Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The trip that changed my life

Sometimes it seems like it was only just a dream.

But it wasn't simply a mediocre Nelly song. I really did live and work in London for almost four months. And yet, a year later, I can feel myself forgetting things about my time there. Ask my flatmate Emily P. Once every few weeks I send her a desperate text message, begging her to remind me the name of a certain tube stop or what chocolate croissants were called in France.

I remember a certain tube ride, not long after I arrived in London. There was an American family and the mother was talking to a British man next to her. She was telling him how she had studied abroad in London in college and this was her first time back since then. It had been over 10 years.

To me, this story is terrifying. How could she resist London for so long? I don't go a single day without being reminded of my time spent in London. Sometimes I'll close my eyes and picture Longridge Road and try to wish myself there.

Of course, I'm horribly afraid to go back. First of all, I don't know I could survive another seven hour plane trip over the ocean. And second of all, what if it doesn't live up to my expectations? What if I return to a place I've taken to calling "my city" and it isn't all that I remember?

I know I'm going to have to take that chance someday. After all, there is still so much to be seen. Until then, I'll just have to be content with looking at my 3000 pictures for the 1000th time, living vicariously through younger student's blogs and by following Hummingbird Cupcake and Heathrow Airport on Twitter.

And really, when you think about it, what's a seven hour plane trip compared to the chance to take 3000 more pictures?

Cheers,
Allison

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cheers London, It's been brilliant.


Here I am, the end of my semester in London and the end of my junior year. Words like "senior," and "last year," are beginning to float into my vernacular, but before they become commonplace, I'm going to write one last London Blog.

I started off this journey coming up with a list of the top ten things I wanted to do/see while in London. And I can successfully say that out of all of them, the only ones which I did not accomplish were finding a star of Harry Potter (although I did see Alan Rickman at the Alice in Wonderland red carpet) and finding a duke to marry. But besides that, I think I was pretty successful. I walked the same paths that countless kings and queens have trod, I visited some of my favorite cinematic and literary landmarks, and I became much more adventurous with my food choices. All in all, it was simply the time of my life. Here is a little bit of a breakdown of the semester by the numbers:

3 1/2: months I was away from home
8: number of countries I visited including the UK
2: trips to Paris
2: the number of cameras I went through
17: times I pretended to be a wizard
7: West End shows attended
3: times I saw Legally Blonde
3: times I visited the Tower of London
3: times I visited Platform 9 3/4
10: total number of family and friends who visited
??: pints of Strongbow consumed
20+: Hummingbird cupcakes eaten
20+: museums visited
3: international bylines
5: times during Macbeth Hillary and I almost has a conniption because of Macbeth's attractiveness
1: ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano that disrupted our travel plans
1: time a man in a purple velvet cloak and a full face of makeup spit on me at Portobello Market
100: tube rides on the Picadilly to Cockfosters
1: pair of tube boxers purchased
15: times I attempted to skype with my dog and she ignored me
2650: photos taken
40: number of times I made the KD sign with another traveling sister
4: fantastic flatmates without whom the semester would not have been the same
1: priceless semester in London

I'd also like to send some thanks out:

First to my family, without whom I would not have been able to take part in this fantastic opportunity. I have appreciated every minute of it and I am so glad that you supported me in this endeavor.

Secondly to Megan Ogar and Marissa Venturella for flying all the way across the ocean to visit me on their spring break. It was probably one of the nicest and most wonderful acts of friendship that anyone has ever done for me.

Next to all the other friends who came to visit and let me visit in other European countries. Seeing your familiar faces in this foreign land made being away from home all the easier.

I'd also like to thank my flatmates for being such great living buddies, and for always allowing me to justify my food and clothing purchases.

My brilliant co-worker Emily Becker who never lost her patience with me when I was running late for work because I lack the ability to wake up to an alarm or decide what to wear.

And lastly, I would like to thank my blue scarf from Express for being in countless photos with me, and for always being there when I needed to add some pizazz to an otherwise boring neutral coloured outfit.

