The Luck of the Irish.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to meet my cousins Tiffany and James in Dublin for the weekend.  It really worked out perfectly because there’s not that many weekends here that haven’t already been filled up with something else to do.  I really enjoyed getting to see them because my homesickness set in a long time ago, and I’ve been really missing my family lately.  Family is everything, after all, and home truly is where the heart is!

Anyways, on Friday, I took a very, very early taxi into London (which included my taxi driver blasting Frank Sinatra, which I normally wouldn’t mind, but it was 4:30am) and then a flight to Dublin, where I met up with Tiff and James.  They pretty much hit the ground running because their flight from the U.S. had just come in five minutes before my plane landed.  Once we met up, which took a little time because we didn’t realize at first that there are two separate terminals of Dublin airport: one where international flights come in and one where flights from around Europe come in.  We took a taxi to their hotel, where Tiff and James very graciously let me stay in their room, which was a really nice change as I’ve been staying in hostels all semester during my travels.  

We checked into our hotel there, got a bite to eat for lunch, and returned to our hotel at 1:00pm to meet our tour guide for a private walking tour around Dublin, which I really enjoyed.  It was very historical, and different from anything that I’d done before.  We walked around Trinity College, Dublin Castle, City Hall, and much more.

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Trinity College

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Dublin Castle

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Tiff, James, and I on the grounds of Dublin Castle

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Christ Church Cathedral

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City Hall of Dublin

We finished off our first day in Dublin with eating dinner at a burger place.  Afterwards, we went to a movie theatre where I got to see my first movie since I came to Oxford in January.  We saw Captain America: Winter Soldier which was absolutely fantastic.  It was better than the first, in my opinion, and had my heart singing Stars and Stripes Forever as we walked out of the theatre.  

On Saturday, we woke up and ate breakfast in our lovely hotel and headed out towards Trinity College to hop on one of the city sightseeing buses that would take us on a tour of Malahide Castle and out to the coast to a small fishing town called Howth, which definitely smelled fishy.  Malahide Castle is beautiful in its architecture, extremely spacious grounds, and in its history.  Towards the end of the tour, we found out about the supposed ghosts that lived in the castle, one of them living in the closet of the room we were standing in at the time.  He was the jester of Malahide Castle who had hung himself after losing his love.  Since his death, he haunts the room, looking for his true love.  And apparently, according to our tour guide, he prefers blondes (of course.)

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Malahide Castle

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Myself on the grounds of the castle

After spending a little bit of time on the coast, seeing most of it from inside the tour bus because of the very rainy and cold weather, we headed back towards the main city of Dublin.  

Once arriving to our drop-off point, I think we experienced a little bit of the luck of the Irish. We were dropped off right in front of the Savoy Theatre, which happened to be where the new movie Noah, starring Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, and several other well-known actors was premiering that day.  Once we got off the bus, I noticed that there was a crowd gathered around the barricades. The reason why, was because Russell Crowe was outside the theatre, asking reporters’ questions.  It was so cool!

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After experiencing our starstruck moment, we took a taxi to Wicklow, where Tiff and James had won a stay at the ridiculously fancy Powerscourt Hotel.  I enjoyed a night in while they attended a welcome dinner.  The next morning, I explored the grounds of the hotel before I had to make the journey back to Oxford.  It was extremely beautiful and really reminded me of the beauty of God’s creation.  

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The Powerscourt Hotel

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Ireland is definitely one of my favorite places that I’ve visited this semester.  It was a very enjoyable weekend and I’m really glad I got to see my cousins!

 

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Athens, you’re amazing, and Santorini, you’re super. (Spring Break in Greece)

While we were in Greece this past week, I kept a journal everyday so I’d remember everything we did.  I’m going to write those accounts down here so you may explore Athens and Santorini, Greece along with me!

ATHENS: day one. March 8, 2014. 9:27pm.

