Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Beware the Campbells

Arriving in Edinburgh in one piece, I walked up the MASSIVE hill to the backpacking hostel that I had booked.  I booked this trip so far in advance that I had not remembered that I booked a single room! (HALLELUJAH!!!) After a week of sharing a room with 6 random girls, it was a warm (actually cold-I only had a space-heater) welcome to be able to just veg out without being interrupted.  I promptly changed into my pajamas, and finished Allegiant--bawling at the terrible ending mind you.

Then I took a nap. After meeting up with Anna and Ben for dinner. (Fish and chips! I mean why not, I'm in the UK afterall)  We then went to a pub close to our hostels. It was of the... older crowd. One pint in and we all, exhausted called it a night.

The next morning started early. We met at the local Starbucks on the Royal Mile before we joined our Highland Tour. (It's called Highland Experience and I HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend it.)  We booked a tour for the whole day, where we literally were in a bus for 12 hours. Now, this tour is taxing. It is a long day. However, I loved every second of it.  We began our tour in Stirling, where William Wallace and Robert the Bruce have monuments. As we drove through the Lowlands, we listened to Mel Gibson's passioned speech to his men from what else, but Braveheart. Making a quick pitstop at Loch Lubnaig to take pictures we turned off the main roads and made our way through the Highlands on twisty winding back roads.

Glen Coe was our next stop. This was the site of the Campbell Clan's massacre of  MacDonald Clan turning their back on the ancient ritual of hospitality. This was also the area where Harry Potter and Skyfall were filmed. AKA it is absolutely breath-taking. I have only been that cold one other time in my life. (NY Giants v. Panthers game in the Meadowlands where I was wearing unlined rubber boots in December with like a foot of snow) The mountains were gorgeous, the intensity of the color in this grey and rainy place was astounding.  We stopped at the site of the "Three Sisters" Faith Hope and Peace, obviously all in Gaelic.  These mountain tops almost disappeared into the mist.

On to the main attraction we headed even further north to the infamous Loch Ness.  It was as if the clouds decided to take a break, and allow the sun to shine as we arrived at the Loch.  Well take a look, it is easier to show you than to tell you. Maybe we saw Nessie, maybe we didn't.  

After a fun boat tour on the Loch, we headed to Inverness to make our turn back south. Story after story about different massacres played throughout the day but the tape told the two stories of Bonnie Prince Charlie and Mary Queen of Scots on our way back. These were my favorite. It was at the end of the day, but it was so cool to hear about the history of the monarchy from the Scottish point of view. We made a pitstop in Pitlochry, a tiny fishing village, before we made an impromptu stop at the Forth Bridge built during Queen Victoria's reign.   It is a gorgeous piece of architecture. Arriving back in Edinburgh twelve hours later, we were exhausted. Promptly thanking Kenny, our bus driver in the kilt, we parted for a bit to get refreshed to go out to dinner and out on the town. Overall, exhausting day but one of the most memorable of this awesome spring break.  

Fondue Art

Ages again since writing. Recap of the Louvre to follow.

I spent my Sunday morning at the largest museum in the world. FYI, I got lost. Not a shock there, but it was overwhelming.   I was so excited to see all the masters of art in one place nestled amongst the hubbub of Paris. I waited in line to walk into the glass pyramids that are a "stain on the face of Paris" according to Captain Fache from Dan Brown's infamous Da Vinci Code.  Personally, I think they are gorgeous, a perfect reflection of where we have come and where we are going.

Walking in, buying the ticket and then not grabbing a map, I hit confused SUPER quick. (Make sure you grab a map if you go!) I figured my best bet was to walk toward the most iconic lady of art, Mona.  I started up the escalator and then realized I had the Rick Steve's Audio Guide to Europe. Thank goodness for the Louvre chapter!!! I definitely saw some of the best art ever. I took about 3 art history classes in undergraduate--passion much more than profit-- and it instilled in me a beauty for sculpture, reliefs, and paintings.  I loved my lazy Sunday. For brevity's sake, I have included pictures of my favorite pieces.  

The iconic Venus de Milo, in the classic contraposto stance.

Relief from Greece

Madonna on the Rocks by Mr. Leonardo Himself 

Mrs. Mona Lisa

The Wedding at Cana

The Crowning of Napoleon--the largest painting in the Lourve

Just plain beautiful. Inverse contraposto. 

