To Germany…or actually, to Bavaria!?

What is that you say? You’re traveling again? Hell. Yes. My friends. Hell yes.

Or well, I traveled once for Spring Break, but man was it needed. I could feel my soul like itching for a 9 hour plane ride an adventure.

My sister and I went to Munich, Bavaria, Germany together over break and it was glorious. The trip included a great hostel (minus some terrible etiquette, but more on that later), amazing food, and ridiculous castles. I MEAN SERIOUSLY THIS CASTLE THOUGH:
neuschwanstein

Yeah so our day trip included that beauty and some hiking in the Alps! Like…the alps alps. Like Chuck vs. Phase Three alps (except in Bavaria).

Anywho, our time in Munich was fantastic. If I can make one recommendation from our trip, it is to take the free walking tour from OzTour Munich! Out of all of the free walking tours I’ve been on, Oz blew all of my guides out of the water! Remember that ridiculously detailed Poland post? Ozzie made that fantastic guide look like he knew nothing about Warsaw in comparison! Crazy.
Seriously. Ozzie and his tour just blew me away. I learned a ton in the first 5 minutes (Munich is a super Catholic, conservative town with great history and monuments) and Ozzie even let us stay after the time was up and showed us an amazing hot chocolate place. Also, he was just an great guy. He made us think while we were on the tour. He showed us food that came directly from the butchers/bakers/etc. He got us local in 3 hours. If you’re in Munich, take OzTours. If you’re anywhere else…still take the free walking tour.

So…yeah…take the free walking tour. Everywhere you go. TAKE THE FREE WALKING TOUR! DAMMIT (Not actually trying to yell here, sorry)

One other important thing I learned, that is the reason for the title of this post, is that Munich is in BAVARIA. There’s a difference. Bavaria is a freistaat – a free state – that could actually leave Germany because they have their own culture, economic power, and even Prime Minster. This is a big deal, and it made me think a lot about these ethnically or culturally independent states more closely. According to Oz, and he’s not wrong, most places have a “Bavaria” in them, like Texas in the US. Bavaria can raise its flag (they have their own flag) as high as Germany’s, they have their own leader, and their culture dominates what we think of as “German”. Wurst? Bavarian. Lederhosen? Bavarian. Pretzels? Bavarian. Need I go on? This lesson from Oz was seriously poignant and instructive. It’s the one major thing I take away from my trip, I think.

I know you want more pictures….and why not food pictures…because this is my blog and there must be food? Yes. You’re right. FOOD!

We went to one of my favorite places in Munich (twice! we went twice woo! Once on the walking tour. Can I plug that walking tour enough?) that is called the Victual Market in English, but in German it is Viktualienmarkt. So…we ate wurst and drank beer here for 5 euros all together. A half litre of beer and a wurst sandwich (sommel bread) all for 5 euros?! Yes. Yes it’s true. Go to Munich…eat food. It’s filling, cheap, delicious. Amazing. (Like my lack of eloquence? That’s because of the amazing food.) So here’s a photo of that amazing wurst:
wurst germany

Looks simple enough, but let me tell you, this sausage sandwich was one of the best things I ate in Munich!
Here’s Chelsea with her half litre beer and sandwich :) (She’ll hate me for this later)
chelse wurst germanyAnd that’s not all (did you really think it was?) in terms of food. We ate (for 13 euros total) an entire Bavarian feast with our friend Manda (who we met at the hostel – MEET FRIENDS AT HOSTELS!! ) one evening:
Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

And to be honest, that doesn’t even cover all of the delicious food we ate. But this plate includes a pork knuckle, roast pork, half a duck, two wursts, a potato dumpling, and cabbage (not pictured). Can we talk about this food? Mind blowing. Thank you, Augustiner-Brauhaus. Thank you.
And I’m serious about making friends at hostels. I made some good travel buddies in Poland and now Munich, and in this case, Manda even taught me and Chelsea some German! Even better.

Finally, I want to have a chat about hostel etiquette. When I studied abroad and was writing this blog at that time, I had a main lesson a lot of the time…and here’s my major lesson for this post: KEEP HOSTEL ETIQUETTE IN MIND.
What does that mean, you ask? Easy…here’s some “don’ts” for you:

  • Don’t wake people up by turning the entire room light on and being noisy as hell at 2am if possible
  • Don’t fall asleep with your light on
  • Don’t walk around naked (yep that happened)
  • Don’t stay up super late with the main light on (and you can use your bed/reading light) when everyone else in the room is trying to sleep

Honestly, I don’t think these are too hard to follow…so keep them in mind when you’re staying in big hostel/communal rooms :)

Otherwise, if you want some good Munich times, take the walking tour, eat all the food, walk everywhere (don’t really need a underground pass), check out the English Gardens, and ENJOY YOURSELF.

Also, did I mention this entire trip was free? FREE. Yes. FREE. I won a raffle at a “Life After Study Abroad” Conference. I highly recommend going if you’re post-study abroad, because they are an amazing experience where you get to talk about your time abroad and learn how to apply your experience to your professional life.

Overall, this trip was good for my soul.

x

P.S. – Random protip for Munich – skip Hofbrauhaus for actual drinks (it’s an expensive tourist trap, but if you take the free walking tour, you’ll get the historical info without spending money!)

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Flyin’ Solo…

No this is not a Jayyssoonnnn Deerruuulllooooo song.
And if you read that in his voice, 5 points for whatever house you’re in…or just for you if you’re not a Harry Potter nerd like myself.

Moving past the passive-aggressive…blob that was my last blog post, I wanted to get back to writing about the travels I actually had…since I was lazy and didn’t finish any posts or post anything at all following my last few weeks of traveling.
And this is kind of important, you know, for anyone that wants to travel, but may not have a buddy to go along with.

Let me start by saying that traveling alone is no reason not to travel. In fact, I found my experiences of traveling alone very liberating and enjoyable because I controlled my timetable, did what I wanted to and saw what I wanted to, (can I get a booyah for flexibility?) and had no one to worry about when traveling (flying solo, literally, is actually a lot less hectic as you’re only worrying about yourself). The other thing is, if anything goes wrong, or you mess something up, it’s no one’s fault but your own, and being mad at yourself for something seems much easier than being mad at a friend, in my experience.

