Posted in Travel

My Last European Jet-Set

The past couple of days, I’ve been extremely reflective, just on my whole journey here and the ways I’ve changed and grown. I only have about 2 1/2 weeks left in England, and I just have a lot of mixed emotions about leaving. I’m very, very excited to come home and see family and friends, but it’s also hard to say goodbye to people and things here! (I will be flying back to Chicago on June 13th)

I’ve also started my “goodbye’s” already, as Ellie flies back to the States this Sunday, and last night was her goodbye dinner. But, enough of the sad and sappy—I should probably give an update on what’s been happening over here. After I got back from Spain, I had a quick turn around to revise for and take 2 exams on Friday, the 20th. This was also the end of my summer module as well. This leaves me with just one more exam to take on June 6th, and that’s all I have left to do, school work-wise. So, as this leaves me with a lot of free time, Ellie and I decided to take one last weekend getaway this past weekend.

We booked this trip on somewhat short notice-just right before we left for Spain. Because of this, all of the hostels in Amsterdam were booked, so we ended up getting an Airbnb in Utrecht, Netherlands. This is a city just a 30 minute train ride away from Amsterdam. We stayed with the most amazing Dutch woman. We flew into Amsterdam on Friday evening, and by the time we got to Utrecht and to our airbnb, it was quite late. But, we managed to go back into Utrecht and hunt down some sushi. Along the way, we also found a super fun lighted tunnel that just screamed, “Take pictures in me!”

We woke up on Saturday feeling much more refreshed than we ever have by staying in a hostel, and our host made us a breakfast fit for (several) Kings! The best tradition of Dutch Breakfast is that they put sprinkles on their toast in the morning, so we thoroughly enjoyed this tradition and came to the conclusion that one simply must be happy if a day is started with sprinkles.

After our wonderful breakfast, we headed into Amsterdam for the day. We wandered around the canals and visited the floating flower markets before meeting up for an afternoon walking tour.

We grabbed a light lunch before starting our tour at a really cute cafe by the floating markets and then headed to the city centre for our free walking tour. Our tour guide was absolutely hilarious! He gave us all of the fun facts and history behind the unique city that is Amsterdam and took us to all of the major sites.

After the walking tour, we paid a visit to the Cheese and Tulip Museums, that were very close to where the tour ended and we wandered around the Jordaan District for awhile.

 

For dinner, we went to this place that our tour guide had recommended that served the typical Dutch dinner. This is a mashed potato of sorts, mixed with veggies such as carrots and kale and then served with a sausage link or meatball. It was delicious!

During our tour, the guide had told us that one of his favorite things to do in the city was to take a canal cruise, so we definitely wanted to give that a try. So, we headed to the canals and hopped on a cruise to learn even more about the city and enjoy seeing it from a different angle. We ended our day by going to a little pub under one of the windmills in the city before heading back to our little place in Utrecht.

 

Sunday morning was interesting. We had planned on getting up early to get to the Anne Frank House before it opened. However, we found out on the day that we would have had to reserve a spot in advance. So, we ended up changing our plans completely and just doing something random. We had heard that there was a castle about 30 minutes outside of Utrecht’s city centre, so we wanted to find it. However, this was also proving difficult, but we finally decided to just go for it. We ended up on the outskirts of Utrecht and then found ourselves on this rural path in search for this castle. Thankfully, we did find it (and some cows), and we shared a lot of laughs on the way…

To add to the humour of our morning, it ended up that there was an Italian Fair going on at the castle, so there were vendors of all kinds covering the castle grounds. So, in addition to visiting the castle, we also got to try all kinds of yummy Italian wines, olive oils, and bread!

