Sunday, May 5, 2013

SPRING BREAK 2013 Pt. 2b: Days 5 & 6 of London, England

London continued: Harry Potter Studio, Windsor, Stonehenge, and Bath!

Day 5 - Monday, 5 April
So the 5th of April was one of the best days of my life. On this day, Sarah and I went to Leavesden in London, to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour.

We spent from 10:30 in the morning to after 6 in the evening here. Why is this place so important, you ask? Well let me tell you - it's the location of the Harry Potter filming studios, where the movies were filmed and a large portion of the props reside. It was amazing. Harry Potter is so important to me (as anyone who knows me can attest), so I was essentially walking on air the entire time. I was so overwhelmed with my excitement and wonder and just my love for everything Potter that I never wanted to leave!

I took over 500 photos that day... So I don't even know where to start to show you the Studios... Here are a few pictures that I picked out to try and give you a sense of where Sarah and I spent the day:

The Great Hall

Gryffindor Common Room

Dumbledore's Office


Entrance to the Chamber of Secrets (left) and the inside of  a Gringotts Bank vault door (right)

The Burrow, showing Fred and George's outfits

#4 Privet Drive

Ford Anglia


Selfie in Diagon Alley

Hogwarts model

After sadly leaving the Studios, we were going to try and make it to Abbey Road. But, we were exhausted and weren't even 100% positive how to get there, so we decided to just call it a day.

I may have spent a little bit too much money in the gift shop but I am not even sorry.

Day 6 - Tuesday, 6 April
On Tuesday, we had booked a tour that would take us to Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath! It was so cool! We were on a bus tour with some thirty others and a really cool tour guide. Windsor was really nice - we walked around in the drizzling rain and got to see the beautiful castle. The Queen was actually at Windsor while we were there! Unfortunately we didn't see her.... sigh.

Stonehenge was SO COOL. I was really excited to see it - easily what I was most excited for out of the day trip. I am fascinated by the mystery that surrounds Stonehenge, and I was absolutely blown away to be able to see, in person, a landmark that I've heard about my entire life.

Finally, the last stop of the day was Bath. We bought tickets to go inside to see the Roman baths - again, so cool. 

SPRING BREAK 2013 Pt. 2a: Days 1-4 of London, England

I've been putting off blogging this not because I don't want to write about it, but because I know I'm going to want to write thousands and thousands of words about it and I don't want to have to edit myself. I had the best time, and this could very easily go down as my favorite part of my entire study abroad experience. I know Scotland probably doesn't appreciate that, and I did have a lot of AMAZING experiences in Scotland - I just love London so much, and Sarah and I had the opportunity to do a lot of things I've been wanting to do for a very long time. I'm going to break this up into three posts - London days 1-4, London days 5&6, and then Cardiff (days 7&8).

Day 1: Thursday, 4 April was purely a travel day - all day on a bus, wheeee.

Day 2: Friday, 5 April
Being the nerds we are, the first thing Sarah and I did in London was go to the British museum. We spent a good four hours in this giant museum, and we still didn't see everything. It was amazing to be surrounded by so much history. We saw the Rosetta Stone, and parts of sculptures from the Parthenon. I really enjoyed the Egypt exhibit as well.

The Rosetta Stone

After we left the British Museum, we walked to Oxford Circle and Picadilly Circle, and decided to wander around Hamley's - a giant toy store. And, since we are apparently five years old, we stumbled upon a Build-a-Bear store inside Hamley's and fell in love with one of the bears.... I had never done a Build-a-Bear, so we decided that it was happening. Meet Sarah's Sherlock, and my Watson:

They have little "I <3 Great Britain" patches over their hearts, and they are perfect.

After falling in love and creating our bears, we somehow managed to find ourselves in St. James' Park, where we found the Royal Guard Parade building. We continued to wander, and accidentally stumbled upon Downing Street - the official residence of the Prime Minister! We knew it was in the area, but it was completely on accident that we ended up there. There were (obviously) guards and a giant fence blocking the way, but it was still really cool. From there, we were about a five minute walk from Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster. We took a lot of photos, and we were still around when it got dark outside - so we got to see Big Ben all lit up! It was beautiful. We crossed Westminster Bridge, and then headed back to our hotel for the night.

