Dublin, Ireland

Who wants to hear about Ireland?!?

We arrived in Dublin to a nice rain shower, but by the time we made it to the hostel, the rain was done for the day. My first hostel experience was much better than I imagined it would be. Perhaps it was my exhaustion, but the beds were incredibly comfortable and the rooms were clean- well besides our roommates’ luggage and stuff. I think they were moving into the hostel rather than just staying the night! Our hostel was right in the middle of the Temple Bar area. Now, Temple Bar refers to a man’s surname Temple and his “bar” of land. However, there happens to be a lot of bars and pubs in this artsy district and our hostel happened to be right next to “THE Temple Bar!” Haha Talk about a central location!

After grabbing a quick lunch at a local pub, we headed off to the Guiness Storehouse. It is funny how these tours work- first they give you a brief history, then a taster to teach you how to taste the beverage, followed by a “free” pint. During the first two parts, my opinion of Guiness was turning around! “Wow, a company with traditions and values!” “There is beer, and then there is Guiness!” Seriously, as a communications major, the marketing is impeccable! However, as Sophe and I sat up at the infinity bar with our pints, we realized very quickly how much we do not care for the stout beer. I could barely finish a fifth of it and Sophe was determined to finish half. After the tour, my theory is that Arthur Guiness’ friends were not honest with him when they tasted it for the first time. They said, “hmmm that’s an acquired taste” or “Whoa, that’s surely a drink for a man!” when they should have said, “Hey man, maybe you shouldn’t burn the barely so much!” Then again, the Irish drink the stuff like water, so maybe I’m wrong…or maybe they are just trying to protect Arthur Guiness too!

That night, I participated in my first pub crawl. For those of you who do not know what a pub crawl is, it is a large group, usually of young hostel occupants, that attend a sting of bars and clubs together. Each place the pub crawl goes, we get to cut the line and get a free drink/drink deals. What better place for my first pub crawl than Ireland! We went to 3 bars and 2 clubs that night. Our favorite place on the crawl, and our favorite part of our whole trip, was the third bar: The Old Storehouse. There was live music at this bar. Now I am talking about some traditional Irish music! There was a flute, banjo and acoustic guitar rocking out to a variety of medleys and song covers. The whole bar was stomping their feet, clapping their hands, singing along or holding their Guiness’ high in the air. It was such a happy and enthusiastic vibe that was contagious as soon as we walked in. I dare anyone to go to an Irish Pub with live music and try to be grumpy… I give you 5 minutes before you are smiling and dancing with the rest of them!

The next day we went on a guided excursion to the countryside. Unfortunately, we could not make it to the Cliffs of Moher, but our day was a very good alternative. We went to the beach town of Dun Laoghaire, the posh and wealthy area of Killiney and then headed to the ruins in Glendalough. On our way to Glendalough, we stopped at the field used for the battles in Braveheart and the bridge used while filming P.S. I Love You. It was so cool to see how vacant the countryside was. There were not houses, power lines, or cars as far as the eye could see. This was why Braveheart was filmed here! It looks as it would have looked hundreds of years ago. Glendalough was an ancient monastery and village. The tower, church and cemetery are available to view. Unlike some churches I have seen where they were later referbished for more pleasant viewing, this church was withering away-as it should be…it is old! The entire roof was missing and the walls were starting to fall over, but it was incredible. Amazingly, the tower, where the riches were stored, still stands tall today! As we were walking around, we met an older couple who were from Orange County as well. We exchanged travel advice and had a great conversation. That is one of my favorite parts of traveling. Fellow travelers sharing advice and stories about places to see. Luckily, they had some great tips for Scotland since they were coming from Edinburgh and we were headed there the next weekend!

Although exhausted after such a long day, we went to a comedy club that night. It was a very interactive show, so naturally as not only the only young Orange County girls, but also the only Americans in the bar, we got the brunt of a lot of jokes! However, it was a good time and interesting to experience some Irish comedy. It was difficult to follow along with their thick accents though! Afterwards, we headed to The Temple Bar which had some live music. I will forever remember when the band played “Hey Jude” and the ENTIRE bar sang along- “na na na na na na nahhh”s and all!