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The castle itself is absolutely breathtaking. It is surrounded by a moat and is still fully furnished, in 1920’s glory. It was rebuilt by a rich dude in the 1800s to resemble the Medieval glory that it once had and it is truly a jewel in the middle of rural Netherlands. The splendor of it can’t quite be captured, but here’s the best I could do:

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After our castle adventures, we headed back into Utrecht and decided to finish off our day by going to Rotterdam, which is another city in the Netherlands. It was completely bombed out in World War 2, so it is a very new and modern city now. The architecture there is amazing, as demonstrated by their market and Cube Houses.

Oh, also…I love Stroopwafels. They are a super unhealthy Dutch food that is caramel sandwiched between 2 hard waffles. They are usually bought as little circles that can be warmed over a cup of tea and eaten with warm, melty caramel, but in the Netherlands, you can also buy them as street food, in a huge waffle, and heated up, so they are already oozing with caramel.

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This was such a fun and contrasting day of seeing really old and really new architecture in the same country and even though we had a lot of frustrations with things being closed, plans not working, and trains and buses taking us the wrong way, we ended up having a really wonderful day and it was probably my favorite day there!

On Monday, we were set to take a bike tour to the Dutch countryside to see some windmills and a cheese and clog farm. It turned out, like the rest of the weekend, that Monday was quite rainy and cold, but we were still ready to brave the elements for the sake of cheese and biking. And, I’m so glad we did. It was so much fun to join in on the Dutch lifestyle of cycling and be able to get out to the country again.

We learned that there are way more bikes than cars in the country and that it’s actually a really safe and efficient way to get around. (Bonus points for their carbon reduction as well!) As we were going, I said to Ellie, “We’ve now seen almost the entire country of the Netherlands by almost every transportation method possible—boat, bus, train, bike, and foot.”

When we got to the clog and cheese farm, the farmer was absolutely hilarious! He speaks 50 languages and he’s the corniest guy I’ve ever met. He pulled me aside and told me that he picks one pretty girl out of every tour group to engrave a pair of clogs for, so he picked me and engraved my clogs and then took a picture with me and then told me to post it to “make the boys jealous.”

Anddd..there’s a picture of our bike tour, complete with our long ponchos. We kind of looked like a Harry Potter gang, flying around the city on bikes and capes, but it’s fine-we were warmer and dryer for it. By the time we got back to town, it was about 3 pm, so Ellie and I were naturally, quite starving. We had this amazing lunch at a cute little cafe and rested our tired bodies for a bit.

 

After lunch, we decided to tour the Heineken brewery in Amsterdam, which was nearby. It was really cool to go through the experience and see how it differed to the Guinness tour in Dublin, as well.

After this, we weren’t quite hungry for dinner yet, so we wandered through some parks and streets and took some cliche pictures of the Amsterdam sign.

We ended our last night with some yummy Dutch-Indonesian food in a tiny restaurant called “The Pantry” that was literally the size of a pantry. It was a great way to end our lovely weekend!

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On Tuesday, we said a hasty goodbye to our little Utrecht and then headed home to get a much needed break from traveling. I’m very much enjoying my comfortable little Lancaster and a break from living out of a backpack.

 

 

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Posted in Travel

Sunshine & Sangria

Most people don’t know this, but I originally wanted to study abroad in Spain. It was kind of my “dream location” because I love the Spanish language and culture and I’ve spent several years studying it. Well, it didn’t really work out for me to do this with my major, so I ended up in England—and I of course love the experience I’ve had!

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The Streets of Seville

However, I did get to have a small piece of my dream come true two weekends ago! Ellie and I went to Seville & Valencia, Spain for a five day break in between exams.

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La Plaza de España

We started our weekend with a short stint in London, because we flew out of there on Saturday night. That gave us enough time to explore a different side of London than I had been before. We spent a lazy Saturday strolling through some art markets and enjoying a yummy brunch before catching an 8 pm flight to Seville.

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We landed in Seville shortly before midnight, and since Spain is on such a laid-back time, we enjoyed a nice stroll to our hostel from the bus stop. We were able to get a good night’s sleep at our kitsch hostel before starting our Spanish adventure on Sunday.

