The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely mine and not connected in anyway to the United States Peace Corps.


where to start?! northern Ireland, of course!

sooooo . . . it's June now. Woah. I've done sooo much since my last post almost 3 months ago, i don't know where to start! quick overview of the first weekend--i did my first ever solo travel to Northern Ireland! i was on a quest to find the IRA, against the advice of my parents of course, but all I found were remnants and graffiti. It was still cool though, and everyone that i met was so nice, Irish hospitality almost rivaled Norway. Almost.

I saw someone getting arrested! and i happen to think most european police cars are funny looking. This one was in Belfast.

This was a kind of creepy plaque erected by the IRA, "Let our revenge be the laughter of our children" Yea, it still kind of creeps me out.

This is the coolest picture I took. Ok, so maybe i'm a bit obsessed with the political atmosphere of the place, but it was really cool. This was in Derry.

When in Ireland . . .

This corner of the wall is probably my favorite spot in Derry, I was by myself, and not really hungry yet, so I decided to get a book from the bookstore and just sit outside and read. It was a gorgeous day, and since Derry is a walled city (the only one still standing in the UK!) I just got ontop of the wall and found a nice corner to lean against for a couple of hours. Wonderful.

There were murals like this all over--painted by this group of people called the Bogside Artists, I actually met one of them when I was trying to find the Museum of Free Derry. I think there were 12 murals in all, each on a different building in a 2 block radius.

I really enjoyed my solo trip, even though I was glad to meet up with my friends just 3 days later. It's interesting seeing all these historical and meaningful things that you want to talk to someone about, but not really having anyone there to talk to. I would see something and want to point and say, "Oooh! Look!" but, it was just me, wondering around the city. I'm glad I had the experience, and I'm sure i'll travel by myself again someday, but especially because I was in a place like Northern Ireland that has the kind of past which encourages discussion, it made me really appreciate having friends to travel with if I need one. But I would say solo travel is a necessity for everyone, even if you just take a weekend to do it.

I'll try to post more about my spring adventures . . . there are quite a few! I leave Cambridge for good in 14 days, can't believe it's almost done--but i'll write more on that later, it probably deserves it's own slot anyway :)


Epic Adventures.

So, it's three days after deciding to cycle to London and i can officially check that one off the list. A part of me still can't believe we did it! We started with a bit of a set-back as my cycling buddy had punctured his bike tire, while still in Cambridge. Might as well get all of the bad luck out of the way, eh? After deciding to use a mountain bike rather than the punctured road bike (we couldn't get the back wheel re-centered) we set off, around 11am. It was a bit cheeky to decide on the mountain bike since the gears didn't shift correctly, and the brakes weren't in top form, but a good cyclist on a bad bike and a bad cyclist on a good bike, and we were almost evenly matched (i ended up walking up some of the steeper hills rather than riding up them, my legs just gave up on me!) We had thought it would take us quite a while to get to London, but even with me continually slowing the pace we made it before nightfall, around 5 or 5:30ish. We're actually not sure where the official "London" area starts, as we didn't make it to the center of the city where all the touristy things are, but the greater London area is quite large. Regardless, we ended at what turned up to be our final destination ) a little over 6 hours after we left Cambridge (a 40 mile ride rather than a 50 mile ride--we just couldn't imagine riding on for another 10 miles!). It was a gorgeous day for the trip, and we saw the most adorable english villages and farmland, which i of course took no pictures of. I even forgot that i had my camera until jeremy asked if we were going to document the trip at all! So, here are some of the very few pictures that i took (i really wish i had taken more!). The adrenaline rush from the ride has gone down, but that feeling of being able to do anything still survives. I can't wait til we decide on the next epic adventure.