None of these pictures do the beauty of all this art justice. 

After a wonderful time in the Lourve, I decided to go over to the Eiffel Tower, during the day. Pictures galore were taken.  I then walked the Seine, to find the French Statue of Liberty. Couldn't find it. Found the most adorable golden retriever chasing ducks around the river and the bridge from Inception though. 

With an early flight the next morning, I met Nathalie for dinner. We took the metro over to Abbesses and walked aimlessly trying to find Le Refuge de Fondues.  This is a restaurant that is a hole in the wall. We had to stand outside on the street and wait for a free table. Let's clarify something about this restaurant--it is fondue.  Delicious fondue at that. However, outside of the delicious food, the all included price, the need to climb over tables to get into your booth there is one shining star. You get served unlimited wine in baby bottles. Yes you heard me right--baby bottles. The classic, glass bottle with a nipple and all.  It was quite an experience. Nathalie and I met this sweet British couple with whom we shared the meat and cheese fondue.  It was quite the perfect way to end my trip to Paris.  

The next morning--early flight from CDG (an airport I now detest) connecting in Birmingham and feeling sicker by the minute I arrived in Edinburgh.   A city I have come to love, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Stay tuned readers!    

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Once upon a time, on the north shore of Long Island....

I severely underestimated how much the movie Sabrina had an effect on how I viewed Paris. Not the Humphrey Bogart, William Holden, and  Audrey Hepburn version from 1954, I am talking about the Harrison Ford, Greg Kinnear, and Juila Ormond version from 1995.   I won't bore you with the movie plot, but basically a young girl, named Sabrina who doesn't speak French, moves to Paris and proceeds to find herself, find a French boyfriend, and get a killer job for French Vogue. (AKA the dream) There's a lot more at work in this movie but they romanticize the notion of Paris. As a child who grew up watching this movie with her mother, on repeat, it gave me this beautiful image of Paris.

In the movie Sabrina, she and Linus (read the ever perfect Harrison Ford) are eating Moroccan food on the floor, this is where my love affair began FYI.  They are just talking and she says "I used to walk everywhere in Paris. I used to walk from Montmartre down into the center of the town. Along the Seine there is a 4-mile wall that goes from Isle Saint Germain to the Pont de Bercy. Takes you past all the bridges of Paris, 23 of them. Then you find one you love and you go there everyday with your coffee and your journal, and you listen to the river."  

I walked that walk Friday afternoon from Montmartre to the center of the town. And I began my Saturday morning walking the Seine. In my brain, the Seine made noise. So legitimately Sabrina was listening to the sound of water.  Just so everyone is aware, the river doesn't make noise. It creeps along, silently, swirling around the bridges and boats.  It is reminder of the past and everything that Paris was built on and stands for- freedom . And when Sabrina talks about listening to it, she's talking about listening to her thoughts and heart. That hit home as I was staring out over this moving snake, alone, Saturday morning.  I slowly walked, took in every side street, pigeon, and discarded flower.  I walked from Bastille to the Arc de Triomphe. 

Detours naturally took place.  The first major detour was to walk into Notre Dame Cathedral. You know, like the Hunchback? Yeah, that cathedral.  It was amazing. I again spent an hour inside that gorgeous building. Then deciding it was lunch time, and I was getting tired, I stopped of at a little cafe in Saint Michel, just across the bridge from the Notre Dame, and had boeuf bourguignon. (It doesn't hold a candle to Julia Child's version though.)  After a delicious meal, I braved the cold to walk the Tuileries Gardens outside of the Louvre.  These gardens are gorgeous. I only stayed on the main path, but you could definitely do little side walks around to find other sculptures. 


From there I walked the Champs Elysees. It was cool. In the way that a street with lots of shops can be cool. Highlight of that walk? Going to the flagship Laduree store. I met 3 women from Raleigh so it made me miss home a little bit more.  After reaching the Arc de Triomphe, I decided I had walked enough and I took the subway back to my hostel. From there, I found Nathalie and Aurelie and we met Joyce for an awesome sushi dinner. (I had my first taste of sake and I have to say, I'm hooked.) Then we went out for the night! My last night on the town.

