A little over a year after my last post, it’s about time I revamped this blog. It’s just in time for my next adventure. I move to New York City in six days in order to attend NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute. I take the train on Memorial Day, and will first be volunteering for the Book Expo before my program starts June 3rd. More on that to come, promise. No, really, keeping a professional website/blog is one of my homework requirements. And I’m more than happy to oblige.
It has been a busy, wondrous year since my last post. I thought things couldn’t get more perfect than my semester in London, but senior year proved that wrong. I’ll forever be in debt to Susquehanna… I mean that in both the literal and figurative manner. It has been a week since graduation, so I’m still feeling nostalgic and lost in this post grad world. No matter the subject, I tend to incorporate SU memories or friends into the conversation. I think it’s starting to get on my family’s nerves. It was like this after I returned home from studying abroad, too. Give me a few weeks- I’ll have new stories to endlessly annoy my friends and family with.
In addition to my anecdotes, I’m noticing a lot of what I’m feeling and how I’m acting now compares to my study abroad journey. I have that same mixture of excitement and terror in the pit of my stomach when I think about arriving in the city for the first time. I have high expectations. I have no idea what to expect. I have a bank account that is likely to be depleted in a few short weeks. I have a half packed suitcase. I have this pre-departure blog post trying to make sense of it all.
Recently, someone told me that you can’t reflect on things that are happening right now. The context of that conversation had nothing to do with NYC, but thinking about it (wow, reflecting on it), I do have the tendency to interject in what’s happening to me now. Maybe it’s my attempt to make sense of my decisions, or to zoom out on my life and re-examine the big picture, to assure myself that I’m drawing the correct lines.
I’m not going to pretend I have any notion of what life in NYC will be like for me. Hell, I’ve only visited the city twice. I’ll stop examining things that are still in progress, and instead enjoy my week at home in Maryland. Here’s hoping the third time’s the charm.
It’s here, the last week. I won’t spend my time writing statements of disbelief, or how time has gone quickly, or how strange it feels to be in this position: 4 days before I hop on a plane back to the USA.
I’m in limbo, which is the same place I started this whole blog. I’m in London, spending most of my time recounting my semester here, simultaneously making plans for when I get home. I want to stay here. I want to go home.
But no matter what I want, I will be boarding a plane on Saturday, and will get back to Maryland late Saturday night, (early Sunday morning for London time). I have two weeks before I go back to work to get my bearings, relax, visit friends at SU, and really do whatever within the boundaries of the east coast.
Now, I sign off, to enjoy my last days in London, with new and old friends. It’ll be days filled of lasts and goodbyes. My circle journey is rapping around the final angle, bringing me back to where I started. What’s changed? I’m a traveller. Yet, I’ve come to realize I always have been, and always will be, no matter my physical location.
This is a short, but crucial post about my trip to the Harry Potter Studio. When Meghan and some other friends were at our home university last semester, we were, naturally, watching the final installment of the Harry Potter series while doing some crafts. One of the previews to the DVD showed the future opening of the movie studio for fans and fanatics to visit in London. There was a moment of pure joy as we realized the studio would be opening while we were in London. The set opened on March 31st, we are very lucky. Gabi, Meghan and I reserved tickets for the trip the first week we were abroad. It was just that important.
So, flash forward to last Friday. We wake up like it’s Christmas morning. The studio is about a 20 minute train ride out of central London, and then we had to take a shuttle bus to the actual location. The bus was packed with fans of all ages. My favorite was a group of 3 elderly women waiting in line behind us. One woman said, “Looks like we’re the oldest ones here,” and another replied, “We’re always the oldest ones.” It felt like the 3 of us were looking at our future selves, which is okay with me, because they were as excited about Harry Potter as we were.
We spent 3 hours in the studio, going through various sets, listening to our audio guide (Tom Felton aka Draco was the narrator) geeking out. I’ll admit I cried when we finished watching a short film about the making of the movies, and then they lifted up the curtain to reveal the door to the Great Hall. My childhood seriously happened with Harry Potter, and it was spectacular to see how it all came to the big screen. I also got to drink my second glass of butter beer, I had my first at the Harry Potter World theme park in Florida last summer.
