Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lines written a few miles between Scotland and England

Current status: trapped. I kid you not. Thank God the guide lent me his MacBook, or else I'd be freaking out here, somewhere on the border of Scotland and England. Despite the current transportation snafu (our train is broken and we've been stopped for two hours), my trip to Edinburgh was truly spectacular and the fact that I was given free internet usage for my train ride back was just the icing on the cake. After my 2:50 AM wake up (though I don't think I really slept), I lived in a sluberly blur all the way to Edinburgh, despire the chatty Cathys around me. After a guided bus tour (the guide wore a kilt and played the bagpipes when he wasn't lecturing us about Mary, Queen of Scots' beheading), I made friends with the one of the other solo travelers, Beth. We clicked very nicely, as we have a frightening amount of similarities, which made for a nice new friend in a nice new city. After a quick Thai lunch, Beth and I explored the Old and New towns of Edinburgh, and did some shopping along the way. I think I saw more kilts than jeans on the men! Edinburgh is a very historic city with adorable alleyways steeped in tales from years (and beheadings) past. Due to the previous night's sleep (or lack thereof!), we called it a day pretty early, and hit the sack around nine to prepare for the following day's excursion through the highlands.

Loch Ness and all the other lochs (a.k.a. lakes) were amazing. The snow on top of the mountains was totally breathtaking -- seeing the Scottish slopes got me very psyched for the skiing sheason ahead! The mix of lakes, greenery, and mountains made for an amazing countryside... even though I napped each time we entered the coach! Out guide, Fred, as a traditional Scottish man, wore a full kilt and spoke highly of Americans and lowly of the English. It was hysterical! On another note, this trip was filled with an extremely varried group of people "on holiday." My guest house room had two American girls, one Kiwi (a.k.a. a New Zealander), one Colombian, and one Spanish. The bus was filled with people from Azerbaijan, Italy, Georgia (the country, not the peachy state), China, Japan, India... you name it! It really gave meaning to the tour group name "International Friends!"

Currently, our train has not moved... Our delay is scheduled for 145 minutes... Time to cool down...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

i still got it

This week, I wrote a seven-page paper on acid rain's detrimental effects on Earth, an eight-page paper on Dickens' use of pathos and comedy in David Copperfield and Oliver Twist, and a six-page paper on my summer internship. After all of that, I applied for a Spring externship, tweaked my resume, and re-wrote my cover letter. The work never stopped! This blog is mainly for Dad, and to prove that I'm actually still a student. I kind of forgot in between getting murdered by a horse and kissing the Blarney Stone.

My time as a European traveler with no ties re-commences tomorrow at 3 AM as I board the shuttle to my Edinburgh-bound train! (Edin-burra, Edin-burra, Edin-burra! I keep reminding myself.) A Saturday spent exploring Loch Ness and the highlands is sandwiched between two afternoons in Edinburgh. I'm highly excited for all aspects of the trip, especially Rose Street!

So I recently realized that I have 12 days left in England. That is kind of nuts. Didn't I just fly into Heathrow and struggle with my two ruby red suitcases while fighting intense jet-lag? After a week in Italy and three days each in Scotland, Spain, and Brussels, my time on this fair isle is seriously limited. Yikes! However, the fact that lights will be strung and stockings hung upon my arrival makes me feel like my entire time home will feel like Christmas morning!

Now I just need to write three more papers in my remaining 12 days. I think I can handle it, but here's hoping! Cheers!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tres, tres chic!

Bon soir! (I think I spelled that right!) I am back from an absolutely amazing trip to Paris. It is truly is the most romantic place imaginable. I recommend all you lads out there to take your honeys for a weekend get-a-way. It’s a gorgeous city that should really be explored while holding someone’s hand. Regardless of oceanic distances, my trip to Paris was simply splendid. International Friends, the touring company which now knows me my name, as they should, since I keep them in business, took us straight from the port in Calais to the Eiffel Tower, where we snapped some quick shots before jumping on a boat and cruising the Seine River at sunset. We docked after an hour of sailing, just as the Tower began to sparkle, as it does every PM hour, on the hour. With limited time to climb, we treated our calves (but not our wallets) to an elevator ride to the top of the tower and got a really breathtaking view of the Paris skyline. We were able to see the Arc de Triumphe from one side, and Sacre Coeur on the other. After a quick ride back to our hotel, Kathleen and I met up with some other Kent friends for our first Parisian meal, and in true French fashion, I bravely ordered and subsequently scarfed es cargot. They were scrumptiously full of butter and garlic, with a clammy texture and calamari-ey bite. (I’m so cultured.) I’d totally get ‘em again!

