Finding the Fun This Summer

While this summer has been, expectedly, less exciting than living in London, it hasn’t been any less busy. I’m living in Columbia and taking the second broadcast journalism class in my sequence until early July, but I got a short trip home to New Orleans before moving up.

IMG_1488I was home for about two weeks, and spent them as an absolute tourist. They were jam packed with JazzFest performances, dinners in the French Quarter and on the lake with the parents and a crash course, catch up session with my friend Rachel the night before I left. It was the first time I was in town for JazzFest in three years, and was an absolute blast to back. Two days filled with too much food, art and jewelry shopping with Mom and amazing music (Bruce Springsteen, Foster the People, Better Than Ezra, The Head and the Heart to name a few) were a perfect way to welcome me back.

IMG_1469 IMG_1478

 

IMG_1535

My life these days is all journalism, all the time. I have class four days a week, lab twice a week and anchor/report twice a week at KOMU. It’s all actually been going fairly well, and I’d much rather be busy than searching for something to do all the time. I’m anchoring my first full shows, which has been an exciting learning experience, and doing stories for both class and Sunday night newscasts. It was a bit overwhelming when stories started overlapping, especially on weekends, but things have calmed down now that I’m “cleared” to work at the station for my class.

 

It’s just bizarre going from a semester of very little traditional schoolwork and constant adventure to basically working seven days a week. Not bad really, but definitely a 180° change. I had Catherine here for two weeks before she left for an internship, and was great to catch up with her one-on-one. From ice cream excursions and movie dates to stumbling upon a concert in Downtown Columbia on a random Wednesday (it was Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros), she can always find a way to make a seemingly average evening fun. IMG_1528

I’ve also personally taken on the task of introducing basically anyone who comes to my house to Pimm’s. Like I now have a mint plant growing on our back porch solely for that purpose. Amateur gardener, and Columbia’s professional Pimm’s expert. Everyone who’s tried it has loved it, but I can’t say I’m surprised.

 

Because I didn’t have a story due in my lab today (perks of being cleared and not being able to schedule shifts because the news director is out of town), I took a personal weekend. I spent Friday night at Columbia Entertainment Company’s Spamalot. I’d never seen any community theatre here, which seems almost criminal for me, so I was excited to see a new company and venue. I was, of course, running later than I expected, and after a couple of wrong turns, I arrived at what looked like a warehouse. It was, thankfully, actually the theatre and not just a rehearsal or storage space. The theatre is set up as a black box, which I love, but only has seating in front of the stage rather than all the way around. It’s a hilariously written show anyway, but there were some really great performances. And it always helps when you tell everyone on stage is just so into it. I road-tripped to the Chesterfield outlet mall for the first time on Saturday. It was gorgeous weather to wander outside in between popping into different stores. Four hours, three calls to my mom for opinions and five shopping bags later, I had successfully visited nearly every store and was ready to head back to CoMo. It was a fun, and much needed, mental health weekend.

London

I’ve been home for two weeks, and, along with unpacking, finding a way to wrap up my time in London has been looming over my head. There are enough stories to fill a novel, so here are just a few of the things I’m taking with me.

Take risks and be Adventurous.

It’s not hard when you’re living in a huge city like London. I realized that if something scares you, it’s probably worth doing. Even if something goes awry, you’ll probably still have a great story to tell. There was something thrilling about pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and if I wasn’t up for trying new things, why did I go abroad in the first place? I’ve never been an impulsive person, but it was really fun to just throw caution and expectation to the wind and let things happen. Ciera kept quoting “when’s the last time you did something for the first time?” and we could basically say everyday while we were there. Go. Do. Explore.

IMG_1165

Talk to new people everywhere you go.

How else are you going to find out anything about wherever you are? You can read all the guidebooks in the world, but that’s not a way to really experience a new place. Whether it was listening to the “cerebral Australian” with dreadlocks talk about his opinions on the “establishment,” getting introduced to the pub as the “Missouri girls” by a band in Dublin or making new friends while watching the Super Bowl because you know that Coors Light is an American beer, people, both those you’re there with and new ones you meet, help make experiences.

1898039_666280666770390_17975852_n

Find things you like doing and do them.