Then, towards the end of the tour we were able to walk around the Hogwarts castle model that they actually used to shoot the exterior shots. I was at Hogwarts. It happened, my life is complete. We were reluctant to leave, but all good things must come to an end. Plus, we still had the gift shop to conquer. I spent a good sum of money on souvenirs, including a t-shirt, Ravenclaw pride flag, a pin, and a present for my best friend and fellow Harry Potter enthusiast Maura. It was a great day, and the start to a wonderful weekend home in London.
The rest of my weekend was pretty low key. Saturday I went to Oxford Street to begin my gift shopping for friends and family, and today I’ve been relaxing. It’s a nice change of pace from the hectic past weekends of being in other countries. I’m down to the last 2 weeks abroad, so I won’t be relaxing for many more days. Tomorrow I have my final theatre trip, at Shakespeare’s Globe, and it’s also Mike’s birthday. After that it’s just a rush to finish up everything I want to see in the city, before it’s time to say goodbye to the island.
Meghan and I wanted to save some money, so we opted for the bus to travel to Amsterdam. We quickly came to understand why it was so cheap. The ride there wasn’t too bad. We left late last Thursday evening, and I fell asleep immediately. I was awoken at the Cliffs of Dover, where we had to ride a ferry to cross the channel. It was around 3am when we left the ferry to get back on the bus in France. Luckily, the bus wasn’t full, so Meghan and I were each able to have our own row of seats to spread out. I woke up to a cloudy Amsterdam Friday morning. We followed the directions the hostel gave us, which were lacking, and ended up getting directions from a nice local woman. It was smooth sailing from there.
Our first priority was food, of course. We walked around the city searching for an ATM, and were unsuccessful. We went inside a store to ask for directions to the nearest bank, and at that point we were only a block away. Between that block and the ATM we discovered a market, something we never pass up. Equipped with shiny new Euros, Meghan and I walked the market. One of the first booth was Wally’s Waffles, once again, something we can never pass up. My justification for dessert before lunch? I’m young and on vacation. I got mine topped with milk chocolate and M&Ms. We browsed the rest of the market, decided to think over potential purchases before going back, and continued on our quest for a place to get lunch. Later, I did go back and get a t-shirt for my brother, Drew, and one for myself.
Before we could agree on a restaurant, we ran into the I AMsterdam sign. I had strict instructions from my friend Kimmie, who is spending her semester abroad in Amsterdam, to climb all over the giant 3D block letters. After a short photo session, (pictures go by much quicker when there’s only 2 of you), we decided to eat at the Cobra Cafe right next to I AMsterdam. We had great food there, but unfortunately, the wait staff was a little busy and forgot to bring our drinks. Normally I don’t complain about that sort of stuff, but we were both parched after our long bus journey. Our waiter apologized, gave us discounts off our check, and even offered to bring the drinks for free. We declined, as our next stop was the Heineken Experience.
The Heineken Experience was my 3rd brewery type exhibit. I think it might have been the best yet. We walked through the brewing process, saw horse stables that they still use to deliver some of the the beer, and even got to go on a Brew You ride. We were brewed and bottled into the notorious bright green glass before we got a taste of the first free drink. The bartender explained the physical traits of Heineken, and we could tell we’ve been on too many of these tours, because we knew all the answers to his trivia questions about hops, the beer head, and the other ingredients. I really liked my taste of Heineken, and it became the drink of choice for the rest of the trip. The rest of the tour included a pour the perfect pint challenge, UV lit bottles, and 2 more free drinks at the world bar. Our thirst was certainly satisfied.
We went back to the hostel to take a lovely nap, and then had a pretty uneventful evening. Italian was for dinner, we got a personal pizza, salad, and drink for 12 euros. ANOTHER waffle for dessert, this time at Ben and Jerry’s, so ice cream, fudge, and whipped cream was placed on top. We went to a bar to have another drink, finished one, and decided we were both on the edge of falling asleep. It was 10pm.
