The End Has No End

18 August 2009


Who procrastinates this much on a blog?

I guess I was struggling to find a way to sum up this whole experience with the perfect balance of poignant/nostalgic/witty…but anyway, since I’m going back to New York City for my senior year (whole other issue right there) I thought it was way past time to close up shop here in Londonland.

Without further ado, the final entry:


I wish I could say I went abroad because of James Joyce.

It was last summer. While reading Dubliners for my Facebook book club (kids these days, right?), I stumbled upon the following line: “But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.” The quotation took a moment to sink in. When it did, I jumped up, Eureka style, and announced that I too must go abroad to seek these adventures!

But that would make me seem a lot more whimsical and spontaneous than I am. In reality, my decision to study abroad was carefully orchestrated, beginning in the previous December (now we’re way back at the end of ’07) when I negotiated with one of my co-workers to cover my Resident Assistant position during the semester I’d be away. Still, I have to give ole Jamesy some credit. It’s rare for one particular sentence to leap off the page and resonate so profoundly with me. But for an English major, relevant reassurance about The Future from a book is kind of a big deal.

That’s not to say my life was completely lacking in adventure. I’d already lived two and a half years in New York City, spending the school year 1000 miles from home, mostly on my own. But this was different. Studying abroad meant going to another country, across an ocean and five time zones. “Oh it’s just England,” people told me. No, it’s not “just England,” as if the same language (give or take a few oddities) somehow makes it less of a different country.

In January, D-day finally came, and abroad I went. The experience was beyond incredible. You know. You’ve been reading along. I travelled to ten countries and took 5,134 pictures (supposedly worth a thousand words each, but even that would hardly do it justice) over the course of the semester. There is so much beauty and wonder in this world, and I am thankful for the opportunity to have seen just a fraction of it.

After five months, I came back with tea in my suitcase and “God Save the Queen” in my heart. I suffered immensely from the phenomenon known as “Reverse Culture Shock.” I talked with an affected authentically acquired British accent. I scoffed at crude Americanisms like “trash can” and “bathroom” and “sweaters” and “tennis shoes.” I unfurled my British flag and hung it in the living room. It was still there on the Fourth of July, and the family told me that no, it was not appropriate to fly as a substitute for our lost-in-the-depths- of-the-closet Old Glory, nor was it appropriate to wear as a cape in the Independence Day Parade in Geneva, FL. Oh well.

Of course, I’m exaggerating (what? Leonore? Exaggerate? never.) But only a teeny bit. When I came home, as absolutely delighted as I was to see my family and be in my house and snuggle with my kitty, I missed England something awful. It was an experience, a time, a feeling, that I will never be able to recreate. Pangs of nostalgia hit me pretty hard when I went to see the latest Harry Potter film. Hannah had to restrain me a few times while we watched the camera pan through London. If she hadn’t been there to enforce my maintenance of decorum, I might’ve jumped out of my seat shouting, “I’ve been there! I know that train station! That little English village is just like the ones I visited!”

I spent 149 days in England. It’s been 73 days since I left. Sooner rather than later, I will have been gone more days than I spent there. In that perplexing way that time works, it seems simultaneously like I just left, and also like it was so long ago that I was never really there at all.

Returning to Real Life has been a hard transition. After what was essentially a five month vacation (with classes and appropriate amounts of, ahem, Learning) returning to a job that I did two summers ago seemed like backsliding. Hadn’t I grown, matured, changed, and travelled the world? How was I supposed to fit back into this normal life that had continued even though I was gone?

And then I think of another quote that’s had an disproportionately profound effect on my life:

We shall never cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

—TS Eliot

Here I am at home again, where I started, and this is another adventure: trying to find the new in the familiar, the thrill in my every day life. It means responsibilities and obligations carefully balanced with hopes and memories. Life is full of beginnings and endings and beginnings again, and learning that is all part of the most important adventure: growing up.

England, this is not the end. I WILL be back. Just like The Terminator. Except you can call me the Englandator.

From the tops of Cathedrals in York and Paris and London and Milan and Rome, to underground catacombs,
From the Highlands of Scotland to the seaside in Brighton,
From the Moors of Charlotte Bronte to the grave of Jane Austen,
From the Western Hemisphere to the East,
From the Thames to the Seine to the canals of Amsterdam and Venice,
From Inverness to Nice, Madrid to Venice,
From the slope of the Alps to the Mediterranean coast,
By way of trains and planes and taxi cabs and The Tubes and subways and trams and busses and funiculars and a river boat and a ferries and my feet and even a horse…

…It was an Adventure.

