The start of a whirlwind experience

Hey all you faithful readers (and non-faithful ones as well), you're about to enter another incredible reading (incredible because of where I went and how long it's going to be...). It's been a busy day so far and I'm just now getting to sit down and fill you in even more. I just finished playing a 3 hour session of Guitar Hero's II and III, so forgive me if my fingers are not all here. Right then, ready to embark?

Strap on your hiking boots, grab your litre of Evian, a good stick and a snack and get ready for another adventure.

I wonder where I went this time :-)

2 December 2007: Forums, fountains, food, and friends

So, I hope you remember from the last Europe post that I am in Rome at the moment, saw the Colosseum (almost cried, twice), and had a wonderful relaxing evening. Today is no different. Let us begin!

We woke up late (for us at least - 9:30) because we didnt have to be out of the hostel until 11. Praise the Lord we can sleep! Anyway, got ready (that was a nice ordeal...*ahem*) and left. Walked towards the Colosseum (because everything is that way), which takes about 15 or 20 minutes. But a nice walk all the same. Went through the park there right in front of the Colosseum and continued on our way. As we were walking towards our next destination, we got stopped by a Roman Gladiator. Well, Jordan did. Apparently, the Italian guy thought it would be funny to tell Jordan that he was Jesus. How anyone can mistake Jordan for Jesus completely bewilders me. Jordan has red hair and does not look in the least bit Middle Eastern. But whatever he said made us laugh (though it probably shouldn't have) and we ignored him because that's what you do in Europe - ignore anyone who comes up to you. After our laugh, we passed the Arc that is right in front of the Colosseum and headed to the Roman Forum. I didn't know anything about it (and, I must be honest, I don't know much more now) but it was interesting and filled with all kinds of old stone remains, etc. Sanctuaries were the most common things that had been put there. But we also explored an ENORMOUS house on the hilltop, which our Colosseum ticket got us into. We didn't have much time to look around since the audio guide was due back in two hours, but what we did see was pretty cool. I finally saw a Roman Bath (since I missed the ones in Bath, England) and what looked like an arena. Other than that, one can only guess what had been there. When something Roman decides it doesn't want to stand anymore, it takes a big fall, so it's hard to really be able to look at something and guess what it was for unless one had documented evidence, which I was very short on. But I had fun exploring the gardens and walking around the ruins and trying to guess what they had been in centuries past. It was awesome.

Since we only had the audio guide for a short time, we decided that it would be a good idea to use it. We had to pick and choose what we wanted to see, but I think we picked some good ones. Not that I'm an expert in ANYTHING we saw, but it was interesting at the time. I have never seen more stone ruins in one place than I saw here. Most things only had maybe a pillar or two standing, some had a foundation left and that was it, some things were still intact pretty well. If I remember correctly, the buildings in the forum spanned several hundred years, and many emperors, including Nero. I walked down a HUGE stone walkway that was put in place by Nero (and when I say huge, I mean, the stones were as big as I am). I think it used to be blue, but you really couldn't tell very well, unless you were an expert and I am VERY far from that.

See how it's falling apart? I thought it was cool that the brick was still standing

A bridge and a tree right in the middle of this house on the hill thing

These bronze doors are older than the birth of Jesus. Wow - and they are the ORIGINAL doors. Talk about sturdy

This was a cool santuary thing that I don't remember anything about except that invaders tried to tear down the pillars. Well, they didn't succeed but you can still see where they put the chains at the top to try and bring it down.

See? Besides the previous picture, this was just about the only other thing that was still intact...sort of.

Yeah, that was the Roman Forum. After that, we left and found a Scottish pub to eat at. It was really good. Then we explored some of the stores before continuing to our next location. I KNOW you will recognize it as soon as I put a picture of it up here. You ready?

Guess away!

If you don't recognize this, you better study up on your Roman tourist sites. Now, exactly WHY this fountain is so significant, I haven't the slightest idea. But it's pretty, isn't it? Oh, and it's even better at night when it's all lit up. Ok, if you don't recognize it, I shall enlighten you - Trevi Fountain. I will never understand the significance of a "famous fountain" unless it was somewhere Jesus was baptized at, but that was in the Jordan River. No fountains... So, like I said, I don't know why this fountain is signficant, except for the fact that the Romans built it, but it is. And it's pretty. We spent a bit of time here,

Throwing coins over our shoulders and making wishes...

Taking pictures (look how excited Kaity is to see Trevi Fountain!)...

Running our fingers in the water...

And studying the intricate stone carvings of this magnificent waterhole.

I can't tell you how many times workers came up and asked to take my picture. CLEARLY they didn't see that I had my own camera and was taking pictures for myself... *sigh* anything to make a Euro I suppose. After exploring and taking pictures to our hearts content, we went back up the little street we had come down and got Gelati. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's basically Italian ice cream - gooey, and MUCH sweeter than American Ice Cream, but AH-Mazing!

My gelati, a little on the bright side

Me and Kaity sharing gelati, a little on the blurry side

And don't forget the 35 Euro jar of Nutella - I wonder how long that would have fed us....

Yeah...I never want to eat that much Nutella...EVER! I got pretty sick of it after a whole week of eating just that, crackers, and bread. Thank goodness we were saved! But more on that later...

Yes, gelati was amazing but as we ate, we continued to our next destination. Someplace I had never heard of, but had seen it in movies. Anyone recognize these?

Something called the Spanish Steps perhaps? Yeah. Cool, huh? My pictures are being stupid at the moment, so this is one off the internet, but it's by far better than any one that I have. Like them? Me too. But there were lots of people there - found two couples making out on the steps. They were really funny to watch - but that didn't happen for very long.

So the fountain at the Steps

was pretty awesome.

I drank out of it. Don't believe me? Check it out...

See? And for those of you who think the water in Rome is bad - you would be terribly wrong. It's better (MUCH better) than Searcy water and almost as good as Memphis water. Best water I had had to drink since before I left for Europe. It was delightful - just rolled over your tongue like a soft cloth. Oh it was heaven...for about 5 seconds because there were other people waiting. The two pictures are two different incidences, so yeah. I drank TWICE. Wahoo!

After that, we climbed back up the steps (because we had come out on the top) and went back to the hostel. It took 30 minutes to get back, but we made it in time for dinner that night (remember the free dinner? Mmmm, pasta!) which was awesome. I also met Ruth who was on a 6 month travel and was finishing up in Rome. She was 9 days away from being home in Belgium (but she's an American) and she was so excited. She had a 13 year old daughter that she hadn't seen for 6 months, so I know she was ready to get home. But we talked all through dinner. I told her where we were going the next day and she asked if she could come along. Of course it was ok. She had been tagging along with people since she started her journey and the three of us were more than happy to have her accompany us on our next excursion. Where is that?

You will have to find out next time.

Until then,




A very special Christmas

This post has nothing to do with Europe, but I thought I would share it.

About a year ago, a family placed membership at our church. I knew nothing about them, only that they had a son named Cole who was 3 at the time. After a few weeks, I noticed him and his dad together. Both had shaved heads. I thought this was a pretty cool father/son thing...until my dad told me that Cole had leukemia. His dad had shaved his head so Cole wouldn't feel bad about not having any hair. I kept up with Cole's chemo progress for the next year through my mom who read Mrs. Casper's blog about Cole's medical progress. Just before I left for England, I received news that Cole was not doing very well. At the time, his dad had gone back to their hometown (since Cole was in Memphis at St. Jude Children's Hospital) for work. Cole's buddy was missing when he was needed the most. I wanted to cry for him. I left for England and didn't hear anything for a couple of weeks. Then, I heard that Cole was in isolation. How terrifying for a child so young to have no contact with the outside world - barely even his parents. I prayed for him everytime I thought about him. He had been so strong. Everytime I saw him, he always had a smile on his face. I never would have guessed Cole had been fighting cancer because he was so strong. That was the last I heard until this morning at church. I was blessed to get to sit a couple of rows behind Cole and his parents (Cole is about 4 now, I believe) and noticed that he was not as bald as I had remembered. I wondered if that meant he was getting better... The answer came just a couple of moments later when it was announced (and it was news to me) that Cole had been cured of his two year battle with cancer. I lost it inside. Tears welled in my eyes as I thought of the brave little child in front of me. He was so happy. Every time I've seen him, he has given me hope. Cole never gave up, neither did his parents, even when things got bad.

Cole will never know how he has touched my life. I doubt he will ever know how many people he has encouraged by just being strong. What a terrible thing to have to go through at so young an age, but how wonderful it is that he conquered with flying colors!

I know that Cole's parents could not have asked for a better gift for Christmas - their son, alive and whole and back in the game.

