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Spring Break Diaries: Day 3, Wiltshire

A philosopher once asked, “Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?” Pointless, really… “Do the stars gaze back?” Now *that’s* a question. – First lines from Stardust

Usually when I write my blogs I take readers through a timeline of my day. I give my schedule more depth with add ins of history, my thoughts, and interesting tidbits. This format is easy and keeps my thoughts organized and makes reading easy to follow, but this time around I have decided to try something new. I will work backwards and tell a story of the places I saw, but first some background to set the scene.IMG_8310

Today I left Bath and took a day tour with Mad Max Tours. They have nothing to do with the fabulously famous film franchise. The day tour leaves from the Abbey Hotel in Bath at 8:30am and returns at approximately 5:30pm. My tour was incredibly interesting and I highly recommend it, so thanks Kevin for being an awesome tour guide.

Stop #4: Castle Combe
Many, many years ago there was once a castle on top of a hill surrounded by a dense forest. As time passed the castle fell to ruin and disappeared. What stones were left of the old castle were given a new life as part of a stately manor nestled besides a peaceful and cozy village. The village came to be known as Castle Combe. A weary traveler taking their first steps on the streets of Castle Combe may think that they have been transported back hundreds of years. An imposing Saxon church, with a still working 15th century clock, stands proudly at the center of the village. The 14th century Market Cross fills the central square and faces the old court house. It is a village stuck in time.

In Castle Combe nothing has changed since the 17th century. It is a beautifully preserved English village, and is known for being the most beautiful village in England. This traditional Cotswolds village was once tied up in the woolen industry like the other villages and towns in the Cotswolds. And the village prospered. The soil was fertile, the river flowed, and the sheep (aka the Cotswold Lions) were abundant. Then one day the river dried. Economic disaster struck the village. With no river and quick transport the villagers shortly abandoned their homes, and the abandoned Castle Combe was left, preserved in its 17th century status.

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The Manor at Castle Combe
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Castle Combe Village

Interesting Facts to Know about Castle Combe:

  • War Horse spent 10 days of filming here for the village scenes.
  • The original Doolittle was all filmed here.
  • The village scenes from Stardust were filmed here (hence the Stardust quote).
  • So were other films, TV shows, and specials.
  • A home here costs around ½-3 million pounds.
  • Combe means narrow valley.

Stop #3: Lacock Village
Lacock was a small, overlooked town. Sleepy townspeople walked the streets and peaceful went about their mundane lives until a great Countess decided to intervene. In 1229 Ela, Countess Dowager of Salisbury, founded the Abbey standing proudly by the village. Ela was an extremely influential woman. She had inherited her title and lands upon the death of her father and she was married to William Longespee, the illegitimate son of Henry II. The Abbey was built upon the death of her husband, and William was the first to be buried in the Salisbury Cathedral.

Lacock was on the rise. Important people had taken interest in the town and traders would stop here when traveling between Bath and London. The King even had a hunting lodge there. But as has happened to many a noble family there were no male heirs left to inherit all the lands and holdings, so the Abbey reverted back to the kingdom. Years passed and Henry the VIII took the throne. He later passed the Acts of Supremacy and he was looking for ways to cement his power in England over the Pope. The monasteries in England were overtaken and dissolved, but the Abbey in the small village of Lacock was overlooked for its small significance. Henry sold the Abbey to Sir William Sharington with the stipulation that the chapel was to be destroyed. Sir William followed through with Henry’s order and in place of the chapel he built a brewery and turned the Abbey into his home. Lacock stayed a booming woolen village until the fall of the woolen industry. In a town with just 4 streets there were three poor houses, the largest housing 147 people.

Fun things to know about Lalock:

