Europe in 3 Months

Five months ago, on January 5 2013, I was getting on a plane headed for Barcelona.

Last year I was at a crossroads in my life. If I continued on the path I was on, I knew exactly where I’d end up. Not that the path was bad, necessarily, but I was feeling trapped into a life I wasn’t exactly sure I wanted.

So, I decided to pack up and head to Europe. What better time to do it? I quit my job, left my family, friends, and a boyfriend behind and set off on a new journey. It was definitely a risk, but one that was so worth taking.

I spent 6 incredible weeks in Barcelona, Spain. The first four weeks were spent completing a course through Oxford TEFL- teaching English as a foreign language. Having no experience whatsoever, I was thrown into teaching an English class on my second day. I learned all about how to make a lesson plan, teach from the heart, and cater to speakers of many languages. I met amazing people- both teachers and students. I ate tapas and drank beer on the weekends with my fellow Oxford teachers. I went to Speaking Club on Thursday nights, cooked paella (or really watched people cook paella) and learned to navigate the Barcelona metro and supermarkets. It was honestly one of the most amazing times I’ve ever had. I made friends I know I’ll have for a lifetime.

Barcelona itself- the city is magical! There’s such a special, welcoming feel to it. I was there in January and February- low tourist season- so I feel like I got to experience the real deal. I visited all the major sites- Park Guell, La Sagrada Familia, churches, museums, the beach… everything. Honestly, it was heartbreaking to leave.

Once my 6 weeks were up I flew to Paris where I met my mom for a week. We stayed in an apartment across the Seine from the Louvre. There was a lot of cheese and wine, many museums, and of  course the Eiffel Tower. My favorite part of the city was the Shakespeare & Company bookstore- I spent hours in there just reading and looking at books. Surprisingly, I was somewhat disappointed by Paris. Maybe it was because I was coming from Barcelona- a city so full of life and character- that Paris seemed stuffy and dull.

In Paris I met up with my Topdeck tour- a rowdy awesome bunch of Australians. We set off on 24 days around Europe… such an incredible journey. We started in Paris where we stayed in a shit hostel miles from the city center. We saw a topless cabaret show and drank wine. From Paris it was off to Switzerland in a big coach driven by an even rowdier Irishman whose favorite phrase was WOOPAH! The Swiss Alps in February are COLD. We stayed in a tiny town called Lauterbrunnen where we were surrounded by huge peaks. At night, with the snow falling, it was eerily silent. I took the coldest shower of my entire life in Lauterbrunnen when the machine for hot water wouldn’t take my money. We had a traffic light party in a small rustic bar and a few people went skiing during the day.

From Lauterbrunnen it was on to Italy- first stop Florence. Florence is by far my favorite Italian city. We had a walking tour and visited Ponte Vecchio. There was a karaoke night involving mass amounts of alcohol and everyone loosened up and started getting comfortable. From Florence we drove to Rome- we actually arrived just hours after Pope Benedict stepped down. In Rome there was the required toga party. I was able to meet up with friends from Barcelona during the day and saw the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, and the outside of the Coliseum. From Rome we traveled to Venice, where we saw St. Mark’s Square, went up inside the bell tower, bought masks, and had a masquerade.

Italy to Austria- we made our way to Salzburg, Austria where there was strudel, The Sound of Music tour, and shopping. From Salzburg we went to Vienna and only had one night there- where I took advantage by iceskating on a huge rink outside a government building.

To be continued…

London Town!

I just got back from London a few days ago, and I’d like to talk about my experiences there. Of course, my goal was to write something every day while I was there, but clearly THAT didn’t happen. So here are some scattered memories of the 7 days I spent in London!

Day 1

My mom and I arrived in London in the morning after not sleeping on the plane at all. First thing we did was a classic tourist move- went on a double decker bus tour. This, I am not proud of. But we needed to get our bearings and make sure we saw everything quickly- and the cheesy guided commentary didn’t hurt! My first impression (and it is a lasting one) of London was that it is a city of beautiful contradiction. There is such incredible history there- buildings from the 16th and 17th centuries stand next to sleek, modern skyscrapers. The fusion of old and new really defines the city.