This is actually going backwards, I'm not sure what's wrong with this website! it's uploading my pictures all weird. anyway, the end of our journey, tired, sweaty, and absolutely exhilarated. (and yes mom, we wore helmets). About time for a Sunday Roast and a cold pint. what a great way to end the ride..and this is the turn where we got lost. We were supposed to turn left after we passed this farm, but we went about a mile to far past it before we realized that we weren't on the right trail anymore--oops! But, really, it wouldn't have been a decent adventure without getting a bit lost at least once :) this was a little over 1/2 way to london, we think.
This is looking back on a small detour we took into a field for a bit of a rest and stretching our legs, we've gone about 1/3 of the way . . . only about 27 miles left to go!

This is a gorgeous lake that we rode by, it's not quite springtime, but you can tell that once the trees start getting their leaves this place will be beautiful.


Everything is better on holiday . . .

Why yes, it is that time again!  My resolution for next term is to not only take more pictures, but to try and update this silly blog more often--I know i'll appreciate it once i'm far away from this place and back home . . . but this is not the time for sad thoughts!  My holiday plans are quite random, and, at the time they were made--mostly spontaneous.  as of today there are only 4 people left on my hall, 3 of them are the aussie medics who don't actually get much of a break, and the other jya left is just sticking around until his choir jets off to france for the break.  i'm here for 5 more days.  5 days!  i'm not really sure what i'll end up doing.  Yesterday I was cycling to my riding lesson and saw a sign for the motorway (interstate) that basically read, "London, 50mi this way"  One stroke of brilliance later, and I decided i wanted to cycle to london.  and so we're off! bright and early tomorrow morning.  It's quite a ways, but we're planning on taking it easy and just enjoying the ride, and hopefully getting to london in time to take a train back to cambridge.  Then monday i'll probably just be recovering, and Tuesday is St. Patty's Day, which we're actually going down to London for (on a train this time)  and celebrating like i'm sure only the brits know how (i've seen people in pubs drinking beer with their breakfast!--no worries, i won't be partaking in those kinds of shenanigans).  wednesday i actually have another riding lesson planned, and then I guess Thursday is for me to finally pack up!  I suppose the 5 days won't be so horrible after all.  Friday I'm off to Belfast for the weekend i  really hope i make it to Derry!  and then on Sunday I meet up with Amy in London (she's spending this week with her parents) and we're off to Istanbul where we begin our 3 1/2 weeks of traveling through greece and serbia and croatia  and italy eventually ending up in germany!  sometimes, i really can't believe how amazing my life is right now.  but as wonderful and amazing this year has been, i can only hope that it just keeps getting better, as i have many years left, to have many great adventures.


sunny days, cloudless nights.

i love love LOVE days like today.  i woke up to sunshine streaming through my curtains, and until about 20mins ago the sky was completely clear, not a cloud in sight.  spring is on the way my friends.  i visited oxford on Friday night,went to Reagent Hall's formal dinner (Regeant's is the college that the other people from Jewell that are enrolled in Oxford go to) and following bop and then brought back some of the people here to cambridge to watch our friend play in the Varsity women's football (soccer) match of oxford vs. cambridge.  Two top nights, right in a row.  This weekend i'm off to see Franz Ferdinand in concert in Birmingham (i don't really know where that is . . . but i'm going there on sunday!)  with some friends on queen's wing--i'm stoked.  and so, even though i have an essay plan, essay, and experimental design due in 3 hours, i'm completely at ease (almost) because this past weekend was great, and the upcoming one looks like it's going to be as well. i never really thought i'd be one of those people living for the weekends . . . does that mean i'm growing up--oooh, i hope not!  :)


soul searching

So backpacking around europe was not only a blast, but also a huge learning experience for me. I found out that I can basically get along with anyone i meet (except for creepers you meet the night before who turn up at the bus station the next day), i also learned that as much as i uphold the ideals of spontaneity and adventure, i'm not as adventurous as i would like to think i am--which probably ends up being the safer thing in the end. my favorite part about visiting places is not the food, or the museums, or the monuments, but the actual people i meet--those are the parts of my travels that i remember best; maybe someday i'll be able to tell you about them. My worldview has been broadened, and i do believe that in the 5 weeks i spent traveling i learnt more about myself than the rest of these 20 years combined--there is just something about traveling alone or with one other person (especially one who you didn't know so well at the beginning of the travels) that just forces you to become introspective and learn not only about your constantly changing surroundings, but about yourself. perhaps it is due to the constantly changing surroundings that you learn more about yourself.

anyway, that's the ending of my winter holiday break--took me long enough to write about, but now you are all caught up. on my life til mid January at least.


