Sarah, London

Sarah is a junior majoring in journalism and art history in Meadows School of the Arts. During summer 2011, she is participating in SMU-in-London.

Rod Stewart in Hyde Park

I can officially say I have been to a concert in another country!

Rachael and I at the Hard Rock Calling concert.

After a fun-filled weekend full of consuming potatoes and hiking the Irish countryside, Rachael and I decided we weren’t ready to dive back in to school work.

Thus, we enjoyed our beautiful Sunday afternoon in Hyde Park. We danced and sung along to Rod Stewart’s greatest hits. It reminded me a lot of Austin City Limits (ACL) but was a tiny bit cooler because it was in London (maybe…I do look forward to ACL every year…).

Rod Stewart singing at the Hard Rock Calling concert in Hyde Park in London on June 26.

There were grannies to my left and grannies to my right. Rach and I stood out like sore thumbs. Occasionally some people in their mid-twenties would walk by. Occasionally. However, we must credit our mothers for introducing us to one of the greatest rock stars. Man can he still swing those hips!

Although he isn’t one of the singers who floods pop radio stations like Lady Gaga, Beyonce or Lil Wayne, Rod Stewart still has it in him.

He was dancing all over the stage, shaking it left and right and making jokes with the crowd. Honestly, it was one of the best concerts I have ever been to. I think all of the older people were surprised Rachael and I were enjoying ourselves so much!

Highlight of the concert: When he played “Maggie May.” It will always be one of my favorite songs! (I’ll try and upload a video later).

While I wasn’t jumping up and down and hootin’ and a-hollering, the crowd went wild when Stevie Nicks made her grand appearance. There were also two other special appearances, although Rachael and I couldn’t understand who they were… Our bad. I do know one of their names was Bruce…not Springsteen, and the other one came out to sing “Maggie May.”

Although I was hesitant to go to the concert because I had a lot of school work to do, I am glad I went. I mean how often will I have the opportunity to hear Rod Stewart live, in London nonetheless, for one pound and 50 pence?

As you all are aware, I have only four more days in London. However, my journey does not end! After this, Rach and I are headed to Barcelona, Italy, Switzerland and France. Hope you guys are ready for more lots of blog posts because I will no longer have to concentrate on school. Yippee!

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I apologize for not having a blog post sooner, but I have been swamped with school work (only two more days!).

While I did not meet my future husband in Ireland, I did fall in love. With the country that is!

Although my mother has sworn I would meet my husband in the land of my ancestors, I just do not think I had enough time to find him. Three days went by way too quickly! I guess a return trip is essential for my future?

Our trip started off on the wrong foot. After being delayed, oh I’d say roughly two hours due to WIND, we finally boarded the plane…and waited another 30 minutes before finally taking off. When we reached Ireland we had to wait behind approximately 30 children in the customs line. And by children, I mean seven or eight year olds running around speaking in a foreign accent (I can’t even guess what language they were actually speaking. Maybe Norwegian?). No me gusta. Yes, I know that is Spanish. And no, that was definitely not the language they were speaking.

Then, to make matters worse, when we checked into our hotel, the oh so nice and personable concierge prohibited us from having three to a room. So, we had to buy a second room. What a waste of money (sorry parents) because we slept three to a king bed anyway.

But, the next morning our frowns turned upside down. I knew I was in my homeland. It just felt right. My face was radiating, my eyes were glowing. Friday was dedicated to good food and good sight-seeing. During the day we hit some great hot-spots: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Temple Bar area and St. Stephen’s Green. And of course, great shopping.

Who knew all these cities in Europe had great shopping? Clearly, not me. AND, on top of that, I met a real leprechaun!!! Well, maybe he wasn’t real, he was about 5 feet tall…


Although it was rainy, I thoroughly enjoyed my day. After walking in circles (none of us were too good at reading a map) we eventually figured out the city. St. Patrick’s Cathedral was breath-taking. A beautiful Irish-Gothic cathedral with amazing stain glass windows.

As an art lover I especially enjoyed St. Stephen’s Green. After walking around the whole park -not on purpose might I add – I enjoyed a range of original art from local artists. There were beautiful canvases of the Irish countryside, abstract paintings and detailed organic still life paintings.

If you ever want to furnish your home, beach house, lake house or European flat, I recommend taking a side trip to Ireland and emerging yourself in its local art.

After talking to one artist, I learned that the art market in Ireland, specifically Dublin, has declined dramatically. Thus, original one-of-a-kind paintings are selling as inexpensive as 80 pounds. For beautiful art work, that is a steal!