  • In the 1800s William Henry Fox Talbot became the owner of the abbey. He studied the arts and sciences, and in 1835 made the first known photographic negative using a camera; which was of the small central window on the exterior of the Abbey.
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    The Abbey
  • The village and Abbey have been used for many film productions such as Moll Flanders and Emma.
  • One such production was BBC’s Pride and Prejudice. Filming was done outside the Red Lion Pub.
  • Many scenes from the Harry Potter films were also captured here.
    • The Abbey was used for Hogwarts’ classrooms, hallways, and the mirror scene in the first film.
    • The home of the Potters for the first film was filmed here.
    • In the Half-Blood Prince the scene where Dumbledore and Harry walk down a road side by side is in front of the local Sign of the Angel pub.
    • Professor Slughorn’s house is also located in the village.Other popular productions like.
  • Downton Abbey had filming done here and a few days ago a new period drama, Whit, about William Shakespeare was filming.
  • Lacock is popular for films requiring an authentic background; such productions include: The Cranford Chronicles, Larkrise to Candleford, and Lost in Austen.
  • The village church of St.Cyriack is featured in many.IMG_8343
  • One of the last Fords (a river crossing) in England is located in the village.
  • The stable called, Tithe Barn, was owned by the church and was used for collecting and storing taxes from the villagers.
  • Next to it is the village lock-up. It is a small, dank room with no windows and drunks were thrown in it (it also separated people in bar fights). Once the door was closed and locked there would be no light in the room. This is where the term ‘blind drunk’ (i.e. really drunk) originated.
  • There were taxes on how many windows a home had, so to pay less people would fill in and cover windows.
  • Today around 400 people live in the village.
  • In a nearby town between Castle Combe and Lalock is Tiddlywink. It consists of one street and 9 cottages.
  • The roads between towns were heavily forested and made a good place to hide for highway men. The most famous group of highwaymen in the area of Wiltshire was the Cherhill Gang. The Cherhill gang was famous because they held their victims at gun point completely naked (except for masks, boots, and a pistol). People speculate that they were successful because their nakedness shocked and frightened travelers. It is also thought that the reason that they were naked was because they were extremely poor and only owned one set of clothes, and if they were to wear this they would be easily recognized and captured.
    • You can see a painting of them at the Black Horse pub in the town of Calne.

Stop #2: Avebury
Thousands of years ago wanderers reached the shores and settled in Britain. Their beliefs and rituals are covered in mystery. For reasons unknown to man today these Prehistoric people created a 1 mile circumference of a hundred stones and a surrounding ditch and hill reaching 9 meters high. Avebury Henge and the stone circles were built and altered during the Neolithic period (2850 BC-2200 BC) making it into the largest stone circle in Britain.

No one can really say what these stones were used for. In excavations nothing was earthed up to give any understanding. What were found at the site were antlers and cow shoulder bones. Archeologists believe that these were used as tools to dig the deep ditch. The impression that this landscape leaves is that the circle was shaped for rituals. Some say that was a public ‘theater’ for rites and ceremonies, rituals for the people within their order and their relationships with each other and their gods (be it spiritual or political).

But what is known is that the purpose of these ‘rituals’ changed over time. The gap of time over which the Great Henge and the two avenues were built is large that it is believed that the community’s relationship with the environment gradually altered over time. These changing rituals led to new mysterious monuments and are the most likely reason for their abandonment of the henge around 1800 BC.

By the time the Middle Ages the reason and purpose for the Great Henge and like monuments had vanished into the mists of time. These sites were seen as places for pagan and devil worship, and the good Christians attempted to destroy the stones and like monuments at Avebury. Today the henge survives as huge circular bank and ditch, surrounding part of Avebury village with a number of original stones remaining.

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Part of the great stone circle at Avebury

Interesting facts about Avebury and the surrounding area:

  • Avon comes from the Celtic word faon which means river, so the Avon River translates to River River.
  • En comes from enid which means duck and ford is a Saxon word for river crossing, so Enford means duck river crossing.
  • There are still homes with thatch roofs (owners are forced to have thatched roofs for historical preservation). These roofs last about 35 years.
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    There is an owl placed as a marker on the roof
  • Roofers in villages used to work on a trust system. So if a customer wasn’t paying, a thatcher wouldn’t leave their mark and everyone in town would know that the family under the roof was not good for their word.
  • It takes 8-10 years of apprenticeship to become a master thatcher.
  • The oldest monument in Wiltshire from Prehistoric Britain is a burial chamber.
    • This housed the leaders of the time.
    • 47 people were found and dated to cover a 1000 year period.
    • Through DNA analysis and observation all the leaders were discovered to be from the same 6 families (It is pretty amazing to think that this small group ruled for over 1000 years).
  • Silbury Hill is the largest manmade Prehistoric object.
    • It covers 5 acres and is 135 meters tall.
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      Silbury Hill
    • It is a 6 tiered pyramid made of white chalk using antlers and cow shoulders and once finished it was covered with earth.
    • No one knows what it was used for but it wasn’t for a burial site or for defense.
  • Phone boxes are losing their purposes with everyone today having a cell phone, but villages don’t want to get rid of them. So they have been converted. Some have been reinvented to be libraries and cash boxes.
  • Two famous stones at Avebury are Devil’s Chair and the Barber Surgeon Stone.
  • In Wiltshire there are 8 white horses carved into the hillside (there used to be 13). They were made between 1770 and 1805, but there is one that is over 3 ½ thousand years old.
  • The stones at Avebury Henge can move nonmagnetic copper wires. (I tried it and its true!)

