24 April 2012

Yes. I've been to Paradise.

Think of a postcard or a desktop background of a beach or some type of paradise – I was just there.  I’m not even kidding you when I say that.  The Cinque Terre in Italy is one of, if not the most beautiful place in the entire world.  It is on the west coast of Italy, and composed of five little villages that are connected by trains and hiking paths.  We stayed in the first city – Monterosso – in a four star hotel that is on the edge of a cliff looking out to the ocean.  So beautiful.

We got there on Thursday night at around 9PM, so it was already dark by the time we got there.  But included in our room was free transportation to and from the train station, so that was pretty nice.  We got to the hotel and although it was pitch black, we could still hear the ocean and were SO happy and excited to see it!  We got some food at the hotel then headed up to our room so we could wake up and get out around the town.

When we woke up and headed out, the view was absolutely incredible.  I knew it was going to be pretty but I really did not know it was going to be this amazing.  You are literally staring out into the ocean with cliffs jetting out .. which you are on one of those cliffs too.  We walked down into Monterosso and looked around the place for a bit.  We thought it was going to rain later, so we wanted to start hiking early.  We got on a train to the last city, Riomaggiore, where we were going to start.  Riomaggiore was so cute! We walked around for a bit then got on the trail which was full of love locks and amazing views.  We walked through the gorgeous path that was paved out, to Manarola, the next village.  This was one of my favorite villages.  We walked around and went into the shops, then got some deeeeelicious gelato!  It was so so so so good .. and cheap!  The gelato here is less than 2 euros, which is so amazing but pretty dangerous seeing how much we love it.  After eating, we went up on a little trail where you can see the entire village of Manarola from a cliff.  Absolutely. Gorgeous.  I can’t even say enough words to describe this place; it is beautiful.
Our hotel up in the mountain!
All hail Italy

 We found out the trails to the next two cities, Corniglia and Vernazza, were closed, so we had to take a train.  There wasn’t much in Corniglia, so we skipped it and went to Vernazza.  This is the village that most pictures are shown if you google “Cinque Terre.”  It was so pretty and so amazing to be there, but there was a flood throughout this place in October 2011, and Vernazza (along with Monterosso) was hit the worst.  There was some construction going on on the beach, and some of the buildings looked so run down and beat from the flood.  It was so sad to see, but for only 5-6 months passing, they are doing pretty great.  Everything was open for the most part and the place was buzzing with tourists.  We got some pizza at a cute restaurant where we ate outside right by the ocean.  For my first pizza in Italy, it was amazing!

After the pizza, we had to get some more gelato, and it was even better this time.  We were able to hike from this village to the next one, which was the last one and the one we were staying at, Monterosso.

Pizza .. by the ocean .. in Italy .. no big deal?

Saying we weren’t prepared for this hike is a complete understatement.  For one thing, I didn’t have any shoes, so I was hiking in flats.  But we just did not think about hiking and packing things that we needed .. but did alright with what we had.  

The hike took about two hours to complete, and it was along the cliffs with way too many stairs to climb.  Once we got through climbing the stairs, they just made us walk down a hundred more just to reclimb a million again.  It was crazy.  But the views throughout this hike were incredible, so it was completely worth it.  Not to mention when we were a little over halfway done with the hike, we were greeted by an old Italian man who sells lemonade along the trail.  We bought some and took a little break (we took a lot of ‘little breaks’).  

After this, we thought we were almost done, but we still had about 30 more minutes.  The path took us straight to our hotel though so it was pretty nice.  And with how unreal this place is, I would recommend anyone and everyone do those hikes – you won’t see the entire place if you don’t.  It is SO worth it.

After we got home, we went up to the room to rest for a little but but headed out for some dinner.  Of course I ate pizza again, and Heather got some ravioli.  So. Good.  Before we headed up we decided why not, and got some gelato for dessert.  It’s too good in Italy – how can you control yourself and not stuff your faces with Italian food and gelato?  It’s impossible.

Today we woke up and walked around Monterosso for some souvenirs and things.  I got this amazing paining/thing that hangs on your wall that was made by a local who owns a little shop.  I HAD to get it.  While we were buying it, he showed us a little video he made of the floods, so we were able to see what where we were walking around looked like at the time.  It was heartbreaking to watch but made me so happy to see how fast they were able to reconstruct their town together.  There is still a lot of work to do, but they are doing really great for such a short time passing.

