Ignite and fly
That is the best advice I have received in a long time. But what does it mean?
It means that a lot of stuff is coming.
The best has only just begun.
5 weeks ago to the day I was writing my first of many blog updates that documented one of the most amazing adventures of my life to date. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I would leave my little hometown of 4,568 people (as of 2010) and travel to another continent and visit 4 other countries that each have their own personality and have their own story to tell. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would see and do so much in such a short period of time. Never did I think I would make the friends that I made. But most of all, never did I think I would grow and change so much in just 5 short weeks. It honestly doesn’t feel like I have changed that much, but at the same time, as I sit homeless in a Starbucks on Nicolson Street in Edinburgh, Scotland listening to a throwback of jams of the 1960s and 1970s that are tickling my flower child soul that I have changed and grown into something unfamiliar, but within that unfamiliar there is a new comfort. A comfort that has been needed and one that I have been seeking for an awful long time. Who would have thought that the saying rings true… Europe really does change a person… and in this case, it changed this person for the better.
Okay, now that the ‘Dear Diary’ moment above is over, here’s what has been going on this week in Edinburgh, Scotland -
27 (plus 4) were dropped off at the train station and left to our own devices, if you will, and told ‘have a great weekend, see you in class on Monday.’ Confused, the 27 of us looked at each other and were like ‘okay…here we go again on another adventure!’ Once we got situated and found out where we were going to be living for the next week, we hopped into a parade of cabs and rode through the most beautifully preserved city I have ever seen. Edinburgh is the definition of what an old European city should look like. I could sit and tell you that there are cobble stone streets, castles, acid rain washed and weathered buildings, but my descriptions do not do it justice because one has to see it for their own eyes. With that, the views are stunning. The sea is to the north (i.e. the North Sea anyone?), Arthur’s Seat (that is not a joke, the hill, once a former volcano, is really called such) is located outside of our dorm rooms, the Commonwealth Pool is literately 4 steps away where the diving is going on for the 20th Commonwealth Games (the Queen’s Olympics - or a mini Olympics for Britain’s ‘current’/former colonies)… It’s unreal how much there is to see in a city that is half the size of London or Paris. With that, the food is awesome, the Royal Mile is unbelievable with shops, pubs, performers, music, people and all, and the Scottish people are by far the friendliest people I have ever met. Of the 4 countries I have visited on this trip, Scotland is, by far, the friendliest and one I recommend for all to check out…and then Barcelona, Spain.
Oh, and or you golf nerds out there, my friend Nick and I spent the day at the Old Course in St. Andrews. Needless to say, it was Euphoria. I’ll never play it because it would kick my butt, but I learned how to play it which is honor enough. :) Anyone want to go to the Open next year - it will be played on the Old Course…!
We only had 3 days of class to catch up on last minute stuff before taking our final, so there’s really nothing to report back. We learned basically last minute stuff on the EU, more about devolution in Scotland (go to the BBC online to learn about it if you’re curious about Scotland being its own country apart from Great Britain and the UK), and then guest speakers. Monday we went to Parliament, Tuesday we visited a castle, Wednesday we had a final group dinner, Thursday we took our final and then I ate some amazing Nepalese food, and today is Friday…the day that 27 (plus 4) Spartans went their separate ways. It’s been a light week, but a week that has been bittersweet at the same time.
Although it has been an amazing and life-changing 5 weeks, I am ready to return to the 517. I didn’t get homesick at all which is very surprising considering how close my family, friends, swim family and I all are, but I am ready to hug my dad tomorrow afternoon when I get to the airport…and then see my dog when I get home. :) The grind of traveling is one that I could do again and again, but it’s time for a little break from it, and it’s time to return back to normal life for a while.