The next morning we say St Patrick’s cathedral (not all that cool…I’ve seen a lot grander of churches to compare it to) and then went on a free walking tour of the city. Sophe and I loved hearing about the rich history of Ireland. The Republic of Ireland has seen much unrest over the years as they strayed first from the Vikings and then from the United Kigdom. To finish up our wonderful weekend in Ireland, we went to the Old Jameson Distillery and learned how whiskey is made. They had participants of the tour taste 3 whiskers (Irish Jameson, American Jack Daniels and Scotish Johnnie Walker). It was very interesting to have the opportunity to compare and contrast. As a communication major, I enjoyed that marketing a lot better. Although the distillery wants you to decide that Jameson is the best (which it was!), they gave you the opportunity to decide for yourself.

It rained nonstop this day which made it much easier to leave! I was so surprised by how much I enjoyed Ireland. I would love to come back one day to further explore other towns. The Irish have a very distinct and fun loving culture. Besides their love for Guiness, Sophe and I fit right in!

British Bravery

I have been taking a “Historic London” course where we take walking tours of London every week. This week’s theme was World War II. I was taken aback after learning about London’s struggle through the war, and thus I wanted to share.

               Even after taking a “German and the Holocaust” class at Chapman last semester, I saw the UK as being very strong force during WWII. They took in many Jewish children, fought on the western front of Nazi Germany and kept Hitler from invading. However, London had to fight very hard for this. As we walked along the river, we learned about the Blitz bombing on London! London had to work very hard to protect their citizens, historic monuments and city.

Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister at the time, was known for his inspirational and motivating speeches on the radio. The phrase “Keep Calm and Carry On” came from this this time because Londoner’s were told to carry on with their everyday life as best they could. Many women and children were taken by train to the countryside to keep safe, but many men stayed in London to continue working.

Before the Blitz and the war, England was used to getting 55 tons of food (I don’t recall if that was per week or month), but during the conflict, England received 12 tons of food. This created extreme rationing of food. There was a story of a lady that was carrying her rationed food home and accidently dropped her eggs on the street and they broke. She was so desperate for the food that she wiped up all the egg goop and yolks and served her family scrambled eggs that night instead of boiled eggs! Could you imagine?

In order to save civilians as well as iconic London monuments such as the Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace, when dusk came, every light in the city must be out; no window lights, no care headlights, no cigarette lights. Any light would indicate to the German air force a map of London. The city of London even took down all their street signs so in the case the Germans invaded; they would have no way of navigating the city! Sounds a bit extreme, but it worked. Despite a few close calls, St. Paul’s Cathedral was saved, Westminster Abbey saw little damage, and Buckingham Palace got contact with a bomb, but only in the kitchen, with no injuries or deaths. When Buckingham Palace was bombs, the Queen and her family continued to live there to keep moral up in the city. Instead of seeking shelter, Churchill would stand on top of a building with binoculars to see the progress of the air raids. This also showed Londoners bravery by their leaders!

After taking this Historic London tour, I have a new respect for London and the UK. London-ers had to fight in order to resist invasion. Everyone was affected by these air raids. This took place only 70 years ago- there are probably some elderly citizens that I pass on the streets that played a role in the Allied victory. Whether they actually fought on the front, rationed wisely, or read the newspaper in the dark, all were important.

Amsterdam

My trip to Amsterdam was the perfect mixture of adventure and learning. Amsterdam really made me think about a lot of things in our society. Visiting Anne Frank’s secret annex and visiting the Red Light District museum both weighed heavy on my heart for numerous, yet different, reasons which I will discuss further a little later in this post. However, with Amsterdam brought spontaneous fun!