Now we are currently sitting in a train station in La Spezia, about to head down to Rome.  Ready to do some shopping, eating, and touring!  The train is four hours and I’m pretty tired so I’m excited to sleep a bit too.  After Rome, we head to Naples, then it’s back to London before Scotland with ISA.  I can’t believe we’ve already been to three places on this trip we’ve planned since February.  It’s going by SO fast.  And when I get back to London after this, I have three more weeks left.  What?  Where did the past four months go?  I really don’t get it and am having a really hard time coming to terms with it … soooo I think I’m just going to stay.


The next stop on our trip was Interlaken, Switzerland! I have wanted to go here for a while now – after seeing so many friends there, it looked absolutely amazing to me.  After too many train rides and 8 hours later, we made it there .. AMAZED at the fact that we were literally inside of the mountains.  It was incredible.  

Interlaken is a tiny town situated in a valley between two gorgeous lakes.  The town has no stoplights, which I absolutely loved.  People also smiled at us when we passed on the streets, which I haven’t had happen to me in a very long time – I loved it.  We walked a little ways to find our hostel, Balmers Herbage.  This hostel had some great reviews and it was on the list for one of the top hostels around …. False.  

We got there and checked into our room, which was the size of my closet with 3 bunks crammed in.  The bathrooms were in the hallways along with the showers – and these showers, in order for them to work, you have to hold the button down the whole time or else it will shut off .. just like the lights. Yep, I finished my shower in the dark.  Oh and we were kicked out of the hostel from 10:30-4PM because apparently it takes five hours to clean a room.  And this is all coming from someone who loves hostels.  Honestly I would prefer to stay in them over a hotel.  

Anyways, the hostel was undoubtedly the worst that we’ve stayed in, but it was manageable.  We dropped our stuff off and went walking through the town.  The place is so cute.  It is very rural, but with the typical Swiss stereotypical buildings you would think of.  There are some shopping areas but it is SO expensive! We didn’t buy much at all because of the prices .. it was worse than London!  What we did splurge on though was some Swiss chocolate.  Absolutely. Amazing.  They had so many different kinds so Heather and I bought some little truffles that had caramel or coffee or chocolate … it was probably some of the best chocolate I have ever had.  The day was almost over, so we headed back to the hostel to hang out.  

The next day we were planning on going up the mountains and I REALLY wanted to go paragliding, but it was rainy and cloudy and that weather never mixes well with mountains or doing things up in the sky.  So unfortunately, we spent the day on the ground.  We went walking to find the lakes though, and we got a pretty incredible view through them of the mountains and everything.  I absolutely loved Switzerland – I wish the weather would have cooperated more, but for what we had it was great.  

That night the Balmer’s bar was open so we decided to check it out.  We were invited over to some French guys table .. and you know the Frenchies .. super creepy.  Some Swiss army boys were there too running around the bar, and a group of American’s who were all really nice.  They went cliff jumping earlier in the day and say it was the scariest and greatest things they have ever done and recommended we do it.  I also met an Australian who is a sky diving instructor in Interlaken.  He talked to me all about sky diving and how I need to do it, and told me if I decided to the next day that I could go with him.  He was so convincing and cool, so I was completely prepared to wake up and go – and after he talked to Heather a bit, he kind of convinced her too, which is VERY hard to do.  

So we wanted to wake up the next morning and get to it, but unfortunately we didn’t wake up as early as we wanted and by the time we got out, it was already cloudy again.  But I’ve decided that before we leave we are doing something of the sorts. Especially now that Heather told me she’s ‘secretly’ always wanted to do something extreme like that.  As the bar was closing and we were ready to head upstairs, of course the Frenchies came back and tried to tell us they ‘lost their hotel key’ and had to stay in our room … ? Annoying.

The water really is THAT blue

Prettiest money I've ever seen

So today we woke up and got on the train to the Cinque Terre in Italy!  We are so so excited because A) it’s a beach and Heather has been crying about her beach withdrawal and B) we splurged on a hotel right on one of the cliffs looking out to the ocean, so we are real excited about that! The pictures look gorgeous, so hopefully the weather will work out for us this time!


The only German word I learned. It means Cobblestone. What?

After my parents left Heather and I were gone the next day to Munich, Germany!  This was the start of our spring break .. which is actually summer .. but whatever.  We are going to Munich, then over to Switzerland, then down and throughout Italy for about a week.  Currently I am sitting on a train through the mountains to Interlaken.