It hasn’t hit me quite yet that I’m leaving Europe yet and I think it’s because I can finally call this country (the UK) home after 5 weeks. It took some time to adjust to how life worked in the UK but once it clicked things took off and it was like nothing was different. I don’t feel different but I know there has been change both internally and externally. I feel like now I have 2 homes around the world and can come back whenever I want and not feel like a ‘shoobie (Rocket Power reference)’, which is comforting.
As I wrap this last entry up from Europe I think to myself, I now have a story to tell. Before I left I had an idea to be put down on paper but had no idea what to expect. I was just some girl who, on a whim, signed up for a program to study abroad to get 7 credits out of the way for my second degree. Who would have thought that Amanda Arthur, the definition of a hometown girl, would travel 3,550+ miles to not only study but also experience one of the greatest adventures of her life. Who would have thought thought that hometown girl would have found a home away from home in Europe. But most importantly, who would have thought that hometown girl would have grown and changed so much in 5 weeks… In my wildest dreams I never thought it would have ever happened. It makes for one hell of a story to tell.
I’ll see you all when I get home, my friends. Thank you for coming along on this journey. It has been one crazy adventure and I’m so glad you could be there with me during it!
I love you all, to the many stars and back,
4 weeks ago almost to the day I was wrapping up my last day at work for the summer receiving wet hugs from my swimmers with the promise I was going to come back in the fall, starting laundry, packing and getting ready for my summer in the United Kingdom. Looking back on the last month spent in London I think ‘wow, where has the time gone and why has it gone too fast?’ It’s crazy to think that in a week I’ll be back home in the 517 getting back to family, friends, swimming, but thinking about all of that makes me appreciate the experience and growth has been gained…and there is still one more week to go in Edinburgh!
Tomorrow morning 27 (plus 4) board a train and head north and finish up the ISS/PLS studies! Packing started last night and is quickly wrapping up this afternoon/evening before friends gather and go out for one last night in London. Naturally, the girl who can fit in her suitcase (this is no joke - there is documentation) still cannot figure out how to put everything back how it once was. It’s going to be an adventure.
This past and last week in London has been jam packed with stuff. Monday we spent the morning in class and then went to the Imperial War Museum - what an intense experience. Although the museum is full of war stuff (cars, cannons) and other things, the group of us spent the afternoon in the Holocaust part of the museum. I have been to Holocaust museums before and it doesn’t matter how many times one walks through them…it’s a haunting experience. Humble pie at the end of the exhibit never tasted so good. Tuesday brought a brighter day in the port city/town of Greenwich. A lot of history and fun stuff to see: shops, food, great views, the Prime Meridian (where the time zones begin - which we snuck into ;)) and good company…nothing much to complain about. We made a new friend at the train station and he some how followed us to Greenwich and serenaded us for the afternoon so that was cool also. Wednesday brought more sea adventures on a paddle boat, and then a play at the Apollo Theatre. The play we saw is one I’m still trying to figure out if I liked it or not, but read up on it online and see what you think. (“Let The Right One In”) Picadilly Circus (where the Apollo is located) is our Times Square, so imagine the thousands of people, China Town, Ed’s 50s Dinner (that is not a joke and such an over exaggeration of American culture) and so much life. We walked home from the theatre and realized that our flat was literately 15 minutes from Picadilly… Face palm fail. Thursday (today) we did Abbey Road which was the last touristy thing to complete - for now. It was cool to take it all in and just something to do right after class. (the wannabe Beatles picture will come later)
The night tonight brings packing, homework and then heading out to the first pub I went to when I got to London. There is a jazz and ragtime band playing, so it’ll be nice to sit with friends and just sit. Tomorrow we leave and then hello Scotland! From what I have been told this place is pretty awesome, so the buildup has me anxious to see the beauty and more! To add to the former, the Commonwealth Games (mini Olympics put simply) are going on in Glasgow and if we play our cards right we could be there watching it live!