If you like live music, go to open mic night at the pub around the corner with your best friend on a Wednesday. If you like food and shopping, go hang out at any of the fantastic markets in London. Seeing and taking pictures of all the tourist highlights is fun and shouldn’t be missed, but finding and doing things you’d be interested in no matter where you were is the way to make the most of any travel experience.

Being and doing things alone can be really rewarding.

I’ve always thought I wanted to live and work in a big city, but I’d never actually done it. Now, I’m not only certain that I can and want to live in major city, but I also know I’ll enjoy it. I never felt lonely spending time alone in London, and that’s because it wasn’t hard to find something new and fun to do. From visiting a Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit and going to concerts to wandering through Camden Lock or down Oxford Street, I loved being able to hop on the Tube and know I’d find something exciting to explore and see.

IMG_1460 photo IMG_1324   IMG_1415

But so can exploring with some of your best friends.

I’m so lucky to have gone on this trip with such a great group. I became closer with the friends I knew before we left and made new ones that I can’t wait to see when we’re all back in Columbia. We shared international trips, karaoke stages and more visits to media companies than I can count, and we’re bound by those experiences. Who else am I going to talk to about using Valirie’s One Direction knowledge to distract us from getting seasick on our ferry from Calais or reminisce with about how long we walked to get dinner on our first night in Paris?

10342919_10152474205471457_551460659206790075_n  IMG_12841797462_654178337980623_1886317883_n

Learn to like being in transition.

Essentially nothing in my life right now is fully figured out or permanent, and I realized that’s okay. I’m constantly packing and unpacking, and I’m learning to like change and being in the “in between.” Everything is an opportunity for a new adventure if you keep a positive attitude. I’d like to have a solid plan to follow, but where’s the fun (and the reality) in that? I’m not supposed to have all the answers right now, but I’m trying to figure them out. And that’s pretty much all I could ask for.

Thanks for all of your lessons, fun and adventure, London. You were everything. xx

IMG_0617

March

March has been an absolute whirlwind. The last three weeks have been packed with trips, adventures and experiences as we try to squeeze the most out of the rest of our time here…cue panic attack.

March 13-16

We started on Thursday with our tour of Highgate Cemetery. The weather was perfect, and the park and cemetery were just the right balance of manicured and overgrown. We had some time to kill before our afternoon class, so Ciera and I came back to enjoy some food and a drink at Camden Lock market. Almost 60 degrees and sunny weather makes it even harder (if that’s possible) to imagine having to leave. All of the flatmates still had parents in town Thursday night, so I hung out and made my London karaoke debut with six of the other Mizzou girls.

Saturday was another beautiful day, so we went up to Hampstead to get crepes and then Spitafields Market to wander through their vintage pop up stands. After tearing myself away from buying the place out, I met up with my friend, Andy, who was in town from Paris. It was fun to catch up with someone from home, even if it wasn’t a very long visit.

stpatsDespite a severe lack of green clothing, we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day on Sunday in Trafalgar Square. The parade was slightly underwhelming, but I’m spoiled by a lifetime of New Orleans parades. If I’m not dodging cabbages and beads, what am I supposed to do while standing on the side of the road? The square was full of people eating, drinking and listening to performers. I got my first Guinness and we spent the afternoon sitting on the steps enjoying the sunshine (see also: getting sunburnt). We started talking to the people sitting around us, and when I said I was from New Orleans, one of the guys asked if I had heard of Dat Dog. I said I was surprised some one from here had heard of the restaurant, but yes, and I’ve actually eaten there. I had no idea one of the business partners was from the U.K., but he is and this guy knew him. If I’ve learned anything on this trip, it’s that the world is a lot smaller than I ever realized.

 

March 21-22

I started interviewing, filming and editing videos for my internship’sWhat does the EU do for you?” campaign. It’s nice to be back in the broadcast realm and to see all of the background work I’ve been doing finally coming together.