Germany was absolutely incredible!  We didn’t really know what we were going to do or why we were going there, but figured we should probably see Germany sometime.  It was amazing.  We got there in the afternoon and checked into our hostel, which was complete with a little indoor garden/relaxing area and a bar.  Pretty cool.  We dropped our stuff off in the room and headed out to check out the city.  Walking around, it kind of reminded me a lot of Prague, which is not a bad thing because I loved Prague.  There is a city center with a huge church that looks just like the one in Pragues Old Town Square.  Lots of shopping too!  We went walking and then found the Haufbrauhaus, which we’ve always heard you have to visit!  It didn’t take more than 5 minutes to be there to have someone come up to us.  This boy came up to us speaking slow and loud English saying “I AM FROM AMERICA” … he had to have felt pretty dumb when we told him we were too .. anyways he invited us over to his table for a beer and of course we’ll take a free drink any day.  Apparently he was some professional snowboarder or trying to be professional snowboard .. and we got into one of his videos to promote some stuff to get him sponsored.  Hahah it was prettttty weird.  But we got some free drinks which you can never complain about .. and these drinks were HUGE.  The glasses are bigger than my head, and I’m not exaggerating.  It was one of the coolest things, I loved it!  A young couple sat down at the table with us and they started talking to Heather and I while we were sitting with everyone.  They are both in the air force, she’s stationed in Germany and he just got back from Afghanistan which is just ureal .. he’s also living in Oklahoma City (where Heather lives) which is crazy!  For some reason we always tend to run into people who live where we do .. it’s great.  They were both SO nice though – probably sein ome of my favorite people I have met since I’ve been in Europe.  The four of us hung out for a few hours, chatting with other people, taking pictures, etc. etc.  We met an enormous group of Italians who were going out so we started walking around with them for a while, then realized we weren’t going anywhere and Heather and I ran off to get back to our hostel.  We stopped at the bar at our hostel for a quick drink and talked with the few people who were there, but the bar was closing soon so we weren’t there long.  We met some more great people though from Canada, Cali, Australia, etc.


ImageNot surprised







My future ADORABLE Germany baby


The next morning we woke up later than we wanted, but clearly we needed sleep so it was alright.  We went back to Haufbrauhaus to get our brothers some souvenirs, and then got on the train to go to Dachau, the first concentration camp that was built.  We walked through the main area, the sleeping quarters, the churches, memorial, and crematorium.  It was crazy to be there, especially after learning so much about it.  The place was so big and just felt empty.  It was weird.  But everything was so interesting and I’m so glad that we were able to see that.  I’ve always wanted to visit a concentration camp but never though I’d actually get the chance.









After the camp we went back to our hostel and stopped into the bar.  We met a couple guys who had just finished med school and law school … CRAZY smart!  We all went out to another beer hall near our hostel for a couple drinks, but ended up back at the hostel bar.  Heather and I wandered off and talked to a couple of friends we met from the night before and even met some that are living in London too!  The bar closed not too long after we got there again so we went into the little garden area and just all hung out until they kicked us out.  But everyone was so funny and so nice and it was just a completely perfect trip.  I loved Munich SO much more than I thought I would!  Definitely one of my favorite trips so far.

So now we are on our train to Interaken, Switzerland, and the view of the mountains and villages are just incredible.  I have been wanting to visit this place for a long time so I’m very excited!  I’m thinking about going paragliding tomorrow too, but we’ll see!

18 April 2012

Parents Weeeek!

After finishing my final paper for school, I found some time to finally update about the rest of my parents visit.  We were all pretty tired after Liverpool so when we got back to London we just relaxed for the day .. especially since the next day we were waking up to go to Paris! I’ve already been to Paris, and although it is a gorgeous city, it wasn’t my favorite place.  My mom really wanted to see it though so it was good, and everyone should see the Eiffel Tower at least once in their life! So we spent about a day and a half there walking around – we went to the Louvre, which oddly enough was closed the one day we had to go.  So we decided to go into Notre Dame instead, which was so nice! The church is beautiful and the inside was just full of stained glass, old architecture, etc. etc.  It was gorgeous.  We ate some delllicious food throughout the day too, of course … then went to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle! Paris may not be my favorite place, but I could watch that every night and never get bored with it.

So we had an early train back home to London the next day so we woke up, got some paintings and then got back in the afternoon.  I went back to my flat and did some things with Heather while my parents went sightseeing at Westminster Abbey and around there.  Thursday they went to Wimbledon and I .. um .. slept.  But that night we went to see LES MIS! Which is my favorite favorite favorite show … clearly .. I think I’ve mentioned seeing that show in every post.  We had amaaazing front row seats, the show was great and I still love it – and am probably going to see it when I get back to London in May – more than once – of course.