I hope that whoever has been reading this blog besides my mother has enjoyed hearing about my adventures. I was quite skeptical about the blogging world before this semester, but I have to say, I have quite enjoyed chronicling my time in London in this fashion. I'm actually considering continuing it once I get back to real life, but we shall just have to wait and see on that one.

Studying Abroad has honestly been the greatest experience of my life, and I strongly encourage anyone who has the chance to take advantage of it. Leaving your family and friends can be scary, but it is a leap of faith I took, and hope to encourage others to do so as well. Even if studying abroad isn't an option, simply traveling to Europe has the ability to change the perception of how people see the world. In a time when it is so easy to get caught up in our red, white, and blue tinted bubble, it is even more vital that people experience other cultures, and once again I cannot put into words how grateful I am to have had that chance. And so, for the last time,

Cheers!
Allison

Friday, April 23, 2010

And Now It's Time For Another Top 10 List!

Although I find it hard to believe, I've apparently been in London for 3 1/2 months. Who would have known? And so, because I love nothing more than montages and top (insert number here) lists, here are my top ten moments in London from this past semester (in no particular order):

1. Seeing Big Ben for the first time: Did you know that Big Ben is actually the name of the bell inside the clock tower? ITS TRUE! While London has a plethora of landmarks, my favorite is this famous clock. It has been made famous in countless movies (The Great Mouse Detective, Peter Pan, Harry Potter), and to me, epitomizes the history and the grandeur of the city.



2. Visiting the Tower of London: I made a trip to this famous landmark not once, not twice, but three times. And let me just tell you it was fantastic each and every time. I even did a presentation about it for my class I love it so much. The Tower offers such a unique experience; it has at one time been a menagerie, royal residence, prison, execution site, and royal mint! And it is very much still a vital part to the monarchy, as the crown jewels are kept inside this historical landmark. Even if you aren't a complete history freak like me, it is an incredible experience, and I will miss it very much when I leave. Below are pictures of my visits there:







3. Service at both Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral. Both churches are so incredibly beautiful any time you visit, but when you see them in the capacity for which they were made, they have an even more power presence. Listening to the choir echoing off the beautiful architecture in the church where every single monarch has been coronated and the church where Princess Diana got married makes for a very moving experience.



4. Seeing shows on the West End: This quite possibly have been my most favourite part about living in London. Having such an amount of shows at my disposal was a dream come true for me, and with the half-price tickets, who wouldn't be tempted?







5. The V&A: Though London has an astronomical amount of museums to visit (and most of them free!) the V&A is absolutely my favourite. Just a 20 minute walk from my flat, I don't know how many times I have visited and still not seen everything it has to offer! From fashion to fake Davids, paintings to British Galleries, The V&A has something to offer to everyone, no matter what their interest.

6. Hummingbird Bakery. Snog. Strongbow. Tea at the Ritz: Best cupcakes and best frozen yogurt in the world. Bar none. My new favourite alcoholic beverage. And the most extravagant and delicious experience of all the dining experiences I had this semester.

7. Visiting Platform 9 3/4: When I turned 11, I was devastated that I didn't receive an invitation to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I have finally come to terms that visiting Kings Cross Station is the closest I am going to come to realizing my dream. That is, at least until Marina and I visit Harry Potter World this summer



8. Visiting famous music, movie and literary landmarks such as 221B Baker Street and Abbey Road. If you say you aren't jealous, you are lying.





9. Relaxing in Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, and St. James Park. In such a large, urban city, these pockets of greenery offer an almost sanctuary-like experience. It makes all the difference that these parks are a 20 minute walk away, rather than a 30 minute car ride like Forest Park is for me back home.



10. The Tube. Maybe it's because I have a little giggle each time I hear, "This is a Picadilly Line towards Cockfosters," or maybe its Sheila constantly telling me to mind the gap, but I love that silly form of public transportation in cylinder shape. And though I am very excited to be back in my camry, I will miss the tube.



And though it seems silly to mark my time here by a Top Ten list, well, there you have it. Only five more days til I return to Missouri. Is this real life? Most likely, it isn't.

