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Flying across the pond, Finding toilet paper, and Frances Gardner

I’ve been in London for 4 days now, and it already feels like the longest 4 days of my life! I’ve flown to another continent, sat through two different orientations, enrolled at a new university (they are not called “colleges” in the UK), and moved into a new living residen20170105_115838ce. While I’ve had a few moments where all I wanted was to be home, it has been exciting, and tiring, to start this new adventure. The first few days were filled with talks about academic life and safety in London in addition to taking care of annoying errands, like buying toliet paper and a blow dryer (both very essential items). I had to find grocery stores, figure out a route to my univeristy (UCL), and learn how to ride the tube, all with the help of Google Maps of course. Before my official enrollment appointment and campus tour at UCL, I took the tube, for the first time, to Westminster Station, where I got to be an official tourist. I met a lovely cashier at the gift shop, took shameless selfies in front of Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, and saw the iconic Big Ben.

 

All of these experiences may sound fun and exciting, but the week has not been easy.  I did not realize how much I would miss home by now or how difficult it would be to adjust to life here. The first night I moved into my new residence hall, Frances Gardner House, I had no food, toliet paper, access to wifi, or any idea where I was. In addition, the housing here is a bit different than America. I live in a “flat”, which is actually just a hall of single rooms with a large common kitchen at the end. Each room has a personal bathroom (with the smallest shower I have ever seen). The kitchen appliances are also much smaller than those in America, but the residence hall did provide 2 electric tea kettles!

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University College London (UCL)

Thankfully that first night, I found a friend and we scouted out dinner and a small grocery store nearby. There, I bought a small skillet and ingredients for breakfast, but I realized that I had no plate, salt, pepper, fork, or cleaning supplies once I got back to my room. At this point, I realized that I really wasn’t at home any longer with all the basic things readily available. I also realized that I really am alone for the first time. I have other students in my study abroad program around me, but we are all in the same situation. I don’t have the convienence of driving to Kroger down the street, calling my parents whenever, or going home to get something I need. Instead, I just have to figure things out myself. Figuring things out myself can be exciting, but not always easy. I’m proud to say that I can (sort of) figure out public transportation and found a few good grocery stores around the area!

I think the biggest adjustment right now is figuring out who I am in London. Nobody here, execpt the few students from Vanderbilt, knows who I am back in the states. The things that make up my identity – my family, friends, school, sorority, yoga studio, ect. are all back in Nashville. I’m in a place where I can reinvent myself if I want, figure out who I am without those things surrounding me, and discover new things about myself. I’m also in a place to see what it looks like to live out my faith in a post-religious society. I don’t have my Bible study at home to go to every Wednesday or church to attend on Sunday morning. The one constant thing in my life right now is my relationship with God though. One of my favorite morning routines is getting up, making breakfast, and spending time reading my Bible and praying. Thankfully, I get to continue that in London, or wherever I go. I’m learning that God is the one thing that never changes in life. Like my favorite tea mug says, Hope is an anchor for my soul – Hebrews 6:19. 

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How To Shop Your Way Through London Markets

“You can take the girl out of the market, but you can’t take the {love of} markets out of the girl” 

In case you didn’t know, I love a good farmers’ market. My perfect Saturday  involves waking up early, hitting a few garage sales, and spending my morning at a farmers’ market. I like them so much that I choose to spend an entire summer gleaning at Nashville’s farmers’ markets. Insider tip – gleaning (aka recovering food waste) at markets is the best way to really get to know the farmer and snag freebies!

So, what is a girl that loves farmers’ markets to do when she moves to a new city? Research the best markets in the area of course! Before I even

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My favorite snack at Broadway Market

boarded my flight out of Nashville, I had already googled “markets in London.” Quickly, I got sucked into the black-hole that is the internet (specifically Timeout London). Thankfully, I had plenty of markets to visit once I arrived! But, London markets are a bit different than my local favorites in Nashville. From typical farmer stands to Indian street food to vintage clothing (that was way to cool for me), London markets are unique. Many have the similar vendors, but no two markets are alike. And, many change daily. That’s what makes it fun though – you never know what you are going to get! At the beginning of the semester, I made it a goal to visit as many markets as I could. One thing I’ve learned: therapy shopping is real. Some people prefer malls, others prefer a behemoth of a store like Primark in the UK, some prefer online shopping. For me, all I need is a good market, my reusable shopping bag, and snacks (or farmer samples) to fight off that shopping fatigue.

 

Now that I’m coming to the end of my semester in London, I’ve realized it is time to share some of my favorite markets! I visited many alone, but I’ve been lucky – my two friends in London indulged my obsession. Maddie and Erin were always willing to go if I asked, even if it meant taking a 50 minute bus ride to random parts of London! I hit up most of the famous ones, looking at you Portobello Road market, and smaller gems, like Netil Market! Below is my list of markets in London. It is not comprehensive. I’ve learned that London is way to big to do everything in one semester. But, I’m pretty satisfied with my journey through the markets of London!

Backyard Market – This market is located behind the more famous, Brick Lane Market. With an up-and-coming hipster vibe, Backyard Market was cute and quirky! There were artisans, vintage sellers, and weird street food that involved black pudding, eggs, and a bun. Side note –  black pudding is a staple of the English breakfast. Don’t worry, you are not missing much! Besides black pudding street food, this market was adorable! I stumbled upon it when I was checking out Brick Lane Market one Sunday!

Bloomsbury market – The market every farmers’ market aficionado would love! This market sets up every Thursday in a square across the street from my school, UCL. Unfortunately, I didn’t frequent this market much until the end of the semester. I didn’t have class on Thursdays, so I was rarely in the area. When I finally made it to the market, I fell in love. It is the perfect lunch spot! The street food ranges from fresh-made pasta to vegan Indian food to southern-style BBQ. The few times I visited, I grabbed lunch, wandered around to gawk at the street food, and bought some veggies from local farmers. I bought my first ~local~ British asparagus at this market! Definitely a must-see if you are near Bloomsbury or the British Museum!

Borough Market – I could write an entire post on Borough Market. I20170414_124631t is a foodie’s (or really anyone who eats) dream market! Unlike most farmers’ markets, the traders have permanent stalls in a covered area. Street-food pop-ups set up in a separate area, but the main market consists of permanent traders.  Walk around and you will encounter fruit/veggie stands, French-inspired sausages, wheels and wheels of cheese, barrels of olives, fresh seafood, and more. You can truly buy ingredients for your entire meal here! One of the best parts – most of the stalls have samples. I can’t count how many mustards, olive oils, vinegars, and apple slices I’ve tried at the market. My favorite street food is the Indian food truck! This is probably one of my favorite markets in London.

Brick Lane Market – I had such high hopes for Brick Lane Market! The best day to visit is Sunday. Maddie and I made our way over one afternoon, and realized the market was not what we expected. Not that the market was bad, it just wasn’t for us! Most of the traders sold vintage clothes or other goods. The market just seemed too edgy, and a bit gritty, for my taste. It was fun seeing the different traders and shoppers, but I wasn’t blown away. To make up for the underwhelming market, we stopped at a coffee shop and I got my favorite splurge – a matcha latte! That was probably the best part of the afternoon.20170408_113926.jpg

Brixton Market – Unfortunately, I didn’t stay at Brixton Market for too long. I met Maddie and Erin at the market the day I flew back from Geneva. I was late, and they had already explored before I arrived. As I walked to meet them at a coffee shop inside the market, I walked through a street lined with vegetables, fresh fish, and other goods. Once inside the market, I was surrounded by hipster restaurants, coffee shops, and unique shops. We went inside a sustainable fashion store, stationary store, and flower shop! I liked that these storefronts were permanent. It seemed like a place I would want to go back to on a random Saturday.

Broadway Market – Another one of my favorites! I looked up “best farmers 20170415_103755markets in London” once the weather started to warm up, and found this one! It is in an area of East London called Hackney. I decided to make a morning trip one Saturday to check it out! Instead of taking a bus, I walked about 50 minutes alongside the canal towards the market. Once i arrived, I was hungry! I stopped in a small cafe to refuel before I began shopping. This, like Bloomsbury Market, was a great farmers’ market! I didn’t have much cash on me, but I did end up buying some kale, apples, and mushrooms! Vendors ranged from farmers to fish mongers. There was also plenty of street food to choose from, local artisans, and other traders. I enjoyed the set-up of this market; it was easy to walk up and down the street to look at all the goodies!

