Text 28 Jul Maps, Morality, and McDonald’s.

Sitting here on my bed wishing I could be in two places at once.
Wondering how I can feel so at home and yet be so far from it.
Confused about how I can be homesick and never want to go home at the same time.
Loving that I’m experiencing the world first-hand.
Hating that I’m missing out on the lives of those that I love.

In all, trying to find a balance.
When does one life end and another begin?

French author, Andre Gide, once said, “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

Well leaving the shore was never my problem. It’s the looking back that’s got me worried. Yes, I understand that we all have to grow up and leave the places we once called home in order to pursue our own dreams and ultimately create our own lives…

But what if I’m not ready for that yet? I guess what I’m saying is I’m not ready to say goodbye even though I know I have to. Also (I’m totally not ashamed to say this either!) I love my mommy and daddy and I don’t want to move away from home. I love my friends. I love knowing where my grocery store is, what gas station has the cheapest prices, where I can get the best carne asada fries. And I love knowing that I belong somewhere…

But then again, I want to try, see, and experience everything. Literally, everything. I can’t make up my mind.

One day I want to travel the world. The next day I want to live in England. The next day I want to be a traveling cruise ship singer. The next I want to be an au pair. An actress. An author. An artist. A teacher. A friend. 

And then I remember just how much I love home. And then I don’t want to leave. And then I want to leave. And the whole darn confusing process starts all over again.

When do you know you’ve got it right? .. Or do you ever?

More than anything in this world, I just want to know that I have no regrets. And I hope I’ll be able to say that. 

And although I feel like I’m learning so much while studying abroad, I’ve also realized one important thing: I will never understand everything. And yet, being the stubborn girl that I am, that realization has only made me want to work harder to understand.

And for the last couple weeks, here is what I’ve come to find:

Amsterdam, Holland - 
1) Just because you have a map, it doesn’t mean you won’t get lost.
2) Morality is socially constructed. There is no black and white. No real definition for right and wrong. Our only real guide for what is ‘moral’ is what others have told us to believe.
3) Yes, there are places in the world where prostitution is a respectable occupation. And surprisingly, I think I’m okay with that.
4) McDonald’s is just as good in Europe as it is in the states. Only, here it’s classier… And more expensive. 

Bruges, Belgium -
1) The rumors are true - Belgian chocolate is the best in the world. And the waffles. I will never eat a waffle again. (Unless I go back to Belgium!)
2) Traveling by horse-driven carriages will never lose its awesomeness.
3) Just because a city isn’t a major tourist attraction doesn’t mean it’s not worth visiting - some of the best cities are those that are kept secret. It’s not like going to London or Paris. It makes you feel like you’ve found something special, something that nobody else has discovered before. And that’s an amazing feeling.

Venice & Florence, Italy -
1) One of the most attractive qualities in an individual is when they’re proud of where they’ve come from.
2) Forget about the calories. You only live once. And trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve had 10 gelatos in less than 5 days.
3) Don’t let a language barrier keep you from communicating. There are other ways of getting messages across.
4) There’s something about old churches that makes me feel so insignificant (in a good way). It makes me feel like the world is so much bigger than my problems and my life - there’s a bigger plan, a bigger picture, a bigger meaning. 

Pisa, Italy - 
1) Pisa sucks. It just sucks. Take a picture with the Tower and then hustle out of there!

And overall, above all else… despite our differences, our socially constructed morals and standards, our clothing, our culture, our borders…. we’re all really quite similar.

We all cry, question, laugh, and smile in the same language. And that thought in itself makes the world feel small again. Because when three American girls have been struggling to get directions to McDonald’s (I can’t believe I’m mentioning McDonald’s twice in this entry hahah ;)) from three non-English speaking Italian men, it’s such a relief to just laugh. And in that moment of laughter, that second when you’re not worried about where you have to be or how you’re getting there… you realize one thing - we’re all on the same page. We’re all lost in our own way, even if we are equipped with a map. And sometimes, the best way to get back on track is to let yourself get lost.. Who knows what you’ll find?

I have absolutely no idea. But I’m sure as hell going to try and find out :)
Cheers to getting lost in Scotland this weekend!  

Quote 20 Jul 1 note
Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.
— Oscar Wilde
Text 20 Jul 2 notes Things I miss and mistakes I intend to make.

I’ve come to realize that my life is a big string of mistakes. Now these mistakes range in their magnitude, but they are mistakes nonetheless. From getting onto the wrong bus, to forgetting my way back home, it always seems that I’m stumbling through my life. And this, I’ve come to find, is not necessarily a bad thing. For it is in these mistakes that I have learned more about the myself, and ultimately, the world.

For example, I’ve learned never to ask the French for directions, always bring a compass when trying to navigate yourself through Amsterdam, and never, and I mean NEVER forget to pee before you get on an 8-hour coach ride.

No, Seriously.