               In order to catch our 6:45 am flight, my friend Karen and I had to take the last train out of central London…at 12:30 am. I can now say that I have “slept” in an airport. Whether it was the hard chair as a bed, or the pop music as my lullaby, I got about an hour rest before the flight. I passed out within seconds of taking my seat on the plane, but our 45 minute flight did not suffice my craving for sleep. Needless to say, Karen and I were lagging. As we stepped off the bus to find our hotel, these two British boys with backpacks got off as well. We quickly realized that we were going to the same hotel! At the hotel check-in, we also found out we had used the same groupon deal for the trip! One of the boys, Adam, offered the idea to go explore the city together. Although scenes from the movie Taken appeared in my head and I could hear my mom saying, “Stay away from strangers!” they seemed harmless and we agreed. We had wanted to meet British friends!

               Turned out to absolutely make my trip! It was a beautiful day, so we decided to get a coffee by the canal. We set a game plan for the day. What better thing to do with new friends than go to the “Secrets of the Red Light” museum! After that we headed to the Anne Frank House. We were feeling a little down after that, so we got a few drinks out by the canal. Karen and I got to know so much more about the British culture and what it would be like to grow up in London. We learned what London-ers do for fun, what they think of Americans, what kind of music they like and the list goes on! After this we wandered around for dinner. To my astonishment, we came across “Wok to Walk,” which was my favorite restaurant in Barcelona! I made the choice for the group dinner and had never been so excited for a meal! After walking the streets a little longer, Karen and I decided to call it a night while the boys stayed out for a few more drinks.

               The next morning, Karen and I headed out early in the morning (The boys slept until the afternoon!) and went on our canal boat tour. It dropped us off at the Heineken Experience. Although a little commercialized, the tour was awesome! Before we got the free beers, we get through a museum of the founders and how the beer is made (did you know Heineken is 92% water?!). I was sold on how great Heineken was….until I tasted it at the end of the tour and realized that I really am not a huge fan of the beer! Haha!! We ended our day with the “I Amsterdam” sign and lots of food!

                With all this fun also came a lot of introspective thinking. The Red Light District museum, paired with walking the district at night, sat very uneasy with me. There are over 900 women working the district a night with millions of tourists and 200,000 “buyers” a year. Learning these facts, as well as how the district and “loverboys” (also known as pimps) function, made the district seem like much more of a reality. It is more than a girl in a window. It is a daughter, mother, sister, and friend.  Someone who had/has aspirations and dreams. Someone who has few options out. My friends and I were in shock as we walked down the streets watching “transactions” being made. The girls, very suggestively dressed, would tap on the windows or wave to flirt for attention. It was their way to pay the bills. I felt very uneasy after leaving the district, but I also felt very thankful; thankful for my education, my home, my family, my job. I am in a position in life where I would never have to consider prostitution as an option. Others are not as lucky.

               Secondly, the Anne Frank House nearly brought me to tears. I have so much respect for those who endured the Holocaust after taking my German and the Holocaust course at Chapman University. I had told myself that I would make it out to a concentration camp or death camp this semester abroad, but after going to the Anne Frank House, I do not think I could handle the emotional drain of a death camp. Before going into the secret annex, we go through a museum and learn about the 8 members of the annex. Otto Frank, Anne’s father, was the only one to survive. He wished for the annex to remain unfurnished. Because of this, before walking into the annex, we looked at a dollhouse model of what the annex would have looked like with the furniture in it. It was actually larger than I thought it was. I thought the annex that the Frank’s lived in was literally one room, but in fact it was a 3.5 room, 2 story, apartment. However, when we walked into the annex, I quickly ate my words. Although larger than the one room I had imagined, the rooms were small and dark. Imagining beds and tables and furniture in the rooms as well was nearly impossible. Imagining living there for over 2 years was impossible. It was extremely eerie being in the same room as Anne Frank and her family lived. One thing that nearly broke my heart was the remaining hope that was in the annex. That is one thing I cannot fathom from the Holocaust- throughout all the horrors and dire circumstances, people still had fiery hope within them. Otto Frank had a map of Europe on the wall in his bedroom and would place pushpins where the United States or Great Britain landed for invasions. On the same wall were Anne and Margot’s height marks. It was crazy to see how much both of them grew in hiding and so sad knowing what happened to the two young girls. Anne and Margot both got sick in a concentration camp and died in the spring of 1945; weeks before the camp would have been liberated. I am so thankful; for this experience to remind me of the past and how important it is to learn and grow from other’s experiences. Naturally, I bought the Anne Frank Diary in the book store and have begun reading it. Anne truly was a special girl and I look forward to growing closer to her as I continue to read her story.