9 days my friends…
Much love —
^ See, I told you I could fit in my suitcase
^ Piece of the Berlin Wall
Paddle boating and the Apollo
When i decided to book my long weekend trip to Barcelona about five days ago I had apprehensions about it. The desire was “iffy” to go because the Spanish culture wasn’t appealing to me and all I really wanted to do was sit on the beach for 3 days and bask in the sun - which I did - and decompress and relax. When we stepped off of the plane and into the Spanish heat it was the most comforting thing in the entire world. After all of the years of somehow just not having the desire to come to Spain or wanting to learn anything about the Spanish culture just stepping into it changed everything.
Sydney and I collected the one mammoth sized suitcase we brought with us, got into a cab and rode into Barcelona…it was picturesque. The mountains, palm trees, the music, the sunshine, the heat…it was like a dream but reality. Arriving in the city was unreal because it was so beautiful - it looked like as if one was driving into downtown Chicago, NYC or San Diego, and the city itself is so clean. Was this real or not? We’re about to find out…
After putting our stuff into our hotel room and getting settled we met up with friends at their rented apartment. Walking the city was awesome because the Spanish architecture both high and low has been so well preserved over so many years. One would have never thought that even with such a broken economy that a country could be so beautiful but Barcelona has definitely broken that stereotype. The sidewalks were patterned from street end-to-street end, balconies were unreal with their rod iron gates in front and doors open, and the people…so friendly! It was a definite change of pace from Paris. :)
As a group we learned how the metro worked, which was easy as pie and so efficient, and then we stepped out into the most beautiful seaside area I have ever seen… Barceloneta [Beach]. Walking up to the beach and passing the many shops and seeing the side streets and seeing homes was something one would imagine seeing in Cuba (stuck in the 50’s) or Mexico…but it was better. Once we reached the beach and saw the Mediterranean Sea sparkling in the sunshine I swear to you it was the closest thing to heaven that one could be. The former was my life for two days and that is not a lie.
Surrounding Barcelonta there was so much culture with people from so many walks of life and it amazed me how relaxed life was…was it real? yes…yes it was. On Saturday, Sydney, Jeff and I rented paddle boards and spent the afternoon (after eating real seaside food - yes, it was amazing) on the water. Yes, it was awesome; and yes I mastered this skill for those of you who might be questioning otherwise. :)
I bet you’re wondering where the tagline came from for this week. My “homie” Zach and I were talking about the sand and the saying came up… ‘for every grain of sand there is a star in the sky.’ Think about that for a second… Think about all of the sand in the world and all of the stars in the sky…could it actually be true? Could there be an exact sand to star ratio? You be the one to decide the next time you pick up a handful of sand and/or look up at the stars. Makes you think doesn’t it?
At the present time Sydney, Jeff and I are sitting in the Barcelona airport waiting to go back to London. Sunburned/tanned, tired and all…it was truly a perspective changing weekend in Spain. I’m walking away from this weekend with a fresh perspective on what Spain is and what the culture has to offer because it wasn’t what I expected…it was better. Each trip we take just keeps getting better and better.
The following weeks offers our last week in London and so much to do (group trips and a play) before packing up and going to Scotland for a week and then traveling back to the states. Where has the time gone this summer? 13 days and then I’ll be back home again ready to finish out the latter part of the year only expecting great things. :)
The good is only just beginning my friends…
Much love —
I am not going to age myself with this statement, but rather I am going to say that it has been a good amount of time since I started studying the French culture and language. I can remember being a teenager and enrolling in my first French course in high school and thinking to myself ‘what am I doing’ and ‘is this going to be for me?’ Little did I know that it would, one day, lead me on the best 2 days of my life.
It honestly hasn’t hit me yet that I (as well as 4 other good friends) spent 2 chaotic and life changing days in Paris - and that is not a joke. From the beginning of the adventure on Friday morning until the end of the adventure on Sunday morning it was nothing short of…an adventure. I’m sure ‘you’ have heard the saying “Paris can be done in a day,” and that saying rings true and don’t ever let anyone tell you differently. However, the city is huge and so much to offer. However, there are 20 districts in Paris, we say maybe half of them - both the good and the bad.