My solo travel experience, as you know, did start when I moved to London, and there’s a post on that somewhere back in the cobwebs…(or actually, on another blog!) But in this case, I have other specific examples. I went to Berlin, Germany, on my own, and I also did a few bus tours on my own (though those don’t count as much because you have a tour guide and other people with you).

Going to Germany, though, was a fairly large step, and I kind of wish I had taken it sooner. I was kind of hesitant to travel to a country where I didn’t know the language on my own at first, but just dived right in when I finally made up my mind. And I loved it! I ate all different kinds of food, saw different historically nerdy things, made new friends that I may never talk to again (unfortunately :( ) and just enjoyed myself. But at the same time, had to deal with any mishaps, alone.

All in all, it was a great trip. I went on a few walking tours, learned a TON about the history of Berlin and Germany in general, saw some great sights, (East End Gallery blew my mind!), ate some delicious food (like you expected any less! Currywurst is pretty delicious, I’ll tell you. Though I thoroughly enjoyed other specialties while there too!), and just really came to appreciate the country and culture. (How much I came to appreciate it surprised me, because I was only there for a few days!) I think a lot of why I loved this trip so much was that it was really untouched by what others wanted to do or what they thought about a certain thing, because as much as they are awesome, traveling companions do have their views and desires, and sometimes you might not want all of that all the time.

So if you’re traveling alone, here’s a few things to keep in mind:
1. Don’t NOT TRAVEL because you’re afraid of going alone. (Unless it’s in a country that you should probably not travel alone in at the moment, like…Egypt probably wouldn’t be the ABSOLUTE BEST choice for now.)
2. Figure out your own timeline before you go and do the research (this is a theme in my blog, I swear. DO THE RESEARCH) in order to meet that timeline. Know how long it takes to get to/from the airport to your hostel/hotel, etc. Keep that all in mind!
3. Now send that timeline to someone you know via email. Family, friend, significant dinosaur, whoever. So they know where you are and what you’ll be doing. Then make sure you check in with that person at some point! Otherwise, hello worrying!
4. Be smart. Use your common sense! Don’t walk around CONSTANTLY staring at a map, you’ll be screaming for something bad to happen if you’re not careful. If you need to use a map, go to a pub or something, grab a drink or food, and take a look while you enjoy some local cuisine. Bartenders and servers tend to be pretty useful folks too! (Or if you absolutely NEED directions, don’t let on that you’re solo. Say you’re meeting someone)
5. Don’t stay in some seedy hostel with no good reviews or anything like that. Grab a nice bed in a nice place and make some new friends, even. (I’ve actually made more friends traveling alone/in a pair than with a group of people!) It may seem like the easiest thing ever, but it’s something to always keep in mind, even when not traveling alone.
6. Get familiar with the transit system. This will always be your best friend anywhere you go if you’re sans car.
7. While in that hostel, talk to the staff for advice on what to see/do if you want more of a local’s POV. They can also tell you what NOT to do or where NOT to go, if you’re interested in that.
8. Carry some sort of ID on you at all times. (And copies in various spots)
9. Keep to public places, especially at night.
10. Don’t wear the damn H t-shirt, ya walking stereotype. :P It may seem silly, but things like what you wear and how you walk actually makes a difference. (See this article on what not to wear. Sorry, no Clinton Kelly and Stacy London included!)
11. Take the free walking tour. Repeating because you should do it. So do this. (I’m a broken record, what can I say?) You’ll learn the area where you’re staying and some history too! (History plug, yeah!)
12. Don’t freak out over not knowing the language. I know like two things in German, but I made it through Berlin just fine. You just have to use your noggin and that common sense I keep rambling on about. Most bigger cities, you’ll find an English speaker, most smaller cities, people tend to be pretty accommodating even if they don’t speak English. (That doesn’t go for everywhere, but you’d be surprised at how far a good demeanor, smile, and lots of charades can get you)
Also, any major freaking out can exude vulnerability in good or bad ways, so keep your cool, if possible.
13. Big one: If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Always trust your gut, as Gibbs would say. (More TV shows? REALLY? Yes. Really. Gibbs is the boss.)
14. Enjoy yourself. You’re running the show, so do what you want to. (it’s your travel, you’ll do what you want to…tune of “it’s my party” if you missed it)
15. You can handle it. Just be yourself, be open-minded, and be mindful. (Turning redundant, I know. I just really wanted a multiple of 5.)

In general, the number one rule is to use your head and stay smart because most of the worries with going solo is safety, so always trust your gut and use your common sense, friends! :)

All of this isn’t to say I haven’t enjoyed my time traveling with my friends…or haven’t I???  (just kidding) I just actually really enjoyed traveling alone too. If that makes me weird, so be it! I’m already weird, so let’s add a tiara.

As for the actual visit itself, Germany was awesome, (if you couldn’t tell) and I can’t wait to go back sometime. I thoroughly recommend it!

Remember, if you’re hesitant about traveling solo: (my friend Kevin told me this once)
Do something, before you can’t do anything. (Don’t let that chance slip away!)

x

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Be kind, rewind. (PLEASE?)

It’s been exactly one month since I got home.

Chicka-chicka what? (I know, you’re wondering – is that title a Buffy reference or a Jack Black movie reference? Or is it just a reference to my childhood love, the VHS? The world may never know)

Yes, I’m home. To be honest, I’m not overly excited about it, and I wasn’t really expecting to be. And it’s not because I didn’t miss my family and friends, I assure you. But more on that later. In terms of wanting to go back, I don’t help myself out a whole lot – Like social-media stalking anyone I know that goes to Europe or England or is still there from when I was there? It’s quite sad. (Would I like some cheese with my w(h)ine???)

Anywho, let’s move away from pity-party land for some real talk.

My experience of coming home was a giant sign to just not leave London. I had basically every problem you can think of while traveling in one day, so I don’t even want to talk about it. Let me just put it this way: it was a day from hell. If you want the long, dramatic, and now slightly inflated version of this story, ask me again sometime. (slightly inflated due to annoyance and aggravation, not actually making myself look more awesome than I already am)
Also, it poured the day before I left. Signs I should not have left!