Camden Market – Another slightly disappointing market. Camden Market was the first market I visited in London. I had heard amazing things about it since I had arrived. But, it wasn’t my favorite. Albeit I visited on a cold a rainy day, I wasn’t a fan of the atmosphere. The actual stalls were fine! Camden market has a huge variety of goods and street food. Fun fact: you can get a bowl of pasta that is made in a giant cheese wheel. It is a fun market, but it was so crowded and touristy that I couldn’t really enjoy myself. Visiting the market is a must if you are in town long enough, but I wouldn’t keep going back!

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Canopy Market – I love a good market in my own neighborhood! To my surprise, Kings Cross opened Canopy Market the last weekend of April! The market runs the last Friday-Sunday from late spring to fall. Thankfully, I got to check to market out before I leave for America! I decided to visit as my study break one day. No fruits and veggies, but the market was cute! Business people lined up at the food stalls for Indian street food, falafel, and paella. Local gift and home good stores set up booths to display the best of their goods, and independent sellers sold sweets and other treats!

Chapel Hill Market – This was a sweet local market in a neighborhood about 20 minutes (walking) north of where I live. Once the weather warmed up, I made my way over to the market one Sunday morning. There was nothing fancy, but I appreciated the simplicity. The market had everything you need for a smaller, local market – fresh produce, fish, and flowers! It may not have been as “cute” as Broadway market or as fun as Borough Market, but it was definitely less touristy!

Columbia Road Flower Market – I had heard about this market since I arrived in London. If you didn’t know, the Brits love their flowers and gardens. I knew that I had to check this one out! This market is only open on Sundays, so Maddie and I planned to go early one Sunday morning! When we arrived, we were overwhelmed by the amount of shoppers! The Market has stalls lined up on both sides of the street, and shoppers flow in through the middle. It was so crowded that we could barely see the flower traders! It was one of the sunnier20170415_1039591.jpgst weekends of the year, so I’m sure everyone was trying to soak in the good spring weather. I assumed the market would be solely cut flowers to put in a vase, but you could buy flowers for your garden, fruit trees, and herbs! I really wanted to go plant something after wandering through this market. Maddie and I decided to buy a small bouquet of purple and white flowers for our rooms. Since neither of us had proper vases, we couldn’t go too big! The only downside of this market – I couldn’t breath afterwards! London allergies kill me!!

Covent Garden Market – Tourist alert! This is a major attraction for most visitors in London. It is located near the busy theatre district and Trafalgar Square. It actually dates to the 7th century, but became a fruit and veggie market in the seventeenth century. By the eighteenth century, it became apart of London’s “red light district.” Since then, it has transformed into a major shopping area. Large stores, like Chanel and Burberry, surround the historical Jubilee and Apple Markets. Inside the market, you can find artisan traders alongside permanent stores. My favorites are the tea stores of course! Covent Garden is a fun day out if you enjoy window shopping, street performers, and a fun atmosphere!

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Greenwich market – Maritime Greenwich! This area of London is along the Thames. If you didn’t know, Britain was a naval superpower after the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Greenwich is the home of an original tea clipper, The Cutty Sark, 20170328_134506the meridian line, an observatory, the Old Royal Naval College, the Queen’s House (not Elizabeth II), and the National Maritime Museum. And, of course, a cute little market! This first time I visited, the market was having an off day. There were a few food stalls, but sadly I was not in the mood to eat. The next time I visited, the covered market was filled with traders and artisans. I loved walking through the aisles and “window shopping” for jewelry, art, and other goodies!

Netil market – I love stumbling upon little gems in London. Netil Market is hidden on a side street in Hackney.  On the day I visited Broadway Market, I decided to wander around th20170415_1133431.jpge area for a bit. It must have been my lucky day because I found another market to explore. Netil Market’s slogan, Eat Work Art, represents the traders. Permanent shops surrounded a small courtyard with tables and a little coffee truck. The shops ranged from a tanner’s shop to an artisan jewelry store. I didn’t stay long (I couldn’t afford all these hipster artisans). But, again, I enjoyed window shopping!

Peckham Salvage Yard – I found out about this market from TimeOut London. In my opinion, the article exaggerated this market. This was partially my fault though. I read “largest vintage sale in South London” as “Largest vintage sale in London.” Big difference there. I wanted to be adventurous though, so I made the long trek to Peckham. Despite not being in the best part of town, the market wasn’t bad per se. Just small. There was a cute little restaurant and coffee shop nearby, but the market itself reminded me of a small, outdoor flea market in Nashville. Not my favorite, but I’m glad I checked it out anyway!

Portobello Market – Ah, Portobello Market in Notting Hill. I think this may be one of my favorite areas in London. The people are friendly, the houses are colorful, and the shopping is great! Weekends are the best time to go if you want to wander up and down Portobello Road for awhile. Portobello Road is lined with antique IMG-20170304-WA0003shops and other unique stores. There is even a store dedicated to doorknobs! On the weekends, street food vendors set up stalls to feed the famished shoppers. I love looking at the antiques, shopping for knick knacks, and finding souvenirs that are better than anything at a museum shop. I bought my London mug and traditional English Tea Pot at Portobello Market! The first time I went, Maddie and I walked down the street, visited a bookshop, then retreated to a cute coffee shop. When I took my parents, they also fell in love!

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Spitafields Market – Good ole’ Spitafields Market. This is a pretty well-known market in East London. Like Covent Garden, it has been operating for quite awhile in London! Today, you can visit permanent shops, like Lululemon and Urban Decay, or the market area! You can find  contemporary and vintage fashion, music, bespoke children’s toys, jewelry and accessories and home interiors. Spitafields has an amazing, upbeat atmosphere! It isn’t as crowded as Camden Market, but it is still unique. Again, I enjoy window shopping and walking through the different stalls!

Like I said before, this is by no means an exhaustive list of London markets! The market culture here is HUGE, and I love it! I still love a good farmers’ market, but I’ve enjoyed exploring the funky stalls at these markets. I’ve realized I’m not cool enough to actually wear vintage clothing or adventurous enough to try weird street food, but I love window shopping! My favorite thing about the markets is the atmosphere. I love the mix of buyers and sellers. I’ll miss the London markets, but I’m excited to visit my farmer friends in Nashville when I come home!

“The ultimate retail experience in London involves standing outdoors, haggling over the price of a piece of vintage china or a loaf of freshly-baked bread, and very happily feeling like a local.” —RACHEL FELDER, AUTHOR OF INSIDER LONDON

 

Mussels, Canals, and Weird Museums

Mussels, canals, and weird museums – that is exactly how I would describe my trip to Belgium and Amsterdam if we were chatting over a cup of coffee (tea for me!). Not that I didn’t enjoy my Dutch getaway, but, unlike Italy and Greece, I don’t have a strong urge to return. My friend Maddie started talking about a Belgium-Amsterdam trip at the beginning of the term. I knew I didn’t have to visit these places this term, but would I pass up the opportunity? So, Maddie, Erin, and I planned our five day tour through Belgium and Amsterdam.

Starting in Brussels, we spent one night in the home of the European Union. The best part of Brussels was (surprisingly) not the waffles or chocolate, but it was our AirBnB host, Bernard. He was the quirkiest older gentleman with an amazing AirBnB flat. The flat was cute, stocked with tea, and included a complimentary wine bottle. We took advantage of it all! Is it weird that the AirBnB was my favorite part of the trip? Because we were Brussels for one night, we had to make the most of our time. Lucky for us, there is not much to do in Brussels if you are not there for business or other worldly matters. 20170419_130837We did find a touristy waffle stand, walk around the Grand Place, and visit the infamous statue of Mannekin Pis. Mannekin Pis literally means “little pee man” in a Dutch dialect; the statue is a “must-see” landmark in Brussels according to TripAdvisor. Apparently, a non-profit, The Friends of Manneken-Pis, dress up the statue in costumes from time to time. Unfortunately, we were not privy to a fully-clothed Mannekin Pis. But, it did make a good snap-chat story! To kill time, we also visited a weird Belgian museum and a chocolate museum. That night, we tried to find a restaurant for dinner. Like other European cities, men stood outside most of the restaurants trying to lure you into dinner with English menus and photos of the food. After avoiding those men like the plaque, we found a restaurant with Belgian specialties and normal food. Before traveling to Belgium, I researched “Belgian” food (other than waffles and chocolate). Google told me to expect Mussels and fries. And, as weird as that combination sounded to me, google was right. So, I decided to order mussels (when in Belgium right?). My friends shared the fries, and I ordered a side of veggies! Before I tell you about my first encounter with mussels, I want you to see this giant pot the waiter brought to this (fairly small) young woman:

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As you can see, this is a very large pot with close to 50 mussels in it. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this was not it! Thankfully, we planned to share the mussels. But, the three of us could not even finish it. I did finish my side of veggies though! On the other hand, the local man sitting next to us ate the entire pot and used the mussel shells as his utensils. I felt pretty lame after watching him conquer that pot of shellfish. After dinner, we walked back to our room for a relaxing night of planning our next adventure and drinking the complimentary wine.