Parliament and Big Ben

Today was just a great day in terms of luck - the weather was good, and we kept finding ourselves at important places without really truly intending to get there. It was a great start to our London adventure.

Day 3: Saturday, 6 April
On Saturday, we took the tube down to Baker Street! For those of you who aren't familiar with the importance of that street, 221b Baker Street is the legendary dwelling of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novels/short stories. I love mysteries, and the story of Sherlock Holmes has always fascinated me. I love both the Robert Downy Jr./Jude Law movies, and the BBC TV series with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, and I've recently started reading the stories.  It was really cool to see the inside of 221b Baker Street. My favorite part was probably Watson's room.

After geeking out in 221b, we took the tube to St. Paul's Underground station, and then wandered around until we found St. Bartholomew's Hospital. St. Bart's Hospital was another Sherlock landmark - from the BBC series. It's a touchy landmark however, seeing as it is the site of Sherlock's alleged suicide. Outside of St. Bart's is a red phone box, covered with little notes to Sherlock - many contain messages such as "I believe in Sherlock Holmes" and "Moriarty is real" - basically, notes from people who watch the series. Sarah and I wrote our own little notes, and found a way to add them to the others. I'd been dreaming of trying to find this phone box every since I heard about it months ago, so this was really cool for me.

    "I'm alive!"  (and hi Sarah)  and my note to Sherlock.                       

St. Bart's Hospital with the telephone box on the left

After St. Bart's, we switched gears from Sherlock to Harry Potter and went to King's Cross Station to see the official Platform 9 3/4. It was basically everything I've ever wanted. We took photos, and then went into the store - which I basically had to be dragged out of, with Sarah reminding me that we'd be at the Harry Potter Studios on Monday.

We ended the night with our third obsession - Doctor Who! There was a new episode on, and this was the first episode Sarah or I had EVER seen on live television, so it was pretty exciting for us. I skyped with Mommy dearest for a little, and Sarah and I watched hilarious British reality TV while pretending to work on our final essays for one of our classes.

Day 4 - Sunday, 7 April
When we set out on Sunday morning, we had a list of like three places we wanted to hit, and then we were just going to wander. We started by trying to find Crystal Palace - where we were told there were DINOSAURS. Unfortunately, the Underground/train lines did not want to cooperate with us and we lost like two hours attempting to get there. We then gave up and moved on to go to Earl's Court to see what used to be an actual Police Box - and was referenced on the latest episode of Doctor Who :) So, I present to you, TARDIS #5:

We were kind of just like standing there (I may have been stroking the TARDIS....), when a woman passed by and offered to take a photo for us - "Whovians gotta stick together!" she said, and we heartily agreed. I love nice people.

After saying goodbye to the blue box, we headed back into central London, and walked around Hyde Park for quite some time. After we snacked on some ice cream, we decided to go to Buckingham Palace. We had decided that we didn't need to see the changing of the guards, since I had seen it last summer when I was in London with my Oxford study abroad, and Sarah would see it this summer with her Oxford study abroad. Since we avoided that tourist insanity, it wasn't all that crowded when we went, which was great. We took lots of pictures and then played my favorite traveling game - Spot the Americans - to see who to ask to take our photo for us.

(we won the game)

When we had gotten our fill of Buckingham Palace, we walked back to Parliament and Big Ben, and then walked along the River Thames. We had a really nice dinner at a place called Giraffe - it was delicious. After Giraffe, we went back to the hotel and I skyped Papasito for a while, and then Sarah and I started to watch What A Girl Wants before we decided we were exhausted, and passed out instead.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

SPRING BREAK 2013 Pt. 1c: Liverpool, England

Day 8. Sunday, 31 March
Today, we bid adieu to Ireland, and made our way to England! We took a bus to the airport at five in the morning for our flight - and what a quick flight it was. It took less than a half an hour between takeoff in Dublin and landing in Liverpool! By 9 in the morning, we had stored our luggage at a train station, and set off to spend the next six-ish hours exploring Liverpool.

It was Easter Sunday, so we weren't sure what exactly would be open. We had planned on trying to see a lot of Beatles landmarks, but it turns out that Liverpool was a lot larger than we realized... Many of the landmarks we wanted to see were quite a distance away. So instead, we found The Beatles Story museum, and went to town. There was also a little Elvis exhibit down the road a little that our tickets gave us access to, so we spent most of our time between those two places. It was a simply gorgeous day in Liverpool - especially compared to the freezing days we had been having in Ireland.

