Europe–The Final Chapter: Last Day in the U.K.

Well, the day has finally come for me to write about my Europe study abroad for the last time.

Today I want to talk (or, to be more literal, write) about my last full day in the United Kingdom, because I feel like it was such a staple in my trip, and it was definitely one of my favorite days in the UK… if not one of my favorite days in life!

It was Sunday, August 4th, 2013. Why that even matters, I do not know. We were in the beautiful city of Edinburgh, Scotland. It was the perfect day… not too hot and not too cold. All you needed was a light jacket! There was just the hint of a breeze, and it was cloudy but not rainy, which was pretty much a miracle seeing as we were in Scotland. To sum up, it was perfect kite-flying weather. Not that people fly kites anymore. Do they? Maybe I should say it was perfect hiking weather, because that’s what we ended up doing that day.  It was our last full day in the United Kingdom and we had to make the best of it. For us on that day, “making the best of it” involved hiking an extinct volcano. As one does while in Europe.

Since pictures speak a thousand words, I am going to post some of my favorite pictures from the hike of Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano that gave us glorious views of Edinburgh:

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After the hike, we went down to a small man-made loch at the base of Arthur’s Seat. We had missed out on going to the Loch Ness (which I won’t get into because that is a whole different tragic, violent story… OK so it wasn’t really violent, but I’d rather just forget about it), so this was the next best thing. Here, a skilled photographer (who had also taken some now-infamous fake engagement pictures for me) captured a photo that I feel embodies just how fun this trip ended up being:

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Doesn’t this look like the most fun study abroad group in the history of the world??!!!

By the time we were done hiking and loching (it’s a new word, look it up… but not really because I just made it up), the night was approaching, so it was nearly time for us to retire to the hostel. But first, a few of my classmates and I had to eat at a pub for the last time. Because the last day in Europe would not be complete without some good, cheap food.

That night, we said goodbye in a bit of an eccentric way. I gathered my good friends Jacob, Nicole, Katie, Kyra, Stephanie, and Becca to do a group huddle and sing/sway to The Graduation Song. For those of you who don’t know the song, here is the chorus:

For some reason, some of our party thought I was ridiculous for suggesting such a thing. Eyes were rolled, complaints were muttered, and people were called weird. But I laughed so hard that I cried. And in the end, don’t the best moments end in tears? Wait a minute… I might have to rethink that idea.

To top off the night, my beloved study abroad roommate (and the only other guy in the group) Jacob and I talked late into the night. There is just something about the bond between study abroad roommates that cannot quite be matched by anything else. We enjoyed our late-night talks in Europe, and this last one was no different. It was the perfect way to conclude my final day in the UK!

I will never forget that last day on the British Isles. It’s crazy to believe that it has already been a month and a half since I got back from Europe. My life has been changed for the better because I decided to go on that study abroad. I made some of my closest friends and also created some of my favorite memories. But most of all, I freaking got to go to Europe!

And on that dignified note, I will conclude my musings about my study abroad once and for all. Thanks for reading!

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Europe–Chapter 3: A Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

OK, maybe only the best of times.

For this chapter of my Europe-themed blog posts, I will be focusing on the two most famous cities that I visited during my trip: London and Paris. Mostly London, because I spent three weeks in London and just two days in Paris.

I considered writing multiple blog posts about London and a completely separate post about Paris, but with school starting and whatnot I realized that, if I were to keep blogging at that rate, I would still be blogging about Europe in February of 2017! I cannot allow myself to dwell so much in the past, and if I think too much about my study abroad, I fear I will fall to the ground and start twitching out of utter despair because of how much I miss it. Or maybe I’m just being a tad bit over-dramatic. As I tend to be.

So here goes. I will avoid focusing so much on the sights that I saw while in London and Paris. Instead I will focus on what made my trip to those cities unique. In doing so I hope to emphasize the fact that everyone can have a truly unique and wonderful experience while traveling. No two experiences are the same!