Our last 3 countries.

1/5-1/6 Slovakia--Bratislava
1/6-1/7 Czech Republic--Prague
1/7-1/11 Poland--Warsaw, Katowice

Our journey is slowly coming to a close. We stopped in Bratislava on the way to prague. seems random perhaps, but it was actually cheaper to do that than take a train straight to prague from budapest--traveling for us was mostly about finding the best deals and going to those places which made for random, but terribly exciting adventures. Bratislava really was just a place to stay, we had an interesting hostel experience, mostly because we were both feeling a bit sick so we really wanted to just stay in and sleep, while the others in our room were the typical hostel-ers, ie: party people. The fact that our hostel had a dance club in the basement should have tipped us off to the fact that we wouldn't be getting much sleep. Apparently there really isn't much to DO in Bratislava, so people go there to party--i may have to go back some day so that I can actually enjoy the city for what it has to offer. The morning of the 6th I went out to find an internet cafe, little did i realize that it was Three Kings Day. aka: everything was closed. The little old ladies in their fur-looking hats coming out of church were kind of cute though. So I just spent about an hour wandering around the town centre, stopping occasionally by the churches i would pass by to listen to the mass in Slovak. it was a nice way to end my trip to Slovakia, although i do intend to go back someday.

Prague was the next stop. We mainly went there because we had friends who were also traveling, so we thought it would be a good idea to meet up with them, even though we would see them back at Cambridge in less than 2 weeks. I really almost don't even count Prague as we got in after the sun had gone down and didn't really have time to explore the city or see . . . anything. We did have some good Czech food though.

Warsaw was interesting. mostly because of the people we met while there. Of course, we hit up the Holocaust museum, which was actually really cool (this coming from a person who normally does not like museums). It had new age type architecture which combined with the video and pictures and memorabilia from the mid 1900s gave it a very interesting feel. Warsaw was by FAR the coldest place we visited. needless to say, we really didn't do much outdoors, i think it got down to -20C. which is around -4F. very very cold. i'm glad I brought my ski jacket. it was such an amazing feeling, being in this city which i had read so much about, and learned so much about in history classes while in grade school. i think i'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that i did actually go there and walk those streets. it's kind of incredible.

Katowice was the place I was catching my ryan-air flight from, so we crashed there for a night before parting ways, I went back home to Cambridge while my traveling buddy, maylin, went on to Krakow. We manage to have fun wherever we go, and Katowice was no different. It helped that we had a friend who was kind enough to even cook us a "proper polish dinner" and show us around the town during the day, and during the night.

The flight back to Cambridge was the first flight I had ever taken by myself. i actually really enjoyed it, it's probably really silly and childish, but flying by myself made me feel very grown-up--in a very good way.


El Amor

12/30-1/2 France--Paris
1/2-1/5 Hungary--Budapest

So New Years in Paris . . . definitely not what we thought it would be. We ended up standing underneath the Eiffel Tower and waiting for something exciting to happen. It was fairly anti-climatic. The tower was kept dark until the stroke of midnight when it mildly erupted in blue lights, the huge crowd around us started shouting, "Bon Anne!" which means "good year" in French. Actually, that part was kind of cool. i guess I was expecting the huge countdown display . . . there were a few failed attempts at counting down by several random groups of people in the crowd, I guess no one had the exact time. The lighting of the tower was a bit of a surprise, and it sparkled--which is always a cool thing.