Stop #1: Stonehenge
Six thousand years ago the first settlers of Southern Britain arrived to a wild land. Overtime these hunters and gathers evolved, keeping domestic animals and farming, changing the landscape around them. The dense forest began disappear and give way to tame rolling hills.

A thousand years passed and the beginnings of Stonehenge started to appear. The first stone structure, and second stage of building, was a circle of small blue stones. But the third stage, and most recognizable part of Stonehenge, didn’t come until more than a thousand years later. Huge stones weighing more than 60 tons and the tallest rising 6.7 meters (22 feet) above the surface were dragged by hand 30 kilometers from Wales to Wiltshire. The stones were beaten and shaped with stone hammers, and placed around the circle of blue stones.

Many myths surround Stonehenge, the most popular being that the Druids created it. The Druids in fact came long after the founders of Stonehenge were gone and all but forgotten. What is known is that Stonehenge has no practical purpose and cannot be used for defense. But the farmers who built it would have had significant fear of harsh and dark winters. Stonehenge is built and aligned carefully to mark the changing seasons and the sun’s journey through the sky. But Stonehenge was also a place of the burial for the dead. One theory is that the tall stones represent long dead ancestors. This also led to another myth about the Druids. There is one stone that lays flat on the ground and was given the name of the Sacrifice Stone because that is where archeologists thought Druids would make their pagan scarifies to the gods. The folk lore surrounding the blue stones in the center tells of their mystical healing powers, so these healing inner stones and cold outer stones might have played a significant role in the peoples’ understanding of life and the afterlife. Trying to understand Stonehenge is like trying to explain Christianity from the remains of a ruined cathedral. Too much is left unknown and too much is left up to speculation.

There is so much more to learn about Stonehenge and other historic sites like it, and if you are interested there are many great books and a plethora of information on the net (not all of it accurate of course) for you to look up.

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The front of Stonehenge

More interesting facts I learned during Day 3 of Spring Break:

  • The waters in Bath are full of magnesium which is good for sore muscles (which I need now after all this walking).
  • Pulteney Street was a filming site for the movie Vanity Fair.
  • Horses would walked beside canals to pull barrages up rivers.
  • Counties used to be called shires (hence the name Wiltshire).
  • There is a place on the way to Wiltshire from Bath called Black Dog Hill. The story goes along these lines:

There once lived a maid who courted two gents,
but she told neither of the other.
Then one day they discovered her trick
and decided to duel each other.
They dueled at dawn,
and pistols were drawn,
One was shortly shot dead,
while the later lived on.
But he was shortly done in
by the black dog who saw him
as the vicious murderer of his owner.
Alas the story still doesn’t end
for the maid is still ignorant
to the tragic events of her lovers.
When she hears tell,
she will gasp and yell,
and then she will off herself in dolor.

-An original interpretation by me

  • This area is also the headquarters for the UFO society in the UK.
  • Longleat House belongs to Lord and Lady Bath and is an Elizabethan mansion with over 200 rooms.
    • The 6th Marquess traveled frequently to Africa and started the first safari park outside the actual safari.
    • The current Lord Bath (7th Marquess) is a colorful and flamboyant character. We were told that he looks like an aging wizard.
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The back of Stonehenge

Helpful Hint: You can get in free to Stonehenge on the summer solstice, but there will be around 37,000 people there so don’t go then. Instead pay the fee and get in early so you can have an unobstructed view of the monument. Also make sure to have cash because in small villages many places will not have card machines.