Sometimes, the biggest blessings come in the smallest packages.

God bless you, Cole, as you have blessed everyone around you.

Merry Christmas!



Let's start traveling free!

Hello to all my faithful followers! You are about to embark on a journey around Europe - covering 9 cities, 5 countries and only in two and a half weeks. Think it's a bit much in just 18 days? Nah. It was an adventure everyday. You ready to take off on the fastest 18 days ever? Wonderful. Make sure your seat belt is buckled low and tight across your waist, your tray table is folded in the upright position and your seat is completely forward - now we're ready for take off!!

1 December 2007: A journey begins...with no sleep

So, Kaity, Jordan, and I left our flat for the last time at 10:00 PM and headed to Gatwick Airport. This involved taking the Tube several stops and tube station run-throughs to Victoria station in order to catch the Southern train lines to Gatwick. We didn't have tickets at the time and the automatic "do-it-yourself" machines wouldn't take our cards so Kaity stood in the slowest que and the only que to get tickets. The guy gave her a whole lot of trouble and for no real reason. Both Kaity and I got upset but suspected that it was because it was late and that we were Americans that he had the right to be rude. Oh well. It happens. But we got the tickets and borded the 11:30 train to the station. By this point, we were all tired but ready to take on an adventure, the likes of which none of us had ever gone on. It was exciting, to be sure, but first we had to get out of London.

We got to the train station and there is no one in any kiosk to let us check our bags, so we lug them all upstairs to the food section of the airport and look for a comfortable spot to rest until our 6:50 AM flight. We found a bench at Cafe Nero, which was open 24 hours a day and for which Kaity was eternally grateful (since she loves coffee, almost more than anything else) and set our stuff down just to wait. Apparently, there had been a strike at the airport into which we were flying and spent about 2 hours freaking out that our flight had been canceled, but for no reason. We flew out at 6:50 - the canceled flight left at 7:05. Thank goodness Kaity booked the ONLY non-canceled flight. I bet you're wondering where we were going, aren't you? Yeah, you are. :-)

Kaity and I watched Troy a bit before she decided to try and get some shut eye. I don't actually know if either Jordan or Kaity slept, but they said they didn't. I didn't sleep at all. I kept watch over the bags - mostly because I was paranoid that someone would take something since it is Europe and pickpockets are everywhere. But I busied myself with Snake, Bubble Breaker and Solitare - for 4 hours. Yay... There would be time to sleep later, when we got to our hostle in .... oh, I forgot. I'm not telling you yet.

Well, I "woke" up my two comrades in arms at 4 am and we went and got our luggage checked, went through security, and hung out in the shopping area until our platform number was announced. When we found that out, we walked to it - forever away, but still. Waited some more until we could board, hopped on the plane and settled in for a 4 hour flight to a totally different country. The only thing we were not excited about was the fact that there was NO leg room on the plane at all. My knees were bumping into the seat in front of me, and I have short legs. I felt bad for any tall person who was riding on the plane. We fly for a while and I get a bit of sleep, but not much since I have a hard time sleeping on planes. But I did wake up one time and see the tops of the Swiss Alps. Isn't that cool! Does that give you a hint as to where we were headed? South. What's south? you may ask.

We landed in a state of exhiliaration - we were totally in .... *sigh* When we pulled into the holding bay, we heard the familiar welcome we had become used to...in Italian. Yes we were in Italy. But there are so many places to go in Italy! Well, this happens to be the center of all things Roman.

Yeah, I know - I'm lame, but we were in Rome! I was so excited and so very grateful that our flight had not been canceled. I honestly don't know what we would have done. But no use in worrying about that anymore for we had arrived! It took us a while to get on the bus, since the airport is on the very outskirts of Rome, but we finally made it. What was supposed to take 25 minutes, took an hour and a half because the traffic in Rome is awful! There are too many cars. But since everytime Rome tries to build another line to their existing, but small Metro System they always run into more ancient Romans ruins and have to stop. *sigh* I guess it's the price you pay for living in such an old city. On the way to the hostel, we passed all kinds of old stuff - like palace ruins and aqueducts. As soon as I saw the aqueducts I started crying - ye olde softie am I - because I couldn't believe that these things were still around! They were over 2000 years old and still standing. Not they they were whole or anything, but most of them still stood and it was really cool to see something older than Jesus' birth still around. We finally got to our hostle, which was didn't think was in a good part of town, but over the next few days, it got better. We checked in and went out on the town since we weren't allowed to stay just yet (lock out was from 11 until 4 for cleaning). We just walked and guess what we found?? This:

Yep - we walked through a park and, BAM, there it was in all its Roman splendour. I about cried again (me and my historical pitifulness...oh, I love it) but I didn't. We decided we wanted to conquer the Colosseum, so we did. We got in the long que, went through security, and got our tickets. One thing about Europe - if you are a student, well, that's nice, but you have to be European citizen in order to get discounts most places. It would have helped at the Colosseum, since admission is 11 Euro, but I would have paid more than that to get inside. Just about everything I did during the next 17 days was something I had dreamed all my life of doing. Now, I was standing in the Colosseum - the epitomy of fire exits. We went inside and spent over an hour just meandering through it. It's not as big as the pictures make it out to be - therefore I was very surprised at how small it was. But it was really cool. It's all falling apart and has been patched with concrete to keep it together (which is sad, but who wants it to fall down?) but you can see the labyrinth below where the floor was. It's a bit hard to imagine what it would have looked like, at least for me, since you really can't tell where people are supposed to sit, but there are still the impossibly steep stairways haunting many a dark corner. We walked up one in order to get to the second level and realized why, in all Roman sculpture, every person has amazing gluets - it was because of those steep, tall staircases they had to climb up all the time. It was definitely a workout. After having come from London where there is nothing BUT steps, I thought I was ready for Roman steps - yeah, I was wrong. Not these Roman steps - they were killer. And don't try running down them either because you just might die. The steps themselves are tall and narrow - room for almost 3/4 of one's foot to tread and that's it. But since the Romans were not tall people, we can't harp too much on their lack of spacious stairways.
(stairway in Colosseum - but the picture doesn't give this stair justice)

I called my mom from the Colosseum and both she and my dad were so excited that I was standing there. I almost cried again - third time in a day. That's a bit sad. But who wouldn't when you're standing in the shadow of the great Colosseum. The sun started setting while we were still exploring this wonderful place (the sun starts setting at about 3 pm). I saw most of a sunset in the Colosseum and it was beautiful.
(see? Pretty!)

After that, we decided to head back to the hostel and get some sleep - besides, we had free dinner at 7 and we didn't want to miss that. So we headed back and rested in the hostel for a while, ate a dinner of pasta, met some of the other people staying in the hostel, and went to bed at about 10 since we were all wiped.

What a whirlwind first day, but one worth remembering forever.

I still had 17 days left in Europe and I wondered what they would all bring.

That's all for right now, guys. I still have unpacking to do and my room is a wreck. But I will have some more up about free travel when I can.

Ciao for now!



Last Week in London

Hey all - again it has been a while and I've got another three weeks to catch you up on, but my goal is to have you all caught up by this weekend since I'm home and don't have very many things to take up my time :-)

I owe it to you to complete my journeys across the European continent. You ready for another one? Wonderful!

25 November 2007: Last Sunday in London

Just as the previous line says, this was indeed the last Sunday in London. I couldn't believe it was almost over! After having looked forward to this past semester for 4 years, it was hard to believe that it was actually coming to an end. It's still something that I have a hard time trying to grasp. But it was the last Sunday (and the longest sermon ever!), but I had no time to enjoy it because I had to study for exams that week. There never seems to be an end to school work, does there? Alas, I spent the rest of the day studying for finals, which, in all actuality, were not as bad I as had envisioned. I'm pretty sure I aced...all of them.