And James Joyce? You were right. I had to seek it abroad.

Cheers, England. Thank you so much for everything.




The End of Days

30 July 2009

(Don’t panic! Just for me in England…not like…the end of the world or anything.) 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Here, allow me to illustrate with this chart I just happened to have on hand:

Venn diagram

Hannah and I got back from EA!P2 on Wednesday, June 3. We made the trek from Gatwick to RoHo in the early afternoon and met up with Miranda and Phoebe in Staines for the Last Ever (for us at least) Orange Wednesday (two-for-one movie tickets through our mobiles…that’s “cell phone” for the yankees). Saw Angels and Demons. I’m sorry, I just cannot buy Tom Hanks as an “action hero.” But I love Ewan McGregor in anything and everything. And it was super cool because I had been to almost every place in Rome that they filmed. Overall, I’d say it was better than previous movie. “I have to get to a library! There’s a snake in my boot!”

Thursday was crazy packing day of crazy.

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It always gets worse before it gets better.

Hannah went off on her own to London to shop for some souvies, Grace came back from her Euroventure, and then it was Farewell to London Time. Grace and I found Hannah by Southwark Cathedral (the first place I went with Grace and Tyler and Colin and Annie the first time I took the train into London waaaay the heck back in January) and had fish and chips and Bulmers (HOW I MISS THEE) at a pub by the Thames.

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Then Grace went off for her farewell ritual, and Hannah and I kept walking along the Thames River Path (I think I saw it called that on a sign, but it is also entirely possible that I’m making the name up) to Shakepeare’s Globe for Romeo and Juliet!

They try to be very authentic in their props and costumes and set design and lack of microphones. And lack of comfort in seating. Three hours on a wood bench with no back. I guess it was better than the poor groundlings who had to stand the whole time. Oy. And because it’s open air, it was cool to see the sky change and the sun set (dare I say…Waterloo sunset?

) and all that.

Back in Egham, I said goodbye to Miranda and Phoebe (who are suuuuper cool, btw, and I’m really sad that I didn’t start hanging out and getting to know them earlier) and Hannah, Grace and I hunkered down for some more packing and Surrey Sleepover 3.0.

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See? Progress was made.

On the morning of D-Day, I was feeling surprisingly ready. It was the most ready and calm and on-time departure morning I’d had in a long time. For example, before leaving New York in December, I was running around like a headless chicken, trudging through the snow, trying to mail home last minute packages, desperately pawning my belongings onto other etc etc.

Everything was ready ahead of our goal time for going downstairs to wait for the taxi. Of course it started to rain just then, but there was enough time to take a photo at one of RoHo’s most beloved landmarks:

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The taxi was right on time and the driver was super nice, even in the face of our huge huge pile of luggage. We had a nice chat on the drive to Gatwick and got there super early.

Of course, both of my suitcases were over weight, but somehow I only got charged for one, which was a magical surprise.

We spent a lot of time in the departure lounge, browsing the duty-free shops and buying up snacks to strategically get rid of as much of our left over British money as possible. And then there was the ceremonial Taking of the Last Picture in England.

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It took a bit of diligence to get seats together on the plane because we all had separate reservations, but hard work pays off.

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Airplane cheers for us. I was lucky enough to have the window seat…

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Great view, right? We gazed out over the Atlantic the whole time.

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Eight hours in a plane isn’t so bad, especially when you’ve got your besties. You’ll note we were not immune to the crazy, however, which can be seen in our faces. Or mine at least.

On our landing cards, we all put that we’d been to a farm (because we had) which caused us to get special marks in immigration (the line was super long, and then the conveyor belt for the luggage wasn’t working so it took forever), and then we got pulled aside in customs for a special xray of our luggage (which we had diligently loaded on to carts and had to immediately take off again) and the Official Decontamination of the Farm Contaminated Shoes. They were also placed in a plastic bag for Extra Protection.

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And once we got through customs, they are like “SURPRISE! Give back your carts for now there is only an escalator to the shuttle to the main building. Or you can put your luggage on this slow mystery conveyor that will take it to normal baggage claim so you can wait for it all over again.”

Of course, being the strong, independent women that we are, we were like “heeeeeelll no” so we comically transported the bags up the escalator one at a time.

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The task was overwhelming, to say the least, because then there were more bags to pull than hands to pull them with.

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Our parents were waiting on the other side of security. It was a joyous reunion, filled with much laughter as our precarious luggage arrangements and SaniShoes continued to malfunction and relocate…so by the time we got into the terminal, we were just dragging them higgaldy piggaldy and giggling with jetlag. Nevertheless, we made it home!

