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Everything Is Better in Mini, Part One (Brussels, Part 3)

The last day of traveling is always the saddest. And the most anxiety provoking as well! You want to spend as much of the day as possible cramming in the remaining sites and attractions that you missed out on all the rest of the days, but that clock is ever ticking down towards your arrival at the exit location. There is always that looming two hours before your flight or 45 minutes before your train deadline tainting even the shiniest of Atomium protons. Such a shame, but alas one of my favorite parts about a vacation is the coming home and reminiscing over the amazingness that was the past weekend. Being back in my own bed and room is admittedly probably the biggest reason for that, but let’s pretend for a bit that the blogging to all of you about my travels is why I am so anxious to get home (though I do absolutely love blogging!).

I was still recovering from my Friday night lack of sleep, and coupled with being knackered from the easily 25 miles of walking already recorded by our internal pedometers, we allowed ourselves a slightly more leisurely morning to roll out of bed and pack up our things. But because we made such a late start out of the door, we forwent a sit down breakfast for a grab and go continental spread back at EXK(carrot I). Of course, a sit down breakfast probably would have taken the same amount of time, since as soon as I saw that the pain au chocolat were nearly out of the oven, I insisted that we wait for them to be fresh instead of settling for delicious but already cooled cream or butter croissants. If I’ve learned one thing in my few trips into Paris, it’s that there is no breakfast more worth experiencing on a slightly chilly and overcast morning than a pain au chocolat straight from the oven. Ooey, gooey, and oh-so-buttery, not to mention filled with nearly melted chocolate, the pastries were as well worth the extra 8 minutes and vastly improved our Tube ride to the Atomium.

The Atomium was right next to BruParc (the Brussels version of Knotts Berry Farm perhaps?) in the outskirts of the city. As the name implies, the Atomium is a gigantic model of an atom–I think it’s supposed to be iron, but Dan and I had some debates about that factoid–entailing nine twenty-feet-diameter aluminum looking spheres connected with more silvery tubes that house the staircases and escalators connecting the balls. I think the balls are supposed to be the protons of the atom?

The Atomium

Anyways, it is a pretty noticeable structure, as we realized when Dan asked where the Atomium was in relation to the stop we had just passed through, only to have the atom model zip past us barely a half second later. A comedy writer couldn’t have planned that timing better.

On a whim, I decided that we should splurge a little for our last day and tack on a trip to Mini-Europe in addition to the Atomium. I had read that the Atomium will take no more than an hour unless you want to/can afford to eat at the panoramic restaurant, and we had multiple hours before we even needed to consider being at the train station. So Mini-Europe seemed like a novel idea.

Mini-Europe…obviously

It could have easily gone one of two ways: lame, reminiscent of Legoland where all the models are hokey and there is nothing entertaining for anyone over the age of six, or it could have been just a cool diversion probably still not worth the money but at least we could say we went. I never considered that it would become one of the highlights of my trip.

Mini-Europe is a project that spans across the entirety of Europe (obviously). As you walk through the winding paths, you pass 1:25 scale models of some of Europe’s most iconic and treasured buildings. Broken up by countries who are full members of the European Union, the models cover everywhere from the famous Eiffel Tower to the lesser known saunas of Finland.

Standing next to Lithuania, significant only because I’m a quarter Lithuanian

Each country region began with a sign with some basic statistics and a button which when pressed proudly played the country’s national anthem. There was a group of school children who ran around pushing all the buttons solely because they could, which was a little distracting for those of us trying to appreciate the cultural experience. Also it was particularly difficult for me as I was trying to memorize all the national anthems prior to the Olympics! Not really, but it was a funny joke to tell Dan. The chosen locations really tried to evoke the individuality of the country and involved some wonderful cultural elements, like the cheese fair in Brussels or the knocking down of the Berlin Wall in Germany. At the entrance we were given a booklet of information about each model, essentially describing what we were seeing and why it was significant to the history or identity of the country as well as some fun facts about the creation of these insanely detailed and intricate models.

Brussels’ Grand Place

If you hadn’t known that you were looking at a scale model, and you saw a close up picture, you would have no idea that I was taller than the Arc du Triomphe.

Arc du Triomphe

We became so absorbed in the “All Hail the EU” experience that we realized we would run out of time for the Atomium if we didn’t pick up the pace and stop lingering over each model for 10 minutes apiece. I can’t wait to peruse the booklet more; it definitely rebit my travel bug before I had even left this new country!

