The week off has ended and I have returned to South Kensington. Before I jump back into the week and start work I just want to fill everyone in on my seven days traveling across Le France.
We started off around 4:30 AM (not the most glorious time of day). Since the Tube was not yet open we had ordered a taxi, but to our surprise no taxi showed up and we were left standing in the rain on our street corner. What a great way to start off a vacation. After managing to hunt down a taxi and make it to Saint Pancras station (sopping wet), we cleared customs and border control and took our seats on the Eurostar train that would take us under the channel into Paris. After a few hours to catch up on our sleep we arrived in rainy Paris and found our way to the hotel. We then made our way through the rain to the Louvre museum. Of course we saw all the famous pieces (Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, etc), but the museum was overwhelming in its size and vast quantity of art work. After wandering the museum we went to the Louvre food court (unlike an American food court this place had amazing food) and while standing in line I met a Baylor Bear alum who was living in Paris. Small world.
After leaving the museum we headed down along the river to Notre Dame. Even after seeing many old gothic churches during my travels abroad this cathedral took the cake. When we arrived they were starting mass, so we decided to stay. I found it comical that we happened to attend the service that was in honor of a Mexican saint, so while the priest spoke French the speakers and choir spoke Spanish. It was quite and experience and even though I only understood bits and pieces of the entire service I enjoyed my time in Notre Dame.
When the service ended we walked along the river to the Eiffel Tower. By this time it was already dark so the tower was lit up and we caught the last few minutes of the light show. Our group grabbed some fruit, cheese, bread, and wine and sat beneath the tower. We ended the day in the most appropriate way we knew how in France, with a chocolate crepe.
After seeing the main hot spots in Paris the day before, we hopped on the train and headed to the Chateau of Versailles. This was probably my favorite spot we visited during the entire trip. Why this place is not one of the Seven Wonders of the World I do not know. The palace makes Buckingham and Windsor look like cottages. Every room is fitted with gold, marble, and the most ornate decorations and paintings of the day (it is no wonder the French were so far in debt). One of the girls in our group was fascinated with French history, so she was able to tell us stories of the kings and queens that had once called Versailles home. While the palace was unbelievable, it was the gardens (if you can call them "gardens") that made the trip worth while. The grounds were covered in a manicured maze of trees, shrubs, and fountains. We wondered the grounds for hours. As if the palace wasn't enough for the French royalty, they built a weekend palace at the far end of the acres (this place was about the size of the White House). Then, not even a quarter of a mile away they had a smaller version of this weekend home where Marie Antoinette went to act as if she was a common poor person. To top it off they had built Marie her own village to play in with her friends. We grabbed sandwiches and pastries and enjoyed the end of the day on the grounds of Versailles.
After arriving back in Paris we decided to go out for crepes, but got side tracked and ended up in a small local "bar" at Rebecca's (our new French friend) 25th birthday celebration. It was a small group of her 20 closest friends and we all enjoyed a night of karaoke.
What a day!
This morning was the day we hit our only big road bump during the week. After arriving at the train station to leave for Nice, we realize that due to the strikes in Paris our tickets would no longer get us on the train. Bummer. In order to make it to Nice and not lose money on our next hotels we coughed up a good amount of money and settled into the next train out of Paris (most of us quite grumpy at this point). After spending most of our day on the train we arrived in Nice, checked into the hotel, went out for a relaxing dinner (of Italian food), and ended our day sitting on the beach.
Getting in the full swing of relaxation we spent the morning and a good part of the afternoon laying on the beach reading and just enjoying the blue water. After managing to force ourselves vertical, we wandered the streets of Nice and had some crepes in the harbor. We returned to the hotel for late afternoon naps and then headed back out for a good dinner and the beach. It was a very relaxing day in the French Riviera.
Still in total relaxation mode, our group hopped on a bus and headed a few minutes up the coast to Monaco. We spent some time staring amazed at the endless supply of mega yachts (or should I say private ships?) that filled the harbor of Monte Carlo, then headed up the hill to the resorts and casinos. Being in Monte Carlo and being legal in Europe, we had to go into a casino and try our luck (or lack there of). After a girl in our group lost all her money at the roulette table in about 5 seconds we headed for the slot machines (seeing it was about the cheapest way to play for more that 1 minute) to join the over 65 crowd. We all had a good laugh at ourselves and played the slots. Some (by which I mean most) of us left down, but a few lucky group members were able to get back the money we had spent on train tickets a few days before (lucky them). Our group grabbed some food and enjoyed the coast below while the girls headed off to do some shopping. The sun went down on Monte Carlo and we headed back to our hotel in Nice.
