Archive | March 2012

Last stop…

…London! Were you waiting for it? I told you to wait for it, so we now know your inability to follow directions if you didn’t. *Sarcasm Sign*

But it began with a day in London just us girls. Kevin and Dad went to Stonehenge, Old Sarum, and Bath so we had the whole day to ourselves. Mom and I checked into The Rubens at the Palace, a hotel full of memories for us as it was the same hotel we stayed at when we came three years ago. They kindly pretended to remember us, but we know that they don’t (except our favorite doorman Nathan who actually DID remember us!). It’s cute though. The first thing we did was take a tube to Piccadilly Circus to snag two of the last seats to that night’s performance of Les Miserables. They were in the Upper Dress Circle, aka the nosebleed seats, but they were tickets and that is all that mattered. I’m willing to suffer through a lot for the theatre.

Our first real activity of the day was going to the Victoria & Albert Museum in the Burrough of Kensington. I loved the museum, and it’s something I had wanted to do in London for a while and just hadn’t gotten the chance. It was full of decorative arts exhibits, so things like clothes, furniture, jewelry, plate ware, and my personal favorite, snuff boxes.

A snuff box, makes more sense why I like them now doesn't it?

Basically a ton of sparkly things which everyone knows I am attracted to like a fish. We lingered over the items from the Tudor era obviously, and while the ball dresses exhibit wasn’t open yet, there was a wonderful exhibit on theatre production that put us in the mood for Les Mis.

We spent a long time in the V&A and then went to the famous department store, Harrods, which nearly ruined my beautiful day. It was gaudy and crowded, hot and smelly, and not just because of the perfume counters. Everything was a disgusting shrine to excess and overindulgence. We barely walked in before we got lost and asked an employee for a map just to find an escape from the place. It was one of the lower points of the entire trip and I have no idea why anyone would want to step foot in there. And then once we ahd escaped, we couldn’t find a nearby place for tea so we went back to our own beautiful and calm–as well as tea providing–hotel for scones and Early Grey. Definitely an improvement, bringing me back to the happiness of spending time with Mom, going to the V&A, and basking in the beautiful sunlight.

Tea Time

We went back to Piccadilly around 6 pm to grab dinner before the play. Because we were on the border of SoHo, most everywhere was clubs or cocktail bars and we ate at Le Pain Quotedienne. Our waiter was awesome. He was funny, liked Harry Potter and Disney, and even watches Downton Abbey. Unfortunately we didn’t get his name and will never see him again because he really was a sweetie. But Les Mis was calling and the theatre waits for no diner.

Les Mis was even better than I could have hoped for. The singing, the staging, the singing (yes, it deserves multiple mentions). I can see why everyone becomes addicted. I pretty much sobbed the entire last third of the musical, which was problematic as I had forgotten tissues. I was stunned, speechless, and streaming tears for a while after curtain.

At Les Mis

But all good things must come to an end; all too soon we were joined at The Rubens by the menfolk and nighttime gave way to morning of our first day in London as the four of us.

Kevin really wasn’t feeling well on this new morning so he elected to forgo going to Windsor Castle with us in exchange for an extra four hours of sleep. It was Dad’s first experience with the Tube, so we were lucky that it wasn’t as crowded as it generally is so Dad wouldn’t get separated from us. We got a much later start than Mom and I are used to or wanted to, so by the time we made it to Windsor we ended up waiting in quite a long line than we would’ve if we had arrived earlier.

Windsor Castle, the Queen was in residence

And St. George’s Chapel was closed for Sunday services so no Hency VIII grave for us (thankfully Mom and I saw it last time). All we ended up being able to do was Queen Mary’s Dollhouse, the State Apartments, and the outside areas. We did all of that three years ago on our Tudor Tour, but that time we had arrived so late in the day that we had had to rush everything. This time we were able to take our time, but with the chapel closed there wasn’t much else to do. We listened to the entire audio guide of the apartments and grounds, ate lunch, and walked back to the rail station. Dad loved the castle and went on and on about how cool it was. Our first train back was cancelled so we waited around for another 20 minutes for the next one. Once at Waterloo Station, there was a lot of security ushering us out of the station; apparently there was a fire report at one of the cafes.

We ate here last time we were at Windsor

Our initial plan was to do another cream tea and then catch a Hop-on-Hop-Off tour so Dad and Kevin could see more of London without needing to walk around for four days. As the train was later than we had anticipated, in fact the whole day was later than we had anticipated, Mom and I chose to graciously give up our precious tea in favor of catching one of the last tours. It turned out that the last live guide bus was leaving from Green Park at 5 and we were at one of last stops (Victoria) so we could get on the last tour IF we made it to Green Park in 20 minutes. We ended up making it with literally a minute to spare. Then while everyone went upstairs, I had to deal with a broken credit card machine preventing me from paying for the tickets. When it was finally worked out I went upstairs and snagged a spot at the very front of the bus, prime picture taking location. The rest of the family was in the back of the bus, abandoning me to be surrounded by Mafia men (no joke).

Rare photo of Dad and me at the Windsor Governor's House

Back at the hotel, Kevin and I sent Mom and Dad off to have dinner together while Kevin was stood up by a friend who was also visiting in London and I slept. Then Dad swapped places with me and slept while the three of us went downstairs for dinner and pudding 🙂 A lot of funny moments came out of that pudding.

For our last full day together (sadness) we went to the Tower of London, one of my favorite places to visit. I’ve been there twice already, so the immediate reaction would be an eye roll because there is a theoretically finite amount of things to do and see at the Tower. I mean I can basically spew off most of the same information about the history of the Tower that someone would get from the audio guide, so it isn’t like I can learn a whole lot more by continuing to visit.

Tower of London

But Dad had yet to go there and there was a huge draw for Mom and me as well. Thinking that it opened at 9:30, we took the tube, arriving at 9:15. Turns out that the Tower wasn’t open until 10 am. I was huddling on a bench in the sun because it hadn’t warmed up enough yet and Kevin and I practiced our British accents on each other to the embarrassment of our parents. I think we are getting pretty good at them to be honest. The gates opened at 10, but the first guided tour wasn’t until 10:30 (which once again further threw off our time game plan) so we beat the crowds to the jewel house and awed at the sparkliness of the Crown Jewels. Again, bored boys, starry eyed girls. That took all of 15 minutes and we made our way back to the entrance of the fortress to meet up with the tour guide.

The tour, as it was the first of the day, was incredibly crowded, probably consisting of 75 people. Thankfully the tour guide could project, because his jokes were hilarious and his history engaging (learned some new things! See? Totally worth revisiting). But as great as our guide was, he paled in comparison to the whole purpose of taking the tour: access to the chapel. Specifically, entrance to the site of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howards’ graves (always a Tudor reason behind my thoughts). Yes, I actually got to see the graves of those two tragic women, and was completely overwhelmed, as I often become when faced with the reality of history. Completely satisfied with my time at the Tower, I waited on a warm bench (are you sensing a theme yet?) while the rest of the family breezed through some of the other Tower exhibits, and then we all left and headed for the Tate Modern.

