London – Day 2

•May 26, 2012 • Comments Off on London – Day 2

Hey, all! Drake here to talk about a killer day we spent traveling around some cool places near London (not to mention a lovely evening in London itself).  This day really embodied why England is the perfect place to finish our little trek: there was something here to summarize every part of the adventure.  The ancientness of Rome, the college-town comfort of Bologna, the royalty of Versailles, the sheer size and scope of Paris–we experienced a reminder of and a conclusion to each, along with the special gifts London itself had to offer (which are many!).

Of course, the only way to get all of these great places in one day was a bus tour! A lovely Ghanian driver and British tour guide from Golden Tours led us to Windsor, Stonehenge, and Oxford.  Windsor Castle was first up! As one of the largest and most grand of Queen Elizabeth II’s many residences, Windsor provided the “royal” element of the day.  The main building contained many joys, the most notable being the State Apartments, grand room after grand room full of weapons, furniture, artwork, and other decoration suited only for a monarch.  My favorite part, however, was the gallery of photographs celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee! (That’s right, folks, she’s been reigning for sixty years. Wowsers.) It was a pictorial history of Her Royal Highness’s entire life.  Odd to watch a person age in real life, but extremely odd to watch them age through a room of pictures.  After a quick stop through the local chapel (GORGEOUS) and a quick lunch, we made it back to the bus just in time!

Our next stop provided the “ancientness” fix (the first real one we’d had since Rome).  Stonehenge, the legendary monument built for a mysterious purpose by an unknown civilization, was (for me) the most pleasant surprise of the day.  Don’t get me wrong: I expected to enjoy Stonehenge.  I just didn’t expect to find the history and legends surrounding the stones so intensely fascinating.  In fact, I listened to the audioguide all the way through.  Byron (being himself) and Sarah (having seen it before) still enjoyed the monument (probably just as much) but also enjoyed the nice bit of sunbathing they experienced while looking at it.  Though not nearly as interesting (nor as well-documented) as Roman history, Stonehenge has a certain magic due to all of the unknowns surrounding its creation and purpose.

Then there was the lovely wrapup to the original purpose of the whole trip in Oxford.  As the only truly significant piece missing from the From Bologna to Bologna course we finished earlier this week, it was a real privilege to spend a couple of hours in the town of the world’s (debatably) most famous university, which, in Oxford, is basically spending it on the university’s “campus” (or the closest thing it has to a campus).  Oxford had a wonderful vibe.  If we had spent a good deal of time there, I have no doubt it would have been another indispensable Bologna experience defined by that incredible collegiate spirit that feels so natural and comfortable to students from all universities.  As it was, Sarah and I (as much as we love UK) both had this gut desire to transfer right then and there.  This was a perfect stop to make.

Possibly my favorite part of the day, however, happened after we returned to London.  Byron took off to go climbing (much to general amazement), and Sarah and I headed back to our little neck of the woods in Kilburn.  We found, for the third city in a row, marvelous Asian food to eat.  This time, the location was the Speedy Noodle (a name perhaps even more epic than Bologna’s Golden Dragon), where we both reveled in the culinary abilities of our Far Eastern brethren.  Good stuff.  This was London’s special offering: a unique urban experience and diversity unmatchable even by Paris.  We struggled to choose between Chinese, Indian, Persian, Lebanese, classic British, Italian, and (yes) American food, and this only scratched the surface of one street.

It was a whirlwind of a day, embodying everything wonderful about our excursion and everything captivating about London and its surrounding areas.  I’m getting ready to come home, but can I live here, too?  Stay tuned for more!