Here it is, blunt as it can possibly be:
If you enjoyed your time abroad and lived it like you should have, coming home will probably suck. Everyone talks about how much fun it is to study abroad, and  unless they’ve studied abroad, no one warns you about how much it hurts to come home. Kind of like when you get emotionally invested in a book or a movie or a TV show and then the writers/authors kill you slowly with awesome sadness. (Watch this show/read this book….it’ll be fun they said…and cue the ugly crying)  Is that just me? Ok then.

But that means you did it right. You did it justice.
If you feel emotionally attached to a city, culture, people, food, etc. like I do right now (I’m drinking Tetley tea right now. Tell me I’m not ridiculous.) then you really let that place into your life. You were more of a traveler and less of a tourist. If you don’t get that, please see this great article as an example. (Being a tourist is okay, but being a traveler will teach you so much more, I promise!) And if all of that happened, you did it right.
And if you did that anyway and can walk away without missing something, anything at all, you’re not human! Or just crazy! Just kidding.

I know I must have done some thing right, anyway. I ache (weird but true, maybe I should see a doctor?) to go back…to see the rolling green fields with the hedgerows and rapeseed flowers covering the lands in rain jacket yellow, to see the Underground signs in London, or the “look left” signs on the streets. I even miss the dismal weather. The bloody weather! It’s just…really hard to describe how much I miss it. So I’ll stop there.

I also miss the traveling. I really caught the bug – the wanderlust bug. I’ve pretty much decided that I need to find a way to get paid to travel. Someone discover my blog and hire me?? :) But really. I am going back to Paris in July. No one can cure me of my ridiculous obsession with traveling (small Moulin Rouge reference? Yes please)
If you study abroad, it might happen to you, so be prepared to catch the bug worth catching.

Re-entry and Re-adjustment (things to keep in mind/an overview)
If you actually study abroad and your home office is worth two cents (or way more, in my case), you will be briefed on this, but it still doesn’t make it hurt less. (So yeah, I was warned, but it’s really hard to explain without actually experiencing it.)
- You will more than likely miss wherever it was you went.
- If people did not study abroad, they will not get it. Don’t try to force them to “get it.” Instead, just relay your experiences in awesome stories and make them want to travel with you. Travel buddies ftw.
- Eventually people will probably get sick of “this one time in insert country here” stories. Sorry to break it to you. (I am one of “those” people who don’t shut up about my study abroad experience. Whoops!)
- If possible, join a study abroad group at your school. It’s like AA for us, except more fun…hopefully :P
- Most importantly (aka if you didn’t read any other bullet points, read this one): it takes time to adjust, and it won’t be the same as before. You just had a life-changing experience, so let it continue to change you in good ways.

Seriously, (here comes more pity-party, feel free to skip) I know it’s been a long time since I last posted, and while I’d love to blame it on the busy-ness (because I actually have been very busy) of my schedule, it’s more to do with the fact that I’ve had this pent-up fear of finishing this post. Honestly, it’s been half done since the day I returned to Chicago.
It’s the fear of admitting it, of having to face the facts. I am back in the United States and not still frolicking in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe.

But despite that I miss it and this post kind of seems a little (maybe a lot) passive-aggressive, I constantly remind myself how lucky I am to have experienced everything I did while studying abroad. It did change my life and all that cliché jazz. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to and welcome any and all questions about it.
Also, I just use that weird sounding ache I was talking about as motivation to get me back to England and back to traveling.

Overall, I just want to go back – rewind. Or maybe fast forward. Hmm.

Two final things:
My last full day there I went to Borough Market and just roamed around the city on a mini coffee tour.
I had deep dish pizza as my first meal back in Chicago.
(Like you expected anything less in either situation)

x

P.S. – I’m going to keep posting on here. I have a post about traveling solo that I did after I went to Germany that I need to finish up, and I’m sure I’ll find some way to bore you some more.

And you thought there would be no photos.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
I’d call that fitting.

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Watching a country mourn: The Iron Lady

One advantage, or sometimes disadvantage, of living abroad is watching different culture react to the changes in their country and in the world. You also get to watch your home country from afar while hearing the opinions of those in a different country. For example, I experienced the UK react to Obama’s election, like I posted about before, and more recently I’ve observed the UK react to North Korea and the UK react to the US reacting to North Korea (clear as mud, right?) Anyway, it’s always an enlightening experience to see things from a different perspective while abroad. It also sometimes is very strange. This is one of those stranger times.

If you live under a rock, you’ll be surprised to hear that Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, passed away in London today.

This left me in an interesting position. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “you weren’t even born when she was Prime Minister!! How could you understand!? You’re not British!!”
I am fully aware of these things, but that does not make me ignorant of Baroness Thatcher’s policies, actions, or legacy.

The interesting position I speak of is one of the “outsider looking in” type. I, as you may or may not have pointed out to your computer, am not British, but I am in London, and when the news broke of Baroness Thatcher’s passing, I witnessed (and continue to witness) not only a city, but a country, say goodbye to a leader.

Since the news broke this morning, (more specifically, since I woke up this morning) I have seen responses to the passing of the Iron Lady, whether it is on Twitter, out on the street, in a Starbucks, or on the Tube. The responses varied from celebration to disdain, but the vast majority of them, even if they were from those who opposed her, were indeed mournful and respectful. (Though with a woman who was in power a decade and a half ago, it is inevitable, and sad, to see youths and others unaware of who she was.)
Some people were happy, some were infinitely saddened by the news, and some couldn’t be bothered. It is much like watching the U.S. mourn a president, but because I’m an outsider, there’s a bit of a disconnect. I am not British, so it’s not quite the same.
I’ve seen people that disagreed with her and her staunch policies and people that supported her come together to talk about the first female Prime Minister and her place in history. Most people have begun to talk about her fierceness, power, and strong will, the things that earned her the nickname the Iron Lady.

