Beautiful Florence....

Today we rolled out of our hotel around 11ish and set out to see Florence. I could tell that I was beginning to like Florence just from having walked around the previous night. But after we got tickets for a hop on/hop off bus and were an hour into our tour, I knew I loved it. It's a peaceful historic town with enough bustle to keep it interesting. We toured the whole city including an outside city called Fiesole. I could talk to you at some length with all the sights I've seen but per the usuaul I'm just going to sum up the highlights.
There was a small plaza that overlooked the entire city, I took some of the pictures and posted them on Facebook, but they really don't do a quarter of the justice they should towards demonstrating the beauty of the city. But they do give you some idea. In that plaza there was a bronze copy of Michelangelo's David sculpture, it was quite astounding. I was anxious to see the real one. I also saw the duomo, a beautiful church that is made of some incredible materials, not all of them I can recall, but the majesty and craftsmanship of that church just took your breath away. I also saw the hills where Galileo put his telescope and discovered some of the celestial beings we know today. I also saw the streets where only the rich shop; hermes, ferragamo, fendi, gucci, and other shops flanked streets where only the rich and famous were known to come.
As the evening fell, Bella and I happened to come across a crowd of renaissance style dressed people. We decided to follow them through the streets and see what they were up to. It was a good decision. It was apparently a festival that they did every year. The mayor of Florence was there, as well as his security, still it was fun to pretend to be apart of it all and see it unfold. They wandered through the streets and when they came to a plaza where famous sculptures where, I lost interest in the festival.
Bella suggested we split up for an hour so we each could things we were interested in doing. I went straight for the statues and sculptures.
I don't really think of myself as a person who appreciates sculpture but you couldn't not help appreciating these incredible forms and their life like qualities. I wandered around for awhile, allowing myself to get lost, and stumbled across this artist who was playing his songs underneath the sculpted buildings. The guitar strings and his voice reverberated off the buildings and the people crowding around to sit and listen added a charming atmosphere to the moment. I sat for a good 40 minutes enjoying his music and watching the deep blue Venetian sky turn black. It made me sad that I was enjoying the moment alone. It's so much more fulfilling to share those moments. But I was were I was and I determined to enjoy it as best as I would allow myself.
I soon had to meet up with Bella so I left my corner spot next to a sculpture of a male who was holding up what I think was medusa's head in victory. I met her at the hotel and we reviewed how we would get to Nice, France.
It was going to be one of the longest nights I've had in Europe. The train left the station at 12:38 and we changed trains 4 times throughout the night and arrived in Nice at 10:30 the next morning. Hotels and hostels are both really pricey in Nice so I don't think we're going to spend the day/night in Nice, but if we pansy out maybe we will. But for now our plan is to go 36 hours without sleep....roughly speaking. This is going to be a challenge. I'm pretty sure this will be rock bottom for both of us.

Later Rome...

We had made plans to see the Vatican and the Sistine chapel today, however we were so anxious to get out of Rome we decided to ditch the pope and Michelangelo's new paint job on the ceiling. We high-tailed it to the main terminal and proceeded to get on the next train out of Rome, pronto. However a fire broke out on the tracks and backed up every train in and out of Rome. So the place we were desperate to get out of, was keeping us there.
With our specific tickets we couldn't book a train until the next day, all the trains leaving today were for regular ticket holders.....and we didn't want to be there for another day. So we did what two ordinary girls would do in a situation like that...we just got on the next train out and decided to take our chances of getting kicked off.
The train we got on was packed and delayed by an hour. There were hardly any seats left when we got on so we snagged some first class seats. My conscience started kicking in though and I knew we, as global pass holders, shouldn't be sitting in first class seats when we didn't pay for them. I also had a premonition that if we continued to sit there they would charge us the €104 they charge first class ticket holders and frankly I wasn't going to cough that up.
So I convinced Bella to sit on the floor because surely the conductors would take pity on us and wouldn't charge us if we played dumb and were sitting on the floor. At least that's what I hoped. Sure enough, the conductor checked our tickets, told us we shouldn't be on the train because we didn't have legit tickets but said he wouldn't charge us. Score. So we rode the rest of the way on the cafeteria floor to Florence.
The first thing I noticed when I got off the train in Florence was their strange patches of garden grass. It was kinda random, but nonetheless pretty to see. Bella and I went to go stand in line to grab our tickets for Madrid, Spain. And after waiting 45 minutes in line we got cut off by an Asian woman desperately trying to cut into the line. A couple of people fielded off the woman by telling her to go to the back of the line but once she got her waterworks going someone let her cut in front. Me and Bella were really aggravated but the Italian man behind us told us that they do this all the time.
We managed to get our tickets....and it wasn't pretty. We would have to take the night train from 12:38 to 10:00 the next morning. We didn't have much of a choice so we took them.
Next thing to do was to get a hotel or a hostel of some sort. We walked around for a bit before deciding, instead of finding wifi and booking it online, to just walk in and ask how much. The first three places were booked but we actually got a good price for our 3rd hotel. So we booked and set up our home for the next 12 hours there.
After we settled in we walked around the outdoor market places and allowed the Italian guys to flirt with us and give us a bracelet. We settled on eating at a place outdoors right next to the road. The wine was a little disappointing but the food was overall good. We called it an early night and decided to recoup for our 30 hour trip tomorrow. Should be interesting hopefully we don't kill each other.

Sightseeing Rome

Today we purposed to wake up early and conquer Rome in a day.
Despite having late night hostel peeps come in, we managed to wake up at 7:30 and hop on the bus that would drop us off at the Prima Porta station, so we could get on another bus that would drop us off on the Saxa Rubra train that would bring us to Rome. We arrived there a little after 9 and noted that we had been dropped off right in front of the Piazza Del Popolo. The Popolo, known as the "Peoples Plaza" had been the site for public executions back in the day and was a architectural beauty. It had a fountain in the middle flanked by lions and gods on the north and south side of it. It was incredible.
Bella and I didn't realize how lucky we were to arrive so early. It was very quiet and extremely peaceful. We walked down Via Del Corso and saw some of the shops before deciding to get breakfast. It cost €24 to get breakfast, which is a pretty penny when all we got was 3 croissants and a gelato. We continued on south before deciding to get on one of those hop on/hop off buses. That was a very good decision.
We saw everything in about 2 hours. The colosseum, the piazza navona, the Vatican, everything. We then decided what we wanted to see and then went from there.
We saw the Vatican, the Piazza Venezia, the Fontana di Trevi, the Pantheon, we saw a lot. I also learned one of the most pick pocketed places in Europe is at the Fontana di Trevi, so I rocked the pregnant backpack look for pretty much the entire day.
We did a lot of walking that day. By the time 7 o'clock hit my feet were hurting so badly I seriously thought about walking on my knees. The crowds were getting heavier and traffic was a nightmare.
We decided to go home around that time as we had put in a full day. We took our usual route to the hostel via metro, train, bus, boat, mammal, plane, and canoe. We got there and went to the bar and enjoyed a pitcher of sangria, a treat to us for surviving such a long day. We then headed off to our room and got ready for the night.
I had purchased Tylenol PM while in England and suggested we take one should we have more late night hostelers come in and wake us up. Bella took two and I took two as well. 20 minutes into having taken it we both were having a difficult time staying awake.
Hopefully we'll still be able to wake up tomorrow at 7:30. I guess I'll find out.

First impressions - Rome

Today we checked out of our luscious hotel in Campagion Lupia. I started missing it immediately when we pulled away from the worlds smallest train station platform. Our plans today consisted of partaking in the actual city of Venice. We were in the outskirts of the city and because there had been both a train and bus strike yesterday we were unable to get into the actual city. However, today we determined that we would get into the actual city. We managed to do that, however as the entire area had been on strike there were quite a few people that had the same intentions as us. So when we got off the train, we were greeted by a flood of people and their luggage. The throngs of people made us change our mind. Plus the fact that we had to lug around Genghis Khan (our pet name for Isabella's 40lb luggage) for the day. So we hopped on the next free train to Rome.
It was a 6 hour train ride that was so boring I actually nodded off (I've never done that before). Half way through however it started filling up and we had to give up our seats as people came in with reservations. So we sat in the hallway of the train and joked about how we would go into the couchette (little rooms inside the trains that had seats that could slide down into beds) that we were outside of and wake the sleeping people.
Well the conductor came in and ordered the sleeping people to make room for the people waiting outside (like me and Bella) and then he ordered us in. So there we were sitting across three guys we had just made fun of earlier and said we were going to wake up. But surely they didn't speak English. Ha. They were Irish and understood English perfectly. Fantastic.
Bella has no inhibitions so she started cheerily chatting them up. They grudgingly answered her questions before they started to really warm up to her. Meanwhile all I could do was try to repress my gag reflex from the horrible man odor that was contained in that couchette and smile. After a while though when my nose became desensitized, I joined in the conversation and enjoyed their stories for the next hour. They were backpacking and had been to quite a few places and had insulted a few people along the way. They entertained me and Bella till they got off at Florence.
Me and Bella continued to ride the train and got off when we arrived at our destination, Rome. Arriving in Rome has helped me realize how important first impressions really are. Rome, at first glance, is not impressive. Regardless, I tried to keep an open mind as we wandered around the station trying to figure out what we were doing. I realized I was getting hungry, so we decided to feed our empty stomachs with whatever looked like it was reasonably priced and tasty. We passed a few restaurants within the station and I nearly cried when I saw a restaurant with the sign Roadhouse Grill.
In one moment I was in Rome, then a second later I was at home; mentally I was home. Seeing that sign made me miss my culture, my American-ness, it made me miss my English language, it made me miss Gainesville, it made me miss Archer road, it made me miss my family, it made me miss everything that contributed to who I was. I now understand when people come to America from another country and have a hard time letting go of their own culture. It's hard.
We walked outside the station to a little restaurant and had some pizza which wasn't too bad. I tried to get some water, you know regular tap water but the lady kept trying to sell me bottled water until I finally made my point. She gives me this cup, a cup about the size that the dentist gives you your fluoride in, with a bit of water in it.......don't be so generous with your water.
I have found that staying hydrated in Europe is a bit of a challenge. In the states, you can get tap water pretty much anywhere. In Europe, they sell you bottled water and give you tiny cups of tap water, should you not want to pay for it.....kinda like me. Coke, sodas, pop, whatever you prefer to call it comes in a can the size of a RedBull, or if it doesn't come in a can, you get it in a cup and they'll charge you for refills. Europe wants you to die by heat stroke if you're poor. So I guess I'm going to die by heatstroke. Anyway, I just needed to complain about that.
After our late lunch, we go down to the metro. Now when I say down, I mean the pit of hell. 5 long flights of stairs down, oh, and Europe doesn't believe in elevators. So we haul my luggage (aka baby Kahn) and Bella's luggage (Genghis Kahn) down those 5 flights and manage to make it to the bottom after we passed purgatory. We board the metro to Floriana (or some name like that) while trying to not make it obvious to surrounding passengers that we were breathing heavily and seriously out of shape due to our luggage. We were on it for about 3 stops when we realized we were going in the wrong direction. Half-tired and delirious we giggled about it and laughed about something regarding a troll and pink hair (something that now I only half was a long day).
We got back on the right metro and headed in the correct direction, only to get off and get on another metro going in a different direction. After that we had to get on a train that took us to Saxa Rubra, then take a bus to Porta Prima, then take another bus to our hostel. It took as long as you can imagine that it took. About 2 hours from Rome to our hostel.
We arrived at our hostel, Camping Tiber, tired and anxious to get some sleep. We checked in and walked to our room. It was....interesting. I always have to remind myself to lower my expectations when I know I'm going to be sleeping at a hostel. Simply put, I was glad to have a bed to sleep in, a shower to clean myself in, and a roof over my head. Never mind the mattress was questionable and the springs squeaked, the shower only had cold water, and there was no air conditioning; we had a place to sleep, that's more than some people have. Still I'll never forget the sound of Bella's voice echoing in the bathroom when she quietly told me she missed home and wanted to go home........I knew exactly how she felt.

