Redemption, KPop, and Fits of Laughter (London day 13)

image Sunday was a fantastic end to an otherwise frustrating weekend. Crazy how good always prevails in the end, huh? Some time during our first week Faith and I took the wrong street trying to find a Pret and ended up passing by the Korean embassy. A sign in the window advertised a Korean Festival in Trafalgar Square on Aug. 9th, and being fans of Korean culture we decided to check it out when the time came. image It ended up being this huge event where the whole of Trafalgar Square was packed with people (the usual crowd of tourists had nothing on . We got there around 2 and were just overwhelmed by the people, the various cultural booths, and the smells of delicious food. A stage was set up right in front of the lion statues and had traditional Korean dancers and musicians performing when we arrived. Lines of people waiting for food snaked through the crowd. We joined a line and maybe forty mintues later got a little dish of yummy bulgogi and rice. We’d later visit a Korean market booth and get aloe juice, pepero, and ramyeon.

Mmm, mashisoyo!

Mmm, 맛있어요!

The biggest treat was listening to KPop music. They first had some cover artists come out on stage and dance to popular KPop songs like Bang Bang Bang, Crazy, and yes even Gangnam Style. Then an actual KPop group, “f(x)” performed a few songs! It was really hot and we were stuck in the middle of a really thick crowd and these girls next to us were screaming very annoyingly… but it was still pretty fun. First KPop concert, in London!

I don't even mind that they're not in my top 3 favorites bands.

I don’t even mind that they’re not in my top 3 favorite bands.

Felicity chose to spend the afternoon in the nearby National Gallery and met up with us afterward. We ate leftover dinner at our flats, but then went out for drinks at a pub. Faith and I went with cider instead of beer this time and were much happier. The three of us sat in a booth at this place called the Hand and Flower, which was a lot more chill than the one we’d gone to before. We reminisced about our trip so far, thought about the things we’d still try to do in our last week, and had several moments of that uncontrollable, teary eyed, don’t-look-at-each-other-or-you-won’t-stop kind of laughter that took away all of the stress. Again, I am so grateful to be sharing this experience with these two! So there’s my short and sweet post about the end of my second week. Only one week left! We’ll be doing a lot as a class again, but there’ll still be plenty of free time for us to do any last minute sightseeing or souvenir shopping. I’m actually really excited about the gifts I’ve already gotten for my family, even if I’m going to wait until Christmas to actually give them. I just hope I have enough luggage space to get them back…

See, KPop makes everything better.

See, KPop makes everything better.

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Buckingham Palace, Naps, and Fish ‘n’ Chips (London day 11)

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To be honest, not much happened today. Which was actually nice because I think we needed the change of pace. We committed ourselves to touring Buckingham Palace, but the rest of the day we played it by ear. I think we surprised ourselves with how much rest we really needed at the end of this week. At least we’ll be recharged and ready for the plans we have this weekend, as well as the things we’ll be doing during our last week (*tear*).

But I’m sure you’re interested in hearing about Buckingham Palace! The Palace is only open for tours when the Queen is not in residence, usually in the summer. You can tell whether she’s in residence by the flag that flies at the top of the Palace; if it’s the Union Jack she’s absent, if it’s the Royal Standard she’s present. I figured since the Palace only opens select times of the year, it’d be best to take advantage of the opportunity and go this time. Financially, that meant cutting out some other things like Windsor Castle and Kensington Palace, but I think I’m okay with that. After all, I will come back some day…

Maybe as a royal guest?

Maybe as a royal guest?

They were going through the changing of the guard when we arrived, so we only saw a little bit of it through windows on the inside. Our ticket allowed us access to the State Rooms and the exit route took us through some of the grounds. It was very beautiful. I tried to imagine what it’d be like to live there, or to be called there as a guest, but it’s hard to wrap your head around when you’re shuffling along with a hundred other tourists listening to an audio guide.

Some interesting things I learned on the tour:  Buckingham started as a small townhouse that was later added on to and became the center of London. The lighting in the entrance hall is dimmer so the natural light coming from atop the grand staircase causes your eyes to drift upward. The grand staircase itself was designed with shallow steps so it would appear larger and cause you to bounce as you ascended. Some of the largest and most important (whatever that means) royal art collections in Europe are housed in two large rooms that were created by knocking three rooms together. And probably the coolest bit of knowledge was that in one of the rooms, where the Royal Family recieve guests, one of the large wall mirrors is actually a secret passage to the private rooms, so that they can discreetly enter and leave without having to pass through the more common areas. As a monarch, I think I’d be upset if my palaces didn’t have secret passages.

Some of which would need to lead outside for all my midnight adventures.

Some of which would need to lead outside for all my midnight adventures.

