Tag Archives: travel

Loch Lomond n’ More

What I should be doing right now: reading for my three classes tomorrow.

What I am doing right now: listening to a compilation of 50’s rock n’ roll that I recently found on my iTunes and writing this post.

I spent most of the past two days trying to write an essay for my Scottish Literature class, so I figure it’s alright if I take a break from studying for a bit. Okay, fine, you got me. I might have started this break about three hours ago. But whatever, I’ll get the reading done eventually. I don’t know what it is about Glasgow, but I’ve been having trouble writing essays here. I can’t tell if it’s the way the classes are structured, the fact that I have too much free time, or if I’m just getting dumber. I’m usually pretty good at writing essays, but man the last two I’ve had to write did not come easy. I had to struggle for every sentence. I really hope I can get my brain to kick back into gear soon, though, since there are only three weeks of class left and I’ve got two 4000 word essays to write. Yikes. If only writing essays was as simple as writing blog posts…

I tried to write this essay earlier this week, but it really just wasn’t working out. So when I found out my one Friday class was canceled, I decided to forget about the essay for a bit and take a short trip up to Loch Lomond. Colleen and I caught a morning train up to Balloch, a small town on the banks of the loch. It was intermittently rainy and sunny on the ride up to the loch, and we were hoping that the sun would win out by the time we arrived in Balloch. Boy were we ever wrong.

When we got to Balloch the sun disappeared, and it started pouring. Generally, the Scottish skies are content to annoy the earth with a relentless drizzle, but they also have an irrational tendency to team up with the wind to drench unsuspecting tourists. Such was my experience on Friday. We tried to wander around Balloch a bit, but the horizontal rain forced us inside. We had lunch at a little inn and tried to wait out the rain. Just as we were finishing, the rain miraculously stopped. Eager to make the most of the pause in the storm, we headed out to walk to the loch.

The first path we found was blocked by a huge puddle. I thought I would be clever and walk around it but soon discovered that, sometimes, what looks like a shallow puddle is actually three inches of squelchy mud. I’d long ago given up on trying to keep my Sperry’s clean, but that didn’t make the fact that a third of my shoe was covered in freezing mud any more pleasant. There was no getting around the puddle. Our path was blocked. We decided to cross the bridge and look for another path the loch.

We soon found a suitably-un-puddle-blocked path and proceeded towards the loch. It started to drizzle again at this point, but we pressed on. We came to see Loch Lomond and damned if we weren’t going to see it. We got almost all the way to the loch before our path was blocked by an even bigger puddle. Actually, I’m not sure you could even call it a puddle since it appeared to be connected to the river. I’m not sure if they’ve had an unusual amount of rain or what but it did look like the river/loch was overflowing.

At any rate, we had reached the end of our path. And just to top things off, it started to rain again. We quickly snapped some pictures and headed back into town. After trying in vain to find something else to do in Balloch (the main tourist shopping strip was located down the first path with the puddle), we hopped back on the train to Glasgow, soaked to the bone and happy to be out of the rain.

The trip wasn’t totally unsuccessful. It got me out of Glasgow and my mind off my essay. And Loch Lomond was beautiful, in a very wet sort of way. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in Scotland, it’s that you can’t let rain prevent you from doing things. Because you’ll never go anywhere if you do.

Anyway, I should probably go get that reading done. I’m going to Dublin with some new friends this weekend, so I should probably try to get as much work done as I can before I leave. I’m skipping three classes on Thursday and one class on Friday in order to go. I hate skipping class, it makes me feel behind, but I figure that seeing Ireland is more important than going to class. Right? I mean, that’s why I’m here, to explore parts of the world I’ve never seen. And it’s Ireland! Land of my people! Can’t let a silly little thing like class get in my way…

Until next time…

Megan

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Paris, Part Three

So. Where did I leave off? Ah yes, Friday morning. I think I will condense the last three days into one post because (a) I don’t want to have to write two more posts on Paris after this one and (b) I feel like I write too much anyway. Less is more.

Since Friday morning was Ariel and Colleen’s first morning in Paris, we decided to start the day off with a bang and go see the Eiffel Tower. This time, though, we approached it from the Trocadero across the Seine. It was a lovely view and perfect for pictures. After snapping a few photographs, Lily had to leave us to go catch her train back to Strasbourg. That made me the most experienced French speaker in the group. As in, neither Ariel nor Colleen speak any French, so they had to rely on me to translate. I took four years of high school French and one semester in college, but I had never had the occasion to actually practice speaking French outside of class. Needless to say, my French isn’t that great. Luckily, most Parisians speak English so we didn’t have much trouble. I would attempt to speak French, but most people replied in English. It got a little annoying, actually, because I wasn’t able to practice my French that much since no one would speak French back to me. Of course, I could have made a stronger effort. I’m sure it didn’t help that I asked “vous-parlez Anglais?” half of the time.

