Fresh Air is Good for the Soul

Ever since I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, I’ve dreamed of living in a city.  Getting an apartment in New York or Chicago, taking public transportation to work every day; it all seemed like the dream. And living in London was the perfect trial run for it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am loving living in the city. There’s so much to do and see every single day. It really keeps you on your toes too. The other day as I went by on the bus, I saw a man serenading some people very enthusiastically with his saxophone. But one thing I didn’t anticipate was how much I was going to miss grass and trees and air that doesn’t smell like bus fumes all the time.

This past weekend we had a field trip to go see Stonehenge and spend a night in the city of Bath. I missed most of the drive up due to being asleep, but once we arrived at Stonehenge, I was surprised at how green everything still was. I’m so used to everything being brown and dead-looking in the middle of January.

After we walked around the stones for a while, my friends and I decided to not take the bus back to the visitor center and hike along the path through the hills instead. It was a bit blustery, but eventually the sun came out, and it was gorgeous. It was then that I realized how much I missed my shoes slipping in the mud while hiking, and the damp smell the earth gives after it rains.

In Bath we had a similar experience. The line to be able to sit in one of the baths fed by the hot springs was much too long, so once again, we decided to walk around. As we looked around the city, we noticed a large park that was situated a bit higher up than the rest of the city. We had no idea how to get there, but we were determined to find it anyway.

We walked out of the city center, into a neighborhood just outside of the city (accidentally walking through a few people’s garden paths in the process). Soon, we found the park. It’s green carpet was a vivid difference in comparison to the pale architecture of the rest of the city. We made our way up.

All of us decided not to look at the view until we hit the very top of the hill. As we stood with our backs facing the city, panting slightly from the incline, there was no doubt that smiles were plastered on all of our faces.

“One…Two…Three”

 

 

It was worth the biting wind, the muddy shoes, and forty-five-minute hike. If nothing else, it made me realize just how much I loved exploring in this capacity. It was refreshing to be able to clear our lungs and take a moment to appreciate this amazing journey we’re on.

Take Some Time and Forget the Map

On day one of orientation here in London, our program put on the screen a list of several apps to help make sure we knew where we were going the next few days. There was a frantic rush as everyone grabbed their pen or pencil to scribble down the names, myself included. I was nervous and overwhelmed, terrified of showing up late to any of the meetings or required events. Honestly, I needed all the help I could get.

Going to and from school and our residences, we were constantly clutching on to our phones, double checking that we were entering the right tube station, turning the right direction, or getting on the correct bus. By about day three, we were slowly starting to get the hang of where we needed to go—that is if we were going to school or back.

The Saturday after we arrived, my roommate and I decided to get some lunch before heading out to get our groceries. We mapped our way back to what we thought was our street, only to discover that there’s a difference between Angel and Angel street. Angel street just happened to be near St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is about twenty minutes away from our home station. St. Paul’s was beautiful and ginormous, and it was a nice surprise to stumble on. After snapping a few pictures, we headed back to the bus using our trusted map app.

Bumping along the jammed London streets on the double decker bus, we got to see a lot more of London than we were expecting. Before we knew it, we were driving along Oxford street with all of its beautiful Christmas lights still up, and traveling through the West End, the bright marquees blinking furiously. We were so entranced by it all, we weren’t paying attention that our bus had crossed a bridge over the river Thames and onto the South Bank—definitely the opposite direction of where we needed to be. And there our bus stopped.

We ended up finding our way back to our residence, slowly but surely, and stopping to take pictures of the sun setting on the London skyline and the London eye in the process. It was quite an adventure. Almost two and a half hours in an attempt to get some measly groceries!

 

Since then, I’ve wandered into neighborhoods that are nowhere near where I live, found some great cafes and bakeries, turned the wrong way out of tube stations and discovered bookshops and theatres for shows I want to go see. Though I always have my map ready in case I need it, I’m starting to put it away and just explore, letting the city take me where it wants to.

 

London Calling!

This past weekend my friends and I took a weekend trip to London! I booked an all-day tour to Windsor Castle, Roman Baths, and Stonehenge, which was definitely my favorite part of this study abroad experience so far! Anyone who knows me knows I am a huge history fan, so I was incredibly stoked for this tour.

First we stopped at Windsor Castle, which is where Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip live. As it turns out, we were in London for the Queen’s birthday celebration so all of London was decorated with photos of the Queen. Windsor Castle is the oldest operating castle in Europe, and is one of the most beautiful castles I have seen.

After Windsor Castle, we headed to the ancient Roman Baths, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These baths are still running from the same hot spring the ancient Romans used. The baths had tons of Roman artifacts and I learned a lot about Roman life. I definitely hope to come back to Bath, UK, to explore the beautiful city more!

  

 

Lastly, and my personal favorite, we visited Stonehenge. Stonehenge is in my bucket list top five, and I could not have been more excited to finally see a historical site that I have wanted to experience my entire life. Stonehenge is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so the UK definitely has a lot of history I cannot wait to come back and explore. Stonehenge has fascinated me since I was little, and I was happy to learn on the tour that Stonehenge is actually an astronomical calendar. On the summer and winter solstice, the sunset and sunrise line up exactly through the stone arches. I had a ton of fun on this tour and saw some of the highlights of England!

Unfortunately, Big Ben is under construction so we were not able to visit the famous Benjamin. Although, we toured every other spot in downtown London. I, of course, had to take a photo in the iconic red telephone booth! We also visited Parliament and Buckingham Palace, where we saw the famous British guards.