After the incredible Mini-Europe, the Atomium was kind of anticlimactic. It did afford some stunningly expansive views of city snaking out below us (on a clear day it is said that one can see all the way to Antwerp) but the haze did put a tad bit of a damper on what we were seeing. Then it started raining and the damper became a bit more literal. Inside the other “protons” were exhibits explaining Expo 58, less commonly known as the World Fair of 1958, which was the whole reason for the building of the Atomium in the first place, and then something about water but we skipped that one because it didn’t seem very interesting. I think we made the right decision on that.

The Atomium

An exact reverse journey on the metro later and we were heading back to the Grand Place in search of a light lunch and waffles. We refused to leave the country only having experienced one waffle when we must have had about 200 pieces of chocolate. It just would have been a little too unbalanced and unfair to the waffle makers having been such loyal patrons of the chocolatiers. But real food first sounded like a good option, so we found ourselves in Little Greece (the restaurants really seem to clump in the same block here) for pitas yet again. Then we made the decision to seek out a waffle van instead of the touristy windows surrounding Mannekin Pis, so we headed to the PLace du Grand Sablon yet again searching for the waffle van that had been parked out there for the last two days.

Where’s the falafel in this falafel?!

Of course waffle vans seem to be like Starbucks: everywhere until you are looking for one and then they all disappear into thin air. The waffle van was gone! And we had made such a special trip for him! Dan consoled himself with buying macarons (totally got him addicted to these amazing french cookies 🙂 ) and I just pouted. Guess we would have to settle for Grand Place waffles after all, especially since we were rapidly running out of time before we needed to be on our way. We finally found a place that didn’t seem to be as mass produced as the rest –meaning we could actually see them ironing the waffle batter not just reheating previously made and frozen waffles–and found a random curb to sit at since we discovered that walking and attempting to eat these sugar crusted waffles was impossible with the mini knorks that were really just glorified three pronged toothpicks. Chocolate and banana for Dan, white chocolate strawberry for me (I decided to resist the Speculoos addiction) and a whole lot of messy smiles and giggles. And a subsequent sugar high, but we needed the energy for the trek back to our hotel and then through Little Morocco to Gare du Midi.

Sadly this marked the end not only of the incredible trip to Brussels, but also my time in the UK and now my stories all revolve around the sunny skies of California, where I already think I may be getting a sunburn as my skin has totally adjusted to the wintery haze of England.

Oh and recheck back on this post later tonight for a list of all the chocolates we tasted on the trip! I don’t have my notebook with me as I’m writing this so I’ll update it later.

[UPDATE]

As promised, the list of chocolates consumed on this whirlwind weekend!

  1. Earl Grey dark chocolate
  2. Raspberry ganache dark chocolate
  3. Caramel with toffee bits
  4. Peanut praline
  5. Dark chocolate grapefruit
  6. Grand milk chocolate
  7. Chocolate dipped Speculoos cookies
  8. Dark chocolate hazelnut praline
  9. Four spice
  10. Praline nougat
  11. Raspberry nougat
  12. Lime and dark chocolate
  13. Dark chocolate with dark chocolate ganache
  14. Lemon and Basil (my favorite)
  15. Lemon Peppermint
  16. Dill and dark chocolate
  17. Chili and chocolate (I skipped this one)
  18. Cardamom

 

Beggars at the Chocolate Feast (Brussels, Part 2)

I don’t know if I have ever gotten as good of a night’s sleep as I did that first night in Brussels. What I do know is that it was desperately needed, considering the amount of walking around we did the day before and the amount that would be done today. While by far a  more leisurely day than the one before, we still had a lot we wanted to see, meaning a quick breakfast at this cafeteria/cafe thing called EXK(carrot I) was all we had time for, though it was absolutely perfect to get us through the hunt for Jannekin Pis.

Yeah like I said, the people of Brussels are obsessed with statues of peeing children; Jannekin Pis was the feminists’ response to Mannekin Pis, a statue of a squatting little girl hidden down a side street in the Ilot area we walked around last night.

Female Peeing Child Fountain

This area looked so different in the light of day. In fact, if it weren’t for the street names I don’t think I would have even realized we were in the same part of town. The awnings had been pulled back and the bright signs stored inside the restaurants. The maitre d’s were replaced by kitchen boys spraying down the cobblestones with hoses. Not at all the touristy hub of Brussels nightlife that we remembered.

We headed back towards the Place du Grand Sablon for a peruse of the antique market. We had seen the end of the market yesterday, as everyone had been clearing up their stalls, and there seemed to be some interesting things necessitating a trip back when all the sellers were open. A totally worthwhile and fascinating decision as well.

Place du Grand Sablon

As it was an antique market, with some items older than our entire country, most things were out of our price range so no souvenirs were picked up (other than yet another stop at some chocolate shops, but do those really count as souvenirs since they barely lasted a day?