Byron part

•May 25, 2012 • Comments Off on Byron part

Hi all!  So this is Byron, and I have had a request to post!  (You’re welcome mom :P) Drake and Sarah have been doing a wonderful job of presenting where we’ve been, etc., so I figured I’d be a supplemental post in which I’ll write a bit on things I’ve noticed and my experience up to this point in Europe.  I’ll try and not make the post too long, since there’s been so much to see and do!  First off, I’d like to mention that this trip has been such a stress reliever to me—the lack of formal school work and abundance of free time to roam the cities and countryside have been absolutely wonderful to my person.  I’ve been tagged as the “puppy” on the trip since I’ve been excessively energetic and happy the whole time!  (Don’t tell Sarah this, but since we’re classifying people as animals she compares to a cat—there was one distinct moment on a sunny day in Rome when she made the suggestion, “Can’t we just sit and lie in the sun and nap all day?”).  Anywho, the trip has been wonderful, as we’ve seen an abundance of major historical sights and walked countless miles of culturally diverse streets.

Predicting what my mother would ask me, the most probable question asked would be how the experience in Europe has differed from living in the United States?  Well mother, I’d have to say the diversity of people is the most striking observation in the motherland (since we’ve got our roots in Europe :P).  Walking through Italy and France, I have met, talked to, and enjoyed the company of a wide range of people, from all nationalities and backgrounds.  Take a student at John Hopkins University in Bologna as an example—an Russian woman had been raised her home country, obtained her masters and undergrad in the US, and is currently working on her Ph. D. in Italy.  Another example-I met an interracial elderly couple at a rock wall.  The woman was from the states who had married a French baker and have been happily married since (the majority of the conversation was in French too :D).  Another man I talked to on a bus ride to the mountains outside of Bologna was from southern Italy and work his way out of poverty to a higher end job.  Just these three people illustrate a hint of the different people I have encounter on this trip.

This is the end of part one of the post, I’ll continue it later tonight after getting back from a rock climbing trip! (in Royal Tunbridge Wells)

London – Day 1

•May 23, 2012 • Comments Off on London – Day 1

To start off our first official day in London, we slept in a little in order to wait for our landlord-type-person to give us the run-down and to do the much-needed task of laundry. Yay good smelling clothes!

When we finally emerged from our hostel, we headed to King’s Cross to complete the requisite Harry Potter pilgrimage to Platform 9 3/4. It was a little disappointing, since they moved platforms 9 & 10, so it’s not technically like it should be. Then we went on a ridiculously long walk through the business district.

On our walk, we stumbled upon St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge (which is doing just fine, thanks; not falling down at all!), a nice view of Tower Bridge, and some markets Byron suggested under the train tracks off of London Bridge. It had fresh veggies, fish, fruit, cheese, etc. Then we headed over to Hyde Park for a snack and some sun-bathing (or shade-loving if you’re Drake) and chill time. We saw Princess Diana’s memorial fountain, the Peter Pan statue, etc. It’s a very nice, calm place to hang out – one of my favorite places the last time I was here. They also have a lot of willow trees (hint, hint).

Our attempts to return to the hostel were foiled. Our line (Jubilee) was closed, so we joined an unbearable crowd in inching along to an alternative line. Once on a train, it felt like there wasn’t enough breathing space, which more than unsettled me. It is not comparable to a crowded bus in Rome on a strike day – much worse, but less risk of groping in the U.K. perhaps. Our train also decided as we were pulling into the stop we needed that they just couldn’t stop there for some reason. Commence panic on my part. However, Byron made friends with a fellow underground rider, who gave us several alternative routes aside from using the underground. We were so thankful we even got a picture of us with her! (Look for this later; her name was Jo!)

On the plus side of public transportation craziness, we got to see an awesome part of town not too far from our hostel. There were tons of Asian and Arab restaurants and shops. We also found the British equivalent of the euro store – Poundland! We got some essentials like lotion, socks, chapstick, etc. all for a pound each. I think it’s neat how we always manage to find a “dollar store”, the Justice department, and either the Treasury or a school of economics wherever we go – it’s like Europe knows our priorities and interests!