The next day Amy and I went out exploring -- we found Pere Lachaise, which is this really famous cemetery where famous people like Oscar Wilde, Chopin, Jim Morrison, Adam Smith and the like are buried. There are also some non-famous French families. in fact, there were quite a few "houses" which belonged to one family and there would be pots of their cremated remains within the "house" with the family name carved above the door. It probably sounds like a really morbid way to celebrate the first day of the new year, but we had a really great time wondering around the cemetery. and THEN we found this amazing little French bakery in the middle of nowhere (it's quite easy for us to get lost) and had some delicious pastries and rolls. the next morning we found an adorable cafe and i had a croissant and my first ever espresso--and i LIKED it! it was kind of a big moment for me since before said moment i did not like coffee without TONS of sugar and milk and chocolate. It was also a very "french" moment, or so it seemed, since we were sitting outside, sipping our coffee, chatting and watching people on the street walk by with a violinist playing on the street corner. lovely. We wondered more streets, i'm going to have to go back some day and hit up the catacombs, it was the only place i really wanted to go that i didn't make it to.

Maylin and i left the next day and went off to Budapest! I think i might be in love with eastern europe. We met up with a friend, which was really helpful since we couldn't read any of the signs and she knew a ton of really cool local places. We also saw Budapest Castle and the largest synagogue in Europe. the Budapest museum was pretty cool, as was the Budapest jazz festival that we stumbled upon the next day--the number that you actually pay might seem big, but considering that it's about 250 hungarian dollars per euro, eastern europe really is the most cost effective place to go. Hungary might be the place that we went to the most touristy areas. The best part though, was the homemade dinner our friend's parents made for us--it was so sweet of them!

more of eastern europe? how about the czech republic? i say yes.


Portuguese and Espanol

update on my current life before I go more in detail to my travels abroad this holiday break: my computer completely broke about a week ago, which really isn't why I haven't updated (I actually am that bad of a blogger), but it has been harder for me to update as i hate taking up my friend's computers. that also mean that i don't have many pictures to share (besides the ones on facebook).
On to Portugal and Spain.

Portugal--Faro, Lisbon. 12/16-12/21

My parents met me and Maylin at the airport, it really was great to see them, i don't think you ever realize how much you miss somebody until you see them again in person. Well, supposedly you're not supposed to realize how much you miss somebody until you can't see them again . . . but that usually isn't the case for me. They had rented a car which turned out to be quite handy as the place we were staying was quite far from everything else, but it was a beautiful little place that we had for the days that we were there. My dad and i went horseback riding one of the afternoons (my mom really hates horses, and Maylin wasn't to keen on getting on a horse for 4 hours, so it was just me and my dad, which was nice). The lady that was in charge of the stable was more than a little crazy. She gave me this fairly aggressive young male horse that didn't want to be behind anyone, so I had to lead! (which is probably what we get for saying that we had riding experience) and the horse would not listen to me, and didn't want to move faster then a slow walk, which was very frustrating. fast forward to 2 hours later when we trot over the sand dunes and arrive at the beach. My horse went crazy, and i got scared. just imagine galloping down the beach on top of a horse that won't listen to you when you try to get it to slow down. I eventually was able to coerce the horse into slowing down . . . but it may have officially ruined "romantic horseback rides on the beach" for me. The rest of the time in Faro was really relaxing, I did some studying and read some books for fun, which is always nice. We made a day trip to Lisbon and Maylin and I just basically walked around town since we couldn't be bothered to take the tour bus around. Portugal was nice and relaxing.