After a breakfast of Nutella filled crepes (I was naturally in heaven), our guide led us to Sacre Coeur, a Parisian church, circa 1920. Since all of the churches I’ve seen so far come from a far earlier period of time, it was nice to explore a domed church with more modern architecture. Sacre Coeur sits upon a hill, so after climbing 120 steps, the view of Paris was grand! Behind Sacre Coeur is Monmartre, a small artist’s colony. Strolling in and out of the painters’ stations was an experience in itself. While the hand painted varieties were a bit pricey, tourist shops sold some replicas, so I bought some nice art prints, in addition to some vintage Moulin Rouge advertisements. (Moulin Rouge means “Red Windmill.” Who woulda thunk?) After Monmartre, we actually walked past the famous Red Windmill and took some CanCan shots. How cutsey!

Notre Dame was the nest stop. It looks exactly like Westminster Abbey, but unlike Chaucer’s thankful gravesite, allows photography and had a college choir rehearsing as tourists explored the chapels and spire. Notre Dame sits on the trendy Latin Quarter, where we lunched on some traditional French onion soup, beef bourgione, and chocolate mousse. White wine (obviously) made an appearance, as well, and served as the prefect treat to an afternoon of sightseeing and shopping. I could not stop buying postcards! All French moments look better in black and white, I’ve decided. I bought enough black and white postcards to send one to everyone I love. However, I’ve spent about 30 pounds on sending postcards already, so that might not happen!

From the Latin Quarter, we made way for Champes Elysses and strolled in and out of Chanel. It was fantastic. I found a bag that I really like. It’s only 1,100 Euros. Not bad, right!? LC has it. Now all I need is my own reality show to fund the purchase, which shouldn’t be too bad now that I have the gift of gab and all! =)

After all of these trips, I’ve realized how exhausting traveling is, so I’m not embarrassed to say that by 10 PM, Kathleen and I were completely conked out. After all, a morning in the Louvre awaited us. The Louve (which followed another breakfast of Nutella filled crepes, a.k.a. Heaven on Earth) is frighteningly big place. It must take months to explore. Since we only had 3 hours, we booked right to Mona. She is one tiny painting! Nonetheless, it was awesome to view, and I’m glad I got to take in her traveling eyes. We also got to see the Venue di Milo, the Code of Hammurabi, and Michaelangelo’s Dying Slave. I can’t say I’m an art connoisseur, but it was a morning full of – albeit rushed – culture.

It’s back to the daily grind now, though. I’m off to Scotland on Friday at 3 AM, and have 2 papers of write before then. If anyone wants to chat economic impacts of acid rain, let me know. Au revior! :-* (←That’s a kiss to stay in spirit with my weekend. Parisians love showing love in the most public of places. That is, when they take a break from smoking for five minutes!)

No, Nay, Never!

It’s hard to imagine that at this time just one week ago, I was hauling through the underground tubes of London, Stansted Airport bound, for my flight to Ireland. Ryan (as in air) got us to Cork safely and on time, and staying as true to my heritage as possible, I was in Cork a mere 15 minutes before settling into an Irish pub with a cider in hand. Kevin, a 30ish photographer of Irish scenery and landscapes (or so he said), took an early liking to this here Galway girl, so I just sat on my stool and listened as he recounted tales of his travels through the Emerald Isle. His slurred brogue was just the welcome I wanted. The pub night was brief, however, as an early morning was ahead! After running through the streets of Cork to find the 224 Blarney Bus, Kathleen and I made it to Blarney Castle and strolled the grounds of Rock Close before climbing the castle to the stone, which we subsequently kissed. Aren’t you all excited that I finally have the gift of gab, after all these years of silence? Now my blogs will my TWICE as long and I’ll be a REAL chatterbox. It’s okay, you can laugh. I am! For those of you who have never been to the castle but plan on visiting eventually, start working on your stair climbing now. The winding steps to the top of the castle are quite frightening and steep. I must admit that the little old lady behind me kept up just as well as the two twenty-somethings in front of her… and by two twenty-somethings, I mean a freaked out Kathleen and a giddy Kaitlyn.