Friday night was House of Lions single release party for their new song “Uncruel,” and it was possibly the most fun and definitely the most British night I’ve had in London. It’s the only time I’ve actually hung out with an entire room of British people my age because my building and classes are both fully American. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, and they thoroughly enjoyed making me try to say things in a British accent and laughing at me when it was terrible. It’s truly unfair their American impressions are so much better than my British one. The concert itself was fantastic, and ending with a cover of “Twist and Shout” was almost too perfectly British for me to handle.

storehouseI left to meet Ciera, Kelsey and Christi in Dublin on Saturday morning, and it was the most stressful experience of my life. I’m still not sure if I turned off my alarm or if it never went off, but I woke up in a panic at 8 am realizing I slept over an hour longer than I intended. I flew out of bed, got dressed and ran out the door in approximately three minutes. Shaking from adrenaline and nerves that I was going to miss my flight, I took the Tube from Camden Town to Victoria, the Gatwick express from Victoria to the airport, and finally made it to my gate by 9:29. The gate supposedly closed at 9:30. Not something I ever want to do again. I eventually made it to Dublin in a better mental state with make up on and contacts in, and met up with the girls at our hotel. We regrouped, got lunch and went on a tour of the Guinness Storehouse. On the way to the brewery, we ran into a guy wearing a Mizzou sweatshirt who said his brother just graduated from MU and he is starting there next year. Again, the world is just too small. During the tour, we learned to pour the perfect pint and then headed up to the gravity bar on the top floor. It was a beautiful view and gave me a good crash course in Dublin landmarks. We trekked back to our hotel, rested for a bit and got ready for the evening. We started with dinner at Porterhouse then moved on to O’Neill’s and Temple Bar for drinks and live music. We all fell in love with Dublin because the trip seemed more about experiences rather than seeing big attractions.

guinness templeabr

March 28-30

oxfordLast Saturday, we took a day trip to Oxford. We hopped off the bus, and about 10 minutes later, were at the top of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin overlooking the city. We successfully shimmied around the top of the tower in what felt like a gutter, and then went to wander through the city and around Christ Church College. We went punting after we, thankfully, were able to switch our reservation from a self-driving boat tour to chauffeur-guided one. None of us wanted to end up in the river or stranded along a bank like the many of the self-driving boats we saw while waiting in line. Ciera’s jacket sleeve took a little swim, but compared to what would’ve happened if some one trusted me to steer a boat, it was a fixable problem. We made our way to the Eagle and Child pub for dinner and drinks. Along the way, we completely stumbled upon a priory run by Dominican Blackfriars. I got way too excited (you can take the girl out of Dominican…), took a couple of pictures, and then we kept walking to the pub. Nods to Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia were sprinkled throughout the bar where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to chat. It was fun to people watch and chat in good company. Similar to Dublin, we had certain things we planned to do, but it was more about just exploring Oxford.

dominican      eagle

Sunday we finally took a trip to Abbey road and took a proper touristy photo. We got lunch at Chipotle, which was I was probably more excited about than I should have been, and went to 221b for the Sherlock Holmes museum. It was interesting to see the replicated rooms, but I don’t think I’m a big enough fan to appreciate it like some others were.

 

abbeyroad   sherlock

I can’t believe it’s already April. March was so full and busy, but somehow still seemed to fly by. I’m looking forward to making the most of this last month here, especially if it’s as fun as March was.

 

“Can we have a bottle of cote du rhone?” Ten Days with my Parents

Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to have my parents visit for my spring break (or half term if I’m trying this whole British English thing). Our weekend in London, three days in Rome and three in Paris were filled with sightseeing and enough gelato and red wine to fill a small country. The trips were wonderful, but I think it was most exciting to talk to, not viber text, my parents without a time difference.

We did a lot of the tourist highlights the first time we were all in London, so this visit was more about filling them in on my daily life this semester. So naturally, they stayed in Camden to get a feel for my neighborhood. We did lots of people watching and eating as walked through Camden Lock and along the high street. We did go through the Churchill War Rooms, which I’m really glad we did. I love World War II history, but actual Churchill museum inside was a little too free form and long for my attention span. Thankfully, someone was brilliant and put the café in the middle of the museum.

