Travel to Europe with me!

I can’t believe 52 days ago I left for Europe. I thought I would absolutely love London, go to the South of France and hate Paris.

Little did I know that I would have no desire to go back to London (EVER) and I could spend a month or maybe even a year in Paris.

Sorry for the delay in blogging…I have been on the go! So here goes a BRIEF overview of Switzerland. Though I’m not going to write a lot, my trip was jammed packed and wonderful.

As we left Lake Como for Zurich, neither Rachael nor I wanted to go. However, just like ever other place in Europe, minus Venice, we loved it! Typical.  

Here are the bullets of my less than 48 hour trip to Switzerland:

  • Zurich has 1.3 million people, making it the largest city in Switzerland
  • Switzerland has eight million people total, 20 percent of whom are foreigners
  • I spent 17 franks at Starbucks for a latte and a croissant
  • Two beautiful rivers go through Zurich
  • 13 percent of the alps are in Switzerland (I thought like 90 percent…little did I know!)
  • Switzerland is referred to the “Water Castle of Europe”
  • In the 19th century, 60 percent of the population were farmers. Today, only 4 percent are farmers
  • The first tourists were the British in the 18th century
  • Switzerland declared its neutrality in 1823 after thousands of their mercenaries were killed in France under King Louis XVI and Maria Antoinette’s rule
  • Switzerland produces 450 types of cheese. Thus, to them, there is no actual Swiss cheese. Their most famous are mozzarella and gruyere
  • There are four national languages: German, French, Italian and English. However, many speak Swiss-German although they all learn High German in grade school
  • They have a senate and a congress like America. However, they do not have a president. They elect seven people as high representative and out of those seven they choose one to be the presidential representative
  • Currently, the rep is a woman (GIRL POWER!)
  • It is the first time in history that of the seven rep’s there are four women and three men (YOU GO GIRLS!)
  • Swiss chocolate smells as good as it taste
  • You can hear the cow’s bells from almost anywhere. Every cow wears a bell so the farmer can hear them

Other than learning those facts, we went on a tour of Zurich, Lucern (the central capitol) and Mount Pilatus. It was absolutely gorgeous and I throughly enjoyed myself. On the tour we took a boat on the lake in Lucern and went on the worlds steepest cog-wheel. How many people can say that?

Because I love giving restaurant suggestions, I have one for Zurich. You MUST go to Taos. We almost missed it. It’s tucked away and hidden, but it was absolutely delish. Rachael and I had a three course meal (we got really good at doing that in Europe) and I think I ate just about every bite. Welcome to the clean plate club!

If you want to know more about my experience in Switzerland, call me or email me because I’m trying to keep this short. 

On to our final destination: Paris.

I went in with little expectations. Only two friends of mine have loved Paris, so I automatically thought I wouldn’t be that fond of it either. News flash: Don’t always listen to your friends.

We spent two and a half days there and I think I could’ve stayed at least six months.

Just to keep you on your toes, I’m ending this blog post here because I need to run some errands.

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Gah, I really really really wish I had longer in Lake Como. It’s absolutely gorgeous and incredibly relaxing.

Today I fried. I fell asleep about mid-afternoon directly under the sun. Whoops. And, it was even cloudy today!

One of the views from an outdoor pool at the GrandHotel Tremezzo (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

I hope this color last until I get home. No peeling, please!

I had my fair share of Italian food today because it is my last day in this beautiful country until the “money-God” fills my bank account again. (I’m keeping my fingers crossed it’s next summer).  While my four cheese pizza for lunch was superburb, my dinner was off the chart. It started with a caprese salad with three big chunks of buffalo mozzarella and ripe cherry tomatoes. My main course was a petite filet-like piece of lasagna. I think it was the best lasagna I have ever had–sorry mom! Your’s is still mouth-watering delicious 🙂

Then, it was only proper to say good-bye to Italy by finishing off our stay with two scoops of gelato! Mhmm!

I am sad to say good-bye but my body is probably happy…I’m not too sure it likes carrying around an extra 20 pounds…

Our trip to Italy will officially come to an end after a morning at the spa. Rach is getting a neck/shoulder message and I’ll hopefully be getting my nails done (my grandmother would be appalled if she saw my toenails currently). If I can’t get an appointment getting my nails “did,” I’ll be next in line for a message. Or, as people in Barcelona say, “messa-hey.”

Though I have no idear what we are going to be doing in Zurich, Switzerland, I am pumped to visit…As long as we visit the Swiss Chocolate Factory!

I can’t believe I have less than a week left in Europe. Time has really flown.

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My eyes are in heaven. I don’t even want to close them when I lay out.

Looking out the window while rolling up to the train station in Como, I had the feeling in my bones I was going to be in love. I saw endless rolling hills filled with what appeared to be small cottages.

I was in awe for the whole 45-minute drive around Lake Como to our hotel. And, again when I saw our hotel.

The floating pool from Grand Hotel Tremezzo in Lake Como (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

Let’s just say, I think our hotel has a total of four pools. One is an indoor infinity pool and three are outdoors. My favorite is the the pool located only a few feet off shore. It’s literally floating in the lake.

After Rach and I dropped our bags in our room and threw on our suits, we basically ran and jumped into the floating pool. When boats would go by, the pool moves. It was the weirdest feeling because it feels like you are actually swimming in the lake.

While that pool is extremely awesome and brings out my inner 10-year-old self, the view is what is most important.

From our hotel (and the floating pool) we can see the Grigne mountains and the Swiss Alps.

Our hotel sits on the Bellagio part of the lake, which is where two different branches of the lake meet.

A view of where the Swiss Alps and Gigne mountains meet on the Bellagio section of Lake Como (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

Apparently the lake is in a “Y” shape, and the Bellagio, which is also known as the “Pearl Lake,” is where the two sections meet.

Across the lake from our hotel is Villa Carlotta. After doing some research, I found out this Villa was built in 1690 for the Milanese marchese Giorgio Clerici. The villa acquired its current name when it was purchased by Princess Marianne of Nassau as a wedding present for her daughter Carlotta in 1843. Today, it is a garden and a museum.

As the third largest lake in Italy, it is my number one vacation spot. It’s relaxing, yet it seems like it attracts a younger crowd. After more browsing, I found that is a hot spot for weddings. If I ever get married, I would not oppose to honey-mooning here!

It’s a small world after all. At dinner tonight there was family of four at the table next to ours. Both Rach and I thought they were not from America. However, after they asked us where we were from, they told us they now live in Nashville, but their boys grew up in Dallas and Houston. Who would’ve thunk it!

Tomorrow is dedicated to soaking up the sun, swimming in the floating pool and MAYBE taking a trip to the spa. If you are searching for your next vacation spot, I 100 percent suggest Lake Como!

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Venice has been great but I’m ready to get away from tourist. Yes, I know I am a tourist, but this city is too small and narrow for all these people!

I’m keeping this blog post short because I’m exhausted and need to go to bed. However, I will say Venice is a precious city. It is my second time here and I’d say the only draw back is how many people try to squeeze into this small space!

Because Rachael and I are beach lovers, we decided to dedicate one of our three days to the beach. NO. DO NOT DO IT. We headed to Lido for the day, and we concluded that it was the nastiest beach we have ever been to. The only good thing was people watching, which is by far one of my favorite hobbies. The sand was brown. The water felt like bath water. YUCK.

I couldn’t even take a picture. That is saying a lot. I didn’t want to look at it, which meant y’all didn’t want to see it either.

Our favorite part of the day was evening after dinner. All three nights we ended up at San Marco’s Piazza and rotated among the three restaurants. Here, each restaurant had live music and outdoor seating.

I swear Rach and I are geezers.

Our bottle of wine and snacks from Florians, a restaurant established in 1720 in San Marco's Piazza, in Venice (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

Florians, which has been around since 1720, was hands down our favorite place, and I think it was the crowds as well. Not only did it have the best music and the best dessert, but the waiters would also keep our wine glasses full (always a plus).

Today, our last day, we went to the Isle of Murano, which is known for its glass blown Venetian glass. I’m glad we went even though we didn’t stay long. We stumbled upon a factory that let us watch a demonstration of how glass is made.

A Murano glass maker demonstrating how glass is made in Murano, Italy (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

My favorite part was at the end when the glass was sitting to cool and the man who made the object, not sure what his proper name is, put a piece of newspaper on the glass. It literally went up in flames and burned.

When we got back to Venice we went on a gondola ride with a Spanish family. Entertaining as you can imagine. After that, we went to the home of the Bellini: Harry’s Bar. All we needed was one sip to know they know had to make a Bellini. Delicious!

Although we are leaving Venice tomorrow, our trip to Italy is not over. We are heading to Lake Como in the morning. This will be a first for me and after looking at Google images, I think I will love it!

(My internet is weak right now, but I’ll add photos from Venice soon.)

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Hands down today was my favorite day of the trip so far!

Rachael’s dad’s friend was in Florence not too long ago and did a bike tour in the countryside of Tuscany, starting in San Gimignano. He said it was a “must do” so of course we couldn’t resist.

