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Edinburgh, Scotland

And so begins the solo leg of my journey after a 3 day rest in Ireland, Scotland!

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TOUR

Free tour! Like always! Visited the city, Buddy the dog’s grave, the graveyard where J.K. Rowling stole names for Harry Potter, and the place she (allegedly) wrote part of it.

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LUNCH

Haggis with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes), and irn bru, a drink banned in Canada! (it’s nonalcoholic, sells better than coke in Scotland, and tastes like cotton candy)

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HIGHLANDS

Then, off to the highlands!  Both with views from the hills, and the hills themselves.

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MORNING BEFORE FLIGHT

Edinburgh Castle!  I got to watch the 1 o’clock gun go off, see the crown jewels (no photos allowed), and be completely unable to see the view of the city because of fog! (I’m just glad it was sunny when I climbed the highlands).

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After this is London, and then I head home.  I hope you all enjoyed this blog!

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Posted by on April 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Krakow, Poland

My last stop with Emily was to Krakow, Poland.  I finally declared my project done and enjoyed Easter weekend without stress (well, except for going to Auschwitz).  This is another one of those posts where it’s going to be told mostly in photos, because I did so much and took so many.

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THE HOSTEL

Let’s Rock hostel was actually ridiculously beautiful, and while we were there they gave us a free chocolate fountain, free karaoke, and free sangria.  10/10 would visit again.

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THE TOUR

Another free tour!  The architecture is beautiful in the city, so here’s some of those photos.

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AUSCHWITZ

Absolutely beautifully done tour, I’m amazed I almost forgot about visiting.

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JEWISH QUARTER TOUR

Tour of the Jewish Quarter, including the ghettos.  It’s weird to think this all happened so recently.

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EASTER MARKET

Best time to visit Krakow ever, I consumed ridiculous amounts of cheese and meat while here.  On the Saturday before people were also walking around with baskets that they took to get blessed in the churches.

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FOOD

Don’t you wish you were here?  This was the first time I had pirogis and polish cheese (the thing slathered in cranberry sauce), and I hope I can find them in America…

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Posted by on April 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Vienna

Vienna was also almost entirely spent in the hostel trying to finish up the project (I may or may not have cried at one point). I messaged one of my classmates lamenting the fact that I was obviously underqualified (it was actually a master’s level course, not undergrad), but apparently everyone was struggling ridiculously with the project, so I felt a little less awful.

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I did go to the Vienna Opera House though!  I had no idea there were subtitles for the first half, and realized in the second half it didn’t make the show that much better, but it was an incredible experience, even if I realized I’m not a huge fan of opera.  While waiting, a cool guy we met in line actually ended up winning 2048, and then after the opera he showed us an awesome sausage stand right next door.

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I also visited the Schonbrun Palace and Gardens (not as impressive as Versailles of Keukenhof, but still lovely).

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Finally, we ended up accidentally getting two traditional Viennese meals, on the morning we went to the palace we stopped off at a cafe and just ordered the first thing on the menu (the server couldn’t figure out how to translate it into English), which turned out to be Viennese coffee, bread, cheese, jam, and butter.  I don’t even like coffee, and I drank the whole cup!  Our second meal was sausage and potatoes, salad and potatoes (we originally thought they were apples), and a mysterious really tender meat thing with root vegetables on top with more potatoes.

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Posted by on April 16, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Budapest

To be honest, almost all my time in Budapest was spent indoors at the hostel working on a project (not my choice, but I didn’t want to fail the class).  I did get my traditional Hungarian dinner though, and visited the Szechenyi Bath and Spa.  Plus, the conversion rate was phenomenal, and I was able to buy way too many chocolate wafer bars and caffeinated beverages to keep me going during my project (I don’t know why wafer bars aren’t as popular in the US, they are absolutely delicious, I had 5 different kinds while working)

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We spent over 4 hours switching from medicine bath to sauna to cold bath to outdoor pool to indoor pool.  I would trade my soul to have a bathhouse in California, but I’d also probably never leave it if we did.  We walked back from the bathouse to the hostel, and below are some of the few photos I took in Budapest.

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Posted by on April 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Paris

The night before Emily and I started our Paris adventure, I mapped out where all the different attractions were, and made a very nice google doc of what we were going to visit each day.  In the true fashion of youth, we ended up completely ignoring it and winging the next 72 hours, but somehow still hitting pretty much all the major sights. This post is organized into places rather than days, because we tended to jump around a lot, visiting the outside of a building one day and the inside the next day.

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There’s a reason it’s called the City of Lights!

THE TOUR

Our first adventure was another free walking tour, the same company that we used in Amsterdam.  Apparently these walking tours are popping up all over Europe, and I must say I’m very appreciative of them.  Most of this post is going to be told in slideshows of photos, because the sheer amount we did is ridiculous.