Grand Place, Mannekin Pis, and Museum Square in Brussels

We took an early train to Bruges for the next leg of our journey. When we got off the train, I immediately realized that Bruges would be different than Brussels: more residentia20170420_133911l and quaint. We made our way to the hostel, St. Christopher’s Inn, before heading to the town center. Our first activity was a free walking tour of the city. The tour guide was great. He shared the city’s history, myths, rivalries, and hidden secrets with us. On the tour, we saw historical squares, canals, the belfry (bell tower), churches, and a beguine (a residential area for lay religious women). After the tour, we wandered around Bruges. It was a great city to just walk and take in the scenery; the sun had finally come out that day, and the canals were magical. I understand why Bruges is a tourist destination! Again, we struggled to find something when we searched for dinner. Every restaurant had the same “Belgian” menu or it was closed. But, we made up for the lack-luster food with a beer tasting at our hostel! We were skeptical of a beer tasting at a hostel, but it turned out to be fun. For 12 euros, we each received 6 (large) samples of Belgian beer and information about their flavor profiles. I discovered that beer can taste like bananas or horse sweat. Thankfully we did not try the latter flavor. My favorite was a Trappist beer – it was a dark beer (with a surprisingly high alcohol content considering I liked it) and a “velvety-smooth” mouth feel. Who knew I could learn to enjoy beer? My dad would be proud.

The next day, we left the quaint town of Bruges to travel to Ghent. Although the city was not far away, it was very different. Rather than the well-preserved and quaint medieval atmosphere in Bruges, Ghent felt more like a modernized, but still medieval, city. Because it is an university town, there were more restaurant chains, shopping, and modern features. We started our day with a canal tour and then another walking tour through the city. Neither were bad, but the dreary weather made them less enjoyable. On the walking tour, we saw the three towers of Ghent (two churches and a belfry), bridges, canals, and historical market squares. The guide also pointed out the best beers, fries, and restaurants in the city! After the tour, we warmed up in a little shop that sold coffee, tea, and waffles. Maddie and Erin got waffles, and I stuck with tea. We then explored the 20170421_123033main tourist attraction – Gravensteen Castle! Because I was could and a bit pouty by this point, I didn’t enjoy the castle as much as I thought I would. But, it was still fun to see a medieval castle in the middle of a city. The next day, we killed time before our bus ride by exploring the weirdest museum I have ever been in (a theme in Belgium), visiting churches, and hanging out in a coffee shop until it was time for our bus. Erin departed for London, and Maddie and I traveled to Amsterdam. I have decided that I am not a fan of taking buses to new cities. Even though we arrived at the bus station in plenty of time and double checked all of our information, we still had issues finding and boarding the bus. But, we made it and began our journey to Amsterdam!

Once in Amsterdam, Maddie and I made it to our (amazing) AirBnB. Again, this room was one of the best parts of the trip! We were only in Amsterdam two days, so we had to make the most of our time there! The first morning, we woke up and walked down the main street in Amsterdam. Maddie pulled out her Rick Steve’s guide to Amsterdam, and 20170423_135402she led us through his “walk” through the tourist center. Our first stop was a canal tour of the city. This turned out to be one of the best ways to see Amsterdam. After that, we found lunch (no mussels!) and walked to the “Nine Streets” and Jordaan area. According to Rick Steves, this area was the prime spot for food, shopping, and cute canals. It was also the neighborhood Anne Frank lived in while her family was hiding. We decided to get in line for the Anne Frank house around 2:15, and we made it to the front of the line by 4. But, it was so worth the wait. Walking through the same rooms that the Frank family lived in was breathtaking. Experiencing a place like that makes history truly come alive. Visiting the Anne Frank House left us in a somber and thoughtful mood. Before heading to our next destination, Maddie and I sat and talked a bit about the history and reality of their life. It was against the rules to take pictures of the house, but I don’t think a picture could have done it justice.

After leaving that area of town, we decided to check out the Red Light District before dinner. The neighborhood was surprisingly mild compared to my expectations. We saw some of the things you would expect in the Red Light District, but it was surrounded by beautiful canals, flowers, and senior citizen tour groups. Maybe we weren’t there at the right time, but I wasn’t complaining! After that, we found dinner at a little Italian restaurant and enjoyed Amsterdam at night.

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The next morning, we headed to the Museumplein, or museum square. There, we checked out the (underwhelming) Rijksmuseum, the famous art museum in Amsterdam. Not that it was a bad museum, but I thought it was overpriced for what you get. I expected rooms full of Vermeers and Rembrandts, but there were only a few. Compared to the (free!) National Gallery in London, it was a disappointment. To make up for it, we visited the Van Gogh Museum that afternoon. That was worth it! The museum not only displayed Van Gogh’s artwork, but it also told his life story. I liked Van Gogh before this trip, but I fell in love with his art after this museum! We ended the day with a leisurely dinner at another Italian restaurant. The next day, we woke up bright and early to make the trip back to London.

This trip was my last travel adventure of this term. Although it was not my favorite destination, I loved sharing it with my friends from London. But, I was ready to be “home” by the end. I would miss the canals and tulips, but traveling is exhausting! On my flight, I realized this would be my last budget airline flight to London this term. That realization was sad, but exciting. I’ve loved traveling Europe, but I am ready to be settled in London for my last few weeks abroad.

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Travel Update: Italy and Greece

Like I promised in my last post, I want to share more about my trip to Italy and Greece a few weeks ago! Since this is my first time traveling to Europe, I knew I had to see the big sites, like Rome, this semester. When my friend Briana wanted to plan a trip to Italy, I jumped on it! We didn’t have long (Friday through Monday), but we tried to squeeze as much a20170408_152503s we could into just a few days. Our itinerary started in Milan. Next up, we took a train to Florence. To maximize our time, we pulled a stereotypical study abroad student move and booked an overnight bus to Rome. It worked, but I would not recommend! After Rome, Briana planned to fly to Dublin to meet up with another friend, but I chose to continue traveling. Greece has always been my dream travel destination. I fell in love with Greek history growing up, and I’ve had a weird obsession since then. The only downside: traveling to Greece does not really align with a student budget. When I realized that I could fly to Athens fairly easily from Rome, I decided to take a chance and go solo (see this post for more on traveling alone)! It paid off. This trip to Italy and Greece was not easy (on me or my bank account!), but the experience was worth it.

So, 2 days after my parents flew back home, I hopped on the next flight to Italy. Side note: I got a great shot of the Swiss Alps on my flight to Milan! 20170407_090136Briana and I met in Milan because it was the cheapest town to fly into. I wasn’t really thrilled to visit Milan, but why not? I arrived around mid-morning and decided to walk around the main square in the city. I saw (yet another) beautiful church and window shopped for a few hours! When Briana met up with me in Milan, we walked around a bit more to kill time before the train ride to Florence. I love the idea of taking trains throughout Europe, but it is not always as easy as you may think. Planes are nice. You know exactly what plane you are getting on and where it is going. Granted, you have to arrive at the airport early and go through security, but at least you know exactly what to do! Trains are a bit more difficult. Especially when the tickets are in Italian. But, Briana and I figured out what train to take, and we started our journey to the first destination: Florence!

When we arrived in Florence, the train station was on a, seemingly, random back-road in the city. We immediately mapped out our route to the hostel in Florence and figured out what bus to take to the city center. Despite my love for Google maps, it only tells you what bus to take. It doesn’t tell you how to take it (i.e. tickets and other bus etiquette). We quickly figured out that the Italian bus system is not very clear or timely. Despite 20170407_223353that, we finally made it to our hostel, WOW Florence. I wouldn’t necessarily use “wow” to describe it, but it was not a bad choice for my first European hostel experience. A primary colored reception area complete with superhero themed decorations welcomed us when we walked in. Despite the odd decor, the receptionist was friendly and the accommodation was simple and clean. Definitely not a 5 star hotel, but I can safely say there were no bed bugs! After dropping our luggage off at the hostel, Briana and I scouted out our first Italian dinner! We found the cutest little restaurant tucked away on one of the streets in Florence. Surprise, surprise, I didn’t order pasta. But, I had an amazing fish dish with zucchini and tomatoes! Afterwards, we walked off the (not complementary) bread by exploring Florence at night! I realized that everything I had heard about Florence was true. It really was magical that first night!