After spending most of the day in-transit, we finally have arrived in Athens, Greece.  I haven’t really formed a first impression yet other than the bus ride from the airport to Syntagma Square, which is about a 5-minute walk from our hostel, was extremely bumpy.  However, from the main street that our hostel leads out to, we can see the tops of the Temple of Zeus, which is pretty surreal.  I’ve been interested in Greek Mythology for quite some time now; I think Disney’s Hercules is what started it all.  I’ve only watched that movie at least 250 times.  After I started getting into the Percy Jackson books, that only stimulated more interest for me.  But now to be here in this beautiful, sun-drenched city is just like something out of a dream.  Greece was always one of those places I’ve always really wanted to go to, but never thought I’d get to visit.  And now, here I am!

Tomorrow we’re going to have a full day of exploring (weather-permitting) since it’s our first full day here.  It’s all very Greek!

ATHENS: day two. March 9, 2014. 7:20pm.

Today wasn’t filled with all that much, but was still exhausting.  We called it a day and retired to our hostel around 5:30pm.  We’re some serious party animals, aren’t we? (SPRANG BREAKKKKK!!!!)

Anyways, after a late start (my alarm went off at 10:00, but no one really got out of bed until 11:00) we went to the Temple of Zeus, which had a lot of cool things to explore.  There were a lot of stray dogs and cats that live there, which I though was pretty neat.  The people who charge the entry fee have little dog houses, food and water bowls, and everything for them.

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One of the dogs that we met that was really friendly; we named him Winn-Dixie.

After finishing up at the Temple of Zeus, we ate at a cafe near the Acropolis where I tried Greek food for the first time.  I had chicken souvlaki, which is basically chicken that’s really well-seasoned with peppers that’s cooked on a skewer and then fries, pita bread, and tomatoes are served on the side.  It was extremely good, filling, and not what I expected at all!

Afterwards, we went to the Acropolis Museum which holds all of the archaeological findings from the Acropolis area.  The thing I found most interesting was that there are parts of the floor all throughout the ground floor that are made of glass so you can see all that’s been discovered below the museum, which is a really good amount of stuff.  They had a sign up that they’re preparing the area so that tourists can eventually go down there and explore for themselves.  It’s like a whole different world down there.

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We walked through the museum, which would’ve been a lot more fun if we could’ve taken pictures.  There were a lot of busts and statues that were missing noses or other body parts were really hilarious.  It’s understandable since they were underground for thousands of years.   We left the museum and decided we’d save the Acropolis for Monday or Tuesday.  It takes quite a hike to get up to the top.  We did, however, find a gelato place (also my first time having it) and stopped in to have some.  I had a scoop of mango, and it was the most delicious thing I’ve ever had.  Also, ironically enough, we met a man and his granddaughter that are from San Antonio.  It was definitely one of those “small world” moments.

ATHENS: day three. March 10, 2014. 10:01pm.

Another tiring but fun-filled day in Athens.  We started the day off with eating at a place called “Avocado.” Yes, we pretty much solely went there for the name; avocados are just too delicious.  I ordered a panini with mozarella and tomato (the place is vegetarian) and it came with a side of chips and guacamole(!).  The guac was extremely good and it was nice to have a little bit of a taste of home.

After we finished our food we walked back over to the Acropolis area.  It’s basically where all of the well-known ruins in Athens are.  We saw the Acropolis (obviously), the Parthenon, Erechtheion, Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Theatre of Dionysus, the Temple of Athena, and last but not least: Areopagus, which I think has the most interesting story.  Areopagus is this big rock that you can climb and there’s an amazing view of Athens at the top.  Abby and I had some trouble climbing it because we were wearing tennis shoes and the stones had been made very smooth by hundreds of years of weather and wear.  But luckily, we finally made it to the top where we enjoyed the view for only a few minutes because out of nowhere, these three children playing accordions appeared.  They would come up to you, play a little bit of a song, and then stick out their hand asking for money.  It was definitely a first, being heckled by children and all.

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Views from the top of the Acropolis.

Despite the heckling children, our Acropolis experience was great.  The hike to the top was very tiring but the views along the way made it all worth it.  Athens is a truly beautiful city, with the sun shining that warmed the city just enough that we were able to take off our jackets and sweaters and not be cold.

After finishing up at the Acropolis, we made another gelato stop (if you tried it you’d understand why we were so eager to go again).  We sat at the tables outside the shop for a while, people-watching, enjoying the sun, and reading.