Here is where Kevin received his reward for being an awesome brother on this trip: we all went to a modern art gallery with him despite Mom and me hating modern art and Dad’s back not really able to handle standing around galleries. But the guy earned it, so we all kindly sucked it up and allowed him as much time as he wanted to explore the exhibits. Which honestly only took about an hour as the gallery is really only one floor, so we soon moved on to the National Gallery, a place I was much more interested in. The National Gallery has over 150 hours of audio commentary, meaning that renting one for the second time was worth it. I made sure not to listen to the same paintings as before, choosing instead an entirely different genre of works, and I also made sure that I wasn’t wandering on an empty stomach! Greatly increased my enjoyment and focusing ability. This time I was the last one done, but there was a cafe downstairs so everyone had agreed to just meet there and no one got lost. Then we walked back to the hotel, where Mom and I were greeted by the wonderful Nathan holding out an envelope for us containing our incredible seats for Billy Elliot.

Obviously Mom and I have no qualms about seeing productions more than once, note our 6 time experience with Wicked, but we had attempted to get last minute tickets to the eternally sold out War Horse. Unfortunately, those did not pan out so we consoled ourselves with the brilliant Billy. Definitely one of the best productions in London, and highly recommended by, well, me. Also, tidbit for those in LA, it’s coming to the Pantages! So buy a ticket, you won’t be sorry, I promise.

Unfortunately this left us with only one more morning to share before they had to leave me in the UK for their lives back in California. We chose to spend this melancholy morning in a melancholy place, a church. Specifically Westminster Abbey, fittingly surrounding ourselves with illustrious but dead people. I took my time even more than usual here, because last time Mom and I were both able to find the resting places of some important but relatively obscure Tudor people (Anne of Cleves and Anne Bolyen’s niece Katherine Knoylls), so I was hoping that I would stumbled across more of these people if I was just patient and didn’t zip through the Abbey like Dad did. I was rewarded as well, finding Anne Boleyn’s nephew and Elizabeth I’s counselor Henry Carey. Even cooler, I bumped into a friend from UCLA! Completely random, unintentional, and kind of surreal. We started at each other for a solid minute of confusion before realizing neither of us was hallucinating and yes, we were both real people standing in Westminster Abbey. Her friend just got accepted to Oxford so she came over to visit on her spring break. But how amazing that we both were in Westminster at the same time and able actually could catch up for a bit? So bizarre how small of a world it can be!

Nathan!

Following the conclusion of Westminster, we took a massively scenic route up towards Trafalgar’s Square before heading back to the hotel for our farewells. As all taxis seem to be in the UK, my family’s ride to the airport was 15 minutes early, so the goodbyes were a little more sudden than I was expecting. I am so grateful that they came to visit and that I had the chance to spend two weeks with my dad and brother and three with my mom.

Now for a week of school work and dance and rest before I set off on another trip to Paris with my friends!

Six Months Later and There Is Still Culture Shock

Logic would say that I am now experienced in living in England and that very few things would still shock me about this place. But logic is naïve, apparently, because walking around today I was smacked in the face with a flash of surprise.

Yes, after this I will get back to the vacation tales, but for now I must share my findings.

As I have been gushing about (partly in karmic payback to my people in California bragging about their weather while we had snow. How did you all like your rain? :P), the weather here in Oxford has been gorgeous. Nice and sunny and warm, but not too hot, perfect for basking in the springtime glow. Which I did yesterday, walking around University Parks with Partner.

What is so shocking about this you ask? Well let me explain what was missing from this scene: girls in bikinis. At UCLA, as soon as springtime hits and there is the slightest possibility of achieving a jump start on their tans, every girl runs back to her dorm/apartment/boyfriend’s room, changes into a bikini and takes over every lawn space both on campus and on the Hill. Now I was never one of those girls, preferring to limit any sunbathing to Sunset Rec, which had a pool as well so it felt more appropriate than lounging around in DeNeve Plaza. But in all of my wanderings around University Parks and by the open field near Magdalen Bridge…no bikinis. No girl even out there tanning! Even I was tempted to buy a swim suit at Debenham’s to take full advantage of the weather, but there was no one around. Maybe it’s because it is not in term time, maybe the English are more modest or less superficial than the Bruins, but I certainly will not complain about not bumping into a crowd of boys drooling over girls in very little clothing on their way to lectures.

The Last Day of Scotland (anyone get the movie reference?)

Last day in Scotland, and although it was a little hazy, the sun was still shining and it seemed like the air would be warm, but I am perpetually frozen so it wasn’t enough warmth for me.

Having done the Royal Mile two days earlier, we decided once again to leave Edinburgh, this time going to get our Braveheart on in Stirling. I donned my tour guide hat and led the way around the city to the train station, hearing every five seconds a question along the lines of if I knew where I was going (I did) and then once at the train station if I knew what I was doing (again, I did). We took a taxi from the station in Stirling up to Stirling Castle, another imposing former royal residence on a striking hilltop. The Scottish seem to love castles on rugged hills, but they afford such expansive views that you wonder if they foresaw the tourism industry and the invent of the panoramic shot. After all, they did use fortune tellers back in those days.

View from Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle ended up being more of another stately home for royals than a defensive castle exhibit, so Mom and I were content, though we feared that Dad and Kevin would be bored. Most of the history discussed on the excellent audio guide revolved around James V and transitioning into Mary, Queen of Scots before ending with her son James VI of Scotland and I of England. The really great thing in my opinion that set Stirling apart from other royal palaces of the era is that in addition to adding the furniture and tapestries from the time period, they even recreated the painting of the walls and ceilings, really giving a sense of what these rooms would have looked like in the 1540s. With the rooms coming alive like they did, you can understand why these rooms were considered luxurious. I don’t know what you would have done if you got a migraine however; all the paint was bright and colorful to the point of being overwhelming.

There was also a really cool opportunity to watch a team of weavers recreating some of the older tapestries using the same techniques from the era. Apparently each weaver can only complete 1 square inch a day and each tapestry takes between two and four years to finish. Talk about patience.

KITTY! So cute 🙂

Leaving the castle, we walked back down the hill (I got them to walk somewhere, win!) in search of a taxi to the William Wallace Monument on the hill on the opposite side of Stirling. This time I told everyone that it was such a nice day that I was walking up to the monument and would by no means be hurt or insulted if they took the courtesy shuttle. My speech of one sentence, however, seemed to inspire everyone to walk, which I was fine with having the company. The walk was as lovely as I had anticipated.