After an exhausting six-hour walk around Dublin, which seems to be the size of Memphis (although I am AWFUL at estimating…I told our cab driver that Dallas had 10 million inhabitants, whoops), we walked into one of the best pubs in Dublin. From the outside, all you see is a wooden flight of stairs. Upon reaching the top, there is a reasonably sized wooden bar to the left and a stage for live music to the right. It was here I enjoyed Irish potato wedges and Irish stew! We knew the potato wedges would be delicious, but I was hesitant about the stew. On the menu it described it as an Irish classic with sausage, onions, mashed potatoes, lamb, carrots and celery.

Then, when the waiter set my traditional dish in front of me, my mouth began to water. I think the only words I spoke while eating were, “Y’all this is so good, you need to try it.” Or, “This might be the best meal I have ever had,” and “I always knew I was Irish.” Lets just say, I might have eaten the whole thing…

A view of Dublin from the rolling hills.

I requested “Galway Girl” at the second pub we came across. Bad choice. Though my dream came true hearing my favorite Irish song in an Irish pub, the band made me sing out loud. For those of you who have had the privilege of hearing me sing, it’s not a pretty sight. I’m surprised the pub didn’t clear.  If you would ever like to listen to me sing “Galway Girl,” I have a beautiful recording of it.

The real adventure began the next morning as Liz, Rachael and I set out on the P.S. I love you tour. They should reconsider the name since we only went to one spot-but it was sooo worth it. On our tour we visited Wicklow National Park, the Sally Gap, Glendalough, Blessington lakes and waterfalls, Glencree and some other small towns.

I won’t bore you with what I learned, but I soaked in Irish history. A few things I learned:

  • Dublin got its name from the Vikings who referred to it as “Duvlin,” which meant black water
  • Dublin’s water is a dark color (though safe to drink) due to the large of amounts of iron in the water
  • Dublin’s lakes, waterfalls and streams look like Guinness
  • Many refer to whiskey as the water of life
  • There are 59 cemeteries throughout Ireland for those who died in WWI and WWII
  • There are more sheep in Ireland than people
  • Bono has a house on the Irish coast
  • Enya lives in a castle down the road from Bono

While I loved almost being blown away by the wind as I overlooked Lough (which means lake) Tay and other loughs, the best part hands down was standing on the bridge where Holly meets Gerry for the first time in P.S. I love you.

The bridge in Wicklow National Park where Holly met Gerry in P.S. I love you.

If you have seen the movie, remember the part where Holly, whose dressed in an assortment of colors, is standing over looking the rolling hills of Ireland and the first thing she says to Gerry is, “I’m lost?”

Well, I’ve stood there. Yeah, you heard me. I stood on the same bridge and looked out over those same rolling hills. To my disappointment, no Gerry rounded the corner.

I think the 13 other people on our tour thought Liz, Rachael and I were freaks. We literally ran out of the van, heading to the bridge. Actually, Rachael skipped with a huge ear-to-ear smile across her face.

Because Ireland faced an abnormally cold winter, the purple flowers that coat the hills in the movie were not quite in bloom yet. Occasionally we could spot a flower here and there though.

Another fun place we went was to an old monastery. It had a beautiful old cemetery with hundreds of greek-cross headstones. It was rather relaxing to walk through.

From the monastery we took a hike around two lakes. During the hike we saw sheep and cows, rivers, mountains and lakes. The last lake we went to was the set of another hit movie, Leap Year. I need to re-watch the movie, but apparently there is a scene filmed on the same lake Liz, Rachael and I took a breather.

A photo of the Irish coastland.

So, as an overview: I walked across the bridge Holly and Gerry walked across, sat on the shore where Leap Year was filmed and drove past a meadow where Braveheart was filmed. Way to kill three movies with one tour!

What struck me most was how vastly different the Irish countryside was from the coast. While driving through Wicklow National Park and Glendalough, I really felt like I was in Ireland. But once we reached the coast, I felt like I was in the States. It had a modern and upbeat feeling to it. People were walking around in swim suits while others enjoyed the beautiful weather in their Mercedes convertibles. Wish that had been me…

The one thing the countryside and the coast had in common was that neither looked real. I literally felt like I was looking at a backdrop to a movie (HA, ironically I kind of was) the whole time. The grass was so green and the water so blue. Ireland has the best of both worlds. Oh, the luck of the Irish!

Our weekend trip ended with a relaxing night listening to live music at a variety of pubs in the Temple Bar district. It was the perfect way to end our trip!