I’ve also learned one thing that I hope can stay with me forever. Honestly, humans are such adaptable beings that sometimes I feel like I’ll have a revelation one day and then fall back into old habits the next. But if there’s anything that I can take away from this trip, I hope it’s the fact that I will remember to appreciate the annoying things in my life.

…Okay, let me rephrase that, haha :)

The things that I miss the most about home (besides the food), is having something that is constant in my life. I miss being apart of something that’s bigger than just myself. I miss being a member of a club (yeah, I know I always complained about having so many MEDleys rehearsals!), I miss doing errands in my neighborhood (I miss Vons, the post office, the gas station..), I miss my family (even when my parents bug me to do the dishes) and, can you believe it, I miss school. I miss living on a floor full of open doors filled with people who are ready to listen, ready to advise, ready to care. 

So if there’s one thing that I’ve learned from homesickness, it’s that sometimes the annoying little things are what you miss the most. So please help me to remember this! (Especially when I’m becoming difficult and complaining about everything - haha! :)) Remind me that these annoying things are what I missed these first four weeks away from home. 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I sit by my window looking out into the rain thinking about home. Get real, I’m not that emo. haha :) I mean, I miss it, but I’m still having a blast here. It’s such a strange thing, to love where you are but to also love what you left behind. It’s almost like my heart is in two places.

Looking back on the whole thing, I cannot believe it’s been four weeks. Four weeks of class, four weeks of new friends, four weeks of exploring new places, expanding my horizons, and quite frankly, finding myself. If two years ago you were to tell me that I would be visiting eight countries within a span of eight weeks, I would have probably laughed in your face (in the nicest way possible, of course! hahah ;)). And yet, here I am, getting lost in some of the most beautiful cities in the world, forgetting that not everybody speaks English, and realizing that social constructs are not constant internationally.

The whole trip has definitely been a learning experience. And not only am I excited to continue traveling around Europe, but I’m excited to make mistakes. Because as Oscar Wilde once said, “Experience is the name every one gives to their mistakes.” And gosh dang it, I intend to make many! :)  

So I’ve completely been neglecting my blog and I haven’t blogged about my travels for the last two weekends! :-O

So here is a quick recount of what I’ve been up to:

Weekend Two: London & Oxford

London is just plain beautiful. One of the cleanest cities I’ve ever seen, and I love how everything is so close together. You can literally walk everywhere. We saw Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the Changing of the Guard, The London Eye, Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and London’s West End - all in one day! Yes, London is beautiful, but I have to admit, it’s not my favorite city. There were way too many people, and because its so small, it is just plain crowded. 

Sometimes when I think about traveling, I know that there are certain things that I have to do. For example, you simply have to visit Buckingham Palace when you’re in London. You cannot miss the Eiffel Tower when you’re in France. And you wouldn’t have seen Amsterdam if you didn’t visit the Red Light District. However, for the most part, these ‘touristy’ things have become my least favorite part of my trips, mostly because I feel London has become progressively less and less English (this has been confirmed by my English tutor and friends). I feel like London, Paris, and many of the big “tourist” cities have lost some of their magic because they’re now simply there to please the visitors instead of having their own special significance. It’s sad really, how becoming a tourist city can ruin what made the city to special in the first place.

Still, these cities are definitely worth seeing - just make sure you make stops in other parts of the country to get a real feel for what it’s like to live there (likeee visit Oxford, haha:))

Here are some London pictures:

In front of Buckingham Palace - it’s sad but after seeing Versailles, this palace looks pretty feeble, haha :)


You can see the London Eye in the distance :)


Obama and I are buds. Haha, jkkkk. I went to Madame Toussands - a famous wax museum in London with a bunch of wax replicas of celebrities and important political figures.


Just because it’s the typical London picture :)


Just because I love the crazy Londoners :)

The changing of the guard - I think my favorite part about London so far! (Except for the amazing theaters there, of course!)

To see more of the changing of the guard click the link below:
http://www.youtube.com/user/liveyourdreamsx#p/a/u/0/tNGP-mSlbvc

I honestly never even considered grad school until I stepped on Oxford University’s campus. It’s beautifully built, and you can almost feel the years of hard work and history as you walk through its halls. So many brilliant minds have studied there - and there’s just a wonderful ambiance of people who are working towards their dreams. Oxford, unlike Paris and London, gave me the “Oh my god, I could live here” feeling.


On top of that, I was able to see parts of where Harry Potter was filmed!!! Eeeeeeek, it was awesome.


This is where Harry and his friends have dinner in the movies - The Great Hall! :)


This is where Harry Potter meets Draco Malfoy in the first movie :)

 
And this is just because I love the English version of the books :)

I also visited Windsor, home to Windsor Castle. What’s Windsor Castle, you ask? Well, it’s the Queen of England’s favorite summer residence … yep, she has multiple castles… Must be nice to live her life, haha. :) Anyways, the castle was beautiful and amazing and it was located in such a cute little town. I’m learning to really love the beauty and simplicity of these little English towns. There’s something so special about living in a town where everyone knows your name; where everyone is part of the same community, the same network. It’s really comforting to think that there are still people who simply live - who aren’t as caught up as I am with school, work, media. Sometimes I wish I could be more like that, just living simply and simply living.