IMG_0972

Inside the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica

After introducing my parents to the heaven in a package that are milk chocolate digestives, we headed to Rome for evenmore delicious food. We spent our first day inside the Vatican museum and St. Peter’s Basilica and dome to avoid the rain. The basilica was absolutely beautiful, but getting tickets to Pope Francis’ Ash Wednesday visit was the highlight of the trip to Vatican City. After some wandering around trying to figure out how to get tickets, my mom figured out we could get them from the Swiss guards outside. Luckily the people in front of me spoke Italian and also needed three tickets, so I just piggybacked off of their request. We left with the tickets and headed to dinner on Piazza Navona. The restaurant had heaters and a cover over the patio, so we were still able to eat outside despite the dreary weather. We had the most delicious buffalo mozzarella and tomato appetizer and lasagna, which, of course, were partnered with gelato and red wine. We saw people walking in and out of a building while we were eating, so we went to investigate. It ended up being this beautiful church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, and was full of fleur de lis.IMG_1033

We woke up early Wednesday to go back to St. Peter’s square for the Pope’s audience. We got there much earlier than we needed to, but we killed some time talking to other Americans that were also on vacation. It’s such a surreal experience seeing the Pope on his first Ash Wednesday with people from all over the world.

IMG_1038

IMG_1040

We then headed to the ruins. We did a tour of the Collesseum, Roman forum and palatine hill. We stopped for gelato, coffee and wine at a café, and ended up sitting and talking for about two hours. It was so laid back, but probably was my favorite part of the whole trip. I like being able to just chat and catch up with my parents. We walked to the Trevi Fountain and got dinner.

IMG_1064IMG_1060IMG_1066IMG_1075

We headed to Paris on Thursday, and I’m so glad I got to go back with my parents. We stayed in the Latin Quarter, so it was great to actually be in the city. Notre Dame, Musee d’Orsay and a night boat cruise on the Seine were all broken up with cups of coffee and people watching. Going to Versailles and taking my parents back to Montmarte was the best day of the trip. The weather was beautiful in Versailles, so we were able to eat outside before going into the palace. It was so opulent and beautiful, and I loved all of the nods to my main man Louis XIV. Montmarte was just as wonderful as the first time, but was way more crowded because of the warmer weather. We actually went into Sacre Coeur, and a choir of nuns added a soundtrack to our tour of the mosaicked church.We had dinner (and a bottle of cote du rhone, obviously) outside at La Bohme before heading back down the hill.

IMG_1101IMG_1106

 

It was such a fun week spending time with my parents. My dad and I decided if this whole journalism thing doesn’t work out, we should open a coffee, wine and gelato shop that people can come to for an afternoon pick-me up. If that’s the back up plan, the future doesn’t look too bad.

The Obsession with British Music

When we get tired of reading subtitles while watching Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps or confused trying to figure out what’s happening on Hollyoaks, we watch music videos on 4 Music. That channel combined with watching The Grammys, The Brits and living in Camden have all contributed to a new love of British music and a playlist on my iPhone.

Afterglow by Wilkinson. It’s just so catchy and fun that my flatmates and I find ourselves singing and humming it all the time.

Look Right Through by Storm Queen. None of us understand why Chester Cheetah is in a music video wearing an eye patch, but we’re hooked.

Money On My Mind by Sam Smith. I think this is one of those songs you love, hate or can’t decide if you love or hate. The only part of the song I ever remember is the falsetto “money on my mind,” but that was enough for it to stick.

Feelin’ Myself (feat. Miley Cyrus, French Montana, Wiz Khalifa & DJ Mustard) by Will.i.am. Who knew will.i.am was popular enough in Britain to be a judge on their version of The Voice? I’m not sure why this isn’t popular in the States yet, but we’re obsessed.

Waiting All Night (feat. Ella Eyre) by Rudimental. After seeing ads for their album in tube stations for weeks, watching Rudimental perform at The Brits finally peaked my interest.

Ready For Your Love (feat. MNEK) by Gorgon City. I always picture a fast-paced movie scene when I hear this song. Like a cool spy running after someone through crowded city streets…or maybe that’s just what I imagine on the tube in the morning while I’m listening to it on my way to work. Whatever, it’s catchy and will pump you up for the rest of your day.

Rather Be (feat. Jess Glynne) by Clean Bandit. This song is everywhere in London, and I’ve adopted it as the unofficial anthem for study abroad. Anytime something fantastic happens, we end up singing the chorus to each other and dancing along.