Spring Break Diaries: Day 2 Bath

I began my second day with the free breakfast at that the youth hostel offers and over breakfast I had a nice conversation about a baby ape with an engineering professor from Chester; which goes to show that hostels are great places to meet and talk with fellow travelers.

Once done with breakfast I set out. I set out before anything would be open (which wasn’t until 10), so with over an hour wait I decided to do my own self-guided walking tour of historical Bath. The walk, without stopping, takes about an hour. Of course I got off track and took longer.

The tour began with the Abbey Churchyard, located at the heart of historical Bath. This medieval Abbey, built by King Alfred and the Saxons, has been a place of worship for over a thousand years. And right next (or left next) to it is the world famous Roman Baths. Not much is left from the Roman times in Bath because when King Alfred and the Saxons took over they ended up building over the Roman foundations.

As a fun side note: many think that the Romans founded Bath, but there is an ancient British myth about King Bladud as the founder.

Bladud was the legendary founder of Bath and the sacred temple of Aqua Sullis. He is mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain and The Life of Merlin, written in the twelfth century. The source of the original legend is obscure.

Lud Hubibras (Bladud), was a British Prince in Celtic times. While at court the Prince contracted the dreaded Leprosy, and was banished and disowned by his father. Before he made his way out of the kingdom his mother took him aside and gave him a golden ring. This was to be the key to his return if he could ever cure himself of the disease.

Everywhere the Prince went he was shunned, he meeked a living as a swineherd until some of the herd also caught the disease. To hide this from his employer, he fled across the river Avon (at a place now called Swineford), and into the land where the city of Bath now stands.

He wandered the area until one day one of the pigs seemed to go crazy and rushed headlong into a black bog in the marshy ground. Bladud struggled to pull the pig from the bog and became covered in the foul smelling mud. When he had finally freed himself and the pig, he found that the pigs skin lesions had disappeared, and where the mud had touched his bare skin he was also cured. He immersed himself fully in the warm mud and became fully cured of the disease.

Finally Bladud returned to Court, where he was welcomed with open arms by his mother, who recognized the ring she had given him so many years before. Bladud ruled wisely as King for twenty years. He founded the city of Bath, and created the temple of Aqua Sullis dedicated to Minerva.

He was said to have been a man of great learning, he studied in Athens and brought much Greek wisdom into Britain. He was killed when a magical experiment went wrong; he built himself some wings, and was flying over New Troy when they gave way and he crashed to the ground.

This story was brought to readers like you by Mysterious Britain.

The next stop was only a few steps away at Bath Street, which put you in front of the Roman Baths and Pump Rooms, which was once the center of Bath society. Walking down Bath Street you reach the next stop, the Thermae Bath Spa and Cross Bath.  These were key venues for taking the waters in 18th century. Today there is a beautiful and new working bath house that visitors can enjoy. Behind the Cross Bath is St John Hospital which was the first building in Bath built by John Wood the Elder, who would be the main architect in building the Georgian city that we see today.

Turning left and moving up Saw Close and Barton Street you reach the fourth stop, Queen’s Square. Queen’s Spare is famous for its obelisk and was also built and planned by John Wood, and demonstrates the Palladian style architecture which Wood is known for.

And then the guided tour takes you to the most recognized Georgian area, King’s Circus and the Royal Crescent. These are two different stops on the tour but their designs work off one another. The Circus is made to represent the sun and the crescent the moon; they were also the homes of the wealthiest of Georgian Bath society and where they would gather to promenade.

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The King’s Circus is made up of three buildings and if you stand in the center you almost get the feeling of being in a Roman Colosseum. On the other hand, the Royal Crescent overlooks the Royal Victoria Park and has a sprawling front lawn, which gives the idea of a green city.

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Once I reached this point I ended up moseying on down to Royal Victoria Park to take a lovely walk among the flowers in the botanical gardens.IMG_7959

But all too quickly I moved onto Bennet Street and the Assembly Rooms, which brought to mind images of Pride and Prejudice. The Assembly rooms are now home to a fantastic fashion museum, but once they were one of the key venues for social entertainment for polite society in the 1800s, like the Pump Rooms.

The next stop on the tour was Paragon Row. Paragon Row is a line of 21 Georgian town houses, and the main entrance and exit for the London Road. In the past if you were incredibly wealthy you would send a servant to pay the Abbey to ring the bells as you made your grand entrance into the city. Next was Milsom Street, where you would do your shopping, and where General Tilney lived in Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.

