Prague

After much deliberation, I have to say that Prague is probably my favorite city that I’ve seen in Europe so far. I’m not quite sure what it is about the Czech Republic but we were all completely enamored. After hearing good reviews from our friends, we decided to book an Airbnb for 4 nights and I’m so glad we did!

Our Airbnb was a quick tram ride down the river from Prague’s Old Town. The public transportation in the area is absolutely stellar and SO cheap. I’m not sure if we have just adjusted to Oxford prices or if everything really is that cheap, but either way, we were happy gals. The 72 hour tram pass will only cost you about 11 USD and a normal lunch runs from 4-7 USD. Beer is cheaper than water in this town!

Day 1

On Day 1, we decided to orient ourselves in our favorite manner – a Free Walking Tour! As I’ve said before, this is one of the best (and cheapest!) ways to get familiar with a city while getting some of the history in. I think that one of the reasons I love Prague so much is because of my Eastern European ancestry. Visiting has made me all the more curious to learn about my family’s past! Our tour explored Old Town, New Town, and the Jewish Quarter. The tour guide did a wonderful job of switching the mood from light, to funny, to serious. She told stories about the horrors of the Jewish Quarter – where Jews were forced to live in the low, flooded, slums. Disease ran rampant and few jobs were available to them. The Nazi’s sent cars of Jews from here away to Poland where they were murdered and many children were left without parents. Now, you can tour a museum full of these children’s’ drawings expressing their emotions during these times.

Before the war started, Czechoslovakia was betrayed by their allies and handed over to Hitler who did not just take back German lands, as he had promised, but took over the whole country and set up a base in Prague. As a result, the city was completely untouched during the war and therefore, a large portion is original. This is completely different from many other European cities that I have visited and the contrast is stark. Prague is stunning – a mix of 11 types of architecture built along the river. When you walk around, you must look up and simply admire everything.

Now, the Jewish Quarter has been raised above river-level and is beautiful. Today, it houses many of the city’s rich inhabitants. The history in the Czech Republic is very fresh. After the war, they turned towards communism in attempt to rebuild. Our tour guide’s parents were actually deeply affected by communism. Her grandparents refused to “vote” for the communist President (which was mandated by law) and as a result, lost their jobs and their daughter’s place at her university. Despite these barriers, the grandparents stayed strong in their beliefs and continued to stand up against communism with many other Czech people. The Czech’s escape from communism is referred to as the “Velvet Revolution” and their split from the Slovaks as the “Velvet Divorce”. These splits hold a lesson for all of us – peace is possible.

After our long morning tour, we crossed the absolutely beautiful Charles Bridge to the John Lennon wall which, to be honest, was a bit disappointing! It is much smaller than we expected! However, it is still a must-see spot for first time tourists and a great photo opportunity. Truly, the best part of Prague is just walking around and soaking up some sun.

Next came nap time and after that, a traditional Czech meal. The only way to really describe Czech food is delicious, savory, and heavy. Think meats and bread dumplings drowned in gravy and delicious sauce. Duck and schnitzel are of course, also popular items. This is definitely the type of food that stays in your stomach all day! We tried to taste some Czech cuisine throughout the trip but alternate with some lighter meals.

In the evening, we Czech-ed (haha) out some of Prague’s nightlife which of course included some delicious local beers.

Day 2

For our second day of the trip, we signed up for a group day trip to the nearby town of Kutna Hora! For only about 20 dollars a person, we got a nearly all day tour that lasted from 12-6! This was a great way to do something unique and experience a smaller Czech town. After about an hour train ride, we arrived in the town of Kutna Hora. Our first stop was a tour of the Church of Bones, also known as the Sedlec Ossuary. I don’t even know how exactly to explain what this is other than to show photos. The chandelier has every bone in the human body.

The Church of Bones was decorated with, yes, real human bones of about 40,000 people after the town’s graveyard got too large, largely because of the Plague. First, they dug up the bones and placed them underneath the church, but someone eventually decided that they should be cleaned and used as decoration.

Walking through was more eerie and creepy than we expected. Nothing is really blocked off either – you are standing face to face with dozens of human skulls.

In addition to touring the Bone Church, we also got to see the beautiful St. Barbara’s Cathedral and some of the town!