Our last stop of the day was Plaka, a neighborhood full of little shops that have anything and everything Greek.  We didn’t spend all that much time there because looking around shops isn’t all that fun when you don’t have euros to blow.  Nonetheless, the atmosphere was very enjoyable.

ATHENS: day four. March 11, 2014. 11:07pm.

Today was our last day in Athens and definitely the most relaxed.  I had my alarm set for 10:00, but that just wound up getting turned off.  That’s okay, though, because we’re on vacation!  We’re allowed to sleep late!  After finally rolling out of bed around noon and getting ready, we went to Plaka again to eat lunch.  The weather was beautiful all day; I even got to wear my Chacos!  This is a big deal because it’s the first time all semester I’ve been anywhere warm enough to wear sandals.  Since the weather was so nice, we sat at a table outside to soak up some sun (even though there’s absolutely no chance I’d tan. I’m even paler than Edward Cullen).  We finished our delicious meal of classic Greek food; I got souvlaki again and Melody and Abby ordered gyros.  The only thing that wasn’t so enjoyable was when I felt something brush against my foot and when I looked down to see what it was, I saw that it was a pigeon.  Let’s just say I half-screamed a couple of not-so-G-rated words in response.  Next time I wish the pigeon would ask my permission before it cuddled up next to my feet.

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Lunch in Plaka.

After our very Greek lunch and my exciting pigeon experience, we went next door to have a traditional Greek dessert: baklava.  It’s kind of hard to describe because it’s both flaky and not flaky at the same time and also extremely sweet.

Afterwards we walked back to our hostel and played a couple of games of Nerts (which I’m not half-bad at), read, and relaxed.  Tomorrow morning we’ll be leaving Athens to go to Santorini, so, here’s to our next adventure!

SANTORINIday five. March 12, 2014. 11:15pm.

Our first day in Santorini was the least organized of our whole trip.  We started the day early by catching a bus in Syntagma Square in Athens to get to the airport.  After an extremely short flight (it actually took less time to fly from Athens to Santorini than it took on our bus to the airport) we were greeted by the beautiful but blustery island of Santorini, Greece.  The sun was shining and the weather would be practically warm compared to what we’ve become accustomed to if it weren’t for the 30+mph winds.  It was pretty intense.  Luckily we were rescued by a taxi driver since we only had a general idea of where our hotel is.  Our directions were very vague and only had a couple of key words which made the distance from the airport to our hotel seem very short.  We became more and more grateful that we caught a taxi because it probably would’ve taken us a couple of hours on foot.  So the moral of the story is: directions can be very deceiving!

After unloading our suitcases and getting settled into our room, we ventured out to explore the neighborhood of Fira, which happens to be the capital of Santorini.  Everything is really just so picture-perfect here.  The buildings and homes are all made of white stone or painted equally light colors.  Along with the great amount of marble displaced around the island, it gives everything an appearance I can only associate with the sun; it’s all so bright.  I’m sure Santorini is much more lively during the summer, but it’s still pretty great in its off-season.

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Fira, Santorini, Greece.

SANTORINIday six. March 13, 2014. 9:33pm.

Today was another very relaxed day.  We went and spoke to the lady who owns our hotel because she mentioned she knew a company that could rent us a car, ATVs, or mopeds at a discounted rate.  At first we were going to rent an ATV or moped because that’d be more fun, but Anastasia (the hotel owner) said that we should consider renting a car because riding an ATV or moped would be really hard because it’s so windy.  I’m really glad we took her advice.  I think it may have been more windy, at certain points, than it was when we first arrived.  We waited almost an hour and then a man from a car rental place at the airport brought us a car.  I signed the papers and such so that meant that I was the set driver (don’t panic! We obviously didn’t die since I’m writing this now!).  We set out to find Akrotiri, an ancient ruin city on the island, but once we got there we found out it was closed since the island’s in its off-season.  Go figure!  It was okay, though, because we still got some breathtaking views on the way there.

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Proof of me driving our car in Santorini. Amazing!