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We started every day in Spain with the best, freshly-squeezed orange juice I’ve ever had and of course, amazing lattes. After breakfast on Sunday, we headed straight to La Plaza de España. This is a huge plaza that has amazing architecture elements that seem to have no literal point. It was basically built to show off the mixing of art styles for a World Fair in 1928. I’ll just let the photos do the talking for this one, though:

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So this plaza alone was everything I could have asked to see in Spain, but our adventure in Sevilla wasn’t over yet. We spent the afternoon visiting Sevilla’s Cathedral, which is the largest gothic cathedral and the 3rd largest church in the world!

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It’s no wonder that it took us about three hours to wait in line and go through the church. It was incredible though, definitely a worthwhile experience!We even climbed the 36 flights to get to the top of the tower to enjoy some breathtaking views of the city!

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And because we hadn’t seen enough beauty for one day, we spent the early evening going through The Royal Alcázar of Seville. This was a royal palace and it was filled with spectacular gardens and beautiful interior as well.

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We learned that Spain has a very large mix of cultural influences, incorporated in its architecture. The Moorish influence was really evident in this palace, as they had heavy influence on Southern Spain for a long period of time!

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Ellie and I commented to each other, “Well, we’re just not going to take pictures anymore, because everything is too pretty.” This really was true!

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After taking a short siesta, we got ready for dinner and walked to what’s called Metropol Parasol. They’re otherwise known as “The Mushrooms” for resembling the fungi, and it is one of the biggest pieces of wooden structure in the world, because all of the little slats in it are actually wood. We enjoyed walking around on the top and seeing the city from yet another perspective!

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After a full and happy day, we ended our big day with some well-earned tapas!

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After such a busy day on Sunday, we kind of decided to have a slower day on Monday. We did some window shopping in the morning and then went to see La Torre del Oro in the afternoon. It was a really hot day, so we ended up just lazily strolling by the river for the afternoon and evening.

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For dinner, we enjoyed another round of tapas and enjoy them we did. I think we ended up ordering 11 different tapas to split between us! Thankfully, they’re only about 2 euros each!

On Tuesday morning, we flew to Valencia early in the morning. By the time we had arrived and checked in to our hostel, it was only 10 am, so we were able to catch a free walking tour of the city at 11.  We learned a lot about Valencia’s history and got to see their large market and cathedral. Their cathedral supposedly is host to the cup that Jesus drank from at the Last Supper.

 

We also learned that Valencia is famous for its Paella, so of course we indulged in that!

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Now, my favorite part about both of the cities we visited was just how underrated they are. Everyone talks about going to Madrid and Barcelona, and so we didn’t have a ton of expectations coming in, which is what I think made seeing the unexpected surprises even more beautiful. So on Tuesday afternoon, we had another one of these occurrences. We had learned on our tour that Valencia had this really cool Science museum at the other end of town, if we just followed the park until we got to it. So, we set out to find this.

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But first, we had to stop for a quick look at the tower gates to the city. So the cool thing about Valencia’s park is, it’s actually the biggest park in Europe, but it’s really interesting. They used to have flooding issues throughout the city, so they damned the river to avoid this problem. But instead of just letting the riverbed set, they turned it into a massive, city-wide green space. So, their park is like a giant twisting river through the city! It took us almost an hour to walk to the museum, but it was so cool to walk through, because the park is full of locals working out, and just enjoying the weather.

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But all of this beauty didn’t prepare us for the “museum.” I hesitate to call it this, because the outside of it alone is just breathtaking. It felt like we had stepped into another world!

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The funny thing is, these pictures don’t even do this place justice! It was just stunning and other-worldly feeling!

After seeing the museum, we had a tiring walk back to the city centre, where we enjoyed another well-deserved dinner. We flew home Wednesday morning to get back in time for my two exams on Friday! It was a crazy, fast whirlwind of a weekend, but it was so enjoyable.