Then we went on a Jack the Ripper walking tour (which came free with the double decker bus deal). I KNOW, I KNOW. But it was actually really interesting! The guy leading it was a young local student and knew everything there is to know about Jack the Ripper (although this information in itself is limited). He took us through alleyways and tunnels and set the stage for the 5 murders perfectly. At one point we stood on the exact same cobblestone where one of his victims was found. So creepy!

That night, we were exhausted, so we decided to just go across the street to a pub for beers and fish and chips. Something I wish I would have known before this trip- waiters and waitresses do not exist in traditional British pubs! We sat there like idiots waiting for someone to serve us before we finally figured out we had to go up to the bar ourselves if we wanted anything. The things you learn while traveling.

Day 2

On our second day, we decided to go down to the Westminster Abbey area. Westminster Abbey itself was closed to visitors, which sucked, so we went to the Houses of Parliament instead. It was fascinating to see the government of the UK- everything is pomp and circumstance. It’s so different from the U.S. They place a lot of value on tradition and ceremony, which is intriguing. We saw the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and the Queen’s Waiting Room. The building itself was awesome, but it, like SO many other places in London, did not allow pictures. Sigh. Then we walked up to Trafalgar Square and through the National Gallery, where we saw works by Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Degas, Cezanne… the list went on. There was definitely not enough time to see everything.

That afternoon, we had booked a literary pub crawl (because I am a lit nerd). And… this thing was weird. Most things literary are, but still. We ended up being the only two people on this thing. No joke. And we couldn’t get out of it without insulting the people who put it one (who were very nice). There were two women dressed in costume and pretending to be Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf. …Yeah. Parts of it were actually very interesting- we walked around Fitzrovia and SoHo and saw a lot of pubs where literary greats once drank. Honestly, though, it was more interesting to see the young, vibrant (predominantly gay) neighborhood of SoHo.

That night we stayed in the area and had dinner in Chinatown (a British Chinatown, who knew?) It reminded me of Chinatown in NYC, but on a smaller scale. The first restaurant we tried sat us down in this tube like room literally squeezed next to a couple, so we tried a different place. The food was pretty decent and the atmosphere was lively.

Day 3

Old and New collide…

On day 3, we went on a Harry Potter tour in the morning, because WHY NOT. This girl about my age from Canada took us (and about 5 local familys and 2 foreign couples) around London to filming locations of the Harry Potter movies.

For lunch, we decided to *try* traditional British food. I got a steak and ale pie and my mom got bangers and mash. The food in London is just… not good. It was terrible. I know that’s a stereotype, and maybe it was just the place we went to, but my GOD those people do not know how to cook.

We ended the day at the Tower of London. We got there and this guide took a TON of people around the grounds. He was hilarious. And his Twitter handle is @BillyBeefeater, in case you’re curious. The highlight of this was definitely the Crown Jewels. Those things are enormous, glittering, mortgages of diamonds. The “Tower” of London is not a Tower at all, but almost a medieval apartment complex. It was amazing to see this medieval fortress that is still standing.

Day 4

This was by far my favorite day in London. My mom had to work for the rest of the trip (the reason we were there) so I was on my own. I decided to take the tube down to Buckingham Palace and basically walk my way back through the city. Buckingham Palace was much bigger than I thought it would be, and in the front there’s this giant fountain with a huge gold statue on top of it. There was no changing of the guard that day, but I did take some close-ups of the guards standing in front of the doors. Then I walked along a gorgeous pathway that bordered Hyde Park on one side and Green Park on the other. I walked along Piccadilly up to Piccadilly Circus, where I walked past some crazy rich houses and the Ritz Hotel.

I went back to the alleyway that we had visited on the Harry Potter tour and went into some of the bookstores. Some of them were selling first edition books of Alice in Wonderland and Roald Dahl books. They were really cool to see, but about 100 GBP each, so that wasn’t happening. I then walked my way up toward the British Museum, through the Seven Dials. These are basically seven streets that converge in a wheel shape (also, the streets in London are a freakin’ mess and none of them run straight). Each of the seven streets have a ton of little boutiques, specialty shops, and eateries that I felt were more authentic London.

