The Adventure Has Come to an End (Video Link)

I can’t believe my 2 1/2 months abroad in London is over! I’m sitting here in California wondering if all of this was a figment of my imagination, but it’s real– and I have the photos to prove it! As much as I enjoyed my time studying there, photos don’t show the struggle that comes with being away from your comfort zone. I’ve lived, laughed, and made life long friends, but it doesn’t go without saying that it was hard from start to finish. The balance between being a responsible student while experiencing all that Europe had to offer was a challenge. On top of that, learning how to communicate and live with complete strangers was even more of a challenge. You can have all of the fun you want, but when it comes down to it, it’s about maturing into a person who is kind and understanding to people of all backgrounds. In the adult life, we all will have to learn that skill. I’m lucky I got a head start! When I set my mind on going to London half a year ago, I didn’t know how I was going to make that happen financially. But it all worked out and now I have an experience not many get to have. Coming back, I feel that I’ve grown into a woman I can be proud of in the future. Now that I’ve had my fun, I’m excited to spur forward to finishing school, starting my career, and planning future trips around the world! Please enjoy this slideshow I put together of all my experiences from start to finish and thank you for following me on this journey!
Link to the video

-Emily

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Tea Time!

Having afternoon tea is part of the stereotypical image in relation to London. It really is everywhere and quite a big affair. You can have everything from a simple, take-away cup of English Breakfast and a muffin to loose leaf Alishan High Mountain Oolong served in fine china with a three-tier accompaniment. Sadly, my wallet cannot afford the luxury of the latter, but I’ve compromised somewhere in the middle. I have had a set afternoon tea twice in my time here.

The first is at a contemporary place called MADD Hatter’s Cafe in Covent Garden. My friends and I ordered hot teas or “tey” lattes, savory sandwiches, fruit smoothies, and a sweet waffle. It was interesting because they served coffee and tea lattes in addition to the traditional tea, quite substantial sandwiches that were filling as opposed to “finger” sandwiches, and smoothies and waffles belong at a regular cafe. It was really good on it’s own but of course, not what I expected for my first tea time in London.

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Caprese Sandwiches

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Ham and cheese with rocket on foccacia

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Mango passion fruit smoothie

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Waffle with whipped cream, caramel, and chocolate drizzle

The second place is at the Tea and Tattle in Bloomsbury! This place is partly a specialized book store but is much more traditional and I absolutely loved it! They served the tea in china and the scones were to die for. Something about a fresh scone split in half, and topped with clotted cream and jam that is just scrumptious! The British also love a cake called the Victoria Sponge (the 2nd picture below with 2 of the same slices on the bottom tier) which is a dry sponge cake with some jam and buttercream in the middle.

 

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Oolong tea & smoked salmon, cucumber and creme fraiche sandwiches

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Top tier: scones with clotted cream & raspberry and vanilla jam (x2); scone with clotted cream and five fruit marmalade/ Bottom tier: lemon drizzle cake, victoria sponge (x2)

It was interesting to experience two different types of tea. I would love to try a fancy afternoon tea at a hotel or something of the equivalent, but I’ll have to see. This is a must do if you ever come to London. Cheers!

Scotland 2016 (Video)

Hello everyone! This is a week late but about half the class and I finally went to Scotland which was an optional excursion we paid for in the beginning. It was the most magical time I’ve ever had and we were so lucky to get great weather all throughout. I hope you enjoy the video I put together in the link below. Please remember to change the settings to HD 1080p for the best quality!
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Vimeo- Scotland 2016

Pub Culture

Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to get an inside look of a bonafide British pub! My homestay’s daughter and her boyfriend, Phoebe and Martin, are supervisors and graciously gave me a tour. The chefs live at the top floor and the restaurant is split into two levels. The bottom is the bar where it can get a bit rowdy but also sells food. The 2nd floor is a dining room mainly for families who want a bit more quiet. Most pubs in London have some long historical background, and Bull and Last is no exception. In the past, all pubs were owned by a brewery and therefore sold only their brews. Pub owners are allowed to buy out their rights to sell the selection they like and become a free house. However, this costs millions making free houses a rarity of some sorts. The Bull and Last bought out their rights 8 years ago and has been popular since. They make everything in-house and have even been Michelin recommended in 2014. My friends and I decided to treat ourselves to a wonderful dinner that did not disappoint! Pubs in London are no longer about questionable dishes and divey atmospheres, it’s a wonderful social point. Looking forward to exploring more of the pub culture!

