*just British things* – Afternoon Tea and Christmas Time

Another week gone by far too fast.  I checked quite a few things off my London Bucket list last week so I thought I would fill you all in…

The first thing I checked off my Bucket List last weekend was to go see the Rugby Stadium.  As I know I have mentioned before, the Rugby World Cup took place this past fall right down the road from my school.  Well, I never made it to a rugby game and therefore, I never made it down to the stadium.  Well Tuesday afternoon last week I finally made it to the stadium.  I didn’t actually get to see the inside, I didn’t know how to go about doing that and figured hopping a fence wouldn’t do anything but get me into trouble.  But I know a lot of famous, influential, and very drunk people have been in and out of that stadium in the last few months so it was still cool to walk a mile down the road and be able to see where it all took place.

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Afternoon Tea

It’s no secret that Afternoon Tea is a very traditional thing to do in England.  Break up your day with a nice cuppa and some finger-food smack dab in the middle.  Well it is a tradition I haven’t really taken part in since I’ve been over here, as my caffeine addiction can only be satisfied by 2-3 cups of coffee a day, but nonetheless it was one thing I simply had to do because…#JustBritishThings.

So Wednesday afternoon my friends and I headed to the Sanderson Hotel for Afternoon Tea. We chose to have tea at the Sanderson Hotel, because they offer a special twist to this tradition: The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.  Everything is Alice in Wonderland themed.  There are 5 different kinds of tea to choose from, all of them are different characters in the story.  The teapots where crowns and all of the treats are critters or characters.

First you are served your tea, obviously.  Then comes the first round of treats.  Little finger sandwiches of different assortments.  One of them was a cucumber sandwich on some kind of green bread, so that was interesting.

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S’Cute

Next comes the sweets, and there were lots of them.  Biscuits, cookies, macaroons.  You name it, it was there.  I had a headache from the sugar overload.  But they were all delicious, and I wasn’t expecting anything less because Afternoon Tea at the Sanderson Hotel comes to about 50 pounds a person.  For those of you who aren’t up to date with your USD to GBP conversion rates, that’s one expensive cup of tea.  But it’s all about the experience, and Afternoon Tea has now been checked off the list with #NoRagrets.

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The caterpillar was bangin’

*Just Christmas Things*

Someone asked me the other day if they do Christmas over here.  The way Britain does Christmas is the way I wish everyone did Christmas.  Since they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving on this side of the Pond, as soon as Halloween is over the Christmas Season begins.

Cue, lights on every street, trees in every square, Christmas markets everywhere, and yes ice skating rinks all throughout the city.  So yes, London does Christmas.  It has really helped in getting me in the holiday spirit, and so Caroline and I decided to spend our day ice skating and Christmas shopping on Friday.

An Oxford Street Christmas
An Oxford Street Christmas

Our first stop was the Somerset House.  They have a rink, that over looks a giant tree and have Christmas Markets to browse through when your done.  It’s the whole 9 yards.  Well we both managed to skate for an entire hour without falling, even though I came close about every three minutes. It was just nice to be around so many people who were not only struggling as much as I was, but also embracing the season and the beautiful sunny day.  I also watched Love Actually on Saturday night and they flashed the Somerset House skating rink in the movie, so like now I can say I’ve done that as well.

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I almost ate it when this was being taken
Somerset House, 12/6/15
Somerset House, 12/6/15

After we left the rink, we browsed the Christmas shops at Somerset House and then made our way to Covent Garden.  Covent Garden was full of holiday shoppers looking for gifts, street performers entertaining the lively crowds, and Christmas decorations adorning every shop and stall.  I am definitely feeling the holiday spirit, which is a very nice change of pace as normally at this time of year I am stuck in the library studying for finals and I feel as if the Christmas season comes and goes without me ever really having time to appreciate it.  Just another wonderful thing about studying abroad!

Much Ornaments, Very Festive, So Christmas
Much Ornaments, Very Festive, So Christmas

Well after finding some gifts we headed to South Kensington for our next stop on our list.  We managed to hit both the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert museum on Friday afternoon.  Given, we probably should’ve dedicated a lot more time to each and definitely didn’t appreciate all that these two very famous museums have to offer but we saw and became more ~cultured~ and besides, I’ve been to so many damn museums lately everything is beginning to look the same.  But I can now check them off my list!

