While I rarely spend even a full week in London at one time, the days I am there are usually spent wisely. In between riding the tube to class and writing papers at the University library, I squeeze in London time and soak it all up as much as possible. I spent 5 weekends straight away from London, but found plenty of time to explore in between.
For one, after returning from Adventure Weekend my flatmates and I celebrated an elaborate American holiday… that known as Halloween. Not to be diluted by Britain’s lack of holidays, we dressed our best and had an in-house party, “trick-or-treating” between each of the 20+ rooms. Each person’s room had a different theme and shot… ours for example were complete with a whip cream splash in your face! We had Barbie and Ken, a nerd and gym teacher, the Village People, three blind mice, a banana, a cow, hippie, USA and UK, and a cross-dresser to top it off. Also in lieu of the 2008 Presidential election, we had our very own Barack Obama, John McCain, and Sarah Palin. Our crazy shot party was complete with snacks and decorations.. and a late drunken night. We showed London!
Another notable London event was the Globe Theatre tour I took where we were shown the intricate replica of Shakespeare’s playhouse itself lining the River Thames. It was educational but failed to leave a big impression. I also enjoyed a top-line play called ‘6 Characters in Search of an Author’. It was a dark, bizarre, creepy but cool rendition of a unique script and great acting. We got to meet the actors afterwards and discuss their methods. I also discovered a new bar ‘Roadhouse’ which reminds me of a biker bar in the Midwest, but has a fun crowd and good music.
Millenium Bridge looking at the Tate
Another day in London I took the tube down to Piccadilly Circus to munch on a Cinnabon and people-watch, then stare at Big Ben for a while, and go on a solo trip down to Millenium Bridge and the Tate Modern Museum. I spent hours roaming the massive museum exposing myself to some strange art, some beautiful art, and some dumb art to be frank.
Another cloudy weekday I decided to somewhat spontaneously leave my cozy room and tube it to Buckingham Palace. I sipped Starbucks coffee with the Queen (not), and spent some quality journaling time on a park bench in Hyde Park.
Finally, a bar/restaurant we have discovered in Notting Hill, Tex Mex, is definitely worth mentioning. The Mexican food is delicious, we have become regulars and be-friended the bartender Sam and watress Maria, and they give us free drinks every time we show our obnoxious American selves! The best part of Tex Mex is the insane list of fancy three-layered shots that goes on to over 200 types! They are delicious and strong - a great mix when needed after a jam-packed day fighting the city...
Seven weeks in and loving it! After Barcelona came our planned and completely paid-for Adventure Weekend (part of our Butler study abroad program) amidst the rural beauty of of Northern England... but not without some London fun in between. During the week, I saw (for my theatre class) the Broadway play "No Man's Land". It was by far the strangest, most awkward play about nothing! Thank goodness I snuck some Carlsberg brew inside... The only good part was the star, Michael Gambon - more famously known as DUMBLEDORE!! - was outside the theatre afterwards and I happened to run into him. I got a signature on my ticket stub, a polite conversation, and a fabulous picture with him! (Big Harry Potter fan - so this was cool). That night a bunch of us partied at 'Walkabout', an Australian bar which boasts good drink deals and dancing. Another night out followed where my friend Megan and I partied American-style at Roadhouse, and then a club sipping my new favorite drink, Pims. On my day off Thursday, I did laundry and explored the Royal Kensington Gardens at sunset. I took pictures of the lovely scenery made up of swans, lakes, and luscious trees. I even (finally) found the famous Peter Pan statue - it was beautiful and peaceful. After skyping Tom that night for 3 hours and getting NO sleep, I hopped on a bus to Adventure Weekend at 8am --- another trip to a place unknown!
