Quick Pics #6

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(Went to the Freud House and Museum. I loved this place. It was really cool to see his study and his chair, the couch he used, etc. He only lived there for a year before his death but he made his rooms replicas of his office in Vienna and it was a very important period of his life. He and his daughter Anna who lived there for years after helped many famous people, particularly women, like Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, and Marilyn Monroe. Plus the house is also now a contemporary art museum, which played off of the meaning of the house really nicely. There was a great exhibit called Mad, Bad, and Sad: Women and the Mind Doctors, which reflected really well on the history of women and hysteria, and the relationships between women, mental illness, and their doctors.)

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(Dylan came to visit! This was a great visit and we had a lot of fun. I got to revisit some of my favorite things like Portabello Road, Trafalgar Square, and Chinatown. Unfortunately, it ended a bit rocky because he missed his flight back and had to stay two extra days. While it caused him to miss some classes and cost extra to get another ticket, I got more time with him so that was nice! The next few pictures are going to be just a few things we did on his trip.)

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(We went to see Spamalot which was really funny! Plus it was in a theater right beside the river and we took a beautiful walk across the Thames afterward.)

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(We also visited Covent Garden, which has become extremely Christmas-ified! I’m so excited that Christmas has come to London. I’ll probably have a post devoted just to that, but there are lights everywhere and it’s so nice. Covent Garden is a collection of shops and restaurants, lots of decorations, and street performers. We saw magic acts, live music, and artists. Plus, it has the best cookie shop ever – Ben’s Cookies. We got 7 and bought a gallon of milk to finish them off with. Talk about getting in the Christmas spirit.)

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(After a turn on the Eye, I also took Dylan to the fairground beside the Eye that I’ve never been to. It was an amazing night. They had lots of beautiful Christmas decorations right beside the river and cute little shops that we enjoyed looking at. They’d transformed part of it into a Christmas village with Christmas music too! Plus good food. We tried an ostrich burger for the first time and it was delicious. I also got to ride the old fashioned carousel there as well, which was so fun and made me feel like a kid at Christmas again. One of my best nights in London.)

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(Dylan got the Harry Potter experience! What a fan.)

 

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(After he left, Natalie and I and some friends when to a concert! We saw Crystal Fighters (if you don’t know who they are, look them up) and it was fantastic! So cool to see a concert here. It was at Brixton Academy which is a really well known venue here and really popular with locals. It was a cool warehouse building in Brixton, a hip part on the outskirts of London. It used to be a little lower class and dangerous, but one thing I’ve learned about London neighborhoods is that if they had a dangerous history, they have probably been gentrified and become a hip, young, up-and-coming area. This is certainly true with Brixton. The concert was a lot of fun and I’m glad we got to see one while we were here.)

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(Took a really nice nighttime walk along the Thames and across the Millennium Bridge after visiting the Tate Modern again. The Tate is open late on Fridays so it was really fun to take some more time outside of class to look at it. Plus the Thames and the bridge are beautiful. This is the bridge that was destroyed by dementors in the 6th Harry Potter movie. The cathedral is St. Paul’s, really beautiful.)

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(I visited Baker Street, the home of Sherlock Holmes! A really cool old house and very nice gift shop.)

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(Went to Kensington Gardens with Ryan! We decided not to go into the Palace but it was a beautiful day to walk around the gardens, Hyde Park, and the grounds.)

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(We visited Harrods after, which is an interesting London experience. It is the most expensive department store I’ve ever been in. Instead of having brands like you might see in a JC Penney’s, Harrods carries Jimmy Choo and Dulce and Gabana. It’s huge. And it has tower truffles, sushi food courts, champagne bars, a Christmas land, a Lego land, a Disney World. Everything. Including mini cars for children to drive, except they are mini BMWs worth 40,000 pounds. It was a cool experience and very impressive but also a little sad. It really highlights how crazy the economic difference can be in a big city, or anywhere, and puts in perspective what some people put their money toward.)

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(I went to a very cool street market in a neighborhood called Bermondsey. It was a strictly local affair and I loved walking around the food stalls and vintage furniture stores with a friend!)

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(Took a walk across the Tower Bridge. It was a really beautiful, albeit cold, day and a nice tourist thing to do during my last few days here.)

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(I got the really terrific opportunity to go to the West Ham v. Chelsea football match, which was a rivalry. Plus, it was for my internship so I got to go to a corporate event before, during and after, which included an open bar, three course meal, snacks during and after the game, and the opportunity to meet some really great people, like journalists from London and people who work for the Premier League. Unfortunately West Ham lost by a lot, but it was really fun to go and we had great seats!)

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The Five People You Meet in Hyde Park

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The defeated young woman walking off the path. She’s used to dressing nicely so today’s unbuttoned coat, loose T-shirt, and haphazard scarf are a failure. Her dog, a brown and white splotched Jack Russell Terrier, can’t stand her sluggish step, so he weaves between her knee-high boots, crunching the leaves, yapping for her attention. All she can muster is a faint kick to his ball. It tumbles a few feet ahead, and he is where it will stop rolling before it even gets there. A few steps later, she will kick it again, with even less effort than before, but Jack won’t care. He can’t remember the last time they went out on a walk, just the two of them.