We started our next day early at the Galleria dell’Accademia. After waiting in line for a bit, we saw Florentine art I had studied in my art history course at UCL, plenty of sculptures, and (of course) Michelangelo’s David! We wandered through the museum for awhile before setting off to explore Florence and find a cute place for lunch. Again, I didn’t order pasta, but I had a real Italian Mista salad alongside veggie pate and amazing bread! After lunch, we explored the area around the Duomo, bargained for purses on Leather Lane, and walked along Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge lined with shops. We took some pictures by the river then explored the other side of Florence. After resting for a bit in a coffee shop, we decided to trek up the mountain to Michelangelo’s Piazza. There, we would see the best view of Florence and the copy of David guarding the city. Along the hike, we walked through Giardino delle rose, the garden of roses, and had beautiful views of Tuscany. I already had a blister on that first day of traveling, but how could you miss this view?

After our hike, we meandered our way back towards the city center to collect our luggage from the hostel. That night, we were meeting Briana’s friend Monica who is studying in Florence this semester. She took us to a fun indoor food market for dinner. I discovered that Italy serves a vegan’s dream pizza: amazing tomato sauce, roasted garlic, olives, capers, and basil. No cheese! For someone who doesn’t normally like pizza, I was very happy. After that, we went back to Monica’s apartment in Florence and prepared for our next journey – a 3 am bus ride to Rome. If you have never taken a 3 am bus to another city, I do not recommend it. Remember when I mentioned how unreliable the Italian bus system was earlier? Well, I re-learned that lesson waiting for the bus that night in the middle of Florence. After the bus arrived (30 minutes late), we boarded and attempted to sleep before our full day in Rome began in 4 hours. We arrived in Rome around 7 am and immediately scouted out the nearest open coffee shop. I desperately needed a cup of tea and a sink/mirror to feel human again. At this point, I would post a picture of Brianna and I post-bus ride. But, nobody really wants to see that. Instead, I’ll just jump into our sight-seeing in Rome!

Our first activity was a free walking tour through the heart of Rome. I’ve discovered that I love free walking tours in cities. A.) They are free. B.) I love walking C.) It is a good activity if you have no idea where to go. Our tour in Rome was great! We learned little facts about Roman culture, saw some of the big sites like the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain, and ducked into a few hidden Catholic churches. After that, we grabbed lunch at a restaurant the tour guide recommended. I finally ordered pasta! Then, we walked towards the Colosseum. We dealt with the crowds of tourists and annoying scam artists while waiting in line to get in there. Coming from London, I didn’t expect the number of people trying to sell you silly toys, water, and touristy items around the main sight-seeing attractions. I’m not used to the amount of people targeting tourists – it was definitely a different atmosphere than Trafalgar Square or Buckingham Palace! Once we got into the Colosseum, it was amazing though. I loved standing in a place filled with so much history. We took pictures from every angle and read all the informational plaques. It still blows my mind when I think about how old that site was! Our last stop was the Vatican City. After walking around the ENTIRE Vatican City wall, we finally found the entrance (still unsure why there was only 1 entrance). We didn’t see all of it, but we did make it into St. Peter’s Cathedral! Because it was Palm Sunday, we saw piles of olive branches (used in place of actual palms) around the Vatican and heard the choir singing inside.

That night, we found dinner and retreated back to our room outside of the city. It was the cutest B&B a local family owned! The next morning, Briana left to fly to Dublin and I explored a few sites we had missed the previous day. I went back to Vatican City to face the crowds waiting in line to see the Sistine Chapel. After standing in line b20170410_160632ehind a smoker and in front of a group of obnoxious teenagers, I chose the slightly more expensive option to “skip the line” through one of the tourist-trap third-party tour groups. Although paying for my ticket felt sketchy, I was satisfied with my decision to escape the 3 hour long line! The Sistine Chapel was as beautiful as everyone describes, but I got in trouble for trying to take a picture (oops!). After that, I decided to walk around the main area of Rome to see the inside of the Pantheon, check out a local farmers’ market, and sit on the Spanish steps. I even tried some Italian roasted chestnuts an old man by the Trevi Fountain sold.

That night, I packed up for the next leg of my journey: Greece! I arrived in Greece and followed the directions towards my airbnb. On the bus ride into the city, a local girl initiate20170411_105625.jpgd a conversation with me because I looked like her Swedish friend. It turned out that she was an amazing resource for advice! She even walked me to her favorite lunch place in the main square of Athens. Although the lunch place was closed, it was still sweet of her to take time out of her day to help a clueless American! I ended up finding a lunch spot and had one of the best veggie souvlakis I’ve ever had. Then, I made my way to my airbnb. My friend from the bus implied the area I stayed in was not the best part of Athens, and I realized she was right. The area was a bit sketchy, and I’m fairly sure my airbnb host was running an under-the-table operation. But, I had a clean(ish) room to myself! Let’s just say I always locked the door and didn’t get back too late at night. Despite that, the room was only a 10 minute walk from the historical center of Athens!

That afternoon, I took my friend’s advice and navigated my way towards the closest beach to Athens. I knew I wanted to see the Aegean Sea, so this was the perfect time! I could not believe how blue the water was. It was still a bit too chilly for me to swim (even though a few brave locals were), but I did stick my feet in! I collected a few rocks and sat by the water for awhile that afternoon. Afterwards, I made my way back to the main square, explored the National gardens, and walked through Plaka, a historical and shopping area in Athens. There, I found a few gifts for the family and wandered along the beautiful streets. I stumbled upon a few old Byzantine churches and a path that led to an amazing view of the city. Then, I made my way down the hill and found dinner at one of the many touristy cafes in the area. I ordered sea bass for dinner, but I was not expecting to be served the entire fish. It was good, but I avoided the head despite the waiter trying to convince me that was the “best” part. I think the waiter also took pity on my being alone because he gave me the wifi password and dessert on the house!

The next day, I went on another free walking tour with a local Athenian. She was great! In addition to history and facts, she described the Greek economic crisis and shared her experience. I also loved when she described herself as an old hippie! She talked about her family’s commune by the ocean – complete with chickens and an olive grove. She won me over after that. On the tour, I also met two students that are studying at Oxford. The girl, Katie, was studying abroad for the semester like me! The two of us decided to get lunch together after the tour and explore the Acropolis. It was nice having a buddy to spend the afternoon with! After lunch, we entered the Acropolis and climbed the hill towards the Parthenon. Along the way, we saw the Theatre of Dionysus, Old Temple of Athena, Erechtheum, and other ruins. Not only could you see the ancient ruins at the top, but also views of the entire city. After soaking in the history of that site, we made our way towards the Ancient Agora, or marketplace, at the the bottom of the Acropolis. Standing among the remains of this ancient civilization was something I had always dreamed about. It was definitely a surreal experience! After that, Katie and I decided to visit the Olympic Stadium. We listened to the audio guide tour and then took a few stereotypical tourist photos on the winners’ podium! After that, we departed and I found dinner in the Plaka district again. The man eating alone next to me struck up a conversation after I finished my meal. I guess I look lonely when I’m eating?

After dinner, I tried to soak up my last few hours in Greece. I walked around the Plaka district, bought a last minute gift at a soap shop, and watched the sunset in Athens. I realized how lucky I was to be in Greece! I just spent a week exploring some of the oldest sites in Europe, enjoying amazing views of the cities and ocean, and soaking in the culture that surrounded me. At the end of this trip, I was exhausted. But, it was so worth it! I can’t wait to look back on these pictures and remember the people I met, the food I ate, and the experiences that I had. That trip was everything I imagined and more.

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If you made it to the end of this post, go you! I know I can get a bit rambly at times 🙂 So, what’s next on the blog? Brussels, Bruges, Ghent, and Amsterdam!