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THE LOURVE

Free for students! And of course I visited the Mona Lisa, knowing that if I ever mentioned to anyone I’d visited the Louvre that’d be the first thing they asked. The museum itself was ridiculously large, and I mostly hit a few sculpture and painting areas, you could spend a week in there and still not see half of the Louvre.

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ARC DE TRIOMPHE

We also got in free here! (France is so kind to its students) Breathtaking views of the city, and the Eiffel Tower.

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EIFFEL TOWER

Not free, but still totally worth it. What I actually never knew was that the Eiffel Tower was built for the World’s Fair, and was meant to be deconstructed after, but the creator managed to convince everyone it could be used to send radio signals, so it was kept up and is now one of the most iconic locations in Paris. It was a bit terrifying to know that it was only meant to last a year and be standing at the top of it, though.

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NOTRE DAME

Didn’t see any hunchbacks here, but the cathedral itself was beautiful. A service was happening as we were there, and I couldn’t help but marvel at the wonder of it all.

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CHAMPS-ELYSEES

Not much to say here, but it was pretty!  Traveling Europe has really given me an understanding of the complete lack of history in architecture America has.  We have some really pretty buildings, but they don’t have the sheer age behind them European ones do.

TRADITIONAL *cough tourist cough* FRENCH DINNER

Escargot, frogs legs, cheese, duck, and much more!

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NIGHT-TIME

Emily and I signed a lock on the infamous lock bridge (after I haggled the price down, woooo Europe!) and then spent the rest of the night looking at the City of Lights the way it was meant to be seen in the dark.

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Paris is not necessarily a place I would ever visit again (although it was beautiful) because of the sheer touristy nature of it (although I sound like a hypocrite since I live in LA).  Now, the real gem of the trip was actually a place we almost skipped, Versailles.

VERSAILLES

After receiving numerous suggestions from friends to visit Versailles (including one from a girl from my college who works there and we just happened to run into on a train), Emily and I woke up bright and early to visit the town. When we got to the train station, though, we were told the palace was closed.  I knew that Mikayla (the classmate I had run into the day before) wouldn’t suggest us visiting the place if it was closed, so I asked explicitly about the gardens, because that was what she told us to visit.  We were told they were also closed.  Dejected, we headed up to the cemetery of Montmatre and wandered around, lamenting the fact we would be unable to see Versailles (we were leaving the next day).

On a whim, I asked Emily to look up on her phone whether the gardens were actually closed, which is ridiculous because why would the train station lie to us, but lo and behold the gardens apparently stay open even if the palace was closed!  We booked it back to the train station, and spent the rest of the day exploring some of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever been in (I wish I had another week to spend there, I didn’t get to see nearly enough).  It was a different beautiful from the gardens of Keukenhof, for Keukenhof was a garden of flowers, and Versailles had a manicured beauty of lawns, hedges, and fountains.

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Posted by on April 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Amsterdam

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Monday marked the first day of my adventure across Europe, and today was my last day on the first leg of the journey, Amsterdam. Now, before I get into this post, yes there is weed and prostitutes in Amsterdam, and I participated in neither.  What I did do though, was learn as much as I could about the history and culture of both, some of which I will attempt to impart on you later.

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But first, we start at the beginning, which in this case is walking 2 miles at night through the center of Amsterdam to try to find our hostel.  One of the things I’m really starting to get good at in life is getting lost and being okay with asking for help taking my time finding the way back (metaphor for life? who knows).  The hostel itself was the Flying Pig Uptown, situated in the Museum District.  The reception area doubled as an awesome bar where everyone went to socialize, and had a smoking room next door (for cigarettes, of course).  We were on the fourth floor (fifth for you noneuropeans) in a room with about 10 other people.

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The next day dawned bright and early with a free breakfast of eggs, nutella on toast, and cereal.  We wandered the city without a specific destination in mind, and ended up at the Royal Palace, Chinatown, the Red Light District, Begijnhof, and the Flower Market.  The day was fairly uneventful, I spent a portion of it napping after still being exhausted from Adventure Weekend, but we did meet an awesome American named Morgan who joined us later to explore the Red Light District again.  For those of you who don’t know, the Red Light District consists of a network of alleys containing approximately three hundred one-room cabins rented by prostitutes who offer their sexual services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights. These “kamers” are the most visible and typical kind of red light district sex work in Amsterdam and are a large tourist attraction.  

I unfortunately couldn’t take any photos (they’ll spray urine on you if you do), but google it some time to see more.  I highly recommend the Red Light Secrets museum, they have rooms laid out like actual cabins, facts about the district (windows cost approximately 150 euro a night, sessions last on average 6 minutes and cost 30-50 euro), and videos that show you both what it feels like to be inside the window, as well as what it’d feel like if they prostitutes actually thought I was a potential customer (the workers usually turned to their phones when I walked by, but normally they flirt with the men on the street).  The most crazy part of the night actually happened when we settled down at a bar (not in the Red Light District), and the American girl we had met ran into a guy she knew from Barcelona, who turned out to be traveling with his brother who went to the school next to mine.  I nearly had a heart attack when I said I was from Los Angeles and they asked if I knew Claremont.

