Fall Break, The Lizzie McGuire Dream, and Finding Peace Abroad

There is so much to cover, yet so little time. I will do my best but if at any point this turns into a pointless rant or a wannabe YA novel, feel free to skip through and just look at the pictures.

Contributing to the idea that this feels like a vacation (zero complaints), we had a weeklong fall break after midterms, which felt odd. Odd in the sense that I spent many hours planning a smaller excursion during what seems like a dream from which I haven’t waken from yet. Still, my fall break was all I could ever ask for and more. Two of my roommates and I decided to head to the United Kingdom and found a second home in London and Dublin. Was part of that due to being able to speak English for a week? Well it probably contributed. Honestly though, we fit so many stops within so few days, it mostly felt like a touristy trip, something we tend to avoid at all costs while in Florence. This is where you start though. It was our first time in London so of course we were going to hit the major ‘must-sees.’ Nothing says London like sitting at the Buckingham Palace and getting a picture with Big Ben. It was surreal and amazing (the two adjectives I basically use to describe every experience I have had thus far). Again, it was a start. That is my number one piece of advice I could give to anyone spending their time studying on a program for such a limited time. Of course we wish we could spend more time everywhere we go, but I think it’s often forgotten that we are so young. There are many years in our future to continue exploring and to return to the places we could see ourselves living later in our lives. I am so bad when it comes to this myself, but I think our generation has a serious case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), but this saddening condition can limit our experiences and can make memories more bitter than sweet. So in conclusion, from this momentary observation, my U.K. trip was unbelievable, it went by very quickly, but when I come back I will have enough experience under my belt to adventure even further out in England and spend a lot less time working the tube system. But what did I do there this time you ask? Well…let’s see…WARNING: this may read like a laundry list of stops, but when you don’t have much time, you squeeze in as much as possible!

Night 1: Got lost finding our amazing hostel (everyone should consider the Wombat City Hostel – clean, amazing people, and a cave restaurant!), first tube experience, Starbucks trip, and we ended the night seeing Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre!

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Day 2: Starbucks trip #2, walk through of Harrod’s, Hyde Park, found the Peter Pan statue, Baker St./Sherlock Holmes Museum, Abbey Road Studios, King’s Cross – Platform 9 ¾, Camden markets, Chin Chin Laboratories (Nitrogen made ice cream), random blues club, and dinner at a place that supposedly housed the worlds’ best fish and chips…and rest at the hostel for the next day!

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Day 3: Tower of London, more Starbucks, Tower Bridge, the Borough Market, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Millennium Bridge, London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, walk through of Piccadilly Circus, dinner in China Town, and then we walked back to our hostel, taking the scenic route along the river.

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London was especially memorable as we were able to meet up with our friend who is studying abroad there and was able to show us our way and help navigate the bus system our second full day in town. I cannot reiterate enough just how jam packed our day was but it was completely worth it. Even though London was short-lived, we moved onto Ireland and knew only more adventures were to come.

We arrived in Dublin with just enough time to catch a bus into town, find our hostel, grab a nice dinner at a local place and grab a late night snack at a grocery store. It was here that we saw some of the snacks that we have been missing since our arrival in Italy *enter Pop-Tarts, Microwave Popcorn, Oreos, etc.*. After our snack food binge, we retreated to our hostel (another amazing spot called the Generator Hostel in the center of town), to find it had a full restaurant and dance hall in the lobby. Not a bad way to spend the night. We started our next day pretty early on a walking tour of Dublin’s city center. Not going to lie, most of my knowledge concerning Ireland stemmed from movies like P.S. I Love You and Once, so hearing the stories and folklore behind almost every street we passed, was very eye opening. We also were able to have lunch at O’Neill’s, one of the most well-known, traditional Irish establishments in Ireland. Our tour then left us to experience the Guinness factory where we took a crash course in bartending and capped our tourist time at their skyline restaurant with a 360-degree view of Dublin.