Day 3

Easter Sunday! When we woke up, we were confused to find that no one really seemed to be celebrating Easter. We brushed it off, knowing that the Czech Republic is the most atheist country in the world, and decided to head to a Catholic Mass anyway. The church was absolutely stunning (as most European churches are). While I missed being home with family, celebrating with my friends was so much fun!

Later in the day, we actually realized that the Czech Republic celebrates their Easter on Monday! Their traditions are quite interesting. Men walk around with braided sticks which they use to bop women. Then, the women must thank them and give them shots of alcohol and food. Supposedly, this prevents the women from growing old. When we were headed out on Monday, we did see quite a few men wandering around with these braided sticks!

Day 4

On our final morning in Prague, we decided to book a Castle Tour! The weather was absolutely atrocious but we toughed it out in the freezing rain! The Prague Castle is the largest in the world and it does not disappoint! Really, it is more of a collection of large palaces and a couple churches. St. Vitus’s Cathedral is particularly gorgeous (and was a safe haven from the rain). While we didn’t get to go in a ton of buildings, the tour did a good job of explaining what you needed to know. You could definitely spend a whole day – or more – here going inside museums and other buildings.

After the tour, we enjoyed a great overhead view of the city and a last delicious Czech meal before heading to our next stop, Berlin! By the way, the Czech language is SO difficult. The only words we learned are hello (ahoy!) and cheers (na zdravi!).

Thanks for the memories, Prague!

Czech Republic Uncategorized

Beautiful Brugge…when travel goes wrong

The end to this week is extremely bittersweet. This morning, I said goodbye to my boyfriend Harrison after one of the best weeks ever together! I am so incredibly thankful that I got to see my dad, brother, and Harrison this week! I miss them all already. In an upcoming post commemorating the halfway mark of my time abroad, I will be talking more about my dad and brother’s day visiting me in Oxford! But for now…the adventures in Brugge.

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Harrison and I chose Brugge based on its close proximity to the UK and its small town medieval charm that we’d heard so much about. The entire city is an UNESCO World Heritage Site! Originally, we planned on traveling via the train but picked up some plane tickets on British Airways when they dropped to an unbeatable price. Disclaimer: We still had the most incredible trip EVER and do not regret visiting, but these stories are too good not to share with you all! Travel gets tricky and sometimes it’s just something you can’t avoid.

We began our journey on Thursday night, absolutely pumped to take our first flight together and visit Belgium. Since we had a 6:30pm flight of only one hour, we anticipated no problems with our arrival as our Airbnb allowed us to check in at any time. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Let me guide you through the small (not really so small) series of errors that ensued when we stepped off the plane.

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The Arrival

#1 – This one is minor but we had a small scare when my credit card didn’t work on the train ticket machine in the Brussels airport. Luckily, it was just a security flag done by my credit card company and we were able to purchase tickets from the ticket counter.

#2 – The Brussels airport is not really large, so we made the tragic mistake of waiting to get food, figuring we could get some later.

#3 – Although my phone carrier states that I should have service in Belgium, my phone did not work at all so we had no way to navigate except for what we had looked up in advance. Thankfully, we had saved nearly all of the details we needed.

#4 – Belgium is the first country that I’ve visited that does not loudspeaker their train announcements in English, and says them only in Dutch. I found a new appreciation for those who travel often in countries that do not communicate in a common language when we accidentally got off the train one stop too early and ended up literally in the middle of nowhere at a station that was COMPLETELY deserted. I kid you not, there was not a single person in sight for the 20 minutes we had to wait for another train.

#5 – Starving and exhausted, we finally got off the train in Brugge to discover that the busses were no longer running.

#6 – This one was purely my fault – I had been using my debit account a lot more than usual this week and mistakenly thought I had enough money to withdraw Euros when in fact, I did not.

#7 – Still no open restaurant in sight…

#8 – Hopped on some sketchy wifi to get an Uber only to discover that Belgium does not use Uber.

#9 – Found a cab driver and convinced him to take American dollars and drive us to the Airbnb. American currency is a LIFESAVER in emergency situations.

#10 – Finally rolled up to our Airbnb (still no food) and went to retrieve the key in the key safe. We were THRILLED…until it came time to opening the door. I don’t know what it is with European doors but they are THE WORST.

