Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Skating down Abbey Road

Last Friday was a really fun day. It was a nice relief to get away from the center and finals for a few hours and do something exciting. First a huge group of us went to Abbey Road. It was such a good time. After a lengthy tube ride and wandering down some streets we finally arrived. It was really cool. There was the actual crosswalk they used and the official Abbey Road Studios.

First we signed the wall in front of the studio. That was a lot of fun. It was cool to see how many signatures have accumulated on it over the years, and what all of them said. A lot of people quoted John Lennon, Beatles songs, and other well known words. I went for simplicity and just decided to write my name. Classic right? I thought so. All the other girls had fun signing the wall too. It was after this that we decided we better cross the crosswalk...


It was pretty embarrassing to behave like complete tourists. After living here for over 3 months I've kind of taken pride in the fact that I now behave like a Londoner. However, there are just some things that can't be helped and this was one of them. You could tell that the cars who drove on that street are completely aware that the crosswalk has frequent visitors. They always stopped and had this look on their face like "here we go again". And of course you can never get the shot you want the first time around. We had to go back and forth a good four or five times before we were satisfied. It was a lot of fun, just totally touristy. I was happy with the results though.

Later that afternoon we had another fun activity in store. A group of us decided to go ice skating at the Somerset House! Cath and I have been wanting to do that since we heard about it in September so we were really excited. It didn't disappoint either. I had a blast! I admit I'm a terrible ice skater, but I still love it. I just held onto anyone in sight so I wouldn't fall over. The rink was quite the site too. They decorated it with a "Tiffany's" theme so everything was Tiffany Blue, and the gift shop was even shaped as a big Tiffany's Box. I couldn't get enough of it. We got a good 45 minutes of ice skating in before our time was up. By the time it was over I had gotten pretty good too. It was just so much fun because it made it finally feel like Christmas in London and took my mind off of all the school stress I had been feeling. Plus, it pretty much completed my list of "Must Do's" in London! Perfect!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Reese Witherspoon strolling through the halls of Parliament.

On Wednesday our group went on a tour of Parliament. It was a really good time. We started the day by getting our own personal photo badges to enter the building. However, we weren't actually aware of the pictures being taken so the result was an assortment of awkward faces strewn across all our badges. It was pretty entertaining to see what everyone's looked like. In mine I've got a nice half-blink going on, and due to my shortness I'm halfway out of the screen... priceless. The guard that took Laura's picture told her that Reese Witherspoon was in the building that morning and to keep a close eye out. We were all hoping for a glimpse of her somewhere in the halls. Well we didn't have to look far or wait too long because while we were waiting in the entry hall to start the tour who should walk by us but REESE! It was the strangest experience. All the sudden there she was just strolling on past us. I admit I felt a little starstruck. She looked just like she does in the movies. See famous person in London--Check! It took me a minute to focus in on the tour after that, but eventually I got there and found it all really interesting. I learned that the Queen had been there just 2 weeks previously to open Parliament, and that they still keep to every tradition no matter how long it has existed. I think that is so cool. It really is still so structured, orderly, and exact from the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. We even got to watch the Speakers of the House enter at 11am. It was a very formal affair including silence, and the removal of hats. At the end of the tour we took a group picture on the stairs. It was a really fun activity!

Nutcracker smacker

On Monday night Laura, Ann, Abs, and I went to the Nutcracker. I have a special bond with the Nutcracker because of the 6 years I actively performed in it when I was younger. While this version was different it wasn't any less satisfying. It was actually quite delightful! In London they have a professional dancer play Clara and she was beautiful. She had the most amazing feet. I loved watching her. The Sugar Plum Fairy, and the Nutcracker Prince were amazing as well. The whole production was just perfect. We saw it on December 1 and I think it was exactly what I needed to kick off the holiday season. At the end I think they knew we liked it because the bows went on for almost as long as the ballet. It was a little ridiculous. Like with Sleeping Beauty it got me really excited to take ballet next semester! I'm so happy we went. It was a great night!

Happy Thanksgiving Back...