It was good that we got a full night’s sleep, because Saturday we did a 3 hour bike tour of the city. Amsterdam is all about bikes, supposedly there’s more bikes than people in the city, and tons of locals use bikes to get around the city instead of cars. There was a traffic lane for cars, one for trams, and another for bikes. Crossing streets was not an easy task for pedestrians. Meghan and I joined the highway of bicycles, on our bright yellow bikes, to get the real Amsterdam experience. At first it was scary to bike alongside the pros, but after a while we got a hang of it. Nothing is better than feeling the wind in your hair as you ride down the cobblestone streets of Amsterdam, taking in the sights. We seriously rode everywhere: through the park, the busy city streets, and even a short look into the famous Red Light District. Along the way our tour guide told us stories and the history of the city, making for one of my favorite experiences this semester abroad.
Later Saturday night, Meghan and I met up with Kimmie and a few of her friends for an evening of Amsterdam night life! It was so nice to see someone from Susquehanna. I loved hearing all of Kimmie’s travel stories and how much she loved calling Amsterdam her home. I was also super impressed because she biked to meet us at the bar. What a pro. She doesn’t leave until the middle of June, and it really made me realize how little time I have left abroad. Meghan and I again got tired relatively early, so we said our goodbyes to Kimmie and told her we’d see her senior year.
Sunday morning we woke up early to go to the Anne Frank house. Other friends who’d been to Amsterdam and Kimmie warned us at how crowded the house would be. We got to the line at 8:45am, fifteen minutes before the house even opened, but still waited in line for a little over an hour. It was well worth it. It was eerie to walk through the house that Anne and her family had hid in for over 2 years. I remember reading the diary for the first time, probably in middle school, and after going through the house it makes me want to read it again. Quotes from the diary were printed on the walls, and miniature reconstructions of what the annex looked like were set up in the rooms. We also got to follow the story of what happened to each of the annex inhabitants after they were discovered. It was heartbreaking to see and read, even though I already knew what happened. Watching a video of Otto Frank talk about his daughter and reading her diary was the hardest, as he came to realize how extraordinarily bright Anne was after her death.
After that heavy experience, we got a lunch of bagels and coffee. Then to lighten our spirits, we ventured to the Cat Museum. Yes, you read right, there is a cat museum in Amsterdam. We pride ourselves of being future crazy cat ladies, and the joy I got from walking through the antique canal house turned cat emporium proved it. A real cat, Tom, greeted us as we walked up the stairs, and we even got to pet him before we left. It doesn’t get much better than that.
The rest of the day we spent walking around the city, and buying presents for friends. Gabi and Mike were in Poland that weekend, so we decided to get each other gifts from our trips. We bought them a wheel of gouda cheese. We have plans to have a cheese and wine picnic, once it stops raining for 5 minutes in London. Gabi got us Polish cat figurines. The bus ride back to London was a struggle. The bus stalled twice, once while we were still in Holland, and the other time in France. The ferry ride was really choppy, someone threw up in the middle of the floor. Many people than slipped through the puke, which was kind of entertaining to watch. The bus driver told us he would leave us if we didn’t return promptly to the bus from the ferry, and he spoke in Dutch the entire ride…even when we were in England. We didn’t sleep much. The awful bus experience did not take away from the beauty of Amsterdam!
Amsterdam was my last trip outside of London, and now I only have 16 days until I go back to the US. I’m excited to go home and devastated about this experience ending at the same time. I have an internship and job waiting for me when I get home, so I know I’ll be busy. It’s good though, I like having things to do, and I get a couple weeks when I get back to get settled and spend time with friends and family. Then, all of a sudden, it’ll be senior year of college, if the summer plans to go as fast as my last months in London have gone.
Saturday the pack traveled to Brugge. It was about an hour train ride from Brussels to arrive to the magical fairy tale land of Brugge. I’d heard that the city was beautiful, but I was still taken aback as we wandered around the cobblestone streets with tiny houses. There was a lot to do in Brugge too, which was nice. I appreciate being in aesthetically pleasing places, like St. Andrews, Scotland, but it was great to have a day full of activities.
We had a quick lunch on the streets by a carnival, and then walked to a nearby market. Josh and I were able to find some presents for our SU girls. The food market smelled delicious, but I just took in the rows of chocolates, meats, and cheeses, recovering from the burger I had scarfed down earlier. We all met back up after we were done with the market, (meeting spots were a frequent occurrence with the large group we were traveling with), and walked to the only remaining brewery in Brugge for a factory tour. It was crowded, so we were able to buy tickets for a later tour time.