Blackcurrant Cakey Yumminess

), but it was still interesting to look around at what finds people had made. Being from the United States made for some bizarre feeling comparisons: we found a coin that was minted back when our country was still made up of 13 colonies. Even some of the older, more novelty items like an ancient iron were being sold for next to nothing, and here we were completely floored by their age and the amount of history that each iron must have been privy to! But I guess that’s what happens when your country isn’t even 300 years old yet, anything historical is a novelty (ironically). I did buy one thing at the market, though. Instead of a cheap and touristy souvenir from the countries I visit that I am never actually going to use/wear, I instead buy a ring from the first city I visit in the country. So I found my ring for the country of Belgium at this antique market, which felt very fitting and special.

From there we wandered to the Palais du Justice, the Belgian Supreme Court. We couldn’t actually enter the building, partially because it is a working court and also because it was a Sunday and the courts are closed on Sundays, but we could sit there and marvel at the sheer size of the palace. Every building around it was easily dwarfed both in size and in grandeur. On the side of the building was an accordion player and an elevator. Yeah the two are completely unrelated to each other, apart from in proximity. And no, the elevator was not for the Palais du Justice, but to get to Lower Town.

View from the elevator to Lower Town

Seriously. There was an elevator to get from the Upper Town directly to the Lower Town…talk about a unique method of getting around a city? As there were no stairs, we settled for a ride down with about 10 other people crammed into this box. I hate elevators. Especially crowded ones.

Once down and safely out of the claustrophobic torture box, we sat down at a cafe to soak up some sun (for me) and drink some tea (for Dan). We also took advantage of the cafe’s WiFi network to take the opportunity for Dan to Skype home. Did you know that this was on Father’s Day? I’m assuming you all did, and that you all were extra nice to your dads. Well, I believe you should always be nice to your parents and that we shouldn’t need a day to remind us of that, but that rant is irrelevant to our Brussels trip so I’ll shelve it. Dan’s dad was away so we spoke to his mom, politely informing her that instead of Oxford–the place she expected our call from–we were actually in Brussels. That was quite the shock for her! It would be for anyone to find out that their child was in a completely different country and time zone than you were expecting I’m sure! I had told my parents, but I’m only 21 so they are generally more in the loop regarding my whereabouts than Dan’s need to be.

In a departure and contrast to the antique market, we next went to our first ever flea market. I felt like I was in an open air version of The Hob from The Hunger Games. Neither of us have ever been to a flea market so we had fun making a list of the random things we found among the mostly junk.

List of Random Things We Found Among the Mostly Junk

  • A mallet
  • TV remotes
  • 2 1/2 Lira coin
  • 10 key calculators
  • blade with a squirrel sheath
  • refrigerators
  • chandeliers
  • spray painted copper shoe mounted on a block of wood
  • South African masks
  • Wedding dress (just one)
  • neon yellow Top Flite golf ball
  • mini spinning wheel

And that was just a sampling of the treasure trove! I have no idea how all these people accumulated such…stuff. And why would you want to have all this lying around? I’d just get grossed out and feel too crowded. I believe we can safely say that a flea market seller is not in my future career goals.

Looking for a Mockingjay pin

We next partook in yet another typical Belgian fare: falafel and frites (aka fries). Well, okay, falafel may not be typical Belgian but that’s the only thing I would eat at the Pitta and Frites stand outside of Notre Dame de la Chapelle we stopped at for lunch. I had no idea that frites (again, aka fries) were so popular or quintessentially Belgian, but they are, and they are usually served with mayonnaise which thank goodness Dan also has an aversion too otherwise I’d have been utterly nauseated while we ate lunch. He opted for Brazil Sauce, whatever that was, and it was pretty good. He couldn’t figure out what flavor was so different from the fries one gets in the States, until I tried one and figured it out instantly. It tasted of potatoes! What a novel concept!

After frites, it only seemed fitting to learn more about the true point of going to Belgium, chocolate (duh). There is actually a small and quaint Chocolate and Cocoa Museum down a side street of the Grand Place. It was no more than a retrofitted out residence of three floors about the harvesting and roasting of cocoa beans all the way to processing and packaging of both chocolate bars and drinking chocolate.

Chocolate and Cocoa Museum

There were two really interesting highlights: a demonstration about how they make proper Belgian pralines and the free chocolate covered Speculoos cookies. Did I mention I’m obsessed with those cookies? Dan said my eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. The museum was actually really interesting, if small, and as Dan has been to Belize and seen the whole harvesting process first hand, he confirmed it’s accuracy. I’m big on accuracy. Fun chocolate factoid: There are actually regulations on what can be labeled as each type of chocolate (white, milk, or dark) and these include what percentage of the chocolate is made with cocoa butter. Nowadays, most chocolate is made with up to 30% of the cocoa butter replaced with some form of vegetable fat. In order for it to be labeled as Belgian chocolate, however, it is required to be 100% cocoa butter, no substitutions. This is supposedly why Belgian chocolate is so much better tasting!