Spain--Malaga, Morocco--Tanger, 12/22-12/27

Spain was another relaxing place, there was a British store close to the place we were staying, apparently there are a bunch of Brits that go to Spain for vacation . . . Maylin and I took advantage of the close beach and sunshine and went down for some sunbathing a couple of times, I wish we had done that while in portugal as well! We took a day to go to Morocco which was really cool--though, i didn't really enjoy being part of a huge group of tourists going down the streets of Morocco. It was a really interesting experience, the country was like no place I had been before, we saw a communal stone bakery where people would bring their bread to be baked, and then come back like 2 hours later when they were done! We were also introduced to a snake charmer and traditional Moroccan lunch. It was pretty sweet. My parents had brought some canned things from home for Christmas dinner--so we had an almost traditional Christmas with stockings and green bean casserole and cranberries and such. Maylin and i were actually not very good at planning ahead, in fact after we made our plans to go to Amsterdam we kind of stopped planning (which is why we ended up getting to Portugal by going from Amsterdam to Belgium to Dublin to Portugal) since we knew that we had almost two weeks with my parents where we didn't need to plan for anything at all! anyway, once it came time to leave my parents and journey to the next part of our break we needed a way to get to Paris, since we had plans to meet up with friends for a couple days around New Years . . . but we still had a couple of days so we decided to go to Madrid! Madrid doesn't get it's own paragraph because we really didn't do much there . . . we tried Tapas and made some friends at the hostel we stayed at, we also bought a day long metro ticket and rode the metro around to different stops, like . . . Isles de Filipas! (but once we got back on the street at the stop there was literally nothing there--so we travelled on to more metro stops). Hmmmm yea .... we became very proficient at having fun without doing touristy things or spending much money. Although, the 2nd to the last day we were there we went to the Prado Museum which was amazing!!! ( and since we are students of the EU we got in for free!) Tip for traveling to Spain: they do not speak English. but we're pretty sure that they understood us, thank goodness I vaguely remembered some of the things I learned in high school spanish class.

Then, it was on to Paris. . .


Shall we go Dutch?

12/10-16/08 Netherlands: Haarlem, Utrecht, Amsterdam

The Netherlands. There are usually only a couple things that come to mind when one mentions the Netherlands, and I'm not talking about the tulips or the windmills. . . Good. I'm glad we mentioned all that--now, onto the things we actually did do while in the Netherlands. Around Amsterd
am there are quite a few different cities that are like 20 mins from amsterdam proper. We stayed with friends we met while in Cambridge when we were in Haarlem/Utrecht which was really fun.

ever been in the wrong place at the right time? i can relate: Maylin and I were waiting around Haarlem's town centre for the train we were taking and were just basically killing time when we saw this crowd of people filing into a building across from the big church. We had nothing else to do, so we decided to check it out--they didn't seem to be paying for admission or anything, so we were game. We enter the building and it has stained glass windows, folding chairs set up and a table in the front with a big open part in the back of the building with stairs leading to another section. We thought we were in for a church service . . . 5 mins later this music starts playing and a women in a white dress and a man in a white tux emerge. this was no regular church service, in fact, it wasn't a church service at all--it was a civil marriage ceremony! It was actually really cool to be an observer of, even though neither of us could understand a word of Dutch. The judge proceeding was a very funny woman--well, we assumed she was funny as with every other sentence the people in the audience were cracking up. Apparently she knew the couple very well and was telling stories about them. At the end of the couple exchanging their vows the judge raised her gavel and said something in Dutch while banging the table, perhaps the Dutch version of "I now pronounce you husband and wife"? We later learned, from our friend in Utrecht that in the Netherlands everyone is required to get a civil marriage and then if they wish, can go to their church and have a religious service. I really like that idea of marriage--but it's a personal thing I suppose.

if you are ever in the Netherlands, you must MUST try ollebollen. There are stands for it everywhere. and it is delicious, like a baked doughball with brown sugar and raisins inside and powered sugar on top. YUM! This is a stand that was in the middle of Haarlem town centre. So besides crashing weddings and eating really good food, we also saw a bus get stuck in the middle of the road. Yep. big bus. stuck in the road, because in the Netherlands (or well, in Utrecht anyway), you can basically park where ever you want to , even on both sides of a one way street. so, some of the guys got out of the bus and moved the cars on the sides of the street over just a tiny smidge. it caused quite the commotion.

we did do one touristy thing while in utrecht, we went to this tower called Dom Tower. where we proceeded to walk up more than 400 steps to get to the top. along the way the way the bells in the bell tower w
ere explained to us, and we did get to go into the main bell tower, which was cool--i had a total hunchback of Notre Dame moment. Apparently they used to play the bells with this keyboard like thing--each "key" was attached to one of the bells' ropes, and they would bang the key (or bell tone) they wanted with really heavy hammers to get the bells to work, but now they have machines that do it, and only have a bell ringer for special occasions. there were over 50 bells, and most of them were huge, and really really old. it actually was pretty cool, just walking up and down the tower . . . wasn't.

