The United States of America – Yay!!!

This morning was an extremely early one, with us leaving the hotel by 5:30. We had to walk for a few blocks to get to a different metro stop, and then ride the metro for almost 45 minutes. The bright side was that it took us straight to our airport terminal. We checked in our bags, grabbed breakfast and snacks, and finally boarded our plane. It was an extremely long flight (8 hours!), made better only by the continuous stream of free movies right in front of our faces. I watched four whole new movies! Upon landing in Detroit, we had to grab our luggage, go through customs, re-check our bags, go through security, and find our gate.

We are sitting here now, waiting for our 3:30 flight to Omaha. It’s torture to be so close but yet not quite there. We have all grabbed our first taste of America (a white chocolate peppermint mocha for me, Starbucks was weird across the pond). We have a two hour flight to Omaha and then we’re almost there!

It’s crazy to believe everything that happened in the past three weeks. 7 countries, 12 cities, different currencies and cuisines, new friends, countless adventures, mastering subways, trains, and planes, and a great number of monuments, museums, and other unforgettable sights. This trip has lit the fire of adventure within me and I can’t wait for my next trip. Thank you so much for following along with me via my blog. I love you and can’t wait to see you!!

P.S. I hope my adventures have inspired you to travel to somewhere new 🙂

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London -Day 5

Today was our last day in London. We ate breakfast and met in the lobby at 9:30 to travel to the metro stop and begin our day. A short ride brought us to the Westminster stop, and as we emerged from the subway we saw Big Ben. It was very impressive, and after a few photos we moved on, walking to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. We didn’t get there nearly soon enough to get close at all to the palace so we had to stand quite a ways back. We didn’t get to see anything within the gates of the palace, but we did get to see the processionals leading into the gates. There were police on horses, a band, and a group of guards in each processional. Very cool.

We then walked back to where we began to visit Westminster Abbey. It was an absolutely beautiful church, and was made even more interesting by all of the famous people buried within. Some of the ones I thought were cool were Charles Dariwn, Isaac Newton, Emily Bronte, George Frederick Handel (he wrote Hallelujah Chorus!), and Charles Dickens as well as several of the past kings and queens of England. It was very cool to get to walk around and learn a little about each of their lives with our audio tours, and to see some of the beautiful art and architecture held within.

After finishing there, a group of us broke off in search of the Millennium Bridge, which was only a couple metro stops away. It was a very cool bridge and offered some amazing views of London. On the other side of the bridge was Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. We walked by but didn’t want to pay to get inside. So after grabbing a small lunch (again at Eat) we walked back to the metro and came back to our hotel. We spent a little time packing and relaxing before heading to Piccadilly Circus.

Upon arriving we went straight to the pub we ate at our first night in London, to get some more of the amazing fish and chips. We met a wonderful English couple at the pub who talked to us for quite a while. They were really the first people on Europe who took a genuine interest in us and what we were doing. We really appreciated them! Our bellies happy, we went in search of souvenirs, and some red phone booth pictures. Knowing that we have to be in the lobby with all of our bags by 5:30 tomorrow morning, we were all fine with heading back to the hotel after all that adventuring. We showered, finished packing, and are now attempting to go to bed somewhat early. It’s crazy to think that this time tomorrow I will be back in Iowa! Talk to you soon!

P.S. Correction from yesterday, it was actually the London Bridge we saw! It is know as both the London Bridge and the Tower Bridge, hence the confusion 🙂

Another show or two

This morning we got a little extra sleep before grabbing breakfast and heading out to see the Tower of London. We had to ride the metro for a while before arriving at the Tower (which wasn’t actually a tower at all, but an old palace/fortress). Before walking in we were greeted by what we were hoping was the London Bridge, but found out it was actually the Tower Bridge. It was still cool though.