When we woke up, we headed to the bus station only to find it way too confusing to figure out how to get to San Gimignano. Thus, we took a lovely taxi ride. Hey, we do go to SMU, right…

Anyhoo, after driving over multiple rolling hills, we decided it might be better to get Vespas. When we arrived we learned that they only had one Vespa left…there was no way in the world Rach and I were going to ride on it together. So, we rented two scooters (which are basically less-powered Vespas).

Rachael has had experience on a scooter but I was a beginner. After a uh…30-second lesson? We were on our own! First of all, we had no idea where we were going and second of all, I was still trying to get comfortable on my scooter.

We headed the wrong direction. We were scootering along the highway, next to fast cars, tour buses and SUVs.

After running into Rachael as we tried to turn around and losing my diet coke (which I would later want), we headed back into town.

We were starved. After scarfing down a whole pizza each we were back on the road.

This time we were headed in the right direction. Except, we hit one major problem. Rach thought it would be a good idea to go off-roading. We learned quickly to NEVER to that again. I have never been so scared for my life. Here is a play by play of what happened:

  • I hit the gas instead of the break as we headed down the steep hill
  • Approximately 100 feet later we realized we had reached a dead end on private property
  • Rachael headed back up the hill only to find it was too steep so she hit the gas and flew off her scooter
  • As I watched from the bottom, I swore she was a goner. Her bike went one way and she kind of followed it.
  • Thank the lord the chicken coop stopped her, and her vespa, from going over the side.
  • I was too scared to try and go up the hill now. I looked for an alternate route. No luck.
  • Now, Rachael was making her way to the top and I was still stuck at the bottom.
  • There was one thing to do: I gunned it and jumped on my scooter.

PHEW!! I made it! I whizzed past Rachael and told her I would meet her at the top. Great friend I am, right?

A section of the grapes in one of the Vineyards in the Tuscany countryside in San Gimignano in Italy (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

Well, once we both made it safely to the top we decided it would be best if we rested after our near heart-attack experience. We were planning on one person staying with the scooters while the other one walked back to get a tow truck. That would’ve been embarrassing.

We cooled off next to a vineyard. It was so pretty. However, we had no idea what we were about to see with our own two eyes (four eyes total).

After taking a 10-minute breather we were ready to get back on our scooters.

What we saw next was a sheet of yellow: sunflowers. Literally, it was hill after hill covered in sunflowers. It was so beautiful. I had no idea that Italy, or rather Tuscany, had sunflower fields.

Wild sunflowers growing on the rolling hills in the Tuscan countryside of San Gimignano (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

After riding around for about six hours, we stopped at a small vineyard for a wine tasting.

Though the house and picnic table area was small, we learned that this vineyard is the largest in the San Gimignano region. They had eight wines: six white, two red. We tried two whites and a red. I really think it was some of the best wine I have ever tried. And, I must say that is a lot now that I have visited Italy twice.

As a small token of my appreciation to my parents for allowing me to travel, I sent each of them three bottles of wine. Maybe if I’m lucky they will wait to try them until I return home.

Over all, San Gimignano is a cute town. VERY small, though. We biked through and saw everything. We did learn that Michelangelo helped design and decorate the town. Of course that made it a winner in my book.

Truzzi and Puthod vineyard, which is the largest in the San Gimignano region of Italy. This vineyard is known for its five white and three red wines (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

When we got back to Florence, I took Rachael to my favorite restaurant, Antica Trattoria da Tito. Last summer I ate there twice (and I was only in Florence three days). It’s tucked away in the residential area of Florence, but the food and service is wonderful. Last summer I made friends with one the waiters, Marco, so it was imperative I go back and say hi.

I’m so glad we did. It made our day that much better. Let me just say, we had two bottles of wine, a glass of Rose, an appetizer, a first course, a main course and some dessert cheese…FOR FREE. I can’t even begin to guess how much we spent.

At the end of the night, because we were the last ones to leave, Marco and the owner of the restaurant joined us at our table for shots of limoncello (free, again!).

That concludes my trip to Florence. I was sad to leave but I know I will be back again (just a matter of when).

Next stop: Venice.

Ciao!

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After our 12-hour sleep, we were (somewhat) rested and ready to wander the streets of Florence.

Our hotel is right by the river, so walked across the bridge that is lined with antique jewelry and other jewelry stores. Obviously we took our sweet time and tried on about a dozen different rings. Rachael fell in love with a 5,000 euro ring. I think that is the most expensive piece of jewelry I have ever, and will ever, try on.

A view of the Duomo from the second tear of the bell tower in Florence, Italy (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

There is something about Florence that just makes me smile. I love the piazza’s and little markets.

After browsing, and making some small purchases, we headed towards the Duomo.

Last summer I climbed to the top of the Duomo so we decided to climb the bell tower instead. After walking up 414 steps, we reached the top! Although it is awesome to be able to say I have climbed the Duomo, I think I would almost recommend climbing the bell tower instead. Being able to look at the Duomo from there is spectacular. And, the view was better in my opinion too because you could see more of Florence from this side of the Duomo.

From one height to the next. When we got back to our hotel, after more  browsing, we decided we would venture to the rooftop balcony for a wine and cheese tasting.

I swear we are two old people. I think we were the youngest people at our hotel, let alone being the ones to do the wine tasting. Oh well! I loved it!

For more pictures of the view from the bell tower, visit my Facebook album from Florence.

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Ah, Firenze. It was good to be back!

Though I went to Florence twice last summer, this experience was completely different. Our first night we were exhausted after our big adventures in Barcelona, so we took it easy. We dropped our bags at the hotel and headed for dinner.

After asking the concierge for a good restaurant, we walked down the street to The Golden View. I had low expectations because it reminded me of The Golden Corral. Boy was I wrong!

Best.meal.of.my.life. Not only was our wine divine, but our appetizer and main dish were scrumptious. I’ve decided I would make the worst food critic because I’m awful at describing food. Rachael and I tried to describe our dishes to each other at dinner but it was just too hard! However, we had the best focaccia with buffalo mozzarella and tomato and then she had gnocchi and I had pizza with spicy salami.

And, to top off our night we ended with gelato!

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Our last day in Barcelona was a hoot. If I could replay the whole day I would.

As we parted ways the night before, Rachael and I told Nicolette (my friend from Memphis) that we were going to the Picasso Museum at 10 a.m. sharp. At 10:10 a.m. I got a text from Nicolette saying, “wait for me, I am coming!!!!” I glanced at it and closed my eyes. Then, around 10:20 a.m. our hotel phone would not stop ringing. You guessed it, Nicolette was in our lobby.

We finally got out of bed, decided as a unit that we were tired and wanted to go to the beach instead of a museum. So, that is just what we did.

It was PERFECT beach weather and Nic and I had the grand idea to try and fit in as locals. We went topless. So liberating.

We put our tops back on when Joe and Adam (the two SMU boys) met up with us. We had heard Barcelona has a pick-pocketing problem but we hadn’t witnessed it yet. Joe informed us that he was basically humped the night before so a man could steal his wallet. Thank the lord he’s an athlete because he chased the man down and got everything back.

Then, while we were laying out the girl next to us went for a dip in the ocean. I was half paying attention and Joe was reading but we noticed this man, in a swim suit, approach the girl’s bag and grab her iPhone. He looked at us, and we looked at him, and I’m pretty sure we mumbled something because the girl’s friend turned around. The thief said something along the lines of, “is this your phone? It was lying in the sand over there.” The girl thanked him and he walked away.

Well, that was not true. He reached in to her bag and felt around for it.

Around 3 p.m., Rach, Nic and I headed back to the hotel. As we walked in the concierge immediately stopped us and asked if we were in room 304. We weren’t, so we kept heading for the elevator. But, no. Then she sharply said, then you’re the girls in 309.

That got our attention.

“We’ve been looking for you all day!” (Lies- my phone never rang once). “Check out time was at 12 p.m. Now, we can’t sell your room for the night. Gather your things as quickly as possible, please.”

She didn’t have to tell us twice! Except, we both showered, took two water bottles, two bags of chips and a coke zero from the minibar before heading to the airport.

Now, she probably really is looking for us with a “WANTED” sign…

We laughed the whole way to the airport.

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Barcelona: Dia tres (and the best day so far)

I knew today was going to be a great day when we discovered the Starbucks on our block. Once I had an iced venti skinny vanilla latte in my hand, Rachael and I began exploring the city.

The front facade of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

From our hotel we can see a huge bell tower under construction. From the sunset balcony we believed this was the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia. Upon standing in front of it, we were baffled. It wasn’t that “gothic” nor was it that big. And, the line was short. In fact, there was no line. Well, that was because it was the Cathedral of Barcelona! It’s pretty but nothing to write home about. Once we acquired a map, we headed for the church we had intended on seeing in the first place.

Two words: Enormous and detailed. I’ve never seen a basilica with so much detail. Clearly it is the main tourist attraction because the line to go inside wrapped around the block. We had too much to do than wait in line. However, we took a good 15 to 20 minutes of just admiring and digesting what our eyes were taking in. The church still isn’t finished but a large portion of the facade is complete. To one side there are spires with large mosaic fruit bowls. Then in the center, there is a large christmas tree and what appeared to be spires with presents. On the tree are beautiful white doves. There was so much detail that it was hard to distinguish what the scenes were. I’m almost positive on the front is a nativity scene and I think over the main doors is Mary holding up baby Jesus. Though the church is incomplete, UNESCO already made it a World Heritage Site.