When we got home Sunday afternoon, Rachael and I headed to the Rod Stewart concert! Expect another blog post about that soon! Although I had a ton of work to do, it was totally worth it.

I know my posts are long, but hopefully you are enjoying them!

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“On Sunday it was our custom to breakfast late, and then spend the whole day till dinner-time walking. I got to know every road and foot-path within ten miles of Cambridge, and many at much greater distances, in this way. In general I felt happy and comparatively calm while at Cambridge, but on moonlight nights I used to career round the country in a state of temporary lunacy.”

-Bertrand Russell

An elderly couple enjoyed the peace and serenity in the Orchard on Tuesday afternoon.

“The one habit of thought of real value that I acquired at Cambridge was intellectual honesty. This virtue certainly existed not only among my friends but among my teachers.”

These words, written by Bertrand Russell, a member of the Grantchester Group, were read aloud by one of my classmates as our group of eight sat in the same field Russell sat in only a few decades ago.

Sitting by the river, grass between my toes and reading various passages by different British authors was inconceivable. Truly miraculous. Not much has changed in this orchard outside of Cambridge in the past 100 years. Wild flowers still grow along the edge of the river; baby swans still swim close to their mothers; and, people still come and sit, relax and think. Time stands still in this idyllic setting.

I felt like I was in a painting from the Romantic Period. Wispy whitish-grey clouds filled the blue sky; the sun beat down on my Indian-crossed legs; a cute elderly couple sat on the edge of the stream. It was so simple, yet so meaningful.

The English countryside was just what I needed. The hustle and bustle of London is nice, but nothing beats a truly spectacular afternoon drinking tea and eating scones with your friends.

Before going to the Orchard, we spent our morning and part of our afternoon in Cambridge. Our first stop was visiting Emmanuel College. Well, here, I felt stupid, and rightfully so. I thought Cambridge was ONE university. I was literally like why in the world are we visiting Emmanuel College instead of Cambridge?! My professors would probably shriek if they knew that was going through my head. To clarify: Emmanuel College is part of Cambridge. All of the colleges, such as King’s, St. John’s, St. Mary’s and others make up Cambridge University. For example, it would be like visiting Dedman College or Meadows School of the Arts at SMU.

I don’t think I’d enjoy Cambridge–too uptight and serious. Not my style. But the town of Cambridge is precious!

One of the beautiful bridges seen from a punt ride down the River Cam in Cambridge.

We explored the market in the center of town before settling down by the river to enjoy a vanilla latte and steak baguette (finally found dijon-mustard mmhhhmm!)

After my delicious lunch, I headed to the river for a punt ride. Similar to a gondola ride in Venice, 12 of us packed into a flat wooden boat with blue and green block-patterned blankets and enjoyed an hour ride down the River Cam. We saw famous, beautiful bridges, colleges and cows (random? although, it was the English countryside).

Though my time in Cambridge and in the orchard were short, the memories I will take from there are long-lasting. It was the perfect balance of fun (floating the River Cam, being steered by different people from our group) and academia (pondering in the gardens where generations of intellectuals came to think).

Tomorrow I am heading to the land of my ancestors! Oh, Ireland here I come! I CAN NOT wait. People on this trip are probably ready for me to go because it’s all I can talk about. If I don’t find my future husband, we might have a problem. However, as long as I hear some great live singing (fingers crossed for “Galway Girl”) I think I’ll be satisfied. Eek! I’m ready to leave now!!!

Hope you all have a great weekend! I will for sure be filling y’all in on Sunday night when I return from my homeland! Hopefully I get back in time to go to the Rod Stewart and Stevie Nicks concert Sunday afternoon…if not, I mean it’s only one pound 50 pence down the drain…

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We Will Rock You

“And, another one bites the dust!”

…Not this time! The musical “We Will Rock You” was absolutely amazing! I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and I believe the rest of the audience did as well (judging by the standing ovation and cheering).

The musical’s plot was structured around Queen’s hit “Bohemian Rhapsody,” as Galileo and his chick, Scaramouche, searched for the living rock. It’s set in the future as globalization is taking over and musical instruments are banned. However, there is a group of rebels who are trying to break free of the Boy Bands. Galileo and Scaramouche meet with the rest of the Bohemians in their search to revive rock ‘n roll. Did they find it? I’m not sure…you’ll have to find out for yourself!

But what I do know was the Londoner’s I saw tonight, I liked. As different rock ‘n roll hits such as “I want to break free,” “I want it All,” “We will rock you,” and “We are the Champions” (and many many others) were sung, arms swayed in the air, hands clapped, people sang and “hooray-ed” along with the actors.