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Since Akrotiri was closed, we decided to try and give Oia a shot.  We got sorta kinda lost a couple of times and dealing with the horrible Greek drivers was getting really stressful.  Everyone in Santorini loves to speed, which doesn’t really makes sense to me because the roads are constantly winding all throughout the island.  I just let people pass me because I’d rather drive slowly and be careful than to drive off of a cliff.  Maybe that’s just me.  After driving for about an hour and a half, we decided to give up trying to get to Oia because the road that went along the mountainside seemed to have absolutely no end.  Plus, that road would have been impossible to drive on at night because one wrong move, and you go off a cliff.  Not worth it to me!

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The view from the road along the mountain.

After eating dinner at a nice restaurant in Fira, we called it a day!

SANTORINI: day seven. March 14, 2014. 11:07pm.

Today was our last full day in Greece and I’m sad to see Spring Break end, but I also think it will be nice to get back into the normal routine (even though the normal routine is hectic, busy, and stressful a lot of times).  I did really enjoy the relaxation time and the opportunity to see things that many people will never see in their lifetimes.  I had a lot of time to sit down and really enjoy a book.  I read two books this week, which was really refreshing.  It was just an all-around good trip.

This morning we drove to see the coast because we had the rental car until 2pm.  After seeing the clear, blue waters of the Mediterranean, it’s going to be hard for any beach even coming close in comparison.  The sand on the shore was black because there’s a volcano on the island, which I found really interesting.

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After we stayed there for a while, absorbing the beauty  of God’s creation, and took some pictures, we drove back to our hotel, where we remained for the rest of the day.  The weather was absolutely gorgeous so I spent some time on the patio of our hotel, reading for a while.  I may regret it a tiny bit later on because my scalp and the tips of my ears feel like they got a little bit too much sun.  All in all, it was worth it, I think, because weather like we had today is not something that happens very often in Oxford.

So, I guess, that’s a wrap!  We’re off in the morning to make the short flight to Athens, and then we fly to London from there.  It’s going to be a day full of plane and taxi rides!

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I hope you enjoyed the tales of my Spring Break adventures in Greece!

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Cardiff is cool, and Amsterdam is awesome.

Sorry, folks, for the extreme lack of blog posts from me lately.  Turns out that there is actually a lot of studying that comes with “study abroad.” (Who would’ve thought!?!?)  The past several weeks have been very packed and writing a new blog post just sort of fell to the the back of my mind as my list of assignments grew.

So I am going to make an attempt to summarize what has happened since my last post on January 31st, which was almost a month ago (whoops!).

Saturday, February 8th, Savannah and I spent the day in Cardiff, Wales.  Firstly, we went through the Doctor Who Experience, which was jaw-dropping, amazing, and indescribably cool to any Doctor Who fan (which Savannah is not, so thanks very much to her for agreeing to be dragged along with me through time and space).  We had quite the time finding the Doctor Who Experience, which turned out to really only be a straight shot down one road from the train station, but we, unknowingly, took the road less traveled.  We found out that day just how fast our power walks are.  Once we trekked through the sketchy street, biting cold, and wind that blew so hard it made your eyes water, we finally arrived.  We ate lunch in the cafe and got in line to wait our turn to experience the experience.  Not two minutes after we got in line, I heard liquid hitting the ground further up in the line.  I thought at first that someone had just spilled their soda, but nope, that wasn’t it.  The child that was in line about ten people ahead vomited all over the floor.  Fortunately it was quickly cleaned up before the smell could reach our nostrils.  (Props to the girl who worked there who had to do be on barf cleaning up duty.)  After finally entering the experience, we went through an interactive tour of the world ofDoctor Who, which included some of the heroes of the series and all of the (terrifying) villains. At certain points, I’m positive that I was more scared than some of the children with us.  Through the forest of weeping angels I was clinging onto the back of Savannah’s coat and forcing my eyes open because whatever you do, don’t blink.  At the end of the interactive tour, it led to two floors filled with props, costumes, etc. used in the series.  It was fantastic.

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Dr. River Song’s Things

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The costume of the Tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant (my fave).

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Me hanging out in the console of the TARDIS.

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The TARDIS and myself.

Next stop for Cardiff was Cardiff Castle.  We explored the grounds and the Castle Apartments, got pushed around quite a bit by the wind, and climbed too many stairs to count to the top of the castle.  The view from the top made it all worth it, though.

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Cardiff Castle

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Savannah and I at the top of the castle.

