Amsterdam pt. II

6. Study abroad helps you to learn about yourself. Students who study abroad return home with new ideas and perspectives about themselves and their own culture. The experience abroad often challenges them to reconsider their own beliefs and values. The experience may perhaps strengthen those values or it may cause students to alter or abandon them and embrace new concepts and perceptions. The encounter with other cultures enables students to see their own culture through new eyes.”

Above is a quote that I ripped directly offline* without bothering to change a word because, hey, I’m lazy.

And because it’s true.

How do I know it’s true?

Because thanks to this new “perspective” I have acquired, I know that American chocolate is terrible. Hershey’s can suck it, Team Cadbury forever.

“Challenges”, such as not have 24/7 access to breakfast tacos or queso, really does strengthen one’s beliefs in the power of good TexMex.

And I learned that no set of “new eyes” will help me unsee the sight of my legs after four months without seeing the sun. If I didn’t have a moral obligation against tanning beds I’d be sleeping in them, just as Dracula sleeps in his coffin.

The 140,000,000 results that were a product of googling “why study abroad” will also say something of a similar nature to the quote above.

And to really drive it home that I-for-a-fact-know-this-statement-is-true, I’ve now traveled sans Mommy & Daddy.

As a reward for blessing the parental units with your presence during family vacations (just kidding y’all), you get access to these magical things called hotel rooms. They come complete with fluffy robes and double beds. If you forget shower shoes, it’s fine. The likelihood that someone other than those that share DNA with you will use the shower between washes is zero (hopefully). So no worries! Kick back, stretch out, and enjoy the scratchy kisses of that terrycloth robe against your skin.

When you travel as a 20-something-year-old youth masquerading as a young adult with half a dozen friends in financial situations similar to your own (meaning you have no finances to speak of) you stay in…hostels.

In hotels, you wake up to gentle shoulder shakes and your mom’s voice telling you it’s time to start the day.

In hostels, your awoken at all hours of the night to the snores of the weird, karate quasi-family of Eastern European men sharing the room with you and your seven closest exchange friends. One member kept a can of pickled corn under his bunk. Call me perceptive, maybe even judgmental, but I really feel that this just speaks volumes of his character.

ANY WHO, ON TO THE ACTIVITIES OF THE DAY

When the “Amsterdamage” planning committee** informed me that riding rented bikes in Amsterdam was an “absolute must-do” prior to our departure, I literally slammed my head onto the table’s surface.

I have a weird, safety-oriented phobia of riding bicycles in the same vicinity of other motor vehicles. Or other bicycles. Or humans. Or Cats, dogs, and birds too. I also have a slightly less weird phobia of not liking to look dumb in front of my peers. Renting bicycles, and then actually riding them, combined both of these fears in a nifty two-for-one special that came hot-and-ready, just for me.

There’s a Will Ferrel comedy from the early 2000’s titled Kicking and Screaming from which I drew inspiration for the walk to the rental shop. Actually I’ve never seen the movie. So in all honesty I drew inspiration from the *title* of Kicking and Screaming.

I laid in the streets attempting to fake a sudden fainting spell. I tried to distract my friends with promises of buffets of endless frites and pancakes as an alternative. I even shoved one into a raunchy sex shop and then barricaded them inside until they promised me we would find other modes of transportation i.e. walking.

Those are all bold-faced lies. In reality, I stewed quietly and prayed to a higher power that all the bikes in all of the rental shops in all of Amsterdam would magically be spoken for already.

10169443_10152374847597835_1279655879_n IMG_0755In Prague I learned the Czech word schadenfreude, which means to derive pleasure from the misfortunes of others.

As we mounted our bicycles and took off towards the direction of our hostel I looked around and settled into a deep, deep, deeeeeeep state of schadenfreude.

I WASN’T THE WORST! I WASN’T THE WORST!

Was I the best? God no. But my feet could actually reach the peddles and I was already far more advanced in the whole using-the-breaks-thing than some of my friends. By my standards, which are admittedly low, I was ready for the qualification trials of the Tour de France. Someone come take my measurements for that fancy gold jersey, I’m in it to win it!