If the actors didn’t revive rock ‘n roll, the audience surely did!

I know this is a short blog post, but I just had to tell my readers about my spectacular night! Tomorrow I’m headed to Cambridge! Keep your fingers crossed for warm weather and sunny skies.

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Lagos, Portugal

I FINALLY felt the warm rays of the sun on my skin. Ah, Lagos, Portugal.

After a three-hour flight and a one-hour drive, we finally reached our hotel. As we pulled up to the hotel we heard dogs ferociously barking. Well, for those of you who know me, I am NOT an animal lover. As I peeked around the trunk (where I was pulling out my oversized suitcase) I saw two black dogs wandering the street starting a brawl with a German shepherd. Someone – I believe it was Liz (although Rachael seems to think it was me) – yelled DINGOES!!!! Of course, I panicked. I immediately grabbed my suitcase and jumped back into the van where I strategically placed my bag in front of me for protection.

Liz (left) and Lauren greeting the "dingoes" that turned out to be Portuguese water poodles.

Once I was sure I could safely make it into the hotel, I made a run for it.
Three minutes later the so-called dingoes walked into the reception area. The big ole scary dogs turned out to be Portuguese water poodles (JoJo: You would’ve LOVED them).

We arrived in Portugal around midnight. Needless to say it was dark outside; thus, we had no idea what to expect. All we knew was that the beach was less than a five-minute walk away. And, that we had a killer hotel room. We had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, living room and huge porch.

While we were brushing our teeth and putting on our PJ’s I mumbled something along the lines of, “I bet it’s absolutely breathless.” Rachael seemed to disagree…she believed it was going to be a rather ugly view. I begged to differ. As we headed to bed, both bedrooms left the porch doors open for a nice breeze.


That is what we woke up to at 8:05 a.m. when Rachael opened her eyes and looked outside.

Literally, it was like we woke up inside a travel magazine.

View from our room.

The beach that we laid out on.

Our eyes were welcomed by the red clay cliffs that dropped off into the glistening water. But, what was absolutely gorgeous was the sky.  It was the prettiest shade of blue I had ever seen (probably because there is little to no pollution in Lagos). It didn’t look real.
The water is crystal clear with varying shades of blue. It was so pretty I didn’t even want to close my eyes. As I sat on the beach covered in tanning oil, my toes were enjoying playing in the sand. However, I couldn’t look at it for too long; it reminded me of couscous. Mmm!

An elephant formation seen during the grotto tour.

Looking up from one of the grottos.

After soaking up the sun for a few hours, I finally convinced our group of eight to take a boat tour of the grottos. Before traveling I did a little bit of research on Lagos and it said the number one thing to do there was a grotto tour. Verified. Our group of eight split into two boats of four, and went on a 40-minute tour of the grottos. As we passed different rock formations, our “captain” pointed out the different forms in the rocks. For example, I saw two elephants, king-kong, a camel and a Chinese face (I’d love to know what drugs people took when naming these rocks…).
Highlight of the trip: as my boat reached shore, Jennifer commented that the beach was so crowded and everyone was looking at us. Well, we are Americans so we had to make a scene. Here is what went down:

  1. Boat touches shore
  2. Boat backtracks from shore
  3. Lauren, Elyse, Addison, Caroline, Rachael and Liz safely make it onto the beach
  4. Jennifer and I are on the boat, which is heading back out to sea
  5. Jennifer loses her balance and falls in the boat
  6. We all die laughing (including the “captain” and people sitting on the beach)
  7. Jennifer makes it to shore but I’m still laughing in the boat
  8. I put one leg out of the beach and face plant into the water
  9. EVERYONE is laughing
  10. Rachael asks me if my purse is ruined. Oh -and if I’m ok…

A portion of the center of Lagos.

Jennifer and I were in bright yellow bikinis. #Embarrassing #Americans

However, I will say anytime I tell a story about Portugal, this scenario will be included. Of course I would face plant into the water after making fun of someone else for falling! And, I would still recommend going on a grotto tour. A lot of girls went on them last summer in Cinque Terre and Capri when they visited but I was too busy getting my tan on. Maybe someday I’ll work for the travel channel and do a countdown of the top 10 best grotto tours in the world.

I feel like every place I travel becomes my new favorite place, but Portugal really might be. I feel like a lot of people forget about it (I know I did), but Lagos is actually a cute little city. I’ve never been to Greece but Lagos seems as if it would fit in perfectly. The buildings in the center of town are white stucco, (or cement?). Many have cute rooftop porches with exotic flowers decorating the rails. And some buildings have mosaic tiles patterned on the facade.

