Saturday, February 25, 2012

There is no way to sum up today in one line

Where to even begin? This morning Grace, Amanda and I made the trip to Edinburgh without any issues except for finding our way out of the train station! We made like rats, and just followed the light, and eventually got ourselves out! After that, we made our way directly to Starbucks, where they speak my language! (I've been getting in trouble here because people don't understand what a tall is or what double means...)

After feeding my addiction, we decided to find Greyfriar's Bobby, the statue of a little dog. It's a really touching story...this man's dog went with him everywhere and they were really good pals, and when the man died, the dog wouldn't leave his grave. People tried to get him to go home with them and coax him away, but he just wouldn't go. He ended up living at his master's grave for 14 years!!! We found the statue of Bobby, after wandering the same road for about 15 minutes. The dog is on a corner, up on a pedestal, and is relatively small so he's easy to miss.

Conveniently, Bobbie is really close to The Elephant House, which we went to for lunch. All three of us were unfortunately a little bit disappointed with our lunches, but we enjoyed the ambiance! After lunch, we spent a few hours shopping, browsing all the different stores. Amanda and I were particularly interested in warm weather clothing, since we're hopefully going to the Canary Islands for spring break!

After shopping, we were all pretty hungry, so we went to this Italian place on the Royal Mile. It was pretty good! I tried their carbonara, and they had this really good cheesy bread. Almost as amazing as the cheesy naan we found in Stirling.

After dinner, our real adventure began. We got to the train station in Edinburgh, and realized that the train back to Stirling wasn't going to say Stirling on it, so we were trying to find a map of the railways or something when Amanda and I heard the announcer say Stirling and platform 11, leaving in five minutes so we ran around the train station finding platform 11, and made the train! Sadly, that train was going to Glasgow, with no stops in Stirling. Oops. Luckily, we didn't have anywhere we needed to be immediately, and we all thought our mistake was pretty funny. The only problem was that it was dark, about 8 pm, and we had no idea how to get to the train station we needed to leave from (because they couldn't have made it easy for us and have the train leave from the same place). So, getting off the train we asked a girl how to get there. She said it was really easy, and then gave us really complicated directions. So, I asked a guy who was standing outside of the train station, and he gave us directions that were a bit more clear, despite the fact that we were acting a little bit crazy in reaction to being in the wrong place. We eventually found our way to the Queen Street Station, and thankfully the ticket office was open, and the man there told us we could get on any train going to Aberdeen, Alloa, or Stirling, and we would get home. I'm not sure why no one else could have given us that information, but it was very helpful!

After figuring out a timetable for ourselves, we decided that since we were already in Glasgow, we might as well have a pint or something! We first tried a bar across the street, but there was very loud and awkward karaoke going on in there, so we tried another, only to find that we were walking in on someone's private 18th birthday party, but the third time proved to be the charm! We found a bar! The bouncers carding us were really friendly and really funny, and we made friends with them pretty fast! Our drink at the bar was pretty uneventful, which was good because I'm not sure if we could have handled any more excitement! Our bouncers were sad to see us go, and told us that we needed to come back to Glasgow for a proper visit, which we agreed with! Then they called me blonde for a silly comment I made...we decided not to tell them how we had accidentally ended up in Glasgow in the first place.

We went back to the train station about an hour later to catch our ride, but we made sure to ask the conductor, who was still standing outside, if the train would stop in Stirling. All three of us had images in our minds of arriving in Aberdeen with no more trains running. He laughed at us a little bit, and told us that the train did stop in Stirling. Whew! Then he threw in a joke that he would do his best to not forget to stop there. Ha. Ha.

We did not get the memo that Car D was the party section of the train, so that's where we sat, serenaded by a group of drunk men the whole way to Stirling. When we were sitting there, laughing about how odd our night had been, this older man walked by, told us in short that he wasn't going to flirt with us like other young men, petted by head for a few seconds, and then walked on. I think that was the moment that we all really wanted to be home in our beds!

But, we had one more wee situation to experience before going home! This guy Denny, from Firth or something like that, came over to talk to us. I'm fairly certain that he had been drinking, because his sentences didn't make complete sense, and he told me that he liked my accent about three times. But he also thought that I was from New Zealand. When I told him that I was from Seattle, he asked me if people live in "the tower", and he was completely serious. I actually felt a little bit bad, because I laughed in response to his question, and he seemed really confused about why I was laughing. I informed him that no one lived in the tower. Then he got a little bit gender confused, and asked me if I would go on a date with him and be his boyfriend. He was very entertained with his mistake for the last few minutes of our trip, but we escaped without having to evade giving him our contact information.

