended up at a spot atop one of the hills to watch the beautiful Spanish sunset.  Growing hungry, Amanda and I walked back into the city, got a crepe for dinner and went back to the hostel to get ready for our tapas tour.  I forgot to mention that in Granada, and only in Granada, you are served free tapas (appetizer dishes that can really be anything Spanish) with every drink you purchase.  Such a deal.  So we set off with some friends to try the best tapas in town.  Definitely a good night.

Wednesday rolled around too early, but we got up anyway because we wanted to spend all morning at the Alhambra, which is Granada’s huge Spanish/Middle Eastern castle in the middle of the city.  This thing was huge.  The buildings were massive, the views were spectacular, and the weather was amazing.  This castle had so much history, and it’s no wonder that people usually need 3-4 hours to see and hear about everything.  After leaving the castle and getting another kebab for lunch, we napped until our mid-afternoon street art/caves tour.  The first stop on our tour was a real, lived-in cave.  FYI, Granada has a good number of people and gypsys who live in caves built into the sides of the hills.  I was a little skeptical about this, but when we saw a real-life cave man, I started to see the appeal a bit more…sort of.  This guy was slightly crazy.  He showed us his cave, which was actually really cool and well-decorated, and talked to us over and over about India and how we need to have peace.  Oh, and he’s Santana’s cousin.  I though he was joking, but our tour guide told us that he really is.  I think he must have had 10 different fragrances of incense burning in that cave.  Just before leaving his cave, he made us stand in silence for 10 seconds and pray with him to the nature gods.  Weird…but he was living in a cave, so I guess that makes sense.  Carrying on with the tour, we saw some incredible street art, as they liked to call it, and explored more of the city.  By this time, the sun was beating down and I almost felt like I was back in Texas.  After our tour ended, we went back to our hostel and decided to get vino y tapas at a recommended place with some friends for dinner.  So good.  We then went to an authentic Flamenco music and dance show with some others at the hostel.  These guys were amazing.  And so was Granada.

The next morning, we got up and headed to the bus stop to catch our five-hour bus to Madrid.  It was hard to believe we were already going to our third city, but I was excited to be in the capital.  I slept for the entire bus ride, which was really nice.  We got to the bus station, hopped on the metro, and found Cat’s Hostel, where we were staying.  We were pretty much pros at finding our way around Spain by this time.  This hostel was great, but I seriously think we had phantom roommates the entire time we were there.  We didn’t see anyone until one guy that night, and no one else until we checked out.  The only other time we were together was when we were sleeping.  Anyway, we got settled and immediately set out for the Prado museum, which was free after 6p.m.  Filled with Greco, Goya, and other Spanish and Italian artists, it was definitely a great art museum.  We then walked around the city, seeing some of the major sights.  We passed through Puerto del Sol and encountered a protest on our way to Plaza Mayor, where we ate paella for dinner.  Not something I would eat every day, but still very good.  Craving chocolate, we stopped at a bakery to get these cake-like-things after dinner and ate them by the fountain in Sol.  Feeling a little nauseous with chocolate overload, we decided to turn in a little early and make the next night our big night in Spain.  We got back to the hostel at around 11, when people were just starting to go down to the bar before going out.  We’re cool.  We must do way more walking than other people on our trips because we were just way too tired.  Not surprisingly, we were the only ones in bed by midnight, but that’s okay.

Friday.  How was it our last full day in Spain??  The week had gone by so fast.  I’m pretty sure we woke up about an hour after everyone else came back.  We set out on the metro across town to visit Ermita de San Antonia de la Florida, which was the church/museum where Goya is buried.  We got a bit lost along the way and stumbled upon private gardens, which I wanted to enter so badly.  The guard insisted, however, so I was forced to look at the gardens from outside the gates.  Did I mention the weather was amazing again?  We walked along the river to the church, whose walls and ceiling were covered with Goya’s work.  After that, we walked through a gorgeous park to the Templo de Debod, an Egyptian temple randomly in the middle of the park.  We followed our map over to the Plaza de Espana, where we sat in the sun for a while and shopped at the vendor market.  We then traveled down to the Royal Palace, exploring that area until my cousin, Kati, who is studying/working in Madrid, called me to meet us for lunch at Puerto del Sol.  After stuffing our faces, we went back to the hostel for a two-hour siesta, which was quite needed.  Again, no sight of any roommates.  Feeling better after our nap, we headed back out to the San Miguel Mercado near Plaza Mayor.  Unfortunately, Amanda desperately needed a bathroom, so we temporarily left and went to McDonald’s, our go-to bathroom spot.  We then went back to the market and bought some gigantic strawberries and grapes for dinner.  On our way back to eat them at the hostel, we stopped at the Museo del Jamon, which was craziness, and Amanda bought a ham sandwich as well.  We went back to eat and get ready for a late night.  My cousin had recommended a place called Kapital, a 7-floor discotheque.  We left our hostel at midnight, thinking we were plenty late, and got there to find the place pretty empty.  Spanish people are insane.  We were hungry again, so we got our hands stamped and went to McDonald’s to get a snack and wait for Kapital to get a little more packed.  When we got back, it was definitely a different scene.  This place was unlike any I have ever been to.  Truly an experience.  Remember that stereotype about Spanish guys?  Yeah.  We also met some American friends and ended up staying until around 4:30.  We could have stayed for several more hours, but decided we wanted to actually do something our last day in Spain, so we headed home.