Grand Place

We made a pit stop back at the hotel after stopping in a Godiva chocolate shop, just for laughs because it would have been silly to buy Godiva chocolate in Belgium when you can buy it in the States, for a power nap before heading back out to the Ixelles neighborhood for dinner. While we had already found Little Morocco down by Gare du Midi, here we stumbled across Little Thailand. There were two streets where every single front was a carbon copy Thai restaurant, much like the seafood restaurants of Ilot yesterday. Looks like we were limited to Thai food or Thai food, so we went with Thai food at Fanny Thai. We felt super European eating a long, drawn out dinner at 8:30 pm. Of course even after we finished eating the sun was still out, the sky not even beginning to turn darker. It would have been such a shame to waste the sunlight, especially having seen none for the last two weeks in England. Therefore it was the perfect night for a nighttime stroll through a garden.

The chosen garden was La Botanique, though the main gates were all closed so we had to sneak through a bar/concert location to enter the garden. By this point it was getting darker, and the garden had some well manicured hedgings interspersed with overgrown corridors of trees and bushes, making it feel like a labyrinth straight out of Alice in Wonderland. It was beautiful. And there was this adorable cat that was literally begging Dan and me to pet him. I obliged; for some cruel reason Dan didn’t. And I’m the one who is allergic to cats!

We had to sneak back through the bar area to get out of the gardens and to walk back to our hotel. Maybe it was because it was a Sunday night, the night of the penitent, but there was only one unfortunate lady of the night as opposed to the dozen we saw last night, so I felt safer even with the knowledge that our hotel had to put a chain and padlock on the door each night.

Muscles in Brussels (Brussels, Part 1)

First off, yes I am home in the US safe and sound, though already “homesick” for Oxford. I had no idea how attached I was to the place until I stepped off the plane and was immediately having trouble breathing from the thick blanket of exhaust fumes characteristic of Los Angeles. Of course, my parents picked me up at the airport with my handsome puppy, easily making up for any sadness I would have felt from re-entering the world of Southern California. Can you blame me? You’ve probably all seen a billion pictures of my boy so everyone should understand. And thankfully, he remembers me, something I was actually really worried about having been out of his world for 7 long months.

But you all really want to hear about the trip to Brussels, don’t you? I can’t blame you; it was a pretty great trip and was so jam-packed that I had to write down everything in my little moleskin notebook so that I could remember it to blog about now. I’m kind of impressed that I made it through the weekend to be honest. The night before we were leaving I ended up not sleeping at all, choosing instead to join some of the other visiting students in a massive goodbye hangout. And then I had to “wake up” at 4:45 am to meet Dan at the bus stop into London anyway (can you wake up if you don’t fall asleep?), so sleeping somehow just didn’t happen. It’s a good thing that Dan was around to keep me awake when I was fading.

One of the biggest reasons we chose to go to Brussels was because of the direct Eurostar train to Gare-Midi. Dan and I feel like old pros at getting to the Eurostar at St Pancras by this point, and everything went as smooth as could be imagined between getting on the bus to London and arriving in Brussels. Did you know that it takes less time to get to Brussels than it does to get to Paris? Why haven’t I gone to Brussels before?!

The area around the train station in Brussels is not the most savory of locations. It is in the poorer part of the town, and on every block was about 10-15 run down Moroccan restaurants. We actually nicknamed the area Little Morocco, so I guess I don’t need to go to Marrakech?

Little Morocco

Well that’s not true. I’m totally going to Marrakech one day! I don’t think that Little Morocco in Brussels is really the best model for what Morocco would be like. At least I hope not, as Little Morocco felt really dangerous, definitely a place where I clutched my Coach bag a little bit tighter to my side and was grateful that my jacket’s hood covered the Oxford embroidery. We found our way to our hotel on the other end of Anspach from the train station (that walk felt like it took forever!), dropped off our bags, and headed out into the city.

Brussels is the home of the European Union so we made a visit to the EU Quarter the first stop on our three day exploration. Dan had been to Brussels for all of three hours a few years back, but somehow his sense of direction was still impeccable, and he led us around the edge of the city up to the EU without hesitation. We did get a little sidetracked by a statue of a mussel (moules in French, a Belgium specialty) and the subsequent opportunities for pictures of our muscles with a mussel.

Mussel Girl

I love how Dan is so willing to do random stuff that potentially makes complete fools out of us. Makes vacations more fun!