Learning to Travel Alone

I have quite a bit of catching up to do! These past few weeks have felt like a whirlwind. My Easter holiday (see this post for more info on my school schedule) began on March 25th. That Friday, March 24th, I took my first solo trip outside of England to Geneva. Originally, I planned to meet my friend, Erin, in Switzerland, but her school schedule changed after I had already booked my flight. Although I was sad that I wouldn’t get to see her, I was excited (and nervous!) about traveling alone for the first time.
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First day in Geneva
On Friday morning, I caught my flight to Geneva and made it to my airbnb. Because Geneva is so close to the French border, I actually stayed in a little town called Annemasse in France! That night, I made it back to the city center, explored Old Town Geneva, and found dinner. I loved walking the beautiful, twisty streets in the city. I may not have been in the Swiss Alps, but the surrounding mountains and Geneva lake were beautiful. I loved the combination of Geneva’s history and the natural beauty. Window shopping for watches and chocolate wasn’t bad either! The next day, I started the morning with a walking tour of the city. On my way to the tour I stumbled upon one of my favorite things – a farmers’ market! Knowing me, I had to stop and walk around the market a few times before heading to the tour. I found vegetables, olives, bread, meat, and plenty of cheese! Once I made it to the beginning of the tour, I stumbled upon a few of my sorority sisters from Vanderbilt! They were also visiting Geneva that weekend.
After the tour, I bought some chocolate for the family, explored the Reformation museum, climbed to the top of the church, and then met up again with the ADPI girls. We took some stereotypical sorority pics and then walked to the UN. Unfortunately, the UN was closed to visitors that day. But, I got a picture of the flags! That night I had an earlier dinner and made the trek back to France before my early flight the next morning.
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One of my favorite things about Geneva was meeting new people. My airbnb hosts were the cutest couple (Chris and Kris). He was from Annemasse, and she was from Estonia. they live to travel and host people from around the world. Not only did they help me navigate Geneva, but they also made me feel at home. I ate some of their fresh dates, read the first few chapters of one of their books before bed, and had great conversations over tea! I also met some friendly “locals” during my trip. I use the term “local” loosely because one person was actually a British student attending university in Geneva. That first night, he helped me navigate the complicated bus system back to France, explained to exactly what “black pudding”, aka blood sausage, is, and walked me back to the airbnb since it was dark. The next day I encountered more friendly faces on the bus: a man paid for my bus ticket when the French bus driver wouldn’t accept my Swiss Francs (even though the driver did the day before). I also had interesting conversations with shopkeepers, fellow tourists, and my tour guide. Exploring Geneva was a bit lonely at times, but interacting with new people was exciting. I loved the freedom of exploring the city on my schedule and taking time to meet others. If I was with someone else, I may not have gotten a chance to stroll through the farmers’ market or chat with the British student on the bus. It was nice waking up and going to bed when I wanted to (early of course). I also learned that it is okay to have dinner by yourself sometimes – at least you get to always pick the restaurant!
Greece was my second trip alone (more details on this and my trip to Italy later!). I had always dreamed about going to Greece since I was a little girl, but would I enjoy it alone? I avoided hostels because an airbnb seemed safer, but my room turned out to be in a not-so-great part of town. Thankfully it was only 10 minutes away from the main historical part of the city! After these two trips, I’ve made a list of my top reasons to travel alone and a few tips since I’m obviously a pro-traveler after a few trips.

1. Have a plan, but don’t get too tied down – I am definitely still learning this. This semester has taught me the value of letting go and taking time to “smell the roses.” It was nice having a plan for what  I wanted to see and do on my trips alone. At the same time, I tried to put away my google maps and wander down interesting streets or explore a market. Although you may get lost at times, exploring is so much better tourist tunnel vision. This is how I discovered adorable streets, markets, and gardens in Geneva and Athens!

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Saturday morning Farmers’ Market in Geneva
2. Keep yourself safe and healthy –  research where you are staying and the type of living situation you will be in. I would rather pay a little more and stay in an airbnb vs. a hostel when I’m alone. Your host matters too! The couple I stayed with in Geneva was AMAZING, but my Greek host was not-so-great. At the same time, make sure you take time to eat well, put on sunscreen (learned that lesson in Rome), and rest if you need it. Taking care of myself is a hard lesson – I like to go, go, go. But, self-care is necessary when traveling!
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Me in every airport
3. Treat yourself to one nice dinner (or more if you can afford it!) – You can still enjoy eating out if you are alone. For starters, you get to pick when and what you eat. I guess I eat earlier than Swiss people – I was the only one in the restaurant at 6:30 pm in Geneva! Eating alone is also a nice time to sit, read your tourist pamphlets, or reflect on the day.  A waiter in Athens seemed to take pity on my being alone, so he gave me the wifi password and desert on the house! Both pros in my book.
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Fancy quinoa in Geneva
4. Short solo-trips are better than long solo-trips (for me) – I loved experiencing the Geneva and Athens alone, but I am glad I wasn’t traveling longer. For me, a short getaway is exciting, but i would get lonely on longer trips. Having some form of human contact is so important!
5. Don’t be afraid to talk to others – Meeting people on the buses, making an effort to see my sorority sisters, and talking to fellow travelers on my tour made my experience so much richer. Because I was alone, it was easy to reach out to others to start conversations. Some people don’t respond, but most have been friendly in my experience!
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A Greek friend I met on the bus!
6. Share your experience – Whether you blog, Skype your family, or just post a picture on Instagram, I believe sharing your experience is important. It allows you to process what has happened, but it’s also fun to share your adventures! I love skyping my parents after a trip and relaying my experiences! Documenting my travels via this blog and way too many photos has created a way for me to look back and remember the days I explored Switzerland, stood in the Aegean Sea, and learned to travel alone.
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Standing on the edge of paradise in Athens

A Day in the Life of an UCL Student

Wow! The past few weeks have been crazy! I’m already half-way through my Easter break in London. At UCL, students have a month off (March 24 – April 23) for the Easter holiday. It is a chance to rest and study for upcoming exams. UCL reserves the third term of the year, the end of April through the beginning of June, for exams. Typical students prepare for exams from both fall and spring classes, but I have a much lighter schedule as an affiliate student. I do have one exam for my HR class, but I have 2 essays to write for my history classes instead of the AP-style exam normal students take. When my essay questions are released at the beginning of the third term, I will be swamped with research though! So, instead of studying now, I’m enjoying my month off! I started the break with a quick trip to Geneva (more details on that in the my next post!). Then, my parents visited London, we traveled to Dublin, and most recently I spent a week in Italy and Greece! Just writing that makes me tired. I’m back in London for Easter (yay!), and I leave for my trip to Belgium and Amsterdam late next week. Expect pictures of waffles and tulips soon.
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Enjoying the sunshine in Florence
I’ll post updates on my recent travel adventures in the upcoming days, but I want to share what a typical day in London looked like for me since classes have been officially over for a few weeks. Attending Uni (short for university) in London is very different than attending Vanderbilt. To start, student do not live on campus. Even student housing, which I live in, is off-campus. Most students commute in from home, live in off campus housing, or find a cheap apartment in the city. I’ve met students who commuted on bike or via the tube for over an hour each day. Because UCL is a commuter school, connecting to life on campus was hard. I was not immersed in a “UCL bubble” like at Vanderbilt. Another difference: students spend less time in class and more time in the library (or coffee shops if you’re like me). I’ve mentioned this before, but learning is self-directed. I spent less time in class this semester than I ever have at Vanderbilt. Monday’s were my busiest day in terms of attending classes, but event then I did not spend much time on-campus as I do at home. I learned to love the independent lifestyle of a commuter student. I couldn’t rely on campus dining or fill my time with campus-related events. Instead, I cooked for myself, maintained a study schedule, and explored London more than I have Nashville. Because of my class schedule, my days were varied – Monday and Tuesday revolved around school, while Wednesday through Friday were less structured. I spent most mornings the same way as I do at home: early alarm followed by breakfast, Bible study, some yoga, and checking email. Then I would typically get ready to start my day! Below is what a typical week looked like for me as an UCL student!
Monday:
10 am: Study at a coffee shop or Planet Organic (similar to, but smaller than Whole Foods)
12 pm: 1 hr European Christendom History Lecture
1 pm: Study/check email at Waterstones (the campus bookstore’s coffee shop)
2 pm: 1 hr history seminar
3 pm: Study/check email
4 pm: 2 hr HR lecture
5:30 pm: Think about dinner because this lecture was always way too long
6 pm: Walk home and eat dinner or go to the Christian Union (if I wasn’t too tired)
Tuesday:
10 am: British History Lecture
11 am: Study in a cafe near campus and eat lunch
2 pm: British History Seminar
3 pm: Run errands, grocery shop, or go home
7 pm: Small group through my church!
Wednesday:
9 am: HR seminar
10 am -bedtime: run errands, study, or explore London!*
*Wednesdays differed depending on what I needed to get done that week. Typically I would do a mix of errands, homework, and fun London things! For example, one day I got lunch at my favorite food market, Borough Market, with a family friend who was also in London. Other days, I worked during the day then did something fun at night like going to see Wicked!
Thursday:
No school! I reserved Thursdays for quick trips or exploring London! One week, I visited Oxford. Another, Paris. I also explored different neighborhoods, like Hampstead Heath, or one of the many museums in London!
Friday:
11 am: Meet my Art history class at an art museum in London for 2 hrs
1 pm: Leave museum and go home/run errands
6 pm – bedtime: Stay in and rest if I had a busy Saturday planned or do something fun with friends in London!
As you can see, my days were varied. The beginning of the week was very school-heavy, but I had plenty of time to do other things. Since classes here do not require as much outside work, except heavy reading requirements, I had more time to spend on working with Small World Yoga, maintaining my social media work study position with IFSA Butler, and enjoying this city. I loved that I had time to go do things, like comedy shows and theatre productions, on school nights. At Vanderbilt, the education structure and stressful environment dissuade me from enjoying Nashville like I have London. It’s always stressful to leave campus for a night at TPAC or try to convince others to go to a festival on the other side of town with me. London is so different – my two friends, Maddie and Erin, are always up for a new show or event!  It has been nice to not be so “involved.”  This semester, I have missed attending on campus events/meetings, like chapter for my sorority. At the same time, I love this independent student life I’ve experienced in London. I feel like I really know how to “adult” now. I pay my phone bill on time, do my laundry, grocery shop, and balance my work/social life. Next semester, I am living off-campus and working in an internship. I feel like my time in London has been a good practice for that more independent lifestyle. My goal for next semester is simple: find a happy medium between life on campus at Vanderbilt and life in Nashville. I may not be quite as touristy in Nashville, but I want to explore my city like I have London. At the same time, I want to soak up my last year as a Vanderbilt student!*
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Lunches in the gardens – my favorite way to spend a day soaking up  London
*Just slightly freaking out that next year is my last year at Vandy

