Italy and Cannes

Leaving Switzerland was tough, but I think we were all excited to make it to Italy! We arrived at our hostel in Florence in the early evening, and then we set out to one of the main squares to explore and grab some dinner.

I got some dinner with Ashlee and a girl from our group named Courtney, and our first Italian meal was a success! We had good wine and pasta, then finished it off with some delicious tiramisu. So good. This time of year, Florence is filled with tourists, so Darren took us all to an American karaoke bar for the night, and that was FUN.

The bar was filled with mostly Americans and Australians, and while there certainly weren’t many locals, it was still fun to meet others and hear about their traveling adventures. It was also a blast to sing along to the karaoke; the highlight was definitely Bohemian Rhapsody, Sir Mix-A-Lot, and the Spice Girls (naturally).

The bar definitely had a Chippewa vibe, which usually isn’t my scene, but it was a perfect night and it was great to be out with my group.

The next day, we had a walking tour of Florence, and we were able to go inside the Duomo, which was stunning, however, the outside is much more beautiful than the inside. We went around the city a bit more, and everything was so beautiful and just seemed like classic Italy to me.

After the tour, Darren took us to a leather shop where we watched a demonstration  and we were able to do some shopping. We got a small discount because of our group, and we were able to get free gold embossing of or initials on our products. I bought a small suede purse and got my initials embossed on the front, the gold embossing looks great against the deep purple!

After that, a lot of us went to a wine tasting excursion in San Gimignano. On our way there, Darren and our bus driver Carlos let us off to get a glimpse of the best view of Florence, and it was quite the view, that’s for sure. Just gorgeous and very…Italian. We then set off to San Gimignano!

We were able to explore San Gimignano for a little over an hour, which gave us some time to eat some gelato and do some shopping. The gelato I had was unreal! I got a scoop of saffron flavor and a scoop of sparkling grapefruit wine flavor, and they were both divine! I did some window shopping after that, then it was time to head out to the wine tasting part.

The guys hosting the wine tasting were a trip. Just the typical flirty, attractive, charming Italian men that every American girl imagines. It was clearly part of their job, and I doubt they are REALLY like that when they are off the clock, but it was still entertaining.

The wine tasting was a lot of fun, we sampled about nine different wines and then got to purchase some. I bought a bottle of my favorite red wine, I think makes for a nice souvenir!

The next morning, we set out for Pisa before heading to Cannes. The only thing that’s really at Pisa is the famous Leaning  Tower. I got a kick out of all the tourist there doing the typical pose of trying to prop up the tower.

After Pisa, it was time to head back to France! Unfortunately, we had a little hiccup traveling to Cannes because there was a car accident in a tunnel on our way there which left us stuck at a rest stop for a few hours. And it was HOT. And pretty miserable. But I guess it was better than being stuck on a bus for hours without being able to use the bathroom or get something to eat or drink.

When we finally arrived at Cannes, we almost instantly forgot about the horrible ride there, because we were staying at a freakin’ resort! It was so beautiful, and our suite had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, kitchen, and a giant balcony. The suite I was staying at was called Niagara, which was cool for me!

Because we got in much later than was planned, all we had time to do that night was get dinner at the hotel and get some sleep.

The next morning we set out for the beach, which was unbelievable! We stayed there for hours just basking in the sun and swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. I had such a wonderful time, but despite applying and reapplying sunscreen several times, I still got killer sunburn.

After swimming, a few of us walked around town a bit and did some shopping. Cannes was a just so beautiful and posh. The beach we went to was right next to the area where the famous film festival is held, so that was fun to see.

After shopping, we grabbed a cab back to our resort and had dinner. While eating, private jets were roaring over our heads either departing or landing nearby. Ah, the life of the rich! We stayed out for a few hours and had some great conversation, then we headed back to our room to have some wine on our balcony. While on the balcony, a fireworks show went off! What a perfect ending to a glorious day in Cannes.