Once inside the Tower, a group of us decided to skip the guided tour and instead headed right towards the Crown Jewels exhibit, which was beautiful. There weren’t as many jewels as I was expecting, but the ones that were there were absolutely amazing; and included crowns, scepters, and some over the top gold silverware. We then headed to the Royal Beasts exhibit, which didn’t actually have any live animals. It did have some very interesting facts about the animals that were once kept by the royals who lived there however. We also checked out the Torture exhibit and the Bloody tower which were both very cool. After checking out some gift shops, we were ready to head off on our next adventure.

On our way out of the fortress we stopped and asked one of the guards about the massive, scary ravens hopping all around the place. He explained to us that ravens are considered royal birds and it’s said that if the ravens ever leave the Tower, both it and the kingdom will fall. There always has to be six ravens within the grounds and their wings are clipped to ensure they don’t fly away. So now you know 🙂

We next headed to Charing Cross to get some lunch and check out tickets for the Lion King tonight. We grabbed amazing sandwiches at a little place called Eat and four of us bought tickets for the show. Kayla and I had already purchased tickets for the matinee of The Phantom of the Opera for today, so we had to head to Piccadilly Circus after lunch. It was another absolutely fantastic show!! Amazing sets, costumes, and voices once again. I could definitely get used to having all these amazing shows so close.

After Phantom, Kayla and I traveled back to Piccadilly to meet up with Aaron and Cailtin. We grabbed supper at a little pub (great chicken and waiter with a cool accent) before going to the theatre to catch The Lion King. Again, amazing. This one was cool because it was so different from the first two, with the amazing puppets. After the show we got soaked on the way back to the hotel and were extremely glad to get back and change into dry clothes. Tomorrow is our last day in London, which is very bittersweet. I’ve loved my time in Europe but am so excited to be back in Iowa! Talk to you soon!

Stonehenge!! And Bath

After the usual morning routine, we were picked up right in front of the hotel by our very own charter bus! As it was big enough to hold at least three times the amount of people we have, we immediately spread out, intent on napping the whole way to Bath. Our tour guide and bus driver had other ideas however. One kept turning on the speaker system to give us more background on London, Bath, and the surrounding areas (which was actually interesting). And the other had the heat cranked up so high that most of us were sweating and cranky by the time we reached Bath. Needless to say, the two hour ride was a little rough this morning.

But the brisk air in Bath as we stepped off the bus helped cool us down and cheer us up. I was surprised as we had approached, not realizing that Bath was actually a city. I had just imagined we would be seeing the ruins of some ancient Roman baths, but that was definitely not the case. We started at the museum, which is built over and around what is left of the Roman baths, which includes the natural hot springs. The hot springs were really cool, but they were pretty dirty. We were given audio guides to walk around the museum with, which I appreciated. It gave us the freedom to learn at our own pace and discover just as much as we wanted to. One of my favorite parts of the baths was the heated floor system they had devised. They built numerous short pillars all across the ground with room in between them and then built the floor on top of those pillars. They would then light huge fires and push the warm air throughout the space between the pillars and the floor, which would nicely heat the floor. We were able to learn about the type of people who frequented the baths, the different types of baths that were built, and see some of the original stones and decorations that have been uncovered in the excavations. Overall a very cool experience.

Then we went on a tour of the actual city of Bath with our tour guide Andrew (or the British Kid Rock). He definitely knew what he was talking about, telling us about certain buildings or areas of the town and what their purpose was back when the baths were popular. He also pointed out the apartments and houses that famous people such as Jane Austin and Nicholas Cage used to live in. We saw some beautiful architecture and buildings all throughout the city, all of which is made from limestone. After the tour we were given some time for lunch. Most of us grabbed sandwiches at a nearby place and spent the rest of our time exploring the city’s shops and ice cream parlors.

Then we climbed back into the bus for the hour ride to Stonehenge. I was very excited to see the ruins. Our guide again gave us tons of backstory on the ruins themselves and the surrounding area, including who built Stonehenge and some of the possible reasons for why it was built. I don’t personally have a theory that I believe over all the others, I just love the mystery behind it. We arrived at the visitor center (which was just opened in December) and climbed into a little cart that drove us out to see the stones. By this time it had become windy and began to rain, so we quickly ran out to look at the huge stones (which were so cool!!). I marveled for as long as I could stand before hurrying back to get on a cart to take me back to the warm visitors center. We explored the gift shop and cafe before returning to the bus for the two hour ride back to the hotel.