Gaudi, the architect for the Sagrada Familia, also designed Park Guell, another site recognized by UNESCO. Well, Rachael and I didn’t realize it would be such a hike from the metro…After about a 10 minute uphill walk, we reached the gates. Little did we know, once we entered the park we would have to hike up more stairs.

A section of the sea serpent mosaic bench designed by Gauldi in Park Gruell in Barcelona, Spain (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

But, it was worth it. Its a 15 hectacre garden with mosaic sculptures and benches. The main terrace has sea serpent curving bench. The serpent is designed with different mosaic designs representing Catalan motifs.

The park is on a hill, so once you’re inside the park you have a view of both the ocean and the mountains.

The highest point of the park has a large cross at the top with two smaller crosses. As you know, I’m terrified of heights but not as bad as one Asian girl who literally hugged the ground. She crawled because she was so scared. I felt bad for laughing but I just could not help it.

I could probably talk about this park for days because the view was spectacular but I would be blabbing.

Though it started raining in the afternoon, we decided to walk around La Ramba street. According to Barcelona’s tourist attractions website, this is a must see. And, I would agree. The street is gorgeous as trees overlap across the median. But, what makes this street completely worth visiting is La Boqueria.

One of the many stands in the market off of La Ramba street in Barcelona, Spain (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

As one of the most colorful markets I have ever seen, La Boqueria is an indoor market bursting with color. People wander row of stands with fresh fruit, fruit juices, candy, empanadas, cheese, fish and meat. I enjoyed fresh mangoes and strawberries as Rachael drank a chocolate coconut and banana smoothie. We obviously could not pass up the cheese stand, so we bought some brie and a bottle of red wine to enjoy later. (As I write this post, the brie is already gone). Everything was so fresh! If I lived here, I’d go everyday.

And last but not least, Rachael and I were dying to see the Picasso Museum. Maybe she wasn’t dying, but I was. After walking up and down 20 different streets and asking about 30 different people were it was, we found it. It was closed. You would’ve thought one of the 30+ people we asked for directions would have informed us that it is closed on Mondays. Cool, thanks. At least we know where it is for tomorrow.

I can’t wait for tonight! Two of my friends from home, Nicolette and Wes, are in Barcelona so we are going to celebrate the 4th together. The SMU boys are still here and Rach has a friend from UT here as well, so it’s bound to be a good night.

After going to the Picasso Museum tomorrow and soaking up some last minute sun, we are headed to Firenzia (Florence).

Happy 4th of July!! Enjoy a burger and hotdog for me 🙂

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Barcelona: Dia Dos

The beach in Barcelona (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

After a much needed sleep (probably because we were out until 6 a.m.) Rachael and I hit up the beach. Some SMU boys are in Barcelona too, so we met them there. Though it is the Mediterranean Sea it is not nearly as gorgeous as Lagos, Portugal. The beach is long but narrow and every other person is topless…including me. JUST KIDDING. I should give it credit though because it is beautiful.

Vendors are plentiful and they aren’t afraid to wake you up to ask if you’d like to buy a dress or get a henna tattoo. However, the most interesting vendor approached me while I was “asleep.” Once I realized there was a shadow over me, and it wasn’t moving, I opened my eyes to see a dark man hiding his arms in a sketchy manner. Once he realized I was awake he bent down, moved his scarf to the side and said, “You look like you could enjoy this.” In his hand he held multiple marijuana packets. Woah. I looked around to make sure I wasn’t in Amsterdam. Yeah, no I was still in Spain. I made the mistake of saying, “Uhh, come back later?”

After cooling off in the sea, the man noticed Rach and I drying off on the beach. He winked, and made his move. Again, he bent down to our level and tried to make us a deal. This time, he offered us cocaine too. Thank the lord there were two of us this time to get him to go away. I’m pretty sure that’s not legal here even though he tried to convince us it was.

On the way back to our hotel to take our siesta, we walked through the port. Lined up along the water was a mini-market with vendors selling fans, jewelry, clothes and other knick-knacks. I skimmed through those only to find myself first in line to get gelato and a super sized hot dog. Typical. Once I got my snacks, Rach and I sat by the port and just took in Barcelona.

A Picasso Statue in the streets of Barcelona, Spain (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

I love this city! There are amazing pieces of sculpture found throughout the city. So far, my favorite one is a large mosaic that looks like Picasso made it. Because Picasso lived in Barcelona for a good portion of his life, and Barcelona houses his museum, this statue is probably one of his. I absolutely love it! Once I can upload photos I’ll add it.

Back at our hotel, Rach and I ventured up to the rooftop sunset balcony. I’m extremely terrified of heights but the view was spectacular! With a glass of sangria in our hand, we enjoyed the mountains to our right and the ocean to our left.

After our siesta, we headed to the W Hotel. I wish I was staying there. I am not surprised it won the best international hotel award. The view from the bar on the 24th floor was breathtaking. I sipped on it’s classic watermelon martina while devouring chicken yakatori and pineapple. Muy delicioso!

Tomorrow is a day of site seeing so check back soon! Again, I apologize for not being able to upload pictures yet! The internet in my hotel is not the best…

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Barcelona: The European city that never sleeps.

Day One:

Rachael and I landed around 8 p.m., got to our hotel around 9:30 p.m. and then went out at 11:30 p.m. After a day of traveling I was ready to get all dolled up. I put on my cute neutral wedges and Rach and I met up with her friend from Mississippi State. My wedges should’ve stayed in my suitcase.

I thought I’d say good-bye to the tube forever when I left London. However, Barcelona has its own underground. Traveling in Spanish is a wee bit harder than English, but there are fewer lines and lines are organized by color, which makes it pretty simple.

A marsh-mellow shot on fire at one of the Chupito Bars in Barcelona, Spain (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

As I said a few lines ago, Barcelona never sleeps. We started off our night at a shot bar. I’m bringing this idea back to America. It’s genius. The first shot I took included a marsh-mellow and fire. If I had to guess, I’d say over half the shots incorporated fire into the mix. While it tasted good and it was fun to watch, the fire made the small shot bar without air conditioning extremely hot.

There was a group of about 30 deaf people in the shot bar. I have never seen a group love life so much. They were signing to each other (obviously) and dancing. I’m not sure they were on beat to the music but it was an interesting dynamic. As someone who loves people watching, I thoroughly enjoyed this.

We ended our night at Opium, which is a club on the beach. If you’ve ever been to Barcelona, I’m sure you’ve either been there or heard of it. I’ve never seen anything like it! There were multiple VIP sections and dancers. The male dancer was mighty cute but he couldn’t dance…

Somehow Rachael’s friend got us into the VIP section so we enjoyed a night of free drinks! Can’t complain about that. With that being said, Rach and I didn’t make it back to our hotel until 6 a.m. And, to top it off: Breakfast was being served when we arrived.

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Why did I decide it would be a good idea to go to Camden Town the day I leave London? I am OBSESSED. Literally, tent after tent, store after store of crafts, jewelry, clothes, handbags, watches, food, you name it.

It’s definitely spices up London. Your traditional straight faced, frowning and focused man is not found there. The suits and briefcases are left at home and people covered in tattoos and piercings with dreads to the ground roam the market.

I couldn’t pass up some cute bracelets and after a five minute debate with myself I decided I had to get a hair wrap. Basically, I’m growing a dread…or, I’ll have a chunk of hair missing when I take it out. It’s purple, blue and gray with little brown jewels wrapped into my hair. I absolutely love it! I want more.

As you walk through the tents, aromas from around the world flood your nose. Rachael and Elyse tried a Turkish wrap. It looked soooo good, as did the Pakistani food and the fist-size steamed dumplings. Though all the food smelled absolutely amazing I wasn’t brave enough to try it. So, I settled for a Polish sausage. Pretty tasty if I do say so myself!

I wish I didn’t have food allergies. While I could find lunch to satisfy my taste buds, it’s really hard to resist dessert. Elyse had been talking about the scrumptious churros we could get at Camden since we hopped the tube on Baker Street. Holy moly. She and Rach spilt a churro filled with caramel. Never had I just wanted to eat something and see if I had reaction before. It looked and smelled like heaven. But, I wasn’t ready to find out if eating it would send me there… You can also get chocolate filled churros or a combination of chocolate and caramel. Just writing about it makes me crave one and I didn’t even have a bite!

With 45 minutes to spare before it was time to head to Heathrow, Rachael and I decided we should probably see Buckingham Palace. Over-rated. Green Park was prettier to me than the huge palace with marching guards. If I was the Queen, I’d buy a flat. Although it is probably gorgeous on the inside, I’d hate to look out my window and see hundreds of tourists. I’ll thank my lucky stars that Sarah only means “Princess” instead of actually being part of the Royal Family.

Now, I can officially say my good-byes to Londontown. Sadly, I think I will actually miss it now… ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It feels like yesterday that I was standing in my closet debating what to pack for my summer adventure in Europe.

It’s 1:02 a.m. in London and as I look around my dorm room the only thing left to pack is my bed sheets. I’m honestly not ready to leave. This was one of the best summers I have had- probably because I was truly blessed to be united with a great group of people.