We filled the few hours before our tour with a canal boat tour, chocolate, and shopping. Meghan and I bought chocolate before boarding the boat, to indulge in “chocolate moments.” Chocolate moments were designed to keep Meg and I sane. There were some times that the crowd of travelers got to us, and to keep the crazy down, all we needed to do was pop a piece of chocolate. Is that behavior characteristic of an addiction? Maybe. It kept us happy, and you can’t blame us, we were in the chocolate capital of the world.
The canal tour was gorgeous. I know I keep saying pretty, beautiful, and gorgeous, but again, I can’t help it, Brugge was up there with Prague for prettiest’s city. If there was a city pageant, they’d be in the top 5. The guide spoke in 3 languages throughout the tour, Flemish, English, and Portuguese, which was super impressive. The boat weaved us through the city, and under low bridges. Brugge really is a magical place, Nick transformed into an old, worried woman every time we road under a bridge, exclaiming, “Oh, heavens.”
After the boat tour it was time to head back to the brewery. Once again, we lucked out with a hilarious tour guide. Belgians really know their beer, and she made the brewing process so interesting. We learned how employees at the brewery used to get 6 free beers during shifts, not a bad deal. We climbed to the roof of the brewery giving us a great view of the city. Then, it was a climb back down on steep steep stairs, where we had to climb down backwards, to earn our free pint. We sat around a table, toasted, and sipped our beer. We split up for dinner, and then headed back to Brussels.
Sunday it was Easter! It was strange to wake up on Easter Sunday in a hostel instead of at home with my family. It was my first holiday away from home. I didn’t get an Easter basket, but I did have a wonderful brunch with friends. Josh researched and found a restaurant located inside a park. It was buffet style, and let’s just say we all took advantage of that. I had an omelette, ravioli, salad, fruit, and chocolate mousse. Perfection.
Next, it was time to embark to the most exciting event of the trip. A few days before we left for Brussels, I had been researching what Easter was like in Brussels to see if restaurants would open and stuff. I typed in “Easter in Brussels” and discovered the most wonderful thing. Brussels was attempting to break the world record for the largest Easter Egg Hunt. At parks all over Brussels, over 500,000 eggs were hidden. We got to the park a minute after the hunt was started, and saw kids going crazy scooping handfuls of eggs from the ground. We all managed to get one egg, and then we watched the kids. The park was spectacular and the weather was nicer than we thought, so we were able to hang out and relax for a bit.
We left the park to sightsee. We walked through the EU headquarters, Gabi geeked out, and the rest of us kept walking. Parliament and a cathedral were also on the tour. Then, Sarah was leaving that night via plane, so we went back to the hostel to get her stuff and say goodbye. It was another tiring afternoon of eating and walking, so we rested up a bit before going out for dinner and to Delirium. That evening I tried banana beer (my favorite), a strawberry beer and liquor cocktail, and a blonde fruit salad beer. I think it’s safe to say that Delirium was everyone’s favorite pub. Ever.
I wish I could cut to Monday, the day we left for the train station back to London, but there was an “incident” early Monday morning. Around 6:30am I was woken up by the sound of a bottle hitting the ground. Our hostel room was on the ground level, and we had the window open because it was ridiculously hot in the room. I mean the first night I woke up sweating when the window was closed. There was a locked latch across the window, so we figured it was safe. After hearing the bottle drop, nervous Nancy I am, I expected the worse and looked at the window. All I saw was an arm reaching in. The next bit is best expressed in a script format.
Kara: Nick. There’s a man in the window. (Repeated several times, tone becoming firmer and louder- Nick does not wake up)
Gabi: (waking up, planting feet on the ground) Get the f—- out of the window!
Meghan: (laughing, at which point Nick wakes up and scoots back from his bed, which is positioned down stage, closest to the window)
Mike: WHOA. (man leaves the window, everyone is okay, and everyone laughs)
(The window is closed, finally)
I wish I could explain all of our reactions, but I just can’t. Cooper left his iPhone on the ledge, and I’m assuming the man was reaching in for the phone. We couldn’t go back to sleep for awhile from a weird combination of laughing and fear. Monday we spent over analyzing the experience, and Nick started narrating the day like he was an New York detective searching for the culprit. As Nick said, “One things for sure,” Brussels is a trip that none of us will ever forget.