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving and it was a great day! Abs and I started it off with a morning run. It was a beautiful day... not a cloud in the sky. That was definitely something to be grateful for. At 11am Ann, Lauren, Cath, and I headed down to St. Paul's Cathedral. Every year they put on a Thanksgiving Service for all the Americans in London. It was really, really great. We sung "Come Thou Fount", and "America the Beautiful" and an American Reverend gave a really nice talk. It really brought the spirit of Thanksgiving to life. The best part about the service? When we got back it was time for our feast! I didn't eat all day so that I would be hungry for JaeLyn's food and I was not disappointed. We had turkey, mashed potatoes, rolls, stuffing, rice, and vegetables. The stuffing was particularly outstanding. And for dessert we had pumpkin pie and chocolate chip pie. Both were delicious, but I have to say that the pumpkin pie was especially tasty. I literally could not get enough of it. After we managed to tear ourselves away from the servery we decided to watch a little "Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" and take a nice afternoon nap. I fell asleep almost instantly and woke up so refreshed. That night Abs, Ann, Lauren, Cath, and I went to "New Moon". I'd been wanting to see it since it came out so I was so excited! It was so much fun. We all wore our new Oxford sweatshirts and took some pictures with the posters. Cath and I are devoted to Edward while Abs, Ann, and Laur prefer Jacob. I loved the movie. It brought a lot of happiness to my day. When we got back I'm not sorry to say that we enjoyed some more pumpkin pie before heading to bed. Thanksgiving will definitely go down as a favorite day here in London!

The ABC's of Gratitude: London Version
A- Apples
B- Borough Market
C- Covent Garden
D- Double decker buses
E- Eiffel Tower
F- Friends
H- Hyde Park
I- Ireland
J- JaeLyn's Cooking
K- Ketchup

L- London Eye
M- Marks & Spencer
N- Notting Hill
O- Open Markets
P- Palace Court
Q- Queensway
R- Rainy Days
S- Skype
T- Tea Time
U- Underground
V- Victoria Line
W- Whole Wheat Crackers
X- Xcellent shows
Y- York
Z- Zizii's

Oxford College

Last Wednesday our group spent the day at Blenheim Palace and Oxford college. It was freezing cold, and the weather wasn't great, but we still managed to have a lot of fun. The Palace was really neat. It is still used today so there were Christmas decorations everywhere. They said you can tell when the Duke is in because his Land Rover will be parked in the driveway and the butler will be properly dressed. He wasn't there this day, but I thought it was a funny way of revealing if he was home or not. I also learned that Winston Churchill was born here. Very cool. I really enjoyed it. After our tour we had some time to wander in the gardens. The grounds were amazing. It looked like they went on forever. They had lakes, and fountains, and gardens, and lawn everywhere. If it hadn't be frigid outside I think I would have taken more time to see it all.

After we left the palace we headed to Oxford. I had the chance to go to Cambridge last summer so I was excited to see Oxford. Of course the second we stepped off the bus it started raining on us. It made us all a little weary to think we had a 90 minute outdoor tour ahead of us. However, we zipped up our coats, put on our gloves, and put on our best faces. Our guide had been working with the university for over 60 years so he really knew what he was talking about. The tour was actually really interesting. Oxford is a complex place that is continuing to grow. I could understand why it is such an elite school to attend. There are 37 colleges in existence now and each one has specific subjects it teaches. One of them, Christchurch, is known for people like C.S. Lewis and Andrew Lloyd Webber attending it. I thought that was really cool. Another cool thing about Oxford? It was where they filmed The Great Hall for the Harry Potter movies! Ann and I kept waiting for him to tell us where exactly that was. It was, of course, at the very end of the tour that he showed us the building. Typically, you have to pay extra to go inside so we only got a picture of the outside, but we decided that was probably better so we didn't ruin the magic of it.

After the tour we had a good 2.5 hours to kill so spent in wandering in and out of shops. Abs, Ann, Cath, Laur, and I inevitably ended up buying the same grey, crew neck, "Oxford" sweatshirts. I love it. We're all going to wear them next semester in our apartment. I can't wait. By the time it was time for the coach to pick us up we were pretty cold and ready to go. We learned that it was to be our last ride on the coach with Tony! I'll miss those days on the back of the bus. Such good memories!
It was a really fun day. I loved Oxford and am really glad we got to go there.