#11 – After about 10 minutes of struggling with the door, we decided we needed help. We left our luggage in the backyard and wandered to the main street where we found an older local couple willing to help us. THANK GOODNESS that we found them! The husband, Alex, opened the door with ease and taught us a trick to opening stubborn European doors that get stuck from the cold. We ended up talking to him for about 20 minutes and exchanged email addresses.

#12 – Exhausted, we forgot that in Europe the “second floor” is really the third floor and accidentally tried to walk in the bedroom of our host (I don’t think he was happy).

#13 – Still no food…we tried to find ANYTHING open online and failed miserably. We were forced to devour some chocolate bars and Chex Mix and go to bed on empty stomachs. By the time we got food the next day we hadn’t eaten for nearly 24 hours!

#14 – Once we had wifi, we opened my email to find out that our planned hot air balloon trip had officially canceled due to supposed bad weather that never even came.

The Trip

That, my friends, is the story of how we (barely) arrived in Brugge, Belgium.

Thankfully, our day Friday and time Saturday morning was absolutely perfect. Brugge is perfectly maintained and even more beautiful than we expected it to be!

Highlights:

Books & Brunch:

After our 24 hour food hiatus, we INDULGED at the brunch place recommended by our Airbnb host. (I might have had some input on choosing this place). We both ordered the hearty belgium breakfast and were stuffed to the brim with eggs, bacon, and a variety of breads. It even came with a delicious chocolate spread! I also got a Harry Potter butterbeer latte which was the best latte I have ever had. It is never too early for chocolate!

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Markt Square

This is the hub of Brugge! Here you can pick up your horse and carriage (which we did!). I love traveling during the offseason when places aren’t too crowded with tourists.

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Minnewaterpark

Brugge is such a romantic place to visit! I loved walking over the canals and through this field of flowers called Begijnhof – one of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

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Brewery Tour

De Halve Maan Brewery is a family owned brewery in Belgium – one of the few left! We took a great 45 minute tour and learned all about beer history and how this particular brewery works. They even have a beer tunnel that runs underground to another location off site! Here is the view from the top of the brewery and the drinks we enjoyed afterwards! Bruge Zot Blond. I highly recommend it!

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Beer flight tasting

Next, we continued our little St. Patrick’s day celebration with a 12 beer flight tasting that consisted completely of local Belgian brews! This was a really cool to try a lot of variety and see what we enjoy!

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The people

By far, our favorite part about the beautiful Belgium was the people! We found that people everywhere wanted to talk to us and hear our story; and we loved hearing their stories as well! We exchanged contact information with several people throughout the trip and are excited to follow up with them!

The food

For some reason I can’t currently find any pictures of the other meals we ate, so you’ll just have to trust me on this one! Besides beer, Belgium is famous for chocolate, waffles, and eating fries with mayo…and NONE of these disappointed. Even though things tend to close early in Brugge, they sure keep you full during the day!

Horse and carriage tour

On Saturday morning, Harrison and I made our way to Markt Square to take one of the infamous carriage rides! Our driver drove us around town for 30 minutes and shared some history along the way. What a fun way to see the sites!

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Pub hopping

We ended our night in Brugge trying out some more local flavors! Brugge has no shortage of pubs and we loved each one that we tried. Some offer over 200 varieties of beer! As they say in Dutch, Proost!

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The Departure

After our rocky start, we were determined and much more confident about getting home. We had a relaxing morning and had looked up trains online in advance and had a ticket to return to Brussels at any point during the day. We allowed plenty of time and headed out to the airport at about 3pm for our hour and a half train ride.

#1 – After about an hour and a half of traveling, we grew a bit concerned when we didn’t seem to be approaching the city. I sent Harrison to consult a train person to ask how much longer it would be – he told us 30 more minutes.

#2 – For some reason, British Airways does not allow you to just download your boarding passes so although we were checked in, we did not have boarding passes.

#3 – After almost another hour had passed, we were nervous. We knew that we were going to have to BOOK IT in that airport in order to make our flight. When the train finally pulled up after THREE HOURS of travel, we took off. Since the train announcements were only in Dutch, we have no way of knowing why in the world it took 3 whole hours.