So we made it back to Stirling finally, in a very roundabout fashion, but it was a laugh, and we definitely will be a little bit more careful about where the trains are going from now on! So, after that fun but exhausting day I am completely knackered so I'm going to sleep!

Ciao!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Moment I Don't Want To Forget

Last night Amanda, Grace and I went to go get a cider, and I remembered something that happened last Tuesday that I don't want to forget!

When Amanda and I were coming home after our Valentine's Day flop, we got a taxi because we were tired, it was late, etc. But, we had very little cash on us. So once in the taxi, and seeing the price go up and up, we were getting a little bit worried about being able to pay our fare. Then I see out of the corner of my eye, Amanda pull out a handful of change, and she's just sitting there with her hands cupped, looking fearfully at the meter. It was so sad, and so hilarious at the same time! So then we look at where the meter is, put the current bill into her left hand, and the rest of our money was in her right hand. So as our fare went up and up, I was putting coins into her left hand. We were both freaking a bit, because there was less and less change left! Then, thankfully, our cab driver realized that he was lost, and when we got home he told us we could just give him five pounds, which we had! Whew! It was a stressful moment, but really funny at the same time, and I don't want to forget it!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Relaxed Day Around Stirling!

Yesterday was really nice and relaxing! It was one of those days where the whole day I felt busy, but looking back on it didn't really do too much...everything just takes time I guess. Amanda and I went to the gym in the morning, which felt amazing. The rest of the day we went grocery shopping, watched some TV, made tomato soup and cheese sandwiches for dinner (yum!) and then we went to see the film The Vow with Grace and Ashley! Going to see the movie was really fun! We found ourselves in a different section of Stirling that none of us had explored before, which is always exciting! The "cinema" (we're not supposed to call it a movie theater here apparently) was a new experience as well! They actually assign you a seat unlike in the US, so we had to be sure that we got our tickets all at the same time. There was also a Ben and Jerry's ice cream stand in the movie theater! It was so ridiculously tempting, but we all got away unscathed! The movie itself was good, still a chick flick, but it was fun!

Today, Grace is going to show me an Indian restaurant she discovered a few days ago! She says that it's really good, so I'm excited! Thank god my taste buds changed before I came here...I have eaten so much spicy food lately! After lunch we're going to explore Stirling a little bit more, and head back over into the area that the cinema was in. I don't want to miss anything Stirling has to offer while I'm here! I also need to find a place to do laundry...I'm pretty much dying without any clean clothes, so Amanda and I might try to find a laundromat today. Wish us luck!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

St. Andrews!

What a fun day! Amanda and I decided to take a trip out of Stirling, and find our way to St. Andrews! Neither of us really knew anything about it, but Rick Steves sure did! So off we went! We left our flats at 9:30, and walked down to Stirling Train Station, where we walked straight up to the ticket office, and told the guy working there that we had no idea what we were doing. He was nice enough, and helped us buy the right tickets. The last leg of the trip is done by bus though, so our tickets said we were going to Leuches, not St. Andrews. But the train doesn't end in Leuches, so none of the signs told us which train was going to be able to drop us off there. Sooo back into the ticket office, and apparently our train's final destination is Aberdeen. And we were off! But, our train was also not a direct journey, we had to switch trains. Which we discovered in Perth, thank god, or we would have gone all the way to Aberdeen! We had to get off at Dundee, and catch the Train to Leuches! Apparently people here have the rails memorized? We don't. So that was very confusing, but luckily we were able to make it to St. Andrews by asking just about every person who works at each train station what in the world we were supposed to be doing!

Upon arrival to Leuches, Amanda and I both realized that 1) The bus to St. Andrews does not take anything but cash 2) Neither of us had cash. Soooo we hired a taxi to drive us (only 10 miles thank god) to a cash machine in St. Andrews where we were able to solve our problem. Yay money! Then, out came Rick Steves from by bag, and we were off! As Amanda and I studied Rick, a girl stopped on the sidewalk and asked if we needed help. Amanda and I looked at each other, and before we could say anything, the girl explained "There are only three streets in St. Andrews, and you have your tour book out, so I was just guessing that you needed help". We had a little giggle about that, and she directed us to a street called The Scores, which was right on the water. It was so so beautiful! The trip to St. Andrews was worth it just for that view. The golf courses (unfortunately mini golf is closed until April, so I cannot say that I've golfed the course at St. Andrews yet...stay tuned!) are right next to the ocean, and I can see why it's a coveted location! We walked down and enjoyed looking at the cliffs, until Rick informed us that during the Reformation the water we were looking at was called "Witches Lake" because of all of the people who got pushed off the cliffs for being witches and warlocks. Our view slightly tainted, we continued to walk along the Scores until we got to a dorm which Rick informed us used to be Prince William's dorm while he was at St. Andrews! This excited both of us, and we decided to set aside our pride and idiotically take our pictures in front of the sign to his dorm. Granted, it was the good's entrance, not the best, but I covered the sign with my arm when Amanda took the picture. As I was explaining that I didn't want that sign in my picture, an older man walking by said "yeah you don't want that part of the sign in there, good idea". It was pretty funny.