The outside of the building.

Menu page 1

Menu page 2

Organic cloudy white wine

Beer battered haddock, chips, pea puree and tartare sauce

Roasted cornish cod, squid ink pasta, smoked mussels, sea vegetables and marscapone

English lamb rump, pastilla, mushroom puree, violet artichokes, wild garlic, olives and pine nuts

Ferero Rocher ice cream

Salt caramel truffles

The Spring Break of a Lifetime

So, this Spring break, I got to go to 5 different countries in 11 days. Was it worth it? Absolutely yes. Would I do it again? Absolutely not. Traveling was all I wanted to do, but it never occurred to me how many hardships come with traveling and how much more I would want to stay in a country. So here’s the crazy trek I took: London→Dublin→Belfast→Berlin→Prague→Paris→London.
Now here’s a summary of some tips if you decide to visit any of these countries!

1.) Dublin, Ireland
One of my favorite countries ever—it’s super beautiful, the people are some of the kindest I’ve met, and might I add, good looking as well!
→Take the Wild Wicklow & Glendalough Tour! It’s affordable, has a professional, guide, comfy coach bus, and an Irish Whiskey tasting! You get to tour famous scenes from P.S. I Love You, Leap Year, and Braveheart. Everywhere is absolutely breaktaking! Here’s one of my favorite spots: Lough Tay.

2.) Belfast, Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is actually UK territory, and therefore uses the pound, but has it’s own bank notes. Here, the accent gets thicker and the humor, rougher. But, they are all still very kind people!
→Take the Game of Thrones Tour if you’re a fan like me, and take it even if you’ve never watched it! Belfast is home to Castle Black and multiple scenes in the hit TV show! Many locals have played extras in the show, and my guide was a Wildling! I recommend this tour because it takes you on beautiful sights shown in the show, but also famous spots such as the Carrick-a-Rede bridge and Giant’s Causeway. Here’s the view from the daunting rope bridge: 

3.) Berlin, Germany
From Belfast, we took a train back down to Dublin, stayed up all night, and catched a flight out to Berlin. Flying out of Belfast airport is significantly more expensive, so this was our option on a budget. However, only attempt this feat if you can power through the next day! The 3 other girls I went with slept in the entire 1st day (out of 2 days) away!
→Go to the Jewish Museum. It is an experience you cannot miss! There is student discounts at every museum you go to, so bring your student card everywhere! Also, account for at least 3 hours there. This is a large, immersive, and interactive museum. Certain installments (I won’t ruin it) left me with a strange, connected feeling to this dark past.
→Food you MUST eat:
Veal schnitzel, goulash, and Döner from Mustafa Gemüse Kebab. You won’t regret it.


4.) Prague, Czech Republic
From Berlin, we took a 4 1/2 hour train down to Prague. Let me warn you: their trains are very different. Its compartmentalized into room of 6 or sleeping rooms with beds. Your ticket will give you a number to the part of the train to go to and what seat number you are with. Yes, you will be facing strangers. Don’t bother asking the attendants, they will tell you the wrong way and if you mention it, they’ll just tell you to go the other way. Also, when arriving in Prague, jot down basic lines in Czech, at least enough to get you from point A to point B. Take Uber instead of a taxi. Taxis will cheat you.
→Go to the astronomical clock tower in Old Town Square, and buy a ticket up to the top to get a breathtaking view of the entire city! You can see the Prague castle in the distance. Also, walk the Charles bridge and see if you can spot a local religious good-luck ritual people do with the images on the bridge!
→Food you MUST eat:
Everything at Vinohradský Parlament restaurant. It has a modern take on traditional Czech food. It is absolutely delicious, service is wonderful, and the Czech krones are weak against the dollar. The 4 of us split 6 dishes, 4 desserts and a round of drinks with tip for less that $20! 