The study abroad coordinators introduced Adventure Weekend in one of the first orientation meetings, and I had been looking forward to it ever since. We would be taken out to the rural United Kingdom and stay in a massive cabin amongst the hills - being fed gourmet meals three times a day, two nights of open bar, and the best part -- dozens of "adventures" to choose from! From rock climbing and mountain biking to dragon boating and gorge scrambling.. it was tough to choose just two! So Friday morning Xanthy and I scored the back seat bench where I basically slept and ate candy the entire 7 hour ride. Upon arrival, we met other study abroad students and were introduced to Glaramara - our gorgeous cabin tucked into the woods, where we would stay with roomates. We sipped cold cider beers, enjoyed a massive gourmet dinner, and played trivia games by the fire. Our tight-knit group, "the Pembridge Playaz" got the best hookup by staying in the cabin itself and getting first dibbs on everything. We stayed up late telling ghost stories like childred...
Saturday came the ADVENTURE. I was happy to get my first pick, Gorge Scrambling. What is that!? Well, I wasn't sure - but as we traded our PJ's for rubber jumpsuits, helmets, and "wellies" (huge water-boots), we knew we were in for something crazy. That we were -- we climbed up a mountain in the deep gorge and trenches of waterfalls, slippery rocks, and intense rushing water. We were exhausted from the trecherous climb complete with swimming under logs, jumping off rocks and a bridge, and army-crawling through a coffin-sized tunnel. It was amazing and GORGEous! No pun intended...
I barely had time to dry off and digest my lunch as the next adventure was calling my name -- this time Abseiling down a slippery, completely vertical cliff held only by a rope. I was surprised at my nerves before my first descent, but quickly got the hang of it and was trying out spiderman moves and huge jumps as I repelled down the cliff time after time.
The hearty dinner and shower was much appreciated, and then it was time for disco night. The open bar was amazing - I sipped wine and cold draft beers, and we danced with fellow study-abroaders. The end of the night found me flipping around for my friends drunkenly on the hardwood floor - I guess I felt safer doing that after repelling down a cliff...
On Sunday, (after chasing some lambs outside our cabin - they won), we packed up and got back on the bus - this time stopping at Keswick, an adorable little town for a few hours. A few of us explored the charming town and shopped, had an afternoon tea at a lovely English shop, and tried delicious homemade fudge. Then it was back on the bus for the long trip home_ and a few movies later we were back in London.
I must mention, (if I can even capture in words), the beauty that encompassed our cabin this weekend. The mountains and hills were greener than anything I've seen_ dotted with white and black sheep grazing the rolling hills. Four Hundred year-old stone walls standing a few feet tall engulfed the landscape winding up and down the hills, in between waterfalls and fall-colored trees. Tiny old English-style homes were dispersed amongst the landscape every once and a while, with white walls and stone roofs - their chimneys releasing smoke into the air. It was peaceful, natural, and completely opposite of the city -- a perfect weekend getaway.
After returning from Ireland, it was another fun-filled week in London complete with musicals and shopping. One night, a huge group of us scored free tickets to the hit musical 'Dirty Dancing', a feel-good rendition of the classic with fun choreography, sets, singing, and dancing. We proceeded to dance the night away at one of our favorite hotspots, 'Sports Cafe', where Tailur, Cat and I had a three-person drinking contest involving rather strong pitchers of Long Island iced tea. We soaked up the drinks with greasy burgers and fries reminiscent of good old USA at our favorite 24-hour 'kabob' stand in Notting Hill.
That Thursday was yet another great (and FREE) musical, 'Zorro', which was equally if not more entertaining. The cast was super talented with their live singing and dancing, and some pretty impressive on-stage combat. Cat and I later ventured to the famous and luxurious HARROD's. The decadent department store full of designer shop after shop and restaurants/food galour embodies European opulence and glamour. We of course just looked, secretly wishing we were millionaires, and followed it off with another fun night out at an emptied Church-turned-bar in the heart of London.
That Friday I flew to Barcelona -- it was BEAUTIFUL. There is no better word to describe this exciting city in the heart of Spain. I arrived at night, got my bearings and found our gorgeous modern apartment for the weekend, a step away from the usual hostel-living. With three bedrooms, a family room, dining area, and kitchen, this place was a steal - located on a chic street above high fashion designer stores right on the Passeige de Gracia.