Easiest exams ever, but much needed easy exams

26 November 2007: A Monday night sighting

We had classes as usual this lovely day (finals started on Wednesday) which was kind of sad. It was the last day of classes and I knew I was going to miss Brit Lit. I really liked that class. My favorite that semester, easy as it was :-) Thanks Ms. Dillion. After class, I went and did more studiousness (oh the joys of school....and procrastination). I actually had a science test that afternoon for my independent study class, so I went and took that test at 5 and was done in 10 minutes. Yeah! I got back and learned that two of my room mates had left to go to the Odeon to see the Premiere of The Magic Flute, directed by Kenneth Branagh. He happens to be Julie's FAVORITE director ever! She knows so much about him and talked about him whenever she talked about all things Hollywood entertainment. So she and Kaitlin went to see if he was going to make an appearance - and he did. Julie got a picture with him and his autograph on his Much Ado About Nothing DVD. That was cool. I actually didn't really know who he was so I IMDB'd him to find out. I only recognized a couple of things he did, among which (since you know that I'm a Harry Potter fan) was Professor Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Wait, I missed being able to see him! I was a bit sad that it was a little late to go, but that's the price you pay for not knowing things in advance. Oh well.
Well, hello Jen! (as she walks into our room).
Hey, guys. Who wants to go stalk Kenneth Branagh with me?
Wait, Jen you're going?
Um...Yeah! I didn't know the other two had gone so I'm going to see if I can spot him. Wanna come?
Yeah! Just give me 5 minutes to make and eat dinner. (and I did)

So I went with Jen to stalk Kenneth Branagh at the Odeon. We weren't there long before we saw him. The Premiere was already over but the movie was playing and Kenneth was coming out of the theatre about 30 minutes after the movie had started. Jen and I had been standing in front about 15 minutes when we saw him. I snapped a quick picture, but it looks funny....you can't really tell it him, but I promise it is!

He didn't sign anything - he got right into his car and drove away. Aww...sad day. Oh well. Maybe there will be a next time. We were both a little disappointed, but that's ok. I had better things to worry about....like the mountains of homework I still had left to do before finals...grr!

27 November 2007: Peacocks are friends with Shakespeare

This was our last Tuesday field trip, hence it was the last day with Tony, our awesome bus driver. We had all come to love Tony - he always gave our trips something extra special. So, can you guess where we went on this last Tuesday field trip? I'll tell you in time.

The first place was a castle (yep, England is full of them) that I had heard of perhaps only once but it didn't mean anything to me. But that doesn't mean I wasn't excited to go! We didn't learn hardly anything about the castle. In fact, I'm not sure we learned anything at all...oh well. It was still cool. Where did we go? Warwick (pronounced War-ick) castle. This place was pretty cool. It wasn't very big, but it had a couple of things that I hadn't seen in any other castle:

#1 A real dungeon

Where they put prisoners "in chains" and left him to die (they actually used this)

Complete with a basement for "special prisoners". They would put prisoners in here and forget about them. Literally. You go put in there and you were never heard from again.

#2 A trebuchet \/ \/ \/

There were also many wandering birds around the castle and its grounds. This made for some interesting times. Yay! Royal bird chasing! Check out Ian doing what he loves - bird watching.

Recognize this awesome bird? Yeah, there was a whole garden devoted to them that I didn't get to see because I didn't have enough time.

This was a cool enough castle - thousand year old elk horns, a narwhale horn, and several full horses and knights in armour. Pretty cool to walk around this place. The smells were interesting as well, but in a much less desirable way...

Yeah, on we go!

I liked that castle and walked around the whole thing, scaling walls and what not, getting really really dirty, but hanging with the coolest 10 year old on the planet. We had fun and were proud to sport our brown, rusted fingers and clothes. Yay for small, dank stairways! Favorite part...or not.

But I had fun.

The next location was a really cool one and one in which I wish I had had more then just 3 hours in. More like a day, or 3.

The second place was someplace I had heard about since at least middle school and I had always wanted to see it. It was some really old little town where some playwright named William Shakespeare was born and lived. Ever heard of him?? Only in some circles I guess - like the English class ones. So, Stratford-Upon-Avon was where we were heading! Yay!! Like I said, we didn't spend much time there. But I did get to see Shakespeare's birthplace, his and his family's grave, and Anne Hathaway's house - which is much prettier in the summer when all the flowers are in bloom. But the cottage is cute. The only place we (the people I was with) had time to explore was the gravesite. It was inside a church. Paid our 50 pence to get in to see it and were allowed to take pictures. Hallelujah! I got so excited. So I took some pictures. Here are a few from the collection:

His wife's grave marker

The man himself

I was so excited to see this sign! Mrs. Sanders, you are more then welcome to "borrow" this picture :-)

Like I said I saw his birthplace and his wife's cottage. Here are a couple of pics from those as well:

The actual house Shakespeare was born in

Me in front of his birthplace. Sorry if you can't read the sign...

Anne Hathaway's house - 2 miles away from everything

Isn't it cute?

So glad I got to see it

After we did a speed look at the cottage, we had to get back, since we had like 2 miles to walk to get back to the bus and it took a while. So we practically ran back to the town to get to the bus on time, else Tony was going to leave us. But I enjoyed Stratford-Upon-Avon a lot. It was all decorated for Christmas, so it was really cute and most of the buildings looked like they had been there since the 1500's, and many of them had. I also saw Shakeapeare's school and the charity houses, and the house of some guy named Harvard (you know, the one who founded Harvard University in the States?). Yeah, it was a good day. By this point, it's getting really cold in England, so being outside is not terribly fun. But I got used to it after a while and it wasn't so bad.

We also had a small party for Dr. Tullos as it was his birthday. Yay! We surprised him with a cake and ice cream and sang to him on the streetfront. It was pretty cool. We quickly to love the Tullos family - and Ian was always so excited to hang with the college kids. I'm going to miss not getting to see that 10 year old every day.

Moving on.

So we got back and I hadn't studied. Considering that finals were the next day, the situation was pretty bad. And it only got worse. I stayed up all night (not a wink of sleep) studying for finals the next day. I had to name all the second half of the English monarchs and three facts about each of them as well as the dates in which they reigned. It was intense, but really not that bad when it was over. I'm pretty positive that I got a 100 on that test (for having not slept, that's pretty good). But don't ask me to recite them because I don't remember them at all. Gone. Completely not in my head any more. That's how things go when you really don't want to learn things. Know what I mean? But yes, stayed up all night. It was awesome...but not really.

28 November 2007: Finals come with chicken

So, I took that monarchs final after not have slept at all and did well. But that didn't mean that I could sleep. Oh no! I still had more finals to take. So no sleep for me. Not yet at least. I did do some more homework but later went to Nando's Chicken restaurant with a few of the girls (Kaitlin, Chanel, Megan, Julie, Leah, Jillian, Amanda, and Courtney) and had a good time. Chicken is always a good thing to eat, especially since I hadn't hardly had ANY during my duration in England. Plus, they have free refills, so it's always worth the trip to go. (Free refills are almost a No-no in England, so it was nice to get a taste of home) The chicken at Nando's is really good and I was glad I went. Gave me an excuse not to study. But the other tests I was not worried about. I aced them all, just so you know. It was a really busy semester work wise, but really easy test wise. That's always a blessing. I didn't have to worry about any of my grades, except Science. I still don't know how well I did in that class (that was my online class), but I don't really care anymore. It's over and done with. Most pointless class I've ever had to deal with. I didn't learn a thing. I love those classes!

29 November 2007: Last finals, and these come with a pub dinner

Took my last finals - still did well. Nothing changed. It was so nice to be finished with school! Except that I still had Science homework to do - but that wasn't due until December 10, so I was done for the most part. Wahoo! Par-tay! I mean...yeah... Went to a pub that night - Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese - as a group and the last group event we had. It was good. I got fish and chips, ate the batter off the fish, and ate the chips since I don't like fish. But it was the only thing on the menu that sounded appetizing and I wasn't allowed to order chicken nuggets off the kids menu. Boo hiss. But the chips were good and so was the batter and the tartar sauce. But the fish was fishy (but I have tasted non-fishy tasting fish and that's pretty good) so I couldn't eat it. But I had a great time with Courtney and Ian and Christina as we all ate together at the table. We talked and reminised about the semester. Then everyone started leaving - to pack, to go to last minute plays, etc. But Mrs. Tullos surprised our flat later on with cake and ice cream for the December birthdays since all those with December birthdays were living in our flat. It was great! We did christmas krackers and had cake and talked and just had a great time. It was my last night in London in the flat. I was a bit sad that it was already over to be honest, but I knew it was going to end some time. The only problem was that it seemed to go by entirely too fast. I wasn't ready for London to be over with. I wasn't ready to go on Free Travel and explore other parts of the world. I just wanted to stay in the safety of London for a bit longer. But I knew I couldn't. I had promised that I would go on Free travel and had already mostly paid for it. Oh well. There will be anotehr time, London, another time.

After the cake, I had to pack as I was leaving the next evening to begin two and a half week free travel. I had so much to pack. Like packages to ship home and two suitcases and the stuff I was going to have to take with me on free travel. It was a lot to sort out in a short amount of time - time to get started.

Farewell, last night in London....farewell.

30 November 2007: Last days are always a bit sad

So, this was it. The last day I had in London and I had a nice list of things I wanted to do. There were probably about 20 things on the list I wanted to get done, but I was only able to get a few done. What did I do? Well the day went like this.