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The couple holding hands, walking in the middle of the tree-laden path. They are old enough to be realistic about the future of their relationship, but still young enough to this that this is magical. Neither is particularly beautiful under normal circumstances, but both of them, in this moment, think they might be. Their hands don’t swing as they walk, they hang tight like a rock between them, grasping on and afraid to let go. They don’t stop holding hands even when a bicyclist comes tearing down the path, blowing up leaves in his wake, and has to swear to avoid them. They have made the unspoken agreement to walk right in the middle of the path, the rest of us be damned, because today, for once, isn’t about the rest of the world. It’s about them.

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The little boy in the navy jacket flying a kite with his older sister and his father. His sister has the job of launching the kite into the air while he holds the spool, albeit a bit awkwardly, in splayed fingers, holding in like an offering. His father stands behind him, dressed like he would dress every other day for work because even today on a Sunday with his kids he isn’t sure which role to play: the parent or the breadwinner. They are such different roles. He stands behind his son and places his hands over the boy’s, over the spool. The son holds his breath because he isn’t sure if this will work, it doesn’t quite seem feasible, but he wants so badly for it to work, for this day to go well. And even though the father knows it will work, he holds his breath because he, too, wants this day to go well. Needs it to go well. He yells the command and his daughter tosses the brightly colored plastic into the air where it hovers, then starts to plunge to earth for one heart-wrenching second, before the wind catches it and, at last, it soars.

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The girl in the knit cap, feeding ducks with her younger sister in front of Kensington Palace. Her younger sister is still at the cute age, the age when parents and friends dote on her, but she is just growing out of this age, still too young to have let go of vulnerability, but too old to be completely dependent. She is caught in the middle at this age, and she watches her mum hand her sister more bread with a sharp edge of disappointment, a slightly woozy realization of loss. But then a duck, not just any duck, but a white swan comes up to her. Her, not her sister, and nips politely at her fingers until she unfolds them to reveal the crumbled bits of bread she’d been holding on to too tightly. The swan stays with her for a while and when the younger sister laughs, this time the girl does, too.

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The man with a family of huskies. He is past his prime at this age, in his late fifties now, and no closer to having a wife or kids than he was in his twenties. His hair is greying and he has put on weight. But he has his husky, a pure white beauty. She is his wife and on a split leash he leads two pure white husky puppies, her children, and he holds them with pride. The mother husky is frozen in the fall leaves, her paw raised just so, as she watches a squirrel escape into a tree. The puppies watch her obediently with tails they cannot stop from flapping, even though they know they should be still, like her. The man looks down at them and then over at the mother husky with a smile. On the path, families stop and watch the mother husky hunt her prey. Her stillness calms them, has power over them, and they all freeze, too. Just to watch her. “She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” the man says, and we know it’s love.

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Quick Pics #5

Whew. So now I’m back in London after Fall Break, and I’ve been back for about two weeks. I’m really glad to be back. There is so much to do here before I go home, plus finals are coming up so things are getting even busier than before, if that’s possible. Since I spent so much time discussing fall break, I thought I’d do a nice Quick Pics to let you know what I’ve been up to in London in the meantime!

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(Celebrated Halloween in London! A lot of us from the program dressed up like the cast from Clue. I was Mrs. Peacock, obviously. We went to the University of London Union where they had a karaoke Halloween party, complete with singing competition and costume contest. It was a lot of fun.)

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(Also celebrated Guy Fawkes night, November 5th! This is a huge holiday in England and it commemorates, strangely enough, a failed terrorist attack to explode Parliament. The English light bonfires and toss dummies made to the look like the terrorist on top (yikes). They also set off fireworks and have fairs with rides and mulled cider. We went to a huge fair in Brixton and wow. So. Many. People. Take a popular fireworks display on July 4th and triple it. I never really appreciated just how many people live in London till I went to this. But it was a really great experience with some really great fireworks!)

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(Went to a swanky evening at the bar on the top of the Shard with friends. The Shard is a new building in London, and is also the tallest in the city. It’s called the Shard because it literally looks like a shard of glass sticking up out of the ground beside the Thames. It costs a lot to go to the top to see the view, but there’s a bar close to the top (the 36th story!!) that is free to go to at night. We all had to dress our best, but we were glad we did because this place was really classy, and had a great view! The drinks were expensive though: £15 for one drink was the average. I got a glass of wine, the cheapest thing I could find, which by some miracle was under £10. But it was definitely worth it for that view. We felt like we’d been pampered.)

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(Went to the V&A, or the Victoria and Albert museum. This was one of my favorite museum’s thus far and the picture is of the amazing glass sculpture hanging from the ceiling in the lobby. It focuses on domestic items, textiles, and fashion, but has a little bit of everything.)

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(Visited the East End. A really cool area off the beaten track. Also, in recent years, despite a lower class and immigrant history, it has become extremely hip. Lots of new bars, clubs, vintage stores, markets, restaurants, etc. This includes an old, famous brewery that’s been refurbished into a series of hip clubs, pubs, and stores. This brewery? A Quaker run business because apparently back in the day when there was lots of moonshine, Quakers were the best people you could get alcohol from because they were trustworthy. Clearly, I’m missing out on my true calling.)

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(Visited the British Library. I’m a sucker for libraries in general so of course I loved this one. I saw a really nice exhibit on first editions children’s book and original children’s book illustrations so I got to see beautiful art done for stories like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Jungle Book, the Hobbit, the Secret Garden, and more. Plus, the gift shop was so literary focused, it was right up my alley!)

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(Took a trip to Windsor Castle with some friends. This is the Queen’s favorite hangout and it’s located in the middle of a cute little town about half an hour outside of London. I couldn’t take any pictures inside the state rooms, but they were gorgeous!)