My visit to the biggest museum in the world was my Sunday exploration. Stay tuned readers. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

La Vie en Rose

Just to help you all with your musical education, to give you the feeling of Gil Pender strolling through the Parisian streets in the rain, Sabrina sitting in a cafe writing her father, or even Ted Moseby listening to the Mother sing this on the ukulele the night before Barney and Robin's wedding, this song is what characterized my next trip.

"They play it for the tourists. I'm always surprised at how it moves me. Its about seeing life through rose colored glasses. Only in Paris where the light is pink can that song make sense. But I'll have it in my pocket when I go."       -Sabrina Fairchild "Sabrina"

I didn't understand a lot of things about Paris. I had idealized this city in my brain and only eagerly seen movies, read too many books, and gobbled up magazine articles.  Paris is... Paris. Theres been novels, songs movies and songs written about this city, nothing I say will be able to even come close to describing this amazing city.

My first two days (Wednesday and Thursday) I spent at Parc d'Expositions at Premiere Vision. COOLEST THING EVER!!!!!! It seemed like miles on miles of fabric and accessories. I was in my own version of fabric heaven. I learned so much, I can barely begin to write it all down, and I was able to avoid the rain.   Moral of the story, I have found my calling in life.

The next three days was where the touristy fun began. Friday I woke up late, due to my late night out at O'Sullivan's.  (Everyone who's asked me about Paris has heard about my affinity for this bar. I highly recommend it!) Then, I decided I just wanted to walk around Montmartre get familiar with the neighborhood I had fallen in love with from afar. I stumbled into a quaint and delicious restaurant right beside the Montmartre Cemetery. I ate a fantastic lunch and then walked through the cemetery only to find myself right at the Moulin Rouge when I walked out.  After throughly exploring the area surrounding the Moulin Rouge, taking pictures and such, I walked through Pigalle--aka neon signs flashing "Sex Shop" every 5 feet.  And then once you think there can be no more shops, you stumble upon the Sacre Coeur. On its hill, overlooking this beautiful city, I was in love. It's a conundrum, this beautiful church amidst the sex shops. Though, given the way Jesus made friends, it's not that surprising. He did prefer the tax collectors and prostitutes.

You walk through the cobblestoned alley way to the base of the hill, wade your way through the guys selling bracelets (they are NOT free don't fall for it) bags, sunglasses and the likes. Once you make it to the stairs, its a climb.  You could take the funicular but wheres the fun in that?  And once you get to the top, the sweeping view of the city is well worth the 5 minutes you spent climbing the stairs. After entering this amazing church, don't try to take pictures. I thought I could sneak it, even though the signs clearly say NO PHOTOGRAPHY.  I couldn't, one of the guards came over and made me delete the picture off my phone. #rude I spent so much time in there and it was fantastic.  Mass was in process as I entered and it was so cool to witness.  I sat for a while, post picture chastisement, and was in awe of the beauty of this place.  After sufficiently spending like an hour in the church, I figured it was time to head back down the hill.  I was tired and figured a nap would be a good idea. So I moseyed my way back to the hostel, and fell asleep. When I woke up, Nathalie and Aurelie had arrived in the room beside me so I got ready and we went to the Eiffel Tower to pop champagne! We got there right as the lights went on, and it was such fun! After deciding not to go out, we went back to the hostel to sleep.

Saturday truly was the ultimate tourist day for me, stay tuned readers for my four mile walk along the Seine and visit to the Louvre.

Friday, March 7, 2014

London's Final Hours

Deux Jours

Day Two started out interesting.  I planned on meeting up with Stevie and Ragin at Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guards.  Minor snafu... we couldn't communicate without WiFi.  So, I am waiting at the gates of Buckingham Palace with some girls in my program, trying not to freak out because I couldn't find Stevie and Ragin.  FYI to anyone wanting to see the Changing of the Guards, it is uneventful. Save yourself the 2 hours and go do something cool in London.  After the procession ended, I went up to the meeting spot we had agreed upon except no Stevie and no Ragin.

So, I said goodbye to the girls in my program, gambling that I would find them. Surprise, I didn't find them.  I waited around for 45 minutes before I figured it was time to make some moves.  Since we did all of our sightseeing on day numero uno, I knew I wanted to window shop.  I made my way over to Bond Street and Oxford Street, as that is what we had discussed the day before.