We decided on a traditional pub for dinner. The Beaten Docket had fantastic fish and chips. Byron and I have decided that our GTL is FCB (Fish. Chips. Beer.). If you’re not a Jersey Shore fan, GTL stands for Gym. Tan. Laundry. and it’s all they do, if you don’t count alcohol and promiscuity. But we just enjoy the local food and drink in our FCB version. We had a pretty laid back first day, but Drake and I plan on telling you about our second and third days later tonight!

Paris – Days 4 & 5

•May 23, 2012 • 2 Comments

Paris – Day 4

We slept in again on day 4. We didn’t leave the hotel until lunch time. For lunch we ventured to Crepe’s King once more, only to find that our friend (the weekend manager, evidently) was not there. After lunch, our group split up, with the majority trying to find the Seine artists again. Drake and I went to the Cluny museum, which was surprisingly awesome. The audioguide (which was free with the price of admission) was informative and fit my attention span just so. The highlight of my Cluny experience was standing in the first century Roman frigidarium (cold room of a Roman bath). Seeing the footprints of history is an immense rush for me. I like to be where my ancestors have trod – where they lived, they worked, they died. The ruins of civilizations are our backbone; they are the hill upon which we stand so that we can look out upon all we have conquered. I know history is a boring jumble of dates and things that don’t seem to matter to most people, but ancient-looking rocks and centuries-old flying buttresses are like text messages from the past for me. They are a way of communicating with our former selves, a way of sharing in the collective experience of humanity.

There’s just no reason why a first century Roman is any less worth listening to than a twenty-first century teenager. If anything, we should listen to the ancients more. They have seen things we can only imagine. Most people focus on how bewildered an individual from the past would be by our modern technology, but I like to run my hypotheticals in reverse. What would it have been like to be in the stands of the Coliseum? To pioneer the Cluniac reforms? To teach at a university amidst the crossfire of church and king?

After indulging in my love of history, we met up with the group in front of Notre Dame again. It was raining pretty heavily so we went back to the hotel. Our entire group (all eleven of us, plus Jane and Josiah) went to dinner. Drake was feeling adventurous and tried the steak tartar – straight up raw meat. He greatly enjoyed it (cleaned his plate, at least), but most of us weren’t very thrilled by our almost equally undercooked regular steak dishes. We at least had some good beer (or wine, depending on preferences) and good company for our last night in Paris together. Some of the group went for dessert crepes. I headed back to the hotel to get my bag in order.

Paris – Day 5 (Final Day)

We all woke up early, some for their flights and some for early check out. Drake, Byron, and I (“the group” from here on out, since the course ended on Day 4) checked out, left our bags in storage, and took a series of trains out to Versailles. The grandeur and sheer beauty outstripped the art of the Louvre and even (risking blasphemy, sorry Catholic family members) the Sistine and St. Peter’s. Every room had gold accents, carved cherubs, chandeliers, and magnificent scenes painted on the ceilings. The symmetry and colors of the artwork in Versailles was much more pleasing (to me) than any other site. I took over 300 pictures of Versailles alone, so everyone who missed it on the trip can still see a fair share of the palace!

It is a monument to egotism and extravagance. Versailles begs the question: how in the world did they pay for all of this? Considering the sprawling Catholic church had to suck its faithful dry for its cathedrals and basilicas, it is a wonder indeed how the French royalty managed to get the best artists and the finest of everything in such a large place. There are several anterooms for the princes and princesses – rooms with seemingly no particular purpose but to have a few works of art and overdone walls and ceilings. It’s gaudy as hell, but still somehow breathtaking. It offends my inner minimalist, but of course the feminine side of me can’t look away from anything shiny or pretty, I’m sorry to say.

While the Hall of Mirrors was nice, the room with large paintings of important battles in French history was actually cooler. It was a pictorial review of history for the visitor but probably a good ego stroke for the king of the age, feeling as if he had inherited such winning qualities as important figures of the past possessed. There was also a sculpture hallway with busts and statues of important figures in French history and learning – e.g., Charles Martel, Cassini, etc. This might have been a better tour for members of our group that might have been bored by our historical walking tour, since it provided different mediums of learning about the development of French culture (not just an ancient or modern day emphasis).