IMG_0763We teetered and tottered around our neighborhood streets a bit more to get our bearings, but within half an hour we sped cautiously rode off in the direction of the Museumplein.

Before we even managed to cross the first street the inner camp counselor in me reared it’s overly-cautious head. It was evident that if a designated “caboose” didn’t stay at the back of the pack some of the less capable riders would be left behind to fend for themselves. Not ideal. So I bore the burden and settled into my place at the end of the line.

As we rode, to my left were Amsterdam’s famous facades. Each brick-faced building was perfectly in line with it’s neighbors and their inhabitants were leisurely enjoying cups of coffee on the small stoops. To my right were the canals complete with bobbing house boats and freshly fallen flower petals that lazily drifted down the the slow-moving current. Surprisingly the wind blew back my hair in such a way that it didn’t whip immediately back into my face and into my mouth effectively strangling me, as I had feared. My jacket didn’t get caught in the bicycle chain, nor did any other article of clothing. The contents of my purse didn’t dump onto the ground. If this sounds like the scene of a movie, don’t feel disillusioned. I’m not entirely convinced it wasn’t. In that moment I felt more peaceful than I ever have during child’s pose in a yoga class. I felt far more graceful than I did as the chubby 8 year old in my VIP ballet class tugging at my too-tight leotard. I genuinely felt so happy.

IMG_0776 IMG_0786We arrived at the Museumplein and indulged in some of my favorite activities. To no one’s surprise they were (say it with me) eating and taking cheesy touristy photos. Remember: I checked any shame I might have had back at Austin Bergstrom Airport, and have fully come to embrace the (respectful and polite) tourist that’s deep within.

1601056_10152374850187835_1952258880_nAbove: sassy Amy and I letting the world see just how fabulous we are

Below: self-explanatory

IMG_0807 IMG_0817Above: HOME IS WHERE THE HOTDOG ARE

Below: From left to right – Saru, Hanna, Amy, Dayna, and ME

IMG_0819 10154328_10152374851457835_1721602765_n 10171812_10152374851707835_1819249298_nAbove: Just the movie poster for this summer’s blockbuster hit starring five friends and their travels around Europe. Watch as they discover the strength of their friendship, romance, and most importantly the beauty that lies within themselves. JOKES!!!! It’s just us ladies loungin’ in the grass.

The limit to how long one can lie in the grass is not infinite so after some time we rode on to Vondelpark where once again, I did not die, careen recklessly into pedestrians, or crash into a tree.

Below: Picture of the most ruthless bike gang let loose on the streets of Amsterdam. Hide yo kids, hide yo wife.

1969229_10152374854377835_1545312012_n IMG_0828Above: For a brief moment I found the confidence within to take a selfie while riding my bike. The confidence was so short-lived however that I am mid-shriek during said selfie.

Dinner that night consisted of my second round of Dutch pancakes, BUT not before I I warmed up my stomach muscles by indulgin in bitterballens (pictured below). Bitterballen’s are a Dutch warm, fried (?), meat-filled snacks that are in a single world: savory.

10006974_10152374854287835_1021099243_n

The only complaint I have about the Netherlands is that upon our arrival we were not greeted as we stepped off the bus with little bitterballens skewered by tiny toothpicks decorated with itty-bitty orange flags. Just another lesson for the books: even the most perfect places have room for improvement 😉

Muchos besos!

*http://www.vistawide.com/studyabroad/why_study_abroad.htm

**Amsterdamage was the catchy, yet inaccurate, name we bestowed upon ourselves when planning for the weekend. The only damage that was done was to my bank account and waistline. The culprit behind both was of course ~food~

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Finals.

IMG_1330 IMG_1344 IMG_1345Sorry for the silence on my end as late. It’s finals season here and it hasn’t exactly been conducive to blogging. While at UT finals is actually a week to roughly eleven day period likened to a sprint, Nottingham indulges in a thirty-five day marathon made up of of studying and essays. KFJkdlsjfksdjfldksjd it’s not pretty.

Thanks to social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc) I am painfully aware that it’s officially ~SuMm3r~ in Texas.

Maybe the irritating eye twitch I’ve recently acquired is not from the gallons of caffeine pumping though my veins, but actually from extreme bitterness* from watching friends downing margaritas on patios and swimming in the various lakes, rivers, and streams found across the Hillcountry.