Windsor Pictures:

Outside the castle


Windsor Castle


The precious town of Windsor. :)

This past weekend I spent time in Amsterdam & Zaanse Schans, Holland and Bruges, Belgium! However, I’m going to have to blog about that later! It’s finals week, after all :) I’m excited to spend 5 days in Italy, starting Thursday. Super stoked!! :D 

Text 20 Jul 1 note Hohohomeeesickkknessss

EDIT: After writing this post, I thought a long time about not posting it. But after awhile, I decided to go ahead and post it. Traveling and studying abroad is definitely about learning new things and having all these amazing experiences. But when all the tours, travel adventures, and activities die down, I can’t help but yearn for something that’s a little bit familiar. Something that is constant. Although I’m having an awesome time here, there has been a time when I wasn’t so perky and positive about it. Yes (I hate to admit it) but there was a time when I was homesick :(

JULY 8, 2010

And so here it is. The day that I was dreading, but that I knew would come. ::sigh::
…This is my first day experiencing homesickness…. Poooooooooooooop.

At hopes of achieving some type of familiarity, I ran to the closest thing I could get to home. And that, my friends, was a restaurant called “The American Diner”. Hahaha, yes I just might live the sadddesttt lifeeee everrrr. :) And yes, it was a feeble attempt at just being able to be near anything American, but it helped a little. There, I managed to scarf down an entire chicken sandwich, french fries, and an ice cream sundae. It was a lot of food, the portions were huge, it was totally unhealthy, and it was just the way I liked it… God Bless America. hahaha :) It was the most I had eaten in one sitting since I had been home! … I mean, I know I’ve been raving about how great the food is here, but sometimes a girl needs a nasty, greasy, meat-filled meal to make her happy. :) And that is just what I got. And God, did it make me miss home.


Notice the Uncle Sam on the menu… hahha what the Brits must think of us… 


My first real meal in weeks - I LOVE AMERICA hahah :D 

However, during the meal, something interesting happened. My friend went to the restroom, leaving me alone at the table. Now, in a ‘normal’ situation, I may have acted like any other ‘normal’ person and pulled out my cell phone to pretend like I was busy. But, having nobody to text on my UK number, I just sat in my seat and allowed my eyes to wander. I noticed the small details about the building. The Elvis pictures that adorned the walls, the Coca Cola signs that light up each table, and the extraordinarily large (and rather obtrusive) American flag that hung on the wall opposite me. 

Well, apparently my wandering was.. unusual? As soon as the waitress noticed me looking around she came over and said “Oh, don’t worry you’re food is coming soon..”. At first, I didn’t understand the reason for her statement. Puzzled, I sort of looked at her for a second… and then I understood. Not having a real phone for the last two weeks had made me comfortable being on my own. No longer did I resort to technology to distract me when I’m left sitting alone somewhere in order to lessen the awkwardness of being by myself.

However, judging by her reaction, my comfort being alone was not shared by many people. As I looked around the restaurant, there was only one other table with a lone individual. And sure enough, he was waiting for someone as he fiddled with his blackberry. And that’s when I began to think (something that I do too much of and it’s not necessarily a good thing). When was the last time people took a second to enjoy their surroundings? When was the last time that we let ourselves be alone without taking out our phones to make it less ‘awkward’? It made me sad to think that it was no longer socially acceptable to be by yourself without pretending you’re busy. Because for me, there’s something really therapeutic about being by yourself, even for ten minutes. There’s something so special about going out into the world by yourself, with no distractions. I think that’s when I tend to learn the most about the world, and what I want in my own life. And what I want, is to no longer resort to my phone whenever I’m alone. Being in the UK without a real phone has made me appreciate life without one. Talk about being distracted from what’s really important. 

Anyways, after deciding not to go out tonight, I walked a friend to a nearby pub and walked to the bus stop alone. And that’s how it started. I began to do the normal look-over-the-shoulder-every-thirty-seconds routine. I started cautiously examining my surroundings, making eye contact with any person that I sensed was suspicious in the slightest. After all, better safe then sorry, you know. 

…And then I realized how stupid it was. And then I got frustrated at how dumb I was being. As I sat down on the bus, I had nothing to do but watch how people entered. And it was the same thing every single time. A person would enter the bus, look around for an empty seat, and if there was none, they would begrudgingly drag themselves to the seat next to the passenger who seemed the least-threatening. Then, they would make eye-contact with the person they were to sit next to and give them a look that clearly stated “I’m sorry” and then they would sit at the very edge of the seat, God forbid they would accidently brush up against the stranger.