On the subject of the language difference, I was genuinely surprised at how much French I understood. I was able to understand a lot more than I thought I would be able to, and I even noticed a little bit of an improvement in my listening skills by the end of the trip. But even if I understood what was being said, I was not very good at formulating responses in French (which is why I so often asked “vous-parlez Anglais?”). I actually really enjoyed trying to understand French, and it was fun having to translate for Ariel and Colleen. I would love to go back to France someday and spend an extended period of time there in order to develop my French skills.

Anyway, back to what we did on Friday. After exploring the Eiffel Tower and taking numerous photographs, we headed over to the Ile-de-Cite to see Notre Dame. I had my first crepe of the trip (butter and sugar, delicious) as we explored the outside of the cathedral. When Ariel’s mother visited Paris twenty or so years ago, she had a photograph taken of herself with a gargoyle at the top of Notre Dame. Ariel wanted to recreate the image with herself, so after we finished our crepes, we got in line to go up to the top. It was a long line, but it moved fairly quickly. After about half an hour, if was our turn to go up to the top. Round and round the spiral staircase we climbed until we finally reached the walkway about two thirds of the way up. Our effort and dizziness was rewarded with a gorgeous view of Paris, Sacre Coeur to the right, the Eiffel Tower ahead and to the left, and everywhere an expanse of gray stone buildings.

The walkway was lined with gargoyles, each one unique and all very fun to look at. We found the gargoyle from Ariel’s mother’s picture and I did my best to recreate the photograph. It was difficult, however, because they had erected a metal cage over the walkway sometime in the twenty years since Ariel’s mother had been there. So it wasn’t an exact recreation of the original photograph, but we did our best.

After the photo shoot, we explored the bell tower–wood beams everywhere with a giant bell in the middle. Pretty much what you would expect. Then we ascended another long stone spiral staircase to the top of the towers. The view was much the same as at the three-fourths point only higher. It was beautiful and clear, another great view. Then we made our way down the stairs, a dizzy stone spiral, back to the earth. The whole experience was very much worth the wait and entrance fee, I really enjoyed it.

Next, we took a little break at a cafe to re-energize. Then we went to Shakespeare and Company, a really awesome bookstore just next to Notre Dame. Tiny, cramped, and jam-packed full of books from floor to ceiling, it reminded me of something out of Harry Potter. Upstairs, there was a typewriter for communal use, a reading room, and a room with a piano (which I really wanted to play, but refrained from on account of the man taking a nap just a few feet away). It was a neat little place, a must-see on any visit to Paris.

Next, we headed over to the Louvre. We grabbed some dinner from the museum cafe and headed up to explore the art. First up: the Mona Lisa. Embedded in the wall behind six-inches of glass, it was surrounded by photo-snapping tourists who were further held back from the famous portrait by barriers that kept them ten feet away. The contrast between the Mona Lisa and the massive painting on the opposite wall (The Wedding Feast at Cana by Veronese, which measures about 22 feet by 32 feet) was striking, almost laughable. What is it about that tiny little portrait that has so captured the world’s imagination? I really don’t know. Still, it was nice to see the painting in a ‘been there, done that’ kind of way.

My experience at the Louvre was another one of those I-am-so-tired-it-is-hard-to-appreciate-all-of-this-really-old-similar-looking-art kinds of experiences. The building was stunning, though, and I was happy to get to see the Nike of Samothrace, the Venus de Milo, and the Discobolus–all of which I learned about in my art history course at Santa Clara freshman year. The Louvre deserves several days to explore, so I will definitely have to go back at some point in my life.

After the Louvre, we went in search of some famous Berthillon ice cream on the Ile-de-Saint-Louis. We didn’t actually find the Berthillon shop (because I forgot my guidebook), but it turned out alright because most of the restaurants in the area sell the ice cream, too. We stopped in a little cafe, and I ordered a cone with a scoop of dark chocolate and a scoop of cappuccino. It was scrumptious! I’d been going through some serious ice cream withdrawal, so this cone was a welcome treat. Really made me miss Ted and Wally’s though… After the ice cream, we went back to the hostel and crashed. Which brings me to…

Saturday morning we woke up early and caught a train to Versailles where we visited the Palace of Versailles. At first I was hesitant about going to Versailles. I wanted to stay in Paris and explore the city, but Ariel convinced me to go to Versailles and I am glad she did. The palace was amazing. Gold, marble, tapestries, paintings, sculptures, lovely lawns, and fountains… I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy the palace as much as I did. It was gorgeous. Maybe it’s cliche, but the Hall of Mirrors was definitely my favorite part. The only downside to the trip was the number of other tourists at the palace. The place was packed–to the point where I got a bit claustrophobic. All in all, it was a good experience though.