Cheers!
Allison

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Long and Winding Road

I did something really cool last Sunday. Last Sunday, I trod the path that four great men had trod before me. Last Sunday, I went to Abbey Road.

We arrived at music's most iconic crosswalk early, hoping this would minimize our chance of getting struck down by an angry Brit, sick of dealing with stupid tourists. Then we set about making a game plan, so as to maximize our time in the middle of the road.

We decided that Kaylee and I (acting as George and Paul) would stay on one side, while Lisa and Emily (acting as John and Ringo) would start on the other, therefore allowing us to get into position all the quicker. After studying the picture the night before, we knew that George (Kaylee) had arms down and left foot forward, Paul (me) had arms down, right foot forward and was barefoot, Ringo (Emily) was the same as George, and John (Lisa) had hands in his pockets and left foot forward. Knowing our parts we walked into position. And failed, as some of the cameras malfunctioned. But we persevered and faster than you can say I am the Walrus we tried again and were successful. Below is our mess up, finished product, and the original, as well as me signing the wall.









Afterwards we signed the white wall outside of Abbey Road studios, and continued on our day, already having had a fantastic morning.

The day only got better. The weather was gorgeous, and we decided to take advantage of this and picnic in St. James Park. There were flowers blooming, trees, dogs, birds, and...a mugging.

After witnessing the mugging, we decided to continue on our day. We made a pit stop at Buckingham Palace and then walked down the Mall to Trafalgar Square, where we attempted to climb the lions surrounding Admiral Lord Nelson. Kaylee and I both made it onto a lion, which turns out was much harder to climb than the Tiger in Tiger Plaza.

We also made our way down to the Cavalry Guards, which are the only guards you can still stand by to take a picture. Kaylee, Jackie and I decided to get our Mary Kate and Ashley on, and well, here is the result: (Video courtesy of Jacquelinne Mejia)

video

With only 3 more weeks in London, we figured it was time to do some souvenir shopping, and I bought probably the coolest present to myself ever: tube boxers.

It was, in a nutshell, one of my favorite days in London. And, since the volcanic ash is covering all of Europe, I now get an extra weekend to explore my city before I leave 2 weeks from today. And the week that proceeded it was also fantastic, with Grace also being in town all the way from Tubingen. Some highlights of the week include my third time seeing the Tower of London, Legally Blonde, and Platform 9 and 3/4. Having friends in town always gives me such a good excuse to sight see and revisit places that would be pathetic for me to visit without having an excuse. Ok, so three trips to Kings Cross Station may be a bit pathetic...anyway, here are some picture highlights of that week:









Also a side note, to anyone who has commented on my blog, I have tried to write back to you, but my technology skills are so inept that I seem to not be able to figure it out. But I love reading your comments, and I don't want anyone think I am ignoring you!

Only 2 more weeks of adventures to chronicle, I can't wait to see what London has in store for me.

Cheers!
Allison

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

Before I traveled to Germany, I had never given any thought to how much its culture has infiltrated my life. From pretzels to beer to gummi bears...ok, so maybe its only infiltrated one aspect of my life, but it's a very important one!



I arrived in the small German town of Tubingen around one on Thursday, and met up with my friend Grace. After disposing of my things, she proceeded to show me the town, including the shops, cafes, castle and the river. Being in Tubingen, it was easy to see why Germany is the homeplace for so many fairy tales; I never been in so picturesque a place. That night after a delicious meal, we went to a bar so I could try my first German beer. Though I enjoy beer much more than I did in the states, I still wasn't completely sure if I would like it.

Well, I didn't like it. I LOVED it. After tasting German beer, I don't know if I'll be able to go back to the CoMo variety, which I now know is the palest of all palest imitations of a real beer.



The next day, after my second pretzel of the trip, Grace and I left for Vienna.