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The ceiling in one of the rooms of the Castle Apartments.

In general, the people there were pretty much the same as they are in Oxford.  Towards the end of the day, though, we started to see more and more people that were getting loud and obnoxious because there was a Wales football match that day.  Therefore, every bar with a TV was crammed with people clad in red jerseys, cheering on their country’s football team.  After we had had our fill of wandering around Cardiff’s High Street, we made our way back to the train station to wait for our train.  I kept noticing that there were people everywhere wearing A Day to Remember shirts, which is a metalcore/pop punk band so it draws an interesting crowd….(lots of people wearing eyeliner, lots of black clothes, and wannabe scene kids to give you sort of an idea). Luckily we were watching the amusing-looking people from the safety of the train station lobby.  We took our train back to Oxford, and that was a wrap on our day in Cardiff!

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Dinner at Bella Italia in Cardiff.

On Thursday, February 20th, Abby, Melody, and I took a very, very, very early flight to Amsterdam and spent the weekend there, until Sunday night.  To get to London early enough for our flight, the taxi had to pick us up in the buttcrack of dawn, 4:20am.  The sacrifice, as it often is, was worth it.  Being able to race the sun to Amsterdam was truly beautiful.

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While we were there, we went to the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam Museum, and visited the beautiful and ridiculously cute town of Zaanse Schans right outside of Amsterdam, amongst other things.

Firstly, the Van Gogh Museum left me speechless, inspired, and amazed.  Vincent Van Gogh has been my favorite artist for a very long time and to see so many of his works in person was life-changing.  The techniques and colors he using in his paintings inspire me and made me want to go home, grab a paintbrush, paint, and canvas, and starting creating my own masterpieces.  Don’t get me wrong, I cannot paint anywhere nearly as well as Van Gogh, but I like to pretend that I can, and it’s worth a try.  I snapped a couple of pictures of some of my favorite paintings of his that they had, even though I don’t think we were supposed to (shhhh don’t call the photo police).

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We also experienced the world-famous Dutch pancakes that are making my mouth water just to even think about.  Just the pancake itself is almost twice the size of my head.  You’re probably just thinking of a really big pancake, but I don’t think you can really understand how truly big they were.  Good thing I did the white girl thing and took pictures of my food before I ate it.

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Round 1.

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Round 2.

Don’t worry, those two pancakes weren’t both eaten in one sitting; those were two separate meals on separate days.  If the pancakes didn’t make me fall in love with the Amsterdam, the city itself did.  Even though I have an irrational fear of bodies of water, the way the canals run through the city is stunning.  The buildings are all different colors, which doesn’t sound like it would be pretty, but it works.  The people are also a lot nicer than the English.

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There were some things that we didn’t like/found dumb about Amsterdam, though:

1. You get charged extra for a ketchup packet.

2. Hardly any places take credit cards. (The places that did said they had to be Dutch credit cards.)

3. They won’t serve tap water, which would be free usually, so getting water at a restaurant costs more than a soda.

4. Having to pay to relieve yourself of bodily functions.

5. There are people (like the three girls that roomed with us in our hostel) that actually smoke weed from sun up to sun down.

Other than those things, we loved Amsterdam.

On our second day, which happened to be Abby’s birthday, we took a 20-minute train ride to Zaanse Schaans.  There’s a cocoa factory in the town so it made the whole place smell like chocolate – it was heaven.  It also made me really want chocolate.  The “cute” part of the town is across a bridge, but I got some pretty fantastic shots from the bridge.

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The town itself is exactly what I pictured when I think of a Dutch town.  The houses were all painted beautiful shades of green and the lingering scent of chocolate in the air added to the wonderful experience.  In the town, we went to a cheese factory, which had a lot of samples, which were all great.  We also visited a clog-making factory that had all different shapes, colors, and styles of clogs.  I know I’ve used this word a lot already, but it was all just so cute.

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All in all, it was just a really good weekend, and I definitely think it’s my favorite trip that we’ve been on so far.  It was an (Amster)dam good time!

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Lovely Lincoln.