At a local bar I, of course, struck up a conversation with a local. She is originally from Australia but has been traveling for the past two years. During our conversation, she informed me that many people do in fact associate Lagos with Greece. Maybe now I don’t have to take a trip there. Just kidding! Obviously I need to see it to compare the two!

The one downside to Lagos was how windy and cold it got at night. On our second night there, we all ate at a delicious tapas restaurant in the center. When we got to dinner the weather was warm and sunny. About 20 minutes into dinner the wind started picking up and the hair on my arms started to rise. Lauren and Addison were so cold they took a 10 minute dinner jog to warm up. If I didn’t have on wedges I might have joined (key word: might). While the tapas were scrumptious, I’m still not too sure what Portuguese food is.

Recap: I have now been in Europe for about three weeks and have traveled to London, Salisbury, Dover, Amsterdam, Edinburgh and Lagos. Ironically, London is my least favorite. It’s too overcast and crowded, and I’m getting tired of carrying an umbrella whereever I go. On the other hand, I still haven’t really explored yet.

View into this week: On Tuesday we are going to Cambridge for the day. Not sure what we are doing there, but I am pumped to see the world-renowned university. Then on Thursday I am heading to the land of my ancestors: Ireland! My mother is convinced I will meet the man of my dreams there…keep your fingers crossed. Men of Dublin: watch out.

Stay tuned for more posts this week! Hope you’re all enjoying your summer as much as I am.

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Hard Rock Cafe

“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”

Balloons honoring Founder's Day at the Hardrock Cafe in London on June 14.

In the words of Queen, this is exactly how I felt as I approached London’s Hardrock Cafe on June 14. A tradition of Founder’s Day (June 14), Hardrock Cafe gives the public a little taste of life 40 years ago.

After standing in a line that wrapped around the corner, our group of eight reached the front door in an hour. As I stepped inside, I felt like I had traveled back to the ’70s. Rock and Roll hits from the ’70s and ’80s were playing, waiters and waitresses were dressed in oldies-attire and prices matched the menu prices of 1971, the year Hardrock opened.

TVs throughout the restaurant were playing music videos of the greatest rock ‘n roll hits. When a waiter (or waitress) heard a song that piqued his (or her) fancy, he would jump on the bar and give us a live performance. Words cannot describe what my eyes witnessed. Needless to say, if you weren’t able to make it on June 14, you should try to come next year.

A photo of the guitar used by both a member of The Who and Eric Clapton hangs on the wall in the Hardrock Cafe in London (Photo/RACHAEL).

Lining the walls were guitars, clothes and other paraphernalia from the world’s greatest rockers including members from Led Zeppelin and The Who, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney and George Harrison.

Our group of eight ate for a total of six pounds and some odd pence. My cheeseburger and fries was 40 pence (and it was rather tasty). For those of you in America, my meal is equivalent to approximately $1 (maybe a little less). Thus, our grand total, for eight people, was less than $10.

And, to make the whole experience that much better, we were offered tickets to Rod Stewart and Stevie Nicks for a whoppin’ one pound and 50 pence. Jealous? Thought so. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard the news. Rain or shine, I will be there!

SMS girls: You will not believe who I saw yesterday: Hannah Metcalfe! Although I was awful at giving directions, she finally found me. For those of you who did not go to SMS (my high school), Hannah was our foreign exchange student for our senior year. I hadn’t seen her since 2008 as we parted ways – she headed back to London and I moved to Dallas. It was great to see her. Hopefully the rest of you will get to catch up with her at our five-year reunion. Scary,that’s in two years…

Later that evening we went to our second play: “Betty Blue Eyes.” 100-percent better than “Blythe Spirit”, yet still rather boring. Have the Brits heard of Broadway? I want to see the “Lion King” but I’m scared it won’t uphold American standards. However, in this play it was reiterated that WWI and II are still prevalent in the lives of the Brits. While the play takes place in 1947, the Brits are still facing high unemployment and food rationing. However, Betty, a plump pink pig with blue eyes, tempts a husband and wife. Does Betty live? Or, do the townspeople enjoy a delicious feast filled with ribs and sausage? Guess you will have to watch it (or google it…).

Anyhoo, today I am going to the world-renowned Harrods. I should probably leave my credit cards at home.

And, tomorrow, I leave for Portugal! And I shall reiterate: “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”

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Edinburgh, Scotland

A view of Scotland from the Edinburgh Castle.