As I watched this happen over and over, I began to wonder about faith. Now, growing up I had heard a lot of stories about how important faith can be in a person’s life. However, I had also heard stories about how hard faith is once it is lost. I’ve seen people lose faith in religions, governments, institutions… but I began to wonder when exactly it was that people began to lose faith in each other.

When, exactly, did we choose to avoid each other? When did it become strange to wave or smile at a stranger? When did it become routine to stay as far away from another human being as possible? When did we become suspicious of everything that was unfamiliar instead of embracing the possibility of what it could become?

And on a more personal level, how many people have I missed out on meeting? How many amazing experiences have I missed out on because I was too busy - no, too suspicious of a person to say hi, or to smile?

These thoughts frustrated me beyond belief and I seriously spent the entire night mad at myself and the world. I know it was dumb. But that’s how the homesickness started. It was something as stupid and little as a waitress who didn’t understand why I wasn’t texting, something as insignificant as how people get onto a local bus.

But I’m assuming that it’s natural, right? When you’re far away and something happens that makes you feel uneasy, the first thing you can do is try and find something familiar, something that reminds you of home. And for me, sitting in bed with a friend, bunch of junk food, watching a movie was just the ticket. :)

And above everything, the whole bout of homesickness taught me one thing: I’m so lucky to have a place in my heart that I can call home, somewhere where I feel I really belong. After all, as Annie once said (yes, I’m quoting the musical hahaha), “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

This week, like the first, has been a busy one. Trying to keep up with travel plans, school trips, and homework is driving me a little bit crazy. But homesickness is a natural and minor set back  and I’m actually really excited for my travels this weekend :) I’ll be going to London and Oxford so the travel adventures will continue!

Quote 6 Jul 1 note
Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.
— John Lennon
Text 6 Jul 2 notes Planning to live in the present.

DAYS FIVE, SIX, SEVEN, & EIGHT: PUBS, PARIS, PEOPLE, & PLANS

It only recently occurred to me how many different things life can be: monotonous, stressful, unpredictable, wonderful. Now, I’m sure we’ve all experienced life at both ends of the spectrum, but when it comes down to it, how many people are actually, really, living? 

Yesterday in class we talked about agents and institutions and it got me thinking. Do we ever really have control over our lives? Is it an individual that can make decisions to change his/her life and ultimately the world? Or are we all prisoners of an institution? Do we adhere to already developed rules and regulations that hold us prisoner? An interesting topic, and I don’t think there is really one right answer. 

Although, when I think of it, I can see how an institution can trap us. I’ve seen it through my friends, my family, strangers, and sometimes, even myself. When it comes down to it, we’ve all been part of an ‘institution’, and we’ve all been taught to follow a specific plan:

Work hard. Study. Work Hard. Get into a good college. Work Hard. Get a good job. Work hard. Have a family. Work hard. Retire… And then the process starts all over again.

Well, I’ve never been one to follow plans. Not any plan that was made for me by anyone other than myself anyway. Because you see, I think all of this talk about plans is funny. Life never really lets you follow a plan, now does it? And yet, here I am, sitting with a pen and paper trying to jot down what I want to happen in my life. Hahha, so typical. When will I learn?

…Do we ever really stop making plans? Or is life just a string of countless, unfinished plans, constantly forcing us to forge forward in hopes of reaching an unknown destination? And when do we ever let ourselves truly be in the present? Or is there even such thing as living for the moment? And how can you live for the moment if you’re constantly worried about the future?

As you can see, I have a strange habit of asking questions and having no answers. But I do know this: these experiences that I’m having right now during my time abroad have taught me so much in terms of my own life. And every now and then, through all the craziness and bustling, I stop. I stop and reflect on what it is I’m actually doing and I realize that I’m living one of my dreams: to travel the world. And that, my friends, is when I realize that sometimes you have to forget about the future, about your obligations, about where you have to be, and you just have to let yourself live in the moment. Because sometimes ‘wasting time’ is not wasting time at all. Sometimes, when you let yourself do things that aren’t planned, you learn the most about yourself and the world. And sometimes, those things that aren’t planned, are the most rewarding experiences.

DAY FIVE: THE PUB CRAWL

It took me a long time to understand the appeal of alcohol. No, really. When kids were drinking in high school, I never really understood its appeal. It wasn’t really until I was a junior in college that I decided l wanted to try it. And by no means am I an expert. I’m a perpetual light weight and I am not afraid to admit it. However, I think I now understand why people might like it so much.