#4 – We got into the airport and ran to the British Airways desk with 40 minutes to go only to find that there was not a single employee in sight. We had no one to help us and no way to get our boarding passes.

#5 – Extremely upset, we hopped in a crazy long “ticket desk” line, knowing that we had to get back to London somehow for Harrison’s morning flight.

#6 – Slightly broker and a lot sadder, we finally arrived in London approximately 2.5 hours later than we were supposed to on a different airline than we should have been flying.

So…

I am SO lucky that I was traveling with Harrison – my boyfriend and best friend. Despite these difficult and unforeseen circumstances, we shared laughs over the ridiculousness of it all and still had a great time despite it all. Sometimes, you just have to take it all in (hopefully with some Belgian beer and chocolate!)

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Belgium Trips Uncategorized

Florence


As is usually the case with travel, we arrived to Florence on Sunday night a little bit tired but a lotta bit excited. After the tourist craziness of Venice, I think that we were all ready for a bit of a break.

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Hello, Florence!

It was a bit of a hike to our hotel (shout out to Rick Steves for the recommendation) and we took a moment to rest before heading out for dinner. We ended up stopping in one of the first places we saw – an adorable and rustic organic Italian restaurant. The food really lived up to the place’s appearance and we left refreshed and ready to walk around the city. We decided to head towards the more historic district of town and plan the next day out.

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The Duomo

We walked through little cobblestone streets admiring fancy things in windows of stores and taking in the beautiful weather (a welcome change from England) when we suddenly turned a corner and BAM, there it was.

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I will never forget this moment of pure and utter awe and inspiration. We all stood, awestruck by the Duomo’s beauty and grandeur. I cannot even imagine living in Florence and coming across buildings like this casually. We spent a good chunk of the next couple days climbing and studying the building and it is one of the most majestic and incredible things I have ever seen in my life.

Still captivated by the Duomo, we ate breakfast with it looming in the background and then bought some tickets that would allow us full access for 24 hours. We also made a reservation to climb the dome the next morning. With our 15 Euro ticket, we were able to view the museum, church chapel, climb the bell tower, and climb the dome – neither of which were easy feats – but both of which are incredibly worth it. Each climb is 400 steep, narrow, windy stairs to the top. Most of the time, people are going both directions and part of the climb involves smushing yourself against a wall and side stepping across people. My calves are still rebelling against me a little bit. I am proud to say that we saw Florence from three of the best spots in the city.

Views and a local taste

A trip to Florence is not complete without seeing the city from above. Here is a collection of pictures I have acquired of this gorgeous city from various spots. Florence is an absolute must-add to any travel list.

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It is full of the magic you’ve heard about – cobblestone streets, terracotta roofs, and hidden neighborhood gems to explore. I am extremely envious of those who have called this city home for study abroad. Paige, a member of my sorority family, is one of these lucky gals. She hooked us up with a fantastic list of insider-tips and places to explore. On our second full day of Florence, we ventured to the neighborhood she called home and got crackin’ on the list. We started the afternoon with a tour of the Santa Croce church, sprawled across a couple acres and full of centuries old art and courtyards.

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Next, we ate at her favorite sandwich place All’ Antico. We saw the line before we saw the place. With a tiny location on each side of the street, this place dishes out huge Italian sandwiches better than your wildest dreams. Rachel and I both agreed that this was the best sandwich we’ve ever had, and for only 5 Euro!

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Finally, after some afternoon explorations, we trusted Paige once again to guide our path for our last night in the city. We set off on a 20-minute steep uphill walk to Piazza Michaelangelo for the most rewarding view I have ever seen: Florence from above at sunset. This little hidden gem is perfect for a relaxing evening with friends or a significant other. It was not nearly as crowded as we expected, even on Valentine’s Day, and the climb up made it so much sweeter.

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Art, Culture and a Magical City

Spending Valentine’s Day in Florence was nothing short of magical. We saw several amazing views, went to Galleria D’Arte Moderna, wined and dined, and fell in love with the city.

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There are so many more museums and experiences to be had in Florence and I hope that I have the opportunity to return one day. The people here were so kind and welcoming to us. Even though there were other tourists in the city, the friendliness and loving vibes put us at ease throughout our stay.