On the train back into Paris, I enjoyed my first Orangina of the trip. Orangina is a delicious carbonated orange drink that we learned about in my French classes at Duchesne. Even though it’s available outside of France, it felt special to drink an Orangina in France. It was another one of those little “whoa, I’m actually in France” moments.

When we got back to Paris, we headed over to Pere LaChaise–an enormous cemetery where many famous people are buried. It sounds strange to say, but it was a beautiful place. And it couldn’t have been a more perfect day to wander around there–on the eve of Halloween, a gorgeous fall day with the trees various shades of yellow, brown, and orange. We saw the graves of Chopin, Jim Morrison (of the Doors), and Oscar Wilde. Oscar Wilde’s tomb was definitely the most interesting as it was covered in red and pink lipstick kisses and graffiti tributes to the famous author. I’ve never read any of Wilde’s work, but judging from the outpouring of love on his tomb, I must admit I am intrigued.

Highlights from the rest of Saturday included: eating the most delicious crepe with homemade dark chocolate, the gorgeous weather, and eating boeuf bourguignon at tiny restaurant on the Ile-de-Saint-Louis.

On Sunday morning, Ariel and Colleen went back to see the inside of Notre Dame and I ventured alone to the St. Ouen markets north of Monmartre. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was quite unimpressed with the markets. They were crammed full of cheap trinkets, broken electronics, old furniture, and cheap clothes. It reminded me of a giant garage sale. Nonetheless, it was fun to explore on my own.

After that I met Ariel and Colleen at Sacre Coeur. We explored Monmartre, finished up our present-purchasing, and dined on a baguette and brie for lunch. Monmartre was even more packed with tourists than when I was there earlier in the week, so it got to be a bit claustrophobic at times, but I still enjoyed it.

After that, we still had a bit of time to kill, so we wandered down to the Moulin Rouge. As we were finishing up taking photos of the famous nightclub, we heard some mysterious music. We followed our ears (and the crowd) until we found a group of brass musicians wearing reflective vests and white masks and playing an eerie tune as they marched down the street. I don’t know if it had something to do with the strikes going on, or the fact that it was Halloween, but I’ve never seen any street music quite like that. After these strange marchers passed, we heard drum beats and saw smoke in the distance. Naturally, we headed toward the source of the commotion only to discover a moving percussion float manned by three drummers and pulled by a fourth. A firebreather circled the float as it moved down the street. Again, I’m not really sure what the whole thing was about but it sounded awesome. I have videos of both the brass marchers and the percussion float that I will try to post later this week.

Anyway, after all of that, it was time to go home. Our journey back to Glasgow is a story in and of itself but a story for another day. I really enjoyed my time in Paris and was sad to leave. Everyone I talk to about Paris says that it is their favorite city in Europe, and I am no different. I think the name “City of Love” is misinterpreted: people don’t fall in love with each other in Paris, they fall in love with Paris. I’ve been to a grand total of three European cities, so I’m not sure if my opinion counts, but I really did love Paris. It’s still surreal to think that I was able to go there, since it has been a dream of mine to visit Paris since I started taking French classes in eighth grade. All of the hassles of applying to study abroad, all of the trouble of getting classes approved, all of the long hours working two jobs last year, it was all worth it. I got to see Paris. Life is good.

Until next time…

Megan

P.S.- Sorry there aren’t any pictures to break up the text in this post. It took me a long time to write, and I am too tired to go through my photographs now. I will try to post some photos and those two videos of the street musicians soon. If you can spare a moment, please leave me a comment to let me know your thoughts on my blog. I’d love to know what you guys think. Am I writing too much? Too little? Is it too chronological? Too boring? Let me know what you think. Thanks for reading!

Paris, Part Two

On Thursday, Lily and I took the Metro up to Monmartre, a district in Paris famous for its artists. Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Toulouse-Latrec, and Dali, among others, all lived and painted in Monmartre at some point in their lives. Monmartre is situated on a fairly steep hill at the top of which lies Sacre Coeur, a giant white church. To get up to the top of the hill, you must find your way through the souvenir-shop lined base of the hill and climb several long staircases. Not only that, you must dodge the men trying to tie bracelets on your wrist and the eerily silent women holding out petitions for you to sign. Once you get to the top, though, you are rewarded with a wonderful view of Paris below and a closer look at Sacre Coeur just behind.