William Wallace Monument through the haze and sun

The monument was gigantic, and to get to the top we had to climb 247 spiral stairs that were cramped and dark and only allowed one person to go up or down at a time. The climb was broken up with three exhibit rooms that I found very dull and not at all improved by the terrible audio guide. I quickly decided that I would rather go straight to the top and appreciate the view for longer than drag myself through the exhibits. And what a treat it was! The saying goes that on a clear day you can see all of Scotland from this summit. Of course this is an exaggeration but you can see quite far and it was well worth the claustrophobic stairs. Even the more frightening trip down the stairs, and that was pretty terrifying.

Top of the monument

It was about 4 pm and that seemed too early to return to Edinburgh because face it, we just would have been chilling in the apartment and we certainly didn’t come all this way for that. So instead we hopped on another train to Glasgow, just to say we went there.

Glasgow

A few hours there seemed like plenty. There wasn’t really anywhere cute to walk in the city centre and Dad’s back was bothering him too much to travel to the areas that would have been nicer. Yet the buildings were enticing despite the feeling that the town never shook off the Industrial Revolution. We “meandered” until we found the Glasgow Apple Store (something you do solely because you can) and then wandered around looking for a place to eat. After dinner it was back to Edinburgh to worry about packing everything up for our 6 am exit by taxi to the airport.

Where did we fly off to this time, you ask? Well by taxi, by plane, by bus, and by foot, we arrived back in my native Oxford. Yes, I was home! Only for half a day, but it was refreshing none the less. I noticed something about each family member and how different they each were when they arrived in Oxford and I showed them around for the first time. Kevin asked me about the history and the literature references such as Tolkien and Lewis. Mom asked about what my life was like day-to-day, where I do this and that, my favorite hangouts, etc (in case a certain person reads this, yes that included The Missing Bean). Dad asked only questions of why or how certain things were built the way they were. At least I knew the answers to Kevin’s and Mom’s questions.

In order to preserve his back for the next few days in London, Dad checked into the hotel, sending the rest of us out into the Oxford world to explore, make my day, and then take Kevin to The Eagle and Child, something he missed out on last time he was in Oxford. Then we headed back to the hotel the boys were staying at to meet Partner for dinner! Dan and I agreed that Fire & Stone, that Oxford Thursday night institution, was an excellent choice, a guaranteed hit. Then we took them to G&Ds–the real Oxford institution at this point–for ice cream. It was such a breath of relief to be back with Dan. He got along easily with Kevin and my dad, and he is good at keeping me calm when I get anxious (as evidenced by our surviving dance competitions!). Kevin and Dad joined the club of people who call him Matt Damon, secretly christening him Dan Damon, though I don’t think Dan knows that yet…well he knows now. Oops.

Partner meets the parents

Next and final stop (sad isn’t it?) on my family vacation will be…wait for it…

No, Dad, Nessy Does Not Live in that Loch!

I keep wanting to say “Oh today we did x”, but as I am relaying our travels about a week after they actually occurred, beginning a post with that introduction doesn’t really work. If I was going to start with “Today I did …” I would be obliged to talk about my making it to Summertown from my apartment in 23 minutes (those of you in Oxford will understand exactly how incredible of a feat that was), my shoe shopping, my wonderful lunch with Partner, and my walking through University Parks with aforementioned Partner discussing baseball (Magic Johnson bought the Dodgers! There is hope in the world after all!) enjoying THE MOST BEAUTIFUL DAY IN ENGLAND!!! Sorry, sunlight makes me a little giddy. But alas, I am not writing about this rejuvenating spring day, I am writing about a different, though nearly as beautiful day back in Scotland last week.

On this day, we took a ten hour bus tour up to the Highlands. Honestly, it was such a relief to not have had to plan out an entire day. Instead Mom and I got to be led around and could sit back and just enjoy ourselves. Our driver, that silent Scottish man behind the wheel, was named Gus and our actual guide was Mav. One syllable names, easy enough to remember, enabled maximum mental checking out capabilities. Mav was hilarious, as well as extremely well-versed in history so I was actually able to learn a lot about the Scottish history that I didn’t know. He also made plenty of digs at the English and Scottish alike, so we were often laughing. I became a little nauseous a few times from motion sickness; the roads were much windier than even the Ring of Kerry in Ireland.

Dunkeld Cathedral

Our first stop was a one street town called Dunkeld. There was a small path through a swatch of woods that let out in front of this cathedral, tiny compared to all of the other ones I’ve seen, which was built beginning in the 1200s and is now half ruins. The weather was one of the most beautiful days I’ve ever experienced in my time here (though definitely surpassed by today’s). And the banks of the river were so calm and warm that I wanted nothing more than to lay on the grass and rest, warmed by the sun, surrounded by the Highland mountain views.

Looks fake doesn't it?

Of course the peace was shattered by a fighter plane roaring overhead. What a way to kill a moment of tranquility. The rest of the town was straight out of a postcard. The buildings all date from the Georgian era because in 1689 a battle between the Catholic Jacobites and the Protestants destroyed most of the town.

Stop number two was a bit more north, a village called Pitlochry. On the way there we kept seeing these caws that were so shaggy I would sooner call them wooly mammoths rather than Highland Cows. Pitlochry became one of those towns buoyed by tourism, and its hydroelectric dam and salmon ladder. We walked down there after grabbing lunch (Mom and I finally got our pasties and yes, they tasted like the ones my grandfather would make when my mom was a little girl), and while the dam was just another dam, the walk there was just as picturesque as the rest of the town.

It is seriously so difficult to pick out which photos to post, they are all so beautiful!

Most of Scotland is subject to preservation laws, meaning that people who buy a property must maintain the place’s original architecture and exterior design. Therefore the villages maintain their quaint facades. Yet another reason why I love the UK! They want to preserve their history and look. We also started talking to two other people on the tour, two girls named Natalie and Cat.

Typical shot of my family

Back on the bus we headed to Aberfeldy for yet another distillery tour (so boring as they all are!), but we stopped a few times along the road so we could get pictures of Loch Tummel. I have so many pictures of gorgeous lochs, but all too soon for my taste, we arrived in Aberfeldy for the Dewar Distillery tour, just as dull as I expected and triggering hours of commentary about whisky from the boys. I am never going to a distillery again. We left too late for me and my sanity, but I regained it as the rest of our stops all revolved around nature.

Loch Tay

The first of these final stops was along Lock Tay, which is an endpoint of the River Tay, the largest in terms of water volume flowing through it river in Britain. The real stop during this final leg was the Falls of Dochart. When Mav said “falls” I pictured a short hike to a Hawai’i type waterfall in the Highland crags, but the Falls of Dochart are more accurately described as rapids flowing under a bridge and over some rocks. Not what I was anticipating but just as beautiful albeit in a different way. Unfortunately that marked the end of our tour and we headed back in to Edinburgh just in time for dinner.