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Natural History Museum, December 2015

I had a very uneventful weekend.  Saturday I did homework and watched Christmas movies, and yesterday I got up early and spent the day on Brick Lane, endlessly searching for some good vintage finds to bring home with me but turning up unsuccessful.  I did manage to get a famous Brick Lane Bagel, and found a few more Christmas Presents, so I wasn’t all that unsuccessful after all I suppose.  I will truly miss being able to wake up on  a weekend morning and have any number of markets at my disposal to waste my day at.

I’ve started to feel very nostalgic.  I woke up around 9:30 on Saturday morning and realized that two weeks from that very moment I would be boarding my plane to go home.  For the first time I thought to myself that I really don’t want to go home.  I obviously am almost ready, I really miss my friends and my roommates and my bed and my dog, but I’m very reluctant to give up this life filled with adventure and new experiences.  But part of this experience is that it has to end eventually.  Time is just moving a little too quickly for my liking.

Speaking of time, I will be spending the majority of this week in the library, trying to finish up every paper and presentation I have so I can do nothing but appreciate this wonderful city on my last week here.  So I probably won’t be doing anything too interesting this week, but hey you never know so stay tuned. Cheers 🙂

Fall break – Part 3 – Prague

Fall break – Part 3 – Prague

Well, I made it to Prague by Monday night.  Make that 3 different countries in a span of 48 hours.  I got to my hostel, put my stuff on my bed, and had a beer.  I think we can all agree that I deserved it.

So, not sure if I have mentioned this flat out, (assuming you’ve caught the drift) but I stayed in hostels everywhere I stayed on my trip.  When trying to pick a hostel in Prague, I was overwhelmed cuz there were so many to choose from, but I think I was happy with my choice. (Which is Art Hole Hostel in Prague if your looking for recommendations!!!) Well the trick is to try to find hostels that are rated as good for solo travelers (if your traveling alone), and offer things like free meals etc.  Well luckily enough, this hostel was cooking dinner for 100 Crowns, (Prague is cheap, but not as cheap as Budapest…23 Crowns = 1 USD approx.). so thats like 5 bucks.  So Monday night I enjoyed an inexpensive dinner of homemade Goulash (but pretty sure this stuff was way more legit than what I had in Budapest) and my beer and settled into my hostel in my first night in Prague.

I got to talking to these two girls, who were studying in Barcelona for the year.   They’re also seniors.  I think its hard missing out on an entire semester with my friends, nonetheless a year, nonetheless my senior year! But they were super friendly and it was nice to have someone to talk to…I’ve learned to scope out any American’s from a good distance away, its like a sixth sense.  But I only had one full day in Prague so I wanted to have an early night so I could get up and make the most of it.

The first thing I did when I left my hostel Tuesday morning was went out to find a can of spray paint.  We’ll touch more on that later.  After I found what I wanted, I headed into the Old Town Square for yet another free walking tour (they really are the best).   I don’t really recall how, but my dad and I have a joke about the country Czechoslovakia. Well that country does not exist anymore, it became the two different countries of the Czech Republic and Slovakia only 22 years ago in 1993, and I wasn’t born until ’95…so apparently that joke was always outdated and politically incorrect. Oops!

Well Prague has a lot of history, some of it pretty gory actually, but interesting regardless.  Apparently one of their claims to fame is the famous Astronomical Clock Tower.  It’s impressive and a let down at the same time.  The performance itself does not live up to the hype, but the clock is pretty cool and freaky accurate apparently.  It can tell time, date, sunlight, all that fun stuff.  OK, it was really pretty too.

The Astronomical Clock! In all it's glory!
The Astronomical Clock! In all it’s glory!

I think the coolest thing about a lot of these countries, was that so much of their history was impacted by the World War’s.  Like America was just on the other side of the ocean, and decided to step in and help and ended up being on the side that came out, but where we lived was never affected or shaped by these wars.  Well Prague holds within it some especially prevalent history to WWII, in its famous Jewish Quarter.  The city of Prague has a the Vltava river running through it, with Old Town on one side and the Prague Castle up on the hill on the other.  Well apparently this river has had some pretty serious flooding in the past, and back in the day the Jewish Quarter was essentially the swamp lands of the city of Prague, formerly known as the Jewish Ghetto.  Well today it is actually one of the most expensive and upscale places in the city, but it has a lot of cool history, and a 30x30m cemetery with upwards of like 90,000 bodies in it.

The Jewish Quarter, Prague
The Jewish Quarter, Prague

After leaving the Jewish Quarter, we crossed under the Powder Tower (my tour guide told us that that was where they used to store all the cocaine, but later informed us it was actually where all the gun powder was stored) and  headed into the New Town area of Prague.  Basically this is just where present day commercial stores reside in Prague.