First things first, a drink to celebrate! After freshening up, I met up with fellow flatmates for a glass of wine - then out to the bars we went. Tonight we explored the Spanish club scene at a place called Catwalk, (ladies got in free while the boys had to fork over 20 euro). Over ten of us Americans busted out our best moves on the techno, florescent-light dance floor. It was a crazy night complete with a 4am walk down the beach...
The next morning I woke up in a city I knew nothing about - eager to learn more! I walked around aimlessly for a while with Xanthy on the Passeige de la Gracia, a bustling street with outdoor restaurants, cute shops, and gorgeous buildings. The crowning and intricate detail on the balconies, windows, and tops of the buildings in Barcelona entertained me everywhere I went. The buildings are so old that they portray a unique elegance unlike those found in the States. Xanthy and I learned the 'Metro' with ease, and bought 12-ticket passes to use the entire stay. (Thanks to my Spanish lessons throughout highschool! Surprisingly my Spanish came back to me pretty easily while in Spain, proving very useful for our group as I was the only one who understood anything). After picking up some medicene for Xanthy's pink eye (ew) at a local Pharmicia, it was time for what I had been most excited about... hitting the beach!
Soaking in the sun with my toes in the soft sand was perfection. I spent the day with friends laying out, nibbling on fresh coconut, and enjoying the sound of the ocean. As Pearson and I body-surfed in the salty blue waters of the ocean, I turned around and took in the beautiful mountainous city adorned with colorful homes and lines of palm trees. It was a moment I will never forget - I felt so lucky to be experiencing this time in my life, knowing my frigid-cold familiar college town was miles away and I was virtually on a vacation.
After getting my fix of the sun - I set out with Xanthy to explore more of the city. We wasted an hour trying to rent a Moped, until realizing a significant problem - I cannot drive a moped. We also could not figure out how to rent bicycles off these fancy racks all around the city - later learning you needed a special card. So we explored on foot, dolled up for the night, and had ten fellow flatmates over at our apartment for cheese and wine. Then we found an outdoor fancy restaurant where a couple of us dined on traditional Spanish tapas... yum! Tonight, it was off to a place unlike any I had been.
'Espito Chupitos' was a shot bar boasting a wall with hundreds of names of shots - each one with a crazy twist. While there, I saw the entire bar light on fire several times, (once for our "Harry Potter" shot where you drink as the glass is on fire). I also tried a S'mores shot where you roasted a marshmallow on your burning shot, dipped it in the alcohol, and drank; a shot where alcohol fumes were captured underneath the glass and you sucked them with a straw; one that changed color three times; a tirimisu shot with actual cake on top, and more! I could have gone on and on - pending an unlimited alcohol tolerance.
The next day was my last, and I decided to stay until late at night unlike some of my peers. There was still so much to see! Tailur, Natalie, Xanthy, and I got tickets to a tour bus and off we went, (despite the unfortunately foggy weather). I think I should start here by introducing Antoni Gaudi, (if you are not already familiar). Gaudi is one of the world's most famous and studied architects, born in 1852, died in 1926. His buildings are works of art, and incredibly appealing, innovative, and unique. The curvy walls, intricate windows and statues, and childlike colors are dream-like. Seven of Gaudi's works have been made World Heritage Sites, and many refer to him as "God's Architect". Gaudi's masterpieces can be found all around Barcelona - which was one of the main reasons I wanted to come!
His most famous and noteworthy building, the Sagrada Familia, has been being built for over 100 years, and is still under construction. It perks over the city as a watchful eye and was breathtaking to see. I also saw the Casa Ballo (which looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book) and several others of his works while on the bus tour, in addition to the Barcelona football stadium, '92 Olympics site, government headquarters, and more. Then it was time for Xanthy and I to brave the mountain and take a small cable car to the very top where we found a massive castle, and a great view of the city and ocean. Hauling our bags around all day, we were exhausted and re-energized on some tapas before heading to the final stop, Park Guell. The park is another of Gaudi's famous works, and the long trek on foot was well worth it...