The next morning we set off to Barcelona, where I am currently writing this entry in our really cool and trendy hostel. I cannot wrap my head around the fact that this is our last destination and I leave for home in two days. I am so, so sad to be at the end of my amazing adventure, but I guess all good things have to come to an end, and I think it’s a good thing that I am sad to leave as opposed to yearning for it.

Barcelona has been magical, and I still have one more full day and night to experience it and enjoy this crazy journey until it’s time to go home and back to reality. There are many complicated emotions whirling through me right now! Part of me wants this to go on forever, just to continue to travel the world, where each day is packed full of unbelievable moments, but another part of me is excited to see my family and friends and reflect on what I just experienced in three short weeks. And sleeping in my own bed will be nice…

Beautiful, peaceful Switzerland

In my previous entry, I mentioned how Switzerland was one of the countries I knew the least about on my trip, but after visiting, it’s definitely on my list of places to return to. 

Switzerland was the perfect the place to go to after the hustle and bustle of Paris. The air was the freshest air I’ve ever breathed, the water was so cold and refreshing, and wherever you looked there were astounding views of the beautiful Swiss mountains. I woke up and just laid in my bed for about fifteen minutes staring at the view outside my window.
Our hotel was located in a small ski resort town, and we ate dinner a sports center in town that had an ice rink with hockey players practicing! It reminded me of home; the sounds and the smells of an ice rink. The hockey players inspired me to wear my Sabres shirt the next day. 
We left for Lucerne the following morning,  we first went to the Lion Monument. The monument is to commemorate the bravery of the Swiss soldiers from the French Revolution. Darren told us that Mark Twain once said that the monument is the most moving statue ever, and after seeing it, I can see why he said that.
We then had a few hours to wander around town, then a bunch of us went on an excursion to go to Mt. Pilatus. We first took a boat ride across the like, which was amazing. I like being on (and in) the water, so I enjoyed being on the deck and again, witnessing all of the beautiful views.
We then arrived at Mt. Pilatus, and it was time to go up! We had to take a train up to the top, I learned from Darren that the train is the steepest cogwheel rail in the world. It felt like being on a roller coaster when its climbing its way to the top of the  first drop.
Once we made it up to the top, we got to wander around and explore. It was so humbling to literally be on the top of the world; a recurring theme on this trip (aside from the heat), has been me saying, “Is this really my life?” Being on top of the Swiss Alps was definitely one of those moments. Completely breathtaking.

After exploring, we had to go back down obviously. I’m actually pretty afraid of heights, so the gondola ride down was making me really nervous. The first gondola was sooo scary, but I made sure to stand up front because I wanted to take it all in. We were going pretty fast and it was so steep, I had a few internal freak out moments, but it was also exhilarating.
The second gondola ride wasn’t so bad, it was smaller, but it felt slower and I got more relaxed as we were going down. There were only four people to each gondola, and it was Ashlee, a girl on our tour named Lisa, Darren, and me. We all had a nice conversation about the trip and about where we all lived, so that was nice, and it took my mind off my fear of heights.
After Mt. Pilatus, Ashlee and I found a marketplace along the lake and we did some shopping and then grabbed a beer and sat by the lake. Eventually we slowly started seeing people from our group and then we all got some food from some stands and then made it back to the bus to head back to our hotel.
Ashlee and I then took a long walk around town, which was so pretty and relaxing. We went on some walking paths and found a creek, then walked around town a bit more and admired all the beautiful homes and watched people dining outside of various cafes and hotels. When we made it back to our hotel, it was thundering and lightning in the mountains, it was so neat and peaceful for me to sit outside and watch the storm in the distance.

The next morning we had to leave early for Florence, and while we were all looking forward to Italy, I think there was a general consensus that we all wanted to stay in Switzerland a little longer. Everything about it was just so lovely, the sheer and overwhelming beauty. We’ve seen so much on this trip and so many different cities. I’m a city girl at heart, but it would be hard for me to pass up an opportunity to live in Switzerland, that’s for sure.