After our morning in Blarney, which, by the way, was the only time on our trip that Mr. Sun showed us his stuff, we explored Cork and lunched with Kathleen’s Fairfield friend Greg. We then climbed Mount Everest -- a.k.a. the hill to our hostel -- to retrieve our luggage -- a.k.a. school-sized backpack filled with six days of clothing – and made way for BusErann. Five hours, five hundred sheep, five thousand drops of rain, and five minutes of a glorious bathroom break later, we stepped into the monsoon of Galway, Ireland. Hellooooooo heritage! A few wrong turns led us to a 45 minute wander around the city before finally landing in Ashley’s townhouse in Gort Na Coribe, the housing area for students at NUI Galway. Our first night in Galway was thankfully low key – we chowed down at a rodeo-themed restaurant (which is so fitting since she is my absolute fave of Bret Michaels’ groupies, shout-out to K. Rudy!) and then had some mixed berry Kopparbergs in the Quey’s Bar, which was once a church in a past life. All I wanted to do was listen to people talk! It was nice to be surrounded by a friendly culture once again. The English are pretty rude. Actually, very rude. Just my opinion…

We spent all of Friday on the Aran Islands. The cool thing to do there is rent bikes and explore Inishmor (that’s the name of the biggest of the three isles), but since the Aran rain was coming down in sheets, we hopped into a shuttle and had an Aran native show us the spots. You’ll be confused to know that on an island known for its knitwear, the Aran Islands have no sheep. Just beef cattle. As we drove through the windy roads to the most famous and popular restaurant on the isle, we made a few stops, and despite the rain, captured some awesome shots. After finally making it to the restaurant, we were charmed to find out they serve one type of soup. It was a delish and authentic veggie and potato broth! After eating, we walked in and out of some sweater shops, and out of no where, we ran into Courtney, our friend from Stonehill, who was also visiting the islands for the day as well. It was a great coincidence. She convinced us to climb to the fort at the top of the island, stressing that it’s an amazing view and worth the climb, despite the rain. Kathleen was not convinced, and opted to stay dry rather than climb to what I found was the most spectacular view I have ever encountered. It was a mile hike to the top, so I destroyed my Uggs. Fret not, though -- I have about six more pairs at home! (Thanks Santa!) Just check out these pictures! On non-windy days, walking to the edge and peaking over the cliff is the savvy thing to do, but since I could barely stand, I kept a safe distance and admired from afar before sprinting down the hill. In the fall and winter, there is only one ferry back to the mainland, and I did NOT plan on missing it!

We made it back to Galway in a timely fashion, and ate at The Skeff, an Irish pub popular among the students. My meal was divine and served as a nice precursor to the pub crawl that followed. Galway definitely knows its pubs! The evening was a blast, but unfortunately, theft touched us first hand. Kathleen’s camera was stolen, as was Allie’s cash and cards. The thief was kind enough to leave her wallet and ID, though. Worst of all, she had just made an appearance at the ATM before our crawl began. Kathleen and Allie both handled the theft much better than I would have!

The next morning, we beat the rain and made it to the Cliffs of Moher, among a few other
Irish landmarks. The Galway Tour Company is truly the best thing since sliced bread. Desmond, the 70-year-old tour guide, led us through the Irish country side, singing and dancing the whole way. (No Nay Never is my new favorite Irish anthem!) He was the CUTEST little old Irish man imaginable! Each time he spoke, he repeated his words, which only contributed to his charm. For example, “I live 10 minutes up the road. 10 minutes up the road is my house!” I would honestly move to Galway just to see Desmond on a daily basis. The Cliffs of Moher were absolutely spectacular. We even got to see a real rainbow arch its way over the cliff, post-monsoon. The stormy weather added to the beauty of the Cliffs; I stress you all go on holiday A.S.AP. and bathe in their beauty.