Went to bed at about 3 in the morning. Set my alarm for 8ish and was going to get up and do the stuff on my list. Right. Sounds good, right? Yeah. The next thing I know, it's almost 11:00 in the morning. Apparantly, my alarm went off, I turned it off and went right back to sleep. I don't recall my alarm going off or having turned it off, and needless-to-say, I was pretty upset that I had slept in. But I needed it - it wasn't all that bad. So I got ready really fast and went out and did a few errands on my list. It went like this:
1. Get on the Tube
2. Go to Piccadilly Circus
3. Go to Lilly White's to get my Rugby ball deflated
4. Go across the street to Boots to get stuff for free travel
5. Go to the Rainforest Cafe and get something that says "London" (since I LOVE the Rainforest Cafe)
6. Get on the Tube
7. Go to Westminster
8. Get off and say good bye to Big Ben while filming him ringing like I had wanted to do all semester
9. Get back on the Tube
10. Head to Temple
11. Get off and go to Twinings to see if I want anymore tea (I didn't)
12. Decide that I didn't have time to go to the Burrow Market with Kaity
13. Get back on the Tube
14. Head home
15. Get to packing again

Let me say that I have never done so much in London in such a short amount of time. It took less than two hours for me to do all of that. Considering that London is pretty vast and it takes nice quanities of time to get just about anywhere, I felt that I had done well considering. I had planned on packing only taking me about two hours before I was going to go out and do some other last minute things in London, but packing wound up taking me until Kaity, Jordan and I left that evening at 10:00. However, I did take a break to mail my packages home and put some post on its way to the States and eat at the Texas Embassy with Liz and Courtney. It was SOO good! I decided to splurge and got chicken fried steak - best I have EVER eaten. I love Texas! I even got a shirt. Wahoo! So, other than that, I was in my flat packing my stuff and getting ready for the next two weeks. Anxious though I was, I was sad to leave London. It had become home to me - it was home. I never thought I could fall in love with a big city the way I have fallen in love with London, but I did and I can't wait to return!

So, 10:00 rolled around. I was just about ready (still packing last minute things frantically). I said goodbye to everyone and the three of us were headed out to explore the European continent. We all knew the next two and a half weeks were going to be an adventure the likes of which none of us had ever been on and definitely one that we would never forget.

So we boarded the Tube and headed to Victoria station where we took a train to Gatwick Airport. We spent the night in the airport since we had a 6 AM flight. It was quiet and I didn't get any sleep. But that was what the plane ride was for - or not so much since I have a really hard time trying to sleep on planes (the only place I've found where I'm paranoid about falling asleep...weird).

So we flew out at about 6 AM heading for the Mediterranean and all the ancient stuff we were to encounter there.

Farewell London...until we meet again.




Look!! Pictures!! Now guess

Hey guys! So, I'm going to fastforward for the moment and put up a couple of pictures that I really like


I want you to guess what they are and where. For some of you, it will be easy, but I want to see what you come up with.

I also would really like to know who reads this.

So, comment away. You don't get a prize, but I get satisfaction knowing that my words don't go to the blind side since I really have no idea who keeps up with this.

Oh, and no city-telling because that would be cheating, but it should be easy enough, right?

Have fun!


Another day, another of those boring posts....

Hey guys!! Hope everyone is doing well since I last posted (yesterday was it?). I'm doing fantastic at the moment, but I'll get to my long free travel as soon as I'm done with the rest of everything I've left you guys in the dust with. Sorry about that...still trying to catch up, but I'm a week down and...still about three left, but that's better than nothing!

So, off we go again, then, eh? Sweet.

18 November 2007: Another Sunday

Well, this Sunday, nothing too important happened. Went to church at Wembley again and then went back and did some homework because I'm studious like that. Too studious like that. Had class that afternoon. Once again, didn't pay a lick of attention (because we're not even tested over what we spend 7 hours a week learning - pointless classes really) and spent most of my time surfing the internet or playing games. Seriously, I really don't care about that class - I have an A and I'm happy with that. So, onwards and forwards!!

19 November 2007: A "Class"ic Tea Party

Still have class on Mondays, in case you're wondering - so I went because I can't skip. I only really like my Brit Lit class. Speech is ok, too, but I've already had it and it's not hard. Taught by the same teacher who's pretty much amazing on her own. We always have fun in Ms. Dillion's class - most of the time, we don't even stay on topic - she doesn't seem to care that much because she has fun with us. Yay Ms. Dillion!!

Anyway, after class, I still had homework to do (and this is supposed to be a RELAXING semester....yeah right) so I did some. But that afternoon at 4, Ms. Dillion was treating ALL of us (students, teachers, and students' families) to a High Tea Party in the boy's flat. So, at 3:59, I dropped my studious bit and went right across the hall to flat 4 to have High Tea (it was the only time in London that I was able to have High Tea). It was great!!! We had all kinds of tea, sandwiches, crumpets, mince pies, desert pies, jams, cookies, biscuits, and the like. She bought so many sandwiches, though, that they didn't all get eaten. We basically had a box of 25 sandwiches for each person because Ms. Dillion bougth 25 boxes!!! Every box held 25 sandwiches...you do that math. That's a lot of food!! Yeah, I ate so much and drank so much tea - but it was amazing! By far one of the best group activities we've ever done. I tried a mince pie (it wasn't very good) and ate like 8 sandwich quarters and drank several cups of tea...then I stopped. Ha! But it was so good! Perhaps we HUE people can all get together one day and have another High Tea afternoon. It was definitley an experience I think EVERYONE who goes to London should take advantage of.

After the tea party, I went back and attempted to work on my speech (but that didn't happen) when the fire alarm went off. It typically goes off sometimes for about 3 seconds when FSU is testing it every week. This one? When it didn't stop after a minute, I decided to go out and see what was going on. When I didn't see anyone, I walked over to the boy's flat and found Ms. Dillion, Kaity, Jordan, Jordan's sister and Jordan's mom all watching Ms. Dillion on the power risers. It was the funniest thing!! No one seemed worried that the alarm was going off so I stayed inside...until Jordan's mom said that she smelled smoke. Poor Ms. Dillion didn't know what to do! She couldn't take off the power risers without risking being burned alive and she couldn't walk down the stairs because the risers were so new to her and hard to control. I went down, hoping everything was going to be ok. I got outside and ran across the street (barefoot - in 40ยบ weather and even colder rain) and looked up in the window. What I saw was hysterical - at least to me because you really had to have been there. I saw Ms. Dillion, still on the power risers, trying to walk down the stairs, only she looked like an awkward T-Rex (but a much smaller T-Rex) trying to fumble its way down stairs in the dark. It wasn't dark on the stairway, but I think you catch my drift. It was great. After about 5 steps, Ms. Dillion decided that she couldn't make it down all 64 of them, so she turned around and went back up the stairs - sure to be burned alive had there really been a fire. As soon as she returned to the safe-haven of flat 4, we were able to get back inside. Most of us HUE'ers went up the stairs to see if Ms. Dillion was ok. She was great! She'd never had so much fun in her life!

Oh man...good times. Good times.

20 November 2007: Meandering a maze and drooling over a dollhouse

So, another Tuesday, another field trip and the next to last one with awesome bus driver Tony. This was the final "Have to see this place before I die" location, which I will reveal in just a minute. So, we get on the bus and drive to our first location. We've done quite a bit with King Henry VIII, and this was the last stop. We were going to Hampton Court, which he built. It was really nice. Went through the apartments and saw some amazing (original) artwork from some famous artists at the time, but don't ask me who they were, because I don't remember. All I know is that I really liked some of them, just some of them. I honestly don't remember much about the court. So much has been pumped into my head this past semester, I'm surprised that I remember any of it! But there was this cool maze thing in the gardens. It was small - a third of a acre - and I'm surprised that I even found the middle. One can put a lot of twists and turns into a third of a acre - but I kind of wanted it to be larger, just for kicks because then I really would have been able to get lost. Yeah! Can't go home cause I'm lost in a maze - what a tale! *ahem* Anyway, did the maze thing right? Yeah. Did the court thing, right? Sure did. Got back on the bus and then we passed through Runnymede. Does anyone know what that is?! Ha! History majors should know :-) If you don't, you're a little behind, I'm sorry to say. Runnymede was where the Magna Carta was signed - and I've SEEN the Magna Carta! Twice!! Ha!!! Now all I have to do is transport myself back to 1215 and see the actual signing - don't think that will happen in my lifetime, but it's nice to hope. So, passed through that on the way to my final "have to do before I die" locations. Where is it? I'll tell you.