Paris, Oh Oui Je T’aime

Ah, what else can I say about Paris that hasn’t been said before? It’s got to be the most romanticized city in the world, and now it’s another city I can cross off my list of places I’ve been.
Our hotel rooms in Paris were more like apartments; equipped with a bedroom, living room, kitchenette, and a small balcony. 
For our first night in Paris we took a cruise down the Seine River and it was magnificent! Paris at night is so beautiful, especially along the river, with the lights reflecting in the water. The sidewalks along the river were lined with people picnicking and watching and waving at the boats passing by. We got to cruise by some major Parisian attractions like the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Louvre. 

The next day we got up early and took a sightseeing tour around the city. We saw other major Paris sights such as Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe. After the tour, many of us went on the optional excursion to the Palace of  Versailles. I couldn’t wait to finally see it in person! When I first learned about Versailles in high school, I knew I had to see it one day. I also read a biography about Marie Antoinette (Marie Antoinette: The Journey), so I also had a heightened interest in seeing Versailles because of that.
The sheer luxury you experience when you are in the presence of this wonderment is hard to explain, or justify with pictures. We got to get lunch and eat it in the gardens before heading into the palace, and I could have spent an entire day exploring the gardens alone. So beautiful, intricate, immaculate, and vast! Everywhere you looked it seemed there was an endless stretch of more beautiful gardens.

After exploring the gardens, we were able to go into the palace, I kept having to touch the walls and the marble, because I think it’s always so neat whenever I’m at a place that has so much history, knowing that I’m at a place that I’ve learned and read about for years.
The palace itself is intense. It is HUGE. Our guide said during its time, thousands of people llived there, and no one knows how much it cost to build it. For measure, I remember my professor in college told us that if Steve Jobs and Bill Gates got together to try and rebuild it, they would both go bankrupt. 

I’m so grateful I was able to see this amazing palace in person; it was so fun to imagine the halls filled with royals and servants alike from centuries ago, instead of all the tourists.
Later that night, Darren organized a dinner for everyone at a nice restaurant in the Latin Quarter. For €45, we got a three course meal, a glass of champagne, and unlimited beer and wine. There was also two men playing live music and singing. They played a few songs from one of my favorite movies, Amelie, so that was really nice! They also played a song called Aux Champs-Élysées, and all the locals were singing along to it, so I felt special that I knew the song and got to sing along as well.
Our table decided to get a bunch of appetizers and share them. I was most interested in the frog legs and escargot. And they were both really good! Frog legs had a similar texture to fish, and the escargot was similar to clams or mussels. I also got some duck and a peach dessert, all really good. It was such a fun evening, the restaurant was really small so the atmosphere was really intimate, everyone was singing, clapping, and dancing to the live music. The ride home was also a good time, two of my roommates and myself caught a cab with Darren, and I think I remember singing a not-so-sober rendition of Michael Jackson… 

The next day, my roommate Ashlee and I set out to the Musee d’Orsay. The museum was huge, the first floor was loaded with amazing sculptures and paintings, but we were most interested in the top floor which was filled with paintings with artists like Van Gogh, Monet, and Pissaro. So many paintings to feast your eyes on, many that I’ve never seen before! There was also a terrace at the top, with stunning views of Paris.

After the museum, we stopped at a cafe for some lunch and then walked along the Seine on our way to Notre Dame. There were many stands selling souvenirs and other neat trinkets along the way, and I bought some really neat posters and prints. When we got to Notre Dame, the bells were going off just as we arrived, so that was cool!
Later in the evening, we met up with a few other people from our group and had a picnic right outside the Eiffel Tower. We had crepes and wine, we all felt so Parisian (okay, and also kind of touristy, let’s be honest…). Eventually, Darren and other people from our group found us and we all just sat and chatted and drank wine and had a great time. Every now and then I had to remind myself that I was sitting in front of the freakin’ Eiffel Tower. So amazing. Then it was time to go up!
The views were amazing, and it was really windy. Again, I made sure to touch posts and rods just to remind myself that I was on the Eiffel Tower! Sometimes you get so caught up in the chaos and excitement of it all that you really forget what you’re doing and where you are.