5.) Paris, France
We flew out from Prague to Paris on EasyJet. Something to note if you take an EasyJet flight: you only get 1 bag to carry-on with you. Not a carry-on + a backpack. Just 1 bag. We did not know that and had to get one of our bags checked-in. This normally would have cost us almost $50 to do, but luckily they let us off. In Paris, get a Paris visitor pass. Zones 1-3 is all you need to get around the city. Getting zones 1-5 includes Disneyland, Versailles, and other farther out spots.
→Spend a full day at Versailles! It’s beautiful and the gardens will take you forever to wander in, especially if you’re walking and not taking the golf cart. However, don’t make the mistake of getting the tour package like I did (or even the “VIP Skip-the-Lines” pass). There’s no special treatment or lines but you pay triple the price. Just go and really take your time passing through each room and every grove of the garden! Then end the day with the creepy Catacombs where hundreds of bones are buried underneath the city! Make sure you line up at least 1 1/2 hours before their cutoff time so you can get in! We barely made it in when we came early. 

Hope this helps any fellow travelers! I can’t wait to return and spend more time in each country!

Time Traveling

 

It’s been three weeks in London so far and the weather is slowly improving! The sun shines more often and the rain has subsided, for now that is. I have recently discovered the joy of FREE museums in England. I’m so used to have to finding free museum days in California that just stepping into any museum that I pass by here is strange. There are only special exhibits you would have to pay to enter. This week, I had the opportunity of going to the massive British Museum just a stroll down the street from school! We even got a blue badge to guide us through as much as they can in 1 1/2 hours. For those who do not know, blue badge guides are official tour guides and the only ones allowed to guide through the museums. I always thought that having guides were unnecessary and confining. However, I have a deeper appreciation for their extensive knowledge and bubbly personalities that make the entire experience better. I have learned more in that short time with them than I could have if I wandered through for 5 hours.

So in our loop of time traveling, our first stop was the imitation Rosetta Stone and then the real deal. Then we moved into the beautiful Greek and Roman architecture that had bits and pieces from a destroyed temple. The male statues’ abs were on point if I might add. We were then led to the heaviest items in the museum: two 2-ton Syrian winged bull-men. On the side were remnants of a game carved into the side most likely by bored guards. Our last stop were one of my favorite things to see: mummies. The British Museum just so happens to have the 2nd largest collection of these wonderful specimens! Our tour guides endearingly called the well-persevered exposed mummy I have pictured, “Ginger” for his hair and skin color. The last thing that really blew me away was the architecture of the museum itself. The ceiling is composed of over 3,000 glass panes that are all different sized triangles. I will definitely be returning multiple times to discover the rest of the time periods!

Saturday Strolls at the Royal Parks


This past Saturday, I got the chance to visit one of the Royal Parks of London, and the largest, Hyde Park. This park also stretches into the adjoining Kensington Gardens. Parks that are titled “Royal” only get the name if it has been frequented by the Royal Family. It is a beautiful place where even on a busy Saturday, you can find some tranquility. Spring is not yet in full bloom over here, but with the sun coming out more often, I expect the rose gardens and flower fields to make for a spectacular stroll in about 1-2 months. The lake pictured above is the Serpentine Lake and has many swans and pigeons all around. These swans are huge and quite intimidating. But the locals fearlessly fed them, even with a few pecking at their coats from behind or fighting for the piece of bread in their hands. As we walked through about 1/3 of the entire place (it would be impossible to walk the entire park in one go), we found the Peter Pan statue donated by J. M. Barrie himself, as well as part of the film location for “Finding Neverland” with Johnny Depp as part of the cast. On our way out of the park to find lunch, we came across the Albert Memorial. This large, ornate monument was unveiled in 1872 to commemorate the death of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert who died of typhoid fever at age 42. This is one of the grandest, high-Victorian gothic works and definitely something to see. We went across the street to the Royal Albert Music Hall and had lunch at the Italian restaurant inside. Apparently on weekends, they have live music playing, so we were lucky enough to enjoy some classical works while eating our delicious calzones and tiramisu for dessert. I will definitely be back before I leave to see the flowers in full bloom and enjoy a book on one of the many benches scattered throughout!