Tonight Meghan and I leave for the weekend in Amsterdam. We’re taking a bus again, so it’ll be 12 hours before we arrive in the city Friday morning. Then we come back Monday morning. This is my last trip outside of England, which is so surreal. Didn’t I just fly over from the States?
In practically no time I am back from my Easter break in Belgium. I came home with a few gifts, ridiculous memories, and a very full stomach. I leave for Amsterdam Thursday evening, so once again I must rush to keep up with my blog posts.
I arrived in Brussels, Belgium last Thursday morning. The herd of people getting off the train with me consisted of Meghan, Gabi, Mike, Cooper, Nick, and Josh. We walked to our hostel and met up with Becca and Sarah, who had taken the bus to Belgium the night before. Yes, your math is correct, there were 9 of us taking on the city. After some hellos we headed to the Grand Place, which is basically the main historic square of Brussels. We admired the beautiful architecture for a bit, grabbed a quick lunch, and decided to keep to the priority of the trip: chocolate. The Chocolate Museum was my first exposure to Belgian chocolate, straight from the source. I cared little about the history of chocolate, and cared more about the free samples and demonstration of molding chocolate. I was able to taste a variety of cocoa percentages. The 50% cocoa butter was terribly bitter, and then the rest got gradually sweeter. The 90% was extremely dark chocolate, and lost a lot of the flavor. My favorite was the 70% dark chocolate, so I took a few handfuls of the chips as I walked around the exhibits.
Manneken Pis was the next stop. We stood in the front of the statue of the little boy peeing a little underwhelmed. The statue and fountain was much smaller than any of us expected. The area around it was great though. There were waffle stands and chocolate stores all over the place. It was tempting, but we restrained, as we’d just ate our weight in chocolate at the museum. We’d be back.
We explored the area a little more, and then it was time to check into our hostel room. Becca and Sarah were staying at a hotel across the street from us, and we all decided it’d be best to rest for a little bit and then meet back up for dinner and the night out. To avoid being more obnoxious and troublesome than we already were, we split up into two groups for dinner. Sarah, Becca, Meghan and I had a wonderful girls’ night dinner of the famous Belgian dish of muscles and fries. The restaurant we were at, recommended by the hostel, offered a great deal for muscles, fries, and a glass of beer for one price. I’d never had muscles before so it was an experience dishing out the meat, and alternating bites with fries. We left the restaurant satisfied, and ready to check out the Delirium Café.
Delirium Café is the most famous bar in Brussels, mostly for its great selection of beers.There are 2004 different beers to choose from, talk about options. We came back to Delirium practically every night, so I got to sample many different flavors. That first night I had pear and chocolate beer. It was a pleasant evening of friends, until a Belgian guy offering me a sip of his drink interrupted the conversation. He marched right up to our table, put his drink in my face, and said, “Taste, I know you will love it.” I really had no idea how to react, knowing that no way would I try a drink from a stranger. Nick intercepted by casually saying something like, “Dude, you can’t say that to a girl, that’s creepy.” The guy was harmless though, and just stayed for a few minutes telling us why he hated Americans. We didn’t care. He stereotyped Americans as mega Jesus loving conservatives who didn’t like to have fun, and we knew that wasn’t anyone in our group.
The next stop was what we were all waiting for: karaoke. It was stupendous. Meghan and I sang Hollaback Girl by Gwen Stefani. Gabi graced the crowd with I Will Survive , Josh sang Telephone by Lady Gaga, and Sarah and Becca sang Say My Name by Destiny’s Child. No regrets.
Friday we all woke up ready to explore Brussels. Bri, one of Becca’s friends, joined us in Brussels…making the group an even 10. We went to a flea market in the morning, which ended up being a bust. It was a lot of junky stuff. Mike bought copper rooster’s for his cousin…I won’t even try to explain. More importantly, after the flea market we went to a waffle stand for lunch. I got a chocolate and banana waffle. Delicious. From there we took the metro to the Atominum, which is Brussels’ “Eiffel Tower.” We went through the building’s exhibit, and got to ride an elevator to the top for a view of the city.