Venice...beautiful Venice.

We made it out of the hotel room at 7:20 am in Milan only to sit down in the dining room to enjoy some more of that delicious buffet. That buffet was too good to miss out on. After ingesting some more croissants and cheese we made it to the bus stop on time which took us to the train station. From the train station, we hoped that nobody would strike so that we could get on the train and go to Venice. Nobody stroked/striked (not sure which is the proper way to say that), so we hopped on the train bound for Venice. It was a four hour train ride coupled with more beautiful scenery. But what made this trip so especially interesting was the gentleman both Bella and I met on the train.
Bella and I have the habit of talking and assuming that no one understands what were saying, because they usually don't. We never say anything incriminating, we just.....speak freely. Anyway so we were chatting, like we usually do, oblivious to the train filling up with people and had a discussion on the people in our lives. The conversation carried on for some time until I had to pull something out of my backpack. Well the first thing I pulled out of my backpack was my bible as it had been resting on top and what I needed was underneath. We carried on with our chatter until the gentleman sitting next to Bella, who was sitting across from me, piped into our conversation.
Gilbert, that was his name, was an American soldier who had been stationed in Italy for three years. He asked about us and what we were doing there. Told him we were seeing the world and he expressed surprise at that, especially when he found out Bella had already been backpacking for two months by herself. We talked about this whole "seeing the world while you're young bit" before we got down to the nits and grits of the conversation. At least that's why's I'm sure God put us there.
He mentioned he saw me busting out my bible and asked us what our religious backgrounds were. We told him and he proceeded to tell us a bit about his background. He was the son of a baptist preacher when he lost his mom to brain cancer. Shortly after his dad also passed away a few years after, also with brain cancer. He told us he hadn't really talked to God since then, because he first didn't understand, then because he simply didn't know how to.
This introductory story birthed a great conversation. We explained the attributes of God (ie. loving, kind, merciful, etc.) and encouraged him to just talk to Him. We talked about aspects of the bible and challenged him (hopefully) to get started in the right direction. Prior to getting off the train he thanked us and we told him we'd be praying that he gets busy praying.
We made it to Venice and drank in it's beauty before getting on the next train to take us to our hotel. Little did we know our hotel was an hour away and in the middle of nowhere.
The station we got off at was so small we nearly missed the platform. Seriously, that is the first smallest train station I have ever seen. The next step was to find our hotel.....this, we thought, would prove to be difficult. The area we were in was heavily flanked by fields and rural communities. We walked out into the road and tried to get our no avail. So we asked a young Italian woman in the parking lot to help point us in the direction of our hotel. We showed her the directions and she sent us off in the right direction.
Only problem was the direction included no sidewalk....the area was so rural the streets didn't have sidewalks....which meant we would have to walk into oncoming traffic. Well I saw no other way of getting there, so I started walking down the two way lane; Bella started questioning my sanity. So I asked her how she would prefer to get there, fly?
Thankfully we didn't have to construct wings to fly or walk into oncoming traffic. The young Italian woman who gave us directions pulled off the side of the road and compassionately encouraged us to get into her car. All I kept saying was "graize, graize." She drove us no more than 5 minutes away and dropped us right off at our hotel. We tried to give her money but she refused, despite our extreme insistence. We thanked her, got her name (Melena), and thanked her again. God bless her Italian soul.
Our hotel....was ostentatious. Seriously. And I can't believe how little we paid for it. Ill upload pictures but it had stone floors, high ceilings, brocaded draperies, and amazing croissants. It also has breakfast for the guests every morning....I'll stay here thank you very much.
We took a tour of the town after we settled in. It's a quaint town. People know other people passing in the street, that's how small it is. We stopped off at a pastry shop and got pastries for €.90 each then sauntered off to a street restaurant/bar and had small sandwiches and white wine for €2.50. Seriously, I could get used to a place like this.
We made it back to the hotel and decided to dedicate the evening to updating our blogs and responding to emails. That is where I find myself now....except now....I'm going to go to bed so that tomorrow I can officially see Venice. Despite the strikes.

Milan - Brand acknowledgement

I first would like to take a second to acknowledge the brands that support me and this blog and keep us going. Today has been brought to you by croissants and borocillina. Now back to our regularly scheduled blog.
Today we woke up to a buffet of breakfast at the hotel for only €4,50. We stuffed our faces. I discovered yogurt that exists in heaven and in Italy, I tried croissants that they keep from us Americans because they acknowledge that if we knew if their secret we'd be ten times fatter than we already are, I had a sampling of the cheese and would die. If I could can it up and bring some to you, you would stop living in Georgia and move to Italy, specifically Milan. Breakfast is not taken lightly here in Italy.
We finally decided after we looked like we were 9 months due that we should waddle to the bus stop to hit up good ole Milan. So we waddled.
We got on the bus and were about to put in our money when we realized their system only takes tickets. We (specifically Bella, because I don't speak Italian) told the bus driver we didn't have tickets but we had money for our bus fare and the bus driver graciously let us on despite not having tickets....and despite his grousing. He took us to the train station and we went from Monza to Milan in 15 minutes.
Around this time I started to feel a tickle in my No, no, no body, it's vacation time and I am not getting sick. By the time we got to the station, I was not looking so hot (Bella sweetly told me this) and was feeling rundown not to mention the throat was feeling worse. So we stopped off at pharmacy conveniently located in the train station and tried to explain to the pharmacists what I had. It was quite humorous to watch Bella explain to them what I was feeling and then have the pharmacist turn to me and rattle off a bunch of questions in Italian. I could not understand at all and just looked at them helplessly. He shook his head and shoved something into my hands, nodding his head assuringly. I trusted him, despite my reservations, and bought it. I took it almost immediately after buying it, looking to see if it would provide relief. Did it ever. I looked at the box I purchased, Borocillina. I couldn't read/interpret any of the Italian ingredients in it but I determined I would bring it back to the states for my grandmother, Meme, to examine. Till her verdict comes out on it, Italian medicine is something I shall always respect.
We walked out of the station and appreciated the view. Milan in daylight looked much less intimidating than at night. The women dress stylishly and always wear heels with no less than 4 inches. The men....well there are some improvements that could be made in that department, though Bella swears they're all hot, even the bus drivers (I would say the bus drivers are average, hardly hot). Nonetheless, I let Bella drool over the Italian men. We walked around for a bit and realized there wasn't much to see. So we wandered by this underground restaurant and decided to venture into it. In this little cove, we found hunky Italian suited men eating their lunch; I felt like we had walked in on the mafia. We got a table nonetheless and enjoyed tiramisu, another dessert that I don't know the name of, and red wine. It was very lovely until we realized the place was deserted. After inquiring we discovered they were the afternoon.
We shuffled our way on out and decided to go back to the little town we were at, Monza, and enjoy that instead of the city bustle of Milan. When we arrived back we walked down a shopping area of sorts. I'm certain there is a name for it but I don't know what it would be. It was so typical Italy. It had shop lined streets and the houses on the second floors with their balconies and flowers hanging out. We wandered around for a few hours, talking, sightseeing and enjoying some gelato. It was extremely nice.
When it had become late enough we decided to go back. Little did we know that 7:30 is rush hour traffic in Milan and the surrounding areas. Little did we also know that the bus drivers are allowed to talk on their cell phones. Now we know (also all the buses are mercedes buses, Italians sit in the lap of luxury).
We made it back to the hotel and called it a night after I repacked my suitcase for the third time that night. Tomorrow we're going to set out for Venice. There is also supposed to be a strike for trains and buses tomorrow, so we'll see if we make it. Till then....