A bridge over mildly annoyed water

We ate at the conveniently located Pizza Express. The two girls from earlier, Natalie and Cat, joined us and I swear that Cat was the perfect girl for Kevin. Devastatingly we didn’t exchange Facebook information so I’m pretty sure we just missed out on the love of my brother’s life. A tragedy if there ever was one.

 

The Menfolk vs. The Womenfolk

Travel days are usually uneventful. We were flying from Shannon, Ireland to Edinburgh, Scotland so we had to sneak out of the B&B at 6 am as it was a 2 hour drive to the airport. Days spent in airports and on airplanes are hardly eventful. Of course given that the plane was a turboprop plane that wobbled as we were taking off, we were thanking our lucky stars for uneventful! Mom and I were both sad that we didn’t get Edinburgh stamped on our passports. That would have been really cool as I have a minor addiction to getting stamps on my passport.

In Edinburgh we stayed in an apartment. Having an apartment to ourselves, complete with a kitchen and the washer-dryer combination machine from hell, a living room, and a wonderful towel warmer was a welcome change, apart from it being smack dab in the middle of Edinburgh’s strip club district. Not exactly the best place for me to wander alone at night, as I found out when I went for a walk and came face to face with…well, this isn’t exactly a topic of conversation for polite society I suppose.

We threw a load of laundry in the washer/dryer thing and then caught one of the Hop-on-Hop-off tours. Unfortunately, as it is technically still the winter off-season, there were no live guides, only a super lame audio commentary. Such a shame because the live guides make all the difference. And that will henceforth be my first item of travel advice to anyone: if doing a bus tour WAIT FOR A LIVE GUIDE. It just isn’t worth it otherwise. Regardless the tours are a solid way to orient yourself to a city, and this one was fun for Mom and me as it cued up a lot of memories from our trip back in 2009. I was surprised at just what randomness we remember, like “here is where the pidgin almost pooped on my head” type stuff.

William McGonagall

We took the tour all the way around once and then up one or two more stops to the statue of Greyfriar’s Bobby, the dog so devoted to his owner that after his death the dog sat on his grave in the Greyfriar Church cemetery. The people of Edinburgh took care of Bobby and he is also buried in the churchyard.

Thomas Riddell

But the real draw of the cemetery was it’s Harry Potter connections (of course, right?). JK Rowling took some of the names of her characters from graves in the cemetery. I found two on this visit: a William McGonagall and a Scrymgeour.

Mary Turner Scrymgeour

Two days later I also found Thomas Riddell. After that, we walked over George IV Bridge and stumbled across The Elephant House, the cafe where Rowling wrote the first book on a bunch of napkins. I basically needed out, for good reason! This was the birthplace of Harry Potter!!!

The Elephant House

From there we just walked to Princes Street to buy the souvenirs for everyone at home. I don’t know how I did it, but I remembered my way there from three years ago. I think I have a near eidetic memory when it comes to maps and cities. Then we ate dinner at Bella Italia. Back at our apartment, Dad tried to make tea in the kettle they provided us, but never having used one like it and without me there to explain it, he just put it on the lit fire stove. Instantly the whole apartment smelled of melting rubber. I ran into the kitchen and yanked the kettle off the fire. Dad didn’t realize that it was an electric kettle!!!! Now you have to hold it in a really awkward direction and push on it in order to get it to heat up on its stand (no more kettles in the UK for Dad).

We started the next day at Edinburgh Castle. Mom and I both did the audio guide last time we were here, so nothing was particularly noteworthy or new; everything was just a repeat of what we had heard three years ago.

Edinburgh Castle

Unfortunately, one of the coolest exhibits in the castle was closed, the prisoners of war exhibit. As such, what should have taken about four hours only took two and a half including lunch in the castle cafe. I tried a sample of whatever whisky liquor was on sample, mostly for nostalgia’s sake as I hate whisky. On our last trip here, I tried whisky for the first time and was instantly sent running for water. This time I handled it a lot better, but I didn’t like it anymore than last time! The boys on the other hand are motivated to become whisky enthusiasts which meant that they boys wanted to go into every whisky shop down the Royal Mile. At least we also went into St. Giles’ Cathedral, something I really wanted to see.

I was also able to convince the boys to hold off going into every shop, instead to wait for the one recommended by the Rick Steve’s Guidebook. What made me even happier that day was that the Palace of Holyroodhouse was open! No garden parties in March! We sent the menfolk off on what we thought would be a whisky hunt but ended up being a hike up the crags while we girls got to tour the palace in peace and without being rushed by two bored men anxious to get to another whisky shop.

Palace of Hollyroodhouse

The palace tour is broken up into two parts: the current royal apartments and the historical apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots. Both were really interesting, though I am obviously partial to the historic aspect of it all rather than the celebrity-like obsession with the royal family.

We finally got to go inside!

But the palace is a stunning piece of architecture and decor; understandably you can’t take pictures inside so I will have to cherish the memory of finding a portrait of Mary Boleyn, as well as Henry VIII, Mary I, Edward VI, Elizabeth I, and everyone associated with Mary, Queen of Scots in one of her rooms. In fact it was the one in which her Italian secretary and friend David Rizzio was murdered by her second husband, Lord Darnley. I love history!

As the boys had not gone to that whisky shop, Mom and I accompanied them to Cadenhead Whisky Shop where they were like kids in an alcoholic candy store.

Cadenhead Whisky Shop, aka the store that reeks of cigarettes, cigars, and booze

Mom and I left them this time, and ended up walking past this dress shop and found my dress for the Keble Ball. It’s stunning and I can’t wait to wear it!

We all reconvened at the apartments and the guys picked out a Chinese place for dinner, but Mom and I were so exhausted that we chose to sleep and later grabbed dinner at Sainsbury down the street (I spy with my innocent eyes strippers standing around outside). After the boys returned from an apparently terrible meal, we all curled up to watch the first Harry Potter movie. Inner nerd very happy 🙂

Irish Holiday Weekend

And the next stop on our tour is Killarney, Ireland! Though we really spent no more than four hours in the actual town of Killarney, but I’ll get to that.

Oh, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day! (Remember that this was intended to be posted on the actual day but I didn’t have a computer. Use your imagination people!) We missed all of the festivities because we spent most of our day driving from Kilkenny to the Cliffs of Moher and then down to Killarney. It was raining when we arrived at the cliffs, and this was actual rain not spit. As in needed windshield wipers rain. Hoping that it would stop after a bit of time, we went inside the visitor’s center and walked around/ate lunch instead of going straight out onto the cliffs. Good decision too, because the rain stopped and the sun began shining (and it warmed up!).