One of the main architectural spots in Bath is Pulteney Bridge and Great Pulteney Street; which were designed by Robert Adam. The bridge was built for William Pulteney by Robert Adam, the bridge was an attempt to connect central Bath to the land on the other bank of the River Avon and make Pulteney’s fortune. Pulteney Bridge, together with the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, is thought of as one of the world’s most beautiful bridges. Like the Ponte Vecchio it is one of a handful of historic bridges in the world that has shops built into it. Pulteney Bridge and Great Pulteney Street show the rise of neoclassicism in Bath. At the end of Great Pulteney Street lies Sydney House which was famous for its pleasure gardens, promenading guests, and evening entertainments. After this I went off route and took steps down from Pulteney Bridge to the river walk. This gave great views of the bridge, River Avon, and Grand Parade Park. I also saw what I think is a duck egg.

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The last stop on the self-guided walking tour, which can be found on the Bath visitor’s website along with audio guides and maps, was Grand Parade. There is also a tour for Jane Austen’s Bath. Most of the route is the same, but the information has a different focus and there are a few stops added in.

Once I was done with my tour it was well past 10am, and it was time to go back and do the museums.

The first one I went in was the Roman Bath House. The Roman Baths were an incredibly important prat of Roman society. Houses were taxed according to the size of pipes that provided water supply, so for personal hygiene people went to the local bath houses. However, the bathing complex was more than a place to clean yourself; it was a place to gather, meet others out in society, and hear the latest news. There were also multiple baths. A visitor could use a cold bath (frigidarium), a warm bath (tepidarium), and a hot bath (caldarium). People would go to all three before leaving making it a luxurious experience for guests and a trying one for the slaves. There was also an exercise area (palaestra), swimming pool, gymnasium, sauna, scared pool, rooms with heated floors and massages.  IMG_8044

The Romans viewed these baths as sacred and would throw in valuable items to please the gods and send “prayers” (curses) to catch thieves. An alter was also built so that priests could sacrifice animals to the gods. Because the waters in Bath were considered sacred and healing many pilgrims throughout the Roman Empire would travel to the city to take the healing waters and give their respects to Minerva, the goddess of Bath (aka Athena to the Ancient Greeks).

At the Baths I also was given the opportunity to drink some of the scared water. It was the most disgusting water I have ever drunk. It tasted like I was swallowing hot pennies. It was comparable to the time I drank fruit punch Gatorade that was left in the car for hours on black leather seats when it was over 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

Next up was the Jane Austen Center. I am a huge Austen fan, I read my first Austen book in sixth grade and I have been in love with her work ever since. At the Center you get to learn a bit about Jane’s life, her family, and how Bath influenced her novels such as Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. The tour was enjoyable; I had a nice chat with the tour guide about the books and I got free biscuits.

I then went to No. 1 Royal Crescent, one of if not only places you can see what a real IMG_7943Georgian townhome looked like. The inside was just as grand as the outside and I learned some interesting and some slightly disturbing facts that make me very glad to live in the 21st century.

The Things I learned:

  • Dinner began at four so that that the kitchen had enough daylight to prepare and serve the meal. Fashionably late was not expectable for dinner.
  • When dessert came out it was usually dark so the desserts were made to look beautiful by candlelight.
  • When it became dark the table cloths would be taken away and mirrors would be put down in order to reflect the candlelight.
  • Women did not drink wine unless a guest offers it to them, which the woman would then be extremely grateful and savor their one glass of wine
  • Men drank as much as they wanted. It was okay to drink throughout the day, at dinner it was okay to have a couple pints, and once the women withdrew the men would pull out the fine liquor and drink some more. There was a good reason why the dining rooms had no carpets.
  • The most important lady would enter first on the arm of the host.
  • The most important gentleman would sit to the left of the head of the table and there was a pineapple in front of him.
  • Pineapples were expensive, so many would rent them from a grocer for the night.
  • Pineapples are a sign of welcome.
  • Sugar was incredibly expensive, so it was the main ingredient in all the desserts of the wealthy.
  • Rotten teeth became fashionable because the wealthy had rotten teeth from eating too many overly sugary sweets.
  • The poor would blacken their teeth with black led paint (a poison) to make themselves look fashionable.
  • After a while people found the fad of rotten teeth silly and dentistry became a practice. And the only solution for rotten teeth was pulling them out or getting a new pair. New teeth (ranked from cheapest to most expensive) were made out of wood, ivory, or taken from hung criminals and dead soldiers (because they were not wealthy enough to buy sugar and have rotten teeth).
  • The most ornate room in the house was the withdrawing room where the ladies would gather after dinner.