It’s funny to think, five weeks ago I walked off a plane in London where I knew maybe a grand total of three people in my program. Thinking back to my first blog post about Rachael and my “new friend” Liz falling in the tube makes me chuckle. Little did I know that this “new friend” would travel with me to Scotland, Amsterdam and Ireland. Oh, how time flies!

On our first Sunday in London we went to The Globe for a drink (you might remember from my previous blog- the ole Persian man bought us champagne) and tonight, our last night in London, we went back to celebrate a fantastic month. On that first Sunday there were approximately eight SMU students. While it was fun and a memory I will never forget, we were having small talk. It was clear we didn’t know each other and the Stellas were helping break the silence. Tonight, I would say the majority of our group gathered together. And, we were goofing off the whole time.

We’ve become a family in London. A family I really am going to miss.

Though I am sad to say my good-byes tomorrow at 10 a.m., I am THRILLED to embark on my second set of adventures! Tomorrow Rachael and I are headed to Barcelona! I believe I’ll have internet as I travel to these other places, so check in often because I will have more time to blog (no more school…YES!).

Oh, I mustn’t forget!! Before we say our final farewell to London tomorrow, Rachael and I are planning on walking across Abbey Road. My one regret in London is concentrating too much on school and not exploring enough. Maybe I’ll have enough time tomorrow to cram in a few more touristy things! Fingers crossed of course…

Cheerio London! Hola Espana!

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I can officially say I have been to a concert in another country!

After a fun-filled weekend full of consuming Guinness and potatoes and hiking the Irish countryside, Rachael and I decided we weren’t ready to dive back in to school work.

Rachael Borne and I enjoying Rod Stewart at the Hard Rock Calling concert.

Thus, we enjoyed our beautiful Sunday afternoon in Hyde Park. We danced and sung along to Rod Stewart’s greatest hits. It reminded me a lot of Austin City Limits (ACL) but was a tiny bit cooler because it was in London (maybe…I do look forward to ACL every year…).

There were grannies to my left and grannies to my right. Rach and I stood out like sore thumbs. Occasionally some people in their mid-twenties would walk by. Occasionally. However, we must credit our mothers for introducing us to one of the greatest rock stars. Man can he still swing those hips!

Rod Stewart singing at the Hard Rock Calling concert in Hyde Park in London on June 26, 2011 (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

Although he isn’t one of the singers who floods pop radio stations like Lady Gaga, Beyonce or Lil Wayne, Rod Stewart still has it in him.

He was dancing all over the stage, shaking it left and right and making jokes with the crowd. Honestly, it was one of the best concerts I have ever been to. I think all of the older people were surprised Rachael and I were enjoying ourselves so much!

Highlight of the concert: When he played “Maggie May.” It will always be one of my favorite songs! (I’ll try and upload a video later).

While I wasn’t jumping up and down and hootin’ and a-hollering, the crowd went wild when Stevie Nicks made her grand appearance. There were also two other special appearances, although Rachael and I couldn’t understand who they were… Our bad. I do know one of their names was Bruce…not Springsteen, and the other one came out to sing “Maggie May.”

Although I was hesitant to go to the concert because I had a lot of school work to do, I am glad I went. I mean how often will I have the opportunity to hear Rod Stewart live, in London nonetheless, for one pound and 50 pence?

As you all are aware, I have only four more days in London. However, my journey does not end! After this, Rach and I are headed to Barcelona, Italy, Switzerland and France. Hope you guys are ready for more lots of blog posts because I will not longer have to concentrate on school. Yippee!

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I apologize for not having a blog post sooner, but I have been swamped with school work (only two more days!).

While I did not meet my future husband in Ireland, I did fall in love. With the country that is!

Although my mother has sworn I would meet my husband in the land of my ancestors, I just do not think I had enough time to find him. Three days went by way too quickly! I guess a return trip is essential for my future?

Our trip started off on the wrong foot. After being delayed, oh I’d say roughly two hours due to WIND, we finally boarded the plane…and waited another 30 minutes before finally taking off. When we reached Ireland we had to wait behind approximately 30 children in the customs line. And by children, I mean seven or eight year olds running around speaking in a foreign accent (I can’t even guess what language they were actually speaking. Maybe Norwegian?). No me gusta. Yes, I know that is Spanish. And no, that was definitely not the language they were speaking.

Then, to make matters worse, when we checked into our hotel, the oh so nice and personable concierge prohibited us from having three to a room. So, we had to buy a second room. What a waste of money (sorry parents) because we slept three to a king bed anyway.

But, the next morning our frowns turned upside down. I knew I was in my homeland. It just felt right. My face was radiating, my eyes were glowing. Friday was dedicated to good food, good drinks and good sight-seeing. During the day we hit some great hot-spots: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Temple Bar area and St. Stephen’s Green. And of course, great shopping.

Who knew all these cities in Europe had great shopping? Clearly, not me. AND, on top of that, I met a real leprechaun!!! Well, maybe he wasn’t real, he was about 5 feet tall…

Although it was rainy, I thoroughly enjoyed my day. After walking in circles (none of us were too good at reading a map) we eventually figured out the city. St. Patrick’s Cathedral was breath-taking. A beautiful Irish-Gothic cathedral with amazing stain glass windows.

One view of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

As an art lover I especially enjoyed St. Stephen’s Green. After walking around the whole park-not on purpose might I add-I enjoyed a range of original art from local artists. There were beautiful canvases of the Irish countryside, abstract paintings and detailed organic still life paintings.

If you ever want to furnish your home, beach house, lake house or European flat, I recommend taking a side trip to Ireland and emerging yourself in its local art.

After talking to one artist, I learned that the art market in Ireland, specifically Dublin, has declined dramatically. Thus, original one-of-a-kind paintings are selling as inexpensive as 80 pounds. For beautiful art work, that is a steal!

The most delicious traditional Irish stew I had at a local pub (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

After an exhausting six-hour walk around Dublin, which seems to be the size of Memphis (although I am AWFUL at estimating…I told our cab driver that Dallas had 10 million inhabitants, whoops), we walked into one of the best pubs in Dublin. From the outside, all you see is a wooden flight of stairs. Upon reaching the top, there is a reasonably sized wooden bar to the left and a stage for live music to the right. It was here I enjoyed Irish potato wedges and Irish stew! We knew the potato wedges would be delicious, but I was hesitant about the stew. On the menu it described it as an Irish classic with sausage, onions, mashed potatoes, lamb, carrots and celery.

Then, when the waiter set my traditional dish in front of me, my mouth began to water. I think the only words I spoke while eating were, “Y’all this is so good, you need to try it.” Or, “This might be the best meal I have ever had,” and “I always knew I was Irish.” Lets just say, I might have eaten the whole thing…

But I definitely burned those calories after we did a pub crawl!

I requested “Galway Girl” at the second pub we came across. Bad choice. Though my dream came true hearing my favorite Irish song in an Irish pub, the band made me sing out loud. For those of you who have had the privilege of hearing me sing, it’s not a pretty sight. I’m surprised the pub didn’t clear. Thank the lord they love their Guinness. If you would ever like to listen to me sing “Galway Girl,” I have a beautiful recording of it.

A view of Dublin from the rolling hills (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

The real adventure began the next morning as Liz, Rachael and I set out on the P.S. I love you tour. They should reconsider the name since we only went to one spot-but it was sooo worth it. On our tour we visited Wicklow National Park, the Sally Gap, Glendalough, Blessington lakes and waterfalls, Glencree and some other small towns.

I won’t bore you with what I learned, but I soaked in Irish history. A few things I learned:

  • Dublin got its name from the Vikings who referred to it as “Duvlin,” which meant black water
  • Dublin’s water is a dark color (though safe to drink) due to the large of amounts of iron in the water
  • Dublin’s lakes, waterfalls and streams look like Guinness
  • Many refer to whiskey as the water of life
  • There are 59 cemeteries throughout Ireland for those who died in WWI and WWII
  • There are more sheep in Ireland than people
  • Bono has a house on the Irish coast
  • Enya lives in a castle down the road from Bono

While I loved almost being blown away by the wind as I overlooked Lough (which means lake) Tay and other loughs, the best part hands down was standing on the bridge where Holly meets Gerry for the first time in P.S. I love you.

If you have seen the movie, remember the part where Holly, whose dressed in an assortment of colors, is standing over looking the rolling hills of Ireland and the first thing she says to Gerry is, “I’m lost?”

The bridge in Wicklow National Park where Holly met Gerry in P.S. I love you (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

Well, I’ve stood there. Yeah, you heard me. I stood on the same bridge and looked out over those same rolling hills. To my disappointment, no Gerry rounded the corner.

I think the 13 other people on our tour thought Liz, Rachael and I were freaks. We literally ran out of the van, heading to the bridge. Actually, Rachael skipped with a huge ear-to-ear smile across her face.

Because Ireland faced an abnormally cold winter, the purple flowers that coat the hills in the movie were not quite in bloom yet. Occasionally we could spot a flower here and there though.

Another fun place we went was to an old monastery. It had a beautiful old cemetery with hundreds of greek-cross headstones. It was rather relaxing to walk through.