Cliffs of Moher

Sunlight made the cliffs even more stunning that they already would have been. I would say that it was something out of Harry Potter, but it actually was used in the sixth film so that would be cheating. Again, the views are indescribable, even for me, so I can’t say anything other than it was an awe-inspiring scene. I can’t believe how lucky we were that the sun came out the entire time we were out there. Luck of the Irish strikes again!

Upon arriving in Killarney, we couldn’t remember the name of the woman who ran the place we were staying at, Margery or Marese (ended up being that one) and we basically dropped the bags and drove into town. I think the parade had just ended because the city centre was packed with people decked out in crazy amounts of green and orange and shamrocks. I kind of wish we had gotten to experience one of the parades, just to say that we did. But instead we found a girly and adorable tea shop to grab a TMO of tea and lemon cake. MIss COurtney’s Tea House was one of those über feminine places where all the china is mixed and matched and the waitresses wear pastel sundresses.

Such cute decor!

Apparently they had just been cleaned out in the aftermath of the parade by anyone who either didn’t want to or couldn’t get into a pub (every pub was already filled to the brim with people). So they only had a few cakes left, no scones, but the lemon cake was delicious so I was fine with that. And I got a picture of the boys in there for humor’s sake.

From there we just walked around Killarney, which as it was full of only pubs and shops just screamed tourist town; apparently tourism is Killarney’s primary industry. There really was nothing else to do but wander until it was an appropriate time for dinner and we picked a place.

Shopping in Killarney

The Porterhouse’s food wasn’t great but we ended up talking to the manager over a few drinks and he was a lovely man, very friendly and personable. So that made up for the food. Then it was just another early night in a comfy bed where I was wonderfully warm and toasty, finally.

Our last day in Ireland also happened to be “Mum’s Day” in the UK and Ireland, and I am so lucky that I could spend a form of Mothers’ Day with Mom. I obviously won’t be home for the American one in May, but spending this one in Ireland with my mom more than made up for it. This day we were driving the Ring of Kerry, the Irish version of the Road to Hana only with less waterfalls and more sheep. It was also less twisty and turny and motion-sickness inducing. The views were once again incredible. I know I say that about a lot of Ireland, but this is a stunning country and I have yet to see a part of the countryside that doesn’t make me gasp from its beauty. We made a couple of stops along turnouts so that Mom and I could run out and get pictures, braving the wind and the cold for that perfect shot of coastline. We also made a stop at an ancient fort that was pretty cool as well, but I was speechless at so many of the views that they win. I must have taken over 100 photos.  We also stopped at this luxury resort called the Parknasilla for lunch and tea (it’s Mums’ Day after all!), again paling in comparison to the cream teas in England.

Back in Killarney, Mom and I ditched the napping boys (I don’t understand how you can nap on a vacation like this!) and walked back into town. We walked further along one of the roads and ended up at another St. Mary’s Cathedral and actually a convent as well. I stupidly was shocked at there even being convents anymore, stupid because Mom reminded me that I’ve seen nuns before and there wouldn’t be nuns without convents. I think this alone time with Mom was the highlight of my day 🙂

Now to leave the Emerald Isle, but I hope not for long as it was a fantastic place and I am looking forward to visiting again.

Local Celebrity

Stop number two: Kilkenny, Ireland

Dad was feeling really ill and so opted to rest and sleep in the hotel room while the other three of us explored Kilkenny. I instantly liked this town light years better than Dublin. It has that quaint, people actually live here feel and a warmth that Dublin lacked. The people of Dublin were absolutely lovely. I can’t think of a city where I’ve met nicer people, but Kilkenny as a location is more my style. And this first day was definitely done in my style of traveling. We wandered. We saw a cute street; we took it. Cute potential tea shop? We looked at the menu. The place we ended up going for tea was more like a pub that served “scones” and pastries.

Always up for a cream tea 🙂

The scones were like no scones I’ve ever had, more akin to danishes served with pure whipped cream in a little dish, making me think that maybe something has been lost in the vocabulary translation between the English and the Irish.  No place has done tea and scones and clotted cream like they do in England. Returning from my tangent…

Armed with solely a map and my relentless passion for walking, I led the way toward a 12th century abbey, which as my newfound Irish older man friend informed me was closed to the public for safety reasons (despite how much fun it would be to watch tourists run away from falling stones Ireland has decided against it). He was an adorable man, explaining all of the directions to every church-related house in the entirety on Kilkenny. And he didn’t just point out the roads, he literally moved me into place until I could see the routes.  So cute and helpful.

St. Canice's Cathedral

We ended up going to the closed St. Canice’s  Cathedral, Black Abbey (so called because the Dominican monks wore black robes) and St. Mary’s Cathedral. This is essentially what I do when I travel: on the first day I wander around town, into churches, and plan the rest of my days in the city in which I am visiting.

The Black Abbey

We ate dinner in the hotel bar as the three of us and soon joined by Dad. Both he and Kevin ended up sound asleep by 9 pm, and Mom came to our door. She and I talked for a bit and then once I said that I was sick of spending every night hanging out in a room, she suggested that the two of us go to a pub (yeah, my mom is that cool) without the boys for some local music. We ended up at a pub called The Field where some guy played music nonstop for over three hours. And he was actually really decent. I of course found some way to make an idiot out of myself, this time by confusing the bartender by ordering a basic American cocktail at an Irish pub. Jenna=moron. After the drink debacle (I ended up with an overpriced glass of house red) the night was perfectly low key, but I didn’t feel like I was wasting it. So glad we went out!

Partying it up with Mom!

After my sleepless night, I met everyone downstairs for a bland but included breakfast (amazing how being included means that I mentally disengage from quality standards). I drove us to the Rock of Cashel, a ruin of a cathedral that was originally the ancient seat of the Munster kings in the 300s through the Middle Ages. I love all these ancient ruins ad how I can use the history I’ve already learned to better understand it all. And the sites themselves are obviously spectacular. In Ireland there are more of the ruins surrounded by untamed countryside and not the immaculate gardens and parks you see in England. It was a bit misty and drizzly, which I christened as “spitting” and made Mom laugh. I thought it was an apt description.

Rock of Cashel, under construction aka preservation

Back in Kilkenny we went to Kilkenny Castle which was really more of an exhibit like those of British stately homes, so Dad and Kevin were both bored and let down. I enjoyed it, but I also got into a discussion with one of the employees regarding the lack of Versailles furniture so I was in my element. The tour, self-guided, didn’t have a ton of information and so we were finished pretty quickly and retraced our steps from yesterday to St. Canice’s Cathedral. Cathedrals are all really similar in design so I am more interested in any cool history or who is buried there. One of the former bishops interred here was Obama’s great great granduncle, which is pretty cool. There was also a memorial to a 14 1/2 year old martyr who was beheaded by Emperor Constantine on her way to her first communion. The weather wasn’t cooperating so the boys didn’t get to climb the ancient tower.