Muscle Man

We were also distracted by some big orange wooden canopy thingy…and yeah that’s about the most accurate way to describe it. I have no idea why it was there, who made it, or what the purpose was, but Dan went a little giddy over the engineering aspects of it. I’d be a little concerned if he didn’t marvel at it considering his DPhil is in Civil Engineering. Otherwise he might want to be considering a career change!

Reddish Orangish Wooden Thingy

The EU buildings themselves were really nothing to write home about: giant testaments to steel and glass and rather nondescript. A cool thing though was to learn from Dan and the guidebook about why certain buildings were designed the way they were, such as how they used glass slats over the windows to make the building’s heating more energy efficient. That kind of info was pretty cool, but also pretty short, and we spent no more than ten minutes in the area before heading out to the Natural Science Museum.

Dinosaurs! Shiny rocks! Animal skeletons! I was really excited and eager to find the museum, so naturally we ended up lost in Parc Leopold, unable to find the entrance to the place. It was a really nice park and we saw the craziest looking ducks I’ve ever seen in my life, but I really wanted to see the Iguanodon exhibit at the museum! If only we could find the entrance! Signage in Brussels doesn’t really seem to be the most user-friendly, but we did finally find the doors and after a quick spot of lunch and a thorough examination of the mineral exhibit on the bottom floor (some incredible pyrites and calcites!), skipped up to the dinosaur room and closer to the ultimate moment of my stupidity.

I was never obsessed with dinosaurs growing up; in our house that was Kevin’s area of expertise so I’m not really the most well-knowledged person about the creatures that walked this earth before we did. I know about the geology and the extinction theories, as well as some of the archaeology techniques, but relatively little about the dinosaurs themselves. But an exhibit of 600 perfectly intact iguanodon fossils was a guaranteed fun for the whole family situation. So there Dan and I were, marveling at these huge dinosaur bones, a whole herd of them preserved behind glass, when I looked down at the placard and read: Iguanodon somethingorother. Confused for about half a minute, something dawned on me and I turned to Dan in shock: “Wait, these are the iguanodons? Uh iguanodons aren’t a type of iguana are they?”

Iguanodon!

Yeah, this is a true story. I was really picturing iguanas every time something said iguanodon.

Dan must have laughed for a solid ten minutes, and I can’t really blame him. I can sometimes be really intelligent, but more often than not I am dumb as wood and quite the ditz. I don’t think I ever recovered from that moment of stupidity once further into the museum, so I decided to embrace it and completely unleash the inner child and start mimicking dinosaurs, playing with the hands-on exhibits, measuring my height compared to a brachyosaurus’s leg, etc. Dan joined in the fun as well. We went down a level to another iguanodon exhibit that talked about how they found the iguanodons and preserved them on the trip from their site to the museum. That room was quite creepy, dead silent, and full of the reminders that there were 600 of these gigantic creatures found in a single location, layered on top of one another in a mine.

Standing over an iguanadon skeleton

So bizarre! And also a great source of evidence for the asteroid theory of mass extinction in my opinion. We also saw an intact skeleton of a blue whale, the largest animal ever found. And it definitely deserved that distinction; the thing was HUGE!

We then meandered our way, drifting off along numerous side streets and through the Parc de Bruxelles (there are a lot of Parc de’s here), to the Place de Palais. This area, part of the Upper Town, could not be any more different from the comparative slums of the quarter around Gare-Midi. The buildings were all palatial, white, Roman inspired mansions surrounding an open cobblestone square. From gaps in between the intricately designed buildings you could see expansive views of the rest of Brussels emanating into the distance. Lower Town, the outlying suburbs, the grassy fields beyond…in Upper Town you were really on top of the city. We did have a purpose in going to the Place de Palais other than gawking at the architecture that was so different from any of the other cities I’ve been to: the Museum of Musical Instruments. Dan plays the cello so it was only natural that we make a stop into this small museum of the various types of instruments and variations on them. Otherwise it would have been like me refusing tickets to a ballet, just unacceptable. We only had an hour to explore the four floors as the museum was near closing, so we did a pretty cursory tour. Which ended up being perfectly fine. The cool thing about the museum is that they give you headphones and some of the instruments have boxes with jacks next to them where you plug in your headphones and can listen to the music that features the surrounding instruments. That part was pretty awesome and rather a brilliant idea in my opinion. Unfortunately the captions and explanations were not in English at all, so I was stuck looking at the cool and sometimes bizarre instruments while listening to their sounds, and nothing else. We made it through easily in an hour and headed back out into the Place de Palais.