Windsor Castle! Dr. Harris (my wonderful advisor and teacher) was actually the first person to tell me about Windsor back in my Freshman year when we were discussing my trip to London. She told me things to see - priorities and the like. In case you didn't know, Windsor is also the summer residence of the Queen of England - at least I could see ONE place the Queen gets to stay. I must say, I was VERY impressed with Windsor...I can only imagine what Buckingham Palace looks like after today. So, we get in the vicinity of the castle, and, as I'm about to burst with excitement, learn that I have to pass through a shopping center of sorts just to get to it. Blast - that will take another 10 minutes, not to mention the fact that I still have to eat before I die if starvation. Great, another thing to prolong my agony. How long will it last?! Not long actually. 30 minutes was enough time for me to eat my bacon bap and head to the entrance where my ticket was ready and waiting (like it usually is). I received my ticket and my audio guide, and it was OFF TO EXPLORE WINDSOR!! It was breath-taking. I loved it! The day was foggy, so not a very ideal day for taking pictures, but I did what I could. Since you weren't allowed to take pictures inside (which always saddens me), I had to do what I could when I was outside. Granted, it was quite a view even though fog blanketed just about everything. So, audio guide in hand, I marched into the castle and started my tour. We always seemed to get places about an hour or so before they closed, so I had to pick and choose what I was to go see. The Queen's doll house was the FIRST and ONLY thing on my list of things, though it wasn't the only thing I did, thank goodness. I found the location of the doll's house and made a beeline. Dr. Harris had told me that if I get to see anything in the castle and nothing else, the doll's house was the thing to do - so I did. And you know what? She was correct as always. It was the biggest doll house I have ever seen. It was made for Queen Victoria during her reign just to give her some amusement (it didn't help that she was obsessed with dolls, but hers were considerably larger). If I were to guess how big it was I would say about...8 feet tall and 8 and a half feet long. Oh yes, this was a BIG doll house. It wasn't made for use to play with dolls, just to show off what living in a house during that time would have looked like. I have to admit, I wanted to live in it - shrink to about the size of a coffee mug and live inside - oh yes, I could actually live inside. The house has a library with REAL books written just for it. It has electricity and running water. It's 4 cars really run - on gas. It's all real. There's even a jewel room where there is housed miniature crown jewels. And the Hoover vaccum cleaner really works - its about 5 inches tall. I was amazed at just how large and intricate it was. I probably stood admiring it for a good 20 minutes before I realized I was running out of time to see the rest of the castle. Stopped by and looked at the Victoria's collection of dolls - which are montrous and have their own sets of clothes, shoes, gloves, and evening gowns. They also have their own cars, which were driven down the Champs Elysee in Paris. Too cool :-) I kept on exploring what I could in the time that I had left. I wound up in the Stateroom/Grand Staircase room and this blew my mind! It would be impossible for me to try to explain what this place looked like. I wouldn't even know where to start!! There are suits of armour everywhere, knight on horses, guns, knives, swords, stolen goods from other countries, the bullet that killed Lord Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar (remember, he died on the HMS Victory that I had seen the previous week), and busts of several famous British people, including (as always) Winston Churchill. I saw where the Queen sleeps when she's there (which is actually quite nice and homey), where the king would sleep if there was a king, the drawing rooms, etc. It was a whole labyrinth of unique stuff that I wish I had time just to sit and look at for a really long time. Windsor is one of those places that you have to go to as soon as it opens and stay until it closes in order to get the full amount of it in. I want to go back SOO bad! I have made a pact with myself to go back one day - at the end of the year when the Queen isn't in residence - and spend loads of time there just browsing to my hearts desire. Windsor is DEFINITELY on the top 5 things to do in London - it competes for first with the Tower of London, which is so cool.

I had a wonderful day and only wished that I had had more time to explore. Of course I went to the gift shop and bought stuff - hello classroom!! Then I got a picture taken "with" a royal guard (it's the only place you can get one and not get yelled at) and then it was dark - time to go. As we were leaving, we noticed that the bells were ringing, and had been for some time. We soon realized why. November 20 is the Queen Wedding Anniversary - she is married 60 years this year, longer than any other monarch in British History - as we went to one of her houses. Wahoo!! November 20 also marks the 15th Anniversary of another incident - the burning of Windsor Castle. Sadly, it happened in 1992 on the Queen's Anniversary. Where it burned was in the Tower - there is hardly anything original left there any more because it was all destroyed...except for one of the floors. It just so happened that one of the beautiful hardwood floors was spared, charred but spared. The workers simply took up the hardwood, turned it over and waxed it up. You can't even tell it was burned. In fact, it was because the castle was burned that it was opened up to tourists - England itself couldn't afford to pay for the refurbishment so they made the Castle a tourist attraction in order to have the funds to pay for the remodeling. Now, you can't even tell it ever burned. I would never have thought it - there was no evidence that I could see that anything had ever been touched by burning ember. It was simply beautiful.

If you've never had a desire to go to London, this should be your new desire. I would go to London for 5 days if just to see this wonderful place again for as long as I could stand it.

Is anyone up for another field trip?!?!? I want to go back!!!!!

*Ahem* So did the cool castle thing, right? Check. Got my fill of Windsor? Um...no, but I will one day.

Got back on the bus for the trip back to the flat where I basically crashed after doing more homework (seems to take up a majority of time, doens't it?). Sleeep is good. Very good...

21 November 2007: Another day, another class

Still had classes, though this was the last week as the following week was finals and I had homework up to my eyelids that I still had to complete. For some reason, teachers always seem to think it's funny to have EVERYTHING due during the last week. Now, myself being a procrastinator (which, obviously, I'm not afraid to admit), I had enough on my plate. But it was all busy work that I could have started earlier, but didn't. Why? Because I know, in the end, I'm going to put it off to the last minute anyway so I might as well not start anything early because it's never going to be as good as my last minute stuff (trust me, I know this from experience). So I'm working away and thinking about all the things I need to do, should be doing but aren't, want to do, wish I could do, people I wish I could see, places I ...hang on. Mind is drifting TOO far off homework. *sigh* I need a movie. So I go across the hall and borrow The Notebook from Chris. Sometimes, you just need a mushy gushy movie - I don't like watching these types of movies very often just because they make me depressed, but I was in the mood for one at the time. So I watched it while trying to do some research in the process. It went like this: Oh credits, I have time to look up...yeah, ok, picture, check. Oh, it's starting! *watch movie for 5 minutes* Got to get back to research! *research for another 3 minutes* Oh! A good part! I'm not skipping it! *watch good part* What am I doing?! I need to be doing homework! *Research for 30 seconds* Forget this. I'm watching the movie *Puts movie into full screen mode and sits back to enjoy Rachel and Ryan gush it up on screen*

Yeah...that's the last thing I did before going to bed 6 hours later. Oh, I attempted to do homework, but I do it better when I'm under pressure to get it finished so I put if off more. Way to go! You're going to DIE in a week!!! Oh boy...can't wait....

22 November 2007: Thanksgiving in the Great Hall
*Disclaimer: If you are not a fan of Harry Potter, you should probably skip this section*

So, it's the next to last Thursday in November...and Thanksgiving back in the States (because it doesn't exist in England). While everyone was getting ready the night before and thinking about all they wanted to bring to the Thanksgiving potluck that night, Sasha and I were preparing to take a journey of our own. That's right, we were SKIPPING Thanksgiving in lieu of something else. Something both of us had been wanting to go back to since almost the start of the semester, and today was our last chance (literally, our last chance). We were going back to Oxford! Yeah! For those of you who don't know me very well, I'm a big kid at heart. Being a big kid at heart also makes way for the fact that I read Harry Potter. Oxford is where a lot of the first two Harry Potter movies were filmed - at Christ Church College of Oxford University in Oxford, England. So, Sasha and I were going back to take the tours of all the Harry Potter places. Sounds nerdy doesn't it? Yeah, well if you're mad at me for skipping Thanksgiving go right ahead, but I've celebrated it since I was born - skipping one is not going to hurt me or America's feelings. Besides, I had one last chance to see this place and I was NOT passing that up. So we went. Wahoo! Taking a bus to Oxford while everyone else...is...cooking.......food.........*sigh* I can eat when I get back!! Ha! So it's not really skipping afterall.