I had to play tour guide throughout this whole trip

Dad and Kevin went back to the hotel after that while Mom and I did some shopping and journaling and tea before the boys joined us for drinks. Dad of course ordered a vodka gimlet because this was the fourth anniversary of my grandfather’s death, but he had to teach it to the bartender. Mom then chose to forgo dinner because she was so tired and not hungry, so the rest of us went off. This time, after dinner, Mom and I didn’t have to go to the pub alone; the boys came too. We went to Flanigan’s Pub where at 9 pm this fantastic Irish band called Divil and the Bit was playing. There was a hilarious bachelorette party going on with a crazy Irish dancing mother and aunt. Dad called the office on the iPad so they got quite a surprise. The boys both left early once again, missing Mom getting hit on and both of us getting our picture taken with some locals for next week’s Kilkenny newspaper. Who knows? We might become local celebrities!

How to Become the Most Beautiful Girl

I’m back! Not that I went all that far, just Ireland and Scotland and now London; in fact I am sitting in my hotel room (more on that to come in a fair few number of blogs into the future, have to stay chronological here) finally in front of my computer and figured, hey, why not let people know that they can stop emailing me asking for vacation updates because they are soon coming to a computer screen near you!

I believe I last checked in upon our arrival back in Oxford from Harlech, Wales, that craggy countryside with my 86 year old 6th cousin four times removed. A leisurely breakfast was had by all two of us before we ran some last minute errands and caught yet another form of public transportation: the airline bus to Heathrow. This time our airline was AerLingus, and let me say without going into detail, that it was the absolutely craziest and most intense security checks that I have ever experienced. I’m sure it took us a solid 80 minutes to jump through the various hoops. But at the end of it was Dad and Kevin!!! I am so excited to see my whole family together after the last three months of separation. And how awesome is it that we get to spend it in Ireland, starting with the city of Dublin.

From the instant we disembarked the plane and went through customs, I kind of had to take charge since I’m the one who has been here the longest and as such am most familiar with how people do things on this side of the Atlantic. So I found the bus to the city centre and then popped us in a taxi to our B&B. Mom, Dad, and Kevin apparently got a kick out of me conversing with the taxi driver. They thought it was really cute.

Starbucks in Dublin is still Starbucks 🙂

We didn’t want Kevin and Dad to go to bed yet or else they would be risking exacerbating the jet lag. It was also too early for dinner so we picked a street and walked as far as we felt like and ended up on the Dublin equivalent of Oxford’s Cornmarket Street, all the High Street type shops like Accessorize and M&S and Topshop and Burger King. Most of the shops were closed so we didn’t linger too long, just long enough for Dad to gush over how much he loved the architecture and how adorable all of the pubs were. It was really sweet and cute and not at all what you’d expect to hear from Dad.

We ate dinner at a pub called The Barge where the boys had Guinness of course and Mom and I went crazy ourselves, sticking with tap water. We live dangerously. Once back at the B&B, we all said goodnight, ready for a full day in the morning.

Breakfast being included seems to be the way of the land lately, and I am not complaining since they’ve been of decent quality. Immediately following the meal where I forgot to warn my whole family that pancakes actually means crepes without a fruit filling, we walked by St. Steven’s Park on our way to catch the Hop-on-Hop-off bus that was to guide our itinerary for the day. Those are so much better with a live guide even though sometimes you end up not being able to understand the guide because their accent is so heavy and Irish.

Our first Hop-off location was Dublin Castle, which wasn’t open, but even if it had been I think it would have  paled in comparison to the other castles and manor homes that I’ve been to. I wonder if a side effect of traveling so much is that you get a little jaded and the places need to either show you something new or exceed your expectations. Which Dublin Castle didn’t even come close to doing, so we hopped back on and went to Kilmainham Gaol, a jail built in 1786 that housed some of Ireland’s most famous revolutionaries like the leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916. I thought all the history was absolutely fascinating so I whipped out my little black notebook and began taking notes throughout the tour. Kevin almost started teasing me for it, but I think that the family is used to me being crazy and quirky when it comes to learning and knowledge so they barely commented. I’m definitely planning on getting some books on the people and events I learned about.

Kilmainham Gaol

Our next tour was a self-guided one of the Guinness Storehouse (can you guess which family members were most interested in that stop?). The exhibits were really commercialized and overwhelming. Plus I wasn’t interested in how they make beer so much as whiskey (turns out that the first four steps of whiskey making are basically the saw as the whole beer-making process) so after the floor that discussed how they make Guinness I was bored and ready for lunch. It seemed that every dish at every restaurant was made with Guinness in some way. Lucky me. Then we went up to the Gravity Bar for free beers for our boys and two lucky random boys whom I gave our extra tickets to prompting them to immediately christen me “the most beautiful girl they have ever seen”, as well as a wonderful 360 degree view of Dublin. The city is so much flatter than the ones we are used to seeing and the tallest points in the skyline were church spires.

And we hopped back on, heading for more alcohol, the Jameson’s Whiskey Distillery tour. It was the site of the Old Jameson’s Distillery for nearly 200 years, but became a museum in 1978. There is no working parts of the distillery anymore, and the process is shown with replicas and wax figures but the tour was guided and less commercialized than the Guinness tour, alone making it superior in my eyes. I also felt that it was more informative and that I could actually explain to someone else the whiskey making process. The tour ended with the much anticipated free samples. Mom had a sip of her Jameson neat and doubled over in a hilarious display of disgust accompanied with a mouth burning from whiskey. I had about two sips of my traditional British cocktail of Jameson, ginger ale, and lime so I didn’t even taste the whiskey, just the way I like it. Infinitely better tour, but one distillery is enough for me.

At the Jameson Distillery

On our way to the distillery, Kevin realized that he left the bag from the Guinness gift shop on the tour bus. By an amazing stroke of luck that Dad attributed to the luck of the Irish despite none of us having any Irish blood and therefore are ineligible for Irish luck, the bus behind us was the same one we had left the bag on and as such were able to recover it before even leaving that part of the city.

It was a tad too early for dinner so we headed over to the tourist trap/apparent nightclub district that is Temple Bar. I don’t think that any of us particularly cared to visit a place full of overpriced chain restaurants masking themselves as typical Irish pubs. Dad really wanted to eat at the authentic Irish pubs, so we aimed back towards our B&B intending to stop in at a local pub for some grub. Haha, I made a lame rhyme and therefore I must be getting punchy. I think we found about three pubs that would’ve fit the bill perfectly because they were all packed with locals after their days at work and not a table was in sight. We ended up at The Clarendon, on Clarendon Street, a few steps up from the homey dive pubs, but with an open table and a dinner menu. I discovered that I love Irish soda bread!

