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

Friday, March 19, 2010

Wait, it's mid-March already?

Pardon the self indulgent blog, but I am starting to go into full on panic mode. I can't believe I only have 6 weeks left here! I feel like I have done absolutely nothing on my London bucket list, and though my many facebook albums beg to differ, I need to start getting my tourist on to the max (please say in the Target lady voice) if I am going to see everything I want before I have to return stateside.

Coming Attractions include:
Visits from Megan(s), Marissa, Kaylee, and Grace
Trips to Amsterdam, Germany, Vienna, and Nice
Madame Tussauds--they have a Zac Efron wax figure. How could I possibly pass that up.
Hampton Court--Elizabeth I is one of my top five historical figures, it is essential to make it to her household before I depart.
Abbey Road--I will get this picture and very possibly get hit by a car attempting it.
Finding someone from Harry Potter. From the lack of luck I've had so far, I think I might have to make a stop at Brown to see anyone connected to the film
Go see The Scottish Play at Shakespeare's Globe Theater
Portabello Road
Countless museums including the Tate Modern

And Lord knows what else. Tomorrow Anna, Mom and I are going to have high tea at Harrods, then spend the afternoon enjoying Knightsbridge and South Kensington. Then tomorrow night we have tickets to see Private Lives starring Kim Cattrall! I've had a great time having them here, I can't believe how quickly the week flew by; we even managed to fit in a day trip to Paris!

I am ready to conquer these next 6 weeks. I refuse to go back to the states with any unfulfilled wishes if I have the power to make it happen. Until then,

Cheers!



P.S. Just for good measure, here is my family standing in front of a monument. The journalist in me won't let this space be filled with gray!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Not Real Life

Hello!

Sorry to have taken so long to update this after returning from spring break, but to be completely honest, I didn't feel up to the task at hand. A description of a nine day trip to Greece and Italy is daunting for a writer, especially for an amateur such as myself. After several failed attempts to produce a comprehensive description of my holiday, I have come to the conclusion it is impossible. However, in the style of David Letterman, I offer you my Top 10 Best/Memorable Moments of Spring Break.



10.Almost getting kicked out of the Sistine Chapel. Turns out that when they say no pictures, they really mean no pictures. Though everyone in the chapel was sneaking pictures, Hillary and I were targeted and man handled. Hillary escaped, and I was forced to delete my pictures. However, I managed to also get some on my iPhone, so I'd like to send a big "sucks to suck" to the Sistine Chapel Guards. However, you would be proud of me, as I resisted the urge to yell, "IS THIS BECAUSE I AM PROTESTANT!!" and throw a fit. Instead, I meekly deleted my pictures and got the heck out of there.



9. Seeing ruins from the top of the Acropolis and proclaiming them, "some sort of ancient football field." That football field? Turns out it was all that remained of the Temple of Zeus. I'm surprised I wasn't struck down by lightening.


8. Almost not making it to the airport to catch our flight back to Athens from Mykonos. With all the taxis in Greece on strike, the manager of our hotel (big shout out to the Hotel Carbonaki, greatest hotel on Mykonos) said he would drive us to the airport the next day. However, in a classic mix up, he thought we meant 7:30 pm rather than 7:30 am. Luckily, a sign on the hotel door directed me to the house of the owner of the hotel, who of course, speaks no English. Le me now, if you will allow me, to quote myself, "I have been faithfully practicing my Greek, and can now speak with the proficiency of, oh let's say, a toddler. Which, I think will cause absolutely no problems." Needless to say, I was seconds away from complete freak out trying to communicate with him when I miraculously remembered the words for drive, car and airport. He understood, and we made our flight with 10 minutes to spare.



7. As previously mentioned, the taxis were on strike, so we had to get creative if we were going to get to the beach on Mykonos. Our solution? Rent ATVs. Though I was terrified, Lisa and I couldn't help but feel we were in a movie speeding around the streets of Mykonos yelling Opa! Add in a strange Greek boy who took us on a scenic drive to his villa overlooking the entire island and you have the plot for Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 3.