Obviously, it varies with every person. And by no means am I promoting or criticizing this activity, I’m just simply stating how I feel. And how I feel when I consume alcohol is… weird, for lack of a better term. :) I feel like it just makes you forget about the future. And so, just for a few hours, you can really feel like you’re living in a moment. Just that moment that you’re in. There are no thoughts about the future, about obligations, worries, plans. There is just simply you and your friends having a good time and forgetting that life is more complicated than you can ever understand. Oh and also, people let themselves laugh a lot more, which is something that I always advocate doing. :)

And I for one, do enjoy drinking on occasion, but I also feel there is more to life. And a lot of the times, I feel like the stuff that we do when we’re under the influence of alcohol..(karaoke, jumping around and acting crazy, etc.), I feel like I would do those things anyway… hahaha :) Sometimes, when you let yourself be crazy and forget all your inhibitions, you realize that you don’t need any type of stimulant to make your life more enjoyable. Life is beautiful and amazing and exciting when you let yourself really live it, and I think that people should allow themselves to look stupid, and act dumb just because they want to play like they did back when they were kids, not because alcohol made them that way. I’ve come to realize that doing so can make you feel an amazing sense of freedom. Or, in terms of my amazing tutor at Uni… living this way makes you the agent, not the prisoner to the institution. :)



Anyways, day four was all about the pub crawl. It was a night of exploring night clubs and pubs in the cute little town of Brighton, through a program hosted by the Uni. And yes, people drank. And yes, it was quite fun. hahaha :) There is something amazing about hundreds of young, college students going out together. It’s like we’re all looking for the same things, even though we don’t really know what that thing is. But the fact is, just because we’re all exploring together, it’s like we’re united in some strange way. We know we’re not alone. And for me, that’s a great feeling in itself.

Here are some Pub Crawl Pictures: 
girls
It is so much fun getting ready to go out with your girlfriends :)

karaoke
Lucky Voice, Karaoke Bar :)

All for one

DAYS SIX & SEVEN: THE FIRST WEEKEND - PARIS, FRANCE

You know how they say that ‘you have to see it to believe it’? Well, that’s what Paris is like. After years of studying European history and watching countless chick flicks set in this beautiful city, you would think I would know what to expect. Well, we both thought wrong. Paris surpassed every expectation that I had about it. Both beautiful and cultured, the city was not only impressive visually, but it possessed an unspoken specialness - a quality that can only come with an amazing national history and cultural pride. As I walked down the streets of Paris, all I could think about was how detailed everything was. Every building, even buildings that weren’t famous, possessed such amazing architecture. Every lamppost, every street corner, every bench, every boutique… It’s as if an artist painted the whole city, never forgetting to put the finishing touches on every aspect of it’s being. Even the people seemed to be going somewhere, completely immersed in their own story, their own lives…but it was so strange. It was like they weren’t part of this world. It’s as if Paris was it’s own entity, and I was only a visitor from the outside looking in. And let me tell you, that painting, that final product, is unspeakably and remarkably breathtaking. Simply put, Paris is art.

We arrived in Paris at 6:30am and started the day with a tour of all the famous sights. We passed by the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysees, the Concorde, the National Assembly, the Louvre, Notre Dame, and of course, the Eiffel Tower.


Standing outside the Arc De Triomphe :)


Outside the National Assembly Building :)


Next to the Eiffel Tower :)

From there, we went shopping in Paris. And just when you think you’re entering a normal shopping mall, the French do not cease to amaze. The inside of this mall was amazing. The architecture made my jaw drop. Seriously, I’m a huge shopper, and I swear I could have stood in that mall all day and not purchased a single thing. I could just stand in silence for hours and admire just how beautiful the building is. 

mall
See, I told you it was amazing! :)


Clearly, I don’t understand French fashion. I must not be refined enough. hahaha :)

After the quick shopping trip, it was off to the Notre Dame. There’s something amazing about walking into a building like the Notre Dame. It’s almost like you’re walking back into history. Although I thought the stained-glass windows were breathtaking, I was offset by the number of tourists (yes, I know I was one of them! haha but still!!). I feel as if the reverence of the church itself was lost because everybody was taking pictures. Everybody was rushing to get a good shot instead of sitting and using the venue for its original purpose.. prayer.





After the Notre Dame, I was lucky enough to try one of France’s most prized inventions… the crepe. And my god, was it amazing. One of the best things I’ve ever tasted. YOU HAVE TO TRY IT. :)



Haha, It always amazes me how important food is to me when traveling. This was one of the highlights of my trip! haha :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WiuN0LxCcN4

After trying crepes, we got lost. And let me tell you, the Parisians are NOT friendly to tourists. Asking for directions can be almost dangerous. Seriously, if you’re going to do so… brace yourself. hahaha. I got yelled at, glared at, and even scoffed at when I did so! But let me tell you.. You have not lived until you’ve been yelled at by an old Parisian man while eating a chocolate crepe, lost in Paris on your way to the Louvre, haha. What an adventure it was getting from place to place. :) 

Anyways, we spent about three hours in the Louvre, and it still wasn’t enough. You would be amazed by how much art is actually in the museum. It’s larger than life. And I was overwhelmed by that indescribable feeling you can only get by looking at a piece of art. There is no formula, no calculation, and no theory that can explain it. But it is simply a beautiful feeling and it made me remember how much I appreciate the human ability to create something so beautiful that it’s surpasses any true understanding.