From museums to shopping to late night gelato runs, there is really no way to have a “bad time” in Florence. There is absolutely something for everyone here and I think you’d have a hard time finding anyone who has visited and failed to fall under Florence’s spell. I am now on a train headed for a quick stop in Siena before our final three nights in Rome!

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Italy Trips Uncategorized

Venice

 

This week is our first school break and in typical European fashion, a few friends and I made the decision to spend it in Italy!

Italy has been on my “travel bucket-list” since I was a kid and I’m so glad that I’m finally getting to experience it with some great friends by my side. I am traveling with fellow Teaching Fellow Rachel, and two friends that I met at St. Clare’s – Morgan, who is from Chicago, and Leonora, who is from Sweden. We are taking Italy on in true backpacker fashion with no set itinerary and only our feet, phones, carry-on baggage and friends’ advice to guide us.

The arrival

We took off EARLY (and I mean early) on Friday morning to hit our first stop, Venice. After a 3:30am wakeup (yikes), 4:40 bus ride to Heathrow (double yikes), and brief layover in Frankfurt (not so bad), we made it to the Marco Polo airport in ITALY! I still cannot believe that I’m here. The four of us sleepwalked through the airport, navigated ourselves into a cab, and into our Airbnb located right outside of centre city Venice.

Sleep deprived and starving for a good ol’ carb-filled Italian meal, the adventures began. Before we get started, let me give you some quick and dirty advice on taking on Italy:

(Semi) Pro-tips

1 – Get some Euros before you arrive to avoid the hefty airport fee and any awkward situations (more on this later).

2 – Be cautious at grocery stores especially when in the fresh produce section (you probably need to weigh your own produce and some stores are picky about touching various things).

3 – Be prepared for a language barrier, even in touristy areas. (Italians are amazing hosts and lovely people but this barrier can be frustrating to both parties involved.)

4 – Book train tickets online in advance (much cheaper).

5 – When traveling, expect nothing to go exactly as planned

6 – We had no problem staying a bit outside the city but be aware that the busses into the city will be PACKED! Keep your eyes on your pockets!

 

Exploring Venice

We chose Venice as a starting point for our Italian adventure because flights in from England are cheap and we figured it would be lovely to chase the warmer weather downwards with the train.

Friday – First night:

Let me repeat – expect nothing to go exactly as you have planned. After we checked into our Airbnb, we decided to take the bus into Venice to grab lunch and explore a bit before calling it a night. Exhausted but excited to see the city, we grabbed our bags and headed out. There was only one problem: we couldn’t get the door open. I am not kidding you folks. We tried EVERYTHING. We turned the handle every direction possible, tried various pressures of pulling, and took turns giving it a go. At one point half of the door even came off the hinges (whoops) and it STILL would not open. Morgan even crawled out a window to see if she could get it open from the front side. We eventually had to call our host and tell her that she was going to have to return. Thankfully, we finally got it open right after we had placed the call and our mission for food continued. We got our bus passes, signed up for a tour for the next day, and headed to Venice!

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Italian pizza fulfilled every expectation I’ve ever had and seeing Venice for the first time was a dream come true. The city is crowded with tourists even in February but we did our best throughout the weekend to get lost and find some hole in the wall places. We didn’t stay in Venice long before heading back to get some much-needed rest! I slept from 7pm-9am and have absolutely no regrets about it.

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Saturday – Full day:

Since we only had one full day to explore Venice, we decided that signing up for a “hop on hop off” boat tour would allow us to see and do the most! Finding the tour’s starting point was a bit stressful, but we managed and eventually began the journey around 11:15. By traveling this way, I really feel that we got to see some of the areas not often “seen” in Venice. During the boat rides, an audio guide plays aloud and tells the stories of the sites you are passing!

Our first stop was the popular San Pedro and this was definitely the most crowded area that we were in. We spent some time getting lost down windy maze-like alleys, peeping in gorgeous churches, and walking along the water. For lunch, we stopped at another hole in the wall place that again, did not disappoint. I truly believe that you can really not go wrong when it comes to Italians and their Italian food. The ingredients are fresh, delicious, and our meals so far have been very well priced! We had about an hour after lunch to continue our exploration.