Our next stop (This was one of Rick's self guided tours by the way) was St. Salvador's College, which is the heart of St. Andrew's University, since the whole campus is kind of spread out around town. We were very careful not to step on the initials PH in front though, because according to student legend, which we learned according to Rick Steves, when professor Patrick Hamilton was burnt at the stake during the Scottish Reformation, he threatened that any students who stood where he was being burnt would fail all of their exams. As Rick said, "And you thought you had hard-nosed teachers". Amanda joked that when we finished with school we could go step on it just for the hell of it, but then decided that would be a bad idea...we would probably end up deciding to go to grad school and fail out immediately. This part of campus, by the way, is located on a street named Butt's Wynd. That's right, I could not make that up if I tried. I got a picture of that for sure.

The next stop on our walk was St. Andrew's Castle, which is more ruin than castle now, because of the Scottish Reformation again. A recurring theme in St. Andrews it seems. We opted not to explore the ruins since it cost about 7 pounds, but we got lots of pictures from the street. Next was St. Andrew's Cathedral, which was again, mostly ruins. We explored it, and guessed at what different walls and stuff would have been. It was pretty hard to tell, but it was crazy to think that at one time, this cathedral one of Scotland's most magnificent churches.

After the ruins, Amanda and I found B. Jannettas, a highly celebrated ice cream shop! I got chocolate brownie,Amanda got Dutch chocolate, and we were both very pleased with our choices! As we continued down, happily eating our ice cream, we realized that we didn't know where we were, and that even Rick Steves couldn't get us back on track. So, we asked a nearby taxi driver. My first question, "Where is St. Mary's College?" He laughed, and pointed to a nearby building. We were not as lost as we thought apparently. My next question, "Where is St. Andrews Museum?" He said, "Which one?" Amanda and I looked at each other, and then I asked the question we were both most interested in, "Where is Fisher and Donaldson bakery?" He was very amused with us, directed us how to get there, and we could hear him chortling still as we made our way to the bakery. Once at the bakery, we discovered to our dismay that it wasn't really sweet stuff we could take home, more savory, and we decided that we wanted to eat lunch instead. So off to The Grill House, suggested by Rick. Where would we be without him? The wait there was a little bit long, but offered us the opportunity to run across the street and get Amanda a St. Andrews sweatshirt. Once seated, we both made like Americans and ordered hamburgers. Represent. It took FOREVER for us to get our food, but definitely worth the wait! Our burgers (and fries) were SO good! And we also decided to go crazy and have dessert. I had the chocolate fondant, and Amanda had the toffee pudding, both of which were wicked good. And we are not allowed to eat for a week now, but totally worth it!

After lunch, we were going to go back down and walk the beach before leaving, but we came across the bus stop on our way, and decided that since we were both a little bit uneasy about getting home, we would rather get a head start on that adventure. The trip home actually proved to not be an adventure, which was a good thing! We knew we had to get to the bus station, and buses are pretty self explanatory (we did ask the bus driver if the bus made it to Leuches train station though, just to be sure). When we got to the train station, we picked up a train route guide, only to find that it made absolutely no sense, so we asked the ticket man instead, who told us where to wait. So we did as we were told, and got on the train to Dundee. From Dundee, we asked again, and were directed to take the train heading to Glasgow. I hurried to go to the bathroom, and when I got back, Amanda hurried to go to the bathroom, but our train was five minutes early! I saw the train, freaked, and ran and got Amanda. Luckily, we made it! Amanda had heard the train from the bathroom and hadn't decided whether to go yet when I ran in to get her, so we were safe! On the train, we realized that Rick had outlined the major train routes in the back of his book, (handy!) so in the future, we might be a little bit less confused about where to go.