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(Also visited Stonehenge, which is located in the middle of nowhere about an hour outside London in the countryside. It has some beautiful surrounding area and seeing the famous stones themselves was pretty impressive. It isn’t a must-do thing if you go to London, though. It’s a bit anticlimactic. You get out, walk around the stones, get back in your car and leave. I’m definitely glad I saw them, but they wouldn’t have been at the top of my list if I was here for a shorter time. Still, they have some incredible history attached to them so it was nice to have a tour guide to tell us about them. Our tour guide was a really nice, funny woman and she told us all about how the rocks had to be transported. Fun fact: the site is older than the pyramids of Egypt and some of the stones had to be transported almost 200 miles before the invention of the wheel. Yikes. Plus, there are tons of great legends attached to the place to get your imagination running. For instance, it is said that King Arthur (THE King Arthur) had his father buried there.)

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(Took a daytrip to Bath. I’m in love with this place! It’s a beautiful Georgian town, so the architecture is just lovely. Also, it’s home to the Roman baths. Whenever the Romans took over England, they set up this area as a spa retreat, essential. We toured the old Roman baths and saw how they used the underground springs to set up luxuries like steaming hot baths (seriously, they are still steaming), and heated floors for massage rooms. Because of this history, the place is filled with cool little inns, spas, and retreats in addition to the old Roman baths. Plus, Bath was also a favorite hang out of Jane Austen’s! She set parts of her books in this resort town that was big in her era, and there is a historical center about her there today that provides you with period era clothing to dress up in and have tea! Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to do that part, but I did get a postcard from the gift shop. The town is filled with beautiful side streets, spas, restaurants, and little specialty shops, like a chocolate store we stopped in. It would be perfect for a romantic weekend or just a relaxing getaway if I ever get to come back.)

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(I went to the Hunger Games World Premiere! Okay, so I didn’t get to go actually see the movie. But I got to go to the theatre and see the red carpet where Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth got out of their limo and went into the theatre! I’ll have to see the movie when it is released here on the 21st, just like everyone else, but I got to see the actors (albeit from a distance), which is very cool, and means I get to check “see at least one famous person” off my bucket list.)   

I also took a lovely walk through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park one Sunday on my own when the weather was actually nice. I was walking through to gather some fodder for a creative writing assignment. But more on that in my next post…

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Their Eyes Were Watching Gaudi

Finally we made it to Barcelona! We’d already done so much on break that both Dylan and I were exhausted, but we made it to our hostel pretty easily the first day. While Santander is in the Spanish state of Cantabria, Barcelona is in Catalonia so, like Mallorca, they speak Catalan. Of course, everyone still speaks Spanish, too, and most people also speak English (these trilingual people, so impressive).

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(A picture of one of the wonderful streets in Barcelona. Most of them looked like this, with really nice architecture, trees, and wide avenues.)

The architecture in Barcelona is beautiful! The city is filled with large avenues and trees and really lovely and imaginative architecture. By far the best thing to do in Barcelona is just walk around and get lost in the wonderful alleys and side streets. It’s a lot  of walking and my feet are torn to pieces, but it’s definitely worth it! You stumble upon the most magical little stores and buildings and churches, without even trying.

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(Another street view. We loved the windows in this building!)

The first night, Dylan and I walked down La Rambla, which is the main street and shopping district in Barcelona. It’s HUGE and very crowded, with lots of great side streets branching off in every direction. There are tons of shops, of course, but also lots of street vendors, street performers, and street artists. We passed a whole block of florists that made the air smell lovely!

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(A picture of La Rambla at night. It’s always busy!)

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(A picture of the flowers on La Rambla. There are different areas on La Rambla: the florists, the artists, the tourist shops, and restaurants, etc.)

Our favorite thing to do on La Rambla, though, was watch the street artists. There were portrait drawers, people that did caricatures, and really talented street artists that created fantasy drawings with spray paint and fire! They were magical to watch and you could stand there while they created an entirely original, custom piece of art right before your eyes! We came back every night we were in Barcelona to watch them.

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(Our favorite type of street artist, creating a really cool piece right in front of us.)

La Rambla ends in a tall monument to Christopher Columbus (despite the fact that he was a jerk) and the port water front. There was really nice bridge and lots of boats so we watched over it while the sun set that first night before walking back up La Rambla and having some paella for dinner. Paella, by the way, is a Southern Spain specialty. Originating in Valencia, it’s kind of seafood jumbo, and you can’t go to Spain without having some.

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(The view of the port at night. There were some delicious waffle and crepe stands nearby too that made it smell delicious. Mmm!)

We fell asleep pretty much immediately when we got back to our hostel. The hostel we stayed in was pretty centrally located and pretty small. It wasn’t too bad (really good for the price) and included free breakfast (and free food, as you know, is my favorite). The next day we deemed would be our Gaudi day, so we put on good walking shoes and headed out.

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(One of Gaudi’s famous buildings, the Casa Mila, which we didn’t go in but saw from the outside, which as impressive, too.)

Gaudi was an artist and architect in Barcelona who created really amazing and imaginative buildings! You should certainly look up more about him, but he really favored fantasy and fantastic creatures in his work and did a lot of mosaic pieces. They charge to go into all of his buildings so we were selective. We walked by a few like Casa Batllo (The inside is modelled after what it would be like to be in a dragon’s belly. Locals call it the House of Bones. Oooh.) and Casa Mila. Then we went to Park Güell, a park designed by Gaudi.