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Yesterday, Savannah and I made a day trip to Lincoln, England.  Lincoln holds a very special place in my heart because it is where my dad and I traveled to during Spring Break for five years.  We would go there because my dad’s friend, Maggie Chalk, lived in Lincoln, and I’m really glad she did because it’s one of my favorite places in the entire world.  It’s not a well-known place in England, unless you’ve just happened to have gone there or live in England.  It’s basically the dictionary definition of a storybook town.  

Savannah and I were pretty proud of ourselves because to get from Oxford to Lincoln, we had to make three changes, so the journey included three trains and one Tube ride from London Paddington to Kings Cross.  Being Americans, we don’t really ride trains that often, which is a shame because it really is a great way of getting from place to place.  I’m sure I looked very American on the train from London Kings Cross to Newark North Gate because I sat down in the wrong seat not one, but two times.  (Thank you, thank you. *bows*)

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Once we finally made it to Lincoln, we made our way out of the train station to High Street (which is what the English call their Main Street where a bunch of shops are).  As we walked down High Street, through the brisk cold and the drizzling rain, the memories of my time spent in Lincoln started rushing back to me.  It’s amazing that even though it had been almost six years since the last time I was there, I still could make my way through High Street like I was just there yesterday.  

Our first stop in Lincoln was the cathedral and the castle, which are right next to each other.  To get there, we had to climb up a street that is properly named Steep Hill.  “Steep” is an understatement.  That hill would make even the most in-shape person huff and puff.  In my previous travels to Lincoln, I had never trekked up or down Steep Hill, and I understand why now.  Eventually, we made it to the top of the hill, despite our screaming muscles and heavy breathing.  We went to the castle first but unfortunately there was a lot of construction going on so we didn’t get to go up to the turret of the castle, which was always one of my favorite things to do in Lincoln.  Nevertheless, it was still beautiful.  Castles are definitely not something you come across everyday in the U.S.  We were still able to walk along part of the wall which provided a stunning view of the city below and the cathedral across the way. 

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After attempting to scrape the mud off of our boots, we went to the cathedral and spent a good amount of time in there.  The architecture of the cathedral is really impressive since the construction for the building began in 1068.  It blows my mind that something of this size and of this detail was built in a time with no cranes, electric tools, or cat-calling construction men (the latter isn’t always necessary).  I’ll admit that I get a little bit creeped out walking through it when there’s not many people, like it was that day, because I psych myself out and imagine someone lurking around the nearest corner.  Don’t worry, no one jumped out and spooked us.  Anyways, if seeing the Lincoln Cathedral isn’t on your bucket list, it really needs to be.

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After eating lunch at a pub called the Magna Carta (I’m sure it’s named this because the Lincoln Cathedral is the home of one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta) and spent the rest of our day shopping around and looking in the shops on High Street.  Once it got to be about 5:30, the stores began to close (everything closes really, really early here) we spent the remainder of our time in a Starbucks, drinking hot beverages and reading the new books we’d picked up that day in Waterstone’s.  

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I’m really glad I got to visit Lincoln once again, and maybe one of these days I’ll get to go back.

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London Calling.

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Big Ben

This past Friday, our study abroad group made a trip into London for the day.  We had the option to stay the whole weekend if we wanted to, but the trip was technically just a day trip.  Melody, Abby, Savannah, and I stayed Friday night and came back last night, Saturday, because we wanted to celebrate Savannah’s birthday in London, which was on Friday.  It was a very fast-paced trip; full of constant movement to the next tourist attraction and getting jostled in the hustle and bustle of London.  Today, my feet scream with every step I take, and I’m sure my roommates can agree.  We probably walked close to 30 miles just Friday and Saturday.  But when in Rome, right?

When we arrived at London Paddington Station, we made our way to the Underground to figure out which Tube to get on to get to Brixton, one of the neighborhoods of London.  We were required to go there for a “London Neighborhood Project” for our Great Britain.  We were each assigned a neighborhood of London and we had to go there, study it, acknowledge their people and their culture.  Brixton, let’s just say, is not a very friendly neighborhood.  While the view wasn’t half-bad, almost immediately after we came up from the Underground station, we were greeted by a crazy person yelling at us with some definitely not G-rated words.  We walked around a bit more, but when the same thing happened from a person that was probably high on some sort of drug, we decided we’d had enough of Brixton; approximately two hours had been more than enough.  Luckily, we had two boys that had been put in our group as well, Kyle and Chris, so we weren’t just four white, blonde girls walking around an area we weren’t comfortable in.