When we pulled into Stirling, got off the train, and were pretty convinced that we had made it home safely, Amanda and I made sure to give each other a high five for doing our first trip together! We were pretty pleased with ourselves for making it back in one piece! Although Amanda still needed to go to the bathroom, poor thing!

All in all, it was a really fun day, and I can't wait for more adventures! I'm definitely getting more comfortable with my surroundings, and settling in. Stirling is feeling more and more familiar, and I'm feeling less and less transplanted. I also found out how to watch American TV online. Muahahaha! Tomorrow is pilates, working out (in an attempt to rectify my horrible eating today) and then I'm going to just walk around Stirling to get a better feeling for the different shops and stuff. There are lots of alleys with little shops that I haven't looked into yet, and I think the more I explore, the more at home I'll feel! So that's all for tonight! Ciao!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Most Confusing, And Fun, Valentine's Day!

Valentine's Day is over!! People all over the world can let out a sigh of relief! Mine was a pretty odd one...since we've only been here for a few days, I had already given up hope that I was getting any flowers, so I decided to spend the night watching graphic British TV mystery dramas such as White Chapel, Law and Order UK, Blue Murder, you catch my drift, and eat lots and lots of scones and marmalade! But then Amanda and I decided that we should go out and see what single people in Stirling do for Valentine's, so we got dressed up and cute and hit the town! Well, it turns out that people in Stirling don't really do Valentine's Day? At least not like the US does. The bars were pretty empty, and the only people who seemed to be there were 19 year olds. We suddenly felt like we were 1) Really out of place and 2) In the middle of a comedy show. Just as we were feeling at the height of our awkwardness, discussing how the situation would be dramatically different back home, a guy came over and asked us if we were using the extra chairs at our table. Amanda and I just looked at each other with facial expressions that said it all, and then said "no", proceeding to laugh for about five minutes after. I don't think it's possible to explain that situation, but it was at once really awkward and really funny! We tried a few other bars, and a club up on campus, but since we felt like even flirting with the guys at all these places would put us behind bars, we decided to call it a semi-early evening. It was a really fun night though, despite being very socially confusing, and I wouldn't have wanted it to go any other way!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Moving Into My Flat!

Wow...I have definitely been out of commission for a few days! The home stay was a great experience. I really connected with the girl I was sharing a room with, Grace, so that was really fun. One night we decided to go get a pint of cider, and ended up getting a few drinks bought for us, so we were a little bit tipsy when we got home. Then, we laid out a feast of all the random food we had with us, which consisted of gluten free pretzels, chocolate covered pomegranate seeds, and Haribo gummy bears. It was very tasty and really fun.

Yesterday I officially moved into my flat, even though that feels like a year ago! Time is so crazy! I immediately went to Tesco, the local supermaket, and bought all of the home stuff I needed, like towels and dishes and of course food. And on the topic of food, wow! They have so many cool things I want to try! I felt like a kid in a candy shop! It was very difficult to take it all in. I am so so excited to try their scones and stuff! I bought these little chocolate caramel shortcake bites because they were a pound and I wanted to try something new--best decision of my life. They are AMAZING! Definitely taking some home with me in my suitcase! My room is getting a little bit homier, I have a pink polka dot duvet cover and have all of my stuff in here now, so it's not quite so barren. We also went to check out the local mall, Thistles, and did a little bit of shopping for clothes and home decoration!

Last night was really fun, we all went out to the pubs and a club called Dusk. At a pub, not sure what it was called, I made friends with this group of maybe mid-twenty aged guys, and one of them I beat in a Guiness drinking contest! That kind of made my night. His friend was really cute, but I came to find out that he was engaged, which was unfortunate for me. Then on our way to the club, they all took turns carrying me, which was kind of hilarious. Dusk was fun, but Amanda, another girl in our group, and I left a little bit early because the club was so packed and we were a little bit tired.

This morning I woke up, had some of my almond honey oatmeal (they have such a better selection of oatmeal here than we do in the US!) and went up to campus! My flatmate Glenna, Amanda and I decided to walk, to see how long it would take. It was a bit of a trek--I think it took us about 40 minutes. So not that bad, but a little bit too much to do everyday probably, so I bought a bus pass. We met Grace up at campus for lunch, and I tried chili Doritos! Most. Amazing. Doritos. Ever. I am so in love with them! They also have jalapeno ones, which I am really excited to try!! It's a little bit sad that the things I've been most excited about have been food, but oh well! I was also able to get my internet figured out while I was on campus, which was a godsend! Now I can be connected to the world finally! Orientation for Stirling was good, pretty standard. Tonight at midnight I'm able to sign up for seminars and stuff, which will be good, because then I can know my final schedule.