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Our next day in Ireland was my favorite though. We started very early and made our way to the Cliffs of Moher on the coast. Honestly, one of the most unforgettable places I have been since coming abroad. It definitely put things in perspective. After spending a couple hours walking the cliffs and listening to the traditional music of the players sitting along the countryside, we took a bus to Galway. Although we only had a few hours to explore, we tried to make the most of it. After grabbing another delicious meal at a local place, we strolled along the streets listening to musicians who seemed to be coming up every few feet from one another, and peeking in the shops here and there in search of the perfect memento. Our time once again flew by, out of our hands, and before I knew it we were on our way back to Dublin. I feel as though I should also mention that this day happened to be Halloween. YAY! Halloween is a holiday that is not celebrated in Italy for the most part, but the same cannot be said for Ireland. All day it was costume after costume and people throwing candy in the streets. It was quite the sight to see. As a result though, we had to quickly throw together costumes from what we could find at our junk food grocery store. By the end of the day we had a Batman (mask), a cat (ears) and a cowboy (hat).  A super fun trip, a very short trip, but it was definitely hard to leave Ireland. It only inspired me to come back. If I ever live in another country for an extended amount of time again, I can only hope it will be in Ireland.

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I will only briefly mention my weekend that followed directly after fall break, but with the ISA program we traveled to Rome for the weekend. This was it, my chance to see and walk in the footsteps of my favorite fictional character, Lizzie McGuire. I have to say, Rome surprised me. I thought after hearing about it from other students studying there, and seeing a lot of the more famous sites in movies and in different T.V. programs, that I would enjoy it less for some reason. That was not the case. In fact, Rome was so stunning, I could have used at least a week to experience everything it has to offer. The Colosseum alone was more magnificent than I could imagine and no pictures I have seen have done it justice. My other favorite moment-in-awe, was walking through the Vatican City and seeing the Sistine Chapel and Basilica. Pieces of art like that of the city itself do not happen anymore. I honestly have never seen anything like it before in my life. It really made me stop and give some thought to our society’s fascination with all things modern. Are these the same people who haven’t been able to experience history and beauty like that of the civilizations we have learned so much from? It would have to be – there is no comparison.

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Finally, I don’t think it would be possible for me to be abroad, and not mention the events in Paris. I send all of my love to the victims and residents of Paris after the attack on their beautiful city. I do however employ us to spread our prayers beyond this horrific incident and recognize the travesties happening worldwide and the victims who are not receiving the same media attention and reactions, as was the worldwide concern for Paris. I do not, under any circumstances deem the loss in Paris as any less important, but I do think there are so many people worthy of the world’s love, grace, and attention who are not currently in the spotlight right now. Please join me in sending good thoughts out into the world as we move forward and strive to be decent human beings to one another.

And with that excessively long post, until next time. Seriously, if you have made it this far, you deserve a cookie.

Ciao!

-Justine

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Remember that blog I was writing? Yeah, I forgot too. Let me tell you why.

Long time no see!

The last time I put finger to keyboard for the sake of this blog we were just starting official classes.  Now, we just passed our midterm week and break so it’s fair to say a little bit of time has passed (half the term actually). In the meantime I pretty much forgot about this little blog here, chiefly because of all the other plans and projects that took up most of my waking hours the past month or so. Since that last blog I’ve traveled quite a lot, did a lot of schoolwork (wasn’t expecting that were you?!), and met some pretty interesting characters along the way. Here’s a bit of a taste, and my sorry version of an excuse, for what has kept me preoccupied the past 4 or 5 weeks.