Now at this point, I must digress, and tell you a bit about my childhood. When I was little, I had a certain fascination with certain movies, as children tend to do. My favorites were Grandpa's Magical Toys, Beauty and the Beast, Mary Poppins, and...The Sound of Music (because what three year old doesn't love a good nazi takeover story). Do-Re-Mi was the first song I taught myself on the piano, and my mom would sing Edelweiss to lull me to sleep as a baby. So anyway, I've basically been obsessed with the Austrian countryside for the past 17 years. So even though I wouldn't be traveling to Salzburg where the movie was filmed, just being in Austria was exciting.

So, in the spirit of "The Sound of Music," I will list for you a few of my favorite things I saw and did in Vienna (in no particular order):

1. Going to St. Stephansdom for Easter Mass. Though I am neither Catholic or speak German, the service itself was beautiful, and was made even more so by gothic surroundings of the oldest church in Vienna.

2. Walking through the St. Stephansdom Catacombs. I felt like a mixture of Indiana Jones, Robert Langdon, Harry Potter, and Dora the Explorer walking through the tunnels. Though I have to say, seeing the walls made of bones and a 300 year old skull staring at me did make me feel a little queasy.



3. Visiting Royal Palaces. Both ancestral homes of the Habsburg dynasty, Hofburg and Schonbrunn were magnificent but Schonbrunn was my favorite, as it provided me with a hill to reenact the opening of The Sound of Music.



4. Gelato. Vienna had the absolute best gelato of my life (even more than Italy) and Grace and I may have eaten it each day we were there.



5. Schnitzel. I experienced this delicacy on two occasions. First, at Figlmuller, who boasted the worlds largest and best weiner schnitzel. It absolutely lived up to its reputation. However, not even Figlmuller could compete with what Grace and I ate for Easter Dinner. Four words, one magic dish: Schnitzel in a Box. It was magnificent.



6. Going to the Vienna Opera. I was very excited that my first opera experience was going to be in Vienna, and as soon as we entered our box I could barely contain my excitement. However, once the opera, Parsifal, began our excitement began to wane. Five and 1/2 hours later, we finally left the Vienna Opera House, and the Schnitzel in a Box incident occurred shortly after, which maybe explains that choice of dish.



7. Visiting the Easter Markets and sampling the delicious foods and beautiful wares they had to offer. I was so sad that I couldn't bring back the delicately decorated eggshells for fear they break on my journey back. Oh, and I got to eat more pretzels at said markets.




I barely even scratched the surface of these two countries, and I cannot wait to return to them and further explore them. I also have to say that besides Greece, I ate the best I ever had in Tubingen and Vienna, which is of course, a major factor when I come to rating countries.

Auf Wiedersehen!

Allison

Monday, April 5, 2010

MAM+Tree+London=Fun

Whenever I have been asked the question, "Are you homesick?" I have had trouble answering. While I miss both my Crestwood and my Columbia homes, I am more "peoplesick" than homesick. While some would argue it is the same thing, I would beg to differ. I am completely obsessed with London and would never leave if I didn't miss my friends and family and dog back home.

Now I have luckily been blessed with incredible flatmates who without I would have had a much less fantastic time, and whose shot page I eagerly anticipate. Still, I couldn't help feel like a small human on Christmas Eve the night before my roommates from Columbia came to see me.

Seeing Megan and Marissa in Heathrow was so incredibly surreal, and quite a few tears were shed upon their arrival. After sharing a living space for 1 and 1/2 years with them and creating nickname (MAM) for yourselves, being separated is difficult!



However, we immediately went back to our old ways, and began exploring London together. In that first day alone we went to service at St. Pauls, visited Platform 9 3/4, got free Hummingbird cupcakes, ate fish and chips and cider, and rode the London Eye, which I had yet to do.

After a fun Monday morning featuring a return trip to the Tower, and Megan losing her shoe in the Thames (RIP Steve Madden flat), I went to class and sent MM off to museums, tea, and shopping. Then we visited Ye Olde Chesire Cheese, one of the oldest pubs in London that was once frequented by Dickens, and was reminiscent of the Leaky Cauldron.

Tuesday found me at work, and when I returned I was reunited with yet another friend, the always spectacular Megan Decker, who is studying in Manchester for the semester. That night we went to see Wicked, and then off to O'Neills for a night on the town before riding the (K)Night Bus home.