I have also discovered a way to watch British TV online, alas, not American, but I got to catch up on Whitechapel which was very exciting! I also ate almost an entire package of digestive biscuits while watching it without realizing. Not one of my proudest moments...

I really hope I can Skype with people soon! I got to talk to Anna a few days ago, which was really nice! Let me know when you guys have time, now that I have a more concrete schedule I can plan Skype dates!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Stirling!

I am laying in bed at my host family's house in Stirling! Can't believe I'm in the town where I will be living for the next few months!  I'm so excited to see the town and explore tomorrow! For tonight, I'm exhausted! Some of the kids in my program are going out tonight, but I want to be well rested for tomorrow and I feel like I could sleep for a hundred years!

Today we had the last bit of orientation, where they talked to us about what to expect from our classes at Stirling. It's definitely a different set up! You're expected to do a lot more work outside of class, instead of relying on lectures to learn the information. On the one hand, I'm really happy about this, because I find it annoying to be spoon fed information. On the other hand, I'm a little bit nervous about adjusting to the new system! I'm sure it will be fine though :) And the good news is that I only have class on Mondays and Tuesdays, so lots of time to travel and stuff when I want to! Classes start this Wednesday though, so I'm going to have a week of doing nothing! It's kind of stressful trying to figure out a whole new school system, but I'm sure it will all work out.

We went to the National Museum in Edinburgh this afternoon, which has a lot of really cool historical artifacts. We spent the first hour looking at all sorts of historical artifacts from old standing stones to pieces of a Roman tent from 12 AD, and then we found the kid's section and had tons of fun playing dress up. Pictures to come of that!

After the museum we went back to the hotel, I had a few minutes to chat with my dad on Facebook, and then we loaded up in our coach to go to Stirling! We met our host parents right off the bus, and we will be staying with them for three days, until Saturday. I haven't gotten a chance to really talk to the dad yet, but the mom fed us (minced meat and potatoes, really yummy! I'm getting the recipe immediately!) and then she told us all about different restaurants and bars in Stirling and other stuff we can do. I don't think I will be going hungry, there are a million places to eat apparently! But currently I'm really looking forward to being able to cook for myself, since I've been living off of restaurant food for almost two weeks. It gets really old.

Tomorrow we are going to visit Stirling castle and maybe the William Wallace monument, not quite sure about the latter, but they are going to entertain us somehow apparently. I'm not too worried about it; I'm mostly just really excited to see Stirling and start to orient myself a little bit! Until tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Into the land of kilts, haggis, and hopefully a laird!

I got into Edinburgh yesterday, but it feels like I've been here my whole life! Just like Brussels felt really foreign to me, Edinburgh feels completely like home! I got in yesterday afternoon, and decided to walk the royal mile. I felt so comfortable and happy, which was a great relief after the homesickness I was feeling before! On my walk back down from the castle, I took a side trip to The Elephant House, a cute cafe where the first two Harry Potter books were written! JK Rowling sat at a table in the back with a view of Edinburgh castle to inspire her, so I did the same while I ate my delicious vegetable chili! Then I finished the mile, and went back to the hotel for the program orientation. The orientation was just like every other one, where they basically take forever to tell you stuff they could convey in half the time, and read you stuff from the packet they have given you instead of trusting you have the ability to read yourself. Really frustrating when you want to explore a new place! The good thing though is that I have met some great people from the Arcadia program! After the orientation had finished yesterday, a group of us decided to go explore the pub scene, and one of the guys knew someone who lives here, so we got a fully escorted tour! It was really great fun!

Today we were in orientation for another grueling four hours in the morning, and then they gave us some time to have lunch and do a scavenger hunt of the city. Since I had talked up The Elephant House so much, we went back there for lunch. People got various pastries and they were all so amazingly tasty!

For dinner tonight we had a Scottish cooking class at the Edinburgh Cooking School. It was SO much fun!! We made smoked salmon pastry things, savory cheese scones, this bean dip thing similar to hummus, apple cinnamon crumble, and shortbread! It was all so so so yummy! I think I ate more than I ever have eaten before, and feel a little bit like I might explode now, but it was worth it. Most amazing food of my life. When my parents and Karl come visit in March I think maybe I'll try to cook it all again! The scones and shortbread were my favorite I think. So amazing, and so much fun to cook it! It definitely made me want to take more cooking classes!