The photos above are essentially what the past 18 days have looked liked, and what the next 14 days will look like as well. It’s been a lot endless cups of coffee or tea, planning my last “hurrah” during study breaks, and staring out gloomy windows wrapped in a blanket of self-pity (lol just kidding on that last one). Swap the rainy environment with GORGEOUS sixty-five degree weather that I can’t enjoy and you have Nottingham in a nutshell right now.

Muchos Besos!

*I use the term “bitter” with precaution. As bitter as I may be, I’m equally aware that I just finished a whirl-wind, five-country extravaganza Easter break while all the lozers in Texas were stuck in school. AHhahahahahahaha who wins now.

Amsterdam(n)

ATTN ALL READERS: I’m currently writing this post from my new apartment in Amsterdam.

It’s very chic. All white walls, hard wood floors, and lots of natural lighting. Things that are very very important to my health, wealth, and happiness. It’s above a noisy coffee shop (cough cough they don’t sell coffee there) and if the wind blows in wrong direction I can smell canal sewage. That’s all trivial because from my current vantage point on the couch I can see my new Dutch boyfriend making me Dutch pancakes in the quaint kitchenette so who really wins here?

Since my last post I’ve pawned off my (by “my” I really mean my mom and brother’s) electronics, cashed in my stocks, and sold a kidney on the black market so that I can relocate to my *true* home in the Netherlands. This may come as a shock to some but what’s the point of being young if I can’t live ~wild N free~, ammirite?!

JOKES GUYS. Currently I’m wrapped up tight in my duvet and resemble something closer to a blanket burrito in the fetal position than a 20-something, born-again Dutch resident. BUT WE CAN ALL DREAM RIGHT?

All kidding aside if any loving family or friends wants to help fund, donate their retirement savings, or start a charity in my name that helps me permanently move to Amsterdam, I won’t object. In fact, if successful I will always offer you a place to sleep in my humble abode and all-you-can-eat access to Dutch cheese and pancakes.

I’ll even let you stare out the window in a dream-like trance to this:IMG_0716Starting to sound preeeeeeetty appealing right?

It’s THAT whole scene pictured above that stole my heart and made me momentarily forget that it was 7:45 AM, I was lost in a city where every street ended in -straat and was a minimum of fifteen letters long (85% of which where consonants), and I was standing in a bike lane with a 10 kg backpack.

BIG NO-NO IN AMSTERDAM.

And so while my travel companions furrowed their brows and tried to actually accomplish something (like find our hostel), I fell in love.

And for the first time it was with a city, and not a boy of said city. 😉

To backtrack a bit, traveling to Amsterdam was a bit of a last minute scramble for me. By my terms at least.

It involved hastily booking the same 15-hour coach ride (I just threw-up in my mouth a little typing out those words) that my friends had bought tickets for weeks prior. This should have been an easy task, but online booking an international trip with an American credit card/billing address and a British IP address never is. Sigh. Once again I found myself rushing a Eurolines operator through the ordering processes before the minutes on my crappy pay-as-you-go phone ran out while simultaneously binge-eating chocolate.

So on March 28th we set off on an overnight travel journey that entailed a:

  • 3 hour coach from Nottingham to London
  • 4 hour coach from London to Dover
  • 1 hour ferry from Dover to Calais
  • 7 hour coach from Calais to Amsterdam

Yes, I’m still nursing the bum sores that resulted in sitting for long periods of time. No, I didn’t sleep for more than 30 minutes at a time. Yes, I can tell you the life story/family history of the girl behind me because my iPod died after hour two and she continued to talk until WELL PAST HOUR 9 OF THE TRIP. And yes, I did wish her extreme ill-will until I realized that the travel gods would not look kindly upon that.

That being said, I’d do it again if that’s what it takes to get me back to Amsterdam. I LAUVE IT THAT MUCH OKAY?

So at roughly 7 AM we find ourselves standing in a coach station parking lot having no concept of where we are in relation to the city centre. Or how to get there.

My contacts were also cemented to my eyeballs causing enough tears to fill the English Channel to be produced every time I blinked.