Midpoint Reflection

Last week was the midpoint of my studying abroad experience. I wanted to take some time to reflect on how I am feeling as this milestone passes. I cannot believe it is almost over! Part of me feels like it was just yesterday that I was jet lagged at orientation, yet I think about all the things I have done and all the places I have been and there is no way I did all of it in 5 short weeks. Since I have been doing so much traveling outside of the UK, I feel like I need to make a bigger effort to explore London. It is indeed my origin of study! There are so many cool markets, museums and cafes for me to find!

 

I feel accomplished.

I have already traveled to 7 countries, toured the English country side, done most of the touristy stuff in London, made friends, gone to school, written blog posts and created video blogs. Although keeping busy in other ways than I would at home, I have continued to make the most of this experience by filling it to the brim with activities. When people were asking me over Christmas break what I wanted to do in London and where I wanted to travel I had no idea! Less than 2 months later I have been to more places than I would have anticipated! It is a rewarding feeling to know I have thus far kept up a high intensity pace in order to see Europe in my small amount of time.

I feel proud.

While considering going abroad, I was holding back on the idea due to my vision impairments. How could a girl with Optic Atrophy live in a drastically new environment such as the heart of London? I love this story that my grandma told me just a few years ago after I had gotten my license. One time, when I was about 6 or so I was at Target with my grandma. She was in the middle of paying for her purchases when I insisted on putting the cart away for her. This made my grandma nervous; at this stage in my diagnosis, I would not be able to see my grandma from where the cart-drop off was. She stood there and watched me put the cart away independently, waiting for when she would have to intervene before I got lost. To her surprise, I came skipping straight back over to my grandma’s side at the checkout stand. She asked me, “How did you know I was here?” I said promptly, “Grandma, I counted the checkout stands!”

               In this story, just because I did things differently, did not mean that I was incapable of doing them. I have taken on London similarly. It took me longer than my friends to get my bearing and use transportation, but I used my own ways to figure out. Whether it be memorizing the tube map, mapping things out before I go, using a reliable friend, counting the number of intersections before my destination etc….I find a way. I am honestly really proud of that! I have always tried to push myself to be as “normal” as I can be. I know I will never be a famous golfer (Where’s the flag? Out there? Where?), or a gold miner (Is that gold or dirt?), or a good whale watcher (Wait was that a fin…?), but I do know that I can try in everything that I do. Just because I have impairments doesn’t mean that I cannot do most of the same things; such as study abroad in college. This experience has proven to me yet again that although never easy, I can do anything I put my mind to! 

I feel inspired.

               Studying abroad has inspired me so much for when I return home. Gaining a more global perspective and having all these experiences has given me a lot to think about. Last week, we were touring the Westminster Abbey. There were all these famous kings, queens, scientists, poets, and political figures that were buried there. Many of these famous figures I knew from history or literature classes in school. This got me thinking- what do I want my legacy to be when I am gone? Now, I don’t want to set my sight too high and be on the same scale as those in the Abbey, but I want my life to be worth something to the world. Whether it be through my work, my service to others, or my knowledge, I want to leave a mark as those left for me.

               I also feel inspired to learn more. I wish I could go back in time and read all the classics in high school again or learn about WWII again. Being here has made me appreciate history and its importance in our lives. As great as Netflix is (special in my downtime in London!), I am yearning for more. I just bought the Diary of Anne Frank to read again after visiting her house. I bought the Harry Potter books again in hopes to finish the series this time. I bought Oliver Twist to see London’s representation in literature. I want to subscribe to TIME magazine or a newspaper or something when I get home in order to keep up with the world. This desire for reading and learning has come from this experience and I hope I am caught on this learning binge for the rest of my life!