The next day, Darren took those who were interested to Pere Lachaise to see Jim Morrison’s and Oscar Wilde’s graves. The cemetery itself is very massive and very beautiful. Jim Morrison’s grave had barriers around it because people used to party and have sex by it (although as Darren aptly pointed out, that’s probably something Jim Morrison would have loved). Despite the barricades, his grave was still loaded with pictures, notes, and other mementos left by fans who had jumped the barrier.
We also visited Oscar Wilde’s grave, which had a glass protectant surrounding it because women would kiss his grave and leave lipstick marks. But even with the addition of the glass, women still left their mark on the glass and there were also a bunch of mementos left.

After the cemetery, we head out to a perfumerie to learn how perfume is made, how to properly apply perfume, and what the different notes are. I was tempted to buy a bottle, but I can’t stray from my Coco Mademoiselle!
After that, I stopped by a cafe near our hotel to get lunch. I don’t think our hotel is located in a very touristy area, so I think most diners were local. Our waiter didn’t speak English to us very much, and the menu was entirely in French. I enjoyed the challenge, I think that’s the fun of visiting a foreign country. We were also convinced the people around us were annoyed with our lack of French speaking skills, but one young women sitting next to us smiled sweetly at us as she was leaving at said, “Bon Appetit!” which we thought was really nice of her.
After lunch, we all went back to the hotel to shower and pack because it was our last night in Paris. For dinner, a lot of us got some wine, bread, and cheese and sat along the Seine to people watch. It was a great end to our Paris adventure.

Paris was so exciting and beautiful, but it was also really HOT (have you noticed that’s an ongoing theme in every place I’ve been?) and tiresome. Some people in my group were turned off by Paris because of the language barrier and the French being the least willing to speak English to us (opposed Amsterdam). But that’s part of the fun of traveling, and I do wish Americans had a stronger grasp of foreign languages. I honestly didn’t come across too many rude people, maybe some who were a bit short, but they still accommodated me by speaking in English. It was also a fun challenge to see how many interactions I could have with people with barely any words spoken at all; just facial expressions, body language and gestures.

All in all, Paris was amazing, but I know I barely scratched the surface of everything it has to offer. Just more incentive to keep traveling so I can return.  Paris was definitely exhausting though, and it look a lot out of me. Luckily, we were heading to serene Switzerland next.

Amsterdam

Oh, Amsterdam. I love you. Our two very short days in Amsterdam were some of the best days of my life.
In my previous post, I mentioned how hungover we all were when we first arrived, so as soon as we could check into our hostel we did to have a much needed shower and a nap.
After that, I went out to explore Amsterdam. This city is absolutely gorgeous. Full of narrow townhouses, canals, boathouses, and bikes!

I’m pretty sure there were more cyclists commuting than cars. The streets in Amsterdam are pretty narrow, so you didn’t see much on-street parking, but everywhere you looked you saw rows and rows of parked bikes. Everyone decorates their bikes which was really cute to see all the different designs, and it was great to see all different people biking; young, old, men in business suits, women in dresses and heels, people biking with small dogs or children on their laps, I even saw a young woman biking while holding three chairs.

Amsterdam is loaded with cafes (not just the coffee shops where you can buy weed), and it was so relaxing to just sit outside with a cappuccino and watch all the activity. It seems as though the cyclists have the right of way over the cars, they have their own road, similar to a bike lane, but it’s separate to the road for drivers and cars nor pedestrians are allowed to be on it. It was a bit hectic when we first arrived because you have to remember that when you are crossing the street to look for oncoming traffic from both the cyclists and the drivers.
It seems as though everyone in Amsterdam speaks in English, and they had no hesitation to speak English to us when we were out and about. Everyone I encountered, from the tram drivers, to servers, were incredibly accommodating, patient, and kind to me.

It was such a weird and surreal experience to see people selling and smoking weed in the coffee shops. There were some really nice upscale coffee shops that had a neat vibe (Buffalonians, almost like Mothers restaurant), and also some that were more casual and dive bar-like (like Brick Bar on Allen). The funniest thing was you were allowed to smoke weed in the coffee shops, but most definitely NOT cigarettes, and they were very strict about it.