We (this is just Faith and me, by the way; Felicity went off to Chatsworth House, aka Pemberly from Pride & Prejudice) then ate lunch in St. James’s Park before returning to our flat. We’d thought about going to the London Dungeons later, but ended up unexpectedly knocking out for like 3 hours. So we instead found a fish n chips place called Kerbisher & Malt for dinner.

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And tried one of the best lemonades I’ve ever had…

I don’t know how many have travelled over to my food gallery, so you should if you haven’t yet (even if you have, I keep updating it, so just go over there anyway). England isn’t exactly renowned for their food. They have the fish n chips, the full English breakfast, and tea. And that’s pretty much it. There’s a lot of Indian food here, due to the large number of Indian immigrants. But I’m not really a fan of curry, so I’ll be passing on that cuisine. I don’t really feel bad for eating other foods like pizza and sandwiches, though, since that’s really all that’s left.

So this might be an amendment to a previous tip, but… Pro Travel Tip #8: Don’t go to a place you could go to at home. This is true for food (like Starbucks, McDonald’s, Whole Foods), clothing stores (like H&M, Urban Outfitters, Claire’s), and other places (like the Apple Store, the Disney Store, or Lush). Understandably you might be desperate for a cerrtain item, like you forgot to pack underwear or something, and it’s easier/cheaper to go somewhere familiar. But as a general rule of thumb, don’t travel half-way around the world only to shop at the same places you shop at back home. It’s just pathetic.

Anyway, I don’t have much else to say for today so I’ll end it here. Tomorrow though… fingers crossed our plans pan out!

And hopefully the weather remains nice to us!

And hopefully the weather remains nice to us!

London Food Gallery

The National Gallery, The Churchill Arms, and The Cereal Killer Cafe (London days 5 & 6)

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It’s hard to believe it’s already the weekend! I feel like so much has already happened and that I’ve been here forever; and yet at the same time it’s all gone by so quickly and now I only have two more weeks left to enjoy.

By now we’ve all broken up into our own little groups and pairings. I’m not sure what the rest of the group was up to this weekend, but I got to explore more of London with Faith and Felicity. On Saturday, Faith and I needed to give our wallets a rest so we went to the National Gallery. It’s right at Trafalgar Square, and let me tell you, it is just a bustle of activity on the weekends! For one, the world’s largest cycling festival was going on, so many of the roads were blocked off for cyclists. It looked like anyone could show up with a bike and start riding; maybe if I’d known in advance I would’ve rented a bike and experienced London from a different vantage point.

Then again, maybe not.

Then again, maybe not.

But hanging out in Trafalgar for lunch was exciting, too. There were So. Many. People! Up in front of the National Gallery there were several street performers and artists. From chalk painters to violinists, from levitating ghosts to Batman, there was just so much happening. I loved the atmosphere of it all.

If I wasn't on a budget, I'd be leaving coins everywhere.

If I wasn’t on a budget, I’d be leaving coins everywhere.

Another Random Observation: There are so many different ethnicities here in London. Whether you’re walking through tourist hubs or in the “calmer” parts of town, you’ll hear myriad languages being spoken. It’s easy for me to identify German and Korean, and I’ve heard some Spanish and French, too. But there’s plenty more, and I think it’s beautiful.

So we went through the National Gallery, a massive museum of paintings. And when I say massive, I mean room after room after room… We started by stopping at each and every painting, but then quickly realized that would take forever, so we just wandered through and stopped at any that caught our eye. The rooms aren’t in any clear pattern or path, either, so I’m sure there’s some we missed.

For a little gallery of my favorite paintings, go here.

For a little gallery of my favorites, go here.

We stopped by a souvenir shop afterward and then went back to the flat. We spent a couple hours just resting before meeting up with Felicity for dinner at a pub.

British mascot, Irish flag, and Thai food. Hmm...

British mascot, Irish flag, and Thai food. Hmm…

We’d passed by The Churchill Arms a few days ago and thought the flowers were cool enough to warrant a visit. When I went to a pub here with my family a few years ago, I didn’t drink. But this time, all three of us were determined to share our first pints with each other. We went with a light ale (Carling, I think the name was?) and it was… okay. I didn’t magically turn into a lover of beer, but the experience was still great.

This is my

This is my “I love London” face, not “I love beer.”

We had to stand outside with our drinks for about an hour as we waited for a table. A couple of “regulars” tried chatting us up. One guy happened to be very awkward (“so do you like older men?”) but I noticed it was the norm to go up and chat with random people outside. The 3 of us all talked about what a great sense of neighborhood community pubs seemed to bring to a big city like London, and how different it is back home. Brits might be quiet on the tube, but give them a beer and they’re your new best friend.

Late that night we finally got back and I tried Facetiming my family. Only Emma was available, so about an hour of listening to her ramble and I was finally ready to sleep!