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(The outside of the Casa Batllo, the House of Bones!)

We went to the park because entrance was supposed to be free. Our luck, the city of Barcelona had decided the very day we went to start charging. They only charged to go into part of the park, so we skipped that part and just walked around the rest, which was fine. We got the see the Gaudi mosaic benches from a far and climbed a ton of steps to get a number of great views overlooking the city. There were also lots of great vendors and street musicians so we stopped to listen to some music a few times.

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(Some street musicians in the park. They were really energetic and fun! A lot of locals like to hang out in the park too so there was a big push back against the cost of the park the day we were there. We saw one guy who was spray painting things like “Free Park Güell get chased down by a police officer!)

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(Dylan and I posing at the very top of the park in front of the great view. We met a nice German couple who took our picture and told us about the city charging for the park.)

Afterward we got lunch at a yummy oriental restaurant. In Spain, restaurants have something called the Menu of the Day which is a great three course meal deal plus drink for super cheap. Afterward we went to the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s famous church, a huge structure that looks a bit like a drippy sand castle I’d make on a beach as a kid. It dominates the Barcelona skyline, and despite being in the work for nearly 70 years is still not finished.

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(The outside of the impressive Sagrada Familia.)

This, Dylan and I bought tickets to go into and to climb a tower inside. It was phenomenal. The weather was great by the time we arrived and there was a street performer making large bubbles out front. We played with those like five-year-olds for a while and then went inside the church.

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(The huge bubbles! You know you would play with them, too.)

Quite simply, it was the most amazing building I’ve ever been inside. Between the lighting that the stained glass created, the tree like pillars, the sheer size, and the curved, organic shapes, it was terrific. I can’t say enough incredible things about it. One thing I can say is that it didn’t make me feel particularly religious. Awed, yes, but more at the power of what man can create than at the power of god.

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(The amazing effect of the stained glass inside in the afternoon. I love this place!)

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(The interior of the Sagrada Familia.)

The whole experience was like what it would be like to walk around inside the mind of an artist. The tower views were very pretty as well. We had to pick between two towers, the Passion and the Nativity. We’d read the view from the Nativity tower was better so we did that one although I’m sure both would be great.

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(The view from the top of the Nativity Tower. There are lots of angles to look out, so this is just one.)

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(Another interior shot of the church, with the ceiling, which looked like tree tops. Gaudi invented this type of column that branches out like trees, making the Sagrada Familia the only place in the world that uses it.)

After the church we stopped at one of the many outdoor cafes in Barcelona and treated ourselves to lemon cake. We’d walked over 10 miles that day, but we had a bit more ahead of us. We went to La Boqueria, a large market off of La Rambla where locals go to sell all kinds of foods and goods. We loved it! Tons of fresh meat and fruits and vegetables. The fish was so fresh some of it was still moving! We also found a fancy handmade truffle stand and got a few to sample.

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(The fresh fish. It made me sad when they moved! I told that to a lady in Spanish next to me and she laughed and patted me on the shoulder. My Spanish skills get me sympathy.)

Afterward we went to our new favorite restaurant, an oriental stir-fry restaurant called Wok to Walk where you pick your toppings and they cook it in front of you. Mmm. We visited our favorite street artists and then fell asleep immediately.

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(The chocolate stand in the market that we enjoyed.)

The next day we walked to the beach in the morning. Along the way we stumbled into the Gothic Quarter, an older area of Barcelona comprised of tons of tiny, scrambled side streets splintering off each other. There were lots of cute apartments and hidden shops in these alleys, plus the beautiful Barcelona music hall.

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(The Barcelona music hall. They are tucked away in a side street so you might never notice it but the building was amazing! I wish we could have heard a concert in there.)

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(One of the dozens of side streets in the Gothic Quarter. Just a lot of fun to walk around in.)

We also saw more of the old part of town and government buildings on our way to the beach. Once we got there it was pretty windy and the water really cold so we just waded into the Mediterranean and then sat out for a bit. We walked along the boardwalk, which was very popular and had a great view. Then we walked through a nearby park to see the zoo, the Arc de Triumph (not the Paris one, Barcelona has one too!). The park was beautiful and featured really wonderful fountains, lakes, and memorials.

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(One the beaches in Barcelona that we visited.)

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(My favorite fountain in the park! So pretty and peaceful. Lots of people were having picnics there and nearby there was a memorial to a transsexual who was killed for their gender identity. I thought it was really cool that there was a memorial for this, as I’m not sure attention would be drawn to it in the States.)

After stopping for lunch, we went back to the Gothic Quarter to explore some more where we found the best little bakery that had tons of great goodies. We both got massive meringues that gave us both tummy aches but where totally worth it. Then we went into the Barcelona Cathedral, which was very impressive. They took us up to the tower as well for another nice view of the city.

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(The meringue that got the best of us. Mine is chocolate and his is lemon. Do you really blame us?)

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(The inside of the Barcelona Cathedral. It took 200 years to build, which is just crazy to think about.)

We took a break back at the hostel afterward before going out to dinner at this fun bar because that night happened to be the Barcelona v. Madrid Football (Soccer) match! We were so lucky to be in Barcelona when the game happened because (a) it’s the biggest rivalry in football and (b) it’s a huge cultural event that was fun to witness. Every restaurant and bar was packed full of people all with their tables and chairs turned toward the TVs. When Barcelona scored a goal, people on the street watching through the windows would randomly hug each other and everyone in the bar high-fived. It was such a nice sense of camaraderie. And we won! While eating delicious tapas.