I stumbled into this little square called St. Christopher's and I fell in love. As if London hadn't sold me already, this little world within the city did it. I stopped into a bunch of boutiques and little shops and got lost in time. I stumbled into a pub and ate the best venison sausages and mash.  Finally getting WiFi, I was able to get up with Stevie and Ragin (see no worries Mom and Dad). Then we went window shopping; Topshop, H&M, Zara and the likes.

Then came the highlight of the day! We journeyed into Soho and had afternoon tea. Not just high tea at any old tea room, it was a secret tea room.  What's a secret tea room you ask? Simple, its hidden duh!   By hidden, I mean we walked, very hesitantly, into a bar that resided at the address given for the tea room. As we stepped up to the bar, me not being afraid to ask a question, said "I think we have reservations for tea?" To which the bartender asked my name and proceeded back to the phone where she made a very veiled call "upstairs." Upon finding out that we indeed, did have reservations, she escorted us behind the bar, through the kitchen, and up a winding skinny spiral staircase to a door where she surreptitiously knocked and promptly walked away.  Stunned at what happened, we stared in awe as the door opened to the quaintest little tea room! Little doilies, cakes, teapots, fine china and rustic fireplaces greeted us. We sat down and promptly ordered tea and cake.  Mismatched china and rickety chairs added to the effect.  We all had such a wonderful time, taking in the atmosphere, taking pictures, and just chatting. I was sad to see the outing come to an end, because that meant Stevie and Ragin were leaving.

After we parted ways at the Tube, I headed out to Covent Garden. I had been anxious to explore the area and was not disappointed. I wandered in and out of magic street shows, little concerts and the shops.  It was closing time for the open air market and I moseyed around the closing corrals with salespeople trying to make one last sale as the sun sunk below the buildings. The trinkets, handmade lace, and even the fluffy bathrobes never ended. It seemed to go on forever.  I ventured around, never too far from the Tube station, in and out of little boutiques along the cobblestoned streets.  Once my feet started hurting really bad, I decided it was time to head back to the hostel.

After hailing a rickshaw from the Tube to the hostel, I promptly took off my shoes and laid down.  Not for long though as a few of us decided to grab dinner at a pub nearby. After a pint of cider, steak and ale pie, with mash we all headed out for our last night in London.  As I had not been "out" at all while in London, a few of us headed to Piccadilly Circus to find a pub/club,  and instead we just wandered around. Stumbling into The White Horse to use the bathroom, only to be told they were closed but they were sweet enough to direct us to another bar that wasn't closing anytime soon, where they were heading themselves. So we followed them, danced the night away, then went to see the NBA AllStar game at a sports bar inside a casino! It almost felt like I was in the US for a second. At the chiming of 2:30am, and the realization that I had to leave for the airport by 3:30am, it was time to leave.

 Returning to the hostel, laying down for 15 minutes, getting ready, and heading to Victoria Station to catch the Gatwick Express was a blur. I slept on the train, made it to the plane, slept on the plane and got lost on the way to the train station home.  When I finally reached the train station, I was so relieved. As I got to the platform, I was exhausted and when the train pulled up, a stranger came up behind me and wrapped his arms around me. As I played out the escape scenarios in my brain, I turned around slowly to see who this strange man was and if I would be able to run away.  Low and behold, as my heart was about to burst, it turned out to be Cameron! Literally, I think I used up one of my nine lives freaking out. As I collapsed on the train ride back to Juan les Pins with him, I recounted my trip, shared my Oyster card, and almost fell asleep.

Yes, reader in case you were wondering, I made it to class that day, exhausted but I made it.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

"Oh Yeah Baby"

Day Numero Uno

The title is in my best Austin Powers voice. I was so excited to arrive in London.  After class finished on Valentine’s Day, everyone (because there were 15ish of us) piled onto the local bus to go to McDonald's before we headed to the airport. That was the first time, and first taste of home I had, since I arrived in France. And I was hesitant.  I wanted to save a trip to McDo (as the French call it) till I was painfully homesick and that hadn't happened yet.  I begrudgingly ate the simple cheeseburger, and it caused homesickness as opposed to remedying it.  Suddenly I missed my family more than anything.