Sunday, today (because these pictures I’ve been trying to upload take forever so I’m falling behind) we began at church. Felicity found this little church called Trinity West not too far from us, so we spent some time there worshipping and reading Revelations. The pastor actually had a southern American accent, so that was funny.

After that, Faith took us to the other side of town to find this place she’d heard about called Cereal Killer Cafe. It took us a while to find it, but the searching was worth it!

This is just one of the several cereal walls...

This is just one of the several cereal walls…

Deciding which cereals I wanted was probably the most stressful decision I’ve made on this trip. You could mix any cereals you wanted, cererals from America and around the world, add flavored milk, put on a topping, and get some other sweet breakfast things like Pop Tarts. I ended up getting a “cocktail” of Lucky Charms, Frosted Cheerios, and almond milk, along with a hot chocolate topped with Lucky Charms and sprinkles. The seating area downstairs had lots of 80s and 90s memorabilia decorating the walls. It was such a cool place.

The street outside, Brick Lane, had a large street fair that we walked through. Tons of yummy smelling food booths, clothing stands, random trinkets, live music… we even heard a radio playing KPop (Faith and I are obsessed).

Photo unable to capture the beautiful smells, unfortunately.

Photo unable to capture the beautiful smells, unfortunately.

Between Brick Lane and the underground, there was also this cool shopping center called the Box Park. It was basically a row of these narrow little shops all covered by this storage unit -looking thing. They had shops like the Gap and Sunglasses Hut, but also more pop-up type shops with cool names like Swedish Hasbeens. Overall this whole area (Shoreditch/Tower Hamlets) was really cool. If you don’t mind walking down graffiti covered streets and mingling with hipsters, I’d recommend checking out this area.

The only suitable name.

The only suitable name.

It was still early in the afternoon, so we decided to check out another shopping center, the Westfield Mall. It’s massive with multiple floors, tons of outdoor restaurants, champagne bars in between the walkways, stores ranging from H&M to Gucci, and even a Tesla store with a car in it.

We went back to our flat, took a nap, did some grocery shopping, started some laundry, and now we’re chillin’ while wondering when it’s going to hit us that we’re in London! It don’t think we’ll fully realize it until we’re already home. In the meantime, we’re just taking one day at a time, enjoy every step we take around this city, and loving every second we spend here. Here’s to a great week past and more great weeks to come!

Cheers!

Cheers!

Street Performers, Sore Legs, and Harry Potter (London Day 2)

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Today mostly consisted of walking. Lots and lots of walking. We met up with the class at around 10, and then proceeded to get our Oyster Cards (a convenient pass to get on the trains). I love the Underground here. The map seems confusing and intimidating, but once you do a couple of transfers it’s really easy to get the hang of. While we used the trains quite a bit, we still walked a lot more. Our professor really wanted to get us situated with where the major sites and places were in London.

A lot of it looked familiar, but I didn’t quite remember where it was all situated. I still don’t, to be honest. It’s one thing to look at a map and know where to find everything, it’s another to walk around and figure it out. Especially when you use the underground transportation; that really messes with your sense of direction.

But at least each station gives you a little history lesson.

But at least each station gives you a little history lesson.

So we walked basically from the Holland Park area up to Buckingham Palace, through St. James’s Park, and over to Trafalger Square for lunch. The Palace and Park were strange to walk through because the last time I was here they were decorated for the Olympics. Flags and Rings everywhere… St. James’s is where we’d seen the volleyball matches, but now the stands are gone.

It's still gorgeous.

It’s still gorgeous.

Along this route we passed through Covent Gardens, where the famous flower market from My Fair Lady used to be.

Flowers have been replaced with Chanel.

Flowers have been replaced with Chanel.

We stopped to watch a street act called “Man with Big Balls.” He had several audience members come up to toss him soccer balls, which he juggled while balancing on top of a big circus-like ball. One girl from our class, Tavia, was picked to hold the circus ball while he jumped on it. He made lots of jokes, most of them innuendos, and it was hilarious.

You just had to be there.

You just had to be there.

We stopped a lot for photo ops, so we ended up being a couple hours off schedule. It was around 3 that we got to the main class project for the day: the Museum of London. This was one of the only museums I’d gone to last time, so I guess it worked out that we rushed through. Faith and I had plans to go to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour at 6, but we needed to leave by 4:30. So we quickly toured the section we were assigned to write a class blog posting about and then headed off.

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Not before a quick selfie with this guy.

To get out to the tour, we had to transfer a few times on the underground to Euston station. From there, we then had to buy separate tickets to Watford Junction, since it stop outside of London and our Oyster cards wouldn’t cover that far. After queueing at two ticket stations and being told to go somewhere else for what we wanted, we finally got on the right train. Online it’d said the average journey was 20 min… ours, of course, took more like 40. We then had to take a shuttle to the actual venue, another 15 min, and basically we got there with only 3 minutes to spare. What a crazy mess!