From the monastery we took a hike around two lakes. During the hike we saw sheep and cows, rivers, mountains and lakes. The last lake we went to was the set of another hit movie, Leap Year. I need to re-watch the movie, but apparently there is a scene filmed on the same lake Liz, Rachael and I took a breather.

So, as an overview: I walked across the bridge Holly and Gerry walked across, sat on the shore where Leap Year was filmed and drove past a meadow where Braveheart was filmed. Way to kill three movies with one tour!

A photo of the Irish coastland (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

What struck me most was how vastly different the Irish countryside was from the coast. While driving through Wicklow National Park and Glendalough, I really felt like I was in Ireland. But once we reached the coast, I felt like I was in the States. It had a modern and up-beat feeling to it. People were walking around in swim suits while others enjoyed the beautiful weather in their Mercedes convertibles. Wish that had been me…

The one thing the countryside and the coast had in common was that neither looked real. I literally felt like I was looking at a backdrop to a movie (HA, ironically I kind of was) the whole time. The grass was so green and the water so blue. Ireland has the best of both worlds. Oh, the luck of the Irish!

Our weekend trip ended with a relaxing night listening to live music at a variety of pubs in the Temple Bar district. It was the perfect way to end our trip!

When we got home Sunday afternoon, Rachael and I headed to the Rod Stewart concert! Expect another blog post about that soon! Although I had a ton of work to do, it was totally worth it.

I know my posts are long, but hopefully you are enjoying them!

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“On Sunday it was our custom to breakfast late, and then spend the whole day till dinner-time walking. I got to know every road and foot-path within ten miles of Cambridge, and many at much greater distances, in this way. In general I felt happy and comparatively calm while at Cambridge, but on moonlight nights I used to career round the country in a state of temporary lunacy.”

-Bertrand Russell 

“The one habit of thought of real value that I acquired at Cambridge was intellectual honesty. This virtue certainly existed not only among my friends but among my teachers.”

An elderly couple enjoyed the peace and serenity in the Orchard Tuesday afternoon(Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

These words, written by Bertrand Russell, a member of the Grantchester Group, were read aloud by one of my classmates as our group of eight sat in the same field Russell sat in only a few decades ago. Sitting by the river, grass between my toes and reading various passages by different British authors was inconceivable. Truly miraculous. Not much has changed in this orchard outside of Cambridge in the past 100 years. Wild flowers still grow along the edge of the river; baby swans still swim close to their mother; and, people still come and sit, relax and think. Time stands still in this idyllic setting.

I felt like I was in a painting from the Romantic Period. Wispy whitish-grey clouds filled the blue sky; the sun beat down on my Indian-crossed legs; a cute elderly couple sat on the edge of the stream. It was so simple, yet so meaningful.

The English countryside was just what I needed. The hustle and bustle of London is nice, but nothing beats a truly spectacular afternoon drinking tea and eating scones with your friends.

Before going to the Orchard, we spent our morning and part of our afternoon in Cambridge. Our first stop was visiting Emmanuel College. Well, here, I felt stupid, and rightfully so. I thought Cambridge was ONE university. I was literally like why in the world are we visiting Emmanuel College instead of Cambridge?! My professors would probably shriek if they knew that was going through my head. To clarify: Emmanuel College is part of Cambridge. All of the colleges, such as King’s, St. John’s, St. Mary’s and others make up Cambridge University. For example, it would be like visiting Dedman College or Meadows School of the Arts at SMU.

I don’t think I’d enjoy Cambridge–too uptight and serious. Not my style. But the town of Cambridge is precious!

We explored the market in the center of town before settling down by the river to enjoy a vanilla latte and steak baguette (finally found dijon-mustard mmhhhmm!)

One of the beautiful bridges seen from a punt ride down the River Cam in Cambridge (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

After my delicious lunch, I grabbed a petite bottle of Sauvignon blanc and headed to the river for a punt ride. Similar to a gondola ride in Venice, 12 of us packed into a flat wooden boat with blue and green block-patterned blankets and enjoyed an hour ride down the River Cam. We saw famous, beautiful bridges, colleges and cows (random? although, it was the English countryside).

Though my time in Cambridge and in the orchard were short, the memories I will take from there are long-lasting. It was the perfect balance of fun (drinking on the River Cam, being steered by different people from our group) and academia (pondering in the gardens where generations of intellectuals came to think).

Tomorrow I am heading to the land of my ancestors! Oh, Ireland here I come! I CAN NOT wait. People on this trip are probably ready for me to go because it’s all I can talk about. If I don’t find my future husband, we might have a problem. However, as long as I hear some great live singing (fingers crossed for “Galway Girl”) I think I’ll be satisfied. Eek! I’m ready to leave now!!!

Hope you all have a great weekend! I will for sure be filling y’all in on Sunday night when I return from my homeland! Hopefully I get back in time to go to the Rod Stewart and Stevie Nicks concert Sunday afternoon…if not, I mean it’s only one pound 50 pence down the drain…

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“And, another one bites the dust!”

…Not this time! The musical “We Will Rock You” was absolutely amazing! I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and I believe the rest of the audience did as well (judging by the standing ovation and cheering).

The musical’s plot was structured around Queen’s hit “Bohemian Rhapsody,” as Galileo and his chick, Scaramouche, searched for the living rock. It’s set in the future as globalization is taking over and musical instruments are banned. However, there is a group of rebels who are trying to break free of the Boy Bands. Galileo and Scaramouche meet with the rest of the Bohemians in their search to revive rock ‘n roll. Did they find it? I’m not sure…you’ll have to find out for yourself!

But what I do know was the Londoner’s I saw tonight, I liked. As different rock ‘n roll hits such as “I want to break free,” “I want it All,” “We will rock you,” and “We are the Champions” (and many many others) were sung, arms swayed in the air, hands clapped, people sang and “hooray-ed” along with the actors.

If the actors didn’t revive rock ‘n roll, the audience surely did!

I know this is a short blog post, but I just had to tell my readers about my spectacular night! Tomorrow I’m headed to Cambridge! Keep your fingers crossed for warm weather and sunny skies.

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I FINALLY felt the warm rays of the sun on my skin. Ah, Lagos, Portugal.

After a three-hour flight and a one hour drive, we finally reached our hotel. As we pulled up to the hotel we heard dogs ferociously barking. Well, for those of you who know me, I am NOT an animal lover. As I peaked around the trunk (where I was pulling out my oversized suitcase) I saw two black dogs wandering the street starting a brawl with a German shepherd. Someone-I believe it was Liz (although Rachael seems to think it was me)-yelled DINGOES!!!! Of course, I panicked. I immediately grabbed my suitcase and jumped back into the van where I strategically placed my bag in front of me for protection.

Once I was sure I could safely make it into the hotel, I made a run for it.

Liz Hartnett (left) and Lauren Proctor greeting the "dingoes" that turned out to be Portuguese water poodles (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

Three minutes later the so-called dingoes walked into the reception area. The big ole scary dogs turned out to be Portuguese water poodles (JoJo: You would’ve LOVED them).

We arrived in Portugal around midnight. Needless to say it was dark outside; thus, we had no idea what to expect. All we knew was that the beach was less than a five minute walk away. And, that we had a killer hotel room. We had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, living room and huge porch.

While we were brushing our teeth and putting on our PJ’s I mumbled something along the lines of, “I bet it’s absolutely breathless.” Rachael seemed to disagree…she believed it was going to be a rather ugly view. I begged to differ. As we headed to bed, both bedrooms left the porch doors open for a nice breeze.

“OH MY GOSH Y’ALL! IT’S ABSOLUTELY BREATHTAKING!”

That is what we woke up to at 8:05 a.m. when Rachael opened her eyes and looked outside.

Literally, it was like we woke up inside a travel magazine.

Our eyes were welcomed by the red clay cliffs that dropped off into the glistening water. But, what was absolutely gorgeous was the sky.  It was the prettiest shade of blue I had ever seen (probably because there is little to no pollution in Lagos). It didn’t look real.

View from our room (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

The beach that we laid out on (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

The water is crystal clear with varying shades of blue. It was so pretty I didn’t even want to close my eyes. As I sat on the beach covered in tanning oil, my toes were enjoying playing in the sand. However, I couldn’t look at it for too long; it reminded me of couscous. Mmm! After soaking up the sun for a few hours, I finally convinced our group of eight to take a boat tour of the grottos. Before traveling I did a little bit of research on Lagos and it said the number one thing to do there was a grotto tour. Verified. Our group of eight split in to two boats of four and went on a 40 minute tour of the grottos. As we passed different rock formations, our “captain” pointed out the different forms in the rocks. For example, I saw two elephants, king-kong, a camel and a Chinese face (I’d love to know what drugs people took when naming these rocks…).