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Posted in Travel

Wales, that was fun

This was one of those trips that I don’t think anyone else will have experienced. It was the most random days I’ve ever had, but it turned out to be one of the best days ever, too!

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This past Saturday, Catherine, American Victoria, and I traveled to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales. I’ll just let that sink in for a second.  With 58 characters to its name, this small village in Wales claims the longest named town in all of Europe and the second longest in the world. There’s not a whole lot here, but it’s all about what you make of the trip!

We started our day by collecting a variety of pictures at the old rail station, just posing with the long sign. We tried our hand at learning the pronunciation and can say the first and last bit. (Clenfairpoo and Go, Go, Gochh!)

The name means: Parish [church] of [St.] Mary (Llanfair) [in] Hollow (pwll) of the White Hazel [township] (gwyn gyll) near (go ger) the rapid whirlpool (y chwyrn drobwll) [and] theparish [church] of [St.] Tysilio (Llantysilio) with a red cave ([a]g ogo[f] goch)

-Thanks, Wikipedia

After posing for a billion pictures, we set off to walk around a bit and we discovered a “coastal path.” However, this path is hard-pressed to include the word “coastal.” You see, we actually ended up wandering for almost 3 hours through random sheep fields in the middle of nowhere until we actually found any sign of “coast”

However, we managed to have quite the good time, regardless of the random path and we found some adventures along the way. I attempted to climb this tree, but due to my height, the tree beat me this time. My arms are still paying for this decision.

 

By the time we found water, it was 2 pm and considering we gotten up at 5 am and eaten breakfast at 7, we were starving! And, to our dismay, when we got to the edge of the coast, it turned out that all of the restaurants were on the other side of the channel, so we knew that we would have to walk all the way back until we could get food. It was also at this time that it started to rain as we trudged along back to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

We decided to take a slightly different path back, and I’m so glad that we did, because along the way, we happened to run into a National Trust site and we were able to grab some lunch in the tea room there! And, as it happens, as we walked outside after eating our lunch, the sun was bright and shining, matching our moods. By the time we got back, it was about time to catch our train back to Lancaster. We were left with sore feet, smiling faces, and happy hearts from a day well-spent.

 

 

Posted in Travel

My Cheeks Hurt from Smiling

This weekend was one for the books. Today was a Bank Holiday, which meant no classes, and also meant a longgg weekend. And though I stayed within a 30 mile radius of campus, I had a really great time. There were actually several things happening at once, so juggling all of this was in itself an accomplishment to be noted.

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Lake Windermere Lake Cruise

First, this weekend was the release of the Captain America: Civil War movie in the UK. Now, this may seem like just a small and passing event to most humans, but considering that my favorite Furness flat and I have been talking about this event for almost a month, we were pretty excited about this! Rightly so, we booked our tickets a month in advance and planned our entire weekend around seeing the movie on Friday.

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Grainy Theatre Pic for the win

This weekend was also Roses Weekend! Roses is an annual sports competition between Lancaster University and the University of York. It’s apparently the largest inter-university sports tournament in Europe. The name “Roses” comes from the 15th Century civil war, The Wars of the Roses, which was fought between the House of Lancaster and the House of York. Each year, the venue changes between Lancaster Uni and York, and this year, it was held at Lancaster. This was lucky for me, so I was able to join in on the fun!

 

I started out my Roses fun on Friday morning, where I was able to see my first cricket match. I only caught the very end and barely understood what was happening, but I’d like to watch another some time! In the afternoon, I caught a bit of men’s football (soccer) and attended the big opening ceremony event in the Roses Stadium. This was the Women’s football match. I wasn’t able to stay for the entire time, since I was scooting off for the movie, but it was fun to be in the excitement of the weekend. Even though it is such a big deal here, it was still really weird to see this big weekend and know that it is still smaller than a regular American football game at Purdue.

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After the football match, I headed into town to catch up with Victoria, Victoria, and Catherine and we watched Civil War. It was so much fun and we just had a ton of fun acting like small children and being way too obsessed with the film.