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(A rally on La Rambla we went to following the game to celebrate Barcelona’s victory. FC Barca for the win!)

Afterward Dylan and I explored more streets near La Rambla and looked in cute stores. There was a rally in La Rambla cheering Barcelona’s victory, which was fun. Then we ended the night at the beautiful fountains near La Rambla.

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(Us in front of the fountains at night. Pretty romantic.)

The next day we met up with my roommate Natalie, her friend Natalie (yes, they are both Natalie), and our friend Soxy who is also studying abroad in England. They happened to be in Barcelona at the same time. We got lunch with them and then Dylan and second Natalie had to leave for the airport. My roommate, Soxy and I toured around the Gothic Quarter some more afterward, saw the Picasso Museum, and the inside of Santa Maria del Mar, another impressive Cathedral in that area. We also got the best gelato I’d ever had. We had a yummy dinner at a kabob place (kabob’s are a huge deal in Europe) and went back to London late.

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(The outside of Santa Maria del Mar on the beautiful last day.)

The entirety of fall break was fantastic and I couldn’t have asked for better places to visit or better people to visit them with. Now I’m back in London and while it is rainy and colder and I have work and school, I’m glad to be back. London has an energy that isn’t the same as other cities, and it’s nice to be back in my flat with my friends in my routine. Plus, there is still so much I want to do here before my semester comes to an end!

There are plenty of other places I considered travelling to for fall break, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to do everything, not just globally, but even just in London. Aside from a trip to Ireland after my program ends, I’ll stay primarily in London for the rest of my trip, but I won’t regret not going to more places. There is only so much time I have here and while I’ll always still want to go to new places, I’m glad I’ll get to spend some time experiencing  and appreciating even more in this great place that I’m living in now.  Image

(Me and Dylan together in Barcelona. Who knows where we will end up next?)

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A Farewell to Family

Our next stop on Fall Break was back to Santander, Spain, where Dylan is studying abroad. For reference, it’s on the northern coast of Spain, under an hour from Bilbao. Our plan was to catch up on some sleep there, take a few day trips, and hang out with Dylan’s host family. I met them last time I went to Santander, but I loved seeing them again and they were the highlight of my visit.

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(Dylan, Manolo, Isabel, and I during our day trip to Picos de Europa, which I talk about later. They are wonderful!)

We got in to Santander from Mallorca at about 3pm on Sunday. It was nice to have Dylan’s company on the flight because so far all of my flying as been solo. Manolo and Isabel (his host parents) picked us up and took us back to the house where we enjoyed a late comida (free food on vacation is simply the best). Dylan has been working on teaching me some Spanish so I was really pleased to tell that my Spanish had improved since I’d last been there. I was able to conjugate a few simple verbs and form very easy sentences! But, the real improvement was that I was able to understand what they were saying 70% of the time, so even if I couldn’t response well, Dylan didn’t have to translate what they said for me to be part of the conversation.

 

After comida, Dylan and I took a walk along one of the many beautiful beaches in Santander at sunset. We happened to run into some of the nice people from his program there so we hung out on the beach for a while with them and listened to music. It was a beautiful day with gorgeous weather. We ate (free!) with Dylan’s host family that night and planned a large trip for the next day.

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(One of Santander’s many beaches. At low tide there are huge boulders you can climb on and lots of tide pools. The sand is very soft and fine, but the water was cold!)

On Monday, Dylan’s host family took us on an amazing trip to Picos de Europa! This is a mountainous region about 2 hours from Santander and we hopped from village to village all day. It was a fantastic trip and I got to see a lot more of Northern Spain, plus hang out with Dylan, Manolo, and Isabel all day. First, we went to San Vincente, a beach town on the way to Picos de Europa. It has beautiful views of the water, and was famous for its arched bridge. The city used to a quaint fishing town, but has expanded in recent years.

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(Me, Dylan, and Isabel posing in San Vincente.)

Next, we drove to the top of the mountains, which are really beautiful white-capped monsters that dominate the skyline. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go up the teleferico, a cable car that takes you on top of the actual Picos de Europa because it was too windy and the cable car wasn’t stable. We still got to see some beautiful sights of the mountains, though!

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(The view of the mountains! So lovely. Manolo and Isabel said I’d have to come back and see them and they’d take me up to the top in the teleferico.)

Plus, this gave us time to visit the mountain-top monastery, Santo Toribio de Liebana. This monastery boasts a beautiful view, a wonderful church, grand architecture, and (wait for it) a piece of the real cross (supposedly). We got there after it technically closed, but one of the people there let us inside and took the piece of the cross out for us to view it up close. To me, it didn’t matter if it was real or not. What I found astonishing was how many people over the centuries have travelled hundreds and hundreds of miles on pilgrimages just for the chance to see it. A small object that holds that much power is something of awe to me.  In case you were curious, there are only four pieces of the original cross, so this is one of the relic’s rare resting places. Manolo bought Dylan and I keepsakes from it without us even realizing it because he’s a sweetheart!

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(Santo Toribio de Liebana from the inside. The cross is held in that impressive gold case, but they took it out for us to see. Felt a little bad taking pictures then, though.)

Then we took in the beautiful view nearby and happened to run into an author who writes books about the area. When he found out Dylan and I were from America, he gave us each a free book and signed them!