Then, it was time for dinner. And you know what that means, right? …I tried es cargot. And amazingly, it was not as bad as I thought it would be. And that means a lot, because we all know I’m a really picky eater, haha. :)


Dentist tools or utensils? haha:)

Refer to the link below for a video of me trying es cargot for the first time! :)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Pn_4Ei1ou4
PS you will hear laughter and catch me looking over my shoulder in this video because there were some native Parisians laughing at my struggle to try es cargot hahha :)

After dinner, it was off to catch a River cruise down the Seine River. It was really nice to relax and just see the famous sights of Paris during the cruise. I, of course, made the stupid mistake of wearing sandals all day. Walking down cobblestone paths and streets all day made my feet hate me by this point. (Typical Kelly mistake! haha :)) Anyways, the River cruise was beautiful. Not only could we see all of the sights, but there were people (mostly couples) sitting up and down the River enjoying the beauty of Paris and it made me think of the many people who have fallen in love in this city. (Yes, I’m a hopeless romantic and a total sap, but it was totes preshh! hahaha :))


Cruising down the River Seine :)


…yes, I take pictures of random cute couples in Paris, hahaha. :)

Following the River cruise we dropped off our stuff at our hotel and then we ran back out into the night to climb the Eiffel Tower. And by ‘we’, I mean my friend Tayler and I, and by ‘ran’, I REALLY mean ran. We were trying to get to the Tower in time to climb it and get back to the train before the last one left at midnight… a goal that sounds easier to accomplish than you think. But first things first…

We made it to the Eiffel Tower by using the Metro system. And, like BAMFs (or idiots, depending on your point of view, haha :)), we decided to take the stairs instead of waiting in the really long line to take the elevator to the top…. Oh my god, it was so tiring. You thought the tower was tall? Well, climb it, and trust me, you’ll think it’s about fifty times taller, hahaha. :) But all in all, the view from the top was worth every step (and the soft serve ice cream we bought when we climbed down! hahah ;)). Seriously though. The view was spectacular. You have to see if for yourself. I couldn’t describe it if I tried. Again, it’s something about the feeling you get when you’re standing so high above one of the most beautiful cities in the world. PS. Did you know that there is a restaurant and bar at the top of the tower? For some reason, it didn’t occur to me that people would build stuff there… but they did! 


They light up the tower at night - and around 11:30pm, it sparkles… literally. They put flashing lights on it, and it’s something that you definitely have to see. Simply breathtaking.


At the top of the Eiffel Tower. :)


The view from the top. This picture does not do it justice.

Here’s a video of the view from the top:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4nmIso7JKk

After climbing the descending the Eiffel Tower, we tried the best soft serve I have ever tasted! (And that means ALOT because I’m a huge soft serve fan!) Delicious. And then we ran back to the metro station and almost missed our train! It took us about twenty minutes to figure out what train we had to be on (thanks to the help of a nice French couple and a French security guard who had a HUGE scary dog with a muzzle who could probably kill meee! :-O). The second we realized which train we had to be on, the train arrived and we had to sprint across a couple platforms to catch it! We barely made it in. Quite the adventure indeed. :)

The next day we woke up and made our way to our last stop in Paris - the palace of Versailles. To say that this palace was breathtaking would be an understatement. Not only is the palace itself adorned with gold, but it’s gigantic. And then there are the gardens. The gardens which, looking at them from afar, are as big as the freaking Forbidden Forest in Harry Potter. Yeah, it’s freakin’ huge. Louis the XIV was a real selfish dude. Walking into the palace and through the gardens, I think i finally understood the reason for the French revolution. Seriously, I mean, COME ON. Your people are starving and you REALLY need your own personal lake so you can have boating parties? Completely ridiculous. But anywaysss… the palace was beautiful, hahaha :)


Outside the palace gates :)


In awe of the musical water fountain show at Versailles.

And that was how I spent my first weekend. Adventuring in the beautiful, indescribable city of Paris. :) We took a bus and the eurotunnel (underwater train majigger) home, and I said Au Revoir to my first weekend traveling and I’m looking forward to spending the next weekend in London. :)

 
Au Revoir, Paris! :)

DAY EIGHT: LIFE & UNI IN THE UNITED KINGDOM

With all this talk about my traveling adventures and meeting amazing new people, I almost forgot that being abroad also means studying.. hahaha :) So here’s some more about that…

First if all, I love living in Brighton. It’s such an amazing town with so many things to offer. There’s the beach, the pier, the nightlife, the countryside. It’s simply beautiful. There are so many adorable little family-owned businesses which adds so much culture to the town itself. Every time I go into town, I am surprised with new discoveries. (We were especially lucky with new discoveries today, because we got on the wrong bus and got lost for an hour… hahha :)) Nonetheless, I had the pleasure of I trying LEGIT Fish & Chips for the first time at this cute little seaside place on the beach in Brighton. THEY WERE AWESOME. (Again, food is a very important part of this trip, hahah. :)) 



And then there’s actually studying in the United Kingdom, an amazing experience in itself. I love that the classes are smaller. I love that I have a personal relationship when every person in my class, and my tutor. I’ve never experienced such an enriching classroom setting. Seriously. Having international students from around the world makes the learning experience so much more interesting than it is at your average, everyday public university.