So here are some of my favorite memories from London and Paris:

4th of July, London Style

We brought in the wonderful all-American holiday in a bit of a non-traditional way. Even though we ended up traveling to London on the 4th of July (kind of ironic, if you think about it), we still managed to find time to gather as a group and celebrate being American. A-MUR-ica! We played games, ate marshmallows and hot dogs, and just enjoyed each other’s company. And though I got along quite well with the others before getting to London, I feel that it was in London that close friendships began to form between me and my fellow study abroad students. I remember after the 4th of July party, sitting outside of the apartment complex like unto a HOOLIGAN and talking to some of my new friends until the late hours of the night! It was one of many late-night conversations.

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The London Temple

We had the opportunity one day to visit the London Temple. It was nice going into the temple and also exploring the temple grounds. We got some nice pictures that showed off just how attractive we all are!

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Platform 9 and 3/4

A trip to London would of course not be complete without a journey to Platform 9 and 3/4! I went with three other people in my group, and since there were four of us we each got to represent a different Hogwarts house! The decision was unanimous for me to represent Slytherin, since apparently I’m the most evil one in the group… even though I have told everyone on many occasions that I am not as evil as I make myself out to be! Though I have to admit, this picture of me looking suspicious as my green scarf billows in the wind–well, let’s just say, it’s a good representation of my personality. Maybe I really am evil. Oh well!

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The Old Hide-and-Scare Tactic

One night some of us decided to do a ghost tour of London. For obvious reasons, many of us were put slightly on edge after hearing about the different supernatural phenomena that supposedly take place around London, including the statue in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral that, as legend tells it, dismounts its plinth every August 1st at midnight, runs around in a circle, and then resumes its position as a statue. Creepy! As we were heading back to the tube station that night, two of the girls in my group were lagging behind a bit, so the other three of us decided that it would be funny if we hid from the rest of our party so we could scare them. We found the perfect hiding spot that allowed us to remain in hiding while we could still see the two girls coming. As they walked by, the three of us yelled and ran out from our hiding spots. The two girls screamed bloody murder, and I’m pretty sure they each almost had a heart attack. Not surprisingly, they did not speak to us for the rest of the night as an effort to punish us.

Sunset in Hyde Park

At a loss for what to do one evening, Jacob (the only other boy in the group) and I decided to take an impromptu trip to Hyde Park. While we were there, we witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen, a sunset that rivaled even the desert sunsets of Arizona and the tropical sunsets of the Philippines. As a sucker for nice sunsets, I was pleasantly surprised.

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The London Night Tour

Three of my classmates and I took a tour of London by night on a double-decker tour bus. We basically saw all the same things we had seen by daylight, but it was a different experience seeing everything at night. Though it was difficult getting pictures as we sped through the streets of London, I managed to get this rare shot of the London Eye and Big Ben in the same line of vision.

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The London Theatre

While in London I had the opportunity to see not one, not two, but three musicals: The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, and Once. We also got to see a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.

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The Eiffel Tower

One weekend some of us took a side-trip to Paris. It was a scandal-and-a-half because I was the only boy there! Without a doubt, my favorite part of the trip was going to the Eiffel Tower. We not only climbed the steps of the Eiffel Tower but also took the time to watch the Tower light up at night. Nothing can really describe the surreal feeling that overcame me as I took a picture of the Eiffel Tower’s shadow while standing in the tower itself. And while we sat at a nearby fountain and watched the Tower light up, we experienced a few unexpected slips and splashes as we navigated the slippery grounds and tried avoiding the jets of water that burst out at random intervals.

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Chill-axing by the Louvre

I cannot forget, however, the time we took earlier in the day to rest just outside the Louvre. We found some lounge chairs by a fountain (there seems to be a certain fountain theme in association with Paris, doesn’t there?) and relaxed for a little bit before carrying on with our day. To describe my Paris trip as hectic would be quite an understatement, so it was nice to take some time to rest.