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We went back to the Underground and made our way back into Central London.  We got off at Baker Street, the home of Sherlock Holmes.  We visited the museum there, which was really great.  I half-expected Sherlock to come bounding in the entryway with information on the latest case that he and Dr. Watson needed to solve.

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221B Baker Street

After finishing at the Sherlock museum it was late enough for us to be able to check into our hotel, so we went there and dropped off our heavy backpacks, which was a huge relief.  After, we went to the “touristy” part of London: where Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, etc are.  After experiencing the interesting suburb of Brixton, we were happy to be near the world-famous sights.  Once we had had our fill of snapping countless photos, exploring, and riding the London Eye, we were about done for the day.  There’s only so much that can be done in London that’s touristy after dark anyways.  Some things are just better to see during the day.  So after eating dinner at an Italian restaurant (which was actually really good and reasonably priced) we went back to our hotel and had dessert in the hotel restaurant (which was not reasonably priced at all) for Savannah’s birthday.

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A view of London at night from the London Eye.

Day two in London was filled with even more walking and trying to figure out the confusing Underground lines.  We visited Buckingham Palace first, which was probably the most crowded tourist attraction we encountered on our trip to London.  Before we left there, I promised Queen Elizabeth that I’d be back in April for our birthday.  (Queen Elizabeth and I share the same birthday, no biggie.)  We ate lunch in a park nearby because the weather wasn’t that cold and the sun was shining, for a change.  There was a food stand that sold hot dogs, believe it or not, so we chose to get food from there, obviously.  It was interesting to people-watch from our place on the park bench while people-watched us as well.

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Buckingham Palace

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Park near Buckingham Palace

We also visited Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum (which had way, way, way too many people and children that didn’t know how to behave in public) which is filled with wax figures of movie stars, musicians (most importantly One Direction), and other famous people.  Mostly every wax figure was eerily accurate.  When we first got in there and started taking pictures with them, I was a little weary of standing too close because I felt like one of them would just start moving and grab me or something.  It was extremely impressive.

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Myself, David Cameron (The United Kingdom’s Prime Minister), Savannah, and Melody

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Dame Helen Mirren and I

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One Direction (!!!!)

By the time we had finished taken pictures with our favorite wax figures, it was already dark outside so we headed off to our last couple of stops on our trip.  We went to where Tower Bridge is and saw the outside of the Tower of London (it was unfortunately already closed by the time we got there) and didn’t stay long because it was extremely cold and windy, probably from being on the banks of the River Thames. The Tower Bridge at night, though, is truly a breathtaking sight.

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The Tower Bridge

At this point, we were just ready to get back to the train station and get back to Oxford.  It had been a fun and memorable weekend, but also an extremely tiring one.  Luckily we have today to recover, rest, and do homework before classes tomorrow.

Thanks, London, you were great and we’ll see you again soon.

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Blackwell’s, Beauty, and a Bespectacled Book Editor

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Day 7.

Well, I’ve officially been to all of my classes now, and as I expected, these classes are going to make for an interesting semester.  I’m pretty sure this semester would be interesting either way, though, because I’m sort of studying in a foreign country.  We’ve already been assigned homework and the list of how much I’m going to have to read this semester is constantly growing, but that’s college for you.  However, I can’t complain much because a good chunk of my reading is assorted C. S. Lewis novels and if you don’t appreciate Lewis’s writing and teachings, you can kindly leave through the nearest exit.

Last night, the members of my Religious Teaching of C. S. Lewis were required to attend a lecture held by the C. S. Lewis Society here in Oxford, one of the most recognized C. S. Lewis societies in the world, apart from the one in New York.  We were told the name of the man who would be speaking, but I didn’t realize who he was until he was properly introduced to us at the meeting.  The man who spoke, named Walter Hooper, was Lewis’s personal secretary at the end of his life and since his death, has dedicated his life to guaranteeing that C. S. Lewis’s books will continue to be printed.  He mentioned in his lecture that Lewis never believed that his books would eventually stop selling after he died.  Good joke, Clive. Mr. Hooper also edited The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, which he mentioned he would never be able to do again because of the incredibly large amount of letters Lewis left behind (the third volume of The Collected Letters is over 1,000 pages long, to give you a hint).  It was a very pleasurable lecture and you could definitely tell that he loved telling his story.  To my surprise, relatively half of the attendees of the meeting where American.  There was a Q&A session after Hooper was finished speaking and every person that asked a question, except one, was American.  It just shows how much of an impact Lewis’s writing has made on the American people.