We also explored the Red Light District, which was another culture shock. The cool thing is that these areas aren’t sketchy or seedy at all, still a beautiful part of town, it just happens to be a part of town where you can look at naked girls standing in windows (and maybe do a little more than just staring…)
The next day, I went to a few museums with one of my roommates, Jenna. We first went to the Van Gogh Museum which was incredible. Van Gogh is my favorite painter, and I’ve seen some of his work already at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, MoMA in NYC, and at the National Portrait Gallery in London. It was funny, when I was at the National Portrait Gallery a few days prior, I saw that two of Van Gogh’s famous sunflower paintings were temporarily off display…because they were being loaned to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. “No big deal,” I thought, “I’ll see them in a few days!” And I did!

After the Van Gogh Museum, we went to the Anne Frank House. The line was very long, but so worth it. It was very humbling and moving to be walking around in the house where Anne wrote her famous diary, and also hid with her family for two years before ultimately being betrayed and meeting her death at a concentration camp. I learned at the museum, that when Anne’s father (the only survivor from the Frank family) decided to turn the house into a museum, he wanted to keep the rooms completely bare to remind everyone of the void and emptiness that the Holocaust left on so many people.
The rooms all had photos of what the rooms looked like when they were in hiding, and the windows were completely blacked out, to recreate the darkness the families had to live in for two years when they were in hiding. Anne’s quotes were written on many of the walls, and it’s hard to believe what a brilliant and thoughtful person she was at such a young age.
Visiting her room was the most powerful, because even though it was empty, the pictures that she plastered on the walls still remained. She had photos of movie stars of the time, and also pictures of public figures and artists like Leonardo da Vinci. It was an experience I’ll never forget and I hope if you ever have the opportunity to visit the museum, please do.
After the museum, Jenna and I met up with our other two roommates, Megan and Ashlee, and we went to get something to eat. We found some other people from our group, and Megan decided to head back, while a girl named  Lauren from our group decided to head with us to get dinner. The night before, our tour guide Darren told us about a really good Indonesian restaurant, and we were intrigued because none of us have had Indonesian before. Thanks for the suggestion, Darren, because it was all sooo good! The location was great too, right near a busy square so we were able to eat delicious Indonesian and do some more people watching.

We were all in agreement that Amsterdam was lovely, and the lifestyle and attitude was so refreshing. We all wished we could have spent at least one more day there. I talked to some people from my group who said they weren’t too keen on coming to Amsterdam because they didn’t care about the Red Light District or smoking weed, but Amsterdam is so, so much more than that. Yes, those things can be fun, but the city has so much more to offer and it’s a place that I know I will have to come back to.
I’m currently on a bus on my way to Switzerland. We just spent four days in Paris (I’ll write about that later), and I can’t believe we are already more than halfway through the trip. It’s been so amazing that I don’t want to think about coming home. I’m trying really hard to live in the moment because things are happening so fast and I know these memories and moments, big and small, can never be recreated.
Switzerland is probably the country/area I know the least about on my trip, but Darren said it’s his favorite place on our trip, and that’s saying something considering all the places he’s been! I’ll try to write soon, the wi-fi in Paris was god awful, hopefully Switzerland will be better!

Pregaming to Amsterdam

In my previous entry, I mentioned taking an overnight ferry from London to Amsterdam. We were all pretty tired and worn out from London, and most us agreed we were going to take it easy on the boat in preparation for Amsterdam (or as Darren calls it, Amsterdamage).