Uncruel by House of Lions . I’m getting to this one before Channel 4, but that’s because I was lucky enough to meet these insanely talented and nice people in my own neighborhood. If you can ever get that guitar (be de de de deeee de de de de) out of your head, you’re a a stronger person than I am. But I’m not sure why you’d want to. I’ve already pre-ordered the single on iTunes, so I’ll be singing along to this one for the foreseeable future. Things could be much, much worse.

Paris

A quick trip through the Chunnel, and I was set for my first weekend in Paris. We successfully avoided our first set of gypsies with clipboards in the train station, and then hopped on a coach for a panoramic tour of the city.

Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa

Venus di Milo

Venus di Milo

We finished the bus tour, checked into our hotel and headed to the Louvre. After successfully avoiding all of the men selling “5 for 1” mini Eiffel Towers and an extensive photo shoot, we actually went inside the museum to take advantage of its free entry for EU students. I brought my Louisiana drivers’ license, Mizzou ID, international student ID and my CAPA student card, but nothing could have prepared me to deal with the woman checking our identification. All five of the other girls went through a different lane without any problems and got to watch this insanity unfold. The worker said none of my four forms of identification proved I lived or worked in the UK, and no amount of explanation would convince her. She stood up out of her chair, began shouting about needing my passport or visa (which I had taken out of my purse so it didn’t get pickpocketed) and finished by yelling in my face that she wasn’t American. After exhausting her stint as the heroine of EU students, she saw me desperately looking at the other girls and let me through in a huff. I proceeded to walk through the museum completely rattled and shut down, but the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo were exciting to see.

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

The evening completely turned around after we left the museum. We decided to head toward the Eiffel Tower and find dinner somewhere along the way. It’s totally different from London where there are skyscrapers and modern buildings mixed in with its old history. Since Paris wasn’t bombed during the war, the whole city still has an old, magical feel, and it was actually plausible to follow the top of the tower until we ran into it. Just as we were crossing the river, the Eiffel Tower started glittering. Magic. We finally found a brasserie that looked reasonably priced, and had an absolutely fabulous meal. And it was happy hour. We walked around the block and practically ran into the Eiffel Tower. It was just so much bigger than I ever imagined and so wonderful all lit up. The crazy Louvre lady’s atrocity was eventually overruled by three really nice gentlemen that helped us understand how to get home on the metro. One at a crepe stand that told us where the closest stations was, one worker at the metro station that mapped out, circled and wrote the number of each train we needed to take on a metro map and one older gentleman who nearly hopped off of his train to point us in the direction of our line when we got turned around switching trains. When we finally got on the right one, we were treated to two guys playing guitar and singing as we rode home.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Locking my Mizzou Alpha Chi lock on the love lock bridge.

Locking my Mizzou Alpha Chi lock on the love lock bridge.

We kicked off our 12 hour Saturday with a tour of Notre Dame and a walk through the Latin Quarter. The church was absolutely beautiful, and I was glad we had a guide to explain the details of the detailed façade. The Latin Quarter is definitely the younger area of the city and was filled with restaurants. We then headed to the Seine for our boat tour of the city. The day was gray, damp and windy, which made being on water particularly chilly. It was cool to see the city from such a different perspective even if we were taking pictures in between shivers. Frozen and hungry, we walked back to the Latin Quarter for lunch, and after warming up, headed for the lock bridge. We spent some time wandering up and down the bridge reading locks and people watching, and finally bought our own locks to put on the bridge. We wrote on the locks, threw the keys in the river and set out to spend the afternoon shopping. We started out around the Louvre and eventually took the metro to make our way to the Champs- Elysees. We took a break from our exhaustive shopping to get macarons from Laduree. My life is so hard. It was both a store and a restaurant, and all of the pastries were so intricate they looked fake.

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

We took our six macarons and headed up the street to take pictures of the Arc de Triomphe all lit up. After braving both the other tourists and French drivers to take a couple of pictures in the middle of the street, we were ready for dinner. A couple of the girls we were with had seen a set menu at a restaurant in the Latin Quarter that had three courses for 10 euros. We found the restaurant actually pretty easily, and ate probably the best meal I’ve had abroad so far. I started with onion soup, had beef bourguignon for an entrée and finished with chocolate mousse. The small restaurant had another group of six waiting, so we were politely ushered out after finishing out meal and paying. We made it back to the hotel at about 10:30 pm and collapsed onto our beds to relax. Three of us ended up hanging out, talking and laughing in our room until almost 1 before I finally got into the shower and went to bed.