An elephant formation seen during the grotto tour (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

Looking up from one of the grottos (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

Highlight of the trip: as my boat reached shore, Jennifer commented that the beach was so crowded and everyone was looking at us. Well, we are Americans so we had to make a scene. Here is what went down:

  1. Boat touches shore
  2. Boat backtracks from shore
  3. Lauren, Elyse, Addison, Caroline, Rachael and Liz safely make it onto the beach
  4. Jennifer and I are on the boat, which is heading back out to sea
  5. Jennifer loses her balance and falls in the boat
  6. We all die out laughing (including the “captain” and people sitting on the beach)
  7. Jennifer makes it to shore but I’m still laughing in the boat
  8. I put one leg out of the beach and face plant into the water
  9. EVERYONE is laughing
  10. Rachael asks me if my purse is ruined. Oh-and if I’m ok…

Jennifer and I were in bright yellow bikinis. #Embarrassing #Americans

A portion of the center of Lagos (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

However, I will say anytime I tell a story about Portugal, this scenario will be included. Of course I would face plant into the water after making fun of someone else for falling! And, I would still recommend going on a grotto tour. A lot of girls went on them last summer in Cinque Terre and Capri when they visited but I was too busy getting my tan on. Maybe someday I’ll work for the travel channel and do a countdown of the top 10 best grotto tours in the world.

I feel like every place I travel becomes my new favorite place, but Portugal really might be. I feel like a lot of people forget about it (I know I did), but Lagos is actually a cute little city. I’ve never been to Greece but Lagos seems as if it would fit in perfectly. The buildings in the center of town are white stucco, or cement?. Many have cute rooftop porches with exotic flowers decorating the rails. And, some buildings have mosaic tiles patterned on the facade.

When we went to a local bar, I of course struck up a conversation with a local. She is originally from Australia but has been traveling for the past two years. During our conversation, she informed me that many people do in fact associate Lagos with Greece. Maybe now I don’t have to take a trip there. Just kidding! Obviously I need to see it to compare the two!

The one downside to Lagos was how windy and cold it got at night. On our second night there, we all ate at a delicious tapas restaurant in the center. When we got to dinner the weather was warm and sunny. About 20 minutes into dinner the wind started picking up and the hair on my arms started to rise. Two girls, Lauren and Addison, were so cold they took a 10 minute dinner jog to warm up. If I didn’t have on wedges I might have joined (key word: might). While the tapas were scrumptious, I’m still not too sure what Portuguese food is.

Recap: I have now been in Europe for about three weeks and have traveled to London, Salisbury, Dover, Amsterdam, Edinburgh and Lagos. Ironically, London is my least favorite. It’s too overcast and crowded and I’m getting tired of carrying an umbrella where ever I go. On the other hand, I still haven’t really explored yet.

View into this week: On Tuesday we are going to Cambridge for the day. Not sure what we are doing there but I am pumped to see the world-renowned university. Then on Thursday I am heading to the land of my ancestors: Ireland! My mother is convinced I will meet the man of my dreams there…keep your fingers crossed. Men of Dublin: Watch out.

Stay tuned for more posts this week! Hope you’re all enjoying your summer as much as I am 🙂

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“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”

In the words of Queen, this is exactly how I felt as I approached London’s Hardrock Cafe on June 14. A tradition of Founder’s Day (June 14), Hardrock Cafe gives the public a little taste of life 40 years ago.

Balloons honoring Founder's Day at the Hardrock Cafe in London on June 14 (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

After standing in a line that wrapped around the corner, our group of eight reached the front door in an hours time. As I stepped inside, I felt like I had traveled back to the ’70s. Rock and Roll hits from the ’70s and ’80s were playing, waiters and waitresses were dressed in oldies-attire and prices matched the menu prices of 1971, the year Hardrock opened.

TV’s throughout the restaurant were playing music videos of the greatest rock ‘n roll hits. When a waiter (or waitress) heard a song that peaked his (or her) fancy, he would jump on the bar and give us a live performance. Words cannot describe what my eyes witnessed. Needless to say, if you weren’t able to make it on June 14, you should try to come next year.

Lining the walls were guitars, clothes and other paraphernalia from the world’s greatest rockers including members from Led Zeppelin and The Who, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney and George Harrison.

A photo of the guitar used by both a member of The Who and Eric Clapton hangs on the wall in the Hardrock Cafe in London (Photo/RACHAEL BORNE).

Our group of eight ate for a total of six pounds and some odd pence. My cheeseburger and fries was 40 pence (and it was rather tasty). For those of you in America, my meal is equivalent to approximately $1 (maybe a little less). Thus, our grand total, for eight people, was less than $10.

And, to make the whole experience that much better, we were offered tickets to Rod Stewart and Stevie Nicks for a whoppin’ one pound and 50 pence. Jealous? Thought so. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard the news. Rain or shine, I will be there!

SMS girls: You will not believe who I saw yesterday: Hannah Metcalfe! Although I was awful at giving directions, she finally found me. For those of you who did not go to SMS (my high school), Hannah was our foreign exchange student for our senior year. I hadn’t seen her since 2008 as we parted ways–she headed back to London and I moved to Dallas. It was great to see her. Hopefully the rest of you will get to catch up with her at our five-year reunion. Scary,that’s in two years…

Later that evening we went to our second play: “Betty Blue Eyes.” 100 percent better than Blythe Spirit, yet still rather boring. Have the Brits heard of Broadway? I want to see the Lion King but I’m scared it won’t uphold American standards. However, in this play it was reiterated that WWI and II are still prevalent in the lives of the Brits. While the play takes place in 1947, the Brits are still facing high unemployment and food rationing. However, Betty, a plump pink pig with blue eyes, tempts a husband and wife. Does Betty live? Or, do the towns people enjoy a delicious feast filled with ribs and sausage? Guess you will have to watch it (or google it…).

Anyhoo, today I am going to the world-renowned Harrods. I should probably leave my credit cards at home.

And, tomorrow, I leave for Portugal! And I shall reiterate: “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”

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As the train rolled away at 7 a.m., I pictured in my mind a vast countryside with rolling hills with an old-fashioned city at the bottom. While Edinburgh is a picturesque city with medieval cobblestone streets and buildings, it has a lot to offer. Aside from the beautiful castle that was built on an extinct volcano, the city of Edinburgh has a rich history, not uncommon for a European city.

A view of Scotland from the Edinburgh Castle (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

Here are some fun facts I learned about Edinburgh while I was there:

  • It has 19 Starbucks (guaranteed a winner for me!)
  • Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, was born there
  • Sir Walter Scott was born there and has a monument built for him
  • Every year they hold a boot festival from July to August (If you want some boots, I suggest you pack your bags and head on over)
  • They have underground tunnels where people were sent in the 17th century if they were infected with the plague
  • John Knox’s house is there (leader of the Protestant Reformation)
  • Every street has at least two hair salons (or so it appeared). However, I think they need to replace every other salon with a dentist…
  • It is still custom to wear a kilt in your wedding

Liz Harnett (right) and I standing with a bagpiper outside a park in Edinburgh.

During my two and a half day stay, I can say I thoroughly enjoyed the Scottish lager that I tried at Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, the live music from the local band The Messiah and hearing bagpipers play in the park.

For those of you who are P.S. I love you fans, you’re gonna freak out. As we were sitting in an Irish pub on Friday night (random, because were in Scotland…), the live band started playing “The Galway Girl.” In case you forgot, or haven’t watched the movie in a while, this song plays when William (Jerry’s friend) meets Holly. Highlight of my life. Not really, but close enough. If you have ever the desire to hear it, I recorded it.

However, the one thing I found most interesting was the Scottish people’s concern of immigration. While the United States is currently facing the issue with Mexican immigration, Scotland is facing the same issue with Polish people and Asians. After talking to some native Scots, I learned that they like the Polish immigrants because they work hard but do not like the Asians because they are taking over their jobs. Not too different from the way Americans feel about Mexicans. I also found it humorous, yet incredibly interesting, that the Scottish people think it is absurd that Americans can get ticketed for jaywalking. According to two people, the government should not be able to tell us where and when we can and cannot walk. It is our responsibility to look to see if a car is coming. And, if we get hit, that is our problem. I just don’t think they understand how America works…they think it is funny that we drive our car to the grocery store instead of walking. If they ever come to America, they will probably opt not to rent a car because they think they could walk. Good luck.

This week is filled with lots of school work now that I am back in London. Tuesday is Founder’s Day…which means we will be celebrating at The Hard Rock Cafe. Tony Pederson, former editor of The Houston Chronicle and our British Media professor here, speaks highly of the Hard Rock’s burgers. I’ll let you know my thoughts Wednesday.

I feel like I have barely explored London since we travel everywhere on the weekend. But this week I am determined to check some places off my list such as Buckingham Palace (and of course the crowned jewels there) and the Titanic exhibit. If it is pretty weather, which is highly unlikely, I’m heading over to the London eye.

At the end of this week I will be seeing sunshine and the ocean in PORTUGAL!!!! Yippee!

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I saw London, I saw France…however, I did not see anyones underpants!

The skies were clear enough on Saturday as we stood on the White Cliffs in Dover to see France. So while I have not touched french soil, I can at least say I have seen it.

The White Cliffs of Dover (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

The path along the cliffs were lined with wildflowers, making the view truly spectacular. Cute elderly couples were holding hands walking along the narrow path enjoying the view. Maybe someday I too will return to this spot and be holding hands with a cute old man with gray hair, spectacles and a cane.