A Little Piece of Home

As I write this, my parents are getting on a plane back to Nashville. Today was hard. My parents and I spent the day traveling from Dublin to London knowing that this was the end of their visit. I was sad when they left, but I wouldn’t change this past week with my parents in London. Not only was this their first time traveling abroad, but I also had the chance to share my life in London with two people I love dearly. On our last night in Dublin, my mom looked at me while we were walking back to our hotel and said, “We are in [insert expletive here] Dublin! Can you even believe that?” That’s exactly how I feel about this experience in London. I don’t realize how blessed I am to have this experience abroad while always having someone to return home to. This past week with my parents not only reminded me of all the things I love about home, but also how to slow down and enjoy the things I love about London. Sitting here tonight, after waving (and crying) when my parents boarded their train, I’m realizing just how lucky I really am.

Before I get too sappy, let’s rewind a bit. When I said bye to my parents waaaaay back in January, I did not expect to see them until I returned home in late May. A few months ago, finances and timing aligned so one person could visit London. As a family, we agreed my Dad would come visit! I have been sending him articles about the city, making dinner reservations at the tallest restaurant in London, forwarding links to different events, and creating lists of things for him to bring me (aka clothes and food). Fast-forward to a few Sundays ago: my parents and I skyped to talk about his travel plans. This whole time, my mom had been telling me about her “girls weekend” with her best friend in Illinois. She would pout a bit about not going to London but then act excited about my Dad visiting. Fast-forward a few more days, and I’m texting my Dad to meet up at King’s Cross Station after his flight. I saw my Dad, and immediately ran up to give him the biggest hug I’ve had in awhile. Fast-forward a few more seconds. My Dad and I walk around the corner, and my Mom is standing there, in London! Let’s just say I shed a few tears (of joy!), and gave her the second biggest hug I’ve had in awhile. My dad captured my reaction, but the picture is definitely not the most flattering. Check out my Mom’s Facebook page if you really want to see that. Who knew my parents were sneaky enough to pull off this surprise though?

I had to alter my plans for my Dad and I since our tour group gained a member. Thankfully, my sister had emailed the Duck and Waffle, the restaurant I had reserved for the night, to make sure my Mom could eat too!  Before that, we started that first day off at one of my favorite little coffee shops – Half Cup. They had a traditional English breakfast with tea while I enjoyed my avocado toast and newfound love – a matcha latte. Later that afternoon, we took a Double-Decker bus (a must in London) towards the Thames. After getting a bit lost through the construction along the river , we made it to our first destination: Sky Garden. Sky Garden is the best (and free!) alternative to one of the m20170330_072403ost popular tourist sites in London, the Shard. The Shard is the tallest building in London, and it has the best views of the city. Sky Garden may not be as tall, but you still get an amazing panoramic shot of London from 155 meters up. Plus, Sky Garden has an indoor garden and amazing bar you can enjoy while taking in the sites. Continuing with the views of London theme, we made our way to the next reservation at the tallest 24 hr restaurant in London, Duck and Waffle. There, you can take in the views of the city while enjoying an amazing dinner. The food (including wine) was amazing and the views were spectacular, but the company was even better.

The next day, we woke up and joined a “hop on hop off” tour on the city! We started the day20170330_123202 with a Yeoman Warder, a.k.a a Beefeater, at the Tower of London. We heard tales of prisoners and killings, saw the Crown Jewels, and scouted out the famous Tower Ravens. Next up, we hopped on the tour bus and saw the “must-see” sites in London: Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. In-between sites, we jumIMG-20170330-WA0006.jpgped on the tour bus for a lack-luster guided tour of the city. The ride was great, but it’s not a good sign when I know more information about an area than the guide. Despite that, seeing the sites was great! We ended the night at a traditional pub in Trafalgar Square. I got an amazing beet and lentil salad while my parents enjoyed more traditional fare. My Mom ordered the classic fish and chips while my Dad tried something a bit more adventurous – some sort of British fish pie with salmon, shrimp, and veggies. Are you detecting an eating pattern here?

Friday morning, we continued our London adventure in the Kensington area. After dealing with the tour bus again, we checked out Harrods Department store, Hyde Park, 20170331_193655.jpgand the Victoria and Albert Museum. I even got a chance to share some of my new art history knowledge at the museum! The next day, we planned to go to Borough Market for lunch and Portobello Market to shop. We started with lunch at Borough market. My parents had their first taste of London street food and we tasted way too many samples at the permanent booths around Borough Market. At Portobello Market in Notting Hill, we walked down Portobello Road, alongside the iconic colored houses, towards the antique traders and different vendors. I came away with a London themed tea cup, and my Mom found a new bracelet. Pretty typical for shopping with the Jacksons. That night we went to a ~local~ pub I’ve discovered, The Camden Head, for a night of free British Comedy (and more wine).

On our last full day in London, my parents and I planned to attend a church service at St. Paul’s. Not only was this my parents’ first visit to an Anglican church but also their first visit to a cathedral this large. St. Paul’s is beautiful, but the service was even better. The components of this worship service echoed memories of traditional Methodist 20170402_225245.jpgworship services my parents and I attended while I was growing up. It was an amazing experience to listen to the organ play, take communion, and participate in the liturgy with my parents in this iconic London cathedral. I cherished sharing that experience with them. After the service, we checked out the Museum of London before heading to high tea! My dad found a local pub to hang out in while my mom and I enjoyed a, albeit not traditional, fun afternoon filled with tea and mini sandwiches! It was the perfect time to be girly and catch up on life together – something I’ve missed. We found my Dad after our tea and prepared to go on our next adventure – Dublin!

The next morning, we left for our “rail and sail” journey to Dublin. Although we traveled for the majority of the day, the train and ferry trip were beautiful. We saw snapshots of the English countryside (complete with sheep of course), and we sailed across the Irish Sea. Despite a bit of seasickness and a minor (almost major) misstep with the border patrol in Ireland, the trip was amazing! Once in Dublin, we found our hotel that was 20170403_195651_editedlocated near Trinity College Dublin. We immediately sought out dinner, and found an amazing place with the perfect name for this family: The Pig’s Ear. There, we indulged in a Chopped worthy meal. I was just happy to try some Irish seafood. On Tuesday morning, we tried the “hop on hop off” tour in Dublin. To our surprise, it was 1,000X better than tour in London. The tour guide was hilarious (and very Irish). He sang us Irish songs, pointed out his favorite pub, and indulged our Irish stereotypes. Along the tour, we hopped off at the Dublin Castle, Christ Church Cathedral, and Guinness Brewery. That night, we got tickets to Celtic Nights – an Irish music and dancing show! There, I tried my first taste of Jameson Whisky and Bailey’s Irish Creme. Unfortunately, the whisky was way too strong and the coffee was not strong enough. On the plus side, I decided good-quality beer from Guinness isn’t that bad.

Back to Wednesday – the last day with my parents. We woke up, had breakfast, and shopped a bit before the plane ride. Then, we almost missed the flight back to London after battling security and sprinting through terminals at the Dublin airport. We finally made it back to my room at school for a few hours before my parents’ next journey home. Playing cards on the train and eating dinner together, even if i20170404_181156t was as basic as pre-packaged soup, were my favorite parts of that day. It may seem simple, but playing cards and eating dinner together reminded me of my best memories at home. I’ve realized this week how much I appreciate the little things – like always beating my parents at our favorite card game or my mom saying things a bit too loud on public buses. Those little moments define my relationship with my parents. Throughout the week, I found myself reaching for my Mom’s hand, leaning on my Dad’s shoulder, and appreciating the little moments with them more often than I do at home. Our trip was filled with hiccups along the way, but I wouldn’t trade my time with them for anything.