6. Ancient Ruins. Both Rome and Athens were incredible to behold, with the Acropolis and the Colosseum topping my list of architectural marvels. While I love US History, it is prepubescent compared to the marvels that the Greeks and Italians can claim for their own. My other favorite ruin is the Mouth of Truth, that you may remember from the Audrey Hepburn classic for which she won best actress at the Oscars, Roman Holiday.



5. Greek food. Lamb, lamb, and more lamb. Baklava. Spanikopita. Galakteboureko. Loukoumades. Saganaki. Pita. Tzatziki. Feta. Did I mention lamb? I have never eaten so much or so well in my entire life.



4. Dantes. By far the best meal we had in Italy. It may have been the six free bottles of wine, but I don't think I have ever eaten anything so exquisite as my spinach and ricotta tortellini with white truffle cream sauce. Pair great food with great conversation and you have a Bella Notte.



3. The David. Ok, I have officially turned into an art nerd. Seeing Michelangelo's David was one of the most breathtaking art viewing experiences I have ever had the privilege to take part in. It is displayed in an almost other worldly way, and overwhelms even the most jaded viewer. You weren't allowed to take pictures here either, but I had to get back on the horse after my Sistine Chapel ordeal.



2. Sitting on the steps of the Piazza del Michelangelo in Florence. As the six of us sat there, watching the sunset over the beautiful city, we all felt and thought the same thing. How lucky we were and how there is no way it was real life.



1. Greece. Ok, I realize this is sort of a cop out, but I enjoyed every moment in Greece 100%. Wandering around Mykonos never failed to thrill me, and the beauty was never ending. Speaking Greek also held a thrill for me, and as I said before, the food is to die for. Basically, I love Greece. I love the people, I love the food, I love the landscape. It is quite possibly the greatest country in the world.

So that's that. My Spring Break blog. It was an incredible nine days, and I can't do it justice. Anna and Mom arrive tomorrow, with MAM in tow two weeks later! I can't wait to show them around my city!!

Cheers!!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

My Big Fat Greek Spring Break


On Friday, something very special is happening to me.

No. Sex and the City 2 is not coming out, that's not until May.

No. John Krasinski has not decided to leave Emily Blunt after meeting me on the streets of London.

No, Manolo Blahnik is not having a 90% off sale exclusively on size 9 strappy sandals.

No. It is much bigger.

I am returning to my homeland.

Yes. On Friday, March 26 at 10 pm, I, Aliki Elene Tripolitis will land in Athens. I have been preparing for this moment since birth.

I have read Edith Hamilton's Mythology not once, but twice.

I got an 105% in Mythology 1010 at university.

I have the soundtrack to Disney's Hercules memorized.

I understand natural and synthetic sponges better than any 20 year old girl should.

And I've probably eaten about 1000 Greek desserts in my lifetime.

Yes. I am ready.

You see, being Greek has always been a source of pride for me. Sure, no one can pronounce my last name and currently Greece is in economic turmoil and will possibly get kicked out of the EU (which, by the way, you're welcome American dollar) but my life really is better because I'm Greek.

For example, I always tan faster than anyone else because of my olive skin, which also keeps me from burning.

Because the sponge business has been passed down through Greek families through the generations, we often went to conventions in Orlando, which meant trips to Disney World.

I can claim John Stamos, Jennifer Aniston, and Alan from The Hangover as my people.

In the words of Gus from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, "When my people we're writing philosophy,. your people were still swinging from trees."

So, to say I am excited is an understatement. I have been faithfully practicing my Greek, and can now speak with the proficiency of, oh let's say, a toddler. Which, I think will cause absolutely no problems.

Besides Athens and Mykonos, we are also traveling to Italy, where we will see Rome and Florence. Between the food and the history of all the places I am going to, I plan on being an extremely happy camper for the next nine days. I would say its going to be a combination of a Mary Kate and Ashley movie, Roman Holiday, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and The Hangover.

Oh, and if I do get sunburnt? Don't worry, I'll just put some Windex on it!

Opa!

Allison

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Madrid, Claro que si!



Sitting on the plane headed for Madrid, I tried to remember everything I could about Spanish History.