David Cameron said that he expects her to go down in history as the best peace-time Prime Minister the UK has ever seen, and Ed Miliband (leader of the Opposition Labour Party), has said that while his party has disagreed with her policies, they can still respect her achievements and her strength. (AFP/BBC)

The BBC has an entire page dedicated to covering the world’s responses to her death, and it has been going on all day. This is how important this woman was, love her or hate her, to Britain, and to the world. They list leaders and figures everywhere and their responses including Nancy Reagan, Barack Obama, Koffi Annan, Mikhail Gorbachev, and many, many more.
They also cover the unfortunate, tasteless things that people have been doing, which I cannot stand. Holding parties for someone’s death is, in my opinion, very distasteful. I know many people hated Thatcher, and I know many people who couldn’t stand Reagan in the States, but I see no reason to actually throw a street party celebrating her death. But again, that’s my opinion. (And I cannot do much to stop them anyway) It has been much like people throwing parties after the death of Osama bin Laden, which regardless of taste, I don’t think the two people should be placed in the same category. I guess this is part of the disconnect, and also where my age shows. As much as I have read or researched about Baroness Thatcher, I was not around to actually have experienced what she was like in the public eye. (Which is something to always keep in mind)

And it is an interesting position, being someone from another country, watching a country mourn for one its greatest leaders. Being an American born in 1992, and at the same time, a history major who has taken numerous poly sci classes and also happens to be a bit of an Anglophile, I do mourn her passing, but in a different way. I can, as many have done, appreciate and honor what she has done, learn more about her, and mourn, but it is obviously different. Like I said before, it feels as if there’s a disconnect.

I do not agree with quite a few (read most) of the policies she implemented, but I do understand how important she was to the world of politics (on a global scale) and how important she was to Britain. She was a no-nonsense woman from humble beginnings who is famous and infamous for leading her country back to its world status. I can respect that. Not just as an American, a woman, or a democrat, but also as a human being, I can respect her wanting to do her best for her country. (I wish our politicians in the States would do that.)

So even though there is that odd disconnect, I join the Brits, as an observing participant, in mourning a lightning rod figure who has very clearly made her impact on the world.

x

Watching the Iron Lady tonight.

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April Fools

No I am not actually staying permanently in London.

I wish.
Sorry for any confusion, but it was hilarious. :)

x

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Visitors (From another dimension? Maybe)

No not really, though sometimes I think my brother is from another planet. (Don’t we all?)
It’s been way too long since I’ve written. Apologies, but I’ve been quite busy with lots of visitors and school. (Yeah there’s that word again, school)

Visitors you say?
Indeed! More visitors (you mean I have to entertain these people? Only kidding!)
My brother came to visit me for EIU’s Spring Break a few weeks ago. Here’s a tip for you that are going to have people visit. Don’t try to plan it all out minute by minute. You’ll drive yourself insane. The key to a fun time when people are visiting is knowing what kind of vacation they want, what they want to see, what they’re willing to skip, and foods they want to try, etc., and start there.
You both can do research to meet these points, (getting travel cards, hotels, and other logistics like that covered is always a good start!) but I’ve found that overdoing absolutely everything, much like when you travel, ends up just driving you completely mental (crazy) because you’re too busy or something goes wrong. So just plan it roughly and kind of take each day as it comes (as I’ve said about studying abroad in general).
There’s something to mention: something going wrong. I’m telling you, we could all learn something from Mr. Harry Potter here. Like when my brother visited, there was a bit of an issue with him staying with me at first, but we figured it out together and everything worked out fine. So (even though I freaked out a little bit at first) when issues do arise with travel plans, people visiting, or just anything at all, try not to freak out…think of your options and take the next best one.

Remember…best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. (Of Mice and Men. Read it if you haven’t! Or don’t. That’s not up to me, but you really should read it.)

So what my brother and I did was picked out the things he wanted to see and do, and kind of just went with the flow. We had some great food (Random sample of what we ate: Lantana for breakfast/brunch is pretty fantastic if you’re in London and looking for a good place), saw some great sights (not all of them, because we did what he wanted to, not everything tourists seemingly HAVE to do), and just had fun. We even saw Singin’ in the Rain, which was fantastic (look a picture that isn’t of me!)

And then, near the end of his visit, my sister and her boyfriend (who live in NY) came to visit, so we got to spend some time together (all 4 of us) too.

Again, with these two visiting, we planned some things, got reservations and all of the logistical stuff done, but we didn’t over pack things into the few days there were here visiting. My sister and her boyfriend have studied/lived abroad too, so they knew this trick already. Again, we saw sights, ate food (I need a new workout regimen after all of this eating out!), and just enjoyed London. We ate at a fantastic italian restaurant (on St. Patrick’s day?!) and found some great cocktail bars/craft beer places. Overall, all of us being foodies, it was great. Not to mention, we saw Book of Mormon, and I will tell you right now: IT WAS SO FUNNY. Definitely not overrated, though it really is not for the easily offended.

The fun thing about them visiting was that my sisters boyfriend was planning on proposing. The not-so-fun bit was that it rained the ENTIRE TIME they were in London. Not so conducive to romantic atmosphere, eh? But it was interesting waiting to see if Raj would propose or not at random intervals and talking to him about it when my sister wasn’t around (Voldemort laugh sorry Aubs). Thanks to the lovely London weather, he decided to wait until Scotland. They drove there like I did last semester, but I didn’t go along. (I kind of wish I did just to see them driving on the left! I can only imagine) I gave them some recommendations of places to go and see in Edinburgh before they left, said my goodbyes, and got to sleep in for the first time in about a month. (Not really complaining, but who doesn’t appreciate a good sleep-like-a-champion type morning every now and then? If you don’t, I’m sorry.)

That’s another thing. As the resident of the place they are visiting, you’re kind of like the map and knowledge base of all the little secret places – the good food that you would have never tried otherwise and other recommendations, etc. – but don’t feel like you have to know EVERYTHING either. Google does exist for a reason. (I feel like people forget this a lot) See this site: lmgtfy.com for a good laugh and for a smartass answer to overly obvious questions.

The boring stuff:
Since they left, I’ve done a lot of coursework and stuff, which isn’t that interesting, but it’s that time of the semester (I don’t want to think about it. It means the semester is ending, and I’m in denial) I’ve also started the whole home university registration process, which again, reminds me that I’m going home and is not fun. (Makes me think about my future – blech! Yay more denial!)
(This one’s not so boring) I also saw The Audience with Helen Mirren (front row seat! My reaction) which was absolutely phenomenal. (You don’t say, Mattie, she only won an Oscar for The Queen) If you’re in London, see it! I’ve obviously been spending a lot of time and money in the West End theatre district lately… and that’s not going to end any time soon. (Seeing Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw in Peter and Alice next week!)