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(The view from near the monastery. The building is a tiny extra chapel.)

After the monastery, we went to Potes, which was my favorite stop of the day. It was a tiny mountainside village that I absolutely loved! It was very picturesque and had a great street market that we browsed and got free sample from. We shopped for a bit and had sweet wine (a specialty of the area) and delicious tapas. Manolo and Isabel took us on a tour of the old mill town.

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(The wonderful town of Potes! Very old and beautiful.)

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(Dylan, Manolo, and I sampling sweet wine and tapas, specific to the area.)

Then we had a picnic Isabel made (tortilla con potatas, of course!) with a great view of Picos de Europa, and some friendly goats. Dylan and I agreed that the view was magical, and one of the most beautiful places we’d ever seen.

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(The view from our picnic. There were lots of greedy goats and sheep nearby too, so we gave them some extra bread.)

Finally we ended the day at Santana del Mar, a very historic town a bit away from the mountains. Going to this place was just like stepping back in time! The whole city has old architecture, stone buildings, cobblestone alleyways and streets, and a lovely church! Plus lots of little stores. Dylan and I got the most delicious chocolate there. After all of these adventures we were exhausted and, after dinner at home, we fell right to sleep.

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(The church in Santana del Mar.)

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(The historic streets in Santana del Mar. Interestingly, despite the name which means flat village near the water, Santana del Mar is neither flat nor near the ocean. Hmm…) 

The next day Dylan and I went to the shopping district of Santander and explored European stores, including a store called Pull and Bear that is really popular here. We also hung out with Isabel and Manolo’s adorable 5-year-old granddaughter, Carlota, and her mother. I became good friends with their teeny dog Lola as well. It was a nice day and we caught up on some sleep which was very needed!

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(The shopping district in Santander. Some are specialty stores and some are chains like Pull and Bear.)

On Wednesday, I went to the beach while Dylan went to class (haha). It was a beautiful beach day and I read all morning on the sand. Afterward, Dylan teaches an English conversation class to elementary and middle school aged children so I went with him to help teach. It was such an interesting experience. The school is in a lower class area of Santander and the kids could be a little rowdy. But we played some language games with them that I’d come up with from my teaching at Duke TIP last summer and it went really well. The kids were very funny and I really enjoyed them (despite not always knowing what they were saying). I was impressed by how much English they knew despite their ages (our first group was about 12 years old and our second about 14). It is shocking how little progress American education makes on helping kids learn other languages when other schools make it such a priority! Anyone on the street speaks at least two languages, often three!

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(The lovely beach morning.) 

Afterward we went to a program meeting where I saw everyone in his program again and met his program director and his family, who were all very nice. Plus, the director’s wife had ranch dressing to dip vegetables in which is a bigger luxury than you think! She had to order packets from America to make it. That night we went out with a few of the people from his program by the bay, but still went to bed early because the next day was Barcelona!

 

It was great to be back in Santander because I felt like I got to know the city much better this time. The first time I went I got to see the big, beautiful sites like the Palace and the Bay. This time, I felt like I got to understand more what it would be like to live in the city like Dylan does. I loved the experience of teaching there, and I got much closer to his host family. When we all had to say goodbye for the last time, Isabel, Manolo, and I all got a bit teary. They insisted that I come back sometime soon and that I was always welcome there. I am so grateful for knowing them and getting to be part of their family for a short while.

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(A picture of Manolo with Dylan and I during our day trip.)

It was probably this sense of family more than anything that made me feel like I belonged there. I love my program and London, and I wouldn’t exchange it for anything, but staying with Manolo and Isabel really helped me to understand how different and valuable having a host family is. Host families are a great experience because they make you feel truly as if you belong and are part of a new place. A village or a city or a country may capture your imagination and excitement, but to really love a place I think you have to love the people there. Host families really pull you in and make you love not only them, but their homes. I feel really lucky to have gotten a piece of this experience.

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(Manolo and Isabel together. I miss them already!)

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Look Homeward, Alice

This is the first in a series of posts about my Fall Break! I’ll have a post about each place I went. I started my break in Mallorca (or Majorca), Spain. Mallorca is part of the Balearic Islands archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea, so it’s an island but technically part of Spain. I flew into Palma, the capital, Friday afternoon (October 18) and met Dylan there (he was flying in from Santander). I was a little late for my plane due to a delayed tube and a delayed train while I was trying to get to Stansted Airport (which claims to be in London, but actually isn’t. At all.). Luckily, the flight was late as well so I made it in time.

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(Palma de Mallorca, the capital city we flew into.)

Dylan and I met up easily because the Palma airport is relatively small and we got to tour around the city for a few hours. Palma was nice and right on the beach, which was pretty. Lots of palms trees (per the name). It’s also home to an old palace and lots of cool churches, which we looked around. Palma itself didn’t blow me away, though. It took leaving the city and going into the Mallorcan countryside for that to happen. We met up with (stick with me here) Dylan’s dad’s cousin, Juan, who has lived in Mallorca his whole life. He was born there and currently works as the groundskeeper for Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas’s Mansion, which is located just outside of the mountain village Valldemossa, about an hour out of Palma. And, you guessed it, we got to stay there (for free!).

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(The view from the mansion! It was more of a compound of cool buildings than a mansion. This is from the roof terrace by the pool.)