Milan, fashion capital

At 5:40am Belgium time, my butt was out of bed. Which means it was 11:40pm Florida time. It was weird to think that while I was getting up the peeps I know in my home town were going to bed getting ready for the next day, which for me had already started. We bustled our way to the station and then headed off on to begin our 14 hour trip to Milan. The first leg of it was 8 hours long and the destination was Zurich. This part of our trip took us through the better parts of Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, and France. We jumped off at Luxembourg so that we could say we've been to Luxembourg; literally stepped off the train and stood there for 1 minute on the platform and then got back on the train. We can be lame sometimes.
While being in a train all day is pretty lame in of itself, the scenery passing by outside our windows kept me from falling asleep, unlike Bella....who passed out the first second she got. She passes out when she's bored, and being on a train all day is pretty boring....though really she's just half cat.
The scenery was gorgeous though. I saw abandoned buildings in such beautiful settings that made me crave my "real" camera. I saw meadows that made me swear Bambi was filmed there. I saw meandering meadows that reflected the mountains they sat beneath. I saw pine trees I thought only existed in the imagination. I saw deprived impoverished communities. I saw a picturesque lake with an abandoned canoe nestled in the cove of a mountain. Truly Belgium and Luxembourg is made up of beautiful scenery.
Switzerland was even more beautiful. We had to go through the Swiss Alps to get to Milan and wow......words cannot describe the majesty I saw. The mountains looked like what you would see on screensavers. They were snow capped with cascades of water coming down the sides and they stretched for miles. It was amazing.
We had to switch trains due to a landslide which made our arrival into Milan an hour and some change later than we anticipated. Regardless we arrived. And it was raining. It rains at almost every city we first arrive at. Anyway we scurried off the train and headed down the platform that reminded me of London's platform, however stepping out into the lobby it was apparent we weren't in London. The train station alone exhibited incredible architecture. The ceiling was high and flanked by etched faces while the floor was covered by mosaics. It was very beautiful and I would have appreciated it more had I not had a nagging feeling. I felt like I was being watched.
Milan was pretty alive at 10:30 at night. So we attempted to get ourselves a place to stay for the night at the local internet cafe. We did so successfully and wandered outside to find ourselves a taxi. Walking down the streets was a strange feeling; I still felt like I was being watched.
Bella and I were talking as we walked towards the taxi area and she mentioned she felt like she was being watched; I was glad I wasn't the only one who felt like this. For awhile I thought my imagination was overreacting.
We managed to make it to the hotel safe and sound. We were excited about our digs; the hotel was new and had unlimited wifi. This, to us, was heaven.
We scrambled into our beds and surfed the internet till we fell asleep.
I like Milan already.

Belgium, land that I shall never visit again.

The first thing I noticed about Brussels train station is that it is very clean....and everything is written in French. French isn't so bad if you can speak and read it. Unfortunately, I can do neither.
We made it to the ticket counter and purchased the next day's tickets to Milan, a 13 hour train ride through the Alps for about $20 each. We then attempted our way to our hotel. I had incorrectly booked for the wrong date and we were both hoping I could just finagle a few things and get the date changed to today as they seemed to still have a few rooms left.
It was on our way to the hotel that Brussels made it's first grand appearance to me. It was a 60 degree, dreary, semi-rainy day when it first made it's introduction to my sleep deprived eyes. Concisely speaking, I wasn't impressed with it. The few skyscraper buildings and lack of bustle told me everything I needed to know; Brussels didn't have much to offer to it's visitors other than chocolate.
We ended up getting a cab for about $10 bucks each because we had no idea where the hotel was. The cabbie was from Morocco, his name was Abel. After dropping us off I marched into the Residence Aryaan and finagled. We got the room for €50 (about $70) which was a better price than for some of the hostels in the area. Check in time was 2, but the clerk told us we could be back by 1-1:30 and it would be ready. We got some food at a small local restaurant, it looked kind of sketch, but ended up being really good. After eating we were even more tired and made our way back to the hotel. Our room didn't end up being ready until 2:15. I could have choked the clerk, but a room was a room, however long it took (still could have choked him though). Once inside we took showers and went straight to bed. Never mind the bed was made of cement and the pillows were cobblestone rocks they put a pillowcase over; it was a bed. We slept for about 3-4 hours till we roused. Bella went to feed her Internet addiction for about 2 hours while I decided to catch up on writing my blog.
I wrote until she came back; turns out she didn't use the internet. A Congo woman was using it...she was catching up on her Congo news. We debated as to what we would do with the rest of our evening.
I should tell you something. You know when you think of the capital of a country you think bustling city? Well Brussels is not that. We were in the heart of it and a car would drive by our street every 10 minutes. And we were pretty much on a main road. So judging by the lack of traffic, not to mention activity, we judged that we wouldn't be doing anything tonight; not because we didn't want to, but because there was nothing to do.
I think I have come to the conclusion that Brussels is my least favorite city. I feel that I have seen a healthy sample of the men in Brussels and my conclusion is that they are all......well I probably shouldn't say anything. It probably wouldn't be politically correct.
Nevertheless there is not much to do or see in Brussels. My advice regarding Belgium? Skip it altogether if you can. It has good chocolate (though I haven't tasted any yet, but I've been told) and waffles (haven't tasted that either). But so far as I can tell the two inventions came about due to boredom.
We slept the night away and listened to the sounds of motorcars racing by our window at 80 mph. I'm excited to get on our train tomorrow at 7:33 to take me to Italy.
Belgium hasn't been the most pleasant experience, but never the less it was an experience. One that hopefully I shall never repeat.

Stuck in London.

I don't like you London. In fact I've decided I don't miss you either.
Today began as any ordinary day (but then again my days haven't been too ordinary lately so maybe I shouldn't use that phrase). Bella and I both did our laundry, watched a movie, and sat around waiting for our flight at 6:10. We were taking a certain flight company out of London, RyanAir, maybe you've heard of them. Based in only Europe, they are notorious for their lack of customer service and "you're on your own attitude." Rumors can be heard that their pilots are pilots in training but I tried not to entertain that idea. Suffice to say we've heard horror stories of RyanAir overbooking their flights and people having to buy another ticket, despite already having bought one. RyanAir isn't big on customer service......Europe in general isn't big on customer service, but that's another story for another rainy day.
In an attempt to ensure that we didn't have any problems I told Bella that we should be there 3 hours early to ensure we make our flight. We did. But 3 hours wasn't really enough. Even 10 hours wouldn't have been enough. But I digress. We stood in line to check-in our luggage and heard the horror stories of all the people around us about RyanAir. Ha. We weren't going to be in that same boat. No sir. We is smart.
Well I went to the kiosk and scanned my ticket; it didn't scan (clue 1). I rejoined Bella, she told me our flight times had changed (clue 2). I went to look at my ticket it said 6:10 (clue 3). And then asked a friendly British fellow why I couldn't scan my ticket in. He said "here lemme have a look." I let him look. It was as if it happened in slow motion....he turned and looked at me and said "what time is it?" I replied "I'm here early, it's only 5:10." He looked closely at me and I knew what he was going to say before he said it "oh love, that was 6:10 this morning....we operate on a 24 hour clock here."
Oh...........................goodbye $80 and goodbye Milan, Italy.
Bella looked at my face and I told her the news. We quickly thanked him and got out of the queue (line). We had to create a plan fast. Plane tickets out of Stansted, England were $600. Not an option. We could ask Bella's sister to come back and pick us up. Also, not an option. We could take a train to Paris and then to Milan. That's an option.
So we got on the next train into London. Blasted London. Earlier, we had exchanged all our British currency for the Euro, so we were really going to wing it. I had a few extra dollars on my tube card so that hopefully would get us to where we need to be. Through a few slight of hands, we would pass that one card back between one person to another....the attendants never caught on.
We then arrived at the station, St. Pancras International Station, that had trains that could take us to Paris. The only problem was that they were booked for the next 3 days. Not an option. But he did have two tickets left for Brussels at 6:19am next day.
Now our options were to get a hostel in London which would be a bit pricey and hang out there for the next 10 hours....or save our money (as we just lost $80) and hang out at the train station. I rationalized that 10 hours isn't a long time in the grand scheme of things so we might as well just get those two tickets and wait it out. We bought the tickets and looked at our new surroundings for the next 10 hours. I realized I wouldn't sleep at all that night.
We decided to head to a local McDonalds, get cheap dinner, and use their wifi to get tomorrow nights hostel in Brussels. Booking a hostel shouldn't be that difficult but we ran into a few problems here and there (ie. Booking on the wrong day, losing our deposit, etc). Suffice to say we were delirious enough to laugh it all off.
The McDonalds closed at 1 o'clock so we made our way back to the train station. It hit me like a load of bricks. We were homeless. At least for that one night. It was humbling to say the least. You forget how much you appreciate clean teeth, a nice hot shower, your own space, and mostly your own bed. And do I miss my bed. It was here, during this what I might be inclined to call low point, that I began to think about catching the next flight out of here. It wouldn't take all that much effort. American Airlines would probably be happy to work with me.
But then....where's the adventure? Where's the good stories? Where's the real life nitty-gritty experiences? They wouldn't exist if I didn't do this. So I mentally told myself I was going to do this and I was just going to leave the rest to my Maker. If that moment didn't show me anything else about life, it most certainly showed me that God's in control, even when they are out of control....and that night....I was feeling like it was out of control.
There ended up being a Starbucks that was open all night so we sat there and abused their wifi and played games. Me and Bella also saw each other go through every mood ever known to woman. We giggled, got grumpy with each other, got tired, got moody, I mean every aspect of a woman's human emotion was seen that night. It was a night I shall never forget.
The last few hours dragged by. Bella really had a hard time staying awake. I've never seen a girl fall asleep in 10 seconds. We made it though, and made it onto the train. 3 hour train ride to Brussels under the English Channel and we both slept through it. I only ever recall waking up to the stops along the way, otherwise, I slept like a baby. I hope the previous day's experience doesn't carry on over into our unintended stop in Brussels. But I guess we shall see what the day brings.

Movie day

Goodbye London; goodbye graffittied walls, Mary Poppins rooftops, gothic cathedral spires that point to the sky, people who give me directions with their friendly British eyes, to their flavor-lacking cuisine, to their fickle weather, to the country that holds within it my favorite prince and princess. I shall miss you. Surprisingly. I didn't think I would miss you all that much, but you were my first. My first country outside of the States to visit and because of you I understand the addiction to travel. I understand why people who do it want to see the world. Because I do too. Even if it is tiring.
Today we spent the day lounging around in bed and then finally rousing at 10am. We watched the movie Marley and Me (which is great movie, do watch, fantastic movie) and finally got out the door at 1-ish. We went to Daniela's and Kyle's old house and helped them clean it so that they can get their deposit back. Cleaning the house was good for my soul. It reminded me of when I cleaned the house with my mom on Saturday's, we'd have good chats, good long soulful chats. I miss those days.
We cleaned for a few hours till deciding that the job was sufficient enough and headed off to the grocery store. We got some stuff and got ice cream, then drove home with the windows down. As weird as it was to be in a small car, driving on the wrong side of the road, that will probably be one of my favorite memories.
We got home and lounged around even more. We watched Invincible and a few other movies. Its been a while since I've watched that many movies. But it was nice and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I prepared for our flight tomorrow which is scheduled to fly out in the evening. I'll probably do some laundry and repack again. But until then I'll just sleep.