Powder Tower, Prague
Powder Tower, Prague

Well after my tour ended, my plan was to head onto the other side of the Charles Bridge and find the John Lennon Wall and make my way to the Prague Castle.  Well I got lost again…but found myself in this really cool garden outside of the Prague Senate.

Gardens outside of the Prague Senate
Gardens outside of the Prague Senate

Finally I made my way to the John Lennon Wall.  It was a lot smaller than I expected.  But I still got this amazing feeling when I got there.  It’s this place that all these people, from everywhere on this earth, visit and its all in the name of peace and love.  It’s just a happy place.  One thing I realized when I was there was that, what I am seeing, someone could go 10 minutes or 10 days later and see a different wall that I saw.  I think that was the coolest thing about it.  It will always be changing, no two people may ever see the same wall if they visit it at two different times.  So in light of that, there was no way I was going to visit this wall and not leave my mark.  Remember that spray paint I mentioned earlier? So I left symbols of the people that mean the most to me: my parents, my high school best friends, and my clique.  They’ve been the people who have had the most impact on the person I am today, the people that have showered me with the most love in this world, and that’s how I wanted to leave my mark for someone to see. And I left my can of spray paint there, so that someone else could make their mark as well.

#2.0 #JGABJH #ThxMumNDad #ily
#2.0 #JGABJH #ThxMumNDad #ily

Well, after I left the John Lennon wall I decided to make my way to the Prague Castle.  Surprise surprise, I got lost on the way.  Not a bad thing tho, because I literally had no idea where I was and then before I knew it was overlooking the entire city of Prague.  God, what a view that was.

Geotags!
Geotags!
Prague Castle
Prague Castle

So you may have remembered that in a previous post I mentioned tipping tour guides on free tours, or risk suffering from bad karma.  Well I didn’t tip my tour guide in Prague on Tuesday morning.  So when I went to buy some postcards in the gift shop of the Prague Castle on Monday afternoon to realize that my coin purse with 65 euros and 15 pounds in it was missing, you can only begin to imagine how pissed I was.  I called my mom freaking out, of course this would happen, when I was all by myself.  It definitely tainted my afternoon, and I honestly think all around my trip in Prague.  But eventually I got over it.  I still had my phone, my passport, and all my credit cards.  I’m still not sure if I got pickpocketed, or dropped it in a careless mistake, but regardless it was gone.  It was only $100.  I freaked out at the time, but honestly, if thats all I lose while I’m abroad I’ll survive (and that is the only thing I lost my whole trip, God Bless).

I made my way back to Old Town in a hurry, trying to see if there was any way St. Anthony would grace me with a miracle and allow me to stumble upon my missing money.  Maybe if it was St. Stephen he would’ve pulled through…(figure it out).  Ya, no shot.  Well I crossed the Castle Bridge and made my way back to my hostel, getting over my bad luck in the mean time and vowing to not let this ruin the rest of my trip.  And I tipped all of my tour guides from here on out…

Castle Bridge, Prague
Castle Bridge, Prague

Well, after accepting that my money was gone, I focused on a positive.  Some other study abroad students from St. Mary’s were also in Prague on Tuesday night, just a stop on their fall break.  I met up with them for a few drinks and dinner, at a restaurant that served traditional Czech food.  I literally was served an entire duck, like everything but the head.  It was actually quite delicious, once you got past all the bones.  (Thx to my tour guide for the recommendation, sorry again for not tipping you). And I was more than happy to spend some time with not only fellow Americans, but also people who have become friends.  All of the American students at St. Mary’s have a sort of bond, were all in the same boat.  It doesn’t matter who we’re traveling with or where we are, we’re all here because we want to experience new things and see the world.  That’s a nice and refreshing bond to have with someone.

After dinner on Tuesday night, I went back to my hostel to get ready to leave for Berlin.  I even got a free beer from my hostel after I told the guy I lost all my money, so that was a plus. I think all this time I thought in my mind my experience in Prague was tainted, and maybe in some aspects it was, but that doesn’t mean that if I get the chance I wouldn’t go back in a second.  Prague was beautiful, (and inexpensive), and had so much more to offer than one can get out of 24 hours.  I still feel like I saw enough to know that it was a beautiful city in which I will return.  And if I do, and I ever do a free tour, you bet your ass my tour guide will be getting a hefty tip. But Berlin was waiting for me, and I will have a post on it coming soon, so stay tuned…Cheers!