I also don’t know where to put this, but I saw the Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, and Kate Middleton in Baker Street Station. :) WOO.

I’m also going to have more visitors! My sister and I are going to Paris and then my parents are coming!

What to take away from this rambling: having visitors doesn’t need to be about seeing every single tourist attraction. It also doesn’t need to be so perfect it becomes stressful on you. Make it about having fun, seeing the things they want to, and enjoying the culture. While the big sights like Big Ben are nice, they do not define London. There’s so much city to see, (I haven’t seen all of it myself) so much culture to appreciate (especially in a city), and so much to just experience in general, that just focusing on the touristy things would almost be an insult to the city I love. That applies all over the world. There is so much more to the little towns or the big cities than we give them credit for, sometimes. So remember that when people visit. Allow them to see the real place, the real people, not just the postcard stuff.

Until next time,
x

OH RIGHT! I almost forgot. She said yes. :D (So, now you can go back and change all of those references to her boyfriend to fiance!! So exciting.) Also, thanks to my family for visiting! I like visitors almost as much as I like mail ;)

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From the second largest Polish population to the first…

If you didn’t know this little fact about Chicago, it’s home to the second largest Polish population in the WORLD after Warsaw.

And that’s here I was this weekend. Warsaw, (And Krakow) Poland.

This trip was kind a spur of the moment type thing with my friend Chelsea who is studying in Verona, Italy. We decided to meet there for a weekend and just have a fun weekend of food, drinks, history, and all around camaraderie, and we did just that.

I flew on Wizz Air, which I now call the Barbie airline because it’s colors are pink and purple. It’s kind of like the Hungarian version of RyanAir, I guess, though there are fewer ads plastered all over the place!
Once I landed in Warsaw, (Polish = Warszawa) I had this fantastic (and kind of oh shit moment) of “I know ONE thing in Polish! ONE! (which is Na Zdrowie – cheers/to your health!)” It’s not something I can really describe. But I loved it. Being kind of lost (as much as you can be with certain things being in English anyway) was exhilarating and really made me think on my feet while being responsible.
Tip: when you’re in a country where you don’t know the language, you sometimes tend to feel like a nuisance or constantly judged, and that’s not always the case. Just have fun with it. And, you can, as I did, learn some phrases while you’re in that country!
Even better tip: full immersion in a language is the best way to learn it.
Final tip on not knowing the language: Not knowing the language doesn’t give you a free pass to be a jackass. Remember your manners, even look up some simple etiquette (tipping, politeness, etc.) before you go, if you want. But please, for the love of food, don’t make the rest of us look like assholes please.

Our hostel, on the outside, was kind of creepy. The building definitely yelled “post-communist” (much of the city still does, though they are very proud to be independent) and the hallways did look like they received regular maintenance, but the hostel itself was really nice, clean, and well taken care of. The owner was super nice and helpful, we had free breakfast every morning in the kitchen (which was also a type of common room), the location couldn’t have been better, and it was just a homey feel. To be honest, regardless of the outward appearance of the building, it was probably the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in. Not to mention it had this in the kitchen (which just made it more awesome):
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The history-nerd in me squealed a bit at this. If you don’t get it, look up JFK jelly donut and you won’t be disappointed.

So like I said, the hostel owner was really helpful. He gave us this huge map, pointed out all of these historical areas to visit, a great free tour to do, monuments and museums to see, and some cheap, traditional places to grab some food. (YUM!) He also showed us his cheat sheet for Polish phrases that he had posted, and from there we started our weekend!

The first day, because we got in midday and because our hostel was in such a good location (near the university between Old Town and the rest of the city) we just walked about Warsaw and grabbed some pierogies, along with mulled wine (LOVES OF MY FOOD LIFE), for dinner. I got my friend obsessed with blueberry pierogies right off the bat (something I’m quite proud of).

The next day, we got up really early, caught the bus (we got three-day passes which I recommend), and grabbed our train to Krakow. From the train station, we took the bus  to a town called, in Polish, Oświęcim, though it’s better known by its German name, Auschwitz. As I’m sure you can guess, this part of the trip was quite heavy and emotional. I’m glad we went, I will never regret going, but it was (as expected) was very solemn and thought-provoking. Walking through Auschwitz-Birkenau isn’t something that is easily conveyed by words. It’s a haunting and makes you lose your faith in humanity a little bit, especially when the guide was telling stories of the victims. As a history major, it was something I wanted to see and experience, but I don’t think you’re ever ready for something like that. It just makes you feel helpless and small. I also experienced the most aggravation I’ve ever felt towards tourists here. It’s one thing to take pictures of the grounds or the buildings, but there were some taking photos in the most inappropriate areas, and I just wanted to smack them.
After the tour (which is about 3-4 hours), we took the bus back to Krakow. (Note: this bus takes an hour and forty minutes, unlike what much of google says, so try to take the train if you’ve got other plans) Once we got off the bus, we took a short walk around Krakow’s Old Town and Royal Square to take in the feel of the former royal capital.
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While walking, we encountered a political march (not an ideal place for tourists, so we didn’t stick around for too long) that was basically the equivalent to the Polish Nazi party. (Definitely didn’t stick around for long, but it was interesting to see for a few seconds) After that we boarded our train, where I learned more about Polish etiquette (you’re expected to say good day/evening when you enter the car and goodbye when you leave), and went back to Warsaw.

The next morning, we had breakfast in the community kitchen and made friends with a few other people who were planning to have a day quite like ours, starting with the Orange Umbrella Free Walking Tour in Old Town. We all headed there after breakfast. The tour itself was really informative and interesting, but our tour guide really made it what it was. He was interesting, funny, and knowledgable. About halfway/two-thirds way through the tour, he took us to a bar to get free shots of some good Polish vodka with some Polish bar food (all free!), and it was quite the experience. I’ve never really liked vodka on its own, but this was actually quite good. We also learned more etiquette (saying no to drinking vodka with someone in Poland is really rude.) He told us more about the history of the city, like how it was almost completely destroyed in World War 2, and how the people rebuilt everything. We also learned about this building that Stalin “gave” to Warsaw. It’s really pretty at night, but the history behind it makes it a very separating topic in the city. Basically, Stalin was giving them this really nice looking building as a gift and sign of goodwill towards the Polish people, but as it’s Stalin, nothing comes free, and he forced people out of their homes and demolished a good deal of the newly rebuilt city to build it. (It’s Stalin, nothing’s perfect or nice with him, is it?)
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(Sorry this is the never-ending post, but I just liked this trip so much!)