When your classes are smaller, and you know who your classmates are, it’s a completely and totally different experience. You know what experiences your classmates have had, what makes them who they are, and you can learn SO MUCH from just listening to different opinions on your particular subject. It’s amazing what people have experienced, what misfortunes they’ve triumphed over. Sometimes I feel like I’m sitting in a classroom full of unsung heroes. But then again, I’ve always been lucky when it comes to meeting extraordinary people. I swear, sometimes I feel like fairy tales and adventure stories are not needed because they’re happening everyday, all around us. We’re just so busy planning for other things and looking ahead that we forget to look at where we are in the present. This, my friends, is a mistake that I intend to make a lot less frequently!

And reflecting on these experiences, I’m realizing that I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world.

God, I can’t believe it’s already been a week. On one hand, it’s such a small about of time for how much I’ve learned and done. But on the other hand, I only have seven weeks left! The time is flying by, and I’m doing my best to stay in the present and enjoy every second of this amazing experience and my time abroad. :) And so, at least for now, I’m going to stop worrying about the future. No more talk about plans and obligations and more talk about being in the present and enjoying every moment as it comes. Well, then, I guess you could say I am planning something then… For the rest of this trip, I’m planning to live in the present. :)

Quote 1 Jul
When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.
— Ansel Adams
Text 1 Jul A thousand words is not enough.

DAYS TWO AND THREE: BRITAIN DOES EVERYTHING BETTER.

The one thing that I’ve noticed about traveling is that pictures just do not do justice to some experiences. True, some say that a picture is worth a thousand words. But I swear, if you could see the things I see, smell the things I smell, or feel the things I’m feeling, you would understand that sometimes, a thousand words is just not enough.

Yes, probably all that most people will know about my trip comes from pictures (from flipping through my facebook albums. haha come on we ALL facebook stalk ;)), but honestly, there are some things you just have to experience by yourself. Because for me, I think it’s all about being there. It’s the feeling I get when we drive past London by night. It’s like all of a sudden the whole world stops and my eyes remember what it’s like to see something really beautiful for the first time. Or when I’m walking through the countryside and my nose remembers what fresh air really smells like. Air that has not been contaminated by not only smog, but by man’s greedy desire to destroy everything that is simply beautiful for purely selfish economic gains. Or, it’s the feeling I get when I meet a British native who is so eager to help me when I’m lost (yes, this happens quite often!) It’s just a completely different world. And man, do I love it here. :)

From friendly strangers to fresh food, the longer I’m here, the more I feel like I want to live here. There’s just something so special about this place. I mean, I wish I could tell you in words what I mean, but sometimes I think the experience is one that cannot be explained. It’s completely irrational… Is it completely ridiculous that I’m already in love with this place and it’s only been three days? Probably, hahaha. But then again, I don’t remember a time when love was rational…

Okay, enough rambling and on to what I did for the past two days :)

DAY TWO: THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS. 

I was lucky enough to get told (by mistake) that the gym costs 55 pounds for the summer. (That’s about 175 US dollars = uhmm I don’t think so! haha). But anyway, I think it was a happy accident because I found one of the most beautiful villages I have ever been to. And if there has ever been anything more therapeutic than walking through the countryside, I don’t know what it is. Again, I don’t think this is something I can explain in words. I can only say that my friend and I were both so overwhelmed with the beauty of this place that we almost cried.

brighton countryside

For another peak at what it was like, refer to these two videos:

Falmer Village Lake: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Mz1Qt0rYB4
FRODO! :D: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jq4_nobVyc 

Following the morning walk in the countryside, I went on a tour of Brighton. This is when I realized that I could definitely live in England. Brighton has SO much to offer. From the pier to the beach, to vintage shopping, to hundreds of locally-owned restaurants, this small town has SO MUCH more culture to offer than the typical American town, sprinkled with hundreds of chain-owned stores and restaurants. Here are some pictures of Brighton. :) 

architecture

The architecture here is amazing. There is so much history - it’s reminiscent of a time when people actually took the time to make things beautiful instead of rushing through things to get them done. 

flowers

And they plant flowers…everywhere! I love the appreciation for nature and beauty that they have here… It makes everything so much more beautiful! 

beach

AND, Brighton is RIGHT next to the beach. Can this place be anymore perfect? Gahhhhhh.