Whew! Finally!

So there you have it folks. There and back again!

Life in Londonland
Leonore’s Adventures Abroad
January 7-June 5, 2009

Stayed tuned for one last reflective/conclusionary entry coming (fingers crossed) soon!

The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly in the Plain

29 July 2009

Not that I would know, because it was sunny and hot as all get out the whole time I was there.

This is getting out of hand people…I got to Spain at the end of May…almost two months ago! For shame, woe is me, etc etc.

Getting to Madrid was pretty easy. We navigated the subways with ease and only briefly walked the wrong direction once we got streetside. Our hostel was weirdly Moorish, but nice enough. Hannah and I were a bit sad about the loss of our beloved traveling companions, Grace and Tyler, from whom we had parted in Switzerland (it was such sweet sorrow), but it was very exciting to FINALLY be in a country where we could speak the language.

We met up with a guy I know from Columbia who was studying in Madrid and went on a mini Tapas crawl. It was a Sunday night at like 9:30 pm, and the crowds were RIDICULOUS. I’m not sure I could handle that on a regular basis, but it was fun to try.

We decided to make Monday, our 1st full day, Day Trip day because of Museum closure schedules. I had looked up places online that were close enough to Madrid and found Segovia, which boasted quaint spanishtownness, Roman aqueducts, an impressive cathedral, and a “fairy tale” castle.

However, it seems I did not do quite enough research, because, as we learned at the train station that morning, the ride was two hours, and the trains leave every two hours, which left us with an unfortunate amount of waiting time. Turned out ok though because we were able to stroll through the Botanic Jardens down the street from the station.

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So we settled in for the long ride to Segovia. I was really surprised by the landscape outside of Madrid. It reminded me A LOT of Texas hill country.

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And I was glad to see a giant hillside cross…much bigger than the “Christ of the Mines Shrine” I saw in Colorado (my only other giant mountainside religious symbols experience).

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Once we got to Segovia, it was not at all what I was expecting. The train station was in the “new” part of town, and it was not very pretty. Kind of run down. My insufficient directions guided toward the aqueduct from the Bus station and made it seem like the bus station was right down the road from the train station.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

After much turning around, and asking of directions, and walking much farther than we expected to, we finally found the quaintly spanish part of the town. And yay! The Roman Aqueducts from the Olden Days.

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After that, we were really rushed for time because of the infrequency of trains, amount of time we spent lost, and distance back to the train station because we really wanted to have time to see the Reina Sophia (modern art museum…and it was closed the next day). So we had a bit of a meander through the seista deserted streets,

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(um…give or take those people…but it was seriously mostly deserted)

peeked inside the Cathedral,

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bought some postcards, and then high-tailed it back to the train station. Luckily, we made it back in time to go to the museum and see Guernica and some other modern art (including an incredibly disturbing multi-media film installation with creeeeepy rat and panda costumes).

Tuesday was our crazy cram-in-the-rest-of-Madrid-highlights day. Of course, there were the Big Three of any European city visit:

1. Palace

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2. Cathedral

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3. Art Museum

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The palaces of Europe are starting to all run together in my mind. The Cathedral seemed oddly new on the inside. El Prado was super cool. Countless “cultura” discussions from high school Spanish culminating in one fateful museum visit…

We also saw Don Quixote, and an Egyptian temple (think Temple of Dendur from The Met…only outside), and the Parque del Retiro, and Plaza Mayor. All in all a very successful (and tiring) day. It was soooo hot.

After El Prado, we were seriously jonesin for Paella and Sangria, two staples we hadn’t tried yet. We finally found a good looking/cheapish place. It was probably 8:30 or 8:45 by the time we got there…and we were seriously the first people in the restaurant.

My paella had eyeballs and stared at me, which was a little bit disconcerting, but it was good nonetheless.


After dinner, we had a really cool conversation in Spanish with our waiter. Foreign language for the win!

I definitely want to go back to Spain to practicar la lengua someday. Check out the rest of the pictures here.

Madrid was the last stop on EA!P2, so we packed up on Wednesday morning for the final days in England! Ay dios mio!


9 July 2009

Category: Travel

Answer: The reason Leonore went to Switzerland

a) What is to escape from the Nazis with her family of singing children who sometimes wear matching outfits made of drapes?
b) Why is because there was a Swiss bank account secret laser thing embedded in her skin, so she went to check that out and pick up huge wads of cash and fake passports?
c) What is because it is probably one of the most beautiful places in the world and everyone should go, especially when you have an invitation to stay at a farmhouse with a friend’s pseudo-family?