The ride back was pretty uneventful, and as soon as we got back a group of us headed straight to the hotel restaurant for dinner. I ordered a burger, my first taste of beef since I’ve been in Europe. While it wasn’t as bad as some of the beef my friends have encountered, it definitely was not mid-western beef. I will just stick to chicken until I return home, which is hard to believe in just a couple days! Tomorrow we will go see the Tower of London. Talk to you soon!

London – Day Two

It was another fantastic day in London! Finally a decent breakfast with eggs, English muffins, and Europe’s attempt at bacon. We met in the lobby at 9:00 to head over to the metro for a decently long ride. Our stop came up right in front of our first destination, the National Gallery. We were given an hour and a half to explore the gallery, which was pretty cool. There were tons of beautiful paintings to look at, and some very interesting ones as well. After we finished there we were given some free time to explore Trafalgar Square, which the gallery was right on. There wasn’t a whole lot to do, so we ended up in a cute little cafe, where we ordered smoothies and tea.

After gathering once more we all set out on the day’s second mission. The teachers had noticed that they still had quite a bit of money left, and decided to pay for every person to go to a show tonight. We were all super excited to hear this, and traveled around the city with Gwen to the different theaters to collect tickets. Caitlin, Aaron, Kelli, and I made the choice to go see Wicked. I could hardly wait!!

After getting our tickets, most of us followed Gwen to Harrods, a massive department store that sells anything and everything you could ever need (but probably couldn’t afford). We spent some time exploring the many wonders the store had to offer (including cupcakes and cheesecake) but soon decided that we needed real food. We hopped back on the metro to head back to Piccadilly Circus once more. We ended up at Garfunkels which was reasonably priced but not the best food we’ve ever eaten. We spent a little time wandering around Piccadilly before getting back on the metro.

And then I embraced my inner nerd shamelessly. Four of us traveled to Kings Cross station (Platform 9 3/4) to take our picture with the trolley that’s sticking halfway out of the wall. They had people there providing scarves and professional pictures (they even held the end of the scarf out to make it look like you were running!) but I just stuck with the ones Aaron took. We made a quick stop to the Platform 9 3/4 shop before returning to the hotel.

And then it was finally time for Wicked!! We got as dressed up as our limited wardrobes would allow and got on the metro once again to travel to the theatre. The show was absolutely amazing! The set, the costumes, the voices were all spectacular and I loved every minute of it! I will definitely be taking in more shows while I’m here. Tomorrow is our day trip to Stonehenge and Bath. Talk to you soon! 🙂

Au Revoir Paris! ‘Ello London!

This morning featured sleeping in a little, eating breakfast, and then finishing up packing. At 11:00 we gathered in the lobby with all of our bags and made the trek to the nearby metro stop. We are all extremely done with lugging around the bags that seem to get heavier and heavier with each trip. It was just a short ride to the train station, where we had to go through customs and security. We had about an hour to wait for our train, which we spent grabbing snacks and last minute souvenirs. When the time came we boarded the train, stored our luggage and settled in. It was a very comfortable train, and it was so cool to know we were traveling under water!

Arriving in the train station we all went directly to the ATM to take out some pounds. It was a huge relief to hear people speaking English again!! We then jumped on the metro with all of our luggage (for about eight stops too many), got on another metro for one short stop, and made the short walk to our hotel. We were relieved to be able to throw our bags down in the last hotel we’ll be in. This room is easily one of the nicest we’ve stayed in. There is plenty of room for us to spread out, a huge bathroom with a huge shower and a shower curtain! I will never again take shower curtains for granted. Plus the people on TV are speaking English! The simple things that make us happy 🙂

We gathered in the lobby once more and got right back onto the metro to get to the Piccadilly Circus. Gwen had told us that it was similar to Times Square and she was definitely not wrong. As soon as we walked out of the metro we saw some jumbotrons, tons of shops, and people everywhere. It was great! We were set loose, and a group of us went in search of food. We ended up at a little Irish pub where the majority of us ordered fish and chips. It was absolutely amazing, plus we got free water!! Once we finished supper we spent a couple hours walking down the street, checking out some of the more inviting stores. We started at a huge M&Ms store (four levels of fun!) and ended up at a massive souvenir shop catering to the extremely touristy, selling everything we could have ever imagined needing. After all that adventuring we were reading to come back to the hotel to shower and relax.