At 3 in the afternoon, we boarded our bus that would take us from Liverpool back to Glasgow. It was quite the ride, but thankfully it went by pretty fast. We were back in Glasgow by about nine that evening, and despite sleeping pretty much the whole ride, I was exhausted.

The next three days were spent lazing around and then preparing for London!

And that is the conclusion to Part 1 of our fantastical Spring Break!

SPRING BREAK 2013 Pt. 1b: The Republic of Ireland

The continued adventures of Ireland!

Day 4. Wednesday, 27 March
Today we left Northern Ireland and headed back down into the Republic of Ireland. We first stopped at Sligo, and then at the grave of a national poet - Nobel laureate W.B. Yates. It was pretty awesome! After these stops, we drove to Galway. We stayed at a hostel called Sleepzone, where for the first time in Ireland, we didn't have to sleep in our leggings and sweatshirts! Sarah and I wandered around Shop Street in Galway for about two hours. Sarah's main goal in terms of souvenirs for Ireland was to find a Clauddagh ring. We checked out a few stores, and then ended up going back to the first one, where we both picked out our favorite. We ended up matching... oops. I am absolutely obsessed with mine.

(I just realized I hadn't taken a photo of the ring, so I just took this one. So, here is a photo of my favorite Ireland souvenir, taken in our London hotel...)

We checked out a few touristy shops, and then took an hour or two break in the hostel before meeting up with the rest of our Paddywagon tour for a pub night dinner. We all ate together at The Skeff. This was the first time I'd really spent time in a pub this trip, and I was loving the atmosphere. I got the Steak and Guinness pie, and it was delicious. After the pub, Sarah and I wandered off in search of live music. We were not disappointed! We went into Taaafes Pub and each ordered a beer - at the advice of the bartender, I decided to try a Smithwick's red beer. I quite liked it! We nursed our drinks for a little less than an hour before the live music came on at about 9:30. It was a guitarist, a violinist, and an irish drummer. They were great, and it was the perfect end to the day.

Day 5. Thursday, 28 March
Thursday we hit two major Irish landmarks - The Cliffs of Moher, and the Blarney Castle. I was fortunate enough to have been to these places before, with my family during our European travels but it had been quite a while! We ended the day in Kilarney.

The Cliffs of Moher were as breathtaking as I had remembered. They are unbelievable - I had to just stop and stare for a while. It was a real reminder of how small we all are in the scheme of things. The Cliffs are probably my favorite landmark from the entire trip.

A memorial. They also had a sign that read 'Need to talk?' with a hotline to call.

After Cliffs of Moher, we drove to Blarney Castle. I remember kissing the Blarney Stone when I was younger, but I don't remember seeing the rest of the castle, so this was really fun for me. We kissed the stone, wandered through the Castle, and even spent some time in the Poison Garden - a new personal favorite! They had a lot of poisonous plants that I had heard about before, and it was really cool to read about them and recall specifically what they each did.

For dinner, we ate at Eddie Rockets - it was a diner style restaurant that made me miss the US! At the hostel, Sarah and I had our own room - it was awesome. 

Day 6. Friday, 29 March (Good Friday)
We started the day with a horse-drawn carriage ride through Kilarney National Park. It was absolutely freezing outside, but the view was so beautiful that I (almost) didn't care. After, we drove to the Dingle Peninsula, where we had lunch, took pictures with Fungie the dolphin, and wandered the town. We had a quick stop at Kilkarnie Bay, where you can see a mountain known as the Sleeping Giant, because it looks like a man laying on his back. Nice, calm photo stop... and then it got interesting. We had met up with another Paddywagon bus tour at this photo stop - the other bus driver, Sean (not our Seanie) decided he wanted to touch the Atlantic Ocean. So, he took off his shoes and got into the water... Mind you,  it's freaking freezing out side and that water was outrageous. It all started okay, but then took a turn for the worse. An extremely powerful wave came up the bay and he couldn't get out of the water fast enough - he was completely knocked over and soaked head to toe. When the wave retreated, we saw him kind of just crouching where we had last seen him. He couldn't move. Two brave souls had to run in and help him out. After some chaos, it ended up that our bus driver Seanie had to take him (and his bus with his group) to the nearest emergency room while our bus hung out and had to wait for another driver to come from about an hour away to take us to our hostel for the night. Turns out the other driver tore some ligaments and will be out of commission for a while... but no concussion so that's good.