Contestants, you have 30 seconds. Good luck.

Now we come to you, returning champion…and you’re right! The answer is what is because it is probably one of the most beautiful places in the world and everyone should go, especially when you have an invitation to stay at a farmhouse with a friend’s pseudo-family?

You waged everything! Your two day, cash winnings, now totals a bajillion and two dollars!

In all seriousness though, we might as well have been fleeing from Nazis based on how fast we had to run through the train station the morning of our Paris to Lausanne travel. Those of you playing along at home may remember that this was the only train available for the day we needed to travel AND we had to pay 70 euro (no rail passes) for tickets, so it was, let’s just say, IMPERATIVE that we make the train. We had a bit of a delay (I’m not naming names…TYLER SCHIMMELFING) in our departure from the hostel, so we had to run like crazy people in Gare du Lyon to make it to our TGV.

Spoiler alert: We made it…and were picked up in Switzerland by Grace’s Swiss grandpa (the father of the family that her mom stayed with when she was an exchange student in Switzerland…from here on known as “Grandpapa” for simplicity).

In case you are not familiar with the geography of Switzerland (as I was not) here is a handy lil map I made in GoogleEarth for reference:

switz google

So we got picked up in Lausanne (red train) and drove along Lake Geneva

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and were rewarded with STUNNING VIEWS (though technically, all of that is France…including EVIAN as in the place the water comes from…on the other side of the lake).

We were headed toward Sommentier (yellow house) which is where the family lives. In possible the most charming farmhouse ever:

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Did I not mention they have a farm? Because they do. A dairy farm. You know what comes from dairy? SWISS CHEESE.

After a charming Swiss lunch and a bit of settling in and freshening up, Grandmaman and Grandpapa wanted to take us up into the mountains to see the cows. Apparently, it’s a Swiss tradition to take the cows into the mountains during the summer so they can have air and vacation time etc etc. There were 6 of us, and the car only held 5, so we had to split up in order to get there. This would not be noteworthly, except for the fact that the Castellas (Grandmaman and Grandpapa) do not speak English. Only French.

I don’t speak French.

Neither does Hannah.

Grace, our beloved translator, rode in the other car, which left me and Hannah and Grandpapa for some quality language barrier bonding time. It was all right though, because most of the drive was too pretty for words. “C’est magnifique!” and “Tres tres tres tres belle!” seemed to get our point across pretty well, with a lot of “voilas” from Grandpapa thrown in.

So we were  just driving along, following the other car, nearing some mountains, when all of the sudden, we turned off on another road. This was a little bit alarming, however the scenery was too overwhelming to allow for any actual concern. As long as I could look at Switzerland, I was good.

Then Grandpapa pulled off on the side of the road and got out of the car, indicating that we should get out too. As soon as I opened my door, all I could hear was gazillions of cow bells, except it sounded like giant wind chimes. They all wear different sized bells, so they play different notes when they move!

When I think “pulled off the side of the road”, I usually picture something like this:

side of the road

Oh no. In Switzerland, this is what it looks like when you pull off to the side of the road:

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I know, right?

At this point, Hannah and I were in “figure out the context clues and gestures and 10 words of French we know” overdrive mode, and once Grandpapa crawled under the fence and the cows happily flocked (can cows flock or is that sheep-clusive?) to him, we surmised that they were his cows, and he was checking on them…or something.

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After another stop to check on some brown cows (supposedly the Castellas have a very strict philosophy on mixing different colored cows) we reunited with Grace and Tyler at the Castella’s chalet in the mountains.

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Holy-freakin-moley…you could’ve rolled me into my grave right then, and I would’ve died happy. The tinkling cow bells, the breeze, the sun, the Alps, the valley, Grandmama’s tea and cake. That’s the life, man.

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Turns out that Hannah and I were half-right. They were counting the cows to make sure that none had wandered off.

After that, Grandmaman went back to the house to prepare dinner (raclette…tasty cheese you melt in mini skillets and pour on things like potatoes) and the rest of us drove to Gruyere (purple building with flag) to see the town.

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Unfortunately, the Chateau and the cheese factory had already closed.

Just when I thought the day couldn’t be any more of an aneurysm of awesome, Grandmaman took us on a walk after dinner down the road to the chapel. And I finally understood the whole “purple mountains” and “amber waves of grain” business.

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I’m not sure how many more times I can use the word “beautiful” in this entry before you’ll want to beat me over the head…so let’s go with “breath-taking” this time.