After the walking tour, we went to a milk bar for lunch. The milk bars (only three or four left in Warsaw) are cheap, traditional places to eat that were built during the communist era basically as places that were cheap enough that everyone could eat there. The food there was great (basically all Polish food is great) and people even came up to us to recommend dishes! After the milk bar, we saw some more sights, like the monument to the Warsaw ghetto and other parts of Old Town.

The next place was like heaven on Earth. We went to the chocolatier that started Cadbury, known as Wedel (pronounced Vedel) chocolate. And I could have just died there, I swear. We ordered their traditional hot chocolate (basically chocolate gold), and their Chopin chocolate liquor, which was amazing.
Just to make you jealous, I’ll add some photos here too. :)
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So as you can see, it was basically chocolate nirvana. We picked up some chocolates to take back with us as well, which taste amazing :P

After this, we went for dinner at this traditional Polish restaurant that was just called Speciality Regionale. We were lucky enough to have a waiter who had just returned from living England who decided that we HAD to try basically all Polish traditions. He kept bringing us free stuff to try so we could just get a taste of Polish culture. I tell you, they are on par with the Irish with how nice they are in Poland. The list of new things we tried included Kabanos (sausages), warm beer with honey (yum), Polish specialty cheeses and meats, and finally an extremely alcoholic liquor called Slivovitz. (We shared that one between the 5 of us and it’s a good thing we did!) The food was phenomenal and we all just really had a great time.

The next day meant leaving and saying goodbye to our new friends, but not before Chelsea and I walked around the royal gardens. I’ll just leave you with a few photos of that. (Including a peacock in the wild?)
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Overall, this trip was nothing short of amazing. I learned so much about Polish culture (being Polish, it makes it even better), and experienced so much. I made some really good friends from staying in our hostel and just had a fun weekend.

For anyone that wants to visit: do it. Eastern Europe in general is just such a different experience from Western Europe, and any trip there won’t be a waste. Poland was no exception. It was fun, cheap (the zloty is 5 to 1 pounds!), and I can’t wait to get back there someday!

Do Widzenia!

x

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When the train pulled into Castletown…

(So this post was halfway done before I left on my next trip…so prepare for some back-to-back blogging!)

Just returned from the land of the Irish, specifically Dublin, and it was phenomenal. (There may or may not be quite a few Quiet Man references here…blame my dad!)

Overall, we spent the time drinking, (Ireland – can’t expect anything less), sightseeing, doing a bit of hiking (YES HIKING YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW HAPPY I WAS), and eating! (pretend like you’re surprised?)
Guess I’ll start with the food and drink. With the eating, the trip included myself, my flatmates, and their friends (six in total – try getting a table for six, not always easy! My family knows) Aside from my complaints about how many people, (which by the way isn’t a bad thing at all! We only had the issue of getting a table once or twice so don’t mind me) Ireland, if you’ve been you know, is a place that consists of VERY friendly people. The phrase “the more the merrier” definitely applies and it worked well with our group.

We, of course, ate at McDonald’s the whole time…(I can’t even finish that as a joke because it’s so bad, actually) no but seriously, we ate at pubs basically every day, and it was great. The pub life in Ireland is similar to that of London and England overall except you have (I feel like I’ll say this a lot and I apologize in advance) the Irish and that really makes a huge difference. Irish people are, indeed, JUST THAT NICE. For example, we went to this pub called Grogan’s that was recommended by our hostel staff (good hostel in Dublin – Generator hostel right next to Jameson) as a real “old style” Irish pub. What does that mean? Old people? No. Not really, though there were some elders there drinking their fair share, it means that there were no TVs playing a match, no background music taking up those horribly awkward silences, and that you had to actually talk to the people you went out with. SHOCKING. This concept of talking to people when you’re out. I wasn’t sure we could handle it, really.

Once again, my horrible humor comes out here. We actually made some friends in the pub (Again – friendly Irish!) who told us about Ireland and a good place to see some live music called Frank Ryan’s. So we grabbed a bite to eat and headed towards this place they recommended. It was a big change because they had music playing, and then had live jazz playing. JAZZ. Awesome, right? Right. So we had some good drinks, some live jazz, and then we ran into our tour guide from earlier in the day there! He told us about other places outside of Dublin to see and just chatted a bit. Such nice people. Also, something worth mentioning about pubs in Dublin outside of the friendly atmosphere and great selection of beers (TRY GUINNESS IN IRELAND. I don’t even like beer and I liked Guinness in Ireland. Other Irish beer to try – Smithwick’s. Also, more on Guinness later!) So where was this tour guide from?
Well, that would be the Jameson Distillery of course! (Our hostel, as I said before, was quite conveniently placed next to this distillery…couldn’t tell you why! :) ) This was actually one of the first things we did in Dublin because a few of us (I may or may not be included in this “few”) do enjoy our whiskey. (All I can think of is “could you use a little water in your whiskey?) We got to the tour a little early and had a few drinks beforehand, which if I may step away from the “study” part of this blog for a moment, (as if I don’t do that enough already) to recommend a drink from the Jameson distillery, it would be the Honeycomb Irish Coffee. It’s heaven in a glass. (Photo below)
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At the tour we learned all about the creation of Jameson whiskey and near the end, they asked for volunteers to do a tasting. Now being the study abroad student wanting to experience as much as possible, I may have raised my hand. Purely for experiencing Ireland as it should be – that’s all. :P But in order to get one of the last two spots, we had to guess a number between 1 and 100. The hint was “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” and if you know me, you know the answer, and you know I got it right. And if you don’t…I might be a little disappointed. So I got to do the taste testing that pitted Jameson against Johnnie Walker Black and Jack Daniel’s. I think you can guess which was best.