Hitting the road again, we hopped onto a train and spent our entire day reading as we made our way up the the northwest corner of France to Caen. Due to a slight lack of planning and research on the part of our hotel bookers in the group, we had a bit of an adventure, but all worked out. At the end of the long day of travel we were all happy to happen to stumble across a McDonalds for a late dinner. Sad, but true.
After a small scare due to lack of trains during this French strike, we were able to hire a taxi driver, Philip, who took us to Omaha beach and the American cemetery. It was an amazing day to experience a little piece of history, but it was also very saddening to walk through the thousands of white crosses that overlooked the cliffs of Normandy.
That evening after dinner we made friends with a local bar owner who was excited to practice his English and meet some Americans. We enjoyed some cigars and a few drinks courtesy of him and then called it a night.
Back to Paris for a few hours before our Chunnel train departed back to London. While the girls in our group enjoyed a mad shopping trip. The two of us guys found a park bench and finished reading our books with the Eiffel Tower to our left and the Arc de Triomphe to the right. A good end to a week in France.
And now happily back in rainy South Kensington (where everyone speaks English) I have a little down time before I start my internship and second half of my time in London. After hearing of Baylor's win over Texas (Sic ‘Em!!!!) last night I am missing being on campus, but time is flying by and I will be back before I know it.
Miss you all.
Just wanted to update everyone on what's going on over here during my semester abroad. Hopefully y'all got my first update, and I am sure you have been updated a bit by word of mouth. I am in the final week of classes! Only a few papers left to turn in, then I am done with my major classes for the semester. It has flown by, but I won't complain about getting down with school so quickly. After my last week of school I will be off to France and Italy for a 10 day break before I start my internship. For my internship I will be working with a head hunting firm called Halo Contracting. Not quite clear on what I will be doing, but will find out soon enough.
Since I last sent out an update, I have been able to a good bit of traveling across the UK and over to mainland Europe for a quick weekend. We took a trip with 11 people (way too many) to Liverpool and Dublin for a weekend. Much of the trip was spent tending to sick people. Between food poisoning and a wild and tossing sea crossing to Ireland (now known as the Barf Barge) each of us had a run in with vomiting. So while I am sure Ireland and Wales are beautiful and fun places to visit, we missed out on a bit while trying to reach our destination only to turn around twelve hours later. But it is all an adventure!
I have also been able to visit Windsor Castle and the London Eye in recent weeks. Both were great and uneventful, so that was a relief.
This past weekend I was able to take off three days to hop on a night bus to Amsterdam (and yes it was a very dodgy group of people on the night bus). We had a great time exploring the city and experiencing mainland Europe, but with the abundance of pot, prostitutes, and questionable people, Amsterdam is not on the top of my favorite cities so far, but it was an adventure none the less.
After over a month abroad I am starting to feel a bit homesick for some American things, such as being able to walk down the street without inhaling a lung full of cigarette smoke and a cheap cheese burger. But overall I am still loving being here in London and looking forward to doing some more extensive traveling throughout the UK.
Hope all is well with everyone! Miss you.
After two weeks abroad I just wanted to update everyone on what is going on since I have settled in London.
So two weeks ago I boarded the plane in Houston and 7 hours later touched down in London. We are living in a flat in the Royal Borough of Kensington on the very top floor. I enjoy a 109-stair climb every day to get to our flat!
Within the first few days I packed in a lot of sightseeing around London. Since all the national museums and galleries are free to the public I have definitely taken advantage of those. We have also obviously taken the Tube all across the city to see the famous sights (London Eye, Parliament, Tower Bridge, etc.), and of course a few pubs.
Classes started a few days after arrival, but they have yet to be too challenging. Without any homework we still find lots of time to explore London all afternoon! Needless to say, it will be an easy semester academically!
This last weekend a group of 6 of us hopped on the train to Edinburgh, Scotland (where the Pope just arrived as I am typing). After our train was delayed for about two hours we finally made it into Edinburgh around 12:30 AM and found our way to the hostel (making a stop for 24-hr Chinese food. Gross). On Saturday we explored the castle, Royal Mile, and lots of little side streets and shops in the old town. In the afternoon we hiked up the largest mountain (hill) in the city, and when the sun set we went underground and experienced one of their famous City of the Dead tours in the underground tunnels of Edinburgh. The trip was short, but packed full of fun and hopefully I will be able to get back up to Scotland to do some more exploring.
In the next few weeks I will be going to see Wicked in the theater district, getting on the London Eye, seeing the Pope pass down our streets, visiting Holy Trinity Brompton to attend a small group session with Bear Grylls (from Man vs Wild), and just exploring the city.
Hope all is well back in the States! Miss everyone.