I have seen castles, palaces, manors, mansions, and grand plantations but this was different because it was so dedicated to this one time period, and only this period, I felt like I got a true view of what life in a well-off home would have been like in the Georgian era.

The last museum I went to was the Fashion Museum at the Assembly Rooms. This offered IMG_8104a look at men and women’s fashion in Britain from the late 1700s to the present, and I even got to try on some gowns, bonnets, and fake wigs.

My day was filled to the brim and I finished all before 5 o’clock in the afternoon; which allowed me time to look in shops (one of the main reasons people come to Bath). The weather during my stay was beautiful, and I have no complaints on my time here because it was simply a wonderful second day of spring break.

Helpful hint: You can see the main points in Bath with just a full day, so if you have extra time in the area I recommend going to Bristol or Stonehenge which are close by.

Hung Up on Midterms

I talked about a little in the previous blog post about how the pressure of midterms was starting to be felt, and how I can feel every tick of the clock that is counting down to the due dates of my papers and projects. Let me first just say the layout of the first semester is very different from this semester. In the previous semester there were no breaks until finals where you had one week for revision. In this semester though we get a break in winter (one week for most and two weeks for business students), it is longer, dissertations are due for fourth years, classes end [for me] on March 30, there is a long spring break, and finals don’t start until April 25 and they will last until the end of May.

My midterms included, two individual papers, three group presentations (one where we have to create a business and make a business plan), and two group papers; all due in the same two week period in March. So far my weeks have been filled with group meetings and research for papers and projects. The classes I am taking this semester are: International Strategic Management in Practice, Services Marketing, and Entrepreneurship and New Venture Creation. My main projects in each have been a book report and presentation on the book Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry, a service blueprint of Deliveroo and a paper comparing services for service quality face-to-face and internet, and creating a business and business plan that will be presented to angle investors. The pressure is on, but once March ends (and classes) I will be able to relax, travel, and go on adventures.

Last semester I spent my time moving between classes (on weekdays) and new cities (on weekends), but this semester it feels like I am more focused on academics and traveling will be a vacation and reward for my all of my hard work.

How the fall and spring terms are set up is very different from each other and my approach to how I divide my time is too, but I like it. By being here a year I was able to see different aspects of the student culture and I got to experience different strategies to how you can live your life studying abroad.

Helpful Hint: No matter how you divided your time while studying abroad remember you are there to study, but also experience a new culture. It is important to find balance.

Paris Travels Take Two

This was my first trip since getting back to Edinburgh. I had already gone to Paris last semester, but the trip was interrupted by unexpected and devastating events so I wasn’t able to experience everything that had been planned.IMG_7208

For the first time I went to Edinburgh airport by myself without my group of traveling buddies accompanying me. While lonely, going to the airport by myself at 5:00 in the morning it was also one of the only times that I made it to the airport before boarding time. Before when I was traveling with a group we would pre-book a taxi and split the cost which was easy and convenient, but since I was by myself I took the bus. The bus departs from Waverly station and takes approximately 30 minutes (same as the taxi). Taking the bus also saves money as its only 4.50GB per a person and provides free Wi-Fi. The bus was easy, comfortable, and affordable but it is better to take a taxi if you are traveling with heavy or great amount of luggage.IMG_7091 IMG_7231

This Paris trip was going to be short and sweet. I left Friday morning and would return Sunday. I had preplanned everything in advance. I mapped out all of my routes for walking and using the trains and I made reservations and printed out my tickets online.

My flight on Friday had quite a bit of turbulence and ended up having a late arrival. It was a good thing that I took the first flight in the morning because my plan for the day was touring Versailles and that would take a 80 minuet train ride and Versailles winter hours meant that it closed at 5pm. Since I went when it was off-season the queue to get in went by quickly and there were no backups or hindrances when I moved through the palace.