So, we arrive in Oxford and make our way down the familiar streets of Oxford to Christ Church to see the Grand Staircase and the Great Hall, just like they are in the movie. I TOTALLY stood where McGonagall stood, and the rest of the first years. Sa-Weet!!! Then it was through the next doorway (literally, just like in the movie) to the Great Hall. It was exactly I had seen it, except there were only three tables, not four (special effects people!!). But there was the fireplace and the headmaster's table. *Sigh* It was very homey and much smaller than I had thought, but it made sense in my head as to why there couldn't have been many student at Hogwarts. Good times, still.

After we had our wonderful fill of those two rooms, we made our way to the Bodlein Library where the Invisibility Cloak scene was filmed, and where the movie library comes from. It was really old but really cool. We were not allowed to take pictures of this or go down the aisle because it was for students and teachers only. But that was just fine - I got to see it. Wahoo! That and the Transfiguration Classroom (again, no pictures, students using the facilities). It was the best cheap tour I have ever taken. I felt like a nerd, but most of the people there anyway were there to see the same things we were there to see, so it felt a little better.

We finished about an hour earlier than we expected, so we took the 5 o'clock bus home instead of the 6 o'clock and got stuck in rush hour traffic for an hour...whoopdee freakin' do.... Sasha and I finally got off a Baker street, had no idea where the Tube station was, and just had to wing it in hopes of finding a station we knew. We finally hit Oxford Street (which you would if you walked long enouhg) and took the Marble Arch on Central right back home. It was great! We had food waiting for us and everything. Granted, it had to be warmed, but that did not make it taste any less amazing.

That was the extent of that day, besides all the amazing food - mashed potatoes, cornbread dressing, RANCH DRESSING (first time I'd had it in 3 months!), bread pudding, macaroni and cheese, more potatoes and mac and cheese, etc. I'm not a turkey girl, so I didn't eat Turkey. Who cares right? But I suppose it's a good thing it's not the national bird (but it almost was).

So I slept well that night. MmmmmMM!!

Something that I was also reminded of (and didn't realize that a year had traveled by so quickly) was that Thanksgiving marked one year that someone very dear to me, my family, and my high school class had passed away. She was a wonderful mother, friend, mentor, and wife. She had a wonderful caring heart. I just couldn't understand why something as awful as cancer could take our Debbie away from us. Kevin woke me up Thanksgiving morning and told me that she had died. I have never been so miserable in my life. I cried all day, looked up pictures, and watched a video that I had forgotten I had of her. She told me she loved me in it, I don't think I ever told her how much she meant to me. I spent the day in agony thinking of all the things I wish I had said, visits that I wish I had made, and prayers that I wished I had lifted up. I went to her memorial that night, saw where she took her last breath, and read her last scripture, and said her last good byes before she went home. I still miss her terribly. Even now, I start to cry when I think about how much of a void she has left in my life. But I know that one day I will see her again. One day she will be there to welcome me with the open arms I knew so much and the smile that could brighten a thousand darkened days.
One day soon. One day soon I will see her again.

23 Novmeber 2007: The usual...

We had class this sad Friday, which we never do. But since we didn't have class on Thanksgiving, this was the next best bet. Last day of class and I still had a whole bunch of stuff to do. But I was more productive. Got some homework done (yeah!) and had fun with the girls on my last Friday night in London. We watched Mary Poppins and Love Actually. A classic and a new one for me. But both good. Stayed up late (like usual) but had lots of fun. Wahoo!!

24 November 2007: The usual...part II

Well, I was supposed to do homwork, but I really didn't. That was my bad because the next week was awful for my sleeping habits....

Which I will talk about next time!

Bedtime for me. I've been working on this for far too long and it's late.
More next time I have loads of time to sit and write.

Ciao from Florence!


P.S. OH!! And I just changed the settings (I know it's a little late) but now ANYONE can comment on my blog. So if there's something you're curious about, comment and ask and I'll get back with you. Or you can email me. That works, too.

Ciao ciao!


Well, it's more, more, more!

Time for part II of a several part catch-up series. Yesterday, you learned about The Lord Mayor's Parade, the Children's play, and Remembrance Sunday (and how much I really liked it). Next, gear up for an amazing week/weekend as you take the next step in my journey to see the world.

You ready? Let's go.

12 November 2007: Class

Yup, just class today and homework. Nothing speical worth talking about, really. Except for the fact that Dr. Tullos left for Boston early this morning for work or something lame like that. He missed the next day field trip, but I'm sure American food was treating him well...I get some in two weeks. Yay!

13 November 2007: Field Trip!

So, as all Tuesdays are, we have another field trip. Where did we go today? Portsmouth and Salisbury! Yeah! We started out at Portsmouth where we saw the HMS Victory. It is the oldest ship still on commission in the British Navy, even though it's 300 years old. Yeah!! It's been dry-docked since 1923 but could still be called to go out and fight for her country should the Queen require cannons instead of high-powered machine guns to protect her... This ship is mostly famous for the Battle of Trafalgar, where Admiral Lord Nelson was killed. I saw the place he died at. Anyway, we took the tour and it was so interesting! Now and forever, I never want to live on a ship ever! It was so gross and I really admire those few men that actually chose to be sailors and Navy men and the like. Most of the men upon the ship were forced into service - which was why they weren't allowed on land when the ship stopped for food and drink, because the forced ones would have run away because it was NOT a life worth living for very long at all. There is quite a bit of original work still on the ship, but most of the cannons are replicas - though there are several original ones - they're big, cold, heavy and I definitley would NOT want one of them pointed at me. Apparently, every 1 cannon took 12 men to take care of it - and the ship held 104 cannon. Thats a bunch of men! In fact, the HMS Victory had to hold over 800 men (and just two toilets....imagine the line in the morning for the loo). Now the ship is big, but it did not look big enough to house 800 men. There was one deck we went onto that just freaked me out. The men on this deck (I believe it was the very bottom one) were not allowed to leave. They had to live with 500 other men, animals, sick, and dying. Nasty. If you want the real down and dirty, I will explain more when I talk to you, if I do - I hope I do. So that trip pretty much dashed all my hopes and dreams of ever becoming a pirate. Dang....makes me sad. Then again, I'm glad I dont have to eat 5 year old salted meat and wash my clothes in urine. Oh, and the punishement was harsh. Stocks, the cat of 9 tails (from which we get the saying "letting the cat out of the bag"), and the stick. Yikes. Again, more explaination when I see everyone. We also get the saying "three square meals a day" from the ships. (later, later) It was a very interesting day. I also found out that just before Russell Crowe starting filming Master and Commander, he walked upon the HMS Victory to kind of get the feeling of what it would feel like to be a captain. I think it worked because the movie was really good and the ship looked VERY similar to the Victory. It's the most historically accurate war ship movie out there as far as I know. I walked in Russell Crowe's footsteps...dude. And I really felt like part of the ship...even better (I think).

After our really awesome battleship adventure, we went to Salisbury. Just for clarification, this is NOT where Salisbury steak is from. No one actually knows where it's from, but Salisbury does NOT claim it at all. So who knows. Anyone want to research it and see if we missed something? Great. Get back with me on that. We went to the Salisbury Cathedral where I saw (get this) the Magna Carta!! Well, one of the four originals. I saw another original at the British library. Now I have two left and I'd really like to know where they are...Oh well. I also saw a clock that was made in the middle ages (about 1300) and that still worked. It was awesome! It was really tall and used pendulums, etc. Kept great time, I think. The cathedral spire (which is 104 feet tall) is the 4th tallest church spyre in England. That was really cool - it was pretty. I think I've had my fair share of churches for a while. I've been to so many...they are all starting to run together and look all about the same. It's sad. I really like them, but too many.

So that was the extent of that day. Really cool. Really cold and really cool.

I bought a Magna Carta for my classroom. Yeah!!

14 November 2007: 4 day Free Travel #2!!

Today marked the first of the seccond 4-day free travel (if you didnt get that from the title). Before any of us had left the states, Kaity, Jordan, and I had all of our free travel stuff ready to go, so we were so excited when we hopped on a plane at Gatwick and landed in ... Ireland!! We went to Cork, Ireland for 4 days and that was amazing! So, what's in Cork you ask? Well, nothing really. But what's outside of Cork is worth going to, especially what's 5 miles outside of Cork - Blarney. Anyone ever heard of the Blarney Stone? Yeah, I kissed it.