Paris: Practically Perfect in Every Way, Day 5

Saturday was our last day in Paris. We decided to enjoy the day and do everything we hadn't done yet. First, however, we had to sneak out of that darn hotel one more time. Once again we were successful and it was a relief to know that I won't have to do that anymore. From there we decided to drop our bags at the train station before actually beginning our day. It took us a good half hour to actually find the place to store our bags and then another ten minutes to find out way out, but we managed. From there we went in search of the "Moulin Rouge". We knew the general location so we decided to go from there. Everyone kept telling us to keep heading down the street so we did. The area was getting sketchier and sketchier so I was pretty sure we were in the right place. After about ten minutes we arrived. I'd have to say that the movie makes it appear much cooler than it is. However, it's still cool to say we've seen the official Moulin Rouge.

After that we were starving so we decided to return to our favorite crepe place by Notre Dame and get some lunch crepes.  Today Cath and I decided we better share ours. We ordered a chicken and cheese one again and he made it huge! It was just as delicious as before. I still consider it one of the better meals I've had in my life. With happy tummies we wandered along the river for a little bit before heading over to the Eiffel Tower. It was fun to see it in the day time. It's like a completely different structure. Because they do have the best in town, we couldn't resist picking up some dessert crepes. Cath and I shared a banana-coconut-nutella one. And yes, that was 2 crepes in the span of about 2.5 hours, but it was our last day...we had to splurge. We weren't in any hurry so we just wandered down the way to get some fun pictures in front of the tower. It was a fun little photo shoot. We made sure to get plenty of pictures. At one point a group of boys hopped in our picture that were dressed in spandex, feather boas, and wearing masks. We asked them what it was about and they said, "Initiation". Possibly Paris' version of Greek Row? It was pretty funny.

As we got further down the lawn we got a little more creative. First we took some pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower throwing leaves into the air. We found it worked pretty good when you set the camera on "continuous". (Although you then end up with about 50 pictures in the span of 5 seconds.) It was a lot of fun to see us throwing the leaves from start to finish like in a flip-book. After leaf throwing we started the jumping pictures. Those were fun too. My dad made the comment that you could track mine and Catherine's life together in jumping pictures, and he's probably right. We just love it.

After saying goodbye to old Eiffel for the last time we headed over the Gallery Lafayette. It is a huge department store in Paris. When I say huge, I mean huge. Plus, it was jam packed. I'm guessing that a Saturday afternoon during the holiday season is a busy time for the French. However, we had a goal in mind. Cath and I each wanted to get Longchamp purses. We'd seen them all over London and Paris and I really liked them. I decided that it would be my Paris Purchase Memory. After waiting in line to even get into the Longchamp section I picked one out. I went with black and was very happy with my purchase.

It was feeling pretty claustrophobic in that store so we left and went to the Champs Elysees for the last time. We had a lot of time on our hands so we took our time strolling in and out of all the shops. It was a lot of fun, but I was definitely feeling the exhaustion of all we had done in 5 days. We went in Sephora, Nike, Haagen Daaz, and the candy shop for the last time. When it was time we headed back to the train station. I was really excited to get back to London for our last 3 weeks. I love love loved Paris though! It is still one of my very favorite places in the world! I hope I get to go back there soon!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Paris: Practically Perfect in Every Way, Day 4

Friday was a magical day. After all, there is no other way to describe it when you're spending the day at EURODISNEY, in Paris, on Study Abroad, with some of you best friends. MAGICAL. Our decision to go to the place where dreams come true was not done lightly, but after talking to the parents and thinking long and hard about it we realized we'd be crazy not to. I now know it would have been one of my biggest regrets of this experience. I know this because I had the time of my life on this magical day.