After that, we ate and then hit those two pubs I spoke of before. The next day was the really exciting (for me anyway) bit. We took a day tour to the Wicklow Mountains called the Wild Wicklow Tour. If you’re ever in Dublin and want to get out of the city on a great tour…do this tour! It wasn’t hours upon hours of riding in a bus just to get out for 3 hours and then get back in the bus! It was quite a few stops that were all interesting, like the James Joyce museum, Bono’s House (not kidding, though we only drove past it), Avoca Handweaver’s (Can’t say enough good things about this place), Kilmacanogue, Glendalough (St. Kevin’s monastic site), the P.S. I Love You bridge and more. (I haven’t even seen P.S. I love you…er…sorry?) It also included free Jameson. Can’t really complain about all of that in one day with a funny and knowledgable guide leading the way. My favorite part was hiking about and taking pictures in Glendalough (waterfall and lake below). And to top it off, we were back in the city early enough to have some food and then head to our pub crawl.
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Again, if you know me, you know how excited I was to be roaming about in this beautiful area. It was such a welcome change after being in London and then Dublin for so long. So welcome because while I love the city, I really love the outdoors… (one place I really want to hit in England is Snowdonia Wales – google it)

In comparison, for me, our final day or so in Dublin didn’t really compare. Seeing the tourist stuff was awesome, but the bus tour took the cake for me. I must admit that Trinity College library will knock your socks off  - that’s the real reason I went to see the Book of Kells…I just wanted to see the library (and nerded out a lot when I did) and you might understand why with this photo:
Our last real touristy thing we did was go to the Guinness Storehouse to do the tour. Offering one of the best views of the city, the Gravity Bar is probably Guinness’ main attraction, though pouring your own “perfect pint” is pretty cool too. (I even have a piece of paper that says I can pour a perfect pint to go with my whiskey tasting certificate) Like I said before, I don’t even like beer and I enjoyed a good pint of Guinness while at the Storehouse, so definitely try the Guinness in Ireland. It just tastes better.
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Overall, I really enjoyed Dublin, but I really want to get back to Ireland to see places OUTSIDE of the city…like number one is Galway, then Cork and Waterford, etc. I also want to make it up to Belfast as I hear that’s the better of the two cities. So if you’re going to Ireland, my recommendation is to see Dublin, but see more of Ireland itself than you see of Dublin. :)

Next post will be quite soon…on Poland!

x

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Here it goes again!

And no I’m not dancing on treadmills. That would be awesome though, wouldn’t it? (If you do not understand this reference, please click here to join the 21st century :P )

Okay, moving away from musical references and into what I’ve been doing for the last few weeks… (I really need to stop being late on the posting, but then I wouldn’t be me, would I?)

Well…what have I been doing? No more food poisoning. That’s good.
I’ve mostly been busy getting into the swing of my new classes, which I will be honest, I do not like as much as last semester’s bunch. I had some really fun and interesting seminar leaders last semester, and this semester not so much. (Though it is early, so I will reserve my final judgments for a later date just to be fair)

Here’s a breakdown of the courses I’m taking just in case you needed something to put you to sleep:
- Cultural History of World War 1 (Mondays)
- The Great Wen – Culture and History of Victorian England (Mondays)
- Romantic Writings – Tuesdays
- Shakespeare and His Contemporaries – Thursdays

So, I get Fridays off this semester. I really shall miss having Mondays off too, but alas, a break mid-week isn’t bad.
And I don’t mean to bash on my classes, as I’m actually interested in the subject matter of each of them (or I wouldn’t have bothered with the classes, let’s be honest), but the combination of the timing of the classes and the seminar leaders being kind of “meh” kind of kills them in comparison to last semester. (Once again, being honest :P)

Obviously, I’ll get on with it and do the requirements of each class well enough to get As, so hopefully you won’t have to hear my griping about classes again! Yay! (which by the way, haven’t really gotten any harder, that’s always a plus – always look on the bright side of life…do do do do dod odo do…sorry. That was bad.)

Outside of classes, I’ve done quite a bit of roaming about London with the new peeps. (Walked all about London on one of the rarer nice days we’ve had) Also went to a fantastic burger and cocktail restaurant (because what else do you expect from me?) called MEATLiquor. If you’ve read my blog before, you know I’m in love with MEATMarket, and MEATLiquor is the mother restaurant to that one, so obviously it was to die for. (AND THEY HAVE FRIED PICKLES. YUM)
I’ve also discovered an amazing comic shop, which I may have mentioned before, that I basically plan on living at called Forbidden Planet. It’s a NERD Mecca. Just saiyan. (Get it? No? Aww…)

And before all of this discovery, my cousin and her husband came to visit for their “babymoon” which was all kinds of fun. Got to go to a private tour of Buckingham, a really fancy afternoon tea, on the London Eye, (pic below) and walked A TON. Oh and the not-so-awesome part was that it was basically blizzarding the whole time. While there was actually decent weather in Chicago, it was blizzarding here. But either way, we still had a fabulous time with good food and a rum keg (not for the pregnant lady, don’t worry!) Oh and did I mention we went to the Churchill War Rooms? Because I could basically live there and go through that entire museum for a week. Not even exaggerating. The timeline alone would take forever, and it’s AWESOME. (History nerd moment, don’t mind me) Also, I would like to just mention that my cousin’s husband thought there was actually a circus in Picadilly Circus. Just throwing that out there :P
OVERALL: THANK YOU JEANETTE AND ZACH FOR VISITING AND FOR EVERYTHING :)
Note: In case you’re new to the snow-meets-Europe thing, when it snows, major cities basically shut down. I was honestly surprised (and so were many of my professors) that the Tube was still working after one inch of snow. ONE INCH. Ladies and gentlemen, London freaked out after one single solitary inch of snow. I would personally love to see them face the Snowpocalypse because I think they’d all faint.
Second Note: When people visit you abroad on holiday, you’re basically on holiday yourself. Seriously! You do more and walk more as if you’ve actually left the city and gone off to visit somewhere you’ve never been. It’s fun yet kind of crazy.