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Inside Notre Dame

There were two main landmarks that I wanted to see while in Paris: the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. I saw about 763 cathedrals, minsters, etc. while I was in Europe, but the Notre Dame Cathedral was probably my favorite of all–if not partially because it was the most famous one I saw! And I was glad to not see any hunchbacks or gypsies while I was there. No offense to all my readers who are hunchbacks or gypsies, I’m just not a fan of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Sorry.

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Exploring the Streets of London

During my last Saturday in London, I found myself alone as half of my group had gone to Stratford (I didn’t go because I was weary of both traveling and spending money), others wanted to go shopping (which is basically my version of hell, so no thanks), and the rest were going to spend some time packing (I repeat: my version of hell, no thanks). So I took some time to explore the streets of London on my own. I started by taking the Underground to Elephant & Castle, just to see what I could find in such a strangely named place. I was slightly disappointed that I found neither elephants nor castles, but the day was not a waste: I ended up wandering until I got to the Thames, then I saw a number of interesting characters and sights on the South Bank. I saw graffiti art that inspired me to action as well as a man dressed as a cat–basically, things you don’t see every day! It ended up being one of my favorite days in London because I got a deeper look into just how much character the city has.  It was at this time that I realized how much I had grown to love London and how at-home I felt there.

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An (Almost) All-Nighter in London

As our time in London came to an end, we all experienced mixed feelings. Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I for one was excited to be visiting new places (mainly Scotland) but also sad to be leaving London, which had really become like home for me. So we decided to make the most of our last night in London by enjoying each other’s presence. I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s only going to get cheesier, so you might as well get used to it. We gathered in one of the girls’ flats and undoubtedly pigged out on food (probably chocolate, as was tradition) before playing a game of truth or dare, which actually just turned out to be a game of truth: basically, it was an excuse to get to know each other on a deeper level than we already had. We then each took turns saying what we liked about everyone else in the group. By the time we were done with these heartfelt shenanigans, it was somewhere around two in the morning, so Jacob and I went back to our flat. This would have probably been an ideal time to sleep, but instead Jacob and I spent almost three more hours talking. By the time we finally called it a night, it was almost 5:00 A.M. And we had to wake up early to catch a train to York. Needless to say, we were exhausted over the next few days. But it was worth it!

Europe–Chapter 2: A Whale of a Time

Today I will be writing about Wales, the second leg of my unforgettable six-week adventure in Europe.

We left Dublin early in the morning in order to catch the ferry that would take us to Wales. I mentioned to one of the girls in my group that at some point I would have to get on top of the ferry in order to take some pictures of Wales. She gave me a confused look and asked, “Do you honestly think we’re going to see whales?!” I explained to her that I was referring to the place, not the sea animal. Eventually, after becoming better friends with her, I made fun of her endlessly for the misunderstanding. But it was an honest mistake. English can be quite confusing!

I must admit that I wasn’t all that excited to see whales… I mean Wales. Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t like I was dreading it or anything. But I had never heard much of anything about Wales, so I wasn’t expecting much from it.

Little did I know that Wales would end up being one of my favorite locations of the trip! It may have lacked the grandeur of London or the majestic views of Scotland, but the simple beauty of Wales was something that, in my opinion, could not be matched by any of the other places we visited.

In fact, Wales turned out to be quite the pleasant surprise! Here are just some of the “surprises” that turned Wales into an unexpected gem:

The longest place-name in the world: Llanfair­pwllgwyn­gyllgo­gerychwyrn­drobwll­llanty­silio­gogogoch

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My favorite castle: Conwy Castle

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Llandudno: The seaside town with the awesome views… a place where everyone was so delightfully friendly… and the location of my future home!

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The evil Alice statue that would forever distort my vision of Alice in Wonderland.

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Snowdonia!

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Tintern Abbey

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St. Fagans: the traditional Welsh village.