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Day 2 was basically all Keukenhof Gardens, the largest garden in all of Europe.  I’m going to allow the photos to speak for me.

The park:

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The flowers themselves:

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After the gardens we had a traditional dutch dinner of potatoes mixed with either kale, saurekraut, or endives, sausage, and tea at the end.

Day 3 I went on three separate walking tours for 6.5 hours of straight walking/standing.  The first tour covered a lot of the traditional areas of Amsterdam, talking about the history, religion, and culture of the area.  Apparently it is a place known for tolerance, yet the Dutch are also known for being extremely opinionated (I guess they just don’t force their opinions on you?) We grabbed lunch at the Pancake Bakery, and had dutch pancakes (a bit like deep fried crepes with cheese and bacon on top, although you can get it with apples, syrup, tomatoes, etc.) and dutch poffertjes (kinda like mini pancakes that are SUPER RICH).

The second tour was on the Coffee Shops of the area.  Now, coffee shops in Amsterdam do not mean Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, in the Netherlands a coffee shop is where you go to buy weed and smoke.  Technically marijuana is illegal in Amsterdam, but it’d be impossible to find a cop who’d arrest you for it.  They also took us to a marijuana museum where I got to see some plants growing and learn more about the history of the plant.  I checked out the inside of a coffee shop (it felt mostly like a pub/cafe), but chose to go buy (normal) waffles at the grocery store instead of spacecakes (brownies with weed) in the shop.  The final tour was of the Red Light District (I can’t seem to escape the place), where our tour guide told us all the inside stories she had learned from being living in the district, being friends with the workers, and interviewing some of the more elite prostitutes.

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Our last day in Amsterdam was spent at the Van Gogh museum, and I must say I never realized how incredible and varied his work was until this point, especially since he only painted for about 10 years.  I usually go to museums because I think it’s important to appreciate art, but I truly did enjoy just sitting and contemplating some of Van Gogh’s paintings (especially since my feet hurt from all the walking the day before).

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Next up: Paris!

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Carlingford Adventure Weekend

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Be afraid. Be very afraid. This is the face of those who have survived Carlingford’s Adventure Weekend, and they are coming for you.

Reason number 1042 I’m glad I went through the IFSA Study Abroad program, Adventure Weekend in Carlington, Ireland.  And when they say Adventure Weekend, they mean adventure, ranging from high ropes courses to laser tag to rolling down a hill in a giant inflatable ball.

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Day 1 started with a 5 hour bus ride to the opposite side of the island, a ride which I spent most of sleeping after staying up until 5 am the night before finishing up a coding project.  In Carlington we met up with the IFSA students from Belfast, Maynooth, and Dublin.  We were then handed matching IFSA sweatshirts so the locals would know exactly who to hate when 90 college-age kids went romping through their town.  After a few card games, I headed to bed, only to be awoken at 3 am by a faulty fire alarm.  I am thankful that fire alarms usually ring continuously (instead of the 30 second bursts the faulty one had), because the first few times it rang we simply ignored it, and if there had been a real fire we would have roasted.

The next time we awoke it was 8 am and the loudspeaker was blaring American Pie, an homage to our homeland.  A sleepy breakfast of toast and cereal followed, and we headed out to our respective activities.  I chose Zorbing, the ‘sport’ of rolling down a hill in a ball of transparent plastic (it was terrifying).  We also did semi-zorb sumo, where we were half enclosed in a plastic bubble, and slammed into each other as hard as we could (yay, violence!).  Other less violent activities included archery and crawling on our hands and knees through a pitch black maze.

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After a hearty lunch with THREE DIFFERENT KINDS OF POTATOES (mashed, chips (fries), and fried), beans, and veggies, we headed back out to the high ropes course.  Now, to be clear, I’m actually terrified of heights.  I actually signed up for canoeing, but the people who went in the morning found it so miserable that they actually cancelled it for the afternoon.  Now, I’m not one to give up an opportunity to try something new, even if I’m scared to death, so I participated in every single high ropes activity (with only minimal whimpering).  I always find it interesting how I can squash my fear while I need to get something done, especially since almost all the activities were group trials, and only start freaking out when it’s completed (multiple people commented they never would have guessed I was scared of heights).

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The last day of our trip was laser tag.  Now, when I think of laser tag, I usually think of a small indoor arena with lights flashing, cool music, and maybe multiple levels, so I was confused when we found ourselves equipped with a camo onesie, a huge gun, and hiking half a mile uphill into a forest.

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I don’t think I’ll ever be able to participate in American laser tag again without crying for its Irish counterpart.

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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