Sacre Couer

Sacre Couer

Sunday we braved the crowds at the Eiffel Tower and made it all the way to the third and top floor. Only one of the four legs had working elevators because the others were under construction. We briefly contemplated walking up to the second floor and catching the elevator to the top from there, but that seemed too daunting for us. The views were absolutely worth the long wait. We walked down the stairs, grabbed a quick sandwich and met our guides for a walking tour of Montemarte that ended at the Sacre Coeur. This was my favorite part of the trip because I think it’s what I imagined Paris would look like. Shops, cafes, restaurants and houses dotted the road as we climbed the hill to the artists’ square and the church. It was crowded and had tourist shops, but still seemed almost like it wasn’t real. An espresso macchiato, a crepe and a millions pictures later, we went back to pick up our bags from the hotel and catch the Eurostar. While it was less eventful than our Amsterdam experience, UK Border Agency took their sweet time checking our passports, and Ciera and I ended up almost running down the platform to get on our train in time. I think we had about 10 minutes to spare after we were finally settled into our seats.

Amsterdam and Bruges

I really should try to write these weekly…

IMG_0675

Amsterdam

Two weeks ago we took our first trip out of the country to Amsterdam, Edam, Volendam and Bruges. Friday, we took a ferry from Dover and then a coach through France, Belgium and into The Netherlands. It was a long, but scenic drive. Our hotel was on the outskirts of the actual city, but practically next door to the metro and tram station. Our guides met us downstairs in the lobby about an hour after we got settled in to take us on a tour of the red light district and give us a limited understanding of the city (as much as they could in the dark with a group of probably 70 people). They dropped us off at the main square, Dam Square, and we set off on own from there. It was fun exploring the city and its nightlife, especially in our group of Mizzou girls. We stopped for dessert before power walking back to the metro station to catch the last train. I can only imagine what seven American girls looked like frantically weaving through the streets with waffles and croissants. After a moment of sheer panic when my metro card wouldn’t let me through the gates at the station, we were all finally at the platform waiting for our train. The stops were all in Dutch and trains aren’t listed by direction. Since we knew which train number we needed to take, we pushed the information tower button to be sure the right train was actually on its way. After being asked we spoke Dutch and French, an incredibly nice English speaking man told us our train would arrive in just a couple of minutes. 

IMG_0671

Volendam

We hopped back on the bus Saturday morning to visit small Dutch towns of Edam and Volendam. We were only in each for about an hour, but that was plenty of time to drink Dutch coffee and sample some cheese. They’re both what I picture when I think of Holland. Small bakeries, shops and restaurants dotted along a central canal. Neither wassuper lively, but I’m glad I got to experience something outside of Amsterdam. And there’s no way I would’ve gone to either if we planned the trip ourselves.

IMG_0677

We stopped for coffee in one of Volendam’s famous hotels before heading back to Amsterdam and going to the Anne Frank house. The museum was completely enthralling and emotional. The family’s living space was actually larger than I imagined while reading the book, but it’s still hard to believe so many people lived in such a small space. The last section of the museum is Otto Frank’s experience coming back to the house after surviving the concentration camps, and that’s when we all lost it. We spent the rest of the tour wiping tears and raving about the experience. We got ham and cheese toasties and a Duvel for lunch followed by our first order of chips and mayo. Bless Chipsy King and his delicious creation. I think I’ve decidedall fat fries should be eaten that way. We went back to the hotel to relax before heading back out for the evening. Even though most people can speak English, I noticed they usually speak Dutch to each other. There’s definitely something a little unsettling when you don’t fully understand what’s going on. We eventually gave up on looking for a restaurant and headed back to Dam Square for Belgian waffles…and our second order of chips. 