Tea with the queen...

Agenda today? Tea with the queen.
I rolled out of bed later than I intended but I count it an accomplishment when I wake up at all. So I mosy-ed to the kitchen to have breakfast and to get my day started. Today I had planned to go see Windsor Castle; the residence of the queen. It wasn't far from where I was staying at Brunel University. A bus, two trains, and bam. You were literally dropped off at the front door of Windsor Castle. Seriously. Not even kidding. You walk out of the train station, you see the castle, 5 minutes walk later you're at the front door. Very convenient.
I had picked up a straggler, Dr. D, when I met him in the kitchen that morning and I knew he had no exciting plans. So I invited him along on my little excursion. He gladly joined me. So off we went to see the glorious castle. Sovereigns have been living there for the past 900-950 years, it's also one of the oldest castles in England (at least thats what the sign said when I went in). So I knew this would be pretty sweet.
So anyway we arrived there, walked to the castle entrance, which had a pretty massive waiting line, and paid our £15 to get in. They sent us through security, gave us these audio tour devices and sent us on our way. We walked through the outside courtyard which was pretty nice just like a nice stately outside courtyard should be. Told us the surrounding exterior walls that protect the interior was 4 meters thick and that the castle was on a very advantageous spot as it was well protected. We wandered past the exterior part of the walls and wandered into the more central courtyard of the castle. It was here you could look down over the wall and see the most beautiful amazing garden filled with flowers ever. It was so beautiful. I could just imagine Queen Elisabeth walking through the paths of roses in her simple frocks like she does.
I should clarify, like I always like to do, that the entrance to the castle didn't allow us to see everything, just the state apartments, Mary's doll house, and the church within the castle. "Well that's not a lot" you say. Not really. The entire thing took us about 3 hours. And we didn't even see the doll house.
That was itself enough. We didn't see the round tower and the queens private residence because, of course, that's her living space. Though I don't know how one person could use all that space. Anyway.
So we decided to tackle the state apartments. At first I thought we were going to see the "hotel rooms" of the Windsor, but it contained the king and queens drawing room, their appearance room, banquet halls, coronation rooms, etc. I could tell you so much but I realize you have a short attention span so I'll try to hit the highlights. Also you're going to have to use some imagination here as they strictly, and I mean, strictly did not allow photography....even though I did snap one fuzzy photo....but other than that I have nothing to show you when I get home.
So highlights. I saw Rembrandt's self portraits (several actually), Rubens paintings, almost all of the English paintings that were in my European history books in high school, I saw gold covered the real thing and....the ballroom which I could have died happily in. It was amazing, it was as if Disney's Cinderella ballroom came to life and I saw it today. It had crystal chandeliers, smooth wood floors, tapestry covered walls, high ceilings, mirrors on every other wall, silver tables and paintings tastefully dispersed. I saw the banquet room which was amazing as well. The room was made of dark wood and fruit was carved out in the walls, but in 3D, so the fruit came out of the wall. Greek gods were painted on the ceilings celebrating food (Katherine would have loved this room). It had more paintings over the fireplace with other Greek gods dining. I saw the coronation room. Theres YouTube videos of it. Watch it and know that I was standing in that room.
What's hard for me to remember what I saw because I saw a lot of it. It wasn't opulence that I was just a lot of intricate details, but rich intricate details. Something did stick out in my we're in this castle that belongs to sovereignty and I would walk by a chair where the fabric was worn down or a tapestry was faded and I would think: "Aren't they rich? Can't they fix that?" As I walked along I got my answer. Yes, the queen is quite wealthy and she could fix that, but they measure wealth differently. You're probably aware of old rich vs new rich.... Well same sort of mentality.
She could fix it so that the chair looks newer, but the English value old things, because their history is in that. It doesn't necessarily have to look new for them to demonstrate their wealthy. They would rather leave it as it is and value it for its history rather than for it's newness.
We then walked over to the church and wandered through it. It was very stately and had the helmets and crests of the current knights near the interior, by the altar of the church. What caught my attention in this church however, was an emotive marble statue. It had the body of a young woman lying on a bed covered by a sheet with only her hand peeking out from underneath it. Around her bedside were women weeping in anguish. Above the sheeted marble corpse was a woman looking up to the heavens in joy. She was flanked by two angels, one of whom was holding a small baby. I had a hard time looking away from this marble scene. I was torn between weeping with the women by the bedside and rejoicing with the woman who was looking upward. The audio guide device told us this was made in honor of one the queens who died when giving birth to her child, who also died during the birthing process. This was a common scene in early English history. It was rare women survived birthing children.
Dr. D and I continued walking through the church and then began discussing religion. He is not a religious man but a moral man, so suffice to say it was an interesting talk, one where I may have mentioned Romans."..."........................
We grabbed a late lunch before I headed off to the station to leave Brunel and head to Epping where Bella and her sister lived. We got back in a timely manner and I headed off to the station.
I was supposed to arrive in Cambridge at 7:23 but due to tube delays, train delays, fire on the train tracks delays, and every kind of delay you can think of I arrived there almost an hour and a half late. Kyle, his wife Daniela, and Bella picked me up from the station and we traveled to their brand new home on base. Kyle works for the Air Force and thank goodness he does. It's kinda nice to see familiar American things. Me and Bella got ready for bed and passed the heck out. I was tired. Till tomorrow.

Bath...(pronounced Baath)

Today was the day I was meant to stick my feet in the English Channel. I could just feel it in my bones when I woke up this morning.
Dr. W had set up an appointment with Dr. E in Bournemouth today and whoever wanted to come could join along. Myself and 6 other people in the program decided to tag along for this appointment with talks of perhaps stopping off at Bath in the way back. We ventured out at 8 in the morning and took the bus which took us to the tube, which took us to the train, which finally....after 4 hours....landed us in Bournemouth (don't feel too much pity for us we amused ourselves immensely, I'll post pictures of the goodness later). Stepping off the train in Bournemouth you could just tell you were in a different place. The air was warmer and there were children screeching. Turns out the sounds of children screeching was actually the sounds of the seagulls.
We met Dr. E there and wandered down the town with our guide. He told us interesting things to do around town, however the only question I really wanted an answer to was the price of gas here. He told me it was about £6 a gallon. That amounts to $10 a gallon (roughly speaking). what? Now I know why smart cars are such a hit over here.
We continued down the slope and soon beheld the English Channel. I could smell the salty air. After 2.5 weeks of no ocean, the smell was delicious. Shoes, backpacks, socks, went flying as we raced into the water. We were clearly Floridians....or tourists...take your pick. We took pictures of it, took pictures of us in it, did everything but submerge our cameras into the water. It was beautiful. After we became one with the water, we became disinterested because our stomaches became interested in food. We went to this little fish and chips place right by the ocean and had our lunch there. We talked to Dr. E and savored our food as well as his answers to our questions.
Concluding the lunch we walked back to the station with glances at an ocean we may never see again. I tried to take it in. It was an amazing view. It's an ocean flanked by cliffs, lands and islands, with red-nosed people ambling by a carnival and ice cream stands peppering the coastline.....I felt that if we all should don Victorian style bathing suits we should fit in perfectly. Hopefully, I shall never forget what it looks like.
We returned to the station and started to plan our trip to Bath. Once we settle what train to take and what direction we should go in, we set out on our journey. Once in the train though I suddenly didn't feel like seeing Bath, so I decided to join Dr. W back to Uxbridge. I felt like I made a good choice. I caught up on my paper a bit more and had lovely conversations with her. We arrived in Uxbridge 2 hours later and I decided to commit the rest of the night to writing some more of my paper. I got bored after awhile and went to the kitchen to eat. Then went back to write some more. Alas, this is where I'm at...still writing my paper...until of course I decided to take another break to blog this. So I suppose I should get back to my paper, eh?

Paper writing un-inspires me...

I feel uninspired to write.....but I'm going to do it anyway. Today was a hum-drum sort of day. I spent the morning stocking up on groceries, going to the Internet cafe to unload my camera of pictures, and doing some window shopping in the area. I've discovered that their candy selection stinks, they have a dollar store that they call Poundland here, their quality of shoes are way better than ours, and that I miss Wal-mart (never thought I would say that). I was heading back to Brunel when I ran into Dr. W. We talked for a bit before I headed off back to my room to devote myself to my paper some more (I've spent so much time on it I should build a shrine to it). I worked on it until a head peeked into my dorm asking me for salt. As I love the taste of salt (I know this sounds weird, try to withold judgement) I had a couple of packets in my room which I gave her (her being a girl who's also doing the study abroad with Dr. W). I then started to smell these delicious smells. So naturally I investigated the source. Turns out the girls in the program decided to cook a dinner. Sa-weet. I asked if they needed anything, they said more salt. I, being the purveyor of salts in the land of Uxbridge, knew exactly where to get some. I went out and got some and also brought back a bottle of wine. It was time to party. We set the table and we enjoyed. It was really nice.
We chatted about things we've seen, the political state of things, how we met each others spouse/fiancé and funny things that have happened. I had a really nice time. It kind of made me miss home.
We cleaned up and while some went to bed, some others (myself included) decided to stay up until we completed a puzzle (I'm such an overachiever, such high goals I set for myself). We successfully completed the puzzle before calling it a night. It was a rather blasé day, but it was nice because it reminded me that sometimes no matter what you're doing, how many people you meet, how much you accomplish, how much you travel or how much you know, all the people that really matter are the people youre meeting at the dinner table. And hopefully the people you meet at the dinner table are people you love, because that makes for a very enjoyable moment. So enjoyable that I forgot to take pictures of it and if you know me, I like to document everything, so not documenting something because I was enjoying myself says a lot.