Waking up Saturday morning was not fun.  But we checked out of our hostel, left our bags there and walked to the Parque del Buen Retiro, which was absolutely gorgeous and filled with boat-rowers, roller-bladers, dog-walkers, runners and all sorts of people.  We were pretty dead and decided to sit on a bench for a while, when out of the blue a friendly but strange old man came up to us and started speaking in Spanish and patting our legs.  It was interesting.  We then walked to an outdoor cafe by the water, which looked like a mini Hyde Park.  I got a sandwich for lunch, which turned out to be pre-packaged and definitely the worst thing I’ve ever tasted.  But it was a nice day to be at a park.  Friendly Spanish man somehow found us again, muttered something unintelligible and walked away.  Oh, Spain.  After sitting on the grass for a while, it was time to get our bags at the hostel and head to the airport.  When the plane finally arrived at the gate a few minutes late, we were informed that we needed to change gates.  As we were walking, I said to Amanda, “I bet they’re going to say we all have to come back now,” and literally right after I said that, we heard a guy yelling for everyone to come back to the gate.  You’re too much, Ryanair.  Leaving 45 minutes late, our plane finally took off and I passed out.  We opted for the faster express train over the cheaper and slower bus into London, and somehow made it back to our flat in spite of our groggy state.

And now it’s Sunday night, and spring break is already over.  Every city was so different, but so incredibly fun.  The weather was great, the food was great, the people were great.  Spain was simply amazing.  But coming back to London isn’t too bad, I suppose.  Only one month left.  Better make it count!

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Catp’s Visit, etc

I’ve really fallen down on the job, I know.  Somehow, other things always get in the way.  But we’ll just call this a two-week hiatus and move on.

So, flashback with me to two Fridays before yesterday, if that’s possible.  I cannot believe it has already been two weeks since my dear friend Catherine came to visit.  I can’t say that our week was relaxing, but it was certainly a blast.  Friday morning, I woke up to meet Catp at Heathrow at terminal 3.  A little background info:  the night before, Amanda, Brittany and I had been at Harrod’s and talked the doughnut guy into giving us free doughnuts the next morning because they were all out when we went that night.  Don’t even know how that happened, but thank you, Taha.  Yes, that was the doughnut guy’s name.  Anyway, all I had to do was ask for Lynette and I would be good to go.  So I decided to stop at Harrod’s on the way to the airport, which of course made me an hour late…woops, but I got some free doughnuts as promised.  The Piccadilly line to Heathrow takes forever, but I finally arrived at the arrivals section of the terminal and couldn’t find Catp anywhere.  She had no cell phone, and had left me two voicemails from a payphone.  Great.  Finally, I decided to go around a corner even though I knew she couldn’t have been there, and she was.  Reunited!  We finally made it home to flat K and rested a bit before heading to Borough Market, one of my favorites.  A duck sandwich, some mulled wine, lots of samples – so good.  We ate our way through the market and then walked around the south bank and Westminster, giving Catp a tour of some of London’s most famous landmarks.  By the way, the weather was absolutely gorgeous the entire week – what a blessing.  After that, we did a little shopping on Regent Street before coming home and getting ready to go out.  We eventually made it to Fabric, an interesting experience indeed.  When we left, it took us a while to navigate the night bus system home, and I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have made it unless Catp was there.  Thanks, friend.