On Saturday, American Victoria and I took on the day to enjoy some more Roses fun. We hopped around to a variety of different matches and got to watch football, American football, and some Rugby. My favorite was watching American football, because it is sooo different here. In fact, they didn’t even have goalposts!

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American Football Match

On Sunday, American Victoria, Catherine, and I went to Windermere, which is just about 30 miles north, in the Lake District. We started off our morning in an interesting manner. After missing two busses and having to call a taxi to just get into town, we finally made it to the train station and found out that due to the Bank Holiday, the trains weren’t running, so we ended up taking a coach bus to Windermere. After getting there, our adventures continued. Soon after we walked off the bus, we witnessed a violent disagreement and called the police. Our day was then delayed as we sorted out the witness details in Windermere. After a long delay to our day, we finally made the hike to Bowness, which is the actual town near the lake.

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Bowness, England

Since it was 2:30, we were starving for lunch, so we first went to the Beatrix Potter tea room and enjoyed a High Tea. The Beatrix Potter museum is near here, because she spent much of her time writing in the Lake District and drew upon its beauty for the inspiration for many of her stories. After that, we took the museum tour and visited the gift shop. It was so much fun to relive my childhood stories in the fictional world.

After our stop here, we went down by the lake. It was extremely rainy and drizzly out and it was also late in the day, so we didn’t figure we had much time to do a lot of exploring, but we did take a little Lake Cruise and enjoyed the beauty from the warmth of the boat.

 

Oh, and I almost forgot the best part about Bowness. They have extremely friendly birds right by the lake, so I made friends with a swan.

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And since we had the day off today, and because we are super nerdy and fun, the squad (Victoria, Victoria, Catherine, and I) went into town again and had a yummy lunch, walked to the Ashton Memorial… and……

…saw Civil War again!! But this time, we bought souvenir cups…

 

So, needless to say, my heart is so full after a wonderful weekend filled with laughs and adventure with some of my favorite people on this planet.

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Posted in Travel

The Everyday

Today, I woke up and realized that I only have one full month left in Lancaster. And I kind of freaked out. It’s a bittersweet feeling. I’m so excited to get home and see everyone I love. But I also can’t help but savor each and every moment that I’m here. And the thought of saying goodbye to my English friends nearly breaks my heart. But, I didn’t start writing to make you sad, so I’ll get on with the update.

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It’s been quite awhile since I’ve updated my blog, as my last post was when I arrived home from Greece. Since then, I’ve made some of the best memories in my time so far, all in the midst of studying for exams in little Lancaster. So in the past two weeks I feel like my abs have hurt from non-stop laughter. I’ve been hanging out with (American) Victoria and her two flatmates, (English) Victoria and Catherine.  I’m so glad I’ve met these wonderful girls.

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American Mikaela, American Victoria, English Catherine, English Victoria

We’ve been going on walks, eating dinner, talking about Marvel movies, soaking up the rare sunny days, and just generally acting like children.

Last week, I had my first exam here at Lancaster. It was very different, because I literally just sat in a desk and wrote until my hand cramped up for two straight hours. I really have no idea how I did, but I did my best. I also am now halfway through my four week summer class on Biodiversity. It’s been relatively easy and the labs are pretty enjoyable! Of course, it’s always a day brightener to go play on a playground with my favorite people after a long day of revision, too!

Lancaster is known for having bright sunny days and then just suddenly getting a burst of rain, which can be confusing to plan a day around, but it also makes for some stunning rainbows when it’s raining while still sunny out. I snatched this picture on one of my walks last week!

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And here’s just some more photos of me doing life in Lancaster over the past two weeks. Not that it’s anything special, but it has been really special to me!

Considering that 80% of my time abroad has been spent in these little moments at Lancaster University, I thought it was about time to document the little moments that have put a smile on my face and made this experience such a life-changing and memorable time.