All that was left of our time in Dublin was our final morning before we set off on the open road. Dad wasn’t feeling well on this last morning, so we left him behind after breakfast to the last few spots that I wanted to see in Dublin but that were closed the previous day. We took a slightly scenic route towards Mom’s chosen site of the day–the illuminated manuscript called The Book of Kellsat Trinity College. The reason for passing through Merrion Square was to see Dublin’s memorial and the childhood home of one of my favorite authors, Oscar Wilde.

Oscar Wilde Memorial in Merrion Square

Part of his memorial was two pillars with some of his most famous one liners etched in. I feel like I’m now part of the “Cult of Wilde” because I’ve now been to his house, memorial, and grave (in Paris). But I haven’t kissed any of it so I’m not that weirdly obsessed…yet.

Oscar Wilde's childhood home

There was a fair number of tour groups at the Book of Kells. They had some really interesting videos that showed how they drew and decorated the book and actually made the physical book. It must have taken so much patience and concentration! I thought it was interesting how they edited their mistakes with symbols and illustrations. I honestly think I would have enjoyed making such a book back then. After seeing the rest of Trinity College’s library, we walked to the National Library of Ireland for a small exhibit of WB Yeats. I;ve never read anything of his, but his life seemed so interesting that now I really want to read some of his stuff. Why is it that vacations always make my reading lists grow and grow?!

Directly across the courtyard from the library was the National Museum of Archaeology and History. It fell a bit below expectations. I was hoping for all these examples of Celtic intricate metalwork, but I was mostly disappointed.. The museum was pretty scant in those terms. There were some artifacts from the Ciking eras and settlements but by this point I was  getting pretty hungry and when you are hungry in a museum, you stop reading anything about the displays and you stop caring, yet I haven’t learned my lesson not to go to a museum near a meal time because I won’t appreciate it to it’s fullest. One day I’ll remember that.

And with that we were done in Dublin! I was really happy to be gone honestly. I mean yeah there were a few cool sites and the city has a lot of interesting history, but the city itself wasn’t grabbing in the same fashion as, say, London, Paris, or Oxford. Those cities themselves make a lasting impression on you and make you just want to wander the streets aimlessly, not necessarily caring where you end up because there is always something beautiful to see. In Dublin, you need a purpose, a destination, a goal.

A Wales of a Tale

And the cross-country travels begin! We woke up this morning and caught a car to the train station where we hit the seemingly minor snaffoo of my credit card not registering as having tickets. Chalking it up to the glitches of modern technology, we went up to the counter to discuss with an actual human being how to get our tickets. Well, turns out we had tickets…booked for yesterday (this was Saturday). Basically, my arch nemesis–that would be technology in case anyone was not aware of my long standing vendetta–attempted to foil my plans once again by inducing a website glitch that booked our tickets for the wrong day. But we were not to be foiled, not this time! The woman at the counter graciously printed us out excess cards that may have forced me to present an entire stack of stubs every time the ticket collector walked by, but at least we got on the train, off to Wales to meet our 86 year old cousin James Anwyl of Harlech.

On the road to Harlech

The day’s complications were not over yet, however. While on the first leg of our train journey, we were sitting across the aisle from these women who for some reason completely annoyed me, the American especially. I can at least partially attribute my irritation towards her being from the sheer volume of her voice. Grating and loud, they all kept shouting about dogs for an hour! As it so happens, this weekend in Birmingham is some famous dog show called Crufts that they were all (in fact everyone in Birmingham International Station) associated with in one way or another. Thankfully that ordeal only lasted an hour and the remainder of our journey by train through the Welsh countryside was peaceful, uneventful, and full of beautiful scenery.

Wales really is a stunning region. It looks exactly as I imagined it would: rugged but quaint, with craggy hills on one side and a gray sea on the other. It seems slower paced, especially as it isn’t tourist season, so everything closes at 4 pm as we found out while wandering the High Street in Harlech. To be fair, the High Street is basically the only street in Harlech, so there wasn’t much need to gather alternative evidence.

The owner of Castle Cottage where we are staying picked us up at the rail station and drove us up the Guinness Book of World Record’s Steepest Hill to the hotel. After settling in, we tried to find James. We knew which house was his, but were both a little afraid to ring the doorbell or knock too loudly. Part of that was just natural apprehension at meeting someone you had no idea existed until 2 months ago and the rest may have been utter terror that we would literally straitly him to death. Honestly the man is 86 so it was a completely valid concern! Eventually we did meet him (alive, I might add) and he told us all about the family tree of the Anwyl’s. He has so much information and kept repeating himself over and over again (he’s old) that it sounded like he was reading off of a script and if you broke this script’s run, he had to start all over. But he really was a dear old man and gave us a lot of information.

The Welsh Ladies from America

After that we walked around a lot in search of a cream tea, but every place seemed to be closed for refurbishments or some derivation of that excuse. We ended up as the last customers of this deli that only had  caramel shortcake, banana bread, or cherry almond cake, which both of us opted for along with tea (Earl Grey of course!). The cake was really tasty and the waitress was uncannily like Keira Knightley. We henceforth called it Keira’s Place.

After tea we just walked around Harlech and the surrounding hill. There isn’t much to the actual town, especially when everything closes at mid-afternoon, but we walked along some really beautiful country paths and were afforded some stunning views of the sea and valley.

Harlech Castle with the sea and mountains in the distance

We also ended up coming across a field of pastures crawling with Baaaaa-ing shell. The closer we got, the more noise they made, until we were literally almost at the gates to their enclosures when we turned and saw this SWARM of sheep running down the hill at us, practically sheep screaming at us! It was actually really scary and freaky, and I kind of wanted to run all the way back to the hotel. I’m pretty sure that I had nightmares after that. I’m never using counting sheep as a method for curing insomnia ever again. I’ll stick to my pills!

On our first morning, we had breakfast at the hotel, and it was such a good hearty breakfast that felt fit for the region of Wales. That sentence probably makes no sense, but I can’t really describe the feeling it gave us, that of being strong and hearty, ready for a day of fresh Welsh air and walking. Okay, I guess I just did describe it, though it looks better as an image in my head. Regardless of how I will fail to describe the breakfast, we headed first thing into Harlech Castle where I played Audio Guide Voice by reading off the information given in the guidebook we bought for the castle.

Fun castle history! (For what would a vacation post of mine be without the traditionally exasperating history lesson?): Harlech Castle was built by Edward I in 1283, my 34th great grandfather, as a stronghold against the Welsh warriors. The castle was sieged multiple times over the following centuries, most famously in the War of the Roses, when the Lancastrian-aligned Harlech was the last Lancastrian stronghold to surrender after a seven year siege that inspired the song “Men of Harlech”. Throwing in some of my family’s history, dating back to I believe the 1700s, the Anwyls were constables of Harlech Castle up through 1915 when the last Anwyl to rent the castle, who had been using its grounds to raise her sheep, died and the family let the castle revert back to the crown.