Tomorrow we have more orientation stuff, and then are doing a tour of the national galleries, and then we're off to our homestay in Stirling! I'm so excited to get to Stirling and get myself situated in my new home! And I am SO excited to not be living out of a suitcase anymore! I never thought I would have such intense daydreams of a dresser!

Well it's 1:17 here and I'm knackered, so I think that will be all for now. See you in Stirling! Woohoo!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

So now, catching up on Brussels!

Ok! Now that I caught up on Paris, I have to get started on Brussels! I was pretty sad to be leaving the UK on the morning of the 3rd, partly because Paris made me really appreciate London, partly because Rebecca and I were parting ways, and partly because I was secretly a little bit terrified of traveling by myself in a foreign country!

The flight to Brussels was an interesting experience. They told me when I checked in my bags that the flight was delayed by half an hour, which didn't bother me too much because I wasn't in a hurry and didn't have a connecting flight or anything. So, I got through security and went to sit in the general terminal area of heathrow to watch for my gate assignment. Originally, it told me the gate would be assigned at 10:10 for a flight leaving at 11. Oops nope, next it would come in at 10:20 for a flight leaving at 11:20. This pattern continued for about 40 minutes, until we were finally given a gate number and our plane would finally leave! Over an hour late, but hey, it was leaving! Or so we thought. Once on the plane, they told us (and my technical French knowledge is slightly lacking so I didn't understand completely) that we had to wait for a space to take off essentially. So we waited for another half hour to actually get off the ground. The actual flight went smoothly, easy take off and no turbulance, and I got a row of seats to myself because the plane was nearly empty Then, we got to the landing. Because of all of our delays, there wasn't a gate available to us. So, we circled the airport for about 20-30 minutes until we could land. I got through customs just fine, and was congratulating myself on not getting stressed out by the situation as I got to the baggage terminal. And our baggage was delayed. Naturally. It was the most disorganized flight experience of my life! At this point, I was so exhausted. I had been in three countries in less than 12 hours, and for the first time I started feeling pretty homesick. I caught a taxi to the hotel, and sitting in a sterile hotel room at night by yourself doesn't really help with homesickness, but luckily Elena was arriving in a few hours! I decided to try to use endorphines to counteract my sadness, and on the treadmill they were playing midsomer murders, a family favorite! I was happy to see something familiar! And then before I knew it Elena was here! We sat in the hotel room and talked until about 2 am about various things, before deciding it was time for bed. Elena also figured out how to turn on the heat in my room, which was a definite plus since it was -12 c, or 10 f outside.

The next morning, we woke up at 8 to start our tour of Brussels! First we walked up through a beautiful park, and saw the Brussels take on the arc de triomphe. It was a really foggy morning, and the park with the monument was just surreal. Neither Elena nor I had had time to really plan out what to see in Brussels, but we knew that we wanted to see grand place, find a chocolate shop, and find me a pain au freaking chocolat. The pain au chocolat quest was actually an easy one! Walking down from the arc, we ran right into a p√Ętisserie! I am very pleased to say, also, that it was pretty tasty! So my need had finally been fulfilled! I do have to say though, for people who have access to a trader joes, buy the frozen pain au chocolat they offer there. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on if you can get one, the trader joes option is still the best pain au chocolat I've had, especially if you can eat them when they're still warm. 

Finding the grand place was a bit more of a struggle. Elena is very good at reading maps, but we still managed to make what should have been a 40 minute walk into about 3 hours. That was kind of fun though, because we got a really good tour of the city and covered a lot of ground (also because it was way too cold to stop moving). Our most common word of the trip was "woah" though, because the ground was so so slippery from the snow! While we were lost, we also happened to run right into the chocolate store I had researched online, which was a very happy accident! The grand place itself, while slightly elusive, was really a sight, and definitely worth finding. I'm currently using an office computer at my hotel since this is the only way to access the internet, but I will upload all of the photos from the trip as soon as I can!

After the grand place, we decided to walk back up in the direction of the hotel to find a place to eat lunch. A lot of the places were so expensive, and we weren't really interested in trying fois gras, so we had decided to get lunch at a grocery store when we ran into a pita place. Best pita ever. Mine was chicken curry with rice and lettuce and pineapple, all in this amazing sauce. Neither Elena or I were quite sure what she got, but it was tasty she said, so that's all that counts!