Musee des Instruments Musicales

Our next destination was the Place de Grand Sablon, with detours into the Eglise St. Jacques sur Coudenburg and Notre Dame du Grand Sablon churches to compare the more austere Protestant decor with the opulence of the Catholic/Anglican churches you see in Paris and England. Once we made it to the Grand Sablon, however, the real fun began, with the commencement of our chocolate quest! What would Belgium be without a chocolate quest, after all? Grand Sablon was the perfect place too since it seemed like every shop lining the street was a chocolate shop or patisserie with window displays just beckoning you in to drop a fortune on their confectionary. Dan and I made an agreement to exercise self control, for the sake of our waistlines as well as our wallets.

Chocolate or macarons? Can’t decide! Everything is too yummy!

We would alternate who paid for the chocolates, and were limited to four truffles from any one shop, each picking two. Then of course we would share all four, because that’s what dance partners are for. This way we could try a larger variety of chocolates with really cool flavors. I’ll post a list of them later so that you can all drool in jealousy 😉 Each chocolate place tried to offer a unique spin on things, whether in products or atmosphere. Wittamer was decked out in candy cane bright colors; Patrick Roger had two chocolate hippo sculptures. The Belgians take their national industry very  seriously!

As do I apparently

Continuing our wanderings led us to Easy Tempo for a pizza dinner. The pizza was delicious, but oddly gigantic. I mean, yeah it was an extremely thin crust, but it was easily double the size the pizzas at Fire and Stone! As soon as we ordered a pizza each (we didn’t know the size and that we could have easily shared one), they traded our normal knives for steak knives, eliciting strange looks from the two of us. But we definitely needed those knives! The pizzas were so hard to cut (and you must cut a pizza in order to eat it like a European) that I actually had a projectile piece, which we agreed to ignore its flinging off our table when the waitress walked by. And then as we were leaving we got stuck in this absolutely torrential rainstorm. Buckets were literally dropping from the sky (ok yeah that’s really figuratively, but still) and we cowered under random awning and doorways as we made our way towards the Grande Place in search of waffles–what? It’s Belgium people!

I swear it must have been 6 inches in an hour.

I can’t even begin to explain how magical the Guildhouses that enclose the Grand Place were in the sun after the rain. The sculptures and gothic-esque architecture are so intricate and detailed that they don’t even seem possible. I mean how could someone actually design and build these?!

Grand Place

Tonight the Grand Place was the busiest we would see it for the whole vacation. Tourists and groups were everywhere, all eating waffles and carrying bags from Godiva and Leonidas. They were also heading in the same direction, which it turns out was down the side street to Brussels’ most famous and stupidest statue: Mannekin Pis. With all seriousness, it is a teeny statue of a toddler boy peeing. And tourists and any shop catering to tourists are obsessed with it. Chocolate sculptures of the kid, t-shirts, magnets, golf balls, corkscrews…you name it, they made it and stamped it with the peeing baby.

Mannekin Pis, pointless?

We only saw it because it’s like the Belgian Mona Lisa, but I even preferred the Mona Lisa. The only upside was that it brought us closer to waffles (Speculoos for me

Newest Addiction: Speculoos!

and Strawberry, Cream, and Chocolate for Partner), which were as delicious as promised by every tour book I ever looked at.

It was heading towards 10:00 pm and the sun didn’t seem anywhere near close to setting so we continued to walk around the Grand Place, just in the interest of exploring. We walked down this street called Ilot (I think) that was wall to wall seafood restaurants all serving the same food and all with “maitre d’s” attempting to usher unsuspecting passersby into their restaurant that is identical to the one next to it. We came across a small theater that shows a marionette puppet show; unfortunately we were an hour late and they had no more shows for the weekend. Such a shame. From there, the search for a loo sent us back to our hotel and an instant pass out on my part. This is what happens when you don’t sleep the night before a vacation!

The Big 100th Post

Isn’t it amazingly fitting (and completely coincidental) that my 100th post is my leaving Oxford to return home to the States? This was never my intention; I didn’t plan out all of my blog posts for my entire year to make sure that I ended on the 100th post. I can’t even really believe that I’ve had 100 posts!

In fact, this post is truly the last part of me in England at the moment. In case no one noticed, the time stamp on this one is 4:15 pm, GMT, which means that as this is being blasted into cyberspace, my plane towards Los Angeles has just taken off and I am now in the air, eleven and a half hours of a plane ride ahead of me. Let’s hope there are no screaming children!

So as this is my 100th milestone, in typical blogosphere fashion, I thought I would do a little fun listing, an almost sum-up of my incredible time abroad. Nothing is in any particular order. Enjoy!