Friday I went to an art exhibition for a paper I had to write – it was a collection of different works that all related to homelessness and such.  It was put on by the Crisis charity that works towards victims of homelessness, so it was very neat to see! After I got back from there I went to my parents hotel for a bit before we went to Primark.  We bought soooo much stuff but my mom loved the place!  We got Heather after and went out to dinner and then on the London Eye! It’s something Heather and I have always wanted to do; I mean we see it outside of our flat when we walk to the tube every day – it’s basically asking us to come on.  The view was incredible and I just still can’t get over the fact that I am here.  I honestly feel like London is home to me now, I’ve become so accustomed to the place. I never want to leave!! Six weeks left. ONLY SIX WEEKS LEFT :'(

11 April 2012

Beatles Beatles Beatles!

So I left off after Holly left, which was a little while ago ... but with how many relative things we did it's probably better I just cram it all into one post.

Abbey Road Studios was where I last left off ... and it was AMAZING.  You've got to realize that you don't get through these gates unless you A) work there, B) are recording there, or C) Know someone personally who can get you in.  Some of the greatest music that has ever been recorded happened in this building- The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Hollies, Pink Floyd, etc etc etc etc. So it was a pretty big deal that we got to do this.

When we got there, we took some pictures on the stairs with everyone else who was going in as well.  When we got inside, we weren't allowed to take pictures anywhere until we got to Studio 2 .. which Heather and I got yelled at when we tried... whoops.  So we went straight to studio two, which is the studio where everything happened.  
It was so much bigger than I thought, with the control room upstairs.  There were chairs all around for the presentation that would go on after we got our pictures.  There were different mixers out that were used by the artists, including the oldest one in the world! There were also microphones that were used by everyone - including one mic that was The Beatles favorite .. they actually duct-taped their name to so that no one else would use it.  There were also the exact pianos that can be heard in The Beatles songs! It's still pretty difficult to wrap my head around the fact that we were in the actual room where everything went on.  
After about an hour and a half of pictures and roaming, we all sat down (in the red chairs that were alsooo used by The Beatles .. with our luck, I'm sure Heather and I were sitting in ones that were used by Paul and John) for the presentation.  
Two men who had wrote the bookRecording The Beatles were the presenters, and they were great!  They started from the opening of Abbey Road Studios (then known as EMI Studios) in the 1940s and talked about the different studios, their sizes and purposes, and the different artists that recorded there.  They went through the years and recordings by people, but of course spent the most time when we got to The Beatles.  They talked about how they recorded and everything - it was pretty crazy how different they did things from everyone else.  They would record inside the control room, which wasn't even supposed to be entered by the musicians, they would put a mic at the top of a stairwell and a drum set at the bottom and record it for the different effect, they would record things inside of the echo chamber, record themselves tapping their legs or a book for a background beat etc. etc. You can clearly see how creative and experimental they were .. but I'd say it worked pretty well.

After they explained all their different processes, they asked for any piano players in the audience.  They grabbed four different people and brought them to the pianos that The Beatles played on, gave them some chords to play and then let them have a go at it.  It was the last chord in 'A Day in the Life'!  This is one of the most famous final chords in music history, so to be able to hear it on the actual pianos that it was recorded on, in the actual room it was recorded in, was just mind blowing.

So they finished up the tour and we went out to the Abbey Road Studios bar and backyard garden.  We got a cider and just sat in the back a bit, soaking it all in.  We took a couple of more pictures then headed out, although it was pretty difficult .. I'm sure Heather would have pitched a tent in the backyard if it were possible.


The next week was basically just anticipation for Paul McCartney on Thursday ... I was SO. EXCITED. Monday-Wednesday I pretty much did schoolwork and only schoolwork.  End of the year papers and presentations and stuff have been taking up a lot of my time.  When Thursday came around I was dying.  We got to the Royal Albert Hall, which is huge!  I have always wanted to see this place, so I was killing two birds with one stone with this concert.  The anniversary concerts for a lot of Broadway shows have been here (Phantom, Les Mis, Chess, etc.) .. so I've always wanted to see what it's like inside.  
The place is so so big, but every seat is still good.  We sat in the Gallery, which was one balcony from the top balcony, but our seats were still great!  When he came on I couldn't even believe it.  I was seeing Paul McCartney .. live .. in person .. what?  Unreal. He started off with Magical Mystery Tour and then sang a bunch of other songs from his album and oldies from The Beatles.  My favorites were probably Here Today, Nineteen Hundred Eighty Five, Hey Jude, and Golden Slumbers/The End.  During Hey Jude the whole audience sang it together and it was so cool!  It's still too surreal that I'm doing so many crazy things like this .. I never thought I would have the chance to.