Made it!

But we made it!

The tour was so worth it though. Once we no longer needed to stress out, we could finally get excited and nerdy about the Harry Potter movies. All of the sets, props, and costumes there were the exact onces they used to make the films. You could walk through the Great Hall, go inside the Hogwarts Express, and interact with a few other things too. My phone tells me I took about 300 pictures, so once I get those sorted out I’ll put them in a separate gallery for you to look at and experience vicariously.

Here's a little teaser to hold you over until then...

Here’s a little teaser to hold you over until then…

Getting back to our flat didn’t take as long, but it was still late when we arrived. We picked up dinner (at 10 PM!) from a place called Chicken Shack because we were desperate and that’s all that was open. I’ll also be creating a food gallery for all the meals I have here so you can check that out, too.

Now we sit here tired and sore, wondering what the rest of these three weeks are going to be like. London is a crazy amazing city, with so many layers of history down every street. I can’t wait to experience the rest of it!

Though maybe not the crowds...

Though maybe not the crowds…

HelloEurope! Part 5: Wherein everything goes wrong at the eleventh hour… several times

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This post begins where the last one left off: with vomit. Poor Alex heaved and retched the whole ride to the airport, and I’m not going to continue this line of thought because it’s nasty and I’m about to hurl right now just thinking about it.

But hopefully you get the point, because that actually wasn’t the worst of our problems there at the Heathrow airport. Because we didn’t get out the door in a timely manner (typical, I can hear my mom say), there wasn’t a lot of time to sort out the problem of not having all our tickets printed out. Apparently, Dad had only printed his own ticket while thinking he had printed all of them. And printing the rest there at the airport would cost a ridiculous amount of money.

So some negotiating happened. Some running around happened. Some line cutting (and subsequently being cussed out) happened. It was all very stressful. Mom was ready to cut the rest of the trip off and just go home. Dad was determined to make it work as cheaply as possible. Alex was off hugging a toilet somewhere. And this was all happening so early in the morning, the sun hadn’t even come up yet.

By the time Dad finally got us checked in, our flight was already boarding. We weren’t even past security yet. Everyone and their mothers seemed to be trying to get through at that exact moment, so we coughed up some more money to use the “express” lane, like we were at an amusement park but without any amusement. We then booked it to our gate which, you guessed it, was aaaaaaall the way at the other end of the terminal. Poor Alex and Emma. I was sweating and feeling queasy, so I can only imagine what that mad dash through the airport was like for them.

But we made it. Just barely. And before we knew it, we were in Rome.

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Glorious.

I’m going to be honest and admit that I have no idea why we went to Rome of all places. I mean, it’s not exactly in the neighborhood of London, which is where we started this whole trip. Ireland and Scotland would’ve made sense, but Italy’s quite a bit out of the way. And the distance between London and Rome is roughly the same as between Fresno and Dallas, TX, but have we ever gone to Dallas? No. Well, actually, we did, later in this trip. But that’s irrelevant. Point is, there is no logical explanation for why Rome got added to the itinerary.

But the fun thing about it is that no logical explanation is needed. I went to Germany and London and Cambridge and Rome (and Vatican City, spoiler alert), all in one summer. How cool is that?!

Answer: hella cool.

Answer: hella cool.

Rather than stay in a hotel in Rome, we rented an apartment. In the big picture, this was a good idea, and something I’d highly recommend. We were in a great location, we had a kitchen and laundry room, we didn’t have to worry about maids going through our stuff…. Pro Travel Trip #5: Don’t use hotels. I don’t know what service my dad used in Rome, but I’ve heard great things about AirBnB. It’s similar to what we did. You can rent a whole place or just a room. They’re usually very affordable. You get all these amenities that make you feel like you live there. It’s just a more authentic experience.

Getting into our apartment wasn’t smooth (but don’t let our misfortune turn you away from the idea). There’d been a miscommunication with what time the apartment owner was supposed to meet us, so we had to wait around for him to hurry over. The doorman of the apartment complex, however, wouldn’t let us wait in the lobby. At least, that’s what we understood from his tone and wild hand gestures; he didn’t speak English. As the guy yelled at us and we tried to explain ourselves, a lady who lived in the complex happened to walk by and began translating for us. She calmed the guy down, but he was still adamant about us not being in the lobby. So she offered to let us leave our luggage in her apartment while we waited at the nearby fountain.

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Hanging out with the locals is more exciting than hanging out with tourists.