Technically we stayed in the guest house, but the entire compound was beautiful! Lots of great porches and terraces, with a pool and a fantastic vista. Catherine and Michael (I feel we are on a first name basis now) were of course not there, but Juan was a great, if not slightly mysterious, host. He spoke English well, and Spanish of course, but the native language in Mallorca is actually Catalan, which seemed almost like a mixture of Spanish and French. Despite me having taken French and Dylan being fluent in Spanish, between the two of us we still couldn’t understand it. This was kind of cool though because it gave Dylan the experience of a language barrier, the kind I always have when I go to Spain. Still, if we really needed to communicate everyone also spoke Spanish. Juan fed us all of our meals and drove us around the countryside, taking us to everything we did, making this vacation really cheap, but also really genuine. We got to experience the local’s take on the area, rather than the one tourists get. And Mallorca is certainly a tourist destination (particularly Palma) so it was great to get a different perspective and see a different (and more beautiful!) area of the island.

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(This is the guest house that we had all to ourselves. So nice…and free.)

Juan often wouldn’t tell us where he was taking us or what we were going to do each day, which made the whole thing a bit of an adventure. He had a bit of a game he liked to place where he would tell us we had “two choices” of what to do. Of course, one choice was always awful and the second always great, so there really was no choice. Still, everything he took us to was just what I would want to do. The first day after we toured Palma for a bit, he and his dog (a sweet little black mutt he named Obama, ha) picked us up and drove us around the countryside as the sun was setting. We got a view of Valldemossa, which was beautiful, and he took us to an orchard that his friend owned where we got to walk around and sample the fresh fruit. He would hand us fruit after fruit. Here’s a persimmon, here’s a pomegranate, here’s a fig. Taste it.

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(The orchard Juan took us to where we got fresh fruit at sunset.)

Afterward he drove us down the extremely windy, narrow, cliff-side road to the mansion. It had a beautiful view of the ocean, one of the prettiest drives I’ve ever been on! The curviness of the road was a bit scary though; the turns were so tight that he needed to make a three-point-turn just to complete them. When we got there, he asked us if we liked calamari. Picturing the fried finger food served as appetizers at American restaurants, we said yes. When we turned the corner into the kitchen, we were face-to-face with four fresh squids, still intact with eyes and tentacles. “I caught them yesterday,” he told us, with the same hint of pride we’d heard in his voice as he named fruit after fruit. We watched Juan slip his finger into the gelatinous body and pull out the small, plastic-like spine, and squeeze out the cerebral fluid before hacking them up and sticking them on the frying pan. But truthfully? They were delicious! The best calamari I’ve ever had. And I even ended up eating the eye!

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(Fresh squid. This wasn’t the ones Juan caught; I didn’t take a picture that night. These were some of the same ones I saw later in Barcelona at a market. Same idea though.)

The next day, the choice Juan gave us was to wake up at 6am to go up the mountain with him. He and some buddies were going bird hunting, so Dylan and I took a hike on the mountainside. We watched the sun rise over the mountain and got to see stunning views of the ocean below. Later, we met up with Juan and his hunting buddies at his rustic stone hunting cabin (one room with a dirt floor). He cooked us breakfast over an open fire and we ate outside overlooking the ocean. True to fresh Mallorcan tradition, Juan made us omelet sandwiches using eggs that his friend Jiame brought up to us fresh from his chickens’ butts, fresh baked bread that we’d watched being made that morning, and fresh olive oil that Jiame made himself from the olive trees around us. While Juan continued hunting, Jiame took Dylan and me on a tour of his olive tree orchards on the mountainside and told us how to grow olive trees and make olive oil.

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(The mountain hike at sunrise.)

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(The view from breakfast. The stone hunting cabin is behind us.)

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(The olive tree orchard we got a tour from. The walls are to stop landslides, which we could tell are important to keep the soil stable because we slipped a lot even with them in place. While some of them have been rebuilt, a lot of the original trees and walls were planted and built in the 1200s!)

He lived a beautiful little house tucked into the mountainside with his family and we got to visit his house to help make lunch (or comida, a huge meal served at two and followed by a siesta). He took us to another picturesque mountain village called Deia that I fell in love with. While Jiame went shopping, Dylan and I toured the village and went to the church. Then we went back to his house for lunch with everyone. Dylan and I took naps in hammocks overlooking the mountain and then Juan took us to Valldemossa where Dylan and I toured around on our own and had tapas.

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(The town of Deia! The church was beautiful and sat on the top of the town with a great view. Plus there was wonderful singing going on inside when we saw it.)

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(The town of Valldemossa at night where we had tapas after a day of experiencing Mallorca.)

The next morning Juan took us to have fresh breakfast at a great little fishing village in the side of the mountain. Then he drove us to the airport. Before we left he told us, “Tell everyone how much you liked Mallorca.”

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(The fishing village we had breakfast in.)

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(The view from the fishing village.)

What struck me most during this trip, aside from how beautiful and wonderful Mallorca was, was how proud Juan was of this place. Or really, how proud everyone was of this place. This was Juan’s home town; he’d never even lived anywhere else. He was proud of the landscape and of his friends and of how fresh all of the food was. I don’t think this is quite as American of a concept. There is certainly an amount of nostalgia for one’s hometown, but pride? I’d argue there’s the complete opposite. People, especially at my age, tend to look back at their hometown’s with some kind of disdain, a “been there, done that” attitude that is half embarrassment, half boredom. So many people from my hometown after high school jumped at the opportunity to leave, saying “There’s nothing to do here.”

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(Obama, Juan’s black mutt puppy who we fell in love with!)