The Atlantic Ocean!

Tragedy struck...

We stayed the night at a Paddywagon Pub named The Randy Leprechaun. I tried Heineken, and then Sarah and I decided to each do a Car Bomb - what that was: A half pint of Guinness, and then a shot glass with a shot of Bailey's and some Jameson whiskey. You drop the shot glass into the Guinness, and then you're supposed to chug it and it theoretically tastes like chocolate milk? I am basically incapable of chugging anything (including water) and I just tasted the Bailey's, but it was fun and yummy so that was cool. We also tasted a little bit of whiskey (as in, a sip and decided that nope I was good) a little later in the evening. We hung out with other Paddywagoners for a little, and actually met some Ohioans who were studying in Florence. Then, it was off to bed. The next day would be our last with Paddywagon, sadly.

Day 7. Saturday, 30 March
Today was a pretty short day - we stopped at Adare and saw some thatched roof cottages, and then it was off to the Guinness Storehouse! We went through and saw how Guinness was made, and then got a free pint! I couldn't drink more than half of mine - I am apparently not a fan of Guinness. After Guinness, we drove the last little bit back to the Dublin Paddywagon hostel, and said goodbye to Seanie... sad day! But we had a great time touring with him - I really couldn't have picked a better guide!

Seanie and "The Sister Act" (as he called us...)

We had dinner with a lot of our new Paddywagon friends at O'Shea's Pub, hung out and played some games in the pub, and then headed out. Early the next morning we were off to Liverpool, England!!

Friday, April 5, 2013

SPRING BREAK 2013 Pt. 1a: Northern Ireland

Here at Glasgow, we have a beautiful three weeks for our Easter Break (UK equivalent of the States' Spring Break).
Sarah and I decided we would rather spend quality time at a few places rather than do a billion different day trips. We planned one week in Ireland, on a 6-day tour of the entirety of Ireland plus one day in Liverpool, England, and then five days in London followed by two days in Cardiff (Wales).

Ireland was AMAZING. It was quite... chilly... but it was fantastic. We went on a tour with Paddywagon tours - and that was the best decision ever. Each night we stayed in a different hostel, so we now have a lot of experience with hostels!

Prepare for a really long post... I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry. In my defense, it was 8 days of doing like two or three places a day... I'll break up the posts by Northern Ireland, The Republic of Ireland, and then Liverpool.

Day 1. Sunday, 24 March
We were up by 2 a.m. on Sunday to take a taxi to Buchanan Bus Station, where we took a bus to Prestwick airport for our 7 a.m flight. We didn't have any problems with our flight (thankfully), and we had arrived in Dublin, Ireland by about 8 in the morning. We got some food while we waited for the 10 o'clock Paddywagon bus to take us to the hostel. We were told to look for a bright green bus... but we never saw it. Turns out the bus was white that day... Rude. But, we took a different bus and were even refunded the cost - horray! It was a freezing morning, and we were a bit grumpy from having to wait out in the cold wind, but it was okay. We got over it! After some trial and error, we found the Paddywagon hostel and dropped our suitcases off. Then, we were off to brave the freezing Ireland weather to explore Dublin for a few hours. We lasted a little while, but there wasn't much to do other than souvenir shopping, so after about two or three hours, we headed back to our hostel to warm up and relax. Our tour officially starts tomorrow!

Day 2. Monday, 25 March
Our 6-day tour of Ireland started today. We loaded up onto a bright leprechaun green bus and off we went! Our tour guide/bus driver was named Seanie, and he's the absolute best. There were about 32 of us on the tour. Our first stop was in Drogheda, where we stopped and saw St. Peter's Cathedral. Inside the cathedral was the preserved head of Saint Oliver Plunkett, who was drawn and quartered in 1681. That was some old head...

After Drogheda, we headed to Northern Ireland to see Belfast. Since Northern Ireland is part of the UK, it uses pound sterling (£) while the rest of Ireland (The Republic of Ireland) uses the euro (€).