After standing on the breezy edge of England, we toured the Dover Castle. As part of our tour, we traveled the underground tunnels of the hospital. I didn’t like that so much. If you are claustrophobic, don’t go. Though it was cool to see the hospital beds and set up of an underground hospital from War World II, I was scared I was running out of oxygen 150 feet below the surface. And, there were two more levels below us! I needed a canary to go down before me…

For such a small little town, it has a rich history. Though I don’t want to get into that,  I will say, If you are a history buff: GO! Or, if you enjoy a beautiful view of the ocean and some great sea food, you will enjoy it too! Just make sure you have a wind-breaker.

When we exited the train back in London, there was an overwhelming large group of black men crowded in the train station. Police had a section blocked off and TV crews were jammed together inside the roped off area. Of course I was curious and HAD to know what was going on.

After asking several people who refused to answer me, one kind gentleman informed me the president of Congo had just arrived! Maybe it’s a sign I’ll see more famous people soon…

Dover was rather relaxing, a great place for sightseeing, but I have a feeling my weekend will be more upbeat. At the break of dawn tomorrow we are heading for Edinburgh, Scotland. Expect another blog post Sunday (after I write two papers…yuck! Wouldn’t it be great to travel the world without any work?).

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The past four days have been an adventure. And, I can officially mark Salisbury and Amsterdam off my list of places to go!

With a passion for art history, I have studied Stonehenge since I was a sophomore in high school. For those of you who know me, you know that I have been wanting to see these magnificent mysterious stones since I first saw them in my art history textbook (or, maybe the next day in class when the photo was projected up on the screen).

However, there is more to Salisbury than just Stonehenge. The quaint medieval town is not as quiet as it appears.

Walking from the train station on the narrow cobblestone roads to the Salisbury Cathedral, I felt like I was starring in the movie, “The Holiday.” Sadly, Jude Law was nowhere to be found.

The oldest working clock, which is located in the Salisbury Cathedral (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

With Britain’s tallest spire, the cathedral houses one of four surviving Magna Cartas. Pretty spiffy. The one page handwritten piece of parchment was definitely worth seeing, although I could not read one word of it. It is also the home of the oldest working clock in the world.

As I said earlier, this quaint medieval town knows how to throw a party. As the sun started to set, the pubs began to fill up. It was verified that the British do drink a lot…reminders of it were visible the next morning on our walk back to the train stop. So, yes, people in Britain do get plastered. They were telling us all about the summer solstice in Salisbury. It falls on the 20th of June and apparently everyone in Salisbury and nearby towns starts partying early in the morning in Stonehenge. I’m going to try to convince our professors to let us skip classes to go. I mean, it’s a cultural learning experience, right?

The worst part: our stay in the hostel. Mom and Dad: remember when I said I was allergic to cheap hotels? Yup, still true. I tried to find a five-star in Salisbury but it wasn’t worth it since we stayed out until midnight and had to be ready for Stonehenge by 4:15 a.m.

Stonehenge, which dates around 3000 BC, at daybreak (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

Standing in the center of the stones watching the sunrise was an experience I will never have again. It was literally a once in a lifetime thing. It was extraordinary. If I wasn’t so sleep deprived, I probably would’ve cried.

Once the sun had risen, the real adventure began. Three other girls and I headed to Amsterdam. Or, as my sister would say, “Hamster-land.” The funny thing is, as soon as we stepped outside the airport there was a huge spinning wheel that people were running around. For a second, I really thought I was in Hamster-land!

I don’t think I can put into words how much I truly LOVED Amsterdam. Although people associate it with coffee shops and smoking, the city has so much more to offer. (If you love architecture, you must go).

Not only is it the home to Anne Frank’s house, but people can also visit the Van Gogh Museum, Heineken Museum and the Museum of Amsterdam. Don’t forget the famous I am sterdam monument!

Though we were there for less than 48 hours we accomplished a lot. After walking along the canals, we settled down at a tapas bar. I was extremely hesitant at first but after devouring pan con tomate (brushetta), a cheese plate and chorizo sausage, I would say it was one of the best meals I have had. Oh, and I mustn’t forget the Sangria! So fresh. There were pieces of apple, oranges and pineapple giving it a little extra zest!

We couldn’t have asked for better weather Saturday morning. We tried to rent bikes, but because everyone else wanted to enjoy the sunny day, there were none left for us. Can you believe it? There were NO MORE bikes in Amsterdam! Good thing we had walking shoes, because we sure were busy.

My day started off with the Anne Frank house. After my friend Lauren and I stood in line for an hour, we finally were let inside. As an aside, I have dreamed of standing in the annex of Anne Frank’s house since I read her diary at least 10 years ago. From the moment I read the words, “Dear Kitty,” I knew I had to visit Amsterdam.

A star that the Nazi's forced the Jews to wear during War World II (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

As we headed up the stairs to her house, the walls were lined with excerpts from her diary and photos. There were also tables filled with photos of the Frank family, historic artifacts from the 1930s and ’40s and a yellow star the Jews were forced to wear.

The bookcase that disguised the opening to the attic where Anne Frank and her family hid for two years (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

As I walked up the narrow wooden staircase, the bookcase that disguised the opening to the ‘secret annex’ came into sight. On the other side of the bookcase was an even narrower flight of stairs leading to the space the four members of the Frank family and another family of four lived for two years. What was strange to me was how spacious the annex was. There were two bedrooms, a bathroom and a general area and then of course the attic space. The front rooms looked out over the canal, though I doubt the curtains were open that much.

Walking on the creaky wooden floors listening to the church bells ring made me want to re-read her diary. I vaguely remember her talking about how she had to be careful where she walked to avoid making noise.

Other sections of the tour included an area with her diary and other loose leaf pages. Before the tour ended, there was a video from Otto Frank, Anne’s father. As the only family member who survived the concentration camp, he decided he wanted to publish her diary and open his home up to the public. During the one minute and 40 second video, he said a parent never really knows his or her child. While he admitted he was close to Anne, he said he never knew her true emotions and feelings about living in the annex.

On the pamphlet handed out before the tour, Primo Levi, a writer and Auschwitz survivor, said, “One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way; if we were capable of taking in all the suffering of all those people we would not be able to live.”

I couldn’t agree more. Walking through the house, looking out of the windows, reading her diary and watching the videos left an impression I truly cannot describe. I am appalled at the people who do not believe the Holocaust existed as well as those who don’t think it was wrong. One trip to the Anne Frank Museum may change their mind.

On a lighter note, the Heineken Museum is probably the coolest museum I have ever visited. It’s a must if you go to Amsterdam. We looked up the museum hours before arriving in Amsterdam, and it said it was open until 7 p.m. We were greeted by a 6’5″ woman with a green tie who harshly told us that we just missed the last tour for the day. She informed us that the tours end at 5:30 p.m. but the museum stays open until 7 p.m. Yeah, well that didn’t fly.

We tricked ’em. We pretended like we were going into the museum when we took a slight left and asked a lovely lad if we could go on the tour. I think because four pretty girls were asking he decided it was OK. WOOHOO, we were in!

Literally, the time of my life. We watched a video on the history of Heineken, took “face in a hole” photos, toured the beer making process and then, we were brewed. It reminded me of the “Back to the Future” ride at Universal Studios. We had to hold on to these bars and the floor would move and we would be sprayed with water. Then, after we were brewed, it was time to drink!

During our 48 hours, we also visited the Red Light District. It wasn’t sketchy, just strange. Women wearing only bras and panties would provocatively dance in the window. For those of you who have read “Redeeming Love,” it is all I could think about.

The best blueberry pancake I have ever eaten (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

Also, men are free to relieve themselves in public. And, they are proud of it. I was taking a photo (from far away, no details) of the urinals and a man waved to me. Ha! Lastly, if you EVER EVER EVER go to Amsterdam, you MUST eat a pancake. Though they are more like a crepe, they are mouth-watering delicious.

There is a lot more to say about Amsterdam but I shall leave some room for you to discover for yourself. My advice: book your flight now!

This week is a busy one back in London. We have a private tour of Parliament tomorrow, heading to Dover Tuesday and Scotland for the weekend.

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If you are only in London one day, I advise you to go to the Imperial War Museum. During class, our professor told us to expect to see huge cannons, airplanes, bombs and parts of the Berlin Wall. While I believed her, I did not know the impact it would have on me.

I could have spent days in the museum.

As we exited the tube, we headed down streets where I would have normally felt uncomfortable. I’m sure we were in an “OK” neighborhood, but I was getting a bad vibe.

London's Imperial War Museum (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

Then, as we rounded the corner, perfectly centered in the middle of two huge iron gates were two cannons. As we walked past the cannons, I noticed part of the Berlin Wall as we headed up the step to the museum.

Once the glass doors opened, I was overwhelmed by Nazi planes, the Royal Navy devices and YJ’s.

As expected, the World War I and II sections were distressing and heartbreaking. However, the Holocaust display was depressing. Unlike many of the people on the trip, this was my first time at a Holocaust exhibit. While many of these people had seen the shoes left behind in the concentration camps and videos from survivors or family members of those who had been in the camps, I had never seen or heard these stories. Though these people were telling their stories 50 years later, you could still hear the pain and suffering in their voices. As they described what they witnessed, goosebumps formed on my arms and neck and tears formed in my eyes.

Reading about it in textbooks or watching about it on the History Channel holds no comparison to walking the winding path lined with photos, Nazi clothes,  blue and white striped pajamas and hand-written letters filled with fear and hopelessness.