So you know that whole writing the paper for the rest of the week?.....yeah. This morning I went to Cambridge (hey a girl can't work too hard). I had been hoping to see Cambridge before I left and when I heard members of the group were going I decided to hop on that bus. We started out pretty early in the morning (any trek anywhere seems to start off early in the morning) around 8ish. It was me, Carlos, Dan, Hannah, and Dana. We took the tube to Kings Cross which is in the heart of London and took the train straight to Cambridge. The train ride provided me some time to write my paper which I was happy to do (two birds, one stone).
We got off at our destination and started walking. We were sure we were walking in the right direction, but because we weren't positive I asked a construction worker. God bless those construction workers, they sent us in the right direction. We wandered into the city square and saw the pretty shops and stores, stopped in at a few cathedrals (they never cease to impress me, especially when they have gargoyles on them), and got a feel for the city. We then started walking into Cambridge University. Now I should clarify something here, Cambridge isn't like American state or private schools, same with Oxford for that matter. The school is in the entire city. Not even kidding. It's not like you arrive on the property and bam, you're on school property....not even close. It's spread out over the entire city. There is Cambridge itself with Kings college and Queens college but they're now dorms for the students. Their studies are generally elsewhere around the city.
So now that I've placed that in context I'll continue with my story...
We wandered down streets that were lined with collegiate shops selling Cambridge branded articles and I resisted the urge to buy something (was very hard). It was all very lovely until a little Asian guy came upon on us and persuaded us to go punting. He actually pounced on Dana first. Dana was very patient and listened to all he had to say, but when she made eye contact with me, I shook my head. £12 was far too much to pay for each person. My aim was £8. We told him we would think about it and made our way further into the heart of Cambridge. We ran into more punters; £10, nope. A little further and a man name Joe sealed the deal. £8 per person for 45 minutes. Wheeling and dealing paid off. say? want me to go no further until you describe what exactly is punting? Done.
You know those long narrow boats in Venice that lovers sit in while a man pushes them down the river with a long narrow stick and a wide brimmed hat? Well that is punting.....minus it being in Venice.
And the lovers being in the boats? Replace that with me.
Punting is a tradition that, supposedly, students at Cambridge, who were generally male, would do to make money on the side. The river they take you on is on the backside of the majority of the buildings. And while they push the boat along they tell you all the tales of each the scholastic buildings. It was a lot of fun. We had a cute cheery-eyed boy, who's name I don't recall, but who's twinkly eyes I shall never forget (I know that sounds dorky but this my story and I'll tell however corny I want to).
Of all the stories he told us, one story stands out in my mind in particular. Prince Charles went to school at Cambridge and as he was the crowned prince he had a body guard with him at all times even in his classes. Well when school was wrapping up for him and final examinations came, Prince Charles' body guard requested to also take the same final exams as the crowned prince. He'd attended all the classes and the directors thought "why not?"
Turns out the bodyguard got higher marks than Prince Charles; now that's a royal slap in the face.
He told us other stories but none of them humored me as much as the one I just told you. I asked our punter if any royalty had attended Cambridge. He hesitated and said that no royalty recently; none of them had high enough marks to get in. So much for noble blood.
The whole thing was great, really great, I could see my Uncle Chuck, a brainiac of sorts and a man who enjoys a good story, really enjoying himself on that. My mom too, for that matter. When we ended our tour, we shuffled off to wander the city some more.
We ended up at this little ice cream shop (never mind that it was a little under 60 degrees), got some ice cream and chatted with the clerk. She told us about Cambridge students and how rude they are. I was a little surprised. She corrected all notions I may have had about what I thought were intelligent, quiet, moderate kids. They were rug rats. She said the whole town cringes when a Cambridge student walks into their store, some refuse to even give them service. She said they are extremely snobby, look down on everyone and don't seem to care much about "commoners" (I thought that term only existed in 1800's London). How atrocious, I thought, good education wasted on souless beings. Such a waste.
We wandered around a bit more till we decided it was time to head home. Once on the train, we were lulled into sleep. I'm telling you those trains have a sleeping substance sprinkled in the air that makes you want to sleep. We got off at Kings Cross and split ways, the girls and Carlos going into London, and me and professor Dan going back to Uxbridge.
Once we got to Uxbridge, which took longer than normal due to signaling delays, we had a beer and swapped stories of our undergraduate years. Dan is a old soul, as I would like to describe him, he's ultra-conservative, has a love for travel (but not any kind of travel, the kind of travel where you fear for your life kind; think South Africa) and is a professor through and through. He could walk down a street and I could have never met him but I could tell you he's a professor; he's just got the look and attitude down. He's got the best stories for any kind of situation and has the best solutions for political problems (though I probably think that because I'm conservative too). One beer then developed into fish and chips until we then decided I should head back to finish my paper. Ever the professor, he gave me direction on my paper and condoned my good leader skills before we headed off to our flats. I would say it sounds like I made an A on today. Score for being teachers pet.

Paper time

Today's weather was magnificent. Seriously it couldn't have been a more pleasant day, except for the fact that Bella went to Epping to spend the rest of the week with her sister and left me here to finish my last interview and paper. Argh. I hate delaying exciting things and life for school. Nonetheless, I have priorities and responsibilities so after seeing Bella off on the tube I went to the library to write my paper. I stayed there for a few hours and after writing about a third of it I headed back to my dorm. I did some laundry, rearranged my suitcase, talked with some fellow students, and read a book. Overall a nice relaxing day spent inside when there is beautiful weather to be enjoyed outside. We're supposed to have nice weather for the rest of the week which stinks because for the rest of the week I'll be working on my paper. Lame-oh.
Nonetheless I'm determined to enjoy the rest of the day in some fashion, perhaps go to the pub and finally indulge in some fish and chips. We shall see where the wind takes me won't we?


Can I just get something off my chest?
European water is gross. Think of the most mineraly-ist water you have ever tasted and multiply it by 3, divide that number by 2, and then add it to the number 100. That is how gross it is. Every bottle I have ever purchased I have come to wince as I remove the cap off the bottle because I know it's going to be gross. Surprisingly, the tap water is more long as you dilute it with lemon and freeze it with ice so that it numbs your tongue, it's bearable. Still I have tried to drink at least half a gallon of water a day (Aunt Debbie you'd be proud), even though I'm sure it's going to kill me.
Today we mosy-ed out of bed later than we intended and hit up our usual spot, Mickey Dees, for our daily dose of wifi. Bella realized she had forgotten her Brit-rail pass (this is the ticket that allows you to use Britain's trains unlimitedly) so she had to go back and get it from the dorm. I used that chance to get an oyster card (a card that allows you to use the buses and underground trains [aka the tube]) as my travel card (a card that allows you to use the buses and the tubes unlimitedly) had expired. I then headed back and partook in the wonders of wifi. Bella met me there and then we headed off to Stonehenge.
I have come to realize that I enjoy traveling on the trains with Bella because it provides me with the opportunity to have "stimulating conversations" as I like to call them. Without her company, the rides would be very long and droll. Additionally, those long rides make us loopy and we create some very good inside jokes.
Anyway. So we arrive at Salisbury, exit the train, and find a guy standing pretty much right outside selling tour bus tickets and tickets to Stonehenge. We get our tickets from him and wait around for the bus. The bus that we got on was a double decker bus and we were fortunate to sit on the top level at the front. (Driving around on that bus reminded me of Disney rides, there were so many dips and sharp turns). The bus took us around the old town and pointed out some interesting details such as the cathedral tower leans about 29 inches off center, it contains one of the 4 original copies of the magna carta, etc. All this was very nice but we were here to see Stonehenge, so take me there captain.
We wind our way through beautiful fields and pastures with lambs in them and then beheld the sight of Stonehenge. I waited for some sort of enlightening moment...nothing happened.....this structure was possibly more than 4,000 years old...surely I would stand in awe or something climatic was going to occur inside of me. Still nothing. So then I willed myself to be awed. Still didn't work. I put the moment aside and told myself I was going to just enjoy seeing one of the oldest really...on earth.
So we all clambered out of the bus, hurriedly grabbed our electronic tour guide devices and jumped in line to gather around these huge stones. It was pretty impressive. Some of these stones were some where around 55 tons....(that's about 55 cars) and the people got them there with not much more help than primitive tools and their minds. So I walked around these stones and waited still for that moment of awestruckness that I was sure I was going to feel.
However, I couldn't help but think about the whole thing in perspective and relation to what we were actually doing. These were rocks. Big rocks. Big old rocks. And we were all standing around looking at rocks. And these rocks had a little roped off gate around it, so you couldn't go up and touch or look closely at the rocks. I was looking at big old rocks that were stacked and were roped off. Never mind the fact there were birds on the rocks pooping on it and making their nests in it, I couldn't, despite spending my 15£, couldn't go up and touch the rocks.
It was all sort of anticlimactic. I think Bella felt the same way, but I could be wrong. It was nice to see what humans can do when they put their minds to it and it was nice to have my picture taken next to an iconic thing, but I walked away feeling slightly unsatisfied.
The tour bus took us back through the pastures and through the city, both of which me and Bella enjoyed thoroughly. We tried to scout out restaurant but that is hard to do on a Sunday, a lot of restaurants aren't open on Sunday's over here. We ate some food at this restaurant called A.S.K. and talked about secret emails. After we had worn out the subject we left to walk back to the train station to catch our train.
On the way back we saw a lovely river with swans in them and watched them swim around. It was very peaceful. We turned to start our trek back when suddenly a flock of birds started to all fly away. We heard a loud bang on a store glass window next to us, startled, we looked to see what it was. A pigeon ran right into the window glass and was lying on the brick ground. We both paused for a moment not sure what to do. The pigeon seemed to have the wind knocked out of him and was breathing heavily. I told Bella this and she started to laugh at my comment. She told me something to the effect that he wasn't looking so good. I insisted he was fine until he started moving strangely. I realized that we were witnessing the pigeons last moments here on this planet. Bella and I watched as he closed his eyes and took his last breath. Bella thought we should leave; I thought we should bury it. But as I had no shovel handy and I didn't know where he'd been we left him there by the store, with his feather imprints still in the window. It was a strange phenomenon, but we chalked it up to the store window must have been cleaned with windex, just like the commercial.
We made it back to the station and feel asleep on the train ride back to London after another "stimulating conversation". Bella will be leaving tomorrow to stay with her sister and I will be sitting in Uxbridge's library writing my 15 page paper before we reconvene this Friday to fly to Italy.
Provided I survive writing my paper, it should be an exciting, action packed weekend ahead of me. Of course, providing I survive writing my paper.