20170330_174345Spending the last week with my parents made me appreciate the place I’m in and the people I can share that with. My parents commented on how independent I’ve become. They were proud of the life I’ve created in London. I also realized why I have been able to create this life in London – I have the best support system one could ask for. My parents not only raised me well but they continue to provide support when I need it. They are my parents, cheerleaders, and friends. I m so blessed to have them in my life. I’m also blessed to be able to share London, a place I can call home, with them! Sending them home was hard, but I know that I’ll be making that same journey back to Nashville soon.

So, what’s next? Since I don’t have exams until the end of April, I plan to travel and explore London! If my parents taught me one thing this week, it was to slow down some. I’m looking forward to my next trips and to exploring this city! My next getaway is to Italy and Greece! I’m flying out for Italy on Friday morning to meet my friend Briana, heading to Greece on Tuesday morning, and making the trip back to London on Thursday! Look out for pictures of the Mediterranean sea, Italian art, and delicious pasta soon!

24 Hours in Paris

A few weeks ago, I decided I would take a day trip to Paris. With the eurostar train – the high-speed railway connecting London to other major cities in Europe – only a few minutes away, why would I not take a day trip to Paris? So, I booked my tickets, packed my bags, and left on Wednesday afternoon. By the time I got into Paris I had 24 hours to experience “La Ville Lumiere” – The City of Lights.

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Since I was going to be in Paris for literally 24 hours, I knew I had to make a plan. Thankfully, my friend Mary Catherine is studying in Paris this year, so I had a place to stay for the night! When I arrived in Paris, I wandered around the train station, Gare du Nord, until I found signs that seemed like they pointed toward public transportation. This would have been a great time to actually remember what I learned in French class freshman year! I found the train (thank goodness for citymapper directions!), bought my ticket, and took the 30 minute ride to the 14th Arrondissement. As I walked out of the metro station, I realized that my phone was not working. I’m not exactly sure how my UK SIM card works (I just do what the phone company tells me to do each month!). All I know is it wasn’t working at that moment. Coupling my phone issues with the lack of clear street signs, I was pretty lost at that moment. Everyone was rushing home, I had no way to contact my friend without data, and I just happened to be at one of the most confusing intersections in Paris. Thankfully, I found my way and made it to Mary Catherine!

That night, we shared a delicious plate of macaroons from “the most famous shop in 20170301_202102Paris!” I tried rose blossom, orange blossom, vanilla, and pistachio. We both decided the orange blossom was the best – the inner-Brit inside me thought it would ha ve gone well with a cuppa’ tea. After that, we got ready and headed out for my first Parisian adventure – a jazz nightclub. We walked long the Seine River, drank my first taste of real french wine, and listened to a fun jazz band in a medieval-style club that night. I even got to experience a “Midnight in Paris” as we walked down one of the older, narrower streets in city after we left the club. We decided to head back to get some rest before the next day! Since I packed in ALL of Paris (or at least it felt like it) in one day, I thought a timeline of my day would be the best way to share all the sites I hit!

6:00 am – Wake up call! If you are in Paris for 24 hours, you have to make the most of every moment (even if you went to a jazz bar the night before)

7:00 am – Catch the metro into the city

7:30 am – Watch the sunrise over the Eiffel tower and take mandatory touristy pictures

8:15 am – Start walking towards the Arc de Triumph and realize you are already getting hungry again…

8:45 am – Check out the Arc de Triumph and Eternal Flame

9:15 am – Find some more food and coffee!

9:45 am – Walk down the main shopping strip in Paris

10:15 am – Check out the Musee D’Orsay, home on Monet, Impressionism, Van Gogh, Degas, and so much more!

10:30 am – Take more stereotypical tourist photos in front of the clocks at the Musee

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11:00 am – Realize you are hungry again and set out to find lunch by Notre Dame

11:30 am – Lunch! Side note – I prefer French wine to French food

12:45 pm – Say goodbye to Mary Catherine and start adventuring through Paris alone

1:00 pm – Check out Notre Dame!
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1:30 pm – Wander upon an adorable flower market, buy “Paris” things like lavender and fancy soap

1:45 pm – Time to face the crowds at the Louvre!

2:15 pm – Find and take stereotypical selfie shot with the Mona Lisa and then leave the Louvre because it is WAY too overwhelming

2:30 pm – Head over to Sainte-Chapelle – aka a kaleidoscope posing as a gothic cathedral

3:15 pm – Realize I am exhausted but still have “must-sees” on my list…

3:20 pm – Decide I need caffeine

3:30 pm – Walk towards the Latin Quarter and Cafe Du Flore – one of the oldest cafes in Paris. Famous for serving philosophers, thinkers, and artists

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4:00 pm – Explore the side streets of the Latin Quarter. I stumbled upon a fancy, gourmet food store and bought fancy salt (or “le sel”), tried on perfume while recieving dirty looks from the store owner, and meandered through a little bookstore

4:30 pm – Drink the strongest (and smallest) cup of coffee I have ever tried. At this point, I realized why I would drink tea over coffee any day of the week

4:35 pm – People watch as I sit outside the cafe with my coffee

4:50 pm – Meet up with Mary Catherine again and discover a Parisian tea store…

5:15 pm – Head back to Mary Catherine’s to make dinner and get ready to leave for the train station again

6:00 pm – Eat a French baguette with dinner (a must-do in Paris)

7:00 pm – Leave for the Eurostar station

8:13 pm – Board the Eurostar and head back to London

8:15 pm – Realize you have walked over 35,000 steps according to your phone….

8:30 pm – Attempt to read Art History article in-between naps

10:15 pm – Arrive at Kings Cross Station, walk home, freeze my baguette (it was over a foot long)

11:00 pm – Sleep and recover for class the next day

Can you do Paris in 24 hours? Why yes, you can.

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The story of how I became an history major

In another life, I’ve decided I would be a history major. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Human and Organizational Development (HOD) program at Vandy. Side note – I almost titled this post, “Explaining HOD in London”. But, I’ve stopped trying to even do that. To British students, I’m simply a “business major” at home. Being a “business” student has its perks – I enjoy marketing, business strategy, and working with in teams. But… being a history major is not so bad. I’ve re-discovered my love of history that began in my AP history classes in high school. Now that I’m actually in some of the places I studied, I love history even more. Simply walking around London is akin to reading a history book. Throughout the city, there are historical sights, blue plaques that tell you who lived or worked in houses, and museums filled with everything from neanderthal bones to pieces of modern art that I don’t understand.

I am also surrounded by academia in London and England. Just a short train ride away is one of the oldest and most well-known univeristies in the world – Oxford. London itself has a more universities than I imagined. My school, UCL, is actually the oldest university in London. Fun fact – Jeremy Bentham was the “spiritual founder” of UCL. Now, his presereved body sits near the cloisters and main library. Legend has it that UCL’s rival, Kings College, stole Bentham’s head at one point and played football with it. Besides all the quirky stories, I love the libraries and sense of academia here. From the beautiful architecture to the expansive (and confusing) library, everything seems very “scholarly” here.

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A view of Oxford 

This may all sound very romanticized (and it is), but I really have fallen back in love with learning for the sake of learning here. At home, I only take classes to meet a requirement or finish my degree. Here, I am in a class for humanities credit at home and an HR class for my “business” major, but I choose my history classes solely on interest. As I sit in my British History class (ironically taught by a proud Irishman), I  get to explore the towns and sites we learn about. As I attend lectures on medieval Christendom in Europe, I get to learn about academic activity at Oxford and chivalry at castles like Warwick Castle. As I visit museums with my art history class, I get to physically see Raphael’s The Mond Crucifixion as we compare it to other pieces. Even as I go to my Human Resources class, I get to interview British students for their perspective on this international topic. As you can tell – I’m enjoying this break from my classes at Vandy.

Academic life in London is not easy though. I may be taking what many students in the states percieve as “easy electives” but nothing is an “easy elective” at  UCL. Because of the differences in the education system in Britain, my classmates are far more advanced in their specific degree of study. Instead of taking a wide range of classes or a liberal arts cirriculum,  students in the UK focus their studies in the equivalent of US high school. Then, at university, UK studies only take classes within their major. That means, the first year students in my classes have been taking upper level history courses before attending UCL, and they are ONLY taking history courses at UCL. They are also taking classes to learn how to be a historian. Another difference is class structure and grading policies. Each week, I attend one lecture and seperate seminar for each class. During the lecture my history professors, the Irishman and an Oxford scholar, speak the entire hour as I quickly take down notes. Then, smaller groups meet with the professor for an hour to discuss the readings. In these seminars, you have me – attempting to articulate what I thought the author was arguing. And then, you have the kid sitting next to me who begins analyzing the primary texts from a marxist perspective. I just play along and pretend that I know what is going on! Sometimes I don’t feel quite qualified to be a history major here, in a town filled with history, but I still love the “academia” of it all.