We woke up that morning in our tiny hotel room around 8:30am, got dressed, and did our best to sneak out before anyone noticed there were 3 too many bodies in our room. Once again we succeeded. I have to say we've gotten pretty good at this sneaking stuff. For breakfast we grabbed a couple pastries, then we made our way to the metro, and hopped on the train. After about 45 minutes we arrived at Eurodisney. When we got outside the sky couldn't have been bluer, Disneyland couldn't have looked better, and mine and Ann's grins couldn't have been wider. All of us were beyond excited, but for us Disneyland is the best place ever. No exceptions. After buying our tickets we entered the park and walked down "Main Street, USA, Paris". That is literally what the sign said. With maps in hand we headed over to what we thought was the traditional Indiana Jones. We were a tad mistaken. This was Indiana Jones gone wild...we're talking total rollercoaster with loops, spirals, everything. It was hilarious and definitely got our adrenaline pumping. I loved it. Next up--Pirates. This one stuck to the original that we all know and love, however because we're in France the pirates had to speak French of course! That was pretty funny. They sounded so sophisticated. From there we headed to "Peter Pan"! It is one of mine and Laura's personal favorites. I actually think it became a favorite of all of ours when the ship was flying above London. It felt a little bittersweet to think that we'd really be leaving it behind in just a few weeks. I'm not sure I'm ready for that yet.

Next we decided to go on the ever classic Space Mountain. However, once again we were in for quite the surprise. I think in Europe roller coaster laws must be a little looser because I have never been on something like that in my life. It was literally insane. Ann and I were sitting by each other and I don't think we stopped screaming the whole time. We were holding hands too and by the end my fingers were stuck in that position. The whole "space" element was just blackness, and the "mountain" element was just a series of loops, sharp turns, jolts, bumps, and out-of-control speed. All of this isn't to say I didn't have fun because it was a blast. Mixed in with my screams was nonstop laughter, and as soon as we were done I demanded that we go again before we went home. Obviously we were needing a little break after this so we decided to eat at "Pizza Planet" from "Toy Story". So legit. The pizzas were even shaped like Mickey, and we got to meet Woody!  I was very pleased. After lunch we decided to head over to the other park to seek out some more rides. On our way who did we happen to see but Minnie Mouse. For all those who didn't know, Minnie is basically my idol. When we saw her I waved and naturally she greeted me like we were old friends (which we are). It's known throughout Disney that I'm her longest standing fan.

Over at the other park they had Tower of Terror,  and Rockin' Roller Coaster! These are two of my very favorite rides. First we went on Rockin' Roller Coaster and it was a blast. Once again another roller coaster to rattle our brains, but so worth it. Afterwards we headed to Tower of Terror. I forget how much fun that ride is. When we were at the top and had our first free fall I was laughing so hard. I'm not kidding, I was probably floating for a good three seconds. We all came off of it just cracking up. As we were wandering around we caught one of the character shows. It was so great. There were all princesses, Minnie and Mickey, Donald and Daisy, Goofy, Pluto, Sully, Woody and Jessie, Cruella DeVille, and many more. I swear I felt like I was five years old again. The words were once again in French, but I didn't mind. I was just eating it up.

We decided to head back to the other park and catch a few more rides. First, however, I bought myself a Minnie sweater. I couldn't really walk away from Eurodisney without some form of memorabilia could I? Plus, I was freezing cold. But back to the park. We went for the Haunted Manor first. Abs and I rode it together and had a blast. The workers there take their job pretty seriously and wasted no time in scaring us every chance they got. That ride's a great one too because at the end they always send a ghost home with you. It's the best. Next up--Thunder mountain. It was another wild ride. It felt a little like thunder mountain combined with splash mountain, but that's fine by me. I love them both. Abs, Cath, and I went on the teacups next and I have to say that it was the one ride that let me down a little bit. They just didn't have much spin to them. It was too bad.
We ended our magical day with one more go on Space Mountain and a trip on Star Tours. As much as I loved Space Mountain the first time it made us all a little sick the second time around and getting jolted on Star Tours didn't help. Haha, I guess I'm not as young and resilient as I used to be. It's kind of too bad. On our way out we did a little shopping, took some pics, and grabbed some quick dinner in the Disney Village.

It was an amazing day, but it definitely took a lot out of us. I slept most of the train ride back, and as soon as we were back in Paris we headed straight to our hotel, got in our pajamas and gave our feetsies a rest.