Next, the herd traveled to Mini Europe. It was a tiring day, I traveled to every country in Europe within an hour or so. It was neat to walk through each country, watch Meghan race little kids to press the button to play the national anthem, and take in the notorious landmarks of every country. It was especially cool to see places that I had recently traveled to, like Paris and Prague, not to mention the mini version of Big Ben. It made the continent seem so much smaller and accessible. I had the urge to travel everywhere to see the real life sizes.
I’ll summarize the rest of the day with what food and drink I consumed. Before Mini Europe I got french fries, served in a paper cone, with tartar sauce on top. Dinner we got kebabs, which also had french fries inside the wrap. After dinner Josh and I split a box of chocolates- including mocha flavor, Irish coffee, caramel, and fudge. At Delirium that evening, (we became regulars this visit), I got a cookie beer, and a beer that is only brewed during full moons. I had no option but to go to bed, or I might have eaten the entire city.
I left off with a bus ride back to Edinburgh from St. Andrews. After our quality time on the bus, we went to the Royal Mile to get dinner. We had bought tickets for a ghost tour in advance, and since that didn’t start until 10pm, we spent our free time at a pub. A lot restaurants close early in Edinburgh, so we ended up at the World Famous (?) Frankenstein’s. It was strange. We ate dinner on the top floor, which was a semi circle that looked down on the first floor/ dance floor. The music was blaring, the waiter made our waters with red dye, and we were smushed in a tiny tiny booth. I got mac n’ cheese though, for the first time since I’ve been abroad, so I was happy. After we finished eating we decided to join the weird party downstairs. We had a few more drinks, watched guys come in dressed up in suits and fake mustaches, and danced to early 2000′s hits. Then, it was time for the ghost tour. We heard the tales of Edinburgh ghosts, as well as haunting incidents that had happened on past tours as we were led through back city streets. We even got to go underground in the vaults, one of the most haunted places in Europe according to BBC. I didn’t have any paranormal encounters, which is probably for the best.
Sunday we checked out of our hostel, and made our way to Holyroodhouse Palace. Before the palace we did some Harry Potter sightseeing. We had breakfast at The Elephant House, where J.K. Rowling wrote. I had a delicious mocha and piece of quiche. Then we walked through the near by Greyfriar’s Cemetery, where the real Tom Riddle is buried. Someone had even left a Harry Potter movie at the foot the grave, it was really cool to see.
At the Palace we did the audio tour as we walked through the rooms. It was great to see because the Queen still uses the palace when she visits Scotland, and there was a lot of history about Mary Queen of Scots. We also got to tour the abbey ruins and the palace gardens. Another palace, another trip.
Arthur’s Seat was our next task. Arthur’s Seat is a giant inactive volcano behind the palace. The whole trip we had been training for this hike, between Calton Hill and the shores of St. Andrews. It was the biggest and best view. Once we were at the top we sat on a cluster of rocks and ate some snacks, while looking out at the Edinburgh skyline. I couldn’t believe we were even higher than the Edinburgh Castle. The palace looked like a dollhouse, and Calton Hill looked like the bunny slope. We hung out at the top for a while before starting the climb down. At the base of the Seat we got celebratory ice cream, and enjoyed the level land. Our bus didn’t leave until 10:30pm that night, so we had time to relax.
We filled the time at a cafe and a pub before braving the bus station. The ride back wasn’t pleasant, but it’s over now. Scotland was another great trip. I’ve gotten so used to traveling to different countries, as Scotland was my 4th trip out of England. Each trip functions smoother than the last, and I find myself missing the places I’ve been…this experience is going fast. Tomorrow morning I leave for Brussels. I’ll be there for 5 days, including Easter. There’s a giant group on this trip! When we first booked it was 6 of us, and now we’re at 10. I think it’s going to be interesting and exciting traveling with all those people, as all my trips thus far have been 4 or 3 of us. We have big plans for Brussels, including karaoke and a visit to The Chocolate Museum. I can’t think of a better way to spend Easter Break.