Next, we hopped back on the boat for 30 minutes up to the famous glass making island of Murano. It was strangely deserted and at first, we felt quite peaceful here. We bopped in and out of some glass making shops, bought some souvenirs and gifts for family and friends, and quickly found that we had explored most of the island. We ended up with a bit too much extra time and decided to escape the cold by finding a little coffee shop. After one strike out at a small place that didn’t accept credit cards, we found an upscale café at a local hotel to snack at.

Morgan used her card to order at the bar, but the rest of us were directed to sit and be served at a table. We sat, talked, and enjoyed our coffees for a bit. After about 40 minutes, we realized that time was passing quickly and we needed to get our check. We got up to pay and discovered that the girls who had served us originally were gone and only an older Italian man (with 0 bilingual skills) remained to help us pay our tab.

He began demanding that we pay cash, and still had Morgan’s drink (which she had paid for previously) on our tab. Another problem: we did not have enough Euro’s to pay the bill. We panicked and kept trying to hand him credit cards. He continued to insist that their card machine was broken even though Morgan had just used hers to pay for her drink. He insisted that we pay in cash and gave us vague instructions to an ATM on the island. Rachel, Leonora, and I took off running desperately towards the area he described. After some struggles, we found the bank but it seemed to be closed. We ran next door and begged a restaurant employee to help us. Thankfully, he was quick to help us and showed us how to insert our credit card in the door as a “key” to get it to open.

We grabbed our cash, sprinted back towards the café, and then had to loop back the opposite direction of our boat to cross the bridge and take off full speed. This is by far the closest I’ve ever come to dining and dashing and the biggest scene I have ever caused. People were staring and pointing as we huffed and puffed our way across that little island. Our luck finally kicked in and we made it to the dock just as the boat was pulling up. All was well as we did not commit a crime and avoided having to stay on that island another two hours.

After our hour return boat, we decided to treat ourselves to a fine Italian dinner as a small reward for the crazy adventures of the day. This place was exactly what we needed. I ordered seafood risotto and we shared a wonderful bottle of Chardonnay. I got to do my first ever “taste test” to approve our choice!

Overall, the day was entirely successful and we were able to look back on both the struggles and high points as learning experiences. We got to walk through the city just as the sun set and all the lights switched on and it was a moment to remember forever.

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Sunday – Lazy morning/travel day:

This morning, we slept in a bit, had our grocery store breakfast, and got all checked out of our Airbnb before our final trip to the city!

The day was absolutely beautiful and we took the opportunity to eat our brunch outside and soak up the sun. I ordered an omelet with cheese and prosciutto and a cappuccino. As we ate and shared stories about our lives, children and puppies ran around the courtyard laughing and playing. It was the absolute perfect way to end our time in Venice.

 

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We are currently on the train heading towards Florence where we will spend three nights right in centre city! Our Italian adventure has only just begun!

 

Italy Uncategorized

Blues, Bath, and “The Bod”

Whether you’re on a weekend trip or abroad for months, it can be hard to find a “new normal” in a foreign place. Picking out negatives is easy: Schoolwork is hard, traveling is stressful, and being away from those you love can feel lonely. When you’re traveling long-term, it is completely normal to experience ups and downs. No one can be happy for four months straight!

Here’s how to keep the blue days away!

 

1) Let go of expectations and the concept of “normal”

Traveling is full of expectations, goals, and bucket lists. Most of the time, expectations will fall short not because they are too high, but simply because they don’t match up with what the country or place is actually like. In a foreign country, sometimes nothing will feel “normal” and nothing will go as expected and that is okay! Stepping outside our our comfort zone is what helps us grow. Saying yes to things without expectations and appreciating what is different can be so fun! Similarly, if you constantly are comparing your experience to someone else’s, you will be disappointed every time. This is one I really struggle with! FOMO is real!

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One thing that I always find interesting is seeing what different grocery stores are like! Here is me freaking out because in Switzerland, you carry around this mini scanner as you shop for your groceries and scan each one before you drop it into your bag. Every 10th person or so gets “checked” to keep people honest. When you’re done shopping, you just scan your card and walk out!

2) Combat negativity with positives

Since I tend to gravitate towards time alone, I have made it a personal goal to branch out at least once a week to someone and make plans. This gives me something to look forward to each week and allows me to meet new people. Choosing positive people to spend time with is also extremely important. This week, I attended a cocktail making event at the Slug and Lettuce, made plans to get dinner with one of my Swiss friends, and had a delicious wine and cheese night at 1855 wine bar in Oxford.