I'm so happy we went to EURODISNEY! It was too much fun and one of my favorite memories I've had while here in Europe!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Paris: Practically Perfect in Every Way, Day 3

Today was a really great day in Paris. The weather was perfect and we managed to cram in everything we had planned to do. Lauren and I started the day by checking out of our lovely hotel and meeting Laura, Ann, and Abs to take our bags to Cath's parent's hotel. Our group was leaving that day and we weren't so they said they'd store our bags for us. After we dropped them off we hopped on the Metro and headed for the Musee D'Orsay. It is probably my very favorite museum that I've ever been to. I love all of the art inside of it. It has work by Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, and my favorite, Degas. The sculpture of the young ballet dancer that Degas did is my very favorite piece of art. I just love everything about it, so I was really happy that we got to see it. After we had seen most of the museum we decided to head over to Notre Dame. On the way there we picked up the best crepes of all time. I'm not kidding. I don't think I've ever tasted something so delicious. It was a lunch crepe with chicken and cheese on it. Now while that may sound pretty basic to some of you don't knock it till you try it. It seriously hit the spot in every way possible and I could not have been happier. When we were done with our lunch we headed to Notre Dame.

Notre Dame is such a cool landmark in Paris. We had a really fun time there. When we first got there we decided to take a group picture and as were posing I heard someone come up behind me and say, "You're going to think I'm so weird for this...". I was a little nervous for a second, but when I turned around it was Dr. Soper. I started laughing so hard. He cracks me up. His whole family was there with him so we decided to get a "planned" shot with them. After that humorous moment we decided to climb the tower first. I never realize how high these towers are when I choose to climb them. Every time I get to the top I'm always huffing and puffing. Ann made the comment that Quasi should've been in better shape, and I agree 100%. Disney wasn't accurate about that for sure. When we got to the top it was worth all that heavy breathing. The view was amazing. You could see the whole city and the Eiffel Tower and Sacre-couer. I was loving all the gargoyles too. It's such an interesting structure when you look at all the details included on it. We also got to see the huge bell as well. When I say huge, I mean HUGE too. It took 16 fully grown men to ring it! However, Ann and I felt like if we were hunchbacks we could push it too, no problem. When we got back to the bottom we walked through the inside and then headed to Saint Chapelle.

Saint Chapelle was really cool as well. When you walk in the entire wall is just made of stain glass. I was honestly in awe. The colors and pictures were so detailed, it was unbelievable. Apparently the entire thing tells the story of the Bible from beginning to end. I can't imagine the amount of time and detail that would take. I enjoyed just sitting there for a minute and admiring the glass. I've never seen anything like that before, and I doubt I will ever see something like it again. It was truly a beautiful site.

After that we decided to head to the Rodin Museum. However, first we had to say goodbye to Lauren. She was heading back to London with the rest of the group while we were staying. I wish she could've stayed with us! The Rodin Museum was really cool. I found it to be quite the pleasant surprise. We first walked through the gardens and then the inside. We had a lot of fun in the garden. First we saw "The Thinker". It was a really cool site. I've always heard about it, but to see it up close was amazing. We had fun impersonating the sculptures throughout and doing some funny interviews too. It was just the most beautiful day you couldn't help but be happy. The inside of the museum had some impressive sculptures as well. I really liked his other famous sculpture, "The Kiss". I'm just so happy we decided to take the time to go to that museum!

Next Stop? La' Oragerie. (I told you it was a busy day.) I went to that museum last summer and loved it. It contains some really cool Monet panel paintings. I love them. The colors and images are so pretty. I just enjoyed sitting down for a minute and admiring his brushstrokes and details. We weren't there for very long, but it was just the right amount of time. From there we strolled up the Champs Elysees, picked up some bon bons, and talked about a possible trip to EuroDisney the next day.

To end the night we climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. It was really fun and really cool. I love the view from the top of the Arc. It's so cool to look down and see how all the streets span out from it. It's like a huge and magnificent star. It was pretty cold up there so we didn't last too long, but it was still a good time. We were clearly tired by this time, and I think we deserved to be, so we decided to head back to the hotel. Because it was technically a room for 2 and there were 5 of us we had to be sneaky. Ann and I snuck in together and the others followed soon after. We spent the night watching Gossip Girl on Cath's computer and falling asleep pretty quickly. It was a jam packed, super busy, totally fun, and perfect day!