IMG_0678

Bruges

Sunday was the longest day of traveling I’ve ever had, but stopping in Bruges was worth it.  We got lunch, a waffle and the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. We wandered around the small town of a couple of hours before heading back to London We spent about 15 hours trying to actually get back to city after all of our mishaps. Apparently UK border control has had problems with students saying they attend fake universities, so the entire second half our 100+ person tour had to go through individual interviews. We missed our scheduled ferry because that took so long, and the next scheduled boat was delayed because of bad weather. We finally got on the ferry after waiting about two hours at the docks. The boat was so rocky because of the bad weather, we tried to distract ourselves by constantly talking about random things. Valirie went through each member of One Direction’s life stories for us, which was thoroughly entertaining and took up quite a bit of time. We finally got to solid ground and then drove the two hours back into the city. Totally exhausting, but worth the fun weekend. 

Two Weeks as a Tourist

The last two weeks have been packed with trips and sightseeing.

IMG_0548

We took a group trip to Stonehenge and Bath that felt more like a trip into a tropical storm.  From the minute we drove into the Stonehenge visitor parking lot, the sky looked like it would burst open. We got into the tram that would take us to the stones, and the rain just started pouring.  I zipped up my coat, tightened my hood and stepped out of the tram clutching my umbrella for dear life. The wind was driving the rain sideways as we walked up the small hill towards the stones, so I tried to use my umbrella as more of shield. It really didn’t help. After laughing our way to the top through the wind and the cold, we stayed long enough to snap a couple pictures before rushing back down the hill to catch the tram back to the visitor’s center.  Bath was, thankfully, drier and most of the Roman baths were inside.

IMG_0536

IMG_0575

We’ve been trying to take advantage of Tuesday and Thursday mornings to explore London. We went to a photography exhibit of BAFTA nominated actors and actresses at Somerset House, and I met my friend Anna for a ride on the London eye.She’s studying abroad in Manchester and was in town for about five days. It’s so hilarious that we’re going to school closer now than we do at home. The eye was great and not very crowded because we went right as it opened. 

IMG_0578It felt like we were just having a chat in a coffee shop with way better scenery. I also didn’t realize we were moving most of the time unless I looked outside of our pod and had a new view. I didn’t have time to go to the Churchill bunker with them before class, so I hopped on the tube to borough market for lunch.  I never been on a weekday or gone alone, but it ended up being a great experience. I got a delicious Italian sandwich and the best café au lait I’ve ever had. It was fun to see the market less crowded and watch “the regulars” chat with stand owners while they ate.  There was a street brass band playing in odd costumes, and it was just too New Orleans to not stop and listen.  Later that afternoon, we explored Greenwich and finished off with a ferry ride back to Waterloo station.

IMG_0581IMG_0582IMG_0588

Friday, Ciera and I saw Once in the front row for only 25 pounds each.  We were looking up how to get the best deal all week when Ciera found a website detailing the information on day seat tickets for different shows. She went to the box office about an hour before it opened, and was able to get us the fabulous, cheap seats. It was an absolutely magical performance, and it was really fun to go with someone who had never seen it before.  They have waiters that take drink orders from your seat, and they sell ice cream at intermission. Completely different setting than a Broadway theatre, but the performance was just as wonderful.

We got 10 pound round trip train tickets to Windsor on Saturday, and we spent the day touring the castle and exploring the town. I think I like that atmosphere a little better than straight up museums. St. George’s Chapel was absolutely beautiful, and it’s just insane to me that so much history can be in one place.  Windsor was a cute town and had great shopping.

IMG_0660Ciera and I celebrated Chinese New Year with practically everyone else in the city on Sunday. We were packed into huge crowds and had the hardest time finding an entrance into the main streets. We finally found a gate, but police officers were keeping everyone outside. Apparently they thought it was too crowded, but opened the floodgates just a few minutes later. I can’t believe it wouldn’t be easier if they just let the crowds flow naturally in and out of the main festival center. I think they’d benefit from a Mardi Gras training course from NOPD. I digress. The food was absolutely delicious and pretty cheap for large portions. We came home and got ready to watch the Super Bowl. We went to the Oxford Arms pub around the corner from our flat, and actually stayed for the whole game. It was really fun meeting and seeing so many English and European people watching and trying to understand the game together. Plus, when am I ever going to voluntarily watch a football game in the middle of the night ever again?