Well I don’t know what happened between leaving London and boarding the ferry, but we were all drunk on the bus ride TO the ferry. By the time we had all boarded the boat, we all went straight to the deck to drink some more. The boat hadn’t even left the dock yet and we thought we had been out on the open water for hours.
I’m not going to get into specifics, but it was probably the sloppiest group of people I’ve seen in a long time. And I’ve been to my fair share of Buffalo St. Patrick’s Day parades, Bills, and Sabres games.
We completely took over the deck, with many of us buying drinks at the bar, but mostly us buying bottles of liquor at the duty free shop on board. We were all sitting on the center of the deck with tables and chairs and were roaming around, while others on the boat sort of surrounded our area and watched us. The best way I can describe it is when you see a large group of zoo goers watching an exhibit at the zoo.
We were out there for a LONG time and needless to say, things were getting more and more ridiculous by the minute. I was rooming with three other girls, and we ended up all making it back to our room despite each of us losing our room keys on separate occasions (Megan was issued a new and incorrect room key at the front desk and walked in on some guy sleeping).
The early morning after was…rough. We all had to be packed and ready to get off the boat by 8 AM. Every single one of us was feeling pretty miserable, and I can’t even imagine the feeling of everyone else on board when they saw 30 hungover American tourists stumble into the customs line.
Between one of us getting sick in the garbage can, a few setting off the fire alarm after running out of the fire exit to be sick, my friend’s beaded bracelet breaking and beads going everywhere, we were a force to be reckoned with. The cool thing though was everyone else in the customs line looked more amused at our antics than anything. Even men working customs were chuckling at us as we each made our way up to them to get our passports stamped.
Our bus driver to Amsterdam took one look at us and immediately started passing everyone a sick bag. Darren also had to reassure him that we weren’t normally like that. 
We made it to Amsterdam before we could check into our hostel, so we were dropped off in the city to hang out for a few hours. Those few hours were one big  blur. I was pretty much wearing my pajamas from the night before and I still felt like we were still on the boat. A group of us immediately booked it to a coffee shop for some much needed rejuvenation.
Darren also arranged us to take a boat cruise down Amsterdam’s beautiful and plentiful canals, and a few days prior we had all been talking about how we were looking forward to it. Fast forward a few days later after a night of hard partying and sitting out in the baking sun and we were NOT okay. I’ve never seen a group of more miserable people on such a lovely outing in my life. The boat cruise would have been interesting and enjoyable if we weren’t hungover, but instead we were all too tired, sick, and hot to enjoy the experience.
We eventually made it back to our hostel where we all immediately went straight back to bed for a few hours and then showered. A lot of us were feeling a lot better after and decided to head out to explore Amsterdam.
Looking back at our crazy night and day of the ferry and getting to Amsterdam and I think it was one of the funniest and best moments of my life. We’ve all been looking back and crying tears of laughter at how ridiculous it all was. From the actual partying on the ferry, the morning after at customs, and the boat ride in Amsterdam, it was just all so outrageous. I keep hearing new stories about what happened to people on the ferry or I would remember something and I’d just burst out in a fit of laughter. I had to stop from writing this a few times because I just keep laughing at everything.
After that rough day in Amsterdam, the evening and the following day and night in the city was phenomenal. I’ll save that for its own entry, but the people in Amsterdam really know how to live life. I am entirely in awe of that city.
I can’t believe we are about halfway through the trip. Part of me is a bit sad that we’re already this far in, but the rest of me is really excited because if the final half of the trip is anything like the first half, well… 

London, London, London

It’s hard to believe I’ve already seen Dublin, North Wales, and London on my tour. It’s also hard to believe I’ve finally visited LONDON. London has been a place I’ve wanted to visit for so long and it felt unreal walking around the city, riding the Tube, seeing all those famous sites and landmarks, and hearing English accents wherever I went.
I was unbelievably giddy sitting on the bus when we first made it to London, and I couldn’t wait to go out and explore once we got to our hotel around 5 PM. Once we settled into our rooms, Darren explained London’s public transportation system and then we headed to Covent Garden to explore. We walked around the city a bit before heading to Covent Garden, and we all saw Big Ben for the first time and I think that was pretty surreal for most of us to see such a famous landmark in person.
I was craving Indian food; it’s my favorite cuisine and I know London is known for good Indian. Luckily, a few girls from my group were feeling the same way, so we found a place not too far from Covent Garden and it was so delicious. We were all so hungry and it was the perfect welcome to multicultural London!