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3) Explore your own city

Between a heavy workload and various weekend travel plans, it is easy to overlook the awesome city that you’re actually calling home! This Friday, I had an awesome opportunity to visit Oxford’s famous Bodleian library (affectionately known as “the Bod” with a small crew of other Elon kids and Professor Kevin Boyle. If you are in Oxford (and especially if you are a Harry Potter fan), please do this!! An hour tour only costs 8 pounds. You’ll get to see the “heart” of Oxford University, one of the best gothic ceilings, and the Bodleian library itself which opened originally in 1602 and boasts an absolutely incredible 12 million books, most of which are housed underground.

Arguably best of all, you will walk through several rooms featured in the Harry Potter films, including the “Restricted Section”!!! I’m still not over it. Seriously, please visit.

Unfortunately, pictures in the library are not allowed but I did snap a few of the lecture hall and other downstairs rooms.

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Oxford is so beautiful!

4) Always say yes to free things

I’ll thank my Dad for teaching me this valuable life lesson. Say yes to free things! This Saturday, the lovely St. Clare’s hosted a free day trip to Bath. While we are still responsible for paying for our own activities, the transportation is free and you bet your bottom dollar I am not saying no to that offer.

We only spent a short time in Bath but I loved the historical feel of the city! I toured the Roman Baths, Jane Austen Centre, and saw the Circus and the Royal Crescent – two historic sites featuring expensive flats that are incredible works of architecture -#homegoals for sure.

For lunch, we ate at the Pump Room right next to the baths entrance. This place was incredibly classy (an orchestra played as we ate) and the food was delicious. I tried crab risotto and creamy potatoes. I would love to spend more time exploring this city!

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Keep up with my adventures as I head out to Venice, Italy in just 5 days!

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My First Taste of England

Let’s be honest – there isn’t a single thing that could replace queso, fajitas, or kolaches, or my family’s Sunday night dinners…but England is trying its best. In addition to eating my way around Oxford, I am taking advantage of my dorm room kitchen that I share with four other girls by finally learning to cook! Luckily, my roommate Tatjana only makes fun of me a little bit when I ask her basic cooking questions.

While I haven’t found the “food of all foods” here yet, I am still on the hunt. Here’s what has stood out so far!

IMy first meal across the pond obviously had to be fish and chips. The green sauce was questionable, but the fish and chips were divine. As of now, my best effort at ordering a drink requires asking what the waiter recommends, but I’ll get there one day.

The food at our Welcome Dinner, hosted by Trinity College, was unreal. Unfortunately, I failed to get a picture of the delicious duck confit. This room (pictured right) is where students who attend Trinity College eat their daily meals. It sure beats Lakeside at Elon!

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British coffee isn’t quite the same as American coffee, but their cafes sure are cuter. Finding little spots around town to study and have a snack has quickly become my favorite afternoon activity. Oxford is the perfect size: small enough to know well, yet big enough to explore.

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Last night, Elon professor Kevin Boyle took all of us Elon students out to a nice dinner at Portabello! Definitely my best dinner out in Oxford so far with great company.

img_0040Best of all, however, has been nights spent in Logan House and meals cooked with Tatjana. This is the salmon and rice we cooked together tonight! We have been meal planning and making shopping lists together which has been so motivating. Having the opportunity to eat together and share stories about our individual experiences, culture, political systems, family, and friends has been incredibly eye-opening. Through learning about others, you really learn more about yourself. Food has an amazing way of bringing people together and making memories!

This week wrapped up with another St. Clare’s day trip; this time we went to Stonehenge! Stonehenge, thought to be built around 2,000 B.C., is a mystery to this day. No one quite knows its true purpose! Located in the middle of nowhere amidst rolling green open fields (full of cute sheep!), the monument is clearly out of place.

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We braved the cold for some photos!

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Transitioning to Life Abroad

LEAVING & ARRIVING

Moving abroad is a huge rush of mixed emotions: excitement, fear, anxiety, joy, worry, and feelings unable to even be pinpointed. While Elon does as much as possible to prepare students, nothing prepares you to fully realize – yes, I’m actually doing this. For me, reality didn’t really set in until I was doing everything at home in Texas for the “last time”. Much too soon, it was time to say goodbye to my friends and family. I’d like to give another huge thank you to my parents for always supporting me and encouraging me to attend Elon and take advantage of this experience at St. Clare’s!