Like at Notre Dame, I was surprised at how many tourists were at Monmartre and Sacre Coeur on a Thursday morning. At the top of the hill, past Sacre Coeur a little bit, there is a square full of artists stalls and little cafes. Dozens of street artists roam the square and surrounding lanes drawing portraits of tourists for a modest fee. Surprisingly, most of the portraits I saw were really quite good. And the art being sold at the stalls was decent as well, if overpriced.

It was a really pleasant area to walk around. Even though it’s pretty touristy today, I could definitely see why so many artists were drawn to the place. There’s something magical about being at the highest point in the city and being able to look out over Paris.

After wandering around for a bit, we decided to embrace the French spirit and eat some bread and cheese for lunch. We bought a baguette from a boulangerie and some brie from a small grocery store and sat on the steps of Sacre Coeur to enjoy our le dejeuner. It was so nice to just sit and look out on the city. And people watch. Nearby, a man played the harp, and farther up the steps, another man played nineties American rock songs on his guitar. Pretty lovely way to have lunch if you ask me…

After lunch, we decided to go the Musee d’Orsay, the second most famous art museum in Paris (aside from the Louvre). Unfortunately, pictures aren’t allowed in the Orsay so I don’t have anything to show you, but you can check out their website here. It’s housed in a giant old train station and the building almost outshines the artwork. Unfortunately, half of the upper level was closed for renovations so we didn’t get to see everything, but what we did get to see was pretty cool. The Orsay has a pretty big collection of Impressionist paintings, by painters like Monet and Seurat, which was by far my favorite part.

One thing I’ve learned from my travels so far is that museums take a lot of energy. You can’t go to a museum tired and expect to be able to appreciate it fully. Walking around and reading signs and looking at paintings doesn’t sound hard, but after having walked up and down Monmartre that morning, both Lily and I were pretty tired. And the low lighting in the Impressionist exhibit didn’t help much. So after the Orsay, we got a couple of very overpriced Cokes and sat on the ledge of the Seine for a bit, trying to regain some energy.

Sufficiently energized, we decided we would go try to find Shakespeare and Company, a famous bookstore near Notre Dame. We didn’t have any directions so we just sort of wandered around a bit in the hopes that we would stumble upon it. After a while, we still hadn’t found the bookstore so we decided to just sit in the little park behind Notre Dame and enjoy the afternoon. I didn’t really mind as it was another beautiful fall day.

It was Lily’s last night in Paris and she wanted to have some real French food, so after our failed attempt to find Shakespeare and Company, we went back up to Monmartre to find a bistro. We found a nice little place and sat outside on the patio (beneath a heat lamp) to enjoy our roast chicken and frites. It might not have been the best, most authentic French food ever, but it was pretty delicious, especially after a full day of walking.

After dinner, we headed back to the hostel to await the arrival of Ariel and Colleen, who were flying in from Glasgow. Unfortunately, due to the strike, their flight got rerouted to Brussels. Fortunately, the airline arranged a bus to Paris for them. They finally arrived, a couple of hours later than expected, but no worse for the wear. We got Ariel checked in to the hostel and took a cab to Colleen’s hotel. After that, at about 1:30 am, I crashed.

I think I will stop there for now. Next up: I revisit the Eiffel Tower, go to the top of Notre Dame, see the Mona Lisa, eat some delicious ice cream, return to Monmartre, see the Moulin Rouge, and see some intriguing street musicians (complete with firebreather). Well, until next time…

Megan

Paris, Part One

I have so much to write about Paris, I don’t even know where to begin! I’m going to spread it out over a couple of posts, because to cram it all into one would just be too much (for both you and me).

I left for Paris last Tuesday afternoon. I flew down on Ryanair, the same company I flew with to London. Things went a little smoother this time, since I knew which train station to go to to catch the train to the airport. The flight landed at an airport about an hour outside of central Paris, so I caught a bus into the city. Since it was dark as the bus was driving into the city, there wasn’t much to see, so I closed my eyes. Something woke me up and I caught my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower all lit up. It quickly disappeared from view, though. Can’t believe I almost missed it! After I got off the bus, I took the Metro to the hostel. That was a bit of an adventure. I went the wrong way for one stop, but I managed to figure it out and made it to the hostel without any big problems. Flying alone to Paris was a little scary but exciting too. I felt very accomplished/confident when I finally made it to the hostel.