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I’ve started getting more and more comfortable finding my way around town and I even ventured into city centre on my own today.  I had in my mind where I wanted to go, but I couldn’t remember exactly how to get there.  I made it into city centre but where the street I needed to get to was in proportion to where I was, I had no idea.  Luckily, a man noticed me looking confusedly at the hand-drawn map of Oxford we were all given (not like it would help much because I can’t really read maps) and asked if I needed help finding something.  I told him I was looking for Broad Street and he kindly directed me to where it was.  It was really the first time that a Briton had asked if I needed help and was polite, which was pretty refreshing.  The British are nice people, they just aren’t very polite.  Getting bumped into while walking along the street and not hearing a “sorry” or “excuse me” from the bumpee is a new concept to me.

Once I finally located my destination, a bookstore named Blackwell’s I found that there were really no words to describe it.  One that would properly describe how I felt, though, was overwhelmed.  The bookstore itself contains four levels with probably every genre known to man and each level is the size of a city block.  Ridiculous, I know.  After I had started to look around for a while I questioned whether I’d be able to find my way back out to where I came in, not that I’d mind being lost in a bookstore.  I plan on going back there throughout the semester because there’s a cafe on one of the floors (I’m not sure which one anymore, but I’ll figure it out eventually) where I can do homework and being surrounded by books always calms me.

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After almost three hours of wandering around city centre and people-watching, I finally decided that I should head back to Number Nine.  I’m glad I went when I did because on my walk back, I got to witness a breathtaking scene in the sky.  God really knows how to use His paintbrush, doesn’t He?

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I read once that you should always take pictures of sunsets because you’ll never see the same one again.  I like to live by that quote.

Tomorrow, Thursday, is our last day of class for the week and then we’re going to London on Friday!

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Church, a cold classroom, and cod and chips.

Day 5.

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Being raised in the Church of Christ, I definitely found a comfort zone within that type of style of church.  But this Sunday, myself and a bunch of the other study abroad students attended the night service at St Aldates, an Anglican church in the heart of Oxford.  Going in, I opened my mind because that’s one of my goals for this semester: to keep an open mind and remind myself that it is okay to get out of my comfort zone.  Yes, it’s what I’m used to, but change, for the most part, turns out to be for the better.  As we entered the church, I felt welcomed and not out of place at all as we were greeted at the door by church members.  After the service began, we all stood together to worship through some songs, and I knew almost every single one of them, which I found surprising.  They were all songs that I’d either heard before or sang at the Baptist church I attend while I’m in Abilene.  While we worshiped together, I completely forgot that I was in a foreign country.  We were just one voice, singing as a body of Christ.  It dawned on me in that moment that our God really is universal, and not just where we live.  Of course I already knew that Jesus is with us wherever we go because he lives in our hearts, so therefore he is always with us.  It was just really a wow moment for me.

We also had our first classes today, which included Cornerstone and our International Studies class over Great Britain for me.  I’m not going to lie, I was struggling to stay awake in our first class.  I’m still battling with jet lag and I had to shift quite a bit in my seat just to keep from dozing off.  Luckily after our first class, tea was provided for us and the dose of caffeine really helped along with warming us up because our classroom was almost cold enough to make your snot freeze.  Since today was the first day, it was mostly just introductory information, but the classes seem like they’re going to make for an interesting (and work-filled) semester.

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We also had our first fish and chips experience of the trip at a pub called The Royal Oak that’s pretty close to the house we’re living in.  Eating fish and chips is clearly one of the “touristy” things to do while you’re in England, but it really was a great English experience, being around the Oxfordians that were having a pint and chatting with friends after a day of work.  Maybe I’ll start developing an English accent of my own pretty soon.

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