The walk up to the hotel from the restaurant was pretty quick, even though we decided to take the slightly longer route in order to see some other places. Brussels is a pretty nice place! Much, much quieter than Paris, and more inviting for sure, though not nearly as courteous as the British. With all of the beautiful parks, big squares, and cute narrow walkways lined with cafes, I can understand why people would be tempted to live here.

Unfortunately, Elena had to leave soon after we got back to the hotel to catch her train, after which I promptly passed out. Then I woke up at 1 am, and couldn't fall asleep so I tried to find something on TV. The only thing in English was this really odd western film about the border control. Seriously the weirdest and possibly most disturbing movie of my life. Somehow after that I was able to fall asleep though, and sleep until noon today! They say that when your body needs it, you can sleep forever, and apprently I needed it. Unfortunately not much is open today at all since it's a Sunday, but it was a good opportunity to catch up on my blog and check email and stuff like that :) I am very excited to get to Edinburgh, and really really excited to finally get to Stirling!! My flight leaving Brussels is scheduled for tomorrow morning, and I just checked, it is still planned despite lots of cancellations within Europe due to the weather. Please wish me luck, and if my flight is cancelled, you can find me in a puddle at the Brussels airport!

Finally caught up! Until Scotland!

Paris, Je...ne t'aime pas

Well this blog post is a few days late since internet is scarce, mais voila!

Rebecca and I woke up at the crack of dawn to go meet our tour group at the train station to take the chunnel. We were kind of confused, because at the tour office, they had told us we would be leaving from king's cross station, but then the taxi driver, hired by the office, took us to another train station that was next door to king's cross. We were a little bit stressed then, because forget about finding our platform, we didn't even know which station we were supposed to be at! Luckily, we found someone to ask, and we were in the right station. Apparently everyone knows that when your ticket says you are leaving from platform 5 at king's cross, you are actually leaving from platorm 5 at st. pancras. Makes total sense - our bad! After that confusion was dealt with, and we were comfortably sipping our lattes, we were off to Paris!

The Chunnel is really cool and efficient! We were told that you don't even know you're under water, and I have to say that I didn't believe anyone, but it's true! It actually took me almost halfway through the Chunnel to realize that it had been dark for quite some time, and that we were almost through!

Our actual time in Paris was an interesting experience. In our tour group, we had an older gentleman who is Scottish, but now lives in the US, a young man from Vegas, two girls from Japan who spoke little to no English and less French, and Rebecca and me!

Our first stop of the trip was the Eiffle tower. First, we drove past the arc de triomphe, which was really impressive! I have seen pictures of course, but it is much larger than I had imagined somehow, and the pure artistry was beautiful. Having driven through Paris, and seen the gorgeous buildings and balconies, I could understand upon our arrival to the eiffle tower why the french think it is so ugly. Compared to the rest of Paris, it really is! The height and sheer mass of iron are pretty interesting though, but that foreigners come to see that instead of appreciating the beauty of the city itself must be frustrating. We also learned, upon exiting the car, that the eiffle tower is the coldest and windiest location in Paris! Lucky us! Keep in mind that it was -8 celcius, which is around 17 degrees f, and the wind chill made it about -13, which is 8 degrees f. Needless to say, we were absolutely freezing!! Our hands were bright red, my feet went totally numb (and the re-heating process of my feet was actually really painful), and the Scottlish gentleman kindly told me "your nose is the most incredible shade of blue!". But, we carried on, and Rebecca and I ventured outside to the FREEZING outdoor section at the top for a picture at the top. Hopefully that picture will be posted soon on facebook, when we can combine photos. That picture was a true sacrifice of everything we had left haha! I really cannot convey how cold we were. So that is my memory of the eiffle tower!

Next, we took a cruise of the seine, which was really enjoyable! The boat was enclosed, thank god! It was so fun to be able to see all of the buildings upon the river, and I mostly enjoyed the bridges! They are so ornate, and are really pieces of art! It was also cool that some of the bridges were covered in locks. I read in my handy dandy Rick Steve's book that the locks are placed there by lovers in Paris. They put the lock on the bridge, and throw the key into the river to symbolize that even if they part ways eventually, their time and experiences together can never be taken away. I think it's a really beautiful sentiment.

After the river cruise, we went to the notre dame. I have to admit that I probably didn't appreciate the notre dame as much as I should have. From the outside, the cathedral is absolutely beautiful, and I wish we had been able to spend more time looking at it from that perspective. As previously outlined by my weather report however, that was not about to happen. So, from the inside, it really looked just like any other cathedral. The strained glass though was beautiful.