The other difference between Vandy and UCL is the grading process. At home, I am typically graded on a mixture of participation, assignments, quizes, tests, and essays. Here, I am graded on two essays – that’s it. Reading is not required – there are no “reading quizzes” or assignments to keep you on track during the semester. The responsibility to learn, keep up with the class, and be engaged falls on the student. I actually love this independent learning method. I feel like I have to be more engaged in my work, but I like the freedom of choosing how much I work. I’ll update you on my thoughts on this grading system after I get my first essay grade back…

Another thing I love about studying abroad – I’ve decided that visiting castles, going to museums, and experiencing the tourist-y and historical sights in London qualifies as “studying” for my history classes. They always say that “learning is outside of the classroom” right? That also gives me a reason to share some awesome views of Oxford and Warwick Castle – the latest adventure in my London saga!
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Stonehenge and Salisbury

I can’t believe I’ve been in London for a full 3 weeks now! One one hand, I feel like I just arrived a few days ago. Leaving my parents at the airport still seems like it happened yesterday. On the other hand, I feel like I have been here for months now. I’m starting to fall into more of a routine, my room feels a little bit more “lived in”, and I’ve found a few go-to stores and coffee shops around the area. Although I’m starting to realize that I actually live here (for at least a few months), I’m still trying to do tourist-y things every week! This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit one of the more iconic spots in England – Stonehenge! My university, UCL, offers discounted day trips and tickets to certain places each semester. Stonehenge and Salisbury just happened to be the first one scheduled for the spring.

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I met the rest of the group that morning at campus, and we loaded into the coach bus for our 2-ish hour journey to Stonehenge. I had planned to either bring some of my reading to do on the bus (didn’t happen) or leisurely watch English country-side as we drove (also didn’t happen). Instead, I slept! When I woke up, we were magically only 15 minutes away from our destination! I had 2 hours to at Stonehenge, but I waited for two of my friends, who hadn’t gotten the tickets through school, to arrive before I explored. Once they arrived, we boarded the shuttle to the actually rocks in lieu of the 30 minute walk through the cold.

I wish I could tell you that seeing Stonehenge was a life-changing moment – that I experienced the magic of the bluestones the the Normans used to build the prehistoric monument. But, I didn’t. For me, the most “magical” part of the experience was seeing such an iconic 16251438_10212247815495650_1915573476_omonument and learning about the history of the stones. Did you know that Stonehenge was built in 2500 B.C. and the builders used stones that were around 150 miles away from the building site? Crazy! The site was originally used as a ceremonial burial ground, place of ritual, and temple aligned with the movement of the sun. Around Stonehenge, there are several other burial and ritual sites. The builders sought out the bluestone from the Preseli Mountains, despite the distance, for the magical and healing properties.  In the picture above, the replica of the bluestone rock was radiating heat. I may not have experienced any life-changing moements, but in that sense it was magical.

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After taking in some views of the English Countryside, my group loaded back onto the bus and made the quick trip to Salisbury. Located in Wiltshire, Salisbury’s history begins around 2,500 years ago when the Saxons invaded the area. It was originally called Sarum until the bishop decided to move downhill and create the modern town of Salisbury in 1217. In 1220, the town began building Salisbury Cathedral and completed it in 38 years. This catherdral is one of the four places where you can find an original copy of the Magna Carta (dating 1215).  In addition to the Early English Gothic cathedral, Salisbury also has a fun food market, cute shops, and an adorable walkway along the river (I called it a creek).

That afternoon, I headed over to the cathedral and had a great walking tour! I learned about the history of the building and the things inside of it. Fun fact – the cathedral is actually floating on water. The foundation is built on water, and the tour guides have to check the water level (through a hole in the cathedral floor) every so often to ensure the building won’t collapse! When I had finished the tour, I sought out the market in the town square. It was towards the end of the day, so I found some great deals! After that, I explored the shopping area for a bit. There was a weird mix of new/chain stores alongside cute, local shops. I did find a tea store though, so I was happy! I decided to grab a quick dinner at an adorable cafe, The Boston Tea Party, before I had to meet our tour group at the bus.

Although I got to see iconic sites, historical buildings, and my first taste of the English country-side, my favorite part of the day was learning to explore a new area alone. My friends had met me at Stonehenge, but they did not make the trip to Salisbury with me. At first, I was worried that I would get bored. But, I realized that exploring areas alone can be fun! I didn’t have to go into the shops I didn’t want, I could linger in the tea shop for way too long, and I got the chance to just simply walk through the streets. Even though I love exploring places with others, I’m learning that just exploring is pretty good too.

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I am the woman at the well

Hello! I’ve been in London for almost two weeks now, but it feels like forever! I keep forgetting that I am actually miles and miles away from home until friends don’t respond to emails/texts until late afternoon or I fall asleep when my parents are on their way home from work. It is still very unreal to me! I promise to do more of a “London” post soon to catch everyone up – the past two weeks have been a whirlwind of orientation, school registration, site-seeing, and shopping (it is much more difficult to buy everything you need to live in an apartment than I though). But, throughout the past two weeks, one thing has stayed consistent: my mornings spent reading my Bible, praying, and worshiping.

If you have had any conversation with me about faith, or really life in general, you probably know that I follow a devotional website – She Reads 15032931_10211253639361154_9205627640390607474_nTruth. I love having a resource to go to and share with others. One of the best aspects of following these studies is that my Mom and I can both read it, albeit at very different times, and talk about it. Currently, the study is on the gospel of John in the New Testament. Before arriving in the UK, I worried about my faith and spiritual life. Back at home, I am supported and encouraged by amazing women and men through my campus ministry and friend group.  But, I knew that I wouldn’t have that (in-person) here. One of my best friends, Christy, reminded me that, regardless of where I am, God would be with me and would use this experience to lead me closer to him – whether through a different Christian community in the UK or my personal walk with Him.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” – Hebrews 10:24-25

I held onto these words of encouragement becaue they reminded me of God’s faithfulness (despite my nature to wander). Even with this encouragement and my prayers, I still had doubts. I love when things are planned, organized, and straightfoward – the uncertainity of this semester scared me. Despite that, God has worked through the scriptures in John to spiritually meet me where I am right now. I’ve realized that I am the woman at the well (John 4), the hungry crowds (John 6), and the blind man (John 9)  that you encounter in John. In all three of these situations, the different characters are in need of something even if they didn’t realize it.

  • The woman didn’t just need water, she needed living water
  • The crowd did not just need dinner, they needed bread of life
  • The blindmand didn’t just need eyesight, he needed healing

The main character in all of these situations is Christ – he is the answer to what we all need. As I was reading these seperate passages this week, I was reminded of how simple the gospel is: I am a sinner, and Christ is a great savior. Like the woman, I have secrets that I try to hide from others, and even God, but he loves me anyway. Like the crowd, I continue to ask for things that I think I “need” instead of simply asking for Jesus. Like the blind man, I do not fully understand how or why I am healed, but I understand that it is because of God’s grace.

In John 4:15, the woman at the well says, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thristy or have to come here to draw water.” I don’t know if she fully understood what she was asking for (good news is we don’t have to fully understand God), but she did ask. I love this passage from She Reads Truth about this:

That’s all we have to say, too. From the woman frantically checking all her Bible-study boxes to the woman buried under the weight of past sin and shame, this promise is for all of us. Because we’re all thirsty. We’re all weary. We are all desperate for the Jesus who stands at the well offering the exact and only thing we need…. Give me this water, we say, breathless and tired. And He does.” – SRT

So, back to how this applies to where I am right now. In these past few weeks, I have needed Christ’s living water and bread of life to give me strength. When everything changes around you – that doesn’t. I’ve learned that I can lean on him and trust him like the lost sheep later on in this same gospel (John 10). I’m (slowly) reading a book my friend Megan gave me before I left, Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and LonelyThe idea of living loved is knowing and holding onto my identity in Christ rather than feeling anxiety or rejection in this world. After reading through John, I am reminded that I can live out my next few months in London knowing I am loved and provided for always. I have a great need, but He is the living water, the bread of life, the great healer, and the good shepherd. 

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A view of the London Bridge from a river boat cruise down the Thames – 1/10/17

 

Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life – John 4:14