For lunch, we finally gave in to the urge to try French McDonald’s food. The fries actually taste like potatoes and the chicken actually tastes like chicken. I’m starting to wonder why it isn’t that way at American locations. After lunch, we went back into Paris. The sun came out (FINALLY!) and the Seine artists were there! I took pictures, since I’m sure it was starting to appear as if I had made it all up about artist stands near Notre Dame. I didn’t find any art pieces in particular that I wanted to take home with me, though.

Since we had tons of extra time, we went to the Bastille stop on the metro. We didn’t find where they relocated the remains, but we saw its monument at least. There was a collection of tents (a campo!) across the square. The boys perused the candy and crepe stations, while I finally found the kind of souvenir I wanted for a family member. We also went to the Opera stop. The opera building is what Phantom of the Opera was based off of (according to Byron). It was also very beautiful; I think Drake’s sister Leiren should visit it someday!

We picked up our bags from the hotel, went through “legit UK border control” (Drake’s paraphrased words), and took the Chunnel to London. We met a nice guy on the train, an Orthodox Jew who was mostly raised in London but went to university in New York and is now a dean at a small college there. He was in Paris for a business conference. He was pleasant company.

We arrived at our hostel (after taking the LONG way haha). It started off a little sketchy, but has steadily improved since check-in. We’ve been taking it slow today, just doing laundry this morning, probably going into town this afternoon.

AAANNND now we’re all caught up! YAY!

Paris – Days 2 & 3

•May 23, 2012 • Comments Off on Paris – Days 2 & 3

We are currently spending our first morning in London! But in an effort to catch up, I’ll be combining days 2 & 3 in Paris, with 4 & 5 on the way. Byron is also mapping out his own reflection post – special shout-out to Byron’s mom!

Paris – Day 2

On our second day in Paris, we woke up early for our second educational tour. Our guide Sophie provided a very intelligent overview of relations between France and its colonies, especially Algeria. We stood in several immigrant quarters with Algerian or Chinese roots. Sophie highlighted the difficulty in France in gathering statistics on French-born citizens that have non-French backgrounds, such as a second or third generation Algerian who may still consider themselves more of “foreign” origin than of French origin. We visited several sites of tension in Paris. The tour ended at the Arab Institute, a building that was more of a political move than something utilized by the community. It had interesting (read: ugly in comparison to the beautiful Romanesque architecture I’ve come to love) architecture, with a weird snakelike building adjacent to it. The roof gave us a beautiful view of the city, especially Notre Dame and the Seine. We decided to embrace the 13th quarter Chinese culture by hitting it up for lunch. While a little expensive given the proportions (not nearly as big a victory as our Bologna Chinese food), it was still absolutely delicious.

We took the metro to Champs Elysees, a famous shopping street with entirely too many people for a rainy day. Even its McDonald’s was ridiculously overpriced, but it was nice to window shop and understand the latest “fashions.” We walked all the way down to the Arc du Triomphe, my old friend that hadn’t changed a bit in the seven years since I saw it last (not that I expected it to). We also headed to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur. We found out that our metro pass worked for the lift up the hill, which was a relief since it had started downpouring by then. We took shelter in the church, which felt more comfortable than the drafty Gothic churches we saw earlier in Paris. When the rain let up a little, we headed back to the metro and to the hotel, since we were all pretty tired by this time.

After a nice nap, we went for a late dinner in the Montmartre area. We settled on Indiana, a curiously Native American themed restaurant that was delicious. After dinner, we walked into the “sex district” past stores and clubs the nature of which you can probably guess. Taylor wanted to see the famous Moulin Rouge, a cabaret house that was surprisingly smaller than myth but just still rather grand.