At the hostel, I checked in and met up with my second cousin Lily. Even though we are about the same age, we had never met before. At Grandma Katie’s 90th Birthday Party/Amberg Family Reunion this summer, her dad Jay told me that she would be teaching in Strasbourg, France and suggested that we meet up. It just so happened that our breaks coincided, so we decided to meet up in Paris. Anyway, it was pretty late by the time I checked in, so Lily and I just went out for a quick drink and then headed to bed.

The next day, Wednesday, was my 22nd birthday! We started off the day with a visit to the Opera House. We didn’t go in or anything, just walked around the outside, but it was still pretty neat. Next, we walked past the Louvre, through the Tuileries, down the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. That was pretty surreal, since I had heard so much about all of those things in my French classes. The Champs-Elysees was much more commercial than I’d pictured it. It was lined with big brand name stores and packed with tourists. On the Arc de Triomphe, Lily showed me the Amberg family name inscribed about halfway up one of the ‘legs’ of the Arc. That was pretty neat. I have no idea if I am actually related to those Ambergs, but I can pretend right?

After the Arc, we made our way over to the Eiffel Tower. It was much bigger than I expected. I mean, obviously I knew it was big, but I guess it’s just one of those things that you have to see in person. There were lots of tourists there, which made me glad I came in October and not the middle of July. I can’t even imagine how crazy that place must get in the summer. We got some sandwiches du jambon (baguettes with ham and butter) and sat on the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower to eat our lunch. It was a perfect fall day, the sun was shining and it was just the right temperature for wandering around outside.

After the Eiffel Tower we hopped on the Metro back past the Tuileries to a cafe called Angelina. Lily said her grandfather claimed this cafe had the best chocolat chaud (hot chocolate). I was a bit skeptical, I mean hot chocolate is hot chocolate right? How great can it be? But of course, any excursion involving chocolate is good in my book, so I was willing to try it. The line at the cafe was a bit long, but it moved quickly. We found a seat and Lily ordered two hot chocolates for us (she was nice enough to do most of the ordering for me, since my French is pretty terrible).

The hot chocolate arrived in a little pitcher with two teacups, two glasses of water, and a container of fresh whipped cream. I was a little confused about the water at first, but after seeing how thick the hot chocolate was, it made sense. The Angelina’s hot chocolate was much more like melted chocolate than the thin hot chocolate I am used to. It was so thick, in fact, that the drip on the lip of the pitcher only made it about two inches down before solidifying. And let me tell you, it was the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted. Really. If you ever get the chance to go to Paris, you must go try the Angelina’s hot chocolate.

We were almost through with our hot chocolate when a waitress came over and asked us to move to another table so that they could seat a larger group. Of course, we didn’t mind moving, but as a thank you they gave us some free macarons. I was sugared-out from the hot chocolate, but who can resist free macarons? I had to try them. I think I managed to eat one and a half (which really isn’t that much since they are small) and they, too, were delicious! I didn’t end up having any cake on my birthday, but the sweets at Angelina’s definitely made up for it. So thanks for suggesting that Lily!

After Angelina’s we went to see Notre Dame on the Ile de Cite, one of the islands in the middle of the Seine (where Paris originated). Tourists swarmed around the outside, taking pictures, watching street performers, and feeding the pigeons. Again, I was surprised by how many people there were. I mean, it was a Wednesday at the end of October! Notre Dame was quite pretty, both on the outside and the inside. It was fun to see the flying buttresses and the gargoyles.

After that we wandered over through the Latin Quarter to the Jardin de Luxembourg and rested a bit, watching the sun go down. Next, on Claire’s recommendation, we decided to take a boat tour. Only we didn’t know exactly where to go, so we stopped at an information kiosk to ask for directions. In response to Lily’s question, the man gave what might be the least helpful advice I have ever heard, “It’s that way, on the river.” Wait a second, you’re telling me that the boat tour is on the river? Wow! Thanks! I never would have thought of that!

Anyway, after wandering around for awhile, we saw a boat pass by on the river that had the name of the place we were supposed to go printed on the side. So we found our way to the dock and managed to catch the boat. The tour was nice. It lasted about an hour and we got to see many famous landmarks and such. It was a bit chilly though, and it started raining about halfway through. So that wasn’t ideal. But all in all, it was a good time.

After that, we found some dinner. I had a croque madame, which was good but still not as good as the one I had at that restaurant John used to work at in St. Louis (I’m forgetting the name now, but it went out of business anyway). After dinner, we headed back to the hostel and went to bed.