I absolutely love London. I know we’ve only been here for about half a day but I already know that this will be my favorite city so far. It is extremely comforting to be around people that fluently and regularly speak our language. The people here seem much nicer as well. It is way more expensive, but I’m not going to let that keep me from having fun. Tomorrow we’re going to check out a museum of some sort, then we have the rest of the day free! Several of us have made plans to return to Piccadilly Circus and then take in a show, probably Wicked. Lots of love from London! I’m a whole time zone closer to home here 🙂 talk to you soon!

Paris – Day Three

Another breakfast of cereal and croissants this morning. I am so ready for eggs and bacon again. We set off from the hotel at 9:00 today and made the short walk to the metro stop nearby. It wasn’t too long to get to our first attraction of the day, the Louvre! It was impressive and extremely intimidating as we walked up, and even more so as we walked in. We only had two hours to explore which was definitely not enough. Aaron, Brandy, Michael, and I took off running, wanting to make sure we saw everything we wanted to see. On the top of the list were some paintings and sculptures that Aaron and Brandy had learned about in their art classes, the Mona Lisa of course, and the Renaissance art collection. Seeing the Mona Lisa was very cool, but the Renaissance art was my favorite. There were huge stained glass displays and beautiful tapestries as well as portraits and other artifacts. We made it through all of that, and enjoyed just casually walking around with the little time we had left. I got separated from our little group at one point but we were reunited before too long. The Louvre is definitely something I can see myself coming back to explore in the future!

After gathering everyone up, we got back on the metro to go see the Moulin Rouge. I was very excited to see it, but didn’t realize what sort of area it would be in. There were several sex shops along the street, as well as some places where you could see “live shows”. We walked quickly past those things, and made it to the Moulin Rouge, which was smaller than I had expected but still very cool. There was a surprisingly long line outside for a Sunday afternoon. We took our pictures and then broke off for lunch. All of the students ended up eating at Quick, which is basically the French version of Hardee’s. It was decent food at a decent price, and we all enjoyed the warmth. We still haven’t gotten used to these colder temps after our brief time in warmer weather.

Next we headed off to walk down the Montmatre, a famous street (I’m not sure what it’s famous for). At the end of the street is a hill, upon which the Sacre-Coeur Basilica sits. We rode in the little trolley up the hill, and spent some time exploring the beautiful gothic church. After riding back down the hill we all explored the many shops along the street. And once we had gotten our fill of those shops, Bob brought us back to the Rue de Rivoli, a street right in front of the Louve that also has several little shops. We shopped for a little longer before heading out on our next mission.

I’m sure many of you have heard about or seen pictures of the Lover’s Bridge. It’s the bridge that is covered in padlocks, which lovers right their names on, attach to the bridge, and then throw the keys into the river. A group of us girls had made the plan to come visit the bridge during our pre-trip classes and we were all very excited to find that it was just on the other side of the Louvre from where we had been shopping. We all purchased padlocks, wrote on them, and found a special spot for them on the crowded bridge before throwing the keys into the Seine. While it may be a little cheesy, we were all very excited to have done it 🙂

After all that adventuring we were extremely glad to travel back to the hotel. Caitlin and I still had groceries left over from last night’s supper, which was good since all the restaurants and grocery stores around our hotel were closed. We spent some time packing and organizing everything and are now watching a movie before we go to bed. Tomorrow we get to sleep in a little before heading off to London. Talk to you soon!