After the notre dame, the Scottish man, the Vegas man, and Rebecca and I went to get lunch at a cafe. Out of pure devotion for their nicotine habits, some parisiens were sitting outside. We chose not to partake in that Paris experience and sit inside and drank lots of tea in an effort to raise our body temperatures. The food at the cafe was sooooo yummy! I ordered a croque monsieur, which was the most intense comfort food ever with the exception of Pullman Southfork's cougar gold mac and cheese. Sorry Paris. But regardless, it was really good! That is first on my list to cook for myself once I finally get into my flat in Scotland. I'm fairly certain that I would be shot if someone from France reads this, or at least would receive a good upturned nose, but that croque monsieur was the best cheesy bread of my life!

After lunch, we had a few hours to tour the city before catching the train home. I was on a mission for a pain au chocolat, but in typical fashion, the minute you need a boulangerie or a p√Ętisserie, they all disappear! Eventually, after wandering the freezing and rather unfriendly streets of Paris, I saw one! Unfortunately, the place looked a little bit commercial, but it was worth a shot I thought. So wrong. It was hard, with zero flavor. So we threw it away and continued to walk down the street, when we saw a cafe which listed pain au chocolat on the menu. Eureka! But the response upon ordering? "Nous n'avons pas le pain au chocolat, mais je peux vous servir un croissant avec nutella": Epic fail. Rebecca put our pain au chocolat quest nicely, by saying that we were really experiencing the "pain" in pain au chocolat.

So, we began the trek back to the train, defeated by the weather, rude parisiens, and a lack of pain au chocolat. We were so excited to re-enter the UK! And then of course, in the train station cafe, they had a plethora of pain au chocolat. At that point, I was just too put out and couldn't order one, deciding to give it a try in Brussels.

I need to spend more time in Paris to be able to give it a fair assessment, but Rebecca and I agreed that London, although it's a bit city, still gives you an impression of class and courtesy. Paris, on the other hand, seems to inspire an "every man for himself" mentality. Like I said, I would like to go back, but I would also like to see other areas of France, where maybe it's a little bit different.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Hampton Court, Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, Cliffs of Dover

It's been a few days since I've gotten the chance to post anything on here! On Tuesday Rebecca and I took the train to Hampton Court, where Henry VIII lived. It was really interesting, and really COLD! I can't imagine living there, especially when we were told that they didn't have windows back then, just oiled canvas! I was really glad that I've watched the Tudors, because it made Hampton really come alive for me; now I really want to watch it again! That night, we watched Bridget Jones' Diary, because we weren't getting enough of England!

Yesterday, we went on a tour to Leeds, Canterbury, and Dover. It was really enjoyable! Leeds is still a livable castle, and it's still furnished! The tour of that castle was fairly short, but it was beautiful. Next, we went to Canterbury Cathedral, which was really gorgeous! Most churches are on one level, but Canterbury has a million different stairs, mostly because it's so huge! The stained glass in this church was also really pretty, and again from France, with a lot of blues! The black prince is buried here, and they also had his clothes on display. Considering that he was from the 14th century, it's pretty amazing that his clothing has survived! The last stop on our tour was the cliffs of Dover. I have to admit, I was a little bit underwhelmed by these. I know they are very symbolic in British history, especially for WWII, so it was great to be able to go visit, but if I hadn't been told otherwise I would have thought they were just like any other cliffs. It was cool though, our tour guide told us that France has twin cliffs, because they were created when the plates separated and Britain floated away. That's how the chalk was originally exposed.

Today, we were originally going to do another tour, but decided to stay another day in London. The first stop this morning was Floris, to exchange some things and add to our collection of quality perfumes of course! It was fun to spend a little bit more time in the store and explore some of their scents! Next, we went to Harrods and drooled over their purses and stopped for an afternoon tea. Their tea room is surrounded by windows, and the sun was shining through which was wonderful. I am dying for some serious Vitamin D! The London Eye and Buckingham Palace were our last destinations for the day. The London Eye was cool, because it gave me an improved orientation to how the city is laid out. Buckingham Palace we had seen a few times before, because our hotel is so close, but we walked by and went into the gift shop, where I found Queen Victoria china! My dad had brought back some tea plates for me when he was here a few years back, so I was really excited for the opportunity to add to my set with the pot and teacups.

Tomorrow, we are to Paris! We have to leave super early to take the chunnel, but I'm very excited! Sorry to have to do three days at once, we don't have internet in our hotel room so it's difficult to find the time!