Practically every neighborhood in Rome (perhaps in all of Italy, as well) had its own little community square with a fountain. It’s “the” place to meet up with friends, relax in the middle of activities, or hang out with coworkers during siestas. Or wait for the guy with the keys to let you into your apartment. Unfortunately, at the time of day we had to sit there, all shade was gone. Summer in Rome is pretty much the same as summer in Fresno: dry, hot, and awful. Alex was no longer vomiting, but both he and Emma laid lethargically on the fountain edge. Dad, Mom, and I were pretty uncomfortable, too.

The guy eventually came, and we finished our day doing laundry, taking showers, and enjoying the A/C.

Our humble home for the week.

Our humble home for the week.

Our first full day was pretty chill, too. We walked around the neighborhood a little bit, finding some local pizzerias, markets, and gelato shops. Mom made spaghetti for lunch, and it was probably the best damn spaghetti I’ve had in my entire life. Dinner, on the other hand, was less than spectacular. We ended up getting suckered into a tourist trap of a restaurant that charged way too much for pasta that tasted like it had been reheated. We stuck to homemade meals and our favorite pizzeria for the rest of the week.

The next day we all felt rested and healed enough to actually see some sites. We bought a two-day pass that gave us access to the Roman Forum, Colosseum, and all ruins in between. That first sightseeing day we only made it through the Forum area.

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At least there aren’t any stairs…

Yes, at first glance it is just a bunch of rock and rubble strewn around in some dirt. Compared to the castles in Germany and dungeons in London, the sites here seemed almost nonexistent. But then you start to really look at that slab of rock that a placard says was the foundation of some well-to-do Roman citizen’s house, and you take in the little hole in the ground that supposedly was the burial site of Julius Caesar, and you walk along the broken columns and statues of an old bathhouse… And you realize that this is two thousand year old history. People used to live here so many generations ago that their lineage probably can no longer be traced. People used to walk through here, going about their daily business, living in a culture that is now so ancient we have to study it in school. People made decisions in this very spot with no idea that thousands of years later some random family from a place that’s not even on a map yet would come by to wonder what these now crumbling structures meant to them.

Maybe it was just the heat and dehydration that made me have those crazy, existential thoughts. But history is beautiful and mind-blowing, and if you can’t appreciate a bit of rock for what it used to be two thousand years ago, then how can you appreciate anything, honestly?

Just look at how history and present day can exist side-by-side and tell me that's not remarkable.

Just look at how history and present day can exist side-by-side and tell me that’s not remarkable.

That evening Mom led the way to St. Peter in Chains (or San Pietro in Vincoli), a church with some pretty remarkable artifacts. The chains that held St. Peter were there, as well as Michelangelo’s statue of Moses and some cool frescos and mosaics. But because this trip was still on a downward spiral, I couldn’t admire any of it because now I wasn’t feeling well.

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Like I could complain, though. Others have had it worse.

It was probably a remnant of what Alex and Em had, coupled with the heat and dehydration of walking around Rome in the summer. As we left the church to then see the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain, I gave up. I took Em back to the apartment with me because she was getting cranky, and proceeded to toss and turn in bed with some weird stomach ache for the rest of the evening. Later that night I vomited.

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Mostly out of illness, a little bit out of jealousy.

I felt weak and had a small fever the next day, so my family also went to the Colosseum without me. Now, the Colosseum is more than just a bit of rock and dirt. It’s pretty amazing. I had walked by it while touring the Forum, and would later drive by it on the way to the airport, but I never got to go inside. I would feel just crappy enough for the rest of the week to not be able to go. This easily tops my biggest regrets in life list.

Looking at a picture just isn't the same...

Looking at a picture just isn’t the same…

Before coming back, my family had stopped by a market to pick up some dinner items. The story goes that some big drunk guy started threatening Dad in one of the isles for no reason. Dad says the guy was so close to throwing a punch before the store manager shooed him away. See what you miss when you get sick? An iconic historical site, and your dad almost getting knocked out in a grocery store.

Friday (I think it was Friday… keeping track of the days of the week is kinda pointless while on vacation), we all went out to the Vatican. Fun Fact: Vatican City is the world’s smallest country. So technically, I’ve been to four countries outside of the U.S. I was still feeling weak and had to sit down a lot. Emma was still struggling, too. She got a slight fever again and we had to cut our walk through one of the museums short so she could rest. What we did see in the museums was pretty incredible. Ancient Egyptian mummies and artifacts, iconic paintings and statues and tapestries…. Have I ever mentioned on this blog that I love museums? Because I do. I really, really do.

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A doorway to fun.

To get to the Sistine Chapel you have to walk through the world’s longest hallway along with, like, a thousand other people. And when you get to the Chapel, you realize it really is just a small chapel of a room and not the grand cathedral you expected. No pictures were allowed inside. And there were seriously people whose job it was to just walk around saying Shhh! any time you opened your mouth to breathe.

St. Peter’s Basilica was much more grand. We toured it in shifts so someone could stay outside with Emma while she slept on a bench. Call it a miracle or mere coincidence, but she would later wake up and feel almost 100% better for the rest of the trip.