In Amsterdam we met up with some friends! a Queens Wing reunion (Queens Wing is the do
rm I live in). It was really cool. I have a friend from Jewell that did her study abroad in Amsterdam a few years ago so she had given us tips on where to go, but we ended up finding some pretty cool places on our own. We did see the red light district (you can't really go to Amsterdam and not), but we heard that if you try to take pictures and they catch you, they'll take your camera! I decided it wasn't worth it. but I do have a picture of the reunion. We were only in Amsterdam proper for a night, not even a full day--but we needed the airport in Amsterdam to be able to fly to Dublin which was our connector to Faro. On to Portugal? yes.


land of the vikings

i have officially backpacked through Europe, well, part of Europe anyway. With just a school backpack stuffed to the breaking point on my back (but still under the 20 kg carry-on limit) my traveling buddy, Maylin and I started off on our 5 week adventure.

12/5-10/08 Norway--Drammen, Sandnes, Stavanger, Denmark, Bergen.

I was so excited to go to Norway, one of the two places that I told myself I HAD to see while over here (i am 1/5 Norwegian, or some odd fra
ction like that). We arrived in the land of the vikings mid afternoon in a small Ryan-Air airport outside of Oslo (Ryan-air is a discount airline around europe--you can get really good deals if you're willing to be flexible/you catch them at the right time--definitely worth checking out).
First thing we see in the airport:

They sold hot dogs everywhere we went in Norway. I never knew a country could like hot dogs so much.

We took a bus from the airport to a town called Drammen and ended up waiting for our over night train which didn't leave until 11pm.
Drammen looked like Christmas, which made the 6 hour wait after a day of travelling more bearable:

If you ever happen to be stuck in the Drammen train station for an extended period of time, go across the big bridge that's outside and to the right--there are actually things to see/do on that side of the train station. The overnight train was AMAZING!!! they gave us a packaged blanket, eye mask, and earplugs AND our seats fully reclined. Wonderful.

We stumbled off the train at 7am and were picked up by my distant cousin Trygve. Maylin and I were welcomed into his beautiful flat with open arms and introduced to more of my relatives. I had already met GK 4 years earlier, in KS, and she was kind enough to take us on an entertaining "behind the scenes" tour of Stavanger/Sadnes. This was my favorite monument that we saw:

three swords that stand for peace. awesome. the Norweigian name for it is "Sverd i Fjell" It's right on the shores of Hafrsfjord--call it a fjord, not a lake. there is definitely a difference. But this mix of fresh and salt water is breathtakingly beautiful, as were many of the places we saw in Norway, come to think of it.

GK also drove us to the overnight ferry that we took to Denmark. We met some interesting people on the ferry, i do believe that we were the only non-Norweigians on the boat, but everyone we met on the boat knew english, so we didn't have that hard of a time. Apparently these overnight ferries are for Christmas shopping, and business parties. . . it was interesting. . .to say the least. We were actually only in Denmark for 5 hours, but I think it was a trip more about the journey than the destination anyway. Why yes, this was a harbor in Denmark. It was really cute.

I also met quite a few other relatives and got to visit the 2nd largest mall in Norway. Everyone was so wonderful, I hope to meet up with them again someday, maybe host them once I have my own place, wherever i end up living.

We took off for Bergen on a joint bus/ferry trip. honestly, i slept through the first part of it--but the part that I was awake for was absolutely gorgeous. pure nature, undisturbed, peaceful, just as it was meant to be. I really can't wait to go back. On to the land of the Dutch!