Let's start at the very beginning...Arrived in Cork, took a shuttle to the city centre and walked to our hostel from there. It took us a while to find it, but when we did, we crashed...almost. Spent the rest of the day/afternoon/evening exploring the really small city, looking for places to eat and planning our day out the next two days. Found this really great market (thanks to some really awesome guys we met when we were looking for a coffee shop - Starbucks doesn't exist in Cork) and bought REALLY cheap bread, then Nutella to eat it with and cheese. Yes! Food for three days! After we ate, we went to bed...and I got sick. Thanks to the people in Europe who think that smoking is the next best thing to sliced bread!! I applaud you for your STUPIDNESS! Since air conditioners are almost non-existent in Europe, you have to open the window. Not so bad really...unless that window is JUST above the smoking section outside the front door. If you close your window, it will get so unbearable hot that there is no other choice but to open the window again and, thus, smoke. It didn't help either that my comfortor was caked with smoke smell - that just made it SOO much better!! So by day 2, I couldn't breathe, taste, or sleep for that matter. Yuck. But I still had a wonderful time! So, went to bed (got sick) and slept as best I could before the next day which was one thing I had been waiting for since I was little. Yet another dream coming true! I love traveling!

15 November 2007: A touch of eloquence

Woke up a little stuffy but ready to take on the day. Yes!! Today we were going to Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone. Score! So we left the hostel a bit early and got bus tickets (because that's the only way to get ANYWHERE to and from Cork) and headed to Blarney. When we got there, I was really surprised at just how small Blarney really was. I mean, Cork isn't huge. You can walk from one end to the other in about 30 minutes or less, but Blarney - even smaller. It took us less than 5 minutes to find where the entrance to the Castle was. I think there's 1 grocery store and 1 pub. That's about the extent of the town. So, we get our admission, and by this point, I'm was so excited you could have tasted it. We explored the castle for a while before going up. Found the cave that Oliver Cromwell and his men stayed in for a while when they apparently were in Blarney. Then we explored the overlook - and that was an awesome view! Ireland in autumn is breath-taking for sure. We finally entered the castle (after 20 years of waiting, I didn't want to wait any longer!) and walked up it. I liked this one because you could actually explore the whole thing. You could go into all the rooms and stuff. It was really cool. The castle itself is not very big, but it felt like it. It was still dark and cold, but I liked it. Caernarfon is still my absolute favorite, though (GO TO WALES!). So, we explore and then...we're at the top. Yes!! I'm about to kiss the Blarney Stone. The Stone that gives those who venture beyond the point of comfort the gift of eloquence. The Stone that millions of people have kissed, including Winston Churchill (BEFORE he became Prime Minister of England - makes you wonder whether the Stone actually helped in those wonderful speeches he gave). The Stone that I had waited years to see. The Stone that was right in front of me. I started jumping up and down, even though there was a nice crowd around it. Wow! Stone Kissing!! Jordan went first because he was standing in front of me. Wahoo! My turn! We weren't allowed to take our own pictures because they took one for you - but I was TOTALLY ok with that. So, I (still bouncing up and down) get on the wet, cold ground, lay on my back, and reach way out away from the edge of the castle. Good thing there's support bars you can hold on to so you don't fall and die! So, I edge my way towards the cold, hard stone and Yes!! contact!! I kissed the Stone, smashing my nose in the process, but kissing it all the same. Wahoo! Now to wait and see if the gift of eloquence has been bestowed upon me.... Yeah, it was cool. Kaity kissed it, too, of course. After that, there was nothing else to do but go down and see how we looked kissing the Stone. I never wanted to forget the moment, so I bought a picture. It was totally worth 10 Euro! After that, we went to the Rock Close, which was the garden of the castle. It would have been gorgeous in the summer time. It was still really pretty when we went. Saw a mysterious rock that weighed about 5 tons that still sometimes swayed back and forth. I tried pushing it, but it wouldn't budge. I don't get it...Then we did the Wishing Steps. For these, you have to walk up the steps with your eyes closed wishing for the same thing over and over again until you reach the top. Then you have to go back down the way you came - exactly the way you came - meaning you have to walk down the steps backwards, eyes closed, wishing for the same thing the whole time. It was hard, but it was so much fun! Want to know what I wished for? Sorry, can't tell you. But I can tell you it hasn't come true yet. We continued to explore the Rock Close and came across some waterfalls and a really interesting tree. Then we had to leave because it was getting late. So we ate lunch/dinner at the castle (Mmm bread, nutella, and cheese) and made our way back to the bus stop. Rode the bus back and ate Subway for dinner - yay good semi-American food! Then we crashed because we still had another day to go somewhere. That night didn't get any better for sleeping. In fact, it got worse. But I dealt with it. When I was away from the hostel, things were usually ok - but night was a very different story...

16 November 2007: Eating capital of Ireland and a fort I had never heard of

Woke up, couldn't breathe, but didn't care. It was our last day in Ireland. Who knows when I will be going back. So, once again, we went to the bus station and hopped on a bus to Kinsale. I had never heard of the place, but Kaity had done he research. It was a nice drive and the town was really cute. It sat right on the water and had a harbour and everything. Yay! So, got to Kinsale and found out the a few of the things we had on our list were only available during the summer. That's ok - we had more than three things on our list. We finally decided to go to Charles Fort. I thought it was cool because it was a fort, but I knew nothing about it. There was no transportation there except to walk...so we did - like 2 miles. It was up some really outrageous hills and down some others, but it was a GORGEOUS walk. It went right around the harbour and then looked out onto the Irish Sea (which was beautiful at dusk). When we finally got there, we found the entrance and got ready to go inside. This made us really excited - the admission was 1.50 Euro. That is SOO worth seeing! And it really was. The fort was HUGE! It was built in 1603 when the Spanish Armada landed on the shores of Kinsale to protect the city. It was used during WWI, bombed and then abandoned. I walked around the WHOLE thing - at least, every part that wasn't blocked off. I took a lot of pictures of the fort. I kept wondering exactly what happened there. Haven't had time to really look anything up since then. But it was peaceful and we were just about the only people there. It's not a very popular tourist spot - probably because no one knows about it. But, we did the fort, and then we left...to walk along the beach. That was amazing at sunset! We climbed all kinds of rocks, skipped rocks along the coast, and followed the path - at least I did. I walked for a while until I decided that I should turn back. I saw lots of cows and some gorgeous skyline. Wow, do I love Ireland. We ate dinner at a restaurant (since Kinsale is the eatery of Ireland apparently - they're known for that and the prices showed it) which was amazingly good. Before we caught the bus, we found a pub and drank tea there (it's Ireland and we still had to find a decent pub to go to) and that was good. Yumm! Then we caught the bus back to Cork. It was our last night in Ireland. None of us knows when we will be back, but I want to go back. Anyone want to plan?

Still stuffy, I climbed back into bed ready to depart the land of the greenest grass I have ever seen.

I'm going to miss Ireland - a lot!

17 November 2007: Leave for London

So, we got up early and prepared to depart for home - for London. Flew back into Gatwick, caught the train back to Victoria Station, and made our way back to our flats. By this time, London had become our home - and it was good to be home. It felt comfortable. Argue with me all you want, but I think London will feel like home for a long time. It's the first time I actually felt fairly independent - aside from Harding rules. But I got to decide what to do with my days, I didnt have to sign out to go places (unless I left the country, then we just had to tell Dr. Tullos where we were going) and I didn't have people breathing down my back, watching me like hawks to see if I had followed the rules or not. I was free to make my own decisions and plans. I'm going to miss that freedom so much when I go back - even at home. I don't feel like I can make my own decisions and have my parents trust me. Just once, I'd like to just up and go someplace and not have them worry or call and ask where I am and what I'm doing. I don't need that if I'm going to be leaving in a couple of years and I get that enough at school. London is where I grew up - not physically, but emotionally and mentally. I'm more independent. I like that.

I learned so much in London - not academically because, well, the classes were SOO easy - but about myself and about the world. I will always see London as home, even though I may never live there again.

I already miss it...

More to come! But I'm getting closer!

Cheers and Ciao!



This is just the start...of more than one post

Hey guys. Sorry again that it's been so long. So I'm going to try to make it up to you. That means Mutiple Posts! Yeah! I'm only going to go so far tonight since I have a busy busy day tomorrow and didn't get much sleep last night. I have over 3 weeks to catch up on and I feel terrible about not having enough time to post SOMETHING earlier. I hope you forgive me. Please?

Ok, ready? Here goes...the start of 3 weeks!