After the Brighton tour, I was lucky enough to go to the King & Queen pub where about 75 University of Sussex students took part in some good old drunken karaoke, haha. I also love that people here are so open about alcohol. I just think that if people were more open about things back home, they might be less of a problem. Kids are going to drink anyway, but as long as they are safe and responsible, I see no problem with it. Here, it’s just another activity that is out in the open and I find that so liberating. It’s such a wonderful feeling to just be open, and have a mutual understanding about it.

king and queen

Karaoke was so much fun - and I still can’t get over how easy it is to make friends here! After three days, I think I’ve made like twenty new friends. Not only is this an amazing experience but it’s also uping my facebook friend count. (hahahaha. JKJKJK…. ;))

Oh, and another thing! Their public transportation here is BRILLIANT. Really, truly, we definitely need more of a system like this back home. It’s so efficient! And what’s cooler than riding on the top level of a double decker bus? :)

bus

All in all, I feel that Brighton itself has the best of both worlds (yes, I reference Disney on a regular basis ;)) Anyways, on the one hand, Brighton has this beautiful countryside. On the other hand, they also have an amazing night life, the beach, and shopping. There’s something for anyone and everyone. And on top of that, it’s not a real tourist area in England so you really feel like you’re walking and living among the native Brits. It’s just amazing - I really recommend visiting :)

brighton your soul

DAY THREE: TUTORS, TASTES, & TALENT.

First of all, the class I am taking is awesome. My tutor (they don’t like being called Professor) Dan (they let you call them by their first names!) is completely open to suggestion. Unlike the UC system, the classes here are rather small - allowing for open forum discussions and suggestions in class. More specifically, there are only 11 people in my class, two of which are from completely random countries (Romania and Holland). It’s such an enriching class environment to have people from countries other than America study with you. Never have I learned so much in a two hour class. On top of that, I feel the learning environment is less stressful, and students are more likely to share their own ideas which in turn helps everyone else grow in knowledge. Just purely amazing. Furthermore, their schooling here is SO MUCH CHEAPER than in the states. I’m jealous.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the food here. SO MUCH BETTER THAN THE STATES. Everything is organic, locally grown, or just plain natural. There is not much of the processed, sugary, excessive portion-sized foods that we have back home. Everything is healthier, and in turn, it makes those eating it want to be healthier. For example, the other night I wanted to order ice cream from an adorable local restaurant called Giraffe. I wasn’t that hungry so I asked the waitress of she thought one scoop of ice cream would be enough. She said I’d probably want more as she chuckled to herself. Thinking this was quite strange, and not needing much persuasion when it came to ordering lots of ice cream, I agreed to ordering three scoops. When my ice cream arrived, I was sort of amazed. Three scoops of ice cream here equates to about one scoop at home. Now I’m beginning to wonder if and when the English visit America if they think we are just obese and excessive, hahaha. Probably so.

giraffe

PS. This is my new life motto: LOVE. EAT. LIVE. It’s Brilliant. hahaha :)

Anyways, this isn’t to say that they only have small portion sizes for every meal. You’ll see that they do have bigger meals, proven in the pictures below. That is just in general. But when I have had big meals, they have always seemed healthier. For example, at an Italian restaurant in London, I had pasta for dinner. But all the pasta was whole-grain and the sauce was not excessively slathered on. It was just right. Perfection.

pasta

Also, those of you who know me well know I LOVE LOVE LOVE carbs. So of course I had to try the native British Jacket Potatoes. soooo yummy. Except when I ordered it with chicken and cheese they thought that was the weirdest combination, haha. It’s funny to see how little things we do can be so different. 

jacket potatoes

Okay, I can’t believe I just rambled on about food for two paragraphs. Hahaha, typical. :)

Anyways, London is brilliant, beautiful, and amazing. What else can I say? And that’s only after two hours of roaming around. We took a day trip into London to see Oliver! the musical, which was brillant by the way.

oliver

Their musical theater is is even better than in the US! So many talented adults and children - I was completely amazed. I can’t wait for next weekend when I spend a weekend in London. As for this weekend, it’s off to Paris! Au Revoir - and I can’t wait to blog about everything I see there :) Exciteddddd, eeeeee! :D

Quote 28 Jun
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.
— William Shakespeare
Text 28 Jun 1 note Family, Friends, Paper and Pens

Dearest friends and family,
Yes, I’m having a blast in England, but please please update me on your lives. The fact is, I would love to hear from you and never have I ever wished so much to be in two places at once! I don’t want to miss out on your lives! So let’s write. How about we just exchange some good old-fashioned, hand-written letters because I love them so much. :) Mmhmm, let’s be pen pals. :)

My address is as follows:
Kelly Tran
7H Park Village
University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton
BN1 9RD
United Kingdom  

Hope to hear from you soon!
Love,
Kelly :) 


Design crafted by Prashanth Kamalakanthan. Powered by Tumblr.