Saturday came and found us at none other than THE Portobello Road Market.  We lusted after antique rings for hours and ate delicious nutella crepes.  Notting Hill never gets old.  We then decided to venture out to Spitalfields and Brick Lane, getting a taste of some Bangladeshi culture and some vintage clothing stores.  This part of town still remains in my top 5.  On our way home, we couldn’t say no to an ice cream sundae at Harrod’s, just before dinner of course, so although we would have opted to purchase the Louboutin heels that covered the department store instead, we settled for ice cream.  When we came home, Amanda had made a gourmet pasta dinner, which was wonderful.  That night, we made it out to Koko in Camden and braved the very, very, very long line in order to experience some amazing mixes while giant balloons were tossed around the room.  I have to say this wins over Fabric.

On Sunday, we decided to walk around Trafalgar and Buckingham for some more sight-seeing.  But first, we stopped at the Texas Embassy so that Catp could point out literally the 50 people who wrote on the upstairs wall that she knew from Baylor.  So popular.  We added our names to the collage and were very surprised to find an enormous Russian festival taking place in Trafalgar Square.  Weird but entertaining.  We blitzed through the National Gallery before walking to Buckingham Palace in the freezing cold and having random Italian men ask to take their picture with us.  Cool.  After that, we went to church and then came home and crashed.

As you know, I work all day Mondays, so Catp did some exploring by herself (I don’t even remember what you did), and afterward we met the rest of flat K for Katie’s birthday dinner at Cantina Laredo.  If you don’t know what that is, it’s a Tex-mex restaurant based in Dallas that has a location here.  I can’t really describe my joy at eating those enchiladas, so you should probably just go try it yourself.  Tuesday was the same story, as I work most of the day and then have class.  Tuesday night is Sports Cafe Night, as always, and I’m pretty sure everyone had a great time, as always.  When I went to work Wednesday, Catp made a day trip to Oxford.  We then met at home for dinner before joining some friends at a pub on the South Bank to watch some football.  This was our relaxing night of the week.

We had planned to get up on Thursday morning and take artsy photos, but unfortunately we both hit snooze on our alarms a few too many times.  Then it was time for class.  After class and after being proven wrong in our directional skills by Asian tourists, Catp and I met at Hache, the best burger place in London as it is called.  And it really was.  Shout out to Teresa Peterman for the recommendation. Thursday night was O’Neill’s, of course, complete with live music and strange shirtless tattooed guys.  AND Alex Smoldt!  Alpal, who is studying in Brussels, came to stay with us Thursday night.  So great to see her.  Anthony Street is going to be crazy next year.

On a sad Friday morning, it was time for both my friends to leave.  Miss you two!  I had been given two free tickets to the opera Aida for that night by my friend who works at the Royal Opera House.  Pretty much everyone I knew was out of town or busy, so one of the LCC decided he wanted to see an opera completely in Italian with English subtitles.  We’re true opera fans.  Despite this fact, we left at intermission because it was just a little too long.  We met up with friends and went to La Rumba, where our other friends were celebrating DaMonica’s birthday!  Very fun.

Honestly, I’m not at all sure of what I did during the day Saturday, which is why I shouldn’t wait two weeks in between blog posts.  But Saturday night, I was supposed to meet friends at a place called Eclipse in South Kensington.  After several very convoluted phone calls, I realized I had paid 10 pounds to get into the wrong place.  Only me.  As I was walking to the right place, I ran into some of the LCC who had just been there and couldn’t find anyone.  So we went to Piccadilly instead.  Typical.  It ended up being fun, though.

Sunday was London’s St. Patrick’s Day festival in Trafalgar Square, which was some great people watching.  Off to church after that and then home again.  Sorry about the lack of details, but I don’t really have the memory or the patience at the moment.

The rest of this week was fairly routine.  Work on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.  Actually I didn’t feel well on Wednesday so I didn’t work that day.  Sports Cafe on Tuesday, watched Breakfast Club with one of the LCC Wednesday night, St. Patrick’s Day pub crawl on Thursday after class.  Work on Friday.  On Friday night, a friend from church came over and made us some delicious lasagne.  I need to learn how to cook better.  Seriously.  Yesterday was a sleep in/be productive/go running/do laundry day.  Not exciting, but necessary.  I know did some other things this week, but it’s been somewhat of a blur.

Never again will I wait two weeks to blog.  There are only about 5 more weeks in London, so that is mandatory.  After this week is spring break, and I will be in Espana!  My semester is going way too fast.  But I’m enjoying every minute of it.

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