I like England, but I love Scotland....

I slept rather well last night except for the occasional slamming of doors and rustles of plastic bags, all in all I got 8 hours of sleep. Even still I think my body was dragging.
We went to sleep without dinner last night because we came in so late and were so tired. So I woke up grumpy and ravenous. The clerk that checked us out of our hostel was starting to look good; Bella knew I needed food. We ate at this delicious place called Jacques Cafe on market street. So good. I wanted the food to never end, but like all things it did.
We wandered up to Edinburgh Castle, it was amazing. It sits on a cliff and overlooks the city, the steep towers stand out like a hooker in church....well maybe not like that....but it sure does stand out. We checked out the gift shop (we never do that) and found amazing tartan scarves and hats that I lusted over, however the price and the lack of space in my luggage could not justify me purchasing it. So we moved on.
We went to the Scottish Whiskey Experience, where we toured the place and checked out the world's largest collection of Scottish Whiskey. Bella treated me to real Scottish malt whiskey for my birthday, it went down well.
We then wandered the city. Checked out some cathedrals, looked around more gift shops, listened to bagpipes, and sat down and talked. We took it kinda slow today. Mostly just listening, watching, and engrossing ourself in the culture. We both came to the conclusion that we love Scotland. I'm glad I'm made up of 25% of that place.
We decided to head back to Uxbridge where tomorrow we'll head to Stonehenge and Bath for the day. So till tomorrow mates.

Scotland, let me see thy kilts

I've been here officially for a week and I feel like I've been here for only 3 days. Everything is running together and if it weren't for blogging I would forget which day I did what or that days had even passed. Today I got up at 7am so that both Bella and I could be out the door by 7:30 so that we could be at the Tower of London by opening (they open at 9). The problem was when I knocked on Bella's door to exit the building like the great Elvis Presley, I heard rustling in her bed and knew that she hadnt woken up yet. She greeted me with profuse apologies and promises to be ready in 20 minutes.
37 minutes later we left the building in style, and when I say in style I mean half awake and wearing some of yesterday's clothes. Our plans for the day consisted of seeing the Tower of London and catching the next afternoon train out to a country. Train delays and a delicious pub at Euston station changed our decisions. We went to the Tower after we purchased tickets on a 5:10 train to Scotland and soaked up some history.
Our tickets to the tower included a Beefeater guide around parts of the Tower. Seriously, that is a attraction that is worth the price. Just make sure you have 4 hours to look around, there's a lot to see. He told us the history of parts of it; the tower has been there since the 1100's, there was a lot of history. He regaled us with stories of famous imprisonments, escapes and horrific beheadings. He took us into the towers cathedral and told us where the bodies of Anne Boylen, Catherine the 5th wife of Henry VIII, and other famous people lay. It was incredible to think that just a couple hundred years ago Anne Boylen was in the same cathedral I was in today praying for her life. It was strange to look across the expansive courtyard and imagine ladies-in-waiting and knights wandering them; it was strange because I could totally picture it.
Everything was old. Carvings of writing of some of the Tower's prisoners were on the walls, leaving their last mark of their existence, it was real and it was astonishing. It smelled like stone and wood, just how towers and castles are supposed to smell. It was surreal in a weird sort of way to touch the stone walls leading up a circular staircase and think about who could have also touch the spot I just touched. Perhaps a king? Perhaps someone who a couple hundred years before could have faltered on their way to their doom and touched that spot for support? It's crazy the things that run through your mind when you see these ancient spots.....or maybe it's just in my mind.
I wandered through the White Tower and saw the artifacts of the life that existed behind these walls. There were the armors that a majority of the kings wore in battle and their horses....yes...their horses. All the horses of the kings were preserved. Strange.
I also made a point of seeing the crown jewels. We accidentally cut in line, well it was mostly me. A group had lagged behind and I thought that was where it ended and where we were supposed to join. So I jumped in.....and a lot of people followed suit until an Italian man yelled at the bunch of us that we had cut. Bella didn't budge and I wasn't leaving we cut down on some major waiting time. The crown jewels were pretty cool. We saw coronation spoons, specters, swords, and crowns, all of which was jewel encrusted. But the clarity of the jewels weren't that great, I mean yeah don't get me wrong I'm being pretty picky over something I will never wear or ever come close to touching, but come on. These are the crown jewels; pomp, beauty, and perfection is what it's all about right? Hence, I reserve my right to critique if I feel like the crown jewels aren't perfect. Plus, I would have made a better princess, as we all know, and would have demanded perfection.
At the end of looking at all that bling, I couldn't help but look down at my engagement ring. Yes, it's not massive like the coronation crowns and rings I saw but it's a perfect and beautiful ring. Somebody gave that to me with a lot of love and all the powers or titles in all the world wouldn't make me trade that (except perhaps the title 'princess', that would look good in front of my name). So all in all: my ring > the crown jewels.
Bella and I then met up at the Starbucks by the Towers. We booked our hostel and made our plans. We then hobbled (I say hobbled because we did a lot of walking and our feet were sore) to the train station. We caught the train bound for Edinburg, Scotland; land of the kilts. We talked about how we would fall asleep on the way there as it was a 5 hour train ride there, but our bodies didn't stand a chance against our mouths. We chatted some more about life, love, and other mysteries. Once again we were on the verge of solving all the worlds problems when the train reached our destination.
Scotland is just like what you see in the movies. Only it's far more impressive. Never have I seen anything of this magnitude and so old. It's a sight to behold. Stepping out of the train station onto the street you feel small. Towers, castles, cathedrals, everything looms over you. The air was different than anything I had felt before. It was damp, but you didn't feel it. It was cold but you weren't cold. The roads curved and your eyes couldn't look anywhere else but at the intricate gothic details of the buildings around you.
We arrived at our hostel for the night, despite the poor directions. I'll never forget stepping into my first hostel; it sharply reminded me how prissy I am. The lobby had a cheerful atmosphere and eclectic items all around. We checked in and headed up into the rooms. It was relatively clean, the bunk beds lined up next to each other, and a clean smell in the air. Still it reminded me of an orphanage and I automatically missed home. I wanted to book the next ticket home and crawl back into my familiar bed, where there were schedules and where I wasn't concerned about the next place I would be in. I bucked up though and told myself I was tired and after a good nights rest everything would be ok in the morning. True to my own word, it's morning and everything is better. And Scotland is waiting for me to explore it, better go so I don't disappoint.

18 hours in one post...

Today was a whirlwind. We were up at 7am to rush off to London. We saw a bit of it yesterday but not anywhere close to the fullest extent that we wanted to see it. From Uxbridge, it takes about two hours with the bus and the change of trains to get to the heart of London. We got out of the tube and exited out into the most dreary weather I have ever encountered here. It was drizzling and overcast, typical London weather from what I'm told. It was hard to believe I was experiencing 60 degree rainy weather in the middle of July, but I am not in Florida, obviously.
Our first real view of London was in the towering form of the Big Ben. He's set up pretty snugly to the Parliament House, if I recall correctly. We could have had a better introduction to Big Ben had it not been so cold and wet, but nevertheless we made our introductions before taking a peek at the London Eye. 30 pounds to ride the London Eye for an hour, we couldn't justify spending that much so we headed off to Westminster Abbey. It was a sight to see. We walked into the church right next door to it, St. Margaret's church, and reveled in it's regality. The line to see the Abbey was really long, longer than any Disney ride I have ever ridden. We walked around to the areas where just 4 months before Princess Kate stepped out to wed Prince William. It was amazing. I still could have made a better princess though.
Anyway, moving on. We walked on towards trafalgar square but stopped off at Westminster Cathedral. Really breathtaking, they had a few tombs inside, and little corridors to walk into. We went on to trafalgar square which was less impressive than what they portray on the maps.
So we went off to get tickets to the broadway show Lion King. We managed to get them at 13.50£ in the standing room area. We then headed off to the London Tower where we were approached by a man who tried to sell us his student tickets. We bartered. He wanted 34 pounds for the both of them which is about 65 USD but we wanted them for 30 (58 USD roughly). He lowered it but we didn't budge. He finally reluctantly said no and we turned away to purchase our tickets at the kiosk. It's a good thing we did. They told us the tower was closing in an hour and we wouldn't really get our money's worth as it takes about 3 hours to tour it. So we decided that we would do it tomorrow. We walked over to Shakespeare's Globe theater and had some drinks there. Then commenced our walk to Lyceum Theater where we would see one of the most watched and hardest-to-get-tickets show, Lion King.
It was packed. I mean packed. We had pretty good spots for what we paid. I was impressed. Now I have to confess, seeing the Lion King wasn't on the top of my priority list but Bella told me it would be worth it. She wasn't kidding. It was really astounding. I had to wonder how these people come up with the costume ideas. Being there reminded me of how much I loved the theater (fiancé, we're going to the theater when I come home). The only things that could have made it better was if we could have dressed up and sat down ( we got tickets in the standing room only area). Otherwise, it was amazing. We got out of it rather late and took the last train home to Uxbridge. We ended up entertaining ourselves on the hour train ride home by singing all the Disney songs we could think of (the things five hours of sleep does to you). I'm certain the woman behind us didn't appreciate it. Regardless we made it to our much anticipated destination and waited for the bus to take us home. We were awake for 18 hours that day. 18 hours. We are crazy. Never did a hot shower and a bed sound and feel as good as it did that day. Tomorrow: Tower of London and Scotland.

Greenwich, a dash of London.