After seeing the kind of pride Juan, Jiame, and others had for Mallorca, this attitude makes me a little sad. I loved Mallorca, and in some ways it certainly took me out of my comfort zone (squid eyes, come on), but in some ways it also made me miss my hometown, the foods I like to eat, the places I liked to see, the people I love. Nowhere is perfect, but it doesn’t have to be perfect to be proud of it. Seeing Mallorca made me appreciate what I liked about my home, and made me want to be as proud of it as the Spanish seem to be about where they come from. Why can’t we share that attitude? What makes us dismissive of the places we come from? Maybe it just takes seeing somewhere new to appreciate the places you’ve already been.

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(A picture of Dylan and I in front of the vista at the mansion compound after a great trip! Now off to Santander!)

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A Series of Unnerving Events: The Slippery Storm

The last part of fall break proved to be actually pretty eventful, so I thought I’d share a scary story (with a happy ending) for a Halloween treat. I’ll be posting the longer, nicer, detailed versions of the cool things I did over break shortly (plus pictures!) but in the spirit of the holiday, I thought I’d give you a story.
The last stop on my fall break trip was Barcelona, and we were lucky enough to have terrific weather. Dylan left in the early afternoon on Sunday to go back to Santander, and I met up with my roommate Natalie and our friend Soxy who also happened to be in Barcelona that weekend to fly back to London together. Our flight was at 9:30pm, so we could have another day in Barcelona. But things started to go wrong as soon as we left for the airport.
For one, I’d done a little more souvenir purchasing than I’d planned on during my week-long break so my two bags were bursting at the seams and quite difficult to carry. We lugged our things to a bus stop at 7:30 to give us plenty of time to get on the bus that was supposed to take us to El Prat, the airport. As we tottered up to the bus stop, the bus was just leaving. We waited a half hour for the next one, which took about an hour to arrive at El Prat. After the long bus ride that left me feeling a bit nauseous, we arrive at not El Prat the airport, but El Prat the metro stop. Oops.
The timing was getting a bit too close for comfort so we split a cab to the airport (My one redeeming moment here is that I mentioned to speak a little Spanish to the cabbie. I felt pretty proud of myself.). We hurried into the airport, but unfortunately Natalie hadn’t printed her boarding pass ahead of time because the printer in the hostel was broken. This normally isn’t an issue but if you’ve ever flown Ryan Air, you know it’s a catastrophe. The process to get them to print your boarding pass there is long and expensive. They were going to charge her 70 euros to print it! Through some stroke of luck the supervisor cut her some slack and let her print it for free, an event that the worker on duty said was a “once in a lifetime” thing.
By this time it was already 9:30pm, and the three of us, in very cinematic fashion, ran through the airport to catch our plane, our bags bouncing behind us. We just barely caught it and as we were boarding the man in front of us told us that hurricane level winds and rains were happening in London right now. And we would be landing in the middle of the storm.
The flight was rather nightmarish, accentuated by flashes of lightening outside the window and dark, foreboding clouds. Our pilot did a good job landing the flight, despite the weather, but the storm was big and caused enough sudden drops in the plane that my stomach ended up in my throat.
There was a huge influx of people coming into the Stansted airport at 11:30pm when we landed because flights after ours were getting delayed or cancelled. Unfortunately, they only had two workers on duty at immigration so we stood in like for an hour and a half waiting to get our passports checked. Afterward, Natalie and Soxy had already booked a bus to take them to Liverpool metro station in London from Stansted. I, on the other hand, had booked a train ahead of time, because it was supposed to be faster.
After we separated, them to the bus, and me to the train, my train was delayed for half an hour leaving the station because the weather was so bad they feared the train might get derailed. Even though the train did run (and thank goodness it did; all of the trains after that were closed down and the whole next day the entirety of the National Rail Service was closed or derailed), it was severely delayed because it had to stop often to avoid crashing, the rain thrashing against the windows and the wind pounding the aluminium exterior. By the time I arrived at Liverpool Street metro station, it was 2am.
My plan had been to take the metro from here to my flat, but the tube closes at 12am in London, so my new plan had been to wait at the information desk in the station for Natalie and Soxy to join me and we could make a plan together. Unfortunately, because my train was so delayed, they’d already arrived and left, and the station was long closed. With no internet, no cell phone, and no one around, I began to panic. Liverpool Street is not the best area of town, and by this time there was a torrential downpour of rain outside.
Luckily, I ran across a police officer. I asked him for directions and he told me where I could find a bus stop. I stood at the bus stop for 30 minutes in the rain because my bus was late with a strange man occasionally coming by and speaking nonsense to me. By this time I was cold, and wet, and more than a little scared.
Finally, the bus came and I got on, took it to a few blocks from my flat, and walked home. When I got in, my roommate was waiting, worried, with a towel, which was good because I was sopping wet and freezing.
When we both managed to climb into our beds, we started to laugh. We’d both managed to make it home safe with all of our things. It might have been challenging, and a little scary, but we’d done it! And despite all of it, I felt pretty pleased with us for having done so. We were able to find our way through two large cities, at times without any internet or phone service, or anyone else to help us. It is a nice confidence boost to know that even when everything goes wrong, you can still turn out fine. I’m a worrier, but after this experience it is a comfort to know that I’m also a problem solver, and I can take care of myself.
So tonight on my first holiday away from home, on a night where we celebrate what frightens us, I want to celebrate having been frightened, and having come out alright. Happy Halloween!
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