25 Great/Funny Experiences

  1. Meeting my amazing dance partner, Dan, is probably the best thing that happened to me here!
  2. Being pelted with snowballs outside the Sheffield competition. First time in the snow!
  3. Disneyland Paris
  4. Harry Potter Studio Tours in Leavesden
  5. Seeing Les Mis on the West End…twice
  6. Dan running into a bollard at Blackpool. This was mostly funny because of the email his dad sent him afterwards, but it’s a favorite inside joke with the two of us now.
  7. Blackpool IVDA!
  8. Thinking that Iguanadons were the same thing as Iguanas (you’ll understand this one later)
  9. Baking parties in the Acland kitchen
  10. Dan’s birthday BBQ
  11. Days spent at the Missing Bean
  12. Keble Ball
  13. Meeting up with Dale in Paris
  14. The Port Meadow Photo Challenge
  15. My family visiting!
  16. Driving in Ireland
  17. Finding Charles Brandon’s grave in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle
  18. Becoming friends with all the people on the dance team
  19. Dancing on a table in Wahoo with Ania 😉 and nearly getting kicked out
  20. Flying off to Zurich alone, completely random! Sidenote: Awesome zoo
  21. Seeing the town that  my family has lived in for hundreds of years (Harlech, Wales)
  22. Walking through horse pastures in the Cotswolds
  23. Varsity Match for OUDC
  24. Going to tutorials in a room that is older than any of the original 13 colonies
  25. Stonehenge in the pouring rain with my brother

25 Things I’ve Learned

  1. The Rose has the best cream tea in Oxford
  2. Custard, cream, and mayo might as well be their own food groups here
  3. Pants=underwear, not trousers
  4. Pimms is awesome. There is always an excuse to drink Pimms.
  5. The instant the sun comes out, expect the streets to get very, very crowded.
  6. Blackwells is the most deadly store in the world.
  7. Sometimes it is cheaper to take a train to a foreign country than to Cornwall.
  8. You can get to Brussels or Paris from Oxford faster than you can get from Oxford to Cambridge (they must have planned it like that!).
  9. Awesome words like keen, overkeen, and knackered should be incorporated into our everyday vocabulary.
  10. British people think that all Americans are gun-toting, obese rednecks.
  11. Cobblestones do not mix well with high heels.
  12. Punting is not just a type of kick in football.
  13. At a BBQ, Brits bring their own meat. Americans bring desserts and sides. Plan accordingly.
  14. Stand mixers are necessary to avoid baking catastrophes.
  15. 14lbs=1 stone. This is how they measure weight. But then they use kg? Wth?
  16. Fancy dress means costumes, not cocktail attire.
  17. Stealing ties and bow ties makes night clubs into a game.
  18. You never wait for a cross walk to cross the street.
  19. Buses will run you over and they get really close to the curbs.
  20. Salad means assorted vegetables that you can have put on your baguette at lunch or lettuce with delicious toppings. However, salads are rarely meals.
  21. You need a television license just to stream a show online.
  22. Everyone, and I mean everyone, watches and loves Downton Abbey.
  23. I know more British history than a lot of British people.
  24. Waffles are dessert, not breakfast. And for that matter, pancakes are basically crepes, not the fluffy goodness we get in the States.
  25. If you forget an umbrella, you’ve guaranteed that it will rain. If you brought an umbrella, it will still probably rain but at least you will be dry.

25 Things I’ll Miss

  1. Nightly tea parties with my dance partner
  2. My friends on the dance team
  3. Olives (the sandwich shop not the food item)
  4. Cream teas
  5. Being able to walk everywhere
  6. Saying Cheers instead of Thanks
  7. Spur of the moment day trips into London
  8. West End shows for cheap!
  9. Being surrounded by history everywhere I go
  10. My bay window
  11. How happy everyone is when its sunny
  12. Oxfordshire Public Library
  13. Free entry to museums and galleries
  14. Everyone in the Keble MCR/Acland
  15. The collective understanding when someone mentions Jamals or Park End
  16. My scouts (aka the women who clean my room every week and empty my bins. They were the nicest people!)
  17. The accents
  18. Ease of travel, unless you want to go horizontally across the country. Good luck with that.
  19. Baking for Dan’s friends and Keble events. Love easy taste testers
  20. Laughing as Dan and I attempt to Quickstep/Waltz/Jive/Cha/Foxtrot/Viennese Waltz
  21. Hearing everyone’s opinions on LA
  22. Dirty Chais
  23. All the literature and film links in the city
  24. Feeling like I’m constantly at Hogwarts
  25. My coworkers