London and Greenwich. That was our goal today, and by "our" I mean me and Bella. We had some sight seeing to do in London and I had a 5:00 interview in Greenwich which is about an hour away from London. So we set out at 9 o'clock in the morning to the Uxbridge underground station. We made it there about an hour and a half later than intended. Why? Well we love wifi and for a pounds worth of French fries at McDonalds we could get ourselves some wifi. Free wifi isn't quite as prevalent in the UK as it is in the states, so when we find it, we jump on it. We also charted out the next couple of days with places and things we wanted to see and do. So we were quite productive. After we got our internet fix we headed into London. Bella is pretty adept at adapting to her surroundings quickly, I can adapt....I just take a little longer. She tends to jump while she thinks and I just follow along because whatever happens, whether shes right about which tube we're supposed to take or we go in the wrong direction, there's bound to be a good story.
So all was going well till we realized we took the right tube, just in the wrong direction. So we just shrugged and started talking about ways we would kill ourselves if we had to kill ourselves. This all sounds morbid when I type this out but we had a very legitimate in-depth conversation about the best most effective way to kill oneself if one had to. We were quite oblivious to the fact that the tube was a little on the packed side until we drew some stares when I argued that shooting oneself in the medulla oblongata would be a faster way to go than Bella's suggestion, smashing her car into a wall. So....suffice to say, we changed topics.
We ended up getting to our destination, London, and I must say my eyes were anxious to see what all the fuss was about regarding London. Well I wasn't disappointed, I suppose. The first thing I noted was the dirty, spit out gum on the streets and the similar likeness to New York. It was very much like New York. Business people bustling about on the streets, bums on corners, cooks hanging out the doors of their restaurants to catch a smoke; spitting image of New York, just with a British accent. However, Buckingham Palace was what impressed me most. It is huge. It is regal. And I want to live there. I stood right in front of the gates where Prince William and Princess Kate kissed after they married and all I could think about is how I would have made a better princess. But besides thinking about my right to be an heir to the throne and all that, I fully appreciated the awesomeness of Buckingham. We happened to arrive at the time of the changing of the guards which is really nothing terribly special, except these mates have been standing stock still for hours and are switched out with much pomp and circumstance. I took a video of it and will be throwing it up on my Facebook, better hope you're my friend (or you can decide not to be and just YouTube it).
What really caught my interest is the plain ordinary people that would show their badge to the British police and walk on in to do their job. Those are the people whose's lives most intrigued me. They are the ones that keep that place going and yet they silently pass the courtyard without anybody giving them a second glance. It's the uniformed police and soldiers that guard the gate that people/tourists are most impressed with....and they do the least amount of work. Anyway I digress...
We roamed around St. James park for a short while till Bella started to lecture me about behaving like a tourist after I almost ran into someone after I was trying to get out of the way of someone else (I just wanted to clarify my innocence). I changed the topic to theater tickets because I knew she had her heart set on seeing a show in London. It worked. We talked about purchasing the tickets but realized the time (3:00pm) and had to rush to the tube so I could make my appointment. We took an hour and fifteen minute ride, with various tube changes, out to Greenwich, which is a city located on Thames river. It's a quaint little town/city. The part we went to was more town-ish (if that's even a word, pretty sure it's not).
I rushed off to my appointment which was at the Old Royal Naval College, where the University of Greenwich is, and left Bella to fend for herself with promises to meet her at a corner pub. I was nervous about finding the place I was supposed to meet Dr. M so Bella and I had asked a girl as to the direction earlier. I noticed I had caught up with her so she suggested I just go with her as she was heading in that direction. We walked along and I asked her what her thoughts were on Americans. She was very politically correct in her reply "they are like people everywhere; some are nice, some not so nice." I told her it was ok to be honest, I really wanted to know, but she seemed very hesitant to be so I left it alone, I probably committed some sort of faux pas. She changed the topic to the sizes in the States versus the UK, we talked about how in America the meal sizes are bigger, the cars are bigger, the houses are bigger, when really all that is unnecessary. She was Italian and had been living in Greenwich for 3 years after she graduated college and couldn't find a job. I realized as we talked I had to talk slowly because of my accent. Ha. Accent. I don't know what my accent sounds like. Its weird to think I even have one. But I had to slow down my speech and enunciate every word so she could understand me. Before we parted ways I introduced myself and thanked her. Sylvia, you are one cool chick.
I arrived at the place Dr. M suggested we meet, which is called the Painted Hall. I arrived there a few minutes early so I had the fortunate chance of getting a quick look at it before I waited outside for him. Boy, am I ever glad I did. It was gorgeous. I took pictures, but pictures do not fully capture how freaking breathtaking this hall is. It's sort of like an elegant mess hall with paintings of King George (I believe) and naval conquests on the walls and ceilings. Truly amazing and free.
I met him outside of it and he then proceeded to escort me to his office. We chatted about the weather and my background as we hurried along the courtyards to his office. He is the perfect brilliant British intellectual man you imagine when one says brilliant British intellectual man. He courteously answered my questions and humored my arguments. He gave me insightful thoughts and enlightened some of my thinking on social network analysis. I could see he had already had a long day, so I tried to be swift in asking my questions and providing feedback. It ended almost as soon as it began and soon enough I was on my way back to the appointed place where I was supposed to meet Bella.
I was deep in thought as I walked to the agreed place when I saw a African American man holding back another African American man. I thought nothing about it as I walked closer and then I saw a Caucasian man saying something to the men rather loudly. I thought that they were being very jovial until I saw the Caucasian man holding two rather large sized bricks in an aggressive manner. He then proceeded to lift his arm as if he was going to throw it and I quickly walked in the opposite direction. It was quite the startle. He swore repetitively and violently at the men and threw one of the cobblestone bricks onto the ground and stormed off.
By then he had drawn a lot of attention. I asked around to try to find out what happened but everyone just told me that the young man was unstable. It was very interesting.
I sat down at the corner pub and began to write some of my paper for this interview project when I saw a man selling magazines on the corner. I just watched him for a while behind my sunglasses and saw another man walk up to him. The second man began to talk to him in what seemed like confidence and started eyeing the girls that passed them on the street. He was openly ogling the girls and seemed to be encouraging his new found magazine friend to do the same. I watched him talk to the magazine guy a bit further and then the man left. I approached the magazine man and asked him what the guy told him. In his thick British accent I was able to make out that the man was telling him he had a great job because he could watch all these girls bodies that passed him by. I thanked him and left.
By then Bella had arrived and I told her my stories while we wandered through a junk shop. My conclusion of Greenwich: caution, the people can be weird.
We headed to a delightful pub called The Auctioneer and had a pint of beer, a classic burger, and chips (aka French fries) for 4 pounds 25 pence (about 7 US dollars). We talked about men, marriage, love, and the lack of women's drive to live their lives. We were about to solve all of mankind's problems when we realized it was getting late and we needed to head back.
Two hours and three tube changes later we found ourselves at a bus stop in Uxbridge in 50 degree weather waiting for the bus to take us to our dorms. While we were waiting we ran into Dana and Hannah, the two girls I hung out with on my first day in Uxbridge. We chatted about the days events when a man asked us if we all knew each other, we replied we did. He smiled and asked Dana how he could get in touch with her. Bam. Just like that. Dana was getting picked up at 10:15 at night right by a bus stop by some sketchy dude. She then said she wasn't interested so the man asked Bella if she was available, to which she said she was married; asked me if I was available, I told him I was engaged; then asked Hannah if she was available, she said she had a boyfriend. Enter awkward silence........
I straight up asked him why he was looking for a girlfriend. He said he had just come to the UK and was lonely. I told him to go to church, that was the best way to find a girl. He attempted to get into our little circle so Bella made some excuse about going into the street to see if that was our bus. Bella could have said we needed to go tip over a port-a-potty, I would have followed her anywhere out of that amazingly awkward moment.
We made it safely onto the bus, made a new friend, Muzz, and proceeded to head back home to Gordon hall. Tomorrow though, me and Bella will solve all mankind's problems.......after we thoroughly tour London and have tea time with the Queen, of course.

Oxford (part 2)

We meet again Oxford.
You haven't changed a bit.
My second interview was there today and I must say it went swimmingly well. I went with one of the girls in the education program, Meghan, and it was quite nice as we were of the same appeal. I had met her before when Dr. W organized a meeting for all the people going to England for the program. I knew when I met her there that I would like her, however as the meeting was in her house I didn't feel at liberty to be my rambunctious self, so I was polite and demure, something I am not often. We walked around Oxford for a bit before my second interview and we had a grand time. I have to say I enjoyed myself and Oxford much more that day and I realized something; you can only truly enjoy something when you share it with someone. I went off to my second interview after we agreed to meet up at a corner street.
My second interview with Dr. S exceeded my expectations. She was by far the most interesting and pleasant person I have yet to encounter. She was gracious and answered all of my questions and gave me an enormous amount of material to work with. When our interview wrapped up I thanked her politely and told her "Dr. S it was my pleasure to interview you." Her reply: "if you need anything else don't hesitate to email me and, please, call me Sandra." Favorite. Oxfordian. Person. Ever. She was the coolest, as we Americans say.
I then met up with Meghan and we walked around for a bit. We walked to her interview spot so she knew where it was and wouldn't be late. As we walked back to the center of Oxford (Meghan's interview spot was on the outskirts) we ran into a mess of Oxford boys. I say mess because one of them, who appeared to have graduated was coated with ketchup, mayonnaise, and other condiments. I had to spot and asked what happened. The boy just pointed to his two mates on either side of them both of who seemed quite pleased with themselves (will upload pictures later). He explained that when a student graduates his mates celebrate by making a mess of them. The poor kid was certainly a mess; he had ketchup in his ear...not just his ear, like his eardrum. Gross. We told him congratulations and begged him to take a picture with us to which he consented. We then proceeded on our way back to the center of oxford.
It was during this part of the walk that Meghan told me that she was surprised by me. She had been under the impression that I was the demure sort of person she met at her house not the exciting, lovable, amazing, interesting, funny person I was now (note: I may have added a few adjectives to that last sentence). Of course this was after I made a joke about me laughing at the thought of her face planting. So she may have just been being facetious. I explained when I'm on someone else's territory/turf I err on the side of politeness. Otherwise I try to always have a good sense of humor and be overall the enjoyable person I always am (note: I may have just lied somewhere in that last sentence).
We sight saw a little more and documented our trip via our cameras before we had to part ways and I sent myself off to my last interviews for the day. I took the train back home and found myself thinking about my trip as I stared at the passing fluffy cotton balls of sheep and green rolling hills (why do authors/writers always say green rolling hills?). I like England. It's nice. The countryside is beautiful and the people are relatively pleasant. So that's what I thought as I proceeded to doze off on the train back.
I cat napped until my stop where I raced back to Brunel University for presentations at Halsbury college. I was a tad late and had to ask a receptionist for help in locating the room. She derogatorily told me she had no idea what I could possibly be talking about, to which I responded that I was sorry for bothering her and I would just take a look around. She huff and puffed and told me I couldn't do that; I did it anyway. I ended up finding the myself....stinking receptionist. The presentations were nice, but annoying. The entire thing was supposed to be from 3-7pm. However as the presenters were not courteous of their presentations or their audience, they took 20-30 minutes to present instead of the 10 minutes they were allotted to present. Hence we went until rather late. Annoying. Note to self: when presenting, always stick to presentation time allotments.
I interviewed my last two people for the day and raced back to my room.
One of my best friends, Isabella, had announced her arrival to the area via a sticky note on my dorm door. I raced to her dorm room and pounded on it until I roused her from her slumber. I exuberantly hugged her and we sat on her bed and talked till who knows when. She told me about her experiences in Europe and other life experiences (she had been traveling by herself in Europe for two months prior to my arrival there, read about her experiences here: It was so good to see her face.
We caught up over a bowl of cereal and talked about our plans for the following day. We then decided to call it a night and cause some trouble for tomorrow. Let's hope we succeed.