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Incredible architecture does have that effect on people.

The Basilica really is amazing, though. I don’t want to rush past this part because it deserves to be ooh-ed and aah-ed over. So many popes and saints had their tombs in here. Statues everywhere. The ceiling itself could take hours to stare at. And then you walk outside and there’s even more.

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Marvelous.

We even found a pinecone statue.

Apparently the Vatican is a fertile place.

Apparently the Vatican is a fertile place.

I don’t remember what we did on our last day, probably because I still wasn’t feeling well and thus just hung around the apartment like a lazy sack of potatoes. Sorry, can you tell I’m really upset with myself? Pro Travel Tip #6: Don’t get sick. I know it’s not exactly something you can control, but it really does ruin the whole trip. So maybe a better tip would be pretend you aren’t sick. Take some pain meds, get over yourself, and make your expensive flight to the other side of the planet worth it.

Here's a quick reminder to check back at my gallery of food pics. Newly added: homemade Italian food in Italy!

Here’s a quick reminder to check back at my gallery of food pics. Newly added: homemade Italian food in Italy!

And now we come to the end of our journey, but it’s not quite the end of the craziness. The big problem of the day was figuring out how to get to the airport. Both of our flights (Alex and I would fly separately from the rest of the fam) were early in the morning, and because you have to be at the airport even earlier, there was no way we’d be able to take the underground or get a taxi. We ended up getting a nearby hotel to talk a taxi driver into picking us up late the night before, and we spent an uncomfortable night in the airport.

Right beneath this weird sculpture that everyone felt compelled to take pictures of. Awkward much?

Right beneath this weird sculpture that everyone felt compelled to take pictures of. Awkward much?

What made things even worse was Alex losing his bag, which contained his passport, wallet, and camera. He had accidentally left it on a hook in the bathroom, and by the time he went back to get it, it was gone. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a such a look of panic and despair than on my brother’s face at that moment. Dad talked with security while Alex ran up and down the terminal, looking to see if anyone had it. I don’t know how long this went on for; time sort of disappears in moments like these. It seemed like forever.

Alex decided to take another look in the bathroom, just in case. After some time, he emerged … miraculously, thankfully … with his bag. He had just happened to look up and notice the strap hanging out of a panel in the ceiling. His theory is that the janitors, who had been cleaning when he first went in, stashed it up there and planned to come back for it later. All the contents were still inside, and we once again dodged disaster.

Alex and I eventually left Dad, Mom, and Em to board our own flight. Ours had layovers in Heathrow and Dallas, but it was the stop in Heathrow that put the icing on this whole let’s-make-everything-difficult-for-the-Edins business. For one, Alex got pulled over by security for an extra pat down because, you know, gingers don’t have souls so they must be terrorists. Then, we sat on the plane for half an hour before being ushered right back off. There was something wrong with something, I don’t even remember anymore, and we had to wait back in the terminal while they changed planes. No one would give us any answers as to when everything would be worked out, but we were given free food vouchers because that solves problems.

Hours went by, and I was losing it. So much had happened and all I wanted was to go home. To see my cats. To sleep in my own bed. Alex paid money to use a computer and send an email to Mom and Dad, and Grandma, so they’d know what was going on. That was our only communication.

When we finally got to board a new plane, Alex was pulled over yet again by security. Like he was going to turn into a different person with different motives while waiting a few hours in the terminal? Whatever. We fly off to Dallas but don’t get in until midnight. Because pretty much everyone on the plane with us missed their connection flight out, we were given free accommodations at a nearby hotel. We paid to call Mom and Dad, who didn’t sound as worried as we’d expected, and ended the long day watching the Olympics closing ceremony on TV.

Now, we’d been told upon landing that only two flights were leaving for Fresno the next day, one in the morning and one in the evening. Obviously the one in the morning was booked, so we were scheduled for the evening one. This created more problems, since we were required to check out of the hotel by noon and didn’t want to wait around at yet another airport. So, we took a chance. We checked out early, went back to the airport, and spoke with this classically old southern lady about possibly getting on the morning flight instead. She called us dears and sweeties and looked about ready to give us a hug and feed us apple pie. I don’t for sure remember her name, but I want to say it was Phyllis.