After the Cliffs, we hopped the last Dublin-bound train from Galway Station. After several days of travel, I am sorry to admit that the Four Courts Hostel bed trumped a Dublin pub. After all, I had already been to enough in Galway. I rested up for the day ahead, which began with a tour of the Guinness storehouse. I sipped my beer, but you know me. I don’t even mesh well with Bud Light! The tour was a lot of fun, regardless of my lacking affinity for lager (The wine in France, however… THAT is another story!). After Guinness, the skies opened again, but thankfully not before glimpsing Dublin from atop the factory in the Gravity bar. However, armed with my leopard umbrella, I sat atop the double-decker bus and rode through Dublin. Trinity College, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the main shopping street whose name has escaped me were all awesome but quickly taken in sites, as before I knew it, I was tucked into another hostel bed on another island. I made my way back to London to stay with Allie and Ashley for a night. We island-swapped! I spend my Monday morning shopping in Covent Garden market before touring the Tower of London with the girls. The rain found us again, but it was still a great tour. I then showed them around Notting Hill (how Posh!) and took them to my favorite Thai pace on Queensway. Before jumping on the Tube to catch my coach back to Canterbury, I impulse bought some nifty Peter Pan booties. They’ll be featured in the next blog: Parisian Edition. They’re tres, tres chic, as the French would say. (I hope.)

Few comments before my Paris blog makes an appearance:
1. Paris is so romantic. I now get why the city is notorious for PDA.
2. I’m going to Scotland on Friday. I leave at 3 AM. To sleep or not to sleep?
3. Rose Street in Scotland has the highest concentration of pubs in all of the United Kingdom. ISN’T THAT AMAZING? ;-) I’ll let you know which one is best.

Cheers… or shall I say, “Au revoir!” (I was just in Paris for the weekend. I’m still thinking in a nasaly accent!)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

London Weekend

Note: This blog is from LAST weekend. A lengthy Ireland blog will follow shortly! =)

As I’m sure all you girls remember, before her current stint as a lady lover, Lindsay Lohan had a career. That once-upon-a-time red-headed Long Island gal and I actually go way back (circa The Parent Trap), as one night at Adverntureland in Suffolk we went on a few rides together. No joke. Anyhow, that short-lived career of hers had its Glory Days during Mean Girls. In that classic movie, remember the Halloween party in which LL (a.k.a. Cady) dressed as a corpse bride while every other girl wore lingerie and animal ears and called it a costume? Well, Cady would have definitely fit in with the Brits this Halloween, as their “thing” is to dress as hideously as possible. Thankfully, my Halloween was spent with 300 other Americans upon a boat on the River Thames, so scary costumes were only clad on those who work for Butler, the study abroad program. Oran, the adorable Irish guy, was a dead-on Edward Scidssorhands, and was completely unrecognizable. I repeated last year’s costume and brought Orlando to London as Minnie Mouse. Like my sweet dance moves? The river cruise was amazing. Though it rained, we were thankfully covered and able to dance the night away to current American hits, and older varieties that feature the word “America,” or any of its forms. The night obviously ended with a circle of swaying to “American Pie,” which was a nice break from the serious grooving with which I involved myself for the evening!

The rest of the program-paid-for weekend in London consisted of more touristy activities. On Saturday morning, I awoke at 9 AM! A night of pubbing and clubbing did not stop me from making it to Buckingham Palace by 10:45 to see the Change of the Guard, which is rated one of England’s most awesome, yet overrated ceremonies. November 1st marks London’s formal recognition of winter, so the red coats and black furry caps were replaced with grey jackets. Oh well. There ceremony was still cool, and very royal. I also toured the Cabinet War Rooms of the Imperial War Museum. The latent history buff within me briefly came alive!

But enough about London -- I want to tell you about Ireland! Just wait a few… I have tons of laundry. Cheers!