The Silver Lining


It’s been almost a week since I arrived in London! The first few days were packed, exhausting, and confusing. It was an uncomfortable 10-hour flight and walking around with about 70lbs of luggage is not the first thing I want to do after landing. However, we arrived safe and sound! I am staying at a homestay in Tufnell Park which is a beautiful, well-off neighborhood in north London. My roommate is a 19-year-old girl named Julia whom I befriended in the month before we left. The owners are Lynn and her partner Peter. Lynn’s daughters Phoebe and Cecily also live there with their partners. They kindly prepared a dinner for us to introduce themselves and help us get situated.

The London underground, or as locals call it, the “Tube,” is convenient but hard to wrap your head around. Our bus tour to Salisbury and Stonehenge was scheduled for Friday morning at 8:30am. Two days is really not quite enough time to understand how to properly use the tube. The nearest station was closed temporarily. I have to walk about 20 mins to get to the next station in Kentish Town to go to school. However, the route to the next station wasn’t just an easy straight ahead. It is more like a left, left, right, straight and left. Peter walked us to the station on Thursday. However, of course we would get lost. We made another left when it should have been a right, ending up at another station farther down. That led us to the Picadilly Line when we were supposed to take the Northern Line. We hopped on and off the trains about 5 times trying to get back on to the southern Northern Line towards Kennington via Charing Cross. Are you confused by what I’m writing yet? Well, so was I. Even though we left our house 1 hour early, we arrived at school by 8:55am. The bus had left 10 mins earlier. Another classmate, Gabriella, came 5 mins after us with the same issue. We were all upset and panicking that we were left behind on one of our mandatory excursions. One of the AIFS staff, Bea, helped us figure out how to get to the train station at Waterloo. So we hurried over, bought an approximately $56 one-way ticket to Salisbury to meet our group at the cathedral by 11:30am.

Through all of this, we found our silver lining and the inspiration to my short video. The train ride took us on a beautiful 1 1/2 hour journey outside of London to good old Salisbury. The three of us were then able to stroll through the small town, stopping by a river that ran through the town and playing with the rabbit sculpture art on the lawn. In the end, all of us were really glad we took the train even though it cost us extra on top of what we had already paid. It was an adventure and a typical movie-moment of getting lost in our first time in London. After all, what adventure is complete without a blunder? It might have driven us nuts the first hour of panic, but we resolved to live in the moment and make the best of it. Cheers!

Click the link below to my video on Vimeo!

The Silver Lining Video (HD)

See You Soon London

London is just a week away, and I am a mixture of excitement and anxiety. It is a bit overwhelming with everything I need to prepare: classwork, packing, finding an adapter/converter, getting my physical done, notifying my bank credit cards where I’ll be, travel plans, communicating with my home stay family, and the list goes on and on. My organizational skills are really being tested. When I first signed up for this, I felt like time couldn’t go by any slower. Now I am lagging behind… Don’t procrastinate!
A tip I have for packing is go to Daiso! It is a Japanese discount store where everything is $1.50-$5. I bought useful things such as compartmentalized boxes for my jewelry, notebooks for journaling, tweezers/nail clippers, and travel bags. I just recently completed my general packing list. I can only bring a 50lb. suitcase, 1 carry-on, and 1 backpack. My instinct says to pack everything and anything, but I know that I can find many of my necessities in London to save space. Luckily, I chose to live with a home stay family so they provide towels, bedding, and other basic things. There is the option to pay more and have your own apartment, but as a practical person, home stay was the best option!
I am extremely nervous as this will be my first time outside of the United States, but I know this will be another growing experience as a student. Getting out of my comfort zone was not easy and the financial burden was discouraging, but the prospect of learning more about the world in an immersive environment was an opportunity I could not pass up.
—♥ Emily
packing list snapshot