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Europe–Chapter 1: The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side (of the Ocean)

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The first stop of my summer study abroad trip was Ireland, home of the fifty shades of green (not to be confused with the trashy novels, Fifty Shades of Grey). Prior to my trip, I had heard many rumors about the Land of Ire, some of which included:

  1. It rains constantly, but it’s a different kind of rain–a magical mist of sorts that covers the Irish grounds and really makes the green countryside sparkle.
  2. Ireland is just swarming with gingers.

Only neither of those rumors turned out to be true–at least, not during my trip. I suppose it really does rain a lot in Ireland, as was evident in the blinding green scenery that stretched as far as the eye could see. But it certainly didn’t rain much while was there. No complaints, though… too much rain depresses me.

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Also, I do not remember seeing an overwhelming amount of gingers. Then again, I’m not very observant. For all I know, could be a ginger and I just haven’t noticed!

The point of all this is that you often have preconceived notions of a place, but once you travel there, you find that the place is completely different from what you imagined. The same can be said, I suppose, of people… we develop these snap judgments of people, only to have those judgments proven completely wrong after taking the effort to actually get to know a person.

Ireland, as well as the United Kingdom, was nothing like I imagined… it was much better! My brain did not do it justice! Though I would not say Ireland was my favorite stop of the trip, it definitely was a great first stop. It was a pleasant introduction to Europe.

The people I was traveling with ended up being a pleasant surprise as well. Throw a group of college-aged strangers into Ireland, and what do you get? A little awkwardness at first, sure. But I was surprised how quickly I became comfortable with some of the other students in my group. And we might not have been good friends yet by the time we left Ireland, but we were definitely on our way.

"Are we friends yet...?"

“Are we friends yet…?”

In Ireland, we saw miles of green pasture that provided a home for more sheep than you could count.

This sheep was clearly posing for a picture.

This sheep was clearly posing for a picture.

We visited cliffs with breathtaking views of the ocean.

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We met the Three Sisters, a triad of mountain peeks that supposedly represents three women of different ages.

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Can you find the Three Sisters in this picture?

We saw castles and abbey ruins.

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Some of us kissed the Blarney Stone and gained the gift of gab!

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And for crying out loud, we stopped in a seaside town named Dingle! The town name kind of speaks for itself.

Dingle!

Dingle!

Of course, a trip to Ireland would not have been complete without going to a pub. Since none of us drank alcohol, we did cheers with glasses of water. And pub food was definitely something to write home about (and I think I did a couple of times). Speaking of pub food, I had the opportunity in Ireland to try something new… black and white pudding. If you don’t know what’s in black and white pudding, you probably don’t want to know. I actually didn’t mind the white pudding. I would not, however, recommend the black pudding. I’m not being racist or anything; it’s just a matter of personal taste.

A traditional Irish breakfast... complete with black and white pudding!

A traditional Irish breakfast… complete with black and white pudding!

Our last stop in Ireland was the great city of Dublin. Here I slept on the top of a bunk bed… nothing unusual, only in our particular hostel I happened to be sleeping on a bed that had no rail and was right next to a large window. If I had rolled a bit too far to my left, I surely would have plummeted to my death! Oh well… what’s life without a little risk, right?

The hostel window of death in Dublin.

The hostel window of death in Dublin.

I also found out here that it is often when you wander aimlessly while traveling abroad (or even stateside for that matter) that you make some of the coolest discoveries. (This would later prove valuable in enhancing my London experience). Here’s a photo of something we ran across while trying to find our hostel:

What the giant-hand statue?!

What the giant-hand statue?!

All in all, Ireland was a great experience. Looking back, it’s almost a shame that this had to be the place where we overcame our jet lag and dealt with the awkwardness of not really knowing each other. Perhaps under different circumstances I could have enjoyed Ireland even more. On the other hand, we had to start somewhere.

And I can’t think of a better place to start a six-week European adventure than in Ireland!

Next stop: Wales!