Once I was dropped off at the airport and finally on the plane, most of my anxiety was wiped away. During my flight, I took time to journal, set goals, and focus on the adventure I had embarked upon. After a long day of traveling, I finally arrived at London Heathrow at 6:45am local time (what a crazy airport!) I observed little differences like signs for “toilets” and “lifts” as I maneuvered my way through customs and over to a different terminal where I met my friend Allie.

 

My arrival day was exactly as you’d expect from England: foggy, cold, and rainy, but also quite lovely. A St. Clare’s driver fetched us from Terminal 3 and one hour later, we had arrived!

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Neighborhood near me

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All set up!

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Shared dorm room in Logan House

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Bedroom window view

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Balcony view

As you can see above, Oxford is a quaint town that is already starting to feel like home. I am very proud to say that I am mastering public transportation (although I do miss my little car). One of my favorite parts about St. Clare’s is that it is not exactly a “campus”. Instead, St. Clare’s buildings are mixed into the community. As a result, I find myself having to really explore the area and get more of a bearing. Even walks (or bus rides) to class are exciting!

MEETING NEW PEOPLE

This is probably what I was both most nervous and most excited for. Thankfully, all of the St. Clare’s students are friendly and seem very open to meeting new people and making new friends. I am matched up with a German roommate, Tatjana, whom I adore. This has made connecting to the international community here much easier. Besides Germany, I have met people from Belgium, Sweden, Spain, Argentina, Switzerland, and many others! While there are no British students at my school, the professors at St. Clare’s, the Oxford community, and my school placement offer lots of opportunities to learn more about my new home.

St. Clare’s offers various programming to help us adjust to life here and get to know our peers. Since they offer 3 programs (Liberal Arts, English Language plus subjects, and English Language) they make an effort to intermix the groups as much as possible. This first week, I have enjoyed a walking tour of Oxford, a Welcome Dinner at Oxford University’s Trinity College, a London day trip, and a trip to a London Theatre with my Shakespeare class! These have all been great opportunities to make friends and get to know my cities.

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Kristy and I exploring Oxford

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Centre City, Oxford

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Oxford

Additionally, this Saturday I took advantage of the first day trip opportunity – a free trip to London! London has so much to offer and I have only just touched the surface. Check out my favorite pictures that I took below.

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TIME MANAGEMENT

One of the trickiest parts of settling in has been learning how to manage my time. My classes here will be both challenging and rewarding. Several are taught by professors who also teach at Oxford University! I am enrolled in 4 courses: Comparative Education, Shakespeare Survey, Sociology of Crime and Deviance, and Foundations of Educational Psychology. Additionally, I am interning at Cherwell School each Tuesday where I am paired up with English Language Learners. I sit next to these students in class to assist with their English and help facilitate their learning.

During the week, I hope to get into the swing of things and achieve a good balance between classwork, my school placement, social life, errands, and me time! This will be absolutely necessary because on the weekends, I want to travel! Some weekends will be spent further exploring the UK, but I am also currently planning several trips.

LITTLE DIFFERENCES

Even though England is an English speaking country, moving so far away is still a constant adjustment to “little differences”. Step 1 – the time change. I am 5 hours different than North Carolina and 6 different from Texas! This has required some adjustment both for my body clock, and for my communication back home. So far, I am doing quite well and have finally recovered from my jet-lag.

Little language differences are also quite apparent but also fun for me to dissect (why is aluminum pronounced AL-OO-MIN-IUM?!) Even trips to the grocery store are a new adventure. Newsflash: they don’t bag your groceries and checkout aisles are called “tills”. Don’t even get me started on trying to keep track of dollars, pounds, and euros.

Most of all, I am looking forward to studying the little differences between American schools and British schools. Several of my classes will discuss this within a classroom setting. It is so cool to go out and observe things in the “real world”! Some of my final projects will also center on comparing education systems.

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I can’t believe that I have only been in England for one week! Life has already been so full of new friends, new food, new classes, and new adventures.

Cheers,

Courtney

 

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