 

However, even with all these positive feelings I have realized where my heart truly is…home. Everyone always jokes about “The Brea Bubble” or the “Orange County Bubble” and how once people live/grow up in Brea, they never leave. There are many families where the parent and kids went to the same high school or went to high schools in the same leagues (like my family for example!). However, living in London, and traveling Europe has proven to me that I really do love SoCal and it is a great place to live and raise a family. I miss many things from home beyond my family and friends. I miss California Rolls. I miss lounging on a couch. I miss beach bike rides. I miss breakfast burritos. I miss having a gym (what? I know!). I miss google maps and 3G networks. I miss movie theaters. I miss Sprinkles cupcakes. I miss Chic-Fil-A. I miss having jobs and responsibilities.

Brussles & Paris

My Brussels and Paris trip surely tested my endurance; 3 nights on a bus, 2 nights in an apartment, 2 days in Brussels & 2 days in Paris. Needless to say, it was a long trip, but 100% worth it!

               Brussels, Belgium

               Brussels was a pleasant surprise for me. Everyone kept saying that I had to go there, but I did not know why…well until I went! Our night bus arrived in Brussels at 5:45 am. What is open at 5:45 am in Brussels you may ask? I can confidently tell you nothing is open except for the central train station. We sought refuge in the station until it was light outside and we could find our apartment for the night. Brussels architecture and color scheme all seemed to match. It was a very tidy and neat city. There were many old building that Karen and I would take pictures of because they “looked important!” Beyond that, we saw the Cathedral, Atomium, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and so much more. The best part of Brussels was the food, and their emphasis on the best food group- dessert! Waffles piled high with fruit and cream, gelato, ice cream, macaroons, hot chocolate, Belgium chocolate! I had no shame in trying it all!

               Paris

               After 2 days in Brussels, Karen and I took a bus that departed at 2:00 am and got into Paris at 5:40 am. Needless to say, it was more of a nap than a night sleep, but we managed. Oh the joys of a student budget! We ran into the same problem as we did in Brussels being that there was nothing to do at 6 am. We made our way to the Notre Dame Cathedral in hopes to go to an early mass there. Unfortunately they would not let us into mass due to our luggage (come on, can’t a nomadic traveler come and pray?!?), but on the plus side, we did get to see the church at sunrise. Next our day lead into a marathon of Paris must-sees. Lock Bridge may have been my favorite. What a beautiful symbol of love to place a lock on a bridge in Paris. Each lock supported fellow locks in a representation of love. Karen and I joked about the people who come to Paris, place a lock on lock bridge and then break up…do they have to come back and break the lock off?! However, I couldn’t help but think about my future husband up on that bridge. I don’t know who he is yet, but I hope he is doing well and praying and thinking about me too. Hopefully one day (sooner than later!), we will return to Paris and add to Lock Bridge. We also saw the Louvre, Arc De Triumph and the Eiffel Tower. All were magnificent. My mom and I were joking about my “8th grade multi-genre project” where we had to pick a topic and use different forms of writing about the topic. I picked Paris (mostly because I didn’t know what to pick) and learned a lot about the different iconic sights. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined myself, as a college student, traveling to Paris and actually seeing all those things I learned about!

               I think my favorite part of this trip though were the people we encountered along the way:

-        The Megabus driver who was chatting with us on our way to Paris

-        The guys from Liverpool who offered to buy us drinks in a bar in Brussels despite the fact Karen and I had all our luggage and were napping before our 2 am bus ride

-        The homeless women who was freshening up with us in the train station bathroom in Brussels

-        The guy who passed out on the subway in Paris

-        The Australian Ice Cream shop worker

All these people affected my trip and my outlook on life. And that is probably one of the most important lessons while traveling.