Oh Oxford.

Things I've learned about the British people: if there is anything that can be done in the opposite way that Americans do it, they will do it that way. The way they drive on the road, the way they don't tint their car windows, the direction of their outlets, the way you switch on lights, the direction of the toilet water, everything. They've mastered the art of doing the exact opposite ....or maybe it's us that has mastered the art, either way, it almost always seems to end up in me nearly getting killed. (Mom, if you're reading this I didn't really mean killed. It was just a BMW that nearly took me out because I looked in the wrong direction of oncoming traffic. No biggie. Really.)
But besides nearly becoming a new hood ornament on someone's BMW I went to Oxford today (how prestigious that sounds, forgive me a moment, I must go put on my silk robe and slippers before I sink into my plush leather chair and enjoy my cigar and whiskey as I tell you my prestigious story). It was quite the route to get there.
(yech! I'm eating a microwave dinner that I bought at the local store here, it's like a lean cuisine, and it tastes nas-ty! They still haven't mastered the art of using spices despite pillaging the indies, anybody who knows their history will know what I'm talking about here, anyway I digress).
I met up with Jane and her son Austin for this delightful trip to Oxford. Jane had been to Oxford before about 3 years ago so she was fairly certain as to how to get there. She was nice, sweet, and very cheerful. She insisted that I use her cell phone to call my fiancé when she discovered I was engaged and touring the world (well, Europe) for 30 days. She had a hankering for Reba Macintire music (yes I spelled that wrong, let's move on) and a love of all things foreign. She got me excited about seeing Europe when I expressed my hesitation about me getting excited over anything, while her son Austin managed to laugh at my self depreciating jokes and stare out the train window when I bored him. We split ways when we arrived at Oxford as I had my interview to go to and they wanted to see Oxford on the hop-on-hop-off buses. I managed to find the OII (Oxford Internet Institute) fairly easily.
Oxford isn't that far from the trains, about a 10 minute walk. I went into the interview with some hesitation, mostly due to my lack of preparedness and my sunburnt skin, that which I got from spending one too many days in the water in Austin a week before. I didn't have that much to be hesitant over. My interview with Mr. B caught me off guard however because I quickly realized he wasn't British. Something I had kinda set my heart on (it's not everyday you get to interview a British man). Regardless he nearly charmed the socks off me. Quite an agreeable fellow (that phrase is so British) with a lot of wit and humor. I was quite disappointed in my lack of wit during the interview, I blame it entirely on my delayed jet lag. Nonetheless he answered my questions and humored me with his recent research which I found fascinating. I didn't even realize our hour long appointment time turned into an hour and a half. After an abrupt end and exit, I walked around Oxford for a while preparing myself to be wowed. I was slightly disappointed. Don't get me wrong it's lovely, the architecture is astounding, and the whole thing glamourous, but yet something was lacking. (Man, this cuisine is gross). I don't know if I can pinpoint it now, but maybe I'll be able to look back and say this is what was missing. Either way I left Oxford with a so-so attitude about the whole thing.
I did walk around the grounds though (the ones that weren't closed and the ones that didn't charge, hey I'm a poor student) and take some pictures. I also eavesdropped on the tour guides (no way was I paying 10 pounds) and found out some interesting facts. They have this carnation rule for Oxford students, something about white, pink, and red carnations and finals week. And something about leis too. They also have one of the most famous pubs in Oxford, apparently some of the big brains went there. I took a picture because it will last longer than my memory these days. I'll try to remember to post it.
I managed to stumble across a coffee shop with wifi, a rarity in these parts. So I updated my blog and checked my emails and skyped a few people. I found myself in the same spot nearly 3 hours later. This is why I shouldn't have access to the web or telephone, I get sucked into it like a dustball up against a vacuum cleaner. I don't stand a chance.
All in all though, I like Oxford's environment. It's like New York City with the hustle and bustle but at a level where the volume is a little more tolerable and the people are a little more like neighbors. Its quaint, old, educated, and deliciously slightly pompous....enough for me to want to put them in their place. I could see myself living in a place like that. It would be quite a nice place to settle in and call home. Maybe I'll do that.
Cheers (I have to say it, I'm in freaking England).

Hello London.

At 4:40 EST my body realized I landed; 9:40 London time I landed. Three hours of light sleeping in cramped plane quarters certainly helped me realize that today was going to be an interesting day. It surprisingly wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. Bristish Airways provides quite semi-comfortable ammentaties. Albeit, the seat was cramped, I was lucky because the middle seat between me and what I am sure was a Russian neurologist was empty which meant for a little more room to shuffle around. They also had a stack of movie releases, tv shows, satellite audio, which were available to watch on the plane, overall pretty sweet. I watched Black Swan (disappointing, I don't recommend it) and the King's Speech (highly recommend) while they passed out dinner which was some sort of pasta and bread both of which I was too queasy to eat and a strawberry cheesecake. I tried to get some sleep around 2 EST; life lesson: take some sleeping mess before doing that again. Anyway woke up and they served breakfast to us; some muffin and yogurt and something else which is not worth me remembering. Shortly after we landed.
I was so happy to touch land; I think my body doesn't enjoy flying anymore, what a shame. Heathrow airport both impressed and elicited a few tears form me. I thought Atlanta's hub was crazy; it's got nothing on Atlanta. Heathrow is impeccably clean and modern but insanely confusing. Trying to just find a sign that could clearly tell me where I was going was like a certain HEB store I recently went to in Austin (Sarah will get that); it was confusing. I somehow managed to get from terminal 5 to terminal 3 (I still don't really understand how I was able to do that though) and through customs where I made friends with the custom officer. I then headed to bus central where I hopped on the U3 bus to Uxbridge. I was told I could pay the bus driver when I got on, so I told him my destination and proceeded to pay him the two pounds twenty pence when he just shook his head at me, denying my ten phone bill. He refused to take it after I told him I was heading to Brunel University saying "students have no money." I laughed and insisted I could pay him something when he wrote out a card saying I had 5 days to pay my bus fare. I was so confused. I tried desperately not to be the confused semi-lost American student that I was but I think that bus driver saw it written all over me when I got on. I settled into a seat close to him in case he should change his mind about my paying; I think I came to terms with the fact that he didn't want me to pay however in an effort to make sure all his i's were dotted and t's crossed he gave me that slip of paper. Nice man. I think it was then I realized I loved London.
The bus dropped me off right in front of Brunel University; I felt like I was in a scene in a movie, like right out of the movie Anne of Green Gables with the actress Megan or something. The particular scene where she gets off the train with just her broken luggage and waits for Matthew Cutberth, I felt like I was living that scene out. The area was so picturesque and I felt so foreign, but I had my luggage, just like Anne. And like her I couldn't believe where I was at. I think it hit me then: I am in England.
I scrounged up some help to find my dorm from at first an unwilling English student. He was more concentrated on enjoying his lunch than assisting me, but I won him over in helping me locate my bearings and dorm. I say "won" when I think really he just pitied me.
Dr. W buzzed me in and showed me my dorm. Two words: sweet digs. My own bed, desk, bathroom, and ID badge to get in....all for 25 bucks a night. Seriously, that is really good.
Me and Dr. W started to head to the store to get me some groceries when I ran into Carlos, a friend I knew in my UF days. So after getting Carlos settled in we ran off to the store, we met up with two other girls during the trip Hannah and Dana, both of whom I like immensely. While we shopped they told me I reminded them of a friend they both knew, Danielle. I can't count the times I've been told that I've reminded people of someone they know. Apparently I'm generic.
The entire time Carlos' and my goal was to find free wifi. In America this is not a hard thing to find. In the surrounding London areas, it is. So after realizing we would not free wifi anywhere we gave up and headed back to the dorms to get some shut eye. Two hours later feeling refreshed and more alive and cognizant we went out to a pub three blocks away. I paid 3 pounds for my beer and tried to take in the atmosphere. I still don't think I've grasped where I am. The houses are so English and picturesque and the people so British, I think my mind thinks I'm in Disney world. The cobblestone streets don't seem to really be a part of my environment somehow. They seem to me something that is part of a theme park.
We walked back to Brunel University, enjoyed the weather, the effects of the beer on all our zonked out minds and talked about tomorrow's plans. Still seems strange for me to be here. Maybe I'll wake up tomorrow and be in my bed, something I wish only half-heartedly would come true. Cheers.