In Belfast, we took a Black Taxi tour, which took us around Belfast and we learned about the tensions present in Northern Ireland - both religious and political. I knew that there was a Protestant/Catholic divide that was a big deal, but I guess I didn't realize just how big of a deal it was. In addition, there is the divide between people who agree that Northern Ireland should behave like the UK and people who say Ireland is Ireland, and are not fond of the British identity. We saw the Peace Wall and a lot of political murals, and learned about terrorist bombings between the two factions and related hunger strikes. It was pretty heavy stuff.

After the taxi tour, we had lunch and hung out with some tour friends in the hostel lobby while we waited for our toes to thaw - we were so cold it felt like we had never before been warm in our entire lives. Ireland felt so much colder than Scotland - though it was probably due to the high winds and the fact that we were just outside for a really long period of time. We spent the evening in the hostel, and Sarah read Harry Potter out loud to me... it was a nice evening in, especially since we were freezing and exhausted!

Day 3. Tuesday, 26 March
We started the day by going to Carrick-a-Rede Rope bridge - it was really windy there but it was gorgeous and we did a bit of a mini-hike that kept us pretty warm. We didn't cross the actual rope bridge (it was way too windy for me to feel safe doing that...) but we got some really good photos of the scenery.

After Carrick-a-Rede, we headed to Giant's Causeway!! We apparently took the hard way down - a long, cliff edge walkway. It was exhausting! We spent some time exploring the rocks and taking fun photos. Then, we found an easier way to get back up..... oops. We ate lunch, got ice cream (yeah, I know... we got ice cream when it was absolutely freezing out? yes. yes we did.), and then back on the bus!

We drove to Derry (sometimes called Londonderry - but not all appreciate that name...), where we learned more about the tensions about 'Irish' vs. 'British' from an awesome walking guide. After the walking tour, we grabbed some dinner and then stopped at Tesco to pick up some snacks and wine coolers, and then back to the hostel! Sarah read Harry Potter out loud for a bit while we enjoyed our wine coolers, and then she read HP by herself and I read more of The Fault in Our Stars. The hostel had two acoustic guitars laying around, so I took five minutes and kind of just held one and strummed a single chord... Even though I really can't play at all,  I miss my guitars and pretending to play! There was also a black cat sleeping in the hostel living room - it was basically dead to the world, and hardly moved when I started to pet it. It also made me miss my baby - I love you, Tiger! I'm coming home soon!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Science Fiction, Double Feature...

To prove Sarah wrong, I decided to pause my episode of Community and write another blog post before going to bed.

So, my 20th birthday was the 26 of February (a Tuesday). To celebrate, we ate part of a fantastic cake that Sarah got for me and watched a movie.

It took us like two weeks to eat all of it.. but it was sooooo goood.
You can also see the chocolate she got me - my favorite Cadbury!
She's a keeper, this one.

But, the fun was just beginning. A few weeks back I had found out that a live performance of the Rocky Horror Picture Show was coming to Glasgow. Needless to say, I was excited out of my mind. Sarah agreed to go with me, and we got tickets! So, on Thursday the 28th of February, we walked down to Kings Theatre and spent the evening singing/screaming our hearts out with the rest of the audience and cast. I had never been to a live showing of Rocky Horror, but I kind of knew what to expect. Sometimes a live showing of Rocky Horror consists of actors acting/singing along onstage while the movie plays in the background, but what we went to was an entire theatrical performance with set changes and everything. it was AMAZING.

Now, there are certain things the audience is supposed to yell and throw during the performance. Unfortunately, the throwing of things was not allowed in this performance, but we still got to yell the traditional parts.  (Near the end of the performance, Sarah and I could sort of hear the Scottish accents drifting back to the performers' speech, but until I heard that, I didn't even notice that they were speaking with an 'American' accent... how soon we forget.)

Here's our view from the Gallery seats we had. 
We were waiting for the curtains to rise - shivering with antici.........................pation.

A shot of the set! 
This was taken during intermission, before they dropped the curtains back down to reset the stage.

We struggled to get a picture, but this is probably the best one :)

It was so much fun, and one of the best experiences for me. It was exhilarating to be surrounded by the energy and chaos of Rocky Horror and just a live performance in general. I am so glad we got to go!

(so there, Sarah. I do NOT sit on a throne of lies, and YOU smell like beef and cheese.)