There was a special exhibit open on the Sun King’s funeral procession. In my opinion the most beautiful part inside the palace was the famous hall of mirrors, but my favorite part of going to Versailles was the gardens. Even in winter when nothing is in bloom the gardens are spectacular. To see Versailles you need an entire day, and after quickly moving through the palace I spent the rest of my time in Versailles wandering through the gardens. The gardens are expansive. They are almost like a maze, although designed to be symmetrical, there are so many turns and pathways it is easy to lose your sense of direction, but this also leads to surprises; for instance, when I took one pathway that led away from the main path, that is lined with fountains, I found an oasis. In the middle of this perfectly manicured garden there was a bit was wildness. There wasn’t symmetry here but instead the plants growing where they pleased, spouting in different directions. And where the rest of the rest of the garden was still hibernating for winter, here in this small part, the grass was bright green, leaves were still on the trees, and the flowers were in full bloom.IMG_7354 IMG_7366

Other parts of the gardens were just as enchanting. Marie Antoinette’s peasant village made me feel like I was in the opening scene of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (and I might have broken out into song at one point while walking though). This part might have actually have been my favorite just because of my Disney obsession. [This deserved its own paragraph]

After Versailles I grabbed a quick dinner and got back on the train to head to the hostel I was staying at with some friends I was meeting up with. This ended up leading to a few missteps, and “learning opportunities”.  Once I got into central Paris, my transfer line was closed and there was not another line that would get me closer. Unfortunately, I didn’t have Wi-Fi access and no way to know how to walk there. So I got a taxi. Unfortunately, my friend had all of the information for the hostel (all I knew was the name) so I had the driver drop me off at station I was supposed to have ended up at. Once I safely arrived I unfortunately couldn’t check in because my reservation was under my friend’s name and I needed her passport to be able to go to our room. After waiting around three hours I decided to book another room and go to bed because I had been up since 4am. I found out the next day that my friend had problems on her end with her train leaving late and not getting in until 1am. I think I made the right decision in getting another room. Thankfully the rest of the trip went much more smoothly.IMG_7129 IMG_7177

The next day was probably one of my favorite days I have spent abroad [once again due to my Disney obsession] because I was able to go to my third Disney park, Disneyland Paris, with one of my best friends who I met when I worked at Disney World. The classic rides were all there, like Pirates of the Caribbean, but they were a bit different from their American counter parts. For instance, the Space Mountain at Disneyland Paris is more trilling compared to the one at Disney World, but its theming was based around astrology instead of astronomy. Also there were no games or purposeful distractions in the queue to entertain guests. We were able to do everything in both parks thanks to there being only a small crowd in about 8 hours.

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Somethings I liked that were different: there were a lot of great sales on main street, the castle was beautiful (I liked it better than the Sleeping Beauty castle in California), inside the castle you could walk upstairs and walk through the story of Sleeping Beauty,  the rides had a higher thrill factor, all the cast members were in character and everyone was friendly even the guests

 

Something I didn’t like as much that were different: The theming wasn’t done as well, The hot dogs at Casey’s Corner were bland and they only had a couple of topping choices, Star Tours was offered only in French and was not in 3D (although listening in French made C3PO more humors), there were no fillers in the queue to be offered as distractions

 

I really loved the park, but personally I don’t think any Disney Park can compare to Disney World, entering it was like coming home. After having spent five months of my life walking around Disney World while doing my internship, the layout of Disneyland Paris was like a smaller version of Magic Kingdom. It was easy to get around and navigate where to go and what to do next due to my previous experiences. It was nostalgic and now I can’t wait to have my reunion with all of my friends at Disney World.

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Helpful Hint: Always, always, always make sure you have access to all of the travel plans such as the confirmation to the hotel

End of Intermission: Back into Scotland

After a few weeks away I am now back in the UK. Even though I wasn’t gone for a long period of time some parts of Edinburgh have been slowly changing; there was some new construction, the weather went from freezing to mild and blustery, new shops have opened and some have finally closed their doors, and it is no longer dark by 3pm. These changes have been happening little by little but now after having been away it all seems to have changed at once. It is the start of a new semester and even though I know the city now, it feels like I am almost starting from scratch. While I haven’t done much since I have gotten back I have been planning out my semester, and I can’t wait to see what it will all have in store.