All of the tourist activity was followed the most London experience I’ve had so far: the tube strike. I had to take the bus to work, and, of course, got on the one going the wrong direction. I, thankfully, realized this before I’d gone very far, but it still took me 50 minutes to get to work instead of my usual 15. Just learning to live like a local!

London Calling

I’ve been in London for a little over a week and I’m finally starting to feel like I live here

One of the most hilarious experiences we’ve had so far has been figuring out how to use our appliances. Our stove and oven are both gas instead of electric, and none of us had ever used anything but electric appliances. After about 30 minutes of “preheating,” we found out our oven was never really on. We quickly turned on our kitchen fan and learned how to actually light the oven.  The electric kettle is a gift from the gods, but sound like a rocket ship when it’s boiling our water. The washing machine also sounds like it’s going to blast off while taking two hours to wash our clothes. We overflowed our dishwasher the first night, and there were suds everywhere. Hysterical laughter ensued as we rushed to get towels.

We’ve navigated the grocery stores, but we had to shop three times before we had a normal experience. Our first day here we ran out to get just a few things before going on a walking tour of our new neighborhood. We rushed through the store to find out our walk had been pushed back. We tried to go grocery shopping last Sunday, but the one across the street closed at 5 pm. Lots of store are closed here on Sunday. Even some drug stores. We rushed down the street to next closest supermarket, and were thrilled to find it open.  We were in the store for 10-15 minutes when workers started to tell us the store was closing soon. It closed at 6, and we had no idea. So we actually shut down the store and got in line when they finally told us the store was closed. The third time, we got to the entrance of the store and had to wait outside because they had power dip that shut down all of their freezers.

We’ve been to the Borough Market both Saturdays we’ve been here, and it is a foodie paradise. Their fresh produce is wonderful and super reasonably priced. I ate my first meat pie this weekend. It was steak and gravy in puff pastry sent from heaven. We bought spinach and feta and almond croissants (each on a different weekend) and tried our first cup of mulled wine.

Camden is the young music and arts area that I’m lucky enough to live in. It’s crowded on the weekend with people pouring in go to the markets and stores. Today we went to Primrose Hill and Camden Stable Market. Primrose Hill has gorgeous views of the entire city skyline. The stable market is full of shops and food from all over the world. Chinese, Mexican, Lebanese, Greek, pizza, hamburgers and crepes. Ciera had a falafel wrap and I had a ham, cheese and spinach crepe.

We’ve spent a lot of time on the Southbank. We’ve been to the Tate Modern and took a bus tour that brought us to all of the quintessential London sights. Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and Tower Bridge. It was nice to see all of the sights and really feel like we were in London.

This week will be my first full week of work and classes, so it’ll be interesting to see how everything works out!

Festival Season in Full Swing

Three weekends at home and a festival for each. New Orleans is always buzzing, and summer means festivals. Food, crafts and music draw both locals and tourists.

Memorial Day weekend is home to the New Orelans Greek Festival every year. 2013 was the fest’s 40 anniversary and the first year I participated in their annual 5k. Grape leaves, gyros, spanakopita and baklava sundaes were just some of the traditional foods served and eaten at the festival. Rachel and I probably ate whatever we burned in the race, but it was totally worth it. Hot and humid is just part of the deal for summer in south Louisiana, and Greek Fest wasn’t an exception. I was happy I ran, so I had an excuse to look less than stunning.

New Orleans Oyster Festival was the next weekend at Woldenberg Park on the Mississippi River.  It was the festival’s fifth year and my second year attending. I ate my first oyster there last year, and understood the addiction. Raw, charbroiled or fried, New Orleans restaurants pulled out all the stops creating original oyster dishes. Andrea’s oyster ravioli and Bourbon House’s barbecue oyster poboy were my two favorites this year. Since it’s so close to the quarter, and we were desperate for air conditioning after two hours outside, downtown shopping was another perk of the weekend. Although, trying on clothes after all of that food might not have been our best idea.

The Creole Tomato and Cajun-Zydeco Festivals take place side by side in the French Market and the Old Mint downtown. Fried Green Tomatoes were a must, but the creole tomato lemonade was the most surprising, and delicious, treat of the weekend. After eating our way through the French Market, we made our way to the Mint to listen to Bruce Daigrepont and find some shade.