We spent quite some time at the castle. As we were the only ones inside, we felt free to take our time and savor not only the ruins, but also the views afforded by the turrets and the outer curtain. Castles are always amazing to me, but this one had an incredible view of the cliff below and the sea in the not-too-distant-distance. Having exhausted corners of the castle to discover, we returned to call on Cousin James, and were informed that he was taking us for a light lunch at this nice restaurant that he sometimes goes to for lunch after church on Sundays when he is interested in a change though he usually cooks lunch after church but sometimes a break from the routine is nice. Yes, he said that all in one sentence. But he was right, the restaurant was lovely, and we had soup and scones (finally a cream tea!) in the conservatory, while continuing to learn about what life was like in Harlech back during James’ life. Random fact that no one else will care about (isn’t my blog just full of those?) James still lives in the exact same house where he was born 86 years ago. As in, midwife style, actually born in, and has lived there his whole entire life. Incredible.

We took our leave from James and walked down to the beach, maybe a mile and a half away from the base of the hillside. It was so bizarre walking on a beach in the cold, bundled up in sweaters, jackets, and my boots, something that would never happen in California.

Practicing my Latin Checks on the beach!

I’m sorry that I can’t say that anything interesting happened on this walk, but it’s Harlech and I get the impression that the most interesting thing that happens there is the bank being open for two hours. Still it was a lovely, if long, stroll along the beach and back up that famously steep hill, before I went back to the hotel to read a book while Mom said our goodbyes to James. Then we had nothing left to do but lounge around in our room and eat a makeshift dinner of Welsh cheese and crackers and a flapjack before retiring (I know that retiring as a word for going to sleep is rather old fashioned, but that really felt the most apt).

We woke up to a thankfully less hearty breakfast at the hotel, and then caught the trains back on our way to Oxford. I got a ton of reading done in those 6 hours, but not as much statistics learning as I would have liked (read: none). Then Mom and I walked a bit more around Oxford, essentially killing time before meeting up with Partner at the Eagle and Child Pub for dinner. Yes, as in the pub famous for it’s associations with Tolkein and CS Lewis and all of the Inklings. But for us, it was simply the pub closest to Dan’s place that we knew Mom would like as well. And what a lovely dinner it was. The three of us get along smashingly and before I knew it, the clock struck 10 pm and we all had to run, because as I said, the cross country travels are just beginning and I have yet to pack.

Indulging the Child Within (Zurich, part 3)

My advice to any of my friends who plan on visiting Zurich in the future: one full day is plenty to see all of the city. Especially if you are traveling alone, you can really get a lot done in a day and then you won’t need to resort to arriving at the airport 5 hours early for the sole reason of you have run out of things to do.

Because that is what I ended up doing yesterday. Don’t get me wrong, I had an absolutely lovely trip and am so glad I went, but I would have been just as happy leaving at 6 pm instead of 9:25 pm. Alas, my flight was not changeable and I had to wait around.

Of course that gave me plenty of time to handwrite my blog posts intended for publication today.

A definite advantage to solo travel that came in handy yesterday was that you really get to do whatever you want and for as much time as you want because there is no other person’s whims to cater to, no alternative agenda to accommodate. So there was no one stopping me from going to the zoo in the morning. I haven’t been to a zoo in years and with a discount from the ZurichCard and a beautiful day of sunshine ahead of me, I decided to satisfy my inner child with a stroll around looking at animals.

Nemo!

Completely worth it! It may have been one of the nicest zoos that I have ever been to, and I got some amazing pictures of the animals.

You lookin' at me?

It was clean, well-signed, easily navigable, and you felt like you were barely separated from the animals instead of looking at them in cages. Of course I’m sure that there were safety measures in place to prevent innocents guests such as myself from being mauled by a white rhino, but they weren’t so apparently obvious that you felt like you were enabling animal mockery.

Awww baby deer

There was a school group there from an international school so I got to see a bunch of adorable and excited little children. Made me wish my cousin Emily was with me! I quickly put away my map and decided to wander and rely on signposts to get me to all the animals (which was a complete success and I saw all of them). I also realized a few things about myself on this stroll.

1) I am afraid of birds much in the same way that I am afraid of bugs, but not as extreme. I can handle looking at them (which I can’t do with bugs) as long as they are in an enclosure with no way of getting to me, or in nature. But as soon as the tops of their habitats are open and the birds have the ability to get to me, I am freaked out. I booked it out of that section of the zoo. Maybe I just don’t like things flying at me.

2) I really think that lions and tigers are crazy cuddly and I would love to curl up with them, provided they wouldn’t bite or try to eat me. Okay so this isn’t really a new realization, but the lionesses did look an awful lot like Brinkley…

Come on! So cuddly right???

A main selling point of the Zurich zoo is that it has the only indoor rainforest. I kind of rushed through it. By this time I was getting a little bored (zoo info plaques only written in German do take some of the fun out of learning about the animals) but I will say that at 35 degrees Celsius and 80% humidity, being inside the rainforest was the first time I’d felt properly warm in months! My glasses and camera lens fogged up the instant I walked in and I couldn’t see for about 10 minutes.

Couldn't see anything!

After that, I left the zoo; I’d seen everything. But it wasn’t even noon (zoos go faster when you aren’t a child and all the signs are in a foreign language) so I took a detour to the FIFA headquarters.

FIFA Headquarters

Honestly, I don’t care a bit about soccer, but I have some friends who are absolutely obsessed and will be impressed, and I had the time so I figured that I might as well. Thoroughly unimpressive in my opinion, but I took my pictures and caught the next tram back into town.

Next stop was the Swiss National Museum.

Swiss National Museum's cool layouts

The layout had some pretty cool architecture and design, but sometimes museums begin to blend together and you stop caring about all the pointless reading and captions (again in German, though with a notebook with them in English made available). I got tired of the museum really quickly and stopped paying attention to what I was reading or seeing so I figured it was time to call it a day. I walked back through the train station and wandered around their farmer’s market before deciding that I’d had enough of Zurich and that the airport sounded much more appealing.

Did I mention that they give you free chocolate EVERYWHERE you go? 🙂

Overall, so unbelievably glad I went, and in hindsight glad I went alone (though I would have loved to travel with Dan) because it gave me a lot of time to reflect and just absorb everything that has gone on this term, something I didn’t afford myself last term. And I got to see an amazing city and experience traveling alone for the first time.

Now, to clean my room because Mom’s flight just landed!!!!!!!!!