So Phyllis put us on a waiting list for the morning flight and told us to try our luck and hang out at the gate. She said sometimes people cancel last minute or don’t make their flight and seats open up. We went ahead to the gate, waited a little bit, and wouldn’t you know it, we got on! We wanted to skip and dance we were so thrilled. Our flight to Fresno went off without a hitch, and in the blink of an eye, we were HOME! And I just want to add, it is a really bizarre feeling to come back to suburban California after being in historic European cities for so long. I definitely felt some reverse-culture shock for a while.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is the end of the Great Europe Adventure of 2012. I mentioned all the way back in Part 1 (posted circa a decade ago) that this trip was the best thing to ever happen to me. Though now that you know the details, you might wonder if that was a joke. I can understand. Crazy mishaps with your family in foreign countries are rarely seen as “the best thing ever.” And that’s okay. If there’s any lesson to be learned here, it’s that whatever happens, happens. And you can get upset and turn those experiences into regrets and refuse to talk about them with your relatives at Christmas. Or, you can move past the in-the-moment feelings of worry, boredom, and fear, and look back fondly on all the moments that came together to make up your life.

And with some free time and a couple turns of phrases, you can then dump those memories into a blog and pretend that other people want to read about it.

Good times. Good. Times.

Good times. Good. Times.

HelloEurope! Part 4: Wherein I represent my country by watching other countries in the Olympics

HelloEuropePartFourSweet, sweet English!!

Those were pretty much the first words to come out of my mouth after arriving at Stanstead airport. Nothing too memorable about this airport experience other than almost getting in trouble with immigrations because I didn’t know what hotel we were staying at. Seriously, no one prepared me for any interrogations! I’m barely a legal adult, so stop asking me adult questions!

I realize there are too many exclamation marks in these first five sentences, which the TA in my fiction writing class last year said makes for bad writing, but I hated that guy so I’m going to leave them there. (Is retroactive spite a thing? It is now.)

Eh em.

Sweet English. When you’ve been in a country where you have to decode signs just to figure out where the bathroom is, you’ll be glad to move to a country that speaks your language, even if the culture is a little backwards (like driving on the left/wrong side of the road, or saying chips instead of fries). Okay, I’m only joking. Cultures are never “backwards,” they’re just different … and I happen to enjoy many of the differences in British culture.

But at that moment I was just really, really happy they spoke English.

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And sign language.

I’m not against speaking other languages, mind you. Taking the fact that I didn’t prepare myself for visiting Germany and the attitude I had while there I hope you’ll forgive me for being an apathetic a-hole (pardon my German, I just liked the alliteration). I would like to think if I was plopped in the middle of a non-English speaking country right now, that I would embrace the language barrier and not complain about it. I guess that’s another one for the regret list. The best way to learn a language is to be immersed in the culture that speaks it. I went to Germany but didn’t learn much German. And now my current dream of one day being a polyglot is still a long ways away. Thanks, naïve younger self.

But what am I doing still talking about Germany? It’s time for England!

Alex and I rode into the City on a bus and met Dad on Baker Street, where we then ate dinner at a nearby pizzeria before going to the hotel to see Mom and Emma. They had arrived earlier that day, so the boring parts like getting Oyster cards and picking up Olympic tickets had already been taken care of. We were also already accustomed to the time difference (London is only one hour ahead of Sttutgart), so no naps were needed for us. Emma, on the other hand, fell asleep almost everywhere.

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So cute.

We did some things as a family, but most of the time we were split up. Mom and Emma did a lot of things around the City like seeing a live production of Shrek and going to a tea party. Dad, Alex, and I went to the Olympic events. That is, after all, why we had planned this trip in the first place. The first event we went to was water polo.

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Not the first sport I would’ve chosen, but you can’t be too picky with these things.

Now, quick interlude about getting our tickets. I don’t know if anyone remembers the backlash London got for their ticket system, but it really was awful. Many empty seats at a lot of games. People secretly trading for better tickets in back alleys…. And as Americans, we had no information about what teams were playing when we ordered our tickets months before; we just picked an event and a time and hoped for the best. With water polo, we ended up watching Montenegro vs. Hungary and Spain vs. Croatia.

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Ethnicity aside, they’re just men in tiny speedos.

It was pretty fun, though, and it was the freaking Olympics, so no complaints.

Once in a lifetime...

Once in a lifetime…

Afterward, we met back up with Mom & Em to tour the Churchill War Rooms, where I accidentally skipped a whole section and ended up exiting ahead of everyone and had to wait outside with no clue where anyone was for fifteen minutes. It was around this area that a train of cars with lights and a security detail drove by. We’re convinced it was Will and Kate.

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Cross “kind of maybe see Royalty” off the bucket list…

We ate dinner at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant, because Mom’s a big fan of him. We discovered after our meal that Brits don’t do “doggie bags.” You eat what you can, and leave what you can’t. It’s a bizarre idea for an American. (PS: remember to keep checking in on my food gallery to see yummy food pics!)

The next morning we toured the Tower of London. This place is amazing. If you ever go, I highly recommend you join one of the free tour groups because the tour guides are retired armed forces and dress up as “Yeomen Warders.” The guide we had was hilarious and kept advertising his Twitter account.

Pictures of the actual Tower will come when I visit again in less than a week!