As the train rolled away at 7 a.m., I pictured in my mind a vast countryside with rolling hills and an old-fashioned city at the bottom. While Edinburgh is a picturesque city with medieval cobblestone streets and buildings, it has a lot to offer. Aside from the beautiful castle that was built on an extinct volcano, the city of Edinburgh has a rich history, not uncommon for a European city.

Here are some fun facts I learned about Edinburgh while I was there:

  • It has 19 Starbucks (guaranteed a winner for me!)
  • Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, was born there
  • Sir Walter Scott was born there and has a monument built for him
  • Every year they hold a boot festival from July to August (If you want some boots, I suggest you pack your bags and head on over)
  • They have underground tunnels where people were sent in the 17th century if they were infected with the plague
  • John Knox’s house is there (leader of the Protestant Reformation)
  • Every street has at least two hair salons (or so it appeared). However, I think they need to replace every other salon with a dentist…
  • It is still custom to wear a kilt in your wedding

Liz (right) and I with a bagpiper outside a park in Edinburgh.

For those of you who are P.S. I love you fans, you’re gonna freak out. As we were sitting in an Irish pub on Friday night (random, because were in Scotland…), the live band started playing “The Galway Girl.” In case you forgot, or haven’t watched the movie in a while, this song plays when William (Jerry’s friend) meets Holly. Highlight of my life. Not really, but close enough. If you ever have the desire to hear it, I recorded it.

However, the one thing I found most interesting was the Scottish people’s concern of immigration. While the United States is currently facing the issue with Mexican immigration, Scotland is facing the same issue with Polish people and Asians. After talking to some native Scots, I learned that they like the Polish immigrants because they work hard but do not like the Asians because they are taking over their jobs. Not too different from the way Americans feel about Mexicans. I also found it humorous, yet incredibly interesting, that the Scottish people think it is absurd that Americans can get ticketed for jaywalking. According to two people, the government should not be able to tell us where and when we can and cannot walk. It is our responsibility to look to see if a car is coming. And, if we get hit, that is our problem. I just don’t think they understand how America works…they think it is funny that we drive our car to the grocery store instead of walking. If they ever come to America, they will probably opt not to rent a car because they think they could walk. Good luck.

This week is filled with lots of school work now that I am back in London. Tuesday is Founder’s Day…which means we will be celebrating at The Hard Rock Cafe. Tony Pederson, former editor of The Houston Chronicle and our British Media professor here, speaks highly of the Hard Rock’s burgers. I’ll let you know my thoughts Wednesday.

I feel like I have barely explored London since we travel everywhere on the weekend. But this week I am determined to check some places off my list such as Buckingham Palace (and of course the crowned jewels there) and the Titanic exhibit. If it is pretty weather, which is highly unlikely, I’m heading over to the London Eye.

At the end of this week I will be seeing sunshine and the ocean in PORTUGAL!!!! Yippee!

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I saw London, I saw France…however, I did not see anyone’s underpants!

The White Cliffs of Dover.

The skies were clear enough on Saturday as we stood on the White Cliffs in Dover to see France. So while I have not touched French soil, I can at least say I have seen it.

The path along the cliffs was lined with wildflowers, making the view truly spectacular. Cute elderly couples were holding hands walking along the narrow path enjoying the view. Maybe someday I too will return to this spot and be holding hands with a cute old man with gray hair, spectacles and a cane.

After standing on the breezy edge of England, we toured the Dover Castle. As part of our tour, we traveled the underground tunnels of the hospital. I didn’t like that so much. If you are claustrophobic, don’t go. Though it was cool to see the hospital beds and set up of an underground hospital from War World II, I was scared I was running out of oxygen 150 feet below the surface. And, there were two more levels below us! I needed a canary to go down before me…

For such a small little town, it has a rich history. Though I don’t want to get into that.  I will say, if you are a history buff: GO! Or, if you enjoy a beautiful view of the ocean and some great sea food, you will enjoy it, too! Just make sure you have a wind-breaker.

When we exited the train back in London, there was an overwhelmingly large group of black men crowded in the train station. Police had a section blocked off and TV crews were jammed together inside the roped-off area. Of course I was curious and HAD to know what was going on.

After asking several people who refused to answer me, one kind gentleman informed me the president of Congo had just arrived! Maybe it’s a sign I’ll see more famous people soon…

Dover was rather relaxing, a great place for sightseeing, but I have a feeling my weekend will be more upbeat. At the break of dawn tomorrow we are heading for Edinburgh, Scotland. Expect another blog post Sunday (after I write two papers…yuck! Wouldn’t it be great to travel the world without any work?).