Paris – Day 3

After a long previous day, we decided to sleep in and take the morning of day 3 slowly. We met our Chellow friend Josiah for lunch at our favorite place, Crepe’s King, by the Eiffel. While Josiah departed to get settled in (he just arrived and will be in Paris for the next two months), our group (Byron, Burhan, Ellen F., Drake, and myself) headed off to the Eiffel, hoping the slight rain annoyed some of the line away. It only took about an hour to get through and maybe a half hour to get to the top. The views were just as spectacular as I remember – we have some great pics from that day, but we are probably going to wait to upload more until we get home; don’t want to strain the wifi too much.

We went on an adventure to look to Josiah’s church, where we were planning on meeting him, but we didn’t have much luck so we headed back to the hotel. We managed to get in contact with him via Facebook and met up with him in front of the Notre Dame (a great meeting point). This was one of our many attempts to find the artist stations by the Seine open for business. Because of the rain, we didn’t have any luck until Tuesday afternoon after the group left.

When the rain started coming down hard, we ducked into a below-street-level Mediterranean restaurant (we think it was called Restaurant Bierve). While most of us ordered steak and fries, Ellen F. and Josiah won the prize of best dinner for their couscous. Two rounds were enough to feed the entire table of seven, not to mention it was immensely delicious. While his English was a little muddled, the restaurant owner was extremely friendly. I definitely recommend trying to find this place if you’re ever in Paris near the Notre Dame.

Paris – Day 1

•May 21, 2012 • Comments Off on Paris – Day 1

Our first day in Paris was an interesting one. We took a historical tour of the development of schools and universities with a tour guide named Charlotte. We started off at Notre Dame, admiring its architecture and beauty. A cathedral school was first built here (on the island in Paris), along with a bishop’s palace and quarters for the student administrators (non-cloistered monks) for the church. A hospital and an orphanage also used to stand out front. The hunchback of Notre Dame was actually from the orphanage.

We visited the other older churches to which disgruntled teachers (priests, monks) would have fled if trouble arose in the Notre Dame community. While in Bologna the concept of college and university was founded upon an association of students, teachers and faculties started the movement in Paris. The interplay between church and state also played a huge role in educational development in France. We visited Cluny and its surrounding gardens (only briefly, hoping to return before we leave), where the Cluniac reforms began. We also visited a Cistercian hall, practically bare in its rejection of the frivolous and ornate. We passed by some prestigious colleges, which in Paris refer to high schools. Our guide briefly mentioned the memorial burial ground known as the Pantheon, which I also hope we can return to before we leave.

We had a market lunch (fruit and snacks) in the Cluny gardens. We experienced a funny little mix-up at the University of Sarbonne – our translator never showed. We waited outside the original-grounds-turned-event-hall for about a half hour until one of the guards took pity on us and allowed us inside for a brief tour. We saw a grand lecture hall, complete with a mural and several statues of Frenchmen who contributed much to their respective fields of knowledge – Richelieu, Lavoisier, Descartes, etc. We went upstairs and stood in the square where thousands of students were arrested for protesting, provoking a massive student revolt that toppled the educational system in France in the 1960s.

After our “class,” we went out to the Louvre to take advantage of its free admission for people under 26 on Fridays from 6-10 pm. We saw all the big ones – Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, etc. I was sad that they didn’t have The Young Capetian still showing, but maybe next time. After the Louvre, we took several metros out to the Eiffel, for pictures and relaxing in the park only, however. The rest of the group is still trying to find a good weather day for going up in it.

We sent Byron out as a food scout, since it was getting on well past dinner time. He found us an AMAZING crepe place in the Eiffel neighborhood that was still pretty reasonably priced. It’s called “Crepe’s King” (with confusing apostrophe and all), and I highly recommend it. We all had a few crepes and the very genial owner even allowed Taylor to make her own. So cool! This was the PizzAltero of Paris, by far. (PizzAltero was the legit but small-portioned pizza we had in Bologna; we enjoyed it so much that is has earned legendary status.)