The British Museum 1) is huge and 2) cannot be done in just a few hours. I did get to wander through a few of the rooms and see the Rosetta stone though! This museum houses some of the most ancient and amazing artifacts from human civilization, and best of all, like every other museum in London, it was free!

From there I walked to Covent Garden. I was expecting an actual garden (nope, not literal) but instead this is like an eclectic, diverse marketplace. This was one of my favorite places in London. There are rows and rows of shops and bakeries, and then in the center there are booths set up where locals sell antiques, jewelry, leather, paintings, basically anything and everything you could imagine. The place was bustling and there were street performers juggling machetes and musicians singing and playing instruments. I spent as much time as I could there before I knew it’d be getting dark.

On my walk back to the hotel, I stopped at the Somerset House and Courtauld Gallery. I didn’t go in the Courtauld Gallery because it was about to close, but I took a bunch of pictures of Somerset House. What is Somerset House, you ask? I have no idea. The courtyard was deserted, and there I was snapping pictures. Don’t know what it is, but it’s beautiful!

Day 5

I decided to get out of London and see more of England, so I took a tour to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Bath. Windsor Castle is where Queen Elizabeth II spends about 3 months out of the year, and she prefers it to Buckingham Palace. And I totally understand why. First, we saw Queen Mary’s Dollhouse, which is basically the Rolls Royce of dollhouses. This thing is open on 4 sides, probably has 25 rooms, and every room is decorated down to the finest detail. I mean, there are little tiny forks and knives in the dining room. We then walked through the State Apartments, (again, no pictures) which are grandiose and completely over-the-top luxurious. They are still decorated like they were in the 16th century, but the Queen and her officials still use the rooms today.

We then rode to Stonehenge, which was incredible to see, but… it is exactly what it looks like in the pictures. A bunch of rocks, out in the middle of nowhere. What’s amazing about it is the question- why is it there and how did it get there? Other than that, though, there is nothing unexpected. We then moved on to the ancient Roman city of Bath, where Jane Austen lived. We took a tour through the Roman baths and then did have some free time (and by that I mean 5 minutes). It was then a three hour drive back into London. When we got back, I decided to at least pass by Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament at night. Big Ben was lit up in green, Parliament in gold, the London Eye in blue, and Southwark Bridge in purple. London looks completely different at night.

Day 6

This was my last full day in London. I decided to suck it up and go to Westminster Abbey (cost 16 GBP, which is an outrage) but I”m so glad I did. The place is magical. So many former kings and queens are buried there, and to be honest, it was kind of cool to walk the same path that Kate did! Then, I trekked all the way across town because I THOUGHT that the dress Judy Garland wore in the Wizard of Oz was on display at the Stafford Hotel. When I got there after forty minutes of walking, however, I learned that the dress had JUST been moved. Frustration was an understatement.

I headed to the Victoria and Albert Museum but only had time to see one floor. My favorite exhibit was the “Wardrobe through the Ages”- they had clothes on display from the 1600s through today. I then took the tube (I was mastering it by now) to Tower Bridge. Just for your reference, the “Tower Bridge Experience” is a total rip off and waste of time, and I’d recommend avoiding it. I then went to Shakespeare’s Globe, which is basically a replica of the Globe theater (or at least what they think it looked like.) This, although overpriced, I would actually recommend. I would have liked to have seen a play in the theater, but the tour was still very interesting.

That night, we went to the play Les Miserables at Queen’s Theatre. AMAZING. If you haven’t seen it, I can’t describe it. And if you have, I don’t have to.

Day 7

On our last day, we only had time to go to St. Paul’s Cathedral. We saw the glittering mosaics on the ceilings and climbed the hundreds of stairs up to the golden lantern where we enjoyed a panoramic view of the city. It was the perfect way to end the stay in London!