~Despite its fame as a Catholic nation, originally Muslims settled the city.
~Isabel of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon's marriage brought together their two kingdoms, which was beginning of the unification of Spain.
~The same couple funded Columbus and sent him off to the new world
~Their daughter, Catherine, was Henry VIII's first wife who, when she wouldn't grant him a divorce to marry Anne Boleyn, became one of the main contributors to the creation of the Anglican Church.
~They had a dictator named Franco.
~There was that Inquisition. (See Mel Brooks "History of the World Part 1" for more on that: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5McSEU48Y8)


Obviously I had some learning to do. And what better way to learn than sight seeing!

We first met up with three friends from Pamplona in Madrid, Kaylee, Jackie, and Briehn. After dealing with some problems with our hotel situation, we set off to the Reina Sofia. Our guide book said that you enter the museum by high tech elevators. These elevators are apparently so high tech that they are near impossible to discover, and soon we decided to go eat dinner and abandon el museo.

After dinner and Emily's first flan experience (she didn't like it) we went searching for a tapas bar that Kaylee had found in her guide book. This once again proved too difficult for us, and while we did eventually find the bar, it was closed. So far, we were failing miserably.

The next day, however, treated us much better. The sun was out, and Emily and I couldn't help but frolic a bit after five dark rainy weeks in London. After a delicious breakfast of churros and freshly squeezed orange juice, we toured the Palacio Real, where I was excited to see a real Stradivarius violin, having read about them in a Boxcar Children Mystery. By the time we finished touring we were hungry again. We began walking to the Plaza Mayor, only to be sidetracked by the greatest word in the human language.

Queso.

Yes. We were in Spain and practically got hit by cars racing across the street to a restaurant that was promising, "100% Comida Mexicana." London is a lot of things, but not a Mecca of Mexican food. Add in two Texans and a Californian and you have five hungry girls, two mango daiquiris, a margarita, a pinacolada, and enough nachos to feed a small country.

After gorging ourselves, we decided it was time to leave Mexico and head back to Spain.

Our next stop was by far my favorite place in Madrid, The Plaza Mayor. Originally the sight of the Spanish Inquisition, the plaza now hosts a plethora of cafe's, shops, and street performers galore, including a real life mariachi band. The pure energy buzzing around the square made it impossible not to feel happy.

The rest of the day consisted of a trip to the Plaza de Espana, which featured statues of Don Quixote, Sancho, and Cervantes, a trip to an Egyptian Temple, and of course, shopping. After our busy day, we were more than ready to take part in my favorito part of Spanish culture, the siesta.

Of course, we couldn't go to Madrid without experiencing the nightlife, so at midnight we headed to El Kapital, a seven story nightclub with a line stretched around the building. From the karaoke floor to the bar that had sofa beds (see Sex and the City Season 6 Part 1 Episode 7), I have never seen anything of its magnitude.

The next day, exhausted from our clubbing the night before, we headed out to see Spain's museums for two reasons: 1. They have extraordinary pieces of art, and 2. The rain in Spain decided to leave the plane for the day.

We visited both the Thyssen Bornemisza and The Prado, both of which featured exemplary collections including works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Degas, and my fellow Kappa Delta, Georgia O'Keefe. In between our cultural experiences, I had my first tapa, which I enjoyed immensely. Our day concluded with a trip to the Real Madrid Stadium to soak up the pregame scene, and then back to the hotel to partake in a traditional Spanish meal: pizza. Guess my excitement for Italy next week had an effect on my food choices. Until then,

Hasta Luego!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

J'adore Paris!


Growing up Beauty and the Beast was my favorite movie. I would walk around the house in a blue dress, chiming, "Bonjour!" "Bonjour!" like Belle does in the opening song of the movie. Needless to say, I have always wanted to visit France.

My desire to go to France, and Paris especially was engraved in my heart after watching Carrie finally achieve her dream of going to Paris in the two part finale of Sex and the City. And just as Carrie's Paris trip did not go exactly as planned, neither did mine.

Ok, so I wasn't abandoned by my Russian lover or slapped by him or find my true love on a bridge at night in a couture dress, but I did break my camera in the Lourve 33 pictures into my trip and lose my leather gloves I got for Christmas. Coincidence? I think not.