Let me begin to tell you about my weekend -
Exiting Gare du Nord (the train station) I, as well as my 4 travel buddies, were so tired and yet excited to be in Paris - who wouldn’t be right?! Well one thing we learned very quickly is that the city has a lot of twists and turns and we turned and ended up in the shoddy parts of the city (the parts of the city that I advised all to avoid). That was a nice welcome to the city! Once we got to our hotel (in the 8eme/9eme district) in the right district, we set out stuff down and got out into the city.
We wanted food, so of course we picked the most American place on the strip… The Hard Rock Paris. Now, I was in heaven because it’s a faux metal place, but for the first place to be visited in Paris…go us - but the food was great! After so, we wandered some place and ended up at Le Palace Royal in les jardins and it was tres beaux! It was almost like being in a movie (and I’m sure movies were filmed there throughout the years) because it was that beautiful. Then we ended up at the Louvre… That in itself was just…it can’t be put into words. We took pics in front of it like any typical tourist would, and then we went inside and saw maybe 1/5 of the artwork. It was beautiful. Oh, we also met Mona Lisa too and she was nice. Once the Louvre was done we wandered down the street and ended up at the Love Lock Bridge and it was so cute. It’s kind of out of my element to be all romantic, but it was special to see so many couples with their locks on the bridge because they really believe in true love. In honor of that, I did one for my parents (so did one of my friends). Following that we headed down the River Seine and checked out Notre Dame, at night, and it gave the gothic architecture a real dark feel (and no, it wasn’t because the sun was setting and it was getting dark) - truly something of sheer beauty. After some souvenir shopping and creme brulee it was time to go back to the hotel. The walk in itself was…stressful because we SAW Paris for what it had to offer at night - it was a completely different place. We saw homelessness, drunk people passed out cold on the street before 10pm, and just the city for real - kind of intimidating. It didn’t take but an hour for us to pass out and do it all again the next day.
The second day in Paris showed a lot more promise and we did it all. 7am we were at the train station and on our way to Versailles at 8am local time (Paris). The ride to out was beautiful. Still exhausted it was hard to believe that we were in Paris but we still were! Anyway, the panorama of Versailles was sensational - there are no words to describe it. We got to the actual Palace of Versailles and although it looks like a small on the outside looks are VERY deceiving my friends. The Palace is huge inside and les jardins in the back are equally as huge - but why not go all out if ‘you’re’ a king right? The pictures below don’t do it justice but it was awesome. Once we left we spent some time with the Eiffel Tower and took even took a nap in front of it - how American of us! Just in case you were wondering, it is really big. Following, we purchased: water at an American store, a real french baguette, and strolled along some road and ate it as if we were cool. We ended our sight seeing for the day by climbing a few stairs to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, and again the panorama of Paris…stunning. From that view one could see the entire city for what it had to offer and then some. It was honestly the perfect way to end the day before 3/5 of us had to split off and come back to London.
I spent my last night in Paris talking with friends and doing homework preparing for the train ride back but I did not expect what was coming next…
After going through a hellish morning at the hotel and boarder security, we almost missed our train - all part of the adventure. Anyway, my friend and I sat across from this women and her son who were on an 8 or week travel through Europe and these two people in particular really were something special. Needless to say, instantly both my friend and I made new friends. After spending 2 hours with these people everything has changed. It’s really funny how people can affect other people in such a way that is unspeakable… Remember my continuous talk about everyone has a story…these two have a story and it was the best one yet. :)
My friend who I was traveling back with asked me something about something I posted about last week: would I ever live here (London)? Honestly, I’m not sure. Home is London right now and it feels so good to be back with my roommates and back in a place where I feel safe after a whirlwind weekend in Paris. But, could I ever give up everything at home - family, friends, familiarity? I’m not sure right now. Right now at home everything is going really well and I have no complaints. I have a good job, an amazing family and support system, a network of friends who are basically awesome…could I give that up?