Love the destination, hate the journey.

I’ve come to the conclusion that airports are simultaneously one of the happiest places on earth and the most depressing. They are happy when they’re the site of a reunion, like a soldier seeing his kid for the first time or grandparents hugging their grandkids. Then there are my experiences.

Number one- parking is always a bitch. Please let me catch a shuttle and hike 2 miles to kick off the trip, thanks. Then you have the line to check in. Then there’s security where everyone’s head falls off and people forget they’re human. (“Ohh.. you mean I can’t take my water bottle on the plane? Belts have metal on them? What do you mean I have to take my shoes off?”) Then take yet another shuttle to get to your gate. By the time you get there you’re winded and hate everyone. Happy travels!

There’s also the inevitable chick wearing skinny jeans, stilettos, and hoop earrings. AT THE AIRPORT. This is how I feel about that:

 

What gets me is that at the gate everyone starts crowding like vultures around a kill, just inching in front of the person next to them. WE’RE ALL GETTING ON THIS FLYING METAL DEATH TRAP, PEOPLE. Then people stand in the aisle of the plane putting their bag in the overhead bin for about 10 minutes while everyone behind them sighs loudly. Then, once everyone’s seated, you wait another half hour to take off. At this point I’m ready to stab someone for breathing too loudly. And then you get hours and hours of cramped seating, fat people, crying babies, weird smells, and ear popping. You would think that by now we could have made this experience a little more pleasant.

BUT once you get to where you’re going- it’s all worth it. It’s nice to vent once in a while.

“The world is book and those who do not travel have only read one page.” St. Augustine

Hello All!

My name is Amanda and this travel blog is long overdue. A little about me- I am 24, born and raised in beautiful Colorado. I have a degree in English Literature and Media Studies. I have been fortunate enough to have traveled all over the world. This blog is mainly for my sanity and so that I can keep track of where I’ve been and what I’ve seen, but I hope if you’re reading that you enjoy it.

In the U.S., I’ve been to:

  • Arizona- Phoenix, Scottsdale
  • California- Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach, Long Beach
  • Florida- Miami, Naples, Orlando
  • Georgia- Atlanta
  • Hawaii- Honolulu, Maui, Kauaii, Oahu
  • Illinois- Chicago
  • Iowa- Des Moines, Ames
  • Louisiana- New Orleans
  • Massachusetts- Boston
  • Michigan- Detroit, Lake Michigan
  • Minnesota- St. Paul, Minneapolis, St. Cloud
  • Nebraska- Lincoln, Hastings, Beatrice
  • Nevada- Las Vegas
  • New Mexico- Santa Fe, Albuquerque
  • New York- New York City
  • Oregon- Portland
  • South Dakota
  • Texas- San Antonio
  • Virginia
  • Washington- Seattle, Spokane
  • Washington, D.C.
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming- Cheyenne

Outside the U.S.:

  • Mexico- Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, Cozumel, Mazatlan
  • Cayman Islands
  • Bahamas
  • Italy- Rome, Florence, Milan, Venice
  • San Marino
  • Greece- Athens, Thessoloniki, Delphi, Samos
  • Turkey- Ephesus, Troy, Kusadasi
  • Ireland- Dublin
  • England- London
  • Spain- Barcelona, Sitges
  • France- Paris
  • Switzerland- Lauterbrunnen
  • Austria- Vienna, Salzburg
  • Germany- Berlin
  • Poland- Krakow
  • Hungary- Budapest
  • Czech Republic- Prague
  • Belgium- Bruges
  • Israel- Tel Aviv, Petach Tikvah, Haifa, Jerusalem
  • The Netherlands- Amsterdam

I wanted to start this blog because I realized I have been to all of these places but the only memories I have are pictures (and to be honest, half the time I don’t even know what they are). I wanted a way to document my experiences and share what I see and how I feel right when it happens.

As an English major, I’m also obsessed with literature. So I may talk about novels or works if they relate to where I’m going (or even if they don’t). Figured I would give fair warning.

Thanks for reading!