However, back in the WWI and II sections, I traveled through the trenches, was motivated by the war posters and scared during the blitz. Though it is nerdy to admit, the most important inclusion in these two sections were the newspaper clippings. To see how the media handled the outbreak of the war and the surrendering of troops approximately 50 years was fascinating. For me, it was interesting to compare how the British media documented these historic moments to how the United States portrayed September 11, the capturing of Saddam Hussein, the issues with Gaddafi and the death of Osama bin Laden. 

While my morning was thought-provoking and meaningful, my evening was light and whimsical.

I can officially say I saw my first British play! As a group, we attended Blithe Spirit, a comedy. If you haven’t seen it, or even if you have, it reminded me a lot of the movie, “The Ghost of Girlfriends Past.” Though it wasn’t about girlfriends, the plot includes a married couple and the ghost of his first wife who died at a young age. The dead wife comes back infuriating the husband’s current wife because she cannot hear or see the first wife. While I was extremely tired and just did not find it all that humorous, the audience seemed to enjoy it. Maybe when I get married, I’ll enjoy it more….MAYBE.

The next day we traveled to St. Mary Woolnoth church. Though it looks like an ordinary building from the outside, it is the home of John Newton and William Wilberforce. A hymn we are all familiar with was written and sung here: “Amazing Grace.” I will say this was the first time I felt slightly uneducated because I had no idea the history of the hymn nor that it was written in London.

This weekend I’m heading to Salisbury to see Stonehenge (WOOHOO!) and then Amsterdam with some friends.

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When I walked into Westminster Abbey yesterday, I thought I was attending the Royal Wedding.

Westminster Abbey (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

Sadly, Prince William and Kate were nowhere to be found (probably because they are on their honey moon).

Although the churches in Italy were probably some of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever seen, this Gothic church took my breath away. Instead of just walking the perimeter and taking the typical photo outside to show you’ve been there, a group of us attended the Sunday service. While the worship was not too out of the ordinary, still saying the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s prayer, two things were particularly interesting to me. One being that almost everything was sung. And secondly, that the officiant said a prayer for the Royal Family. Yes, I understand that the monarchy is very important to the Brits but it would be absurd (and probably infuriate a lot of folks) if we said a prayer for Obama.

I am pleased to say that I have now attended church in the Vatican AND Westminster Abbey.

After we took the incredibly necessary photo in front of the Abbey, we had some free time to explore during which we went to Speaker’s corner in Hyde Park. Not familiar with what this is? Well, people are allowed to speak on any subject matter on Sunday’s as long as they are at least two feet off the ground. People who were going to be executed used to say their final word’s here and then were killed in the park. It was neat to see that people still take advantage of free speech and that people could debate such issues in public. I’m not sure how this would fly in America…I’m pretty sure there would be fist fights breaking out left and right. The issue being discussed while I observed was over religion-shocking, right? There was a what appeared to have been Muslim man refuting what three men were saying about Christianity and the bible. Although he was causing a scene, he rebutted in a tasteful manner.

A view of Parliament from the Thames River (Photo/SARAH KRAMER).

Later in the afternoon we took a boat tour down the Thames (pronounced Tims). Though it was a little chilly, it was still a lovely time. We went by the London Bridge-it looks stable, not falling anytime soon-and saw the soon to be world’s largest building made of glass, Parliament, the eye of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the traitor’s gate (the old prison where people were executed) and a few other landmarks.

Night life: pubs. Really no need for an explanation. Fun fun fun. However, I will say an older, and by older I mean probably 70-year-old, man bought us champagne. The bouncer, Emma, told us to give her “the eye” if we needed her help! She also informed us that he has “stinky money” because he is a Persian. When he told me that, all I could say was, “you have nice rugs.”

Anyhoo, tomorrow we are going to the Imperial War Museum.

Cheers!

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‘Ello mates!

I am THRILLED to say I have safely made it over the pond and successfully navigated through London on my first day! Though, I am hesitant to use the word successfully.

Leaving DFW airport was a breeze, though our flight was delayed an hour, and going through customs and getting our luggage took a grand total of 10 minutes. Side note: This is already a success in comparison to my study abroad in Italy last summer when American Airlines lost my luggage for 32 hours and I was reluctant to pack a change of clothes in my carry-on.

I’ll skip over the boring part about waiting for the group and checking into the dorms. Needless to say, Rachael Borne is my roomie for the trip. It feels like we are back to freshman year checking into McElvaney. Except, we are in London, even though it still hasn’t hit me.

I am shocked at how easy it was to find our way places our first day. And, we went to a loooooottt of places. Our first stop was to the phone store. This was a site. Approximately 20 droopy-eyed, yawning and slightly dis-shoveled Americans came in like gangbusters ready to buy their European phones. Being the largest amount of people the phone store has ever had in at one time, the two agents were quick on their feet to document the historic moment. As one whipped out his iPhone and the other hustled to get his iPad, the two videoed and photographed the group to put on their Facebook page. I can only imagine what we looked like, because to me, it felt like Christmas morning as I was handed my brand new Sony Ericson phone.

Next stop: Primmark.

Spare yourself if you can. It was AWFUL, worse than Black Friday. As Rachael would say, “To put it lightly, it was like a zoo.” People were darting back and forth, running up the escalators, pulling shirts off the rack and throwing them with the towels. The salesclerks were rude (they probably hate being there as much as we do) and the natives just look at Americans like we are stupid. To make matters worse: it was stinky. My schnozzle did not enjoy the aroma. Never again will I shop there. Whatever I need, I’m sure I can find else where.

Then, the highlight of my day. After a delicious Italian dinner paid for by SMU (woohoo!) a group of us headed to the tube…unchaperoned. The tube is equivalent to the subway; so once you’ve taken it a few times, you know it like the back of your hand.

Well, we made it to the tube and determined which train to take without a problem.

As the train arrived and the doors opened, we rushed to board knowing we had less than one  minute until the doors shut. As I stepped foot onto the tube, I looked back to see Rachael and my  new friend Liz about to be chopped off by the closing door, which didn’t appear to be stopping  even though something was clearly in the way. Luckily Liz and Rachael made it past the door.  However, Rachael’s Primmark bag was jammed halfway in the door…and the tube was rapidly  moving along.

Because we are Americans, our group of seven burst into laughter. Tears streamed down our  face as we watch Rachael collapse to the floor grabbing at the remnants of her paper bag. If I hadn’t used the restroom before we left dinner we would’ve had another problem on our hands (or should I say pants?) Earlier today, we learned that the tube was supposed to be silent and native Londoners do not appreciate obnoxious Americans. Too bad we enjoy ourselves.

Naturally, it was a great bonding moment.

In an odd and unexpected way, today was great and I know tomorrow will be even better. I don’t want to give too much away but tomorrow’s adventures include Speaker’s Corner and Westminster Abbey.

Until then, cheerio!

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Today is the day!

9:53 a.m. and my bags are packed and I’m ready to go.

Too bad my flight does not leave until 7:45 p.m.

I received an email this morning from professors who are already settled in near Prince William and Kate saying that their flight was delayed five hours due to the volcanic ash from Iceland. If that happens to my flight, I will NOT be a happy camper. I’m ready to put on my oversized hat and walk among the Brits.

In comparison to my explorations last summer, I feel more prepared this year (probably because I have the language down pat…as opposed to the Italian I tried to understand last summer). I have two rolling suitcases filled with an array of trendy, comfy (which I prefer to call “study clothes”) and theater clothes. Instead of four pairs of wedges, I only packed one. Although, it was hard to leave the others in my closet. My cameras are charged and I believe I packed five different adapters and converters. Who would’ve thought that adapters would be my new obsession…adapters?! Oh well, at least I can charge all 15 gadgets at the same time.

With that being said, I can’t wait to see you on the other side of the pond!

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Summer is here…

On May 27 I will depart from the land of the free and the home of the brave and immerse myself in the Old Country for more than 50 days. Once I make it over the “big pond,” I will be studying in London for a six weeks, taking side trips to Amsterdam, Scotland and Munich, and then traveling with my bud Rachael Borne for an additional few weeks.

If you’re free for the next six weeks, pack your bags and come along! Or, if you can’t make it, let your imagination travel with me as I visit sites such as Westminster Abbey, taste Italian pastas and feel the cool Mediterranean sea under my feet!

Once I’ve had my fair share of History & Philosophy of Free Speech and The Mass Media in Great Britain: Politics Pin-ups & Propaganda, I’ll have my last cup of tea and run with the bulls (just kidding!). However, Rachael and my first stop is Barcelona. After three relaxing days of site-seeing in the Gothic Corner and tomamos el sol “taking in the sun” (the one phrase I remember from six years of spanish), we will head to Italy. Though I’ve been there before, it will be Rachael’s first time. Thus, I thought it was only necessary to climb to the top of the Duomo in Florence and take a gondola ride through the canals of Venice. Once we’ve had our fun there, we are headed to Lake Como, which will be a first for me! Next stop: Zürich, Switzerland…I hope I have enough money by the time we get here! If my wallet isn’t empty after that, we are finishing our rendezvous in Paris!

If you’ve been to any of these places and recommend restaurants, museums or shops, please leave a comment!

…See you in London!