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Salisbury and Amsterdam

The past four days have been an adventure, and I can officially mark Salisbury and Amsterdam off my list of places to go!

With a passion for art history, I have studied Stonehenge since I was a sophomore in high school. For those of you who know me, you know that I have been wanting to see these magnificent mysterious stones since I first saw them in my art history textbook (or, maybe the next day in class when the photo was projected up on the screen).

However, there is more to Salisbury than just Stonehenge. The quaint medieval town is not as quiet as it appears.

Walking from the train station on the narrow cobblestone roads to the Salisbury Cathedral, I felt like I was starring in the movie, “The Holiday.” Sadly, Jude Law was nowhere to be found.

As I said earlier, this quaint medieval town knows how to throw a party. As the sun started to set, the pubs began to fill up. The locals told us all about the summer solstice in Salisbury, which falls on the 20th of June, and apparently everyone in Salisbury and nearby towns start partying early in the morning in Stonehenge.

With Britain’s tallest spire, the cathedral houses one of four surviving Magna Cartas. Pretty spiffy. The one-page handwritten piece of parchment was definitely worth seeing, although I could not read one word of it. It is also the home of the oldest working clock in the world.

Stonehenge, which dates around 3000 BC, at daybreak.

The worst part: our stay in the hostel. Mom and Dad: remember when I said I was allergic to cheap hotels? Yup, still true. I tried to find a five-star in Salisbury but it wasn’t worth it since we stayed out until midnight and had to be ready for Stonehenge by 4:15 a.m.

Standing in the center of the stones watching the sunrise was an experience I will never have again. It was literally a once in a lifetime thing. It was extraordinary. If I wasn’t so sleep deprived, I probably would’ve cried.

Once the sun had risen, the real adventure began. Three other girls and I headed to Amsterdam. Or, as my sister would say, “Hamster-land.” The funny thing is, as soon as we stepped outside the airport there was a huge spinning wheel that people were running around. For a second, I really thought I was in Hamster-land!

I don’t think I can put into words how much I truly LOVED Amsterdam. Although people associate it with coffee shops and smoking, the city has so much more to offer. (If you love architecture, you must go).

Not only is it the home to Anne Frank’s house, but people can also visit the Van Gogh Museum, Heineken Museum and the Museum of Amsterdam. Don’t forget the famous I am sterdam monument!

Though we were there for less than 48 hours we accomplished a lot. After walking along the canals, we settled down at a tapas bar. I was extremely hesitant at first but after devouring pan con tomate (brushetta), a cheese plate and chorizo sausage, I would say it was one of the best meals I have had.

We couldn’t have asked for better weather Saturday morning. We tried to rent bikes, but because everyone else wanted to enjoy the sunny day, there were none left for us. Can you believe it? There were NO MORE bikes in Amsterdam! Good thing we had walking shoes, because we sure were busy.

My day started off with the Anne Frank house. After my friend Lauren and I stood in line for an hour, we finally were let inside. As an aside, I have dreamed of standing in the annex of Anne Frank’s house since I read her diary at least 10 years ago. From the moment I read the words, “Dear Kitty,” I knew I had to visit Amsterdam.

A star that the Nazis forced the Jews to wear during World War II.

The bookcase that disguised the opening to the attic where Anne Frank and her family hid for two years.

As we headed up the stairs to her house, the walls were lined with excerpts from her diary and photos. There were also tables filled with photos of the Frank family, historic artifacts from the 1930s and 40s and a yellow star the Jews were forced to wear.
As I walked up the narrow wooden staircase, the bookcase that disguised the opening to the secret annex came into sight. On the other side of the bookcase was an even narrower flight of stairs leading to the space the four members of the Frank family and another family of four lived for two years. What was strange to me was how spacious the annex was. There were two bedrooms, a bathroom and a general area and then of course the attic space. The front rooms looked out over the canal, though I doubt the curtains were open that much.

Walking on the creaky wooden floors listening to the church bells ring made me want to re-read her diary. I vaguely remember her talking about how she had to be careful where she walked to avoid making noise.

Other sections of the tour included an area with her diary and other loose leaf pages. Before the tour ended, there was a video from Otto Frank, Anne’s father. As the only family member who survived the concentration camp, he decided he wanted to publish her diary and open his home up to the public. During the one minute and 40 second video, he said a parent never really knows his or her child. While he admitted he was close to Anne, he said he never knew her true emotions and feelings about living in the annex.

On the pamphlet handed out before the tour, Primo Levi, a writer and Auschwitz survivor, said, “One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way; if we were capable of taking in all the suffering of all those people we would not be able to live.”