After wandering around for a bit, we called it a night because we were all pretty tired after a long day of traveling.
The next morning Darren took us out to do a bit more sightseeing, and to take us to the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Darren is from London, so he knew where the perfect place to stand was to watch. We were so close to the guards when they crossed we could have touched them! It was such a neat experience.
After that Darren took us to Trafalgar Square and let us have a free day. That day we all had passes to a hop on, hop off bus tour to see the city, so a group of us visited the National Portrait Gallery for a bit and then hopped on a bus. We had originally intended on just riding it for a little while and then getting off to do our own sightseeing, but the guide on the tour was so enjoyable to listen to and had neat stories and anecdotes, so we just sat on the bus and enjoyed her commentary for about an hour.

After that, we did some shopping on Oxford Street. It was so, so hot out that I really wasn’t in the mood to shop, I only bought a scarf and then went to the market to get some food and wine because I had a picnic to go to later.
Almost everyone in my group went to a pub crawl that night, but I had plans to visit some friends who live in London for a picnic at Hyde Park. The picnic was sooo lovely! We sat right by a pond and the area was full of others picnicking and walking their dogs. There was also a music festival going on so we could hear music and cheering in the distance. We all had such an enjoyable time eating at chatting, and I was so glad to have a relaxing night out after such a busy (and hot) day.
The next day I had plans to meet up with even more people from the area, so I went back to the Covent Garden area to meet them. It was another unbearably hot day, so we escaped to a cocktail bar called Henry’s and got a drink. My friend told me I had to get a Pimms and Lemonade while I was hear because it’s a very well known a British drink. It was very refreshing and enjoyable. It was served with fresh fruit and cucumber.
After lunch, I met up with other girls from my group so we could go to the Harry Potter studio tour!!!!! I was finally going to Hogwarts after thirteen years of being a Harry Potter fanatic. We met at King’s Cross station to get a picture of Platform 9 3/4 and then it was off to Hogwarts!!
Anyone who knows me knows how obsessed I am with Harry Potter, and thankfully a few girls who I was going with felt the same way so we were all so giddy together while waiting in line to get in. I got teary eyed and had a lump in my throat when the tour was showing how Harry Potter mania blew up all over the world when the books and movies were being released.
The guides on the tour were so great at pumping everyone up and when it was finally time to open the doors to the Great Hall, I was so overwhelmed I started crying tears of joy. I was at the very place where the cast and crew created such magic for me!

I spent HOURS in there and took hundreds of pictures. I kept running back and forth marveling at things, reading the info, and taking pictures. It was like a religious pilgrimage to me. I got to try some Butterbeer, and at the end of the tour there was a room full of wands, dedicated to every single cast and crew member who worked on the eight films. I found my favorite actor’s, Alan Rickman, so that was cool!

I ended up leaving by myself from the tour because the group of girls I went with all had plans and had to leave to get ready. It was a long journey back to my hotel, but it was easy to figure out. London’s public transportation system is so efficient. I talked to two Belgian girls who were working and living in London on my ride home and we had a nice chat about my trip, the differences between America and Europe, and the Harry Potter tour. 
I called it a night after I got back, it was a long journey home and I already had such a big day. The hustle and bustle of London is exhilarating, but exhausting.
The next day was our last day in London, so one of my roommates Megan and me decided to head out to Camden in the morning to shop. Camden was amazing! So many open markets and vendors, and so, so cheap! I could have spent hours walking around. I bought some jewelry and a sweater. It was such a successful day trip.
After Camden, we met up with more of our group and Darren and spent the rest of our day at Greenwich Park. The park was full of people of all ages enjoying the gorgeous weather and the amazing view of the city. We all laid in the sun and I had some wine and enjoyed my surroundings.