Wednesday I once again had to work, and met the girls back at the flat before once again going to Earls Court Pub for more fish and chips. We then proceeded to spend the entire night staying up and chatting, much as we did in Columbia. All too soon it was time for me to leave for Germany, and I had to bid farewell to my visitors.



Seeing my three friends has made me start to look forward to going home, where before I was dreading it. That combined with my increased cravings for crab rangoon and TiVo will make my homecoming a wonderful one I believe. However, I still have 25 days left, which includes visits from Grace and Kaylee, a trip to Nice, and of course, finding the ever elusive Harry Potter actor. 25 days. Looks like its time to stop writing and start doing.

Cheers! (And a special AOT for this post)
Allison

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I amsterdam: The land of the wooden shoes

When preparing for my trip to Amsterdam, everyone kept asking me the same question:

Are you going to buy clogs?

Well, to answer that pressing question, no, I didn't, though one of my flatmates indulged herself in this traditional dutch fashion. I did however, find a giant clog that served as a spectacular photo opportunity.

We arrived into Amsterdam late Friday night on a teeny 30 seater propeller jet. After a good nights sleep, we woke up early and journeyed into the city centre. As I was only going to be in Amsterdam one day, I needed to maximize my time as best as possible, and had three things I really wanted to do: see the Anne Frank Huis, the Van Gogh Museum, and tour the Heineken Brewery.



The first place we visited was the Anne Frank Huis. Having read her diary in elementary school and watched the movie, I was very interesed in actually seeing the place I had read about. It was an incredibly moving and beautifully put together experience. Each room had Anne's descriptions from her diary blown up on the wall, and reading her words describing the area in which I was standing was very emotional. Walking up the steps to the secret annex that were hidden behind a bookcase, and into the room where on the wall still remains pencil marks to note the children's growth during their years in hiding brought such a feeling of sadness over me that I began to cry.

My tears continued into the next room, Anne's room, where on the walls remained her photo collection that she put up to brighten the area. The most surreal experience was seeing the diary itself, and then looking at copies of the diary in almost every language imaginable, and realizing that one young girl's musings could have had such an effect on so many people, all over the world. Not owning a copy of the diary myself, i purchased it on the site that it was written, and it is one of my favorite souvenirs from my time in Europe.



After leaving the house, my guide book had recommended that I do something contemplative and reflect about the experience. As I do my best reflecting over a good meal, I knew it was time to call my friend Molly who is studying there, so she could lead us to the pannekoeken. After having delicious banana pannekoeken, we bid Molly goodbye and continued on to the Van Gogh Museum. I was really excited to see this, as Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists. Unfortunately, the museum cost 14 euro, which compared to the free museums in London and the 9.50 you pay to get into the Lourve, was pretty pricey, and the museum had barely anything in it. And of course, we didn't realize until after we couldn't find the letters written by Vincent to his brother Theo were on loan to, where else, but London. After that disappointment, we knew it was time for a drink.



Or three drinks to be precise. At the Heineken Experience (yes, experience, not tour) you got to tour the brewery, ride a ride that put you in the place of the beer and "brewed" you, help make the beer, and of course, on top of many other activities, enjoy three free beers. While the beer made the experience, even without it, it would have been fun, and it is one of my favorite experiences abroad.



After leaving the brewery we were feeling a little, uh, lets say excited, and we decided to go see the Red Light District, which we promptly left two minutes later. We finished off the day eating frites in Dam Square, and then returned to the hotel since I had to wake up at 4:30 to catch my flight back to London.

I enjoyed Amsterdam even more than I was expecting. It is incredibly beautiful with the canals twisting through the city, and the people are very nice, which always makes a difference. I'm sad I only got to spend one day there, but glad I got to go, even if it was just for a bit. If anyone plans on going, I would say the Anne Frank Huis and Heineken Experience are must sees.

Now, usually I attempt to sign off my blog in the language of the country I just visited. Well, truth is, Dutch is most likely the strangest and most foreign language I've come across in my travels so I'll just say,

Cheers!

Allison