And that was just the first day.

I think I will stop there for now. No worries, though, I’ll write more later. I still have four more days to write about. Thanks for reading! Until next time…

Megan

Weekend Trip: Isle of Skye

I’ve got some time to waste before my flight to Paris this afternoon, so I thought I’d write a post about my trip to the Isle of Skye. I should probably be (a) doing homework or (b) researching what I want to do in Paris, but I don’t particularly feel like doing either. So I will write instead.

So this weekend, I went to the Isle of Skye in northern Scotland with the University of Glasgow’s International Society. Ariel and Aldonza came along, too. We left bright and early Saturday morning at 8 am and came back Sunday night around 7 pm. There were two big buses full of students. If I had to guess, I would say there were over one hundred students. That sounds like a lot, but it really didn’t seem like it.

Anyway, on Saturday as we drove up toward Skye, I got my first real look at the Scottish Highlands. And, let me tell you, they did not disappoint! I’d heard the Highlands were gorgeous, but I didn’t really realize how wonderful they were until I saw them in person. We passed numerous lochs and glens (valleys) and bens (mountains), making several photo stops along the way. The hills were much larger than I expected, more like mountains really. They were tall enough to have snow on their peaks and, at some points, sheer rock walls near the road. Pine forests covered some of the hills, but most of the land was this beautiful golden honey moor with spots of water and rocks dotted throughout. We were also incredibly lucky–the sun was shining for the entire trip excepting a touch of fog the first morning and a bit of rain the next. We really couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather.

We stopped in a little town called Fort William for lunch (I had mac and cheese) and then continued north. After a few more photo stops and a half an hour at Eilean Donan Castle, we arrived to Portree on the Isle of Skye around 5:30 pm. We dropped our things at the hostel and went out to explore the town. Unfortunately, all of the shops closed at 6:00 and remained closed on Sunday, so I wasn’t able to do any of the shopping I’d planned on. I was a little disappointed, but hopefully there will be other opportunities.

Portree was a picturesque little town. For anyone interested in visiting Scotland, it is a must-see. Pretty, little white-stucco shops lined the quiet streets, and down on the wharf a row of colorful houses looked like something out of a film. The water was still, the mountains rugged, and the sky clear. We wandered down to the water and were lucky enough to see a gorgeous sunset over the water (which you can see in the video in my last post). It was surreal!

After that, we went back to the hostel for dinner–homecooked by the student leader and a team of volunteers. Since there isn’t much to do in Portree at night, the rest of the night was spent meeting new people, just talking and having fun.

On Sunday morning, I managed to convince Ariel, Aldonza, and some new friends (Angela from Romania and Alan from New Zealand) to wake up early to see the sunrise. We left the hostel around 7:30 am to head down to the wharf. It was raining pretty hard at first, so I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to see the sunrise. But luckily the rain stopped just as the sun was coming up, and my doubts were erased. I didn’t know it was possible, but the sunrise was more beautiful than the sunset. I kept taking pictures because it just kept getting better! I’m running out of adjectives to describe how pretty it was so I will just let you look at the photographs above.

On the way back to the hostel, Alan showed us a scenic trail he had discovered the day before. We walked alongside the cliff next to the water and stumbled upon the circle where they play the Highland games in the summer. The view was unparalleled. When we couldn’t feel our fingers and toes anymore, we went back to the hostel. We ate a quick breakfast, packed up our things, and got back on the bus.

At 10 am, we left Portree and drove around the Isle of Skye for a couple of hours. We stopped at the harbor town of Uig for a little while. Then we went back to Portree so that the other bus, which had stayed in a different town, could explore a little. I had my first real Scottish scone with cream and jam, it was quite delicious! Although I had to eat it really fast, since we had to get back to the bus.

The rest of Sunday was spent driving back to Glasgow. I got to see more of the gorgeous Highlands as we passed them by, including Loch Ness, but we didn’t make very many stops. We did stop at Fort Augustus for lunch, though. They gave us 45 minutes, which should have been enough time, except for the fact that the chip shop we stopped at took over half an hour to give us our food. All we ordered was chips! I don’t know why it took them that long. We got them to go and walked back to the bus, only to be told that we couldn’t take our chips on the bus. So I had to eat as much as I could really quickly and throw away the rest. That, combined with the long bus ride and the winding roads, did not help the slight carsickness I had been experiencing on the trip. Don’t worry, I was fine, just uncomfortable. I felt better when I closed my eyes, but the trade-off with that was that I didn’t get to see the lovely scenery. Oh well, what could I do?