But besides those two tragedies, Paris was the stuff of dreams. As we drove by the Eiffel Tower on the way to our hotel, I found tears coming to my eyes. I couldn't believe I was actually in Paris, the place Rick and Inga would always have, and Marie Antoinette let them eat cake. My excitement only intensified when we got out of the cab in front of our hotel and turned around to the sight of the tower a mere five minutes away, standing tall and proud in the distance.

I honestly can't put my finger on my favorite activity in Paris.

Was it singing Disney songs in inappropriate places? "God Help the Outcasts" while touring through Notre Dame, "Beauty and the Beast" when walking down a similar staircase like the one in the dance scene at the Lourve, and of course, "Les Poissons," from "The Little Mermaid," which I sang randomly in the streets.

Was it walking down the Champs Elysees towards the Arc de Triumphe, people watching and looking at boutiques where I couldn't afford at button?

Was it finally seeing the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo and tearing up at the sight of both of them 1) because I was in the presence of such magnificent art and 2) because my camera had broken before I got a picture of them?

Was it walking down a random street of Paris and running into my dear friend Cat Williams? That was definitely a highlight of my trip. (AOT)

Was it going up in the Eiffel Tower? No. I hated every minute of that. I've had a fear of national monuments since 9/11.

Was it taking pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower? I have always seen people's pictures in front of the monument and thought to myself "Oh cool, you have a picture in front of one of the most famous landmarks in the world." Now I have one. And it is cool.

No. My favorite part of the entire trip was...eating.

Eating everything. The shortlist includes croissants, pain au chocolats, croque monsieurs, baguettes, champagne, chocolat pepits, lamb chops, canelloni, and the best french fries I have ever tasted in my life. Which was odd, since I heard those were created in Belgium. But above all were the macaroons from Laduree. There were actual French people waiting in line for those macaroons, which tells you something about how good they are.

The entire trip was unforgettable and incredible, and I barely even saw half of what the city has to offer. I hope to go back and see the Paris Opera House, sight of one of my favorite musicals, "The Phantom of the Opera," the catacombs, Versailles, the Latin Quarter, Bastille, Sacre Coeur, and so much more.

Though I have to say, I still have yet to find a place to rival London in my heart. Madrid is up next in two weeks with Kaylee!!

Until then,

Auvoir!

Shopping and Mexican Food


Last Friday, after class, my flatmates and I decided that since it was actually sunny out in London that we would take advantage of the weather and explore an area of London we hadn't previously visited: Covent Garden.

After stepping out of the tube station, we were immediately struck by the beautiful old architecture. The fact that the buildings housed modern shops such as French Connection (FCUK...that tricks your mind, doesn't it?), H&M, Urban Outfitters, and various other British Boutiques didn't hurt either. The other major shopping districts in London that we had visited include: Oxford Street, where we practically drowned in the sea of people pushing into stores, High Street Kensington, good but small, and Harrods/Knightsbridge area, which is fun to look at and pretend you can afford a dress for 700 pounds. However Covent Garden was exactly what we were looking for. It was crowd free during the afternoon, and had a wide range of boutiques from big chains to small unique boutiques.

One such boutique that caught our hearts and pocketbooks was Appletree Boutique, which was filled with vintage inspired, one of a kind clothes. Everything was so beautiful, and I finally found a new coat, something I have been looking for since I arrived. It is the most adorable little sailor coat, and I lurve it.

After we had shopped our hearts out, we found a Mexican restaurant that we had heard was actually edible. We successfully found margaritas, but were dreaming of El Rancho and El Maguey when they said they didn't have queso and charged us 2 pounds per 3 inch bowl of chips. However, it hit the spot, and our American hearts were satisfied.

When we left the restaurant, the atmosphere of Covent Garden had totally changed. Gone was the serene, calm shopping area, and in its place was a bustling nightlife scene. Everyone was dressed in their best British going out clothes and lines were forming outside the pubs and clubs. Since we were departing for Paris the next morning around 5 am, we went home but are excited to return again to the area.

When we first decided to go to Covent Garden, we weren't sure what to expect, and it has become one of our favorite areas. This is an example of why London is such a fantastic city. Every tube stop offers a different and exciting area, and I look forward to discovering even more treasures in the next 2 and 1/2 months.

Cheers!

Allison

P.S. Tales of my adventures in Paris will follow shortly!