So the weekend after this, I was pretty much a hermit.  I had to create a website and write two papers, so I tried to get all of that done before Heathers and my parents came.  The final four was that Saturday too, which of course I was loving UofL and UK playing each other .. and didn't mind KU in the other side for Heather's sake. Lucky for us UK and KU, our teams, made it into the championship! How crazy?  
Heather's parents flew in on Monday morning, so we all went to watch the championship game .. but here in London, that game was at 230AM.  We headed out to a sports bar that was playing the game .. strangely enough we were surrounded by a couple of KU fans who go to OKState, just like Heather .. and a drunk annoying UK girl.  We got some food and had some drinks and watched the Cats win ... it was a great night .. for me.  Hahaha, Heather and her parents were alright though, and there were 3252 KU fans there so there wasn't too much craziness when UK won, minus the girl whose chanting and cheering was enough for 20 UK fans.

               KU Fans                                                     aaaaaand all the UK fans..

My parents got to London on Thursday morning, and I went out to see them at their hotel .. I had to finish my website though so I ran out to campus to get that done.  After I finally finished, I met them for dinner at a cute Italian restaurant.  That was about it for the night - we were waking up early to go to LIVERPOOL!

You can probably start to see how much I love this place, because my last post started with a trip I took to Liverpool as well.  It's a pretty great place.  We rode the train out there and got to our hotel, then headed out for a bit.  I showed my parents around the place and took them to some of the Beatles stuff.  We met up with Heather and her parents after they finished a tour they had and all grabbed some dinner together.  
You can probably guess where we went after this ... The Cavern Club!  There was an acoustic guy playing at first so we all sat down with some drinks and enjoyed the show .. The Rockits, a cute rock band came on after that and by this time we were all up and dancing.  The Rockit's were amazing!  We met them after the show for a picture and they told us that they might be going to Abbey Road on the River next summer in Louisville! I'd probably freak out. We headed out of The Cavern after they finished, and it was maybe 130AM by this time .. and you know parents - it was way past their bed time.

                                                                                           We signed the lights...
and the bathroom.....                                                 and the doors....

and the walls....                                                   and on the mirror...

               and on the cieling........                               and on the flyers ... oops. We're annoying.

The next morning we woke up early for a tour that we booked to go inside the houses that John Lennon and Paul McCartney grew up in!  We went to John's house first, where we were told about John living with his Aunt, how strict she was and the first time that Paul came over and met her.  She thought he was going to be some low life Scouse boy, but he surprised her with his good manners.  
We looked at some old photographs and went into the room where Paul and John first played together, and John's bedroom.  It is so hard for me to imagine being in the same places, but it was so cool!  
We went to Paul's house next where we saw a lot of photographs that haven't been released to public, his bedroom, and the backyard where he used to crawl up their gutter pipe to get into the house!  We heard so many stories of the boys and when they were growing up .. it was such a great tour!


After this, we went back down to the Cavern Club to watch The Shakers and Jay Murray play!  Jay Murray called us out again, asking where we are from and then teasing us a bit before playing some music.  He's so funny and I loooove his shows! 
The Shakers were as cute as ever, except their lead singer, Eddie, was missing!  He was sick, so there was only three of them, but they still did a great job!  I always love seeing them .. hopefully will be able to one more time before I head home (hint hint Heather! ;) ) ... This ended our trip to Liverpool, but I had an absolutely amazing time, but I never expect anything less there.  It's definitely my favorite place I've visited.

My parents and I headed to Paris earlier this week, but I'll update on that later on this week.  They leave on Saturday, so we have some time to spend in London before they go.  Heather and I start our 'Spring Break trip that is actually just a summer trip since classes are over' on Sunday!  
We are flying out to Munich, Germany, then going to Interlaken, Switzerland, and then cruising around Italy for a while.  I am so excited for this trip and to be able to see everything, but starting to get that horrible feeling that it's all ending very soon.  
With classes over, I realize that time is going to fly by and before I know it I'll be on a plane back to America.  I have never loved a place or trip so much that I had no desire to ever leave.  Of course I miss my roommates, friends, and puppy, but I'd be a lot happier if I could just ship them all out here with me.  I still have a month and a half though, sooooooooo I'm going to do my best not to focus on leaving and just experience Europe a little more.  I can't wait!


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