25 Places that I Didn’t Get a Chance to Visit, But That I Definitely Will Someday

  1. York
  2. Cornwall
  3. Dover
  4. Calais
  5. Norfolk
  6. Budapest
  7. Prague
  8. Vienna
  9. Pompeii/Rome/Venice/Naples/Italy
  10. Warsaw/Other Places in Poland
  11. Berlin/all over Germany
  12. Geneva
  13. Istanbul
  14. Marrakech
  15. North Carolina
  16. Athens, basically all of Greece
  17. Slovenia
  18. The Netherlands
  19. Northern Ireland
  20. Brighton
  21. Denmark
  22. Russia
  23. Bruges/Antwerp
  24. The Caribbean
  25. Portugal

Yeah, it’s a long list, but hopefully I’ll have a long life in which to fulfill it, with wonderful friends and family by my side. Now don’t think that because I’m back in the US that this blog is ending. I’m still going to be traveling and I’m working on finding my way back to England for a bit longer of a term. So stay tuned!

And thank you to everyone and everything in England that made this the most amazing year of my life.

Puddle Prance

Yesterday was one of those days. You know the ones I’m talking about…where you are cranky and bored and short-tempered so thank goodness you don’t want to be around anyone, where even a shining sun can’t motivate you…those days?

Knew you would.

No one likes those days, least of all when you’ve just had a good week with beautiful weather, so I decided to go for a run in the hope that some physical activity was all I was really craving. I love running, weird I know, but with how much training for dance I had these past 7 months I didn’t want to overdo anything or possibly injure myself, so I hadn’t run since the summer. I went for one about a week ago to a park up in my area and it was great. Dan went this weekend on a run to Port Meadow, that beautiful countryside path to Wolvercote. While I obviously am not in good enough running shape to run the whole thing, walking there with some intermittent sprints sounded like just the ticket. So with that decision made, I packed up my iPod and water, changed into running clothes, and sent off a quick “bye” text to Dan before going out.

I may have also ignored his responding text of “You know it’s going to rain, right?” Oops.

Now I may be weird, but we already knew that, in that I actually really enjoy running in the rain. It’s surprisingly fun and I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t tried it. You just have to be cautious of slippery surfaces, but what’s a run without a little risk? (Answer: A safe one). And I figured, it’s England, it never rains that much to be intolerable, particularly after this gorgeous sunshine.

Wrong!

I didn’t realize that by rain, he meant torrential rain accompanying a thunderstorm. But he did. Oh yeah he did. I wasn’t even to Jericho when a drizzle rapidly morphed into literal buckets being dumped on me. I can honestly say that I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that much rain at one time. Thankfully, it was warm rain so I wasn’t going to chill to my bones, but I soon realized that if I wanted to protect my iPod and cell phone from irreparable water damage, I was going to have to sacrifice my shirt to save them (oh c’mon guys I was wearing a sports bra!). I hid under a tree and quickly wrapped them in my shirt before braving the storm and continuing on my path. Figured I might as well since I was going to shower anyway.

Roads here are not the most even of surfaces and I was heading towards a dirt and rocky path; puddles and mud were going to be inevitable. I saw one, a quite wide one too, directly in my path, but I estimated that the puddle was only about an inch deep, totally manageable for my mesh running shoes. I never was skilled at estimating. I didn’t divert my path and ran straight through the puddle.

And immediately sunk mid calf in rainwater.

There was no hope after that. Soaked socks and squishy shoes combined with contact lenses freaking out because they were filling with rainwater, I ended up just standing there in this pond laughing at how much I looked like a drowned rat. A few guys in a van stopped to make sure I was ok/laughing at how stupid I had been not to watch where I was running/compliment me on my beautiful accent. I just shrugged and continued. Why not? After all I was already drenched and dirty and I really wanted to run. So I did end up running to Wolvercote via the deserted Port Meadow path, artfully leaping over and around further puddles. The only person I met on my trip was this Belgium named Roan who also loves running in the rain, so much so that he swam across the Thames spontaneously to get to the other side…because there is another reason to swim across the Thames? Anyways, he was really cool and we shared running-in-the-rain stories until we parted ways at The Trout.

I chose to walk the way back to my place because the sun was out and I had the time. Unfortunately by this point the rain had soaked into the ground and turned puddles into mud, but I had already run through a pond so did any of it really matter anymore? I hated getting back into town though. Apparently the Oxfordians aren’t used to seeing runners in sports bras and shorts especially not on Cornmarket or High Street, so I received a lot of weird looks from people of all ages. No one even would have noticed  in LA.

Back home a few hours later, I felt completely rejuvenated though utterly knackered. It was all completely worth it, even having to wash my shoes in the bathtub because they were caked with mud.

Running in the rain, especially through the stunning Port Meadow, totally my best experience in a thunderstorm 🙂

Port Meadow on a sunny day at twilight

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.

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.

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!!!!!!!!!