10 November 2007: The Lord Mayor and a Children's Play

So this was a good day. Got up early and met the Tullos' at 8:15 for the Lord Mayor's Parade - a big to-do in London where the new Lord Mayor rides through town in his big stagecoach preceeded by a huge parade with people from everywhere (literally). Took the Tube to St. Paul's and found an amazingly (warm) spot in front of a Starbucks. Thank goodness for Starbucks!! I got hot chocolate and a cinnamon roll, which was fabulous. I loved every bite of it. We staked out our spots by 9 and sat until 11 when the parade started. Ian and I got different seats from everyone else, but his parents didn't mind that. So we had our spots and they were great...until this family of 10 (no joke) showed up and decided that their kids were too good for the sidewalk, so they stood in the street, blocking everyone's view cause the man was like 6 feet tall, and holding two kids, both older than 7, in his arms, meaning that he took up a lot more space than he needed to, meaning he blocked several people's views. So people kept moving farther and farther into the street (because there were no barriers, which was London's first mistake). The second? Unhelpful bobbies. One brave one of our group went up to the bobbie and asked him if he could make the family move to the pathway, but he said that "it wasn't his problem" and that he couldn't do anything anyway. Jerk. So the entire group of ours that was there had to move into the street, which was a pain because now the amazing seats we had were not amazing any more - people were now blocking our view, and Ian's short so he couldn't see so he moved in front of the crowd now gathering right in front of me. Great...now I can't see. But the parade came and there were people from everywhere. Scotland, Wales, Taiwan (I think) and lots of charity and hospitals in and around London. It was cool. I got lots of pictures. I like them, except for the fact that the same woman's head is in most of them because she kept moving in front of me. People kept trying to move in front of the others in the group, but someone (and I won't say who) pushed a little kid out of the way who was trying to get in front of them because they were sitting down and the kid was in the way. Makes sense. We had been out there literally before anyone else and no one was going to steal their looking space, dang it. Finally, I got fed up with the fact that I couldn't see very well and that the same woman's head was in lots of my pictures and I moved to the front where Ian was. I'm pretty sure I stood directly in front of someone, but I didn't care anymore. I wanted to see and if someone else lost their privilege, they could move, too. London has taught me to be rude. Sometimes it is necessary. In this case, I think it was - at least, I'm saying it was. But I really did enjoy the parade, aside from the people I was standing with. I saw the Lord Mayor because he was leaning out of the carriage on the side I was on. I got a really good picture of him, too. Yeah! As soon as he passed, the parade was over and people started leaving (they waste no time in getting where they're going).

I went back to the flat to change because I was taking Ian to a play later that day at 2:30. He had been looking forward to it for three weeks and was so excited! I have to admit that I was pretty excited, as well. So I changed and met him at 1:15 and we took the Tube to London Bridge and followed the signs from there to the Unicorn Theatre. Yeah, a children's play! We wen to see How to Beat a Giant, just in case you were wondering. Got to the theatre, picked up the tickets and waited until house opened - which was about 15 minutes. Ian and I stood right by the door because we wanted the best seats (there was no reserve seating for this show). So we were the first in the theatre and picked out seats on the very front row on the end in the middle. When I saw front seats, I mean the floor - the stage - because the stage was on the floor. It was great. The actors came up the audience during the play - close enough I could have reached out and touched them. It was amazing for a children's play. I really enjoyed it. The main actor was one that was in the Merchant of Venice and Holding Fire. He was really good. (If you want to know what the play was about, I will explain later - as in when I'm in the States - if you want me to.) So, went to a really good play and left for St. James Park where we went to feed thhe birds on the lake. If you don't know, this is the same lake that is in many of the pictures people take of Buckingham Palace. Yeah, that lake. And we went during sunset, so I was at the lake looking at the Palace at sunset feeding the Queen's birds and having a grand ole time with Ian. We left there because we wanted to see the Lord Mayor's Fireworks, which are the best that London has - yeah, much better than Guy Fawkes Day. So we got on the Tube and got off at Temple - at 5:15. Fireworks started at 5, so we missed them. I was so disappointed! Oh well, I will go back another time during November and see them...hopefully. But Ian and I walked back from Temple via Covent Garden. It didn't take as long as I thought it would have. We talked the whole way and saw London at night. It was pretty amazing. I really enjoyed that day - again, with the exception of all the rude people at the parade. I was glad that I could spend time away from people my own age and hang out with a 10 year old.

yeah, good times.

11 November 2007: Remembering those who gave their lives

So for all you history buffs reading this (I can think of at least 1, maybe 2), I hope you recognize the date. No? Search your memory? Still drawing a blank? Let's fill it in. This was Remembrance Sunday - or Veterans Day in the States. It was nice this year that the 11th was on a Sunday this year because England celebrates Remembrance Sunday on the closet to the 11th. For those of you who are still drawing a blank as to why this date is even remotely interesting, I will fill in another blank. 11/11 at 11:00 am is the time that WWI ended and peace was going to start happening (until the second war...). So, every year on November 11th (or the Sunday closest to the 11th in England) at 11:00 there is two minutes of silence (at least in England. I dont know about the States). The two minutes is begun and ended with the firing of a cannon and the time is kept according to Big Ben. So, at 11, a cannon fired, Big Ben chimed 11 and we were all silent for two minutes.

Let me start at the beginning...

I got up (that's always a good thing) and got dressed (again, a good thing). I left about 9:15 with Kaitlin, Megan and Chanel for Whitehall, just off Trafalgar Square, for the Remembrance Day service. This was the service the Queen was going to be at, so of course we had to be there early. Next time, I'm getting there at 6 in the morning. When we arrived, had our bags checked just to make sure we weren't there to kill the queen or something really stupid like that, and started walking towards the monument the Queen was going to lay a poppy wreath on, people were already half-way down Whitehall. We found a spot that was sort of close and we could see the monument pretty well...until later on, but I will tell you why. Met this nice lady and her daughter who had travelled to London for the day just for the ceremony. Her husband was in the parade. Yes, there was a parade. Every year, the Queen invites war veterans from every war (those that are still alive) and every veteran she invites gets to walk down Whitehall and place a wreath on the WWII monument. So we get there, talk to her, and then these people start coming down the street in a monumentously long line (am I allowed to say that?). There were 5 lines of war veterans ranging from WWII to the War in Iraq. And there were people there from every country that fought on the Allied side with the British - commonwealths at that time in other words. So there were people from Ireland, Scotland, Australia, Asia, and other places. I'm guessing, because I don't know for sure, but there looked to be about 4000 veterans that walked down Whitehall, all invited by the Queen at some point (when a veteran gets invited, they can come back year after year). It was so wonderful! I started tearing up, honestly. Sometimes, I don't understand why the U.S. doesn't make a big deal of of Veterans Day. But then again, the last war fought on our soil was the Civil War, and there is no one alive today who remembers that. I know the President goes and lays a wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier, but it's not a public thing like Whitehall is. That makes me sad. There are so many veterans who do not get the recognition they deserve for laying down their lives for their country. Honestly, the U.S. could learn so many things from England - I don't know why they don't. But the veterans came walking down the street, some in wheelchairs, some barely able to stand making their way towards the monument with their comrads. I heard several of them as they walked past catching up on old times. It was like time had not moved on - like it had only been a few days since they had last parted, but I know for many of them, it had been at least 60 years since they had seen one another. Finally, all veterans were in place holding poppy wreaths or flowers to lay on the monument after the Queen. Then the service started. The bishop (of Canterbury, if I'm not mistaken) read somethings we sang a song and then....there was a cannon and two minutes silence. I had seen the men and women of their respective countries walk by, those who had given everything they had for their country, seen friends fall from enemy and friendly fire, and lived through horrific times, and I thought of my grandfather. He served in both WWII and the Korean War and passed away last summer. During those two minutes, I thought of him, his war buddies, and those standing in front of me. I started crying because I realized, to a very small degree, just how many people devoted their lives to protecting their homeland. I thought of my grandfather and everything I wished I had asked him and thanked him for serving to protect his family, and his country. It was a touching two minutes - I thought about a lot during that really short time. Another cannon sounded and the two minutes silence was over and the service continued - the Queen laid a wreath, etc. Then all the veterans went, row by row (5 total rows) to lay their wreaths or flowers upon the monument with the Queen's. It was beautiful. I got pictures after everyone left of the monument after the poppies had been laid. So many people died in so many wars. I'm glad they at least get a day to be remembered.

After we left Whitehall, Kaitlin, Megan, Chanel, and I went to Nando's - a chicken restaurant - and I got a plate of chips because I had been craving them for a long time. It was really good and I highly recommend it. Plus, FREE REFILLS! I'd go there just for the refills. Then I went to do homework and class. Yay...

That was the extent of that day.

Another day another day. Bed time. It's almost midnight and I'm going someplace tomorrow that I really should not be tired for.

BTW, I'm in Rome at the moment on my two and a half week free travel. After this I will be returning to the States. Europe has to end sometime. I really think I'm ready to get back and see everyone - but Europe first!

Sorry its only two days, guys, but sleep is important, especially since I didn't get enough of it last night.

Cheers! Ciao! Au revoir!