For Day 2 of Swiss-a-palooza, we drove to Friburg (green walking people) to meet up with Grace’s “aunt” and “cousin,” Christian and Odile. Odile rode with us and Grandpapa and broke our car’s language barrier (she’s in college and started English a year ago but is SO GOOD that it’s insane). We left Friburg and drove up to Morat/Murten (it has both names because the area is French and German) and took a lil boat cruise! With a picnic!

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Christian speaks some English too, so when we went back down to Friburg (green people) she gave us a walking tour of almost the whole town! Including a cafe where the students hang out (there’s a Uni) and a gelato shop and an art museum!

We went back to her house for a “barbecue” (it was a little bit sacrilegious to call it that) cooked by Pierre Henri (Odile’s younger brother) who sneak attacked us with some ninja English at the end of the night.

I do not know where their house was on the map (presumably somewhere between Friburg and Sommentier) so I will just show you a picture of the view from their yard.

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This was, hands down, my favorite part of EA!P2…and it may trump all of EA!P1 as well. I was blown away not only by the magnificent country but also by the incredible hospitality and kindness of the Castellas. They showed us around half the country, fed us, paid for everything (!) and even took us on a flippin boat ride! After 5 months on my own, it was so comforting to have someone welcome me into their home and badger me to take second helpings and give me a ridiculous amounts of blankets and ask how I slept and OFFER TO DO my LAUNDRY and watch us while we walked up the street to the train station to make sure we went the right way. Grandmaman even packed us lunches to take to the airport with little blocks of Gruyere cheese and a chocolate bar!  And we didn’t even speak the same language! On the last day, I sounded like a broken record of “Merci beaucoup!” I was absolutely astounded by their generousity.

Back at the Lausanne train station, The Team parted to go our separate ways. Grace and Tyler were headed for Amsterdam, and Hannah and I went to the Geneva airport, bound for Madrid, Espana!

Even if you look at none of the other gazillion pictures I’ve posted, please please look at these. You won’t be sorry : )

There is Never Any End to Paris

3 July 2009

When we last checked in with our intrepid young travelers, they had just seen the sunset over the Seine and made their way back to promptly pass out in their highly proximitous bunkbeds.

Yes. Proximitous. As in very close together. So close, in fact, that Tyler and Hannah could hold hands while each in their own bed.


On Wednesday of Paris week, we ventured through the “seedy” 10th arrondissement (Seriously.the guidebook’s breakdown of what was worth seeing in each arrondissement, which is like a district of the city, said that the 10th had the Gare du Nord and a bunch of porn shops and nothing worth seeing…and it was right by where we stayed. Nice, right?) to the train station to make our reservations for the trip to Switzerland before heading off to the ‘burbs to see Versailles.

Wow, kudos if you can follow all of that.

At the Tra Sta, we had a bit of a travelfail. We were standing in line, blissfully tra la la-ing about how 2 days in advance is enough time to get reservations because, really, how many people are clamoring to get to Laussane on a Friday morning?

And then we got up to the window, and Monseiur Ticketbooth was all “Zuit alours! Zhere are non tickets available avec Eurail pass to Switzerland on Friday!” To which we responded with a hearty panic because we had no time/day flexibility for travel because of everything we wanted to see in Paris and when the Swiss family was expecting us. We ended up paying 70 euros each to just book normal tickets for the earliest train on Friday. It was a cringey moment for my wallet, but it had to be done.

With those annoying logistics out of the way, we were more than ready to be escape to a palace of opulence and extravagance and cake.


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The lines were approximately 1000 years long, but we had Contact (really fun game…I’ll teach you sometime) and a fisticuff with some line cutters to keep us occupied.

It’s very grand, but it’s also very crowded and touristy…I don’t want to say I was underwhelmed, I was just not as whelmed as I was expecting to be, you know?

The Hall of Mirrors was pretty bombdiggity,

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and I definitely think I should have some of these installed over my bed:

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On the other hand, the gardens are where it’s AT, yo. Though some people were “not even hungry anymore…just miserable” by the time we got to them, and the fountains were not on, it was pretty cool.

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My favorite part was the Queen’s Hamlet, a little pretend “peasant” village for Marie Antoinette to frolic and play in. So we thought it only appropriate for us to frolic and play as well. It was…um…an homage! To her memory! Really, we were obliged to do it. It was work. Not fun. At all.

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There is also a farm! With animals!

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This picture does not show the animals, but they were there.

Think what you will about Marie Antoinette. Sure, maybe she was a little bit too flippant and carefree and extravagant and unqualified to rule a country, but an adorable little town with all of the charm and none of the work of Provencal life? BRILLIANT.