The Making of Harry Potter

“The stories we love best do live with us forever, so whether you come back by page or by big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.” –JK Rowling

               Surprisingly, going to Harry Potter Studios was my favorite thing I have done in London so far! I did not have a huge desire to go, but I knew my mom and brother would be disappointed if I was in London and didn’t go! We arrived too early for our tour time, so we spent some time in the gift shop while we waited. I swear my childhood memories of Harry Potter hit me like a ton of bricks and I became my 10 year old self again! Sorting hats, wands, chocolate frogs, owls galore!!

               While at the studio, I thought of fond memories growing up with Harry Potter. I started reading the books in second grade. My mom and I would switch off reading; I would read the left page, she would read the right. It was a nice pre-bedtime ritual we had for a few years as I read thru the American Girl series and a few Harry Potter books. By the 5th book, I got too busy and could not finish the series, but still went to the movies and kept an interest. In the gift shop I found a postcard with Harry, Ron and Hermione from the first movie, which debuted in 2001. They were so young! I realized how young I was when Harry Potter took an influence in my life.

               As we walked around the sets and props from the films, including the Great Hall, potion room, Gryffindor common room and Privet Drive, I was amazed by the amount of people who traveled to the studio. Grandparents, parents, teens and children alike all gawked at the props from the movies. People from all over the world, speaking all different languages, loved the Harry Potter series enough to make an effort to pay and see the studio. How amazing is it that one book series can impact so many people’s lives!

               I bought the first book of the series while in the gift shop (Did you know that in the UK it is called the Philosopher’s Stone, not the Sorcerer’s Stone?!) after feeling inspired by the experience. Perhaps I will finish the series this time around! In the first chapter, when Dumbledore speaks of Harry’s scar he said something along the lines of, “you never know when a scar may come in handy…I have a scar of the London Underground map above my left knee and I get a lot of use from it.” Boy do I wish I had one of those too sometimes!

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German Roots

I write this post as I sit on a 11 hour bus ride back to London. Oh the joys of cheap traveling! I might as well be productive while the guy sitting next to me continues to snore!

I didn’t quite know what to expect from Germany. My Grandma was born and raised in Germany/Austria and moved to Los Angeles a few years after WWII. Although German culture is not a huge aspect of my life, I did grow up with some knowledge of good food (schnitzel & almond crescent cookies!) and basic German phrases.

Upon arrival, it was apparent we were not in America, or London for that matter! Everything was written in German with no English subtitles. For those of you that have seen or heard German, you know how intimidating it can be. We were lost in translation with very little help. Turns out, some Germans just need a drink or two before they open up to foreigners. When we went out on Friday night, I met quite a few friendly natives. One girl studied abroad in San Diego and another guy studied abroad in Flagstaff. They kept saying how much they love America which is refreshing to hear.

Anyways, the weekend we went to Cologne happened to be the Cologne Carnival. Words can barely express the atmosphere of the carnival. It is kind of like American Mardi Gras and Halloween times 10. The festival is from Thursday to Tuesday (before Ash Wednesday) and is full of parades, costumes and tradition.

It was very interesting to see the costumes people wore. I saw everything from pirates, to Goose from Top Gun, to cows, to rock stars, and everything in between. I even saw a Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy from my favorite childhood show, Spongebob Squarepants!

There was a combination of American music and German music. It was a new experience hearing German music in the bars. I wish I knew what they were saying, but we smiled and clapped along anyways. On the trains to the festivals everyone would sing the Colonge song- we did our best to join in!

With Cologne came my first true wave of homesickness. While at the carnival, my brother was playing in the CIF semi finals against a rival team they beat last year. Chandler had nearly 40 family members and family friends at the game (not to mention a SOLD OUT gym!), but I was missing. He had an amazing game, with a post-game interview and front page picture on the OC Varsity. It was a highlight for him and my family, and although I am having once in a lifetime experiences of my own, I most defidently wishes I was experiencing it with my family. Only 6 more weeks left with my time in London, so with those thoughts of homesickness must also come the movement forward to cherish every last moment I have here.