Although it was only 2 days, it was 2 days well spent in Paris. Would I do it again? Yes. Plain and simple.
6 days left at Regent’s then we’re on our way to Edinburgh to finish up the program. Scotland has a lot of adventure in store and I can’t wait to get up north to see what the rest of the UK has to offer.
I know after tonight they know how to watch soccer here in London, and they know how to make Americans feel welcome! It may look like I was rooting for Deutschland but really Argentina has my heart.
Until the next post my friends,
Much love —
I often catch myself wondering if I could ever live in this city and adjust to daily life. Think about it, my friends, we all come from (or most of us at least come from) a small town where we have to drive to our destinations, we are surrounded by the same people day in and day out and see the same things every day, and we are so used to things being so readily available to us whenever we need them - Meijer, a car, friends, wifi… All the little things that we take for granted every day are here but not at our disclosure. Weird to think that isn’t it…
I will answer later.
The last time I updated it was something like the day before the 4th of July - hope America enjoyed another year of celebrating!! From the messages, posts and texts from home…y’all did. :) (shout-out to my mom, brother and dog for the play-by-play of the night) Here, the day and night went on like any other, but celebrations were going on at all of the “American “hot spots”” - i.e. embassies, bars, etc. Kind of cool to think that even though we won our independence from Britain a few years ago that Americans can still celebrate, nicely of course, in the country. OH! One of the coolest things was getting to FaceTime with my swimmers back home. I hadn’t gotten to see them in a little bit and it was one of their birthdays, so getting to chat with them for a bit was awesome too!
The weekend brought adventure and good fish and chips! On Saturday we visited parliament - but it wasn’t in session. The building was beautiful so much history was bound up in the building that it was, looking back on it now, one of the most amazing experiences of my life - truly. The politics and drama bound up in both chambers of the House of Lords and House of Commons was chilling as I strolled through. The best part of the entire tour of Parliament was seeing the huge statue of Margaret Thatcher. For those of you who know me (and this will be referenced again) know I idolize her and enjoy learning about her politics and the time. It was awesome. After so, fish and chips followed and it was the best experience ever at the best pub in London. Sunday a friend and I had a chill day and went shopping. We hit up a kick-ass record shop (and records are coming home), a sweet bookstore and even had Chipotle! Yes, it was an American day.
Monday…what happened Monday… Monday… Oh yeah.. THE TOUR de FRANCE came to town and yours truly was standing at BUCKINGHAM Palace watching it!! Honestly, being surrounded by thousands of people to watch 10 minutes of biking was the most exhilarating experience ever (crowd-wise). Watching it at Buckingham was cool also…SERIOUSLY though, it is so beautiful and the pics below will evidence and support it! The day leading into it was kind of crazy because it was 7/7 here, and 7/7 here is the equivalent to our 9/11 so the city all over (both above and below ground) was on high alert - and we got to see it firsthand. It was exciting but scary because the police were searching trashcans as we were walking back to the Tube, so it was a bit intimidating to think that for as safe as London is…it’s really not at the same time.
Tuesday was the best day to date - maybe. We had an MP (Member of Parliament) come to speak about parliament and he was pretty sassy for an older gentleman. He was a former CEO or something of Jaguar, so he knew his stuff (to make a long story short) and he was such a joy to have in class. He even invited us to come to a session when the House of Commons is up and running - the drama…! After that it was a lazy day until the night came around…
We went and saw “Handbagged” which was a play at the Vaudeville Theatre here in London, and it was about conversations between Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2). Not only was I the happiest I had ever been because I was seeing a play firsthand, which was also very well done and all of the actors played their characters to the “T,” but I was also surrounded by history in Vaudeville. Again, for those of you who know me, you know I LOVE the Vaudeville genre and quirky things like so. The theatre was beautiful and the history behind Brit Vaudeville runs parallel with American Vaudeville but it does have its differences. Anyway, pictures below will do the theatre justice. It was awesome. Hands down awesome! Best day ever.