After Versailles, we went back to Paris and ventured to the top of one of the most famous landmarks in the world…drumroll please…

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The views were AMAZING (even though it was cold and windy) and the whole structure is pretty remarkable, especially since it was originally only going to be a temporary thing! Whoa!

Also, while we were at the top, we saw a proposal!! It was so life romantic (and romantic romantic)! Everyone was excited and cheering and clapping for them. The girl was SO happy and surprised! I definitely did not get goosebumps and did not get a little teary. Definitely not.

It occured to me, while we were up there, that I had seen a lot of movie trailers recently in which explosions or similar tragedies bring down the Eiffel Tower. Of course, I thought it highly appropriate to mention these while standing atop the thing.

ME: Hey, so, there are a zillion movies coming out soon, and in every one of them THE EIFFEL TOWER EXPLODES.
ME: Yeah, one is GI Joe, and there’s like lots of fire, and it falls over.
RAMNB: Nah nah nah. Not listening.
ME: And the other one was Transformers…and there was more fire, and maybe it fell over in that one too.
RAMNB: Can you please talk about something else??!
HANNAH: ZOMG. What if the Eiffel Tower actually IS a transformer? Only it’s been…dormant?
RAMNB: (Runs away screaming)

After the ridonkulous lines at Versailles, we were relieved that getting up and down the tower was relatively painless. We designated that night as “nice dinner night” and had THE BEST TIME at a nearby restaurant. We were there for about 3 hours. It was so European!

Thursday was our last Paris day, so we naturally had a lot to cram in. The Louvre

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bless it, took up most of the morning/a bit of afternoon. We saw the “big three” first (Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo) first, and then did a pretty extensive (if brief) sweep of almost the whole museum.

Hannah and I were VERY upset, however, that one of the painting galleries was closed, so we could not see “Liberty Leading the People,” of Ms. Hayes’ art history classroom poster and Coldplay album cover fame.

coldplay 3


Oh well.

After that, we ate a quick lunch on the steps of the (Phantom of the) Opera House, and then dashed off to the catacombs.

IT IS SO FREAKY! Basically, you wander around along 1.4 km of underground corridors that are COMPLETELY LINED WITH BONES. Human bones! That are all stacked and neat and orderly and unreal seeming.

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Why, hello, lil skulls of dead french people!

So that was weird. And cool?

Then it was Disneyfail (long story…don’t want to get worked up), the Moulin Rouge, touristy/sexshoppey Monmartre, souvenir shopping, crepe eating, bunkbed picnicing and packing!

Paris was SO MUCH FUN! As with any travel, it had it’s ups and downs, but the company was great, the city was beautiful, and THE TEAM will always have Paris!

Sorry. Had to.

Versailles and the rest of Paris pics are on facebook.

And here’s a nonsequiter bonus treat:

Americans in Paris

22 June 2009

A little bit of music to set the mood…

Hannah and I arrived in Paris on May 25 on the train from Lyon. As previously mentioned, we had to take a slower train that got us there much later in the day than we had planned originally. We tried a couple of times to reach Grace and Tyler to let them know (they were arriving the night before and checking in to the hostel) that’d we’d be late and they should go ahead and start sight seeing etc etc. But no luck on the contact front.

So our train got in around 1:30 in the afternoon, and we successfully navigated the Paris metro and walked the GRUELLINGLY HOT few blocks to the hostel. At the check in desk, I’m all “Hi. We’re checking in. Our friends got here last night. We’re all in the same room. Tra la la.” And then Monsieur Check-In is like “Non! Zhey did not arrive! Zhey are not here! We are mad zhey cancelled! Zhey will have to pay! If zhey are not coming tonight, we want to sell zheir beds!”

To which I respond with a bit of OH EM GEE ARE THEY DEAD? WHERE ARE THEY??? AHHHHH THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE HERE LAST NIGHT!!!! Except a little bit calmer on the outside.

Luckily, there was free wifi in the lobby, so Hannah whips out her iPhone, and checks email/facebook to see if they contacted us. Thankfully, we had a message that they’d had trouble with the train tickets and had to stay an extra night in Strausborg.

I had just calmed down from thinking they were dead when they appeared on the sidewalk in front of the hostel. A sweaty reunion group hug ensued.

Our room was ridonkulously small (there was barely enough space to stand between the two sets of bunkbeds) but we had our own bathroom and a tiny balconey and AIR CONDITIONING, which we partook of for awhile before venturing into the city.