Bologna – Days 2 & 3

•May 20, 2012 • Comments Off on Bologna – Days 2 & 3

Drake here, ready to catch up on some blogging (my bad!).  In this spirit (and in the spirit of creating one cohesive post), I am going to talk about our last two days in my favorite stop of our adventure, Bologna!

Wednesday began as a class day.  We took multiple stops through historic sites in Bologna outlining the history of the university there.  First up was essentially an old classroom building, which was INCREDIBLE (even if it was only partially authentic, courtesy of US bombers during World War II…whoops!).  The far more interesting stop, however, was the museum dedicated entirely to the university student throughout history.  Small but packed with information, the museum included information (much of it in English) about everything from discipline to athletics. It was one of the more enlightening stops on the academic leg of the trip.

Due to general fatigue, the rest of the day was fairly uneventful.  We stopped through yet another street pizza place to grab a bite (not quite the one on Monday in my opinion, but Sarah’s favorite of the trip) then hit another museum, this one outlining the medieval history of Bologna.  While the artifacts were fascinating sights in themselves, each caption was in Italian (and only Italian), so my enjoyment was limited.  After that, naptime! The only other activity of note on Wednesday was finding yet more excellent pizza for dinner, this time a little more restaurant-style (yet still cheap enough to be advertised by a neon sign, yay!).

On Thursday, we mercifully slept in.  This was a joy in itself, as our hotel in Bologna is without rival on this trip.  After waking up and getting moving, it really became a day for everyone to do whatever they very well pleased.  Our friends Burhan, Ellen, and Taylor went to a Lamborghini museum.  Byron (in completely typical and expected fashion) did two things with his day off: he used his friendliness and charm to help some of the others in the group with their assignment and–wait for it–climbed a small mountain.  This, once again, was the beauty of Bologna…it was chill and comfortable.

Sarah and I, on the other hand, experienced more of the city center of Bologna.  This began with a bird’s-eye view of city from the top of the tallest of its famous towers, status symbols for respective families vying for prestige centuries ago.  This particular panorama offered everything:  commerce, history, beauty, mountains (if we had brought a telescope, we could’ve seen Byron), etc.  It inspired a walk around the three quarters of the city yet unexplored.  It was really a lovely and beautiful walk, encompassing churches, towers, churches, gates, churches, palaces, and more churches.  We’ve seen quite a few churches.  The climax was a lovely nap right in the middle of the city square (where Sarah sunbathed and I lathered with sunscreen and STILL covered up my face to avoid sunburn).

The true highlight of Thursday was food.  Sarah and I reveled in our last day in Italy, where the food prices are generally lower and the food itself (in our humble opinions) is better.  In celebration of Italy, we had Chinese for lunch, haha! It was at the Golden Dragon, and it was glorious.  Shrimp and rice and potatoes and veggie rolls galore! Ahhh! We followed it up with (no kidding) the best ice cream we had in all of Italy.  I had lemon sorbet roughly ten times during the trek, and no time quite matched this one in terms of a combination of taste and texture.  After more gummies from our favorite Bolognese market (YAY), I grabbed one last bit of pizza from my favorite street pizza spot (the one from Monday), and we headed out.

One Ryanair flight (always an experience) later, we arrived in Paris.  Byron and Sarah will post about Paris later, but I’ll tell you this: I will always miss Bologna.  It is probably the best single-city abroad experience I have ever had.

In lieu of including a deep, all-encompassing theme on this post, I’d like to offer a special mention for the people of northern Italy (especially in the region surrounding Bologna).  Two nights ago, this area was struck by an earthquake of magnitude 6.0, killing a few, injuring many, and destroying industry and history alike.  If you have a moment, send a positive thought/good vibe/prayer (however you like to do it) their way.  They really are the caretakers of a magical piece of history.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned!


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