So here’s some photos from my recent escapades! (Lucky, you get three.)
Snow at the Tower Bridge (and by blizzard, I meant blizzard, people):

Churchill War Rooms (Specifically Churchill’s Office!!!):

London Eye view (West End – see that really bright bit to the left? Picadilly Circus):

I’ve also now experienced a holiday from another continent in a different continent than the holiday actually is from. Confused yet? Yeah I would be too.
Basically, we celebrated Australia Day in London, and Australia Day is a national holiday in (you guessed it) Australia. So we celebrated Australia’s version of the Fourth of July in England. Overall, it was quite fun. My flatmates and I went to an Australian pub called Walkabout (which was about 1000 degrees – I think they were trying to mimic Australian summer in there) and found out that there are MANY more Aussies in London than any of us originally thought. We also took this opportunity to learn more about Australian culture, (more slang, yay!) listen to Aussie music, and learn Aussie songs. It was ace.

So yeah, I’ve had an eventful few weeks! And more to come this semester. I’m pumped to see what’s in store. As of right now, I’ve planned a trip to Ireland with my friends on my floor and possibly am going to Salzburg and Munich. I also will be going to Paris and Scotland again, so that’s super exciting. Other trips I’m looking at include Italy, Poland, and Spain. So that’s ridiculously exciting.

Sad I’m missing the SupHarbaughl though. (First world problems. Might actually watch it at a charity event? Maybe? That’s awesome, right? I think so.)

I don’t really have any thought provoking study abroad tips this time around. I really need to work on that. Something to think on, I guess: if you have people come visit you, be prepared to walk a lot, do a ton of things you may have already done (I was lucky this time, I hadn’t done a whole lot of what they wanted to do), and be as flexible as possible. It makes it easier for them and for you if you’re prepared, just like most things in life (shocking, I know!) :)

Anyway, I’ll stop yammering now. PARTY ON DUDES! (Bill and Ted, anyone?!)

x

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I’ll be back…

(obvious Terminator voice)
And yes I did come back to London! (What? You’re NOT surprised? Oh. Well then.)

So, I figured I should probably write something since I’ve been lazy as of late.
I’ve been back in London since right before New Years Eve, which by the way, I finally know what Indiana looks like on the 4th of July (Note: fireworks are illegal in Illinois because we are fun-suckers), and it is AWESOME. I attempted to actually get down to the river to see the fireworks, but the viewing areas were full hours before…so that didn’t work out. I would have gone earlier, but I was feeling like utter shit to be completely honest. I got the luck of contracting food poisoning from the airplane food on United. Can you say awesome? Because I can’t. It was actually quite horrible, and because I basically had to sleep it off, I completely threw off my sleep schedule. :/ But even from my halls (17th floor has a good view, can’t complain too much) with food poisoning, the fireworks were marvelous, and being able to watch most of the city light off their own fireworks on top of the main ones was even better. :)

Protip: This is one of those “roll with it” type of situations I spoke of a few blog posts back. Did I get food poisoning? Yes. Did it suck? You betcha! But the key to being sick abroad is basically really listening to your body and not pushing yourself. SLEEP IF NEED BE! I know you want to see all the sights in some ridiculously small amount of time, but sleep is good.
Also, if you’re sick when studying abroad, it’s easier on you not to freak out and make yourself more sick because you’re stressed and constantly calling home or still trying to run around and get through the day. This applies to things like food poisoning, the flu, mono, etc. (If you get mono I will laugh at you. No, I won’t but mono is THE illness to poke at people for fun, isn’t it? You know you agree!) If you have a easily treated cold or a sore throat, you should just react like you would back home at college (or if you’re at EIU you always have strep or mono so…) If it’s worse than that, then obviously, you should probably seek medical attention if possible!

OVERALL: use your brain!

Good news aside from kind of boring New Years due to sickness, while at home I did have a fantastic time with friends, family, and of course, deep dish pizza. Food recommendation discovery from my time in Chicago: Bar Toma. Great pizza (get the BOMBA!), great small plates, and REALLY AWESOME HOT CHOCOLATE.
And yeah, spending time with the family and friends was a nice little break from my single room here in Marylebone hall. That and a real shower/bed (not all in one, I promise). So choice.
Got a chance to see Les Miserables while home as well – definitely recommended but keep in mind that the translation is “THE MISERABLES!” People seem to think it’s a happy musical, which I don’t understand.

What else was I saying in my last post? Oh yes, horribly depressing saying goodbye to my friends. Having now experienced this and gone through it, I can honestly say it was quite sad, though I’m glad to have made those friends as they will be ones I keep for life. (And I have a place to stay in Australia, which isn’t too bad, I reckon!)

Moving on from that group of friends to making new ones as the “sage” whole-year student is proving to be interesting. Lots of questions, which is fine, though I think people should also learn on their own by exploring London, and these kids don’t really want to do that…which is sad for them. If you’re going to study abroad, go out and experience something! Try some of the food, drink a local ale, do a traditional dance even if you look like a complete ninny (don’t do the dance if it’s culturally offensive for an outsider to do it or something, and yes I used the word ninny), speak the language (best way to learn – full emersion), and just have fun.
Sorry, I turned into a study abroad commercial there for a moment. But yeah, it’s sad that they don’t want to find out this stuff on their own (asking me where to get phones is one thing, asking what it’s like to go to the British Museum so you don’t have to go is another – yes someone asked)

Now that I’m back here in London, I’ve done some exploring of my own and seen some stuff I haven’t seen yet, which is always nice. Took a nice walk down to Covent Garden and found this AMAZING comic book store called Forbidden Planet. (London’s version of Midtown Comics) Let’s just say I’m quite glad it’s kind of far away…or there’d be some issues with my wallet. There’s also a new wine store down the street…another issue for my wallet! (Keep reminding myself I’m on a budget! Budget. Budget. Budget.)

Also, I got an iPad for Christmas, and no I’m not just saying that to show off. It’s actually a good investment for traveling/studying abroad if you can afford it, because it’s light and does most of what a computer does. If you can’t do an iPad, tablet computers in general are quite good for travel and studying like this, so if you are so inclined, pick one up :)

Starting school on Monday! Should be interesting. Also, beginning to plan new trips for the semester…which is much more interesting than school if I’m being honest.
x

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