Pictures of the actual Tower will come when I visit again in less than a week!

We then split up again so the fun, sporty people in the family could watch a soccer match at Wembley Stadium.

*tear* It's so beautiful.

*tear* It’s so beautiful.

There are some things that just get me about this experience in retrospect… For one, it was South Korea vs. Gabon, which I would be pretty stoked about today because I’m kind of in love with Korea. But this was before I even knew what Gangnam Style was, so I rooted for Gabon just because Dad and Alex were.

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They tied 0-0 so it didn’t matter anyway.

The other thing is that apparently we were sitting next to The Fine Bros (of YouTube fame). Alex knew at the time but didn’t say anything because I had no idea who they were. Again, I would’ve been so much more excited than I already was if I was the person I am today.

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Someday when I’m famous on the internet, I’ll show them this picture and we’ll have a good laugh.

The next day we toured Westminster Abbey and quickly looked at Buckingham Palace before going over to St. James’s Park for women’s beach volleyball.

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Dat view of the London Eye do…

The first game was Germany vs. Netherlands, and because we were sitting behind a bunch of Dutch fans (the people in orange) it was pretty entertaining. Then it was Great Britain vs. Russia… the energy was just wild; everyone was rooting for the home team. And finally, much to our satisfaction, was USA vs. Spain. Though it was the second string team (no Misty Trainor or Kerri Walsh), we were still happy to actually watch our own country play something.

And this guy was pretty fun to watch, too…

We had one last day in London, which we spent as a complete family walking around the City. We went over the famous bridges, took pictures of the famous sites, and stumbled across this cool place called the Burough Market. Lots of yummy food everywhere. Emma got wild game on a stick and Mom found a raw milk truck.

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Farmer’s markets have never been more stylish.

For dinner we went to a quintessential British pub. However, our waiter was from Spain and there were some translation issues in regards to the menu. One of the items was listed “gammon.” We’d never heard of this kind of meat, so we tried to ask the waiter what is was. Here’s a rough sketch of what that conversation was like…

Edins: Is it like beef, or pork, or…?

Waiter: No, no, no. It’s gammon. You know, gammon.

Edins: No, we don’t know. What animal is it from? A cow?

Waiter: No, no, no. Bigger than a cow.

Edins: Bigger than a cow? So what, like an elephant?

Waiter: No, no, no. Smaller than an elephant. Between a cow and an elephant. It’s gammon!

So Dad ordered it just to see what the heck this thing was. Turns out it was just pork. Apparently pigs are somewhere between the size of a cow and an elephant in Spain. You learn something new every day, kids.

This blog not sponsored by the Devonshire Arms.

This blog not sponsored by the Devonshire Arms pub.

But after such a great time eating and sightseeing and watching Olympic games, it was only natural that things would start going sour. Later that night at the hotel, we got some pretty upsetting news from back home. We’d left our bulldog, Tonka, with one of Dad’s coworkers since he had a bull terrier that got along well with her. But apparently Tonka had escaped under their fence and was missing. My grandma emailed us updates all night (well, all night for us) as they looked for her. She was eventually found by a neighbor, but the damage had already been done. The rest of our trip would have some merits, but we’d also be going through quite a lot of stress and illness, too.

The illness part happened right before we left the next morning to spend the weekend in Cambridge. Emma started throwing up, probably from her meat on a stick earlier, and would stay sick in bed the whole time in Cambridge. The rest of us had to rotate shifts staying with her so we could all get a chance to see the town.

It pretty much looked like this.

It pretty much looked like this.

That first night we had tickets to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A Shakespeare in the Park type of deal. Mom volunteered to stay behind, so Dad, Alex, and I were once again off on our own. The park it was in, however, was weirdly designed and didn’t have signs anywhere. We spent probably a good forty-five minutes walking around, looking for anything Shakespeare related. By the time we found the right spot, tucked away in a corner with nothing but a little poster on a nearby fence, we’d missed the first twenty minutes.

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It was a good show, though.

Our last day there we mainly rested and leisurely walked around. Because it likes to sporadically rain in England, we had to duck into some shops every once in a while. One of them was H&M, which I had never heard of before, so when they built one here in Fresno not too long ago I thought it was a British thing (it’s Swedish, in case you were wondering).

We also went in the famous Hardy’s candy shop, walked through another farmer’s market, and ate baked potatoes at a place called Tattie’s.

And dramatically looked at whatever this thing is.

And dramatically looked at whatever this thing is.

It was kind of hard to really enjoy anything, though. Our BnB was small and smelled weird. The weather was a little warmer and more humid than in London. And to top it off, the night before we would leave for Rome, Alex started vomiting too.

And thus the “fiasco” part of our journey would begin…

Sneak peak: it involves airports

Spoiler: it involves airports