Today (Wednesday - I’m losing track of the days!!), we went to Windsor and visited the Queen’s Castle and St. George’s Church. Yes, castles are huge and they are real, and no there wasn’t a moat or a fire breathing dragon. Sorry to crush all of the things that Disney lied to you about, but there were knights….on the wall. :) No, it was awesome! The castle was cool, but the church…was BEAUTIFUL! It took 53 years to build it, and the gothic architecture was stunning. In fact, I was so caught up in it that I bypassed 1/2 of the audio guide. :) After so we went shopping and rode the train back into London. Tonight we’re expecting storms and storms of homework to come our way!
So to answer the question from above, would I live here? This city has something for everybody. It has its quirks for those who like to do their own thing. It has its high end of those who like luxury. It has great food and everyone loves food. For me, it has a little bit of everything. It’s perfect.
I’m up 5-2 in the fish and chips competition with my professor - that’s where that came from. Winner takes it all…
Weekend trip #1 is Paris this weekend!
If you were to ask me what I think of London right now this is what I would answer you back with:
This city is amazing.
For a city that has roughly 11 million people crammed into a small area, this is the most efficient city I have ever stepped foot in. It is amazing how 60 people can squeeze into a tube car, or how many little cars can fit on a narrow street, or even how buses and bikes can share the same lane on those same narrow streets. The most amazing thing here is how many faces that are passed daily and how we can all fit on the sidewalk…well that, and how amazing the food is because fish & chips…you don’t know good food until you have eaten it here in London City.
There are museums that one can get lost in for hours. This past week my classmates and I have visited St. Paul’s Cathedral, the National Portrait Museum, and my favorite museum The Victoria and Albert. Although history surrounds this city, getting “into it” in a museum for hours on end is one in a million. This city is so old and has had so many changes, political revolutions etc., and the fact that it’s been archived in museums is awesome. Aside from getting lost in the city looking for food to get to know the city better, go get lost in a museum and learn about the city because one really does learn something. And the V&A is pretty much the best museum on the planet.
Navigating around this city is getting easier as the days go on. My newly found friends and I have found ourselves looking for food at 11pm EDT and ran out of luck because most places stop serving food at 9pm BST. The other night (Wednesday, July 2, 2014 to be exact) we wandered around the entire city of London, basically, looking for food…and we ended up at McDonald’s. #murica But taking The Tube and walking is a definite change from driving my Ford Focus every day. It makes one appreciate the little things…like a car…and clean air to breathe on a daily basis. :)
Aside from visiting museums, getting lost, smelling people’s armpits, and not sleeping on a regular basis I have been taking classes and seeing plays also! My class (because it’s a one-room schoolhouse situation) is going pretty well and is very informative. The Britons have such a grasp on how things run and work. Complicated and symbolic is their thing, but it works for them and makes a lot of sense… As a group we went and saw George Orwell’s 1984 on the stage and it was fantastic. The stage play brought the book to life and it was one of the most intense plays, emotionally. It brought to life the post-WW2 and communism during the late 1940s-1990s when it officially fell. If you have the chance, go see it.
The picture below is just a snippet of what has been going on this week between museums, sights, and the beauty of the city. It’s so crazy to see these old buildings, landmarks really, mixed in with today’s architecture. The sky is really that blue, it is that beautiful at night, the bridge is that awesome, and MMA Hurricanes are along for this trip!
Stay tuned because the next week or so is about to be even better. We have Parliament on Saturday, then Sunday downtown it is to go get lost and SEE London for what it has to offer. It’s time to SEE this city and what it has to offer.
Until then, we’re still trying to figure out where the wifi is at because it’s not really available all over the place like we have been misled to think. :) Because when in London…do as the Americans will do.
With love, my friends -