    

 

   

To cap off our fantastic weekend in London, we rode the London Eye and saw the best view of London! The London Eye was a lot higher than I thought, but was a memorable way to close our last night in London.

    

 

Just before we left, our flight was delayed by several hours. I was happy about this because it meant I had time to explore the British Museum! This was one of the best museums I have been to, and my favorite artifacts included the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles, and an Easter Island head. Experiencing more world history was a great way to close a fantastic weekend!

Cheerio!

-Alissa Smith

“Cheerio” From England!

If you know me, you probably know that I’m studying this fall at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. However, my parents and I traveled abroad early so that we could have a little UK vacation before moving me into “uni.” Here’s a little bit of what we did and saw!

Aberdeen Blog 1- London phone booth

We spent most of the first day traveling around on a hop-on-hop-off bus. It took us all around the city, and even though I was having trouble staying awake, it was easy to tell that London is gorgeous. It’s full of old charming buildings surrounded by glass skyscrapers. One of the best examples of this is the Tower of London. This old structure is situated in a modern area of the city and was home to many royals and executions back in the day. This was so fun to tour, and the “yeomen” that work there were incredibly interesting to talk to!

Aberdeen Blog 1- Tower of London
The Tower of London is also where you can see the Crown Jewels!

Another one of my favorite parts of England was the Harry Potter Lot Tour. This Universal lot is located a ways outside of the city, so a tour bus took us there. Guys, if you are a Harry Potter fan, this is the place to go. It has everything! Costumes! Diagon Alley! The Great Hall! Moaning Myrtle’s robes! Dumbledore’s beard! The Knight Bus! The Hogwarts Express! Everything! I totally went crazy at this place.

On my way to Hogwarts! That's actually where I'm studying abroad...
On my way to Hogwarts! That’s actually where I’m studying abroad…

Another highlight of our trip was seeing Shakespeare’s Globe. If you don’t know, this is a recreation of Shakespeare’s original theatre, but everything is made to look authentic. We took a tour and got to go around the building and in the actual theatre, and the best part is that we saw actors warming up for their matinee production of MacBeth. They were fighting with swords and shields and rehearsing lines on the stage. I wish I could have seen the show!

This was our view of The Globe from the Thames!
This was our view of The Globe from the Thames!

One show that I did see, though, was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and OH MY GOSH. IT WAS AMAZING. I read the script before I even knew I would be able to see it, so I went into it knowing the story. However, the play still shocked me. The “magic” made me do double takes. The actors were incredible (especially Anthony Boyle as Scorpius Malfoy). I wish I could see it every day of my life. If you have any doubts after reading the script, try, try to see the show performed live because it’s full of all the wonderful J.K. Rowling magic we know and love.

Even the outside of the Palace Theatre looked straight out of Rowling's world.
Even the outside of the Palace Theatre looked straight out of Rowling’s world.

We saw other things in England as well: Churchill’s war rooms, The National Gallery, Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford. We even got to see the Chatsworth House (aka Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley Estate from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie!).

Me with the bust of Mr. Darcy from the movie. Can you tell I was excited?
Me with the bust of Mr. Darcy from the movie. Can you tell I was excited?

So my verdict on England is that it’s absolutely fantastic. I loved London and its history (even its underground trains!). The English countryside was also nothing short of lovely. However, I’m not studying in England. I’m spending the semester in Scotland, which, from what I can tell already, is just as exciting and beautiful. Hopefully I can perhaps zip over to England again this semester, but until then it’s goodbye London and hello Aberdeen!

 

It is a Bittersweet Symphony this life.

Well, this is probably the last time I will be writing about how fun my studying abroad experience was unless I will write about how it feel to be in USA (which I will not do). It has been a really great semester and right now I am in London which is my last stop before I head back to Holland Michigan.

When the semester started I was confused and nervous of how it will be to live in a country and a continent that was so strange to me. Things progressed as time passed and by the time I was very comfortable with the surrounding and the people around me it was time to leave. Knowing that it is time to leave is always a bittersweet feeling; on one hand I have learnt so much about Europe, the European Union (apparently more than any people who actually live here), met a lot of new people, and travelled so many new places, and on the other hand I am leaving a lot of good friends I have met in the past several months not knowing when we would meet again. In a way I knew that this was coming but the people who I shared the past few months with will always be special because let’s face it, I will not be travelling all over Europe with the same 52 people ever again (unless).

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Me telling you how good it was can go on forever so if you really think that I am right then you should try it for yourself. Just find a place you want to travel and learn the culture, get out of your comfort zone, and in the end you will discover places, people, and most importantly yourself too. I would recommend it to anyone who I will talk to as this has been the most amazing few months of my life. I will probably try and send my kids abroad too.

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One more thing that I realized was that there was a question on my first day of orientation in Freiburg which asked me one place I really wanted to go to. I had written Anfield which is the football stadium for my favorite football team since I was a kid. Since I have a Nepalese passport I knew that getting to UK and to Liverpool was going to be hard but yesterday I managed to get there and it was a very emotional time. Today I have just been contemplating how far I have come from the day I left Holland and ready to go back. It has been a great time writing about all that I have done and if you ever see me in the sidewalks of Hope college please come by and ask me how it actually was. I will make sure not to take a lot of your time because in the end it was all amazing.

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