The End is Near, Goodbye Edinburgh – For Now

The semester is over, and I feel like I have just arrived in Edinburgh. My semester here has passed by so fast that it seems surreal that I am going home. Thankfully I am studying for a year so I will return once the spring session begins. It will be a shock to go back and find many of my friends gone, as they were only there for a semester. Goodbyes are hard but I am really grateful for this experience and all of the memories that I was able to make with friends that I will keep for a lifetime.

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To commemorate the end of finals and our last few days together my friends and I headed south for a weekend in London before we all split and went our separate ways.

Our first day in London was spent at Buckingham Palace, where we saw the end of the changing of the guard (and may have seen Prince George and Princess Charlotte), the houses of parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, going up the Eye at Sunset, and walking through all of the Christmas markets. The largest one was in Hyde Park, and it was more like a fair. There were carnival rides, games, and food and some shopping stalls. It reminded me a lot like a state fair, except the food was not all deep fried.

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Our second day we walked all over the Tower of London, where we saw the six Ravens, Traitor’s Gate, the square where three queens lost their lives and heads, and learned what it takes to be a guide. The guides at the Tower of London are actually all part of the Queen’s personal guard and live in the buildings surrounding the Tower. They have also all served over 22 years in military service for the crown and have an officer rank. From there we saw London Bridge or Tower Bridge and left for Harrods. Harrods is a ginormous department store that sells almost anything you can think of, and we ended up getting turned around and lost pretty much the entire time we were inside. From there we went to Piccadilly Circus which is like Time Square and then to Convent Gardens. As we walked around SoHo we also searched for noses that are on buildings. An artist put models of noses around London to protest big brother activities, but they are now a loved and unique part of London.

Before our flight we went to 221B Baker Street to see the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes which is the real home to the Sherlock Holmes Museum, we walked across Abbey Road (sort of like The Beatles) and took a cheesy picture that is up there with awkward family photos, and we toured Kensington Palace and ate at the Orangery.

 

I have been to London before and I have decided that it is not a city you should rush. There is a lot to see, but you get the most out of it if you take your time to enjoy it and do the tours instead of just trying to cram everything in. I will have to go back if not just for the British Museum, but to also enjoy all the parks when the flowers are in bloom and the weather is better.

My time in Edinburgh has felt short, but I feel like I have accomplished a lot. I cannot wait for what 2016 will have in store, but for now I am going to enjoy my winter break and time with my family before I go back. Thank you to all of my friends, flat mates, IFSA-Scotland, classmates, professors, and

Edinburgh for making my first semester so memorable!

 

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Helpful Hint: When you go to study abroad people will tell you what you should do and how you should get involved (and it is good advice), but don’t listen to them if it doesn’t interest you. Your time abroad should be about what you want to do, so don’t hesitate and find what you will enjoy because every experience abroad is unique and the main thing is to not have any regrets when you return home.

When Goghing to Amsterdam

(Sorry for the bad pun)

For the first time since I left Edinburgh for a weekend trip I haven’t felt like I was participating in The Amazing Race. We had plenty of time to spare at the airport and were even able to have a proper breakfast.

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When I stepped into the city center of Amsterdam it was like a different world. On the train ride over we passed many apartment and business buildings and the scenery reminded me a bit of the suburbs at home (just without all the American single homes lined up in a row).  When you step out of the train station in the city center you enter a large square. Across you see the palace, to the right a grand church, and to the left is a canal which Amsterdam is famous for. Undoubtedly the best part of Amsterdam is walking through it.

We stayed in Amsterdam for two and half days which was more than enough time. We saw the Anne Frank House (where you are not allowed to take any pictures), the Van Gogh Museum, the Tulip Museum, and the Cheese Museum (where you can sample A LOT of cheese), walked through the Red Light District, and experienced an Ice Bar (where everything, including your glass is ice).  I really enjoyed Amsterdam but my advice if you decide to travel to this city is to rent a car. The best way to see The Netherlands is to take a car and be able to drive through the country side and see the tulips growing with the windmills in the background and go from city to city. This way you have more freedom to move about as you like and are able to get a better grasp on the country.

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My only regrets are that I was not able to go into the palace because it was in use at the time and I was not able to see the Rijksmuseum.

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Helpful Hint: When in Amsterdam eat pancakes!