All in all, it was a wonderful trip. The Highlands are officially one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I got to make some new friends. And I’ve got a stack of 332 great pictures to sort through. Couldn’t really ask for a better weekend.

Well, I’d better go read through my French phrase book and make sure I have everything I need for Paris. Thanks for reading. Check back next week for my post about France. Until next time…

Megan

FRANCE

Just booked tickets for Paris at the end of October!!

Megan

Londontown

As you may or may not have already deduced from the title of this post, I went to London last weekend! I went down with Ariel to meet up with her friend, Harrison, who is studying in the Czech Republic. Well, that’s not entirely true. Ariel went down Friday morning and met Harrison, and I joined them Friday night. But let me start from the beginning.

For some inexplicable reason, the Scottish Literature Department likes to schedule its seminars on Friday. I managed to switch my literature seminar to Thursday, but unfortunately, I got stuck with a 2 PM Friday seminar for my Enlightenment class (which is organized by the Scottish Literature Department). It seems really silly to me to schedule the seminar at that time since all of the students in that class are American study abroad students and would probably relish the chance to have a three-day weekend… But, alas, it was not my decision. However, I wasn’t going to let my seminar stop me from traveling to London.

Ariel doesn’t have class on Friday so she caught an early flight on Friday morning. Due to my seminar, I had to catch the 8 PM flight. I flew with a discount airline called RyanAir. Although Glasgow has an international airport in the city, because RyanAir is a discount airline, it flies out of Glasgow-Prestwick, which is about forty-five minutes south of the city near Ayr. In order to get to the airport, I had to catch a train. I thought I would be clever and walk to the train station instead of taking a taxi, since it wasn’t that far away.

When I got to Glasgow Queen St. train station, I bought my ticket from the electronic ticket booth and proceeded to the departure board to find out which platform I had to go to. Only my destination was not on the board. At that point, I started to get worried. If I missed my train, I could miss my flight. If I missed my flight, I would miss out on London! Not to mention all the money I would have wasted.

I asked an attendant where I was supposed to go, and she said, “Oh, you need to be at Glasgow Central. Go out those doors and to the right.” So I walked out the doors and turned right. I didn’t see anything that said “Glasgow Central.” I kept walking. I started to get really worried, since the early train I was going to take was due to leave in less than five minutes. I had no idea where to go. I followed the crowd a little bit until I found a map of City Centre. Turns out Glasgow Central train station is four or five blocks from Glasgow Queen St. “Go out those doors and turn right” my ass. I eventually found my way to Central Station and boarded a train, hoping it was the right one. Luckily it was, and I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare.

Again, because RyanAir is a discount airline, my flight to London did not land at Heathrow but rather at London-Stansted, which is about forty-five minutes from the city center. I had pre-purchased tickets for a bus into town, so I caught that and then hailed a taxi to take me from the bus station to the hostel. I realized later that I probably could have taken the Tube, but at that point it was almost 11 PM and I was alone in a foreign city. So I coughed up the 15 pounds for the taxi.

I got to the hostel, met Ariel and Harrison, and went to bed. I originally bought the plane ticket because it was considerably cheaper than a train ticket and faster than a coach, or so I thought. All in all, my travels to London took close to six hours, which is about the same as it would have taken if I had taken a bus. If I go back, I’m definitely taking a bus. Easier and cheaper.

Enough about my various modes of travel. On to the interesting stuff! We woke up early Saturday morning and ate the free breakfast at the hostel before heading down to King’s Cross Station to catch the Tube to Westminster Cathedral. It was my first time on a subway, and it was pretty much what I expected. Underground, dark, busy. As the weekend went on though, I really began to appreciate the Tube. It’s incredibly easy to navigate (thanks to Harry Beck’s brilliant map design), fast, and convenient, though crowded.

Our first stop was Westminster Cathedral. It was huge and very pretty. It felt strange to be inside a Cathedral, since I don’t really attend mass anymore. It was a nice experience though.

After that, we found our way to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. That experience can be summed up in three words: SO. MANY. TOURISTS. Really. There were so many people there you couldn’t really see what was going on. Basically, a bunch of guys in uniforms marched to the palace, then a marching band came, then some more guys on horses. The marching band played several songs (including, oddly, the James Bond theme), and then (I’m assuming this, since I couldn’t actually see it) they switched guards and the rest marched back the way they’d come. The way I’ve described it makes it sound simple, but the entire process lasted an hour and a half. I tried to snap some pictures, but it was difficult due to the mob of people, my limited height, and my lack of a long zoom lens. I don’t understand Britain’s lingering obsession with the monarchy, so I really wasn’t that impressed. But it was a fun experience, and at least I can say “been there, done that.”