I left London with a bit of a heavy heart because I loved every second of it. I loved all the different cultures, the pace, the history, the accents, and the company of my friends and travelers.
Luckily I wasn’t sad for very long because we were on our way to Ansterdam and had to board an overnight ferry to get there. The night on the ferry was one of the most ridiculous, outrageous, sloppy, stupid, and entertaining nights of my entire life. But that will have to wait for its very own entry…

Beautiful Wales and Stratford-upon-Avon

I was sad to leave Ireland behind, but also eager to move on to Wales and England. We took a ferry from Dublin to North Wales, and the ferry looked more like a cruise liner than a ferry. I was picturing something more like the Staten Island Ferry, so I was pleasantly surprised.

Once we got to Wales, we headed to a town called Llanfairpwllgwyngllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoh.
No, I didn’t just have a seizure while typing, that’s the actual name! A Welsh woman recited the pronunciation, and it was beautiful, and really entertaining to hear.
We then moved onto a town called Beaumaris to see Beaumaris Castle, and…wow. It was breathtakingly beautiful. The town was so quaint and charming, I don’t know how anyone could visit there without feeling absolutely at peace with the world.
The castle was extraordinary, it was dark and rocky inside with many twists and turns, I felt like a little kid exploring and trying to find my way out. I found a bird’s nest with two baby seagulls. It was so neat! I wanted to take a picture of them, but the poor things looked really scared from my intrusion so I let them be.
After the castle, we wandered around the town for a bit and it was surreal. It was a perfect time for my group to bond and take in this amazing opportunity we are experiencing together. It was one of those, “I can’t believe I’m really here!” moments.

After that, we headed out to our hotel and the scenery on the ride was gorgeous. There aren’t enough adjectives  in the world to describe just how beautiful it was. A few girls on my tour and I just sat there and chatted a bit about what we were all experiencing and how we know our lives are changed for the better because of it.
We made it to our hotel which was in the middle of nowhere, so we had a nice night in sitting and chatting. Some of my favorite experiences have been just sitting around with a few drinks and getting to know everyone I’m traveling with. Sometimes it’s tempting to go straight to my room and sleep, but it always pays off to push through because I’ve had some great conversations with my new friends late at night at the hotels.
Before this trip, I’ve only heard of Wales but I didn’t know much about it other than it being a part of the UK. Now I would say it’s definitely a must-see to anyone traveling through Europe, and I really hope I get the chance to return.
The next morning we set out for Stratford-upon-Avon to see Anne Hathaway’s (Shakespeare’s wife, not the actress) cottage, then onto Shakespeare’s childhood home and resting place. I was really excited for that because I love Shakespeare and theatre.
Stratford-upon-Avon was lovely. To me, it was the perfect little English village. Rich in history and beauty, and full of Elizabethan style homes and buildings. My favorite part of the Shakespeare experiences was watching actors perform Shakespeare monologues and dialogues outside. We got to put in suggestions of what we wanted to hear, and I requested Macbeth. The actors chose to perform the Witches’ prophecy which was neat.
After that, I walked up to the Avon River and there were a bunch of boats selling gifts, coffee, ice cream, and sandwiches. I was joking with someone from my group saying how we’ve seen plenty of food trucks before, but never any food boats! I ordered a ham and Brie and mango chutney baguette sandwich for only 3 pounds and it was delicious!
We walked around town a bit after that just to take in all of the beauty and history. As we were making out way back to our bus, we passed by a street performer who was singing and playing “Sweet Caroline” on a guitar. It was so awesome that I happened to be passing by as he was performing that song. We all started singing along (and added BUM BUM BUM and SO GOOD SO GOOD SO GOOD) and I shouted, “I’m Caroline!!” to the performer. It was a really special moment for me!
Now I’m sitting on the bus and we are on our way to LONDON!!! I feel like a little kid, I am SO excited to be in London and I can’t believe I’m only a few hours away from being there. I said this to some of my travelers, and I sincerely believe it, I think so far the trip has been worth every single penny, and we’re only five days in. You just can’t put a price on certain moments and experiences.
I can only imagined how I’ll feel once I’ve made it through London. I can’t wait to tell you all about it. Until then…