About 2 weeks ago I found myself trudging through the docks of Dublin Port, fresh off the ferryboat and raring for a little adventure, when I realized an odd pattern within my travels up to that point. Rather, it was more like a checklist of situations that I would inevitably find myself ticking off in rapid succession at some point in time. Here’s the basic structure I worked out for myself:

  1. You have (insert number less than 25 or 0) amount of currency
  2. You have been walking for (insert number greater than 3) hours already
    • Or alternatively: walked (insert number greater than 5) miles already
  3. You are (insert number greater than 4) miles away from your destination
  4. You have (insert number less than 20) % battery life left
  5. You have (insert number equal or less than 2) hours of daylight left

To varying degrees this is basically the rundown summary of every major trip I’ve taken so far. In Wales I ended up dreadfully lost in the Brecon Beacons National Park. The rundown in that one being I was (at that point) about 10 miles into a hike through the hills, had a swollen IT band,  took a wrong trail, trekked through herds of sheep, ended up in someone’s farm, ended up hopping fences through fields while the cows lazily acknowledged my existence with a few “moos,” got lost along the hedgerow one-lane streets taking me back to town, failed to make the last bus running (it was a Sunday so they stopped running early), talked to some exceedingly nice locals who managed to help me get the last taxi in town back to the train station (which was about 15 miles away), and managed to catch the last train back to Cardiff by 11pm… rather unorthodox, not planned out very well, potentially disastrous, and something I found myself repeating to some extent in Scotland and Ireland; but totally thrilling and worth every second. In terms of the whole “man vs wild” thrill of an adventure that comes from trying to make the most out of limited resources, I think I understand a bit more why people do far more extreme versions of this.

When it comes down to it, studying abroad becomes an odd amalgam of sights, sounds, and experiences.  Pictures and those selfies don’t capture the wind in your hair or the foreign looking street signs or the assorted mix of tourists and locals milling about their lives. I’m incredibly aware that so many little experiences that are commonplace to me at this point (scanning into the tube, paying with coins, etc.) will be beyond my memory after only a few days of being back in Seattle. I wonder sometimes, and this goes for all traveling, to what extent these experiences shape our lives; if we can’t remember how all of these little moments pan out are they really collectively shaping or do we only pick out through happenstance individual stories to hold onto?

Speaking of little stories, one story of when we were in Scotland struck an interesting and thrilling chord. It took 30-odd American students, a bunch of Scotsmen, and a well-used karaoke machine. A group of 40 or so of students from the program and I went up to Scotland last week and ended up in this little town called Oban on the western coast of the highlands. That night most of us headed to one of the local places rumored to have a fantastic karaoke setup.  When we arrived there were maybe a dozen Scotsman milling around and staring dubiously at this large contingent of clearly American students. The awkward silence continued and we retreated (to the extent 30 people can in a tiny place) into the back corner. As I walked in one local looked me dead in the eye, stuck out his hand, gave me a toothy grin and said in a distinctly highland brogue, “Heya there mate, what brings ya up to these here parts?” After a few introductions Jack turned into one of the most conversational, expletive, and exuberant men I’ve ever met, let alone in the middle-of-nowhere Scotland. We caught on nicely and he absolutely couldn’t believe he’d ever meet someone from Seattle out there in Scotland. He was giddy with excitement that some Americans were in town, and that he “won the powerball a few times” to be lucky enough to be at the one place in town we all showed up in. I was surprised to say the least, I thought we students would have seemed pretty obnoxious to the locals to which he answered (with some heavy censoring for this blog) “I hear the same bloody eejiots singing the same bloody songs every night. You Americans are gonna light up the place!” We did exactly that as two friends of mine shattered the proverbial glass by starting off the night with “Baby Got Back.” After that pretty much everything was on the table and, once the locals stopped shaking their heads, the group’s favor quickly swung to our side. As the place filled up, it became steadily more and more boisterous with this huge sing-along filled with raw throats, a bunch of dancing Scotsmen, and a troop of Americans leading the chant alongside tunes including “Piano Man,” “Let it Go,” Don’t Stop Believing,” “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” and “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Not bad for a bunch of ‘youths’ in Scotland huh?

I have about a 6 weeks or so left here in England and it is already apparent November will go by incredibly fast.  Lots of friends are dropping by, others are already here, and many other loose ends all need tying up in a relatively short time. Hopefully I won’t forget about this blog in my next set of adventures but if I do, I swear I had a good excuse for it (just like last time). In any case, I’m back to find some more stories and adventures and I’m wishing you all the best for your own.

Cheers!

-Ian