I couldn’t agree more. Walking through the house, looking out of the windows, reading her diary and watching the videos left an impression I truly cannot describe. I am appalled at the people who do not believe the Holocaust existed as well as those who don’t think it was wrong. One trip to the Anne Frank Museum may change their mind.

On a lighter note, the Heineken Museum is probably the coolest museum I have ever visited. It’s a must if you go to Amsterdam. We looked up the museum hours before arriving in Amsterdam, and it said it was open until 7 p.m. We were greeted by a 6’5″ woman with a green tie who harshly told us that we just missed the last tour for the day. She informed us that the tours end at 5:30 p.m. but the museum stays open until 7 p.m.

We tricked ‘em, pretending like we were going into the museum, then took a slight left and asked a lovely lad if we could go on the tour. I think because four pretty girls were asking he decided it was OK. WOOHOO, we were in!

Literally, the time of my life. We watched a video on the history of Heineken, took face-in-a-hole photos, toured the brewing process.

The best blueberry pancake I have ever eaten.

During our 48 hours we also visited the Red Light District, which wasn’t sketchy, just strange. Women wearing only bras and panties would provocatively dance in the window. For those of you who have read “Redeeming Love,” it is all I could think about.

Lastly, if you EVER EVER EVER go to Amsterdam, you MUST eat a pancake. Though they are more like a crepe, they are mouth-watering delicious.

There is a lot more to say about Amsterdam but I shall leave some room for you to discover for yourself. My advice: book your flight now!

This week is a busy one back in London. We have a private tour of Parliament tomorrow, heading to Dover Tuesday and Scotland for the weekend.

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Imperial War Museum

If you are only in London one day, I advise you to go to the Imperial War Museum. Our professor told us during class to expect to see huge cannons, airplanes, bombs and parts of the Berlin Wall. While I believed her, I did not know the impact it would have on me.

I could have spent days in the museum.

As we exited the tube, we headed down streets where I would have normally felt uncomfortable. I’m sure we were in an “OK” neighborhood, but I was getting a bad vibe.

London's Imperial War Museum

Then, as we rounded the corner, perfectly centered in the middle of two huge iron gates were two cannons. As we walked past the cannons, I noticed part of the Berlin Wall as we headed up the steps to the museum.

Once the glass doors opened, I was overwhelmed by Nazi planes, the Royal Navy devices and YJ’s.

As expected, the World War I and II sections were distressing and heartbreaking. But the Holocaust display was depressing. Unlike many of the people on the trip, this was my first time at a Holocaust exhibit. While many of these people had seen the shoes left behind in the concentration camps and videos from survivors or family members of those who had been in the camps, I had never seen or heard these stories. Though these people were telling their stories 50 years later, you could still hear the pain and suffering in their voices. As they described what they witnessed, goosebumps formed on my arms and neck and tears formed in my eyes.

Reading about it in textbooks or watching it on the History Channel holds no comparison to walking the winding path lined with photos, Nazi clothes, blue-and-white striped pajamas and hand-written letters filled with fear and hopelessness.

However, back in the WWI and II sections, I traveled through the trenches, was motivated by the war posters and scared during the blitz. Though it is nerdy to admit, the most important inclusion in these two sections were the newspaper clippings. To see how the media handled the outbreak of the war and the surrendering of troops approximately 50 years ago was fascinating. For me, it was interesting to compare how the British media documented these historic moments to how the United States portrayed September 11th, the capturing of Saddam Hussein, the issues with Gaddafi and the death of Osama bin Laden. 

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While my morning was thought-provoking and meaningful, my evening was light and whimsical.

I can officially say I saw my first British play! As a group, we attended Blithe Spirit, a comedy. If you haven’t seen it, or even if you have, it reminded me a lot of the movie, “The Ghost of Girlfriends Past.” Though it wasn’t about girlfriends, the plot includes a married couple and the ghost of his first wife who died at a young age. The dead wife comes back infuriating the husband’s current wife because she cannot hear or see the first wife. While I was extremely tired and just did not find it all that humorous, the audience seemed to enjoy it. Maybe when I get married, I’ll enjoy it more…MAYBE.

The next day we traveled to St. Mary Woolnoth church. Though it looks like an ordinary building from the outside, it is the home of John Newton and William Wilberforce. A hymn we are all familiar with was written and sung here: “Amazing Grace.” I will say this was the first time I felt slightly uneducated because I had no idea the history of the hymn nor that it was written in London.

This weekend I’m heading to Salisbury to see Stonehenge (WOOHOO!) and then Amsterdam with some friends.

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