First up was Sacre Coeur Basilica, which was right down the street and on top of butte Monmartre. It’s the highest point in the city, but in an effort to save money, we walked instead of taking the funicular.

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Once we got to the top, we toured the inside (pretty; no photos allowed) and then sat on the steps people and pigeon watching for kind of a long time because it was too hot to move. We had shade and a breeze and this view,

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so why not hang out there for a long time?

When we finally managed to rouse ourselves, we headed more “in to” Paris to see the Arc de Triomphe.

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We wanted to climb to the top, but it wasn’t quite dark enough yet, so instead we walked down the Champs Elysees, and saw the gates to what we speculated was the residence of the French Prez (I just checked…it was, in fact, the Elysee Palace, where Le Prez lives) as well as the big fancy National Gallery complex.

We kept walking toward the river and caught our first good view of Le Tour Eiffel!!

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It was getting darkish so we walked back up to the Arc to climb to the top. The view was pretty pretty! And we even saw the Eiffel Tower do its sparkley thing.

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Spoiler alert: The Eiffel Tower is a vampire.

At that point, it was after 10pm, and The Team was STARVING. But we were trapped in a fancy pants area with not that many options for food. It all worked out in the end, because we got to eat at tables on the sidewalk of the Champs Elysees, at a dining establishment, that shall remain nameless.

It started to drizzle near the end of our meal, so we took our cue to head for the metro back to our hostel.

Day 2 dawned a bit sunnier and MUCH cooler, leading The Team to a collective sigh of relief because the previous day’s heat was so draining. The hostel breakfast wasn’t stellar, but hey, it was free, so we loaded up on croissants and bad coffee, and then set out for Musee d’Orsay. Because the weather is cruel and unusual, it started to rain while we waited in line.

My favorite moment of the morning was when we were on the way to the metro stop, and Tyler had the map/guidebook out to figure out which line to take to get to the museum, and this adorable old french man stopped and tried to explain to us how to get to Sacre Coeur (since it’s the only touristy thing in that area). And he even told us to bring umbrellas because it was supposed to rain. Or at least that’s what I’m assuming happened based on my interpretation of context clues and his gestures. It was sweet though.

We spent a lot of time at the museum (which I liked better than the Louvre, in hindsight) admiring the impressionism/post-impressionism housed in the former train station,

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then it was back out into the drizzle for some lunch and a walk down the Seine toward Pont Neuf and  the Ile de la Cite.

Did you know there’s an island in the middle of the Seine in the middle of Paris?

I did not.

It turned out to be a “two-fer” because we saw the Sainte-Chapelle

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AND Notre Dame.

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Not only did I not know about the island, but I also didn’t know that Notre Dame was on it.

Of course it became cloudy and windy and cold again as soon as Hannah and I decided to climb to the top.

We were freezing, but the climb up the tiny winding staircase warmed us up, and as soon as we got out, the bells starting ringing.

The Bells…of…Nooo-tre DAAAAAME! (Ah AH ah, ah AH ah)

No but seriously, it was so loud and cool! And we could kind of see through the slats and saw the bells moving!

The rest of the day was spent getting stuck in childrens’ playground equipment (Tyler) and jumping over walls of guarded palace complexes to follow cats (again, Tyler) and not protecting us from creepos who reached out and tried to touch us (also Tyler). We had dinner in the Latin Quarter (that’s Latin as in Virgil, not latin as in Cha Cha) and that was about it for another great day in Paris.

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I’ve only posted the first set of pics on fb (the ones that correspond to the events herein recounted) but more coming soon from Versailles and the rest of Paris!


15 June 2009

On May 22, I had my last exam (WHOO!) which I THINK (fingers crossed) I passed, and then Hannah and I whisked ourselves away to Gatwick to fly to Lyon, France.

Why Lyon?

Well, we discovered a while back that one of my mom’s cousins has been living in France for about 30 years, so we jumped at the chance to stay with real people in a real place (ie not a hostel) and have an authentic experience.

So we landed in Lyon around 9pm (and it was still SO light outside) and partially fulfilled one of Hannah’s life dreams: disembarking down stairs directly to the tarmac, while the cheers of the adoring public provide the soundtrack for the journey to the limo.

PassengersAlas, there were no cheering crowds, but we did walk straight down the stairs, across the tarmac, and directly into immigration.

Unfortunately, we forgot our old-timey suitcases.

Old timey suitcase

Cindy (my mom’s cousin) was waiting for us literally on the otherside of the passport hut (it was a weird temporary seeming building), and we drove on the RIGHT SIDE of the road back to their apartment.