Park Guell, symbolized by the large Dragon Fountain at the entry, is a magical place which goes on and on_ you climb up the many levels to explore new works of art, cleverly hidden amongst the nature by Gaudi. There are intricate rock formations in the walls of the mountain, and colorful mosaics adorning the entry and pillars. After taking in the park and amazing view of the city one last time, Xanthy, Megan, and I set out for an 8 hour journey home. I hope to someday return to Spain as it was one of the most enjoyable places I have journeyed to. Adios!
When a few girls in my house approached me with a chance to fly to Ireland for a measly 8 pounds each way, there was no question. “In!” A perfect weekend trip from Thursday to Sunday soon turned into an Irish-themed extravaganza -- 12 of us booked the trip! So our obnoxious group of 12 Americans packed our bags, grabbed our passports, and jumped on the tube-train-airport-bus combo to Dublin. We arrived at night, traded our pounds for Euros, checked in to our 12-bunk hostel room, and celebrated with none other than a traditional Irish pub! The 3-story bar turned out to be less-than-traditional, but I was satisfied with the foam-topped Guinness. (It is true what they say - it tastes completely different and much better in Ireland). A few beers turned into afterhours at a wine bar with new Irish friends. The people here were immediately welcoming, charming, and full of life. (Much more friendly than the city-going Londoners) I couldn't get enough of that Irish accent!
There was no time to rest as we had a lot of city to see the next day. We all shared a quaint breakfast at a little nook downtown, and bought tickets to a bus tour which would take us to the coast on the Southern and Northern tips. Our guide Damien entertained us with his charisma and knowledge, teaching us all about the history of the city. The change from the bustling city to rural coast was gorgeous. Beach after beach, rolling hilltops in the background, and the greenest grass I have ever seen. We stopped at Malahide Castle where we did a tour_ personally I preferred running and cart-wheeling on the endless green grass. I snapped tons of photos, breathed in the fresh sea air, and sadly bid adieu to our tour after a couple of hours. I could already smell the Guinness calling my name…
I had heard good things and couldn’t wait to taste the Irish cuisine, so we settled in an adorable Irish restaurant where we listened to live Irish folk music and filled our bellies with delicious corned beef and cabbage. It was great to satisfy my taste buds after weeks of bland food in London. We washed it down with some brewskies on our night two out on the town. That night turned out insane! It must be all the Irish surrounding us, but our second wind kept us up until the wee hours of the night. Bar hopping on the main street, we danced the night away, and closed down pub after pub. We topped it off by bargaining our way onto a horse-driven carriage ride through the city! Cat, Pearson, Will and I waved at the crowds of people and pretended to be important. As if that wasn’t enough, we found some after-hours club and Pearson, Brock, Xanthy and I were the last ones standing…
The next day a few of us bought hop-on hop-off bus passes to explore the city on our own command. That we did… After stopping at Trinity College and Dublin Castle, we visited the oldest pub in Dublin called Ryan’s of Park Gate, where Bill Clinton and Julia Roberts once sat. It was a short walk down the street to the highly-anticipated Guinness Factory! Walking through the tour showing the details of how Guinness is brewed, from the beginning barley and grains all the way to the heavy machinery, was quite a sight. I snagged a few extra portions in the Tasting Lab – and was happiest at the end where we were served freshly-brewed Guinness atop the factory in a chic bar boasting a 360 degree clear view of Dublin. They even poured my glass in the shape of a shamrock, and the foam came up in perfect shamrock form… What an experience!
After eating more delicious Irish cuisine – bangers ‘n’ mash, I’d say we saved the best night for last. A few of us decided to do a self-made pub crawl. We had one Guinness at each pub, then would move on. The rain was no testament to our abilities: we saw so many pubs, listened to great live music, and had a blast. I think I had 6 Guinness – don’t ask me how. We topped off the crawl with folk dancing, or at least me pretending to folk dance with the others that participated. Getting back to the hostel at 5am was a struggle being we had to be up at 6 for our flight home. My drunkenness was at a high as we waited in line at the airport . I was cracking everyone up with my shenanigans, or maybe they were laughing at me. Alas, I will miss the taste of fresh Irish Guinness… until next time, Dublin.