After the changing of the guard, we grabbed some lunch at a pub. I had the original English breakfast (yes, for lunch). I forgot to take a picture of it, but it consisted of two fried eggs, two pieces of toast, three pieces of thick-cut bacon, a container of baked beans, a fried tomato, a fried mushroom, a sausage, and two pieces of black pudding. It was a good meal, but a strange one. I’m not sure I’d order it again. And I’d definitely never eat that assortment of foods for breakfast. I’ll stick to oatmeal, thanks.

After lunch, we headed over to Westminster Abbey where many famous royals, aristocrats, and authors are buried (including T.S. Eliot, Charles Dickens, Robert Burns, Jane Austen, and many more). British coronations also take place at the abbey. Unfortunately, we did not do our research properly and weren’t able to go inside the abbey since it closed before we got there. We contented ourselves with taking a few pictures of the outside, before catching the Tube to the Portobello Road Market.

The Portobello Road Market is a street market in Notting Hill that sells everything from vintage clothing, to fruit, to cheap souvenir trinkets, to antique furniture and maps. It was by far my favorite part of the trip (and not just because I saw Robert Downey Jr. there, which I did, he passed right by me). It felt more authentic than the other sites we visited, and though busy, it was certainly less crowded. It was fun to browse the stalls. And the freshly made butter-sugar-cinnamon crepe I bought was scrumptious. I could have spent all day there. (Interesting notes: right near the market, we found a row of houses that looked suspiciously like Keira Knightley’s house in Love, Actually. Also, Notting Hill was filmed at and around the market. Pretty cool.)

After the market, we headed back to the hostel for a bit before venturing out to find dinner. We went to a restaurant in Leicester Square called Wagamama which serves Asian-inspired food. It was an interesting place, because instead of having many small tables for two or four people, they have only a few long, cafeteria-like tables. After dinner, we had planned on meeting up with a friend of Harrison’s, but it was pouring rain so we just headed back to the hostel. The train stop nearest to our hostel was King’s Cross, so we decided to find Platform 9 and 3/4 before heading to bed. After several trips round the station, asking two guard for directions, and splashing through innumerable puddles, we finally found it!

On Sunday, we woke up early and jumped on the Tube to Tower Bridge. We passed by the Tower of London, but didn’t go in because we were short on time and it was too expensive. As we were walking away from the bridge, we got to see it raise up and let a boat pass underneath. That was pretty cool. Don’t get to see anything like that in Omaha.

Next, we walked to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Princess Diana and Prince Charles were married. It was a massive building. So huge, I couldn’t fit it all in my camera frame, even when I was standing in the middle of the street on the pedestrian walkway. We went inside for a little bit, but a service was about to start so we left.

After St. Paul’s, we caught a red double-decker bus to Trafalgar Square. We stopped for lunch at a place called Frankie and Benny’s which described its fare as Italian-American. Don’t go there. I’ll say this: it was edible, but I would have preferred McDonald’s.

After lunch, we crossed the square to the National Gallery. The Gallery was my second favorite part of my London experience. I got to see real Monets and VanGoghs and Rembrandts and Vermeers and Degas and Renoirs. Even a Michelangelo and a Raphael! I was also pleased to see the work of J.M.W. Turner who I had just learned about in my literature class. Even though I was exhausted, I really enjoyed the museum. It deserves more time though, so I’ll have to go back at some point in my life.

After the museum, Harrison had to leave to catch his plane. Ariel and I had a couple of hours to spare so we found our way over to Harrod’s. There’s really no good way to describe Harrod’s. It’s a department store, but it also has a grocery store in it. It has entire rooms dedicated to things like stationary, perfume, pet accessories, and Christmas. I saw a leather briefcase there for almost four thousand pounds. And a single fountain pen for nearly two thousand pounds. Crazy stuff.

Finally, after two action-packed days, it was time to head home. We caught our bus back to the airport, then our plane, then the train, and finally a taxi back to our flats. I really enjoyed London and I hope to go back. There are so many touristy things I didn’t get the chance to do (the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tower of London, etc.), but I’d also love to get to know the real London, away from the tourist sites.

Anyway, I’ve written way too much. Thanks for slogging through my rambling. Until next time…

Megan

P.S.- As always, for more photos, please see my Facebook page. If we aren’t friends, feel free to friend me so you can see them!