Pushing that aside, I followed the group through the airport in Nice and I figured it was time to start a book.  (Only way to travel if you ask me) I was recommended the Divergent series by friends and figured that was a good place to start since the movie is coming out mid-March.  Much like Hunger Games, I was hooked but slightly less so. It was a fine series (as is no surprise I finished it in three plane rides-duh there are three books-one per plane). Not my favorite but not bad. Quick, easy read. There are the occasional curve balls, and only one took me by surprise aka Allegiant’s ending. Those of you who have read it know what I’m talking about. But it kept me occupied which all I desired from it. 

Upon arrival at Gatwick, we made our way to Victoria Station, then to the Holburn Tube stop.   After walking a ways, we arrived at our hostel, Astor Museum Inn Hostel. After settling in, a few of us decided to get dinner and a pint at Shakespeare’s Head promptly followed by meeting the rest of the group at a bar in Covent Garden-which happens to be one of my favorite areas of London. 

The next morning I met up with Stevie and Ragin!! They are studying in Ireland for the semester so we figured a Valentine’s Day reunion in London was perfect.  We met at the Tower of London, which is like 20-some pounds to enter (read EXPENSIVE), and instead headed over to Tower Bridge and decided to go up and see the city. Following that, we walked to the Monument of the Great Fire of 1666. Ragin, who is afraid of heights, was slightly freaking out as we climbed the winding staircase to the top.  Once we were up there, amidst the 30 mph winds, we got the most amazing and sweeping views of the city. 

Being ultimate tourists, we went to Kings Cross to take pictures at Platform 9 ¾ .  Essential if you care about Harry Potter at all!  After we had the most fun ever, and I mean ever, we decided to grab lunch at a cute little cafĂ© and then head over to Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, the Marble Arch, Hyde Park, and Harrods.  Sounds like a lot right? Well, because it was!

We were exhausted when it finally became time to go to Whitechapel. Why were we in the dodgy East End of London you ask? Simple...we were going on a Jack the Ripper walking tour.  You know, the serial killer who lived in the East End terrorizing the citizens of London during the autumn of 1888.  It was grisly, scary, creepy, and any other goose-bump-inspiring adjective you can think of.  We saw scenes of murders, autopsy photographs, and even met a local crack addict that decided to harass the entire group on the tour. 

Overall, COOLEST THING EVER!!! I HIGHLY recommend this tour.  It is not for the weak stomached though. But growing up, my mom instilled a deep rooted respect for Law and Order: SVU. Now this was not the same, because Jack the Ripper was not into  “sexually based offenses, which are considered especially heinous.” He was more adept at just slitting throats.  Still knowing he was never caught was spooky enough. 

Moral of the story: SO MUCH FUN! 


Ok, so after a major blogging hiatus due to a TON of traveling, I'm back.

Well, technically not yet. I'm sitting in the Edinburgh Airport about to head back to Juan les Pins after a whirlwind two almost three weeks. I will not attempt to address everything that has happened in those two and a half weeks in this post as you all would get incredibly sick of reading and I could possibly get the beginnings of carpal tunnel if I attempted that.   So in true blogger fashion, I will do multiple posts over the next couple days to recap my biggest adventure yet.

Just so everyone is aware, I was in London, Paris, the Scottish Highlands (read Loch Ness), Edinburgh, and St. Andrews over the last two almost three weeks. This involved seven planes, numerous metro or tube rides, at least nine train rides, ten bus rides, and lots of patience, which lets be real, I've already got limited amounts to begin with.  This trip tested my entire being. No shocker there to those who know me. I am so type A it hurts. This trip caused me to relax, step back, appreciate the mess-ups, get a little sick, cry, be alone, be with friends, and most importantly learn about myself in ways I would have never guessed.  It made me miss my family probably the most I have since I've left the good ol' US of A.   ( Love you Daddy, Momma and Buddy!)

Quick Shout Out: I am the proudest big sister ever!!!!!! My little (or not so little) brother made the Varsity Baseball team as a freshman!!!! I am so sad I can't be there, but know that I am praying for you and wishing I was there to see it, Buddy! 

So till I can get back to France, here are some pictures of my adventures. Enjoy readers!