It was such an authentic and fun experience! First, it was nice to stay in a home, after 5 months of dorms and hostels and the like. It was also really great just to have people who knew things and could show us places, without us having to worry about finding things or planning. We went to a few farmers markets and an arts fair, and everything was so colorful and fresh and delicious!

In other Authentic French Things We Did news, we:

1. Had fresh pan au chocolat for breakfast that Cindy picked up at the bakery down the street.
2. Tried pate.
3. Ate cheese and fruit for dessert.
4. Went to restaurant called “Gaston,” like the guy from Beauty and the Beast.
5. Had Ratatouille!

In normal sightseeing news, we saw both cathedrals and the roman ruins/museum, walked all over the plaza’s/Vieux Lyon/quays of the Rhone, and went to the art museum. It’s a very pretty city, and the color palatte of all of the buildings really reminded me of Nice.

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Cindy also helped us book our tickets/reservations on to PARIS! Unfortunately, all the TGV (high-speed trains) were booked up for EuRail Pass people, so we had to take the long way and change trains in Dijon. It took four hours instead of two, but I saved on my reservation fee, and Hannah’s ticket was cheaper. We were worried about meeting Grace and Tyler for sightseeing since we’d be getting there so much later in the day, but it turned out to be a non-issue…more on that later : )

The Lyon pics are here.

England Adventures

11 June 2009

Flashback. Way back. To May 17.

Hannah arrived on a spectacularly rainy and cloudy English morning. And poor dear I did not let her sleep. We went back to RoHo for a spot of lunch, and then it was off to Hampton Court. Somehow there were 2 or three of the state apartment tours I didn’t do the first time I went. One that included a room that had GUNS in elaborate patterns instead of, I dunno, wallpaper. Also they seemed to have decided it was now ok to take pictures in the big fancy Henry VIII hall. But all of those pics are on Hannah’s camera.

I finally allowed her to collapse around 9:30pm GMT. Poor dear slept for 14 hours.

I had an exam the next morning on a part of campus I didn’t even know existed. After that unpleasantry was out of the way, we went to Windsor Castle. GUESS WHO WAS THERE!


Still didn’t see her though.

The Castle seemed so different! Everything was green and leafy. As previously mentioned, this was the 1st place I went in England that wasn’t RoHo or Egham, so it was kind of special that it was one of my last England hurrahs to go back again. When I gave Grace, Tyler, Annie, Colin the ghetto tour, we were too cheap to go inside, so this time I got to do the audio tour, which I thought was very informative. Needless to say, my tour of the town was even ghetto-er in this third incarnation. It was kind of like “Look…that thing up there…somewhere…is a pomegranite. Which was K/Catherine of something’s symbol. And then Henry VIII took them down. Except that one. Oh and the Queen can eat the swans. Eton boys!”

There was also a special exhibit of Da Vinci sketches and royal portraits. And I got to re-stand on HENRY THE EIGTH’S TOMB. Lordy.

Another of our exciting day trips was to SALISBURY, which is where you can get on the special bus tour of Wiltshire countryside that takes you to STONEHENGE.


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No, that’s not one of the default desktop backgrounds from Microsoft Windows, it’s the real things!

It was a little bit of deja vu, because, like Carhenge (the Stonehenge replica made of junk cars in Alliance, Nebraska),


you just kind of drive around in the middle of nowhere, and then, BOOM, there it is on the side of the rode.

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I’d say the only difference is that Stonehenge has an audiotour and a giftshop. And Carhenge had a weird bug infestation.

We also got a guided tour of the beautiful Salibury Cathedral and played around in the Water Meadows, both of which have been often portrayed in English paintings.

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I unfortunately had to leave many England/London stones unturned. Didn’t make it to Bath. Or the Sherwood Forest. Or Charles Dickens’ house. Or the Tate Britain (I’m looking at you, horribly timed Victoria line strike). I suppose that means I’ll just have to go back!

Some day.

Rest of the Stonehenge/Salisbury pics are here.

Reverse culture shock?

9 June 2009

It’s rather hard to think of what to say in a study abroad blog when you’re no longer abroad.

I just downloaded pictures from almost all of EA!P2, and it struck me all over again how mindblowingly beautiful Switzerland was.

I would hate for so epic of a chronicle to end on such a weak note, so tomorrow during my dreadful day at work, I shall try to figure out what to say about the end of my trip. Something that will do it justice.

In the meantime, I suppose I’ll just have to try to adjust to real life.

Cheers, England

5 June 2009

EA!P2 was magical. Updates coming soon.

I’m leaving England.

On my way back home…

This is weird.