Yes, sleeping in your contacts is bad. Yes, I have been wearing them since the 6th grade, thanks for asking. Oh. Oh yes, I see your point now.

So to recap we were clueless and I couldn’t see more than ten feet in front of me. And we had no map.

Like in every city, we found our way thanks to the help of tourist information stations, police officers, and kind individuals who pity (or at least can stand) us.

We located our hostel, checked in, and reserved a locker to stow our luggage in until we could access our room later in the day.

Then, after kindly asking if we could use a restroom to “freshen up” after our dreary traveling we proceeded to take over the. entire. lobby.

If you think I’m joking or being facetious, you are mistaken.

In one corner Amy was monopolizing an outlet to charge her phone and simultaneously straighten her hair. Dayna was using the reflection of a vending machine to reapply make-up. Saru sat on the floor to change her shoes. We each took turns changing in the the bathroom. Our various toiletry bags were strewn across the couches, chairs, and tables. I’m pretty sure Huw fell asleep standing up in a corner waiting for us. We were the actual worst.

And the poor receptionists just stood there, mouths a gasped, alternating between looking shocked and trying to mask looking shocked.

But desperate times called for desperate measures.

After our transformations from Frankenstein’s bride(s) to functioning young ladies – a process that may or may not have involved some movie magic, pixie dust, and/or selling off our first born to Rumpelstiltskin in order to erase the bags from under our eyes – we were off!

…to find Dutch pancakes.

1610049_10152374842062835_2016702160_nWhat’s pictured above are the fruits of our labor-intensive 1.5 hour trek (it was only supposed to take 20 mintues) through the streets of Amsterdam’s nicest neighborhood. I know, I know I have it soOOooOOo rough.

I stand by that a smidge of pity should be allotted to each of us. We were, after all, running on the bare minimum of sleep. Also, for some reason my foot kept falling asleep while I was walking, causing me to 1/2 walk, 1/2 stagger as I dragged the ole’ club foot around. I think my foot was seeking revenge for my choice of transportation to Amsterdam – hater.

We forged on through all the streets ending in -straat with way too many letters, and saw a whole lot of this:

IMG_0715 IMG_0734 IMG_0736…and we kept seein’ aaaaaaaall that, until we spotted this:

IMG_0718The clouds then parted, heavenly angels began to sing, and a band of friendly woodland animals escorted us to our table which was conveniently waiting for us with stacks of steaming pancakes.

Not really.

BUT soon enough we were seated, our orders were placed, and various sweet or savory pancakes were en route to our table.

Which happened to be seated along a canal. In the sunshine. Under blue skies. Because dreams do really come true.

IMG_0726 IMG_0860 IMG_0724From top photo to bottom: 1) The view of our table from the second floor of The Pancake Bakery. 2) Amy and I *patiently* waiting for our food. 3) The view across the canal from our table.

 For some inexplicable reason we drenched all of our pancakes in Dutch syrup.

Did I order a savory bacon, cheese, and mushroom pancake? Yes.

Did I still take enough care to ensure that almost every bite had at least a drop of sweet syrup on it? Yep.

It was awesome. #noregrets

We finished our meal and walked waddled over to the nearby open market stalls.

IMG_0729 10155603_10152374843967835_916687731_n 10173732_10152374842137835_121173864_nIt was here, in these very stalls, that I discovered Dutch cheese.

I would like to think of myself as a bit of a foodie* if you will. So it might have physically, emotionally, and literally pained me to come to terms with the indisputable fact that I’ve lived 21 years of my life never having tasted Dutch cheese. NEVER EVEN KNOWING that Dutch cheese was a “thing”.

I managed to pull myself out from under a momentary cloud of self-loathing long enough to buy a block of cheese.

1781871_10152374843997835_1311535610_nMy pride. My joy. My cheese (the wrapper of which I still have saved for my scrapbook – yes, I am that girl.).

The night ended with a hefty helping of perspective that came in two doses.

The first came from our visit to the Anne Frank house.

10154942_10152374844237835_1955638454_nUnderstandably photos weren’t permitted inside, but this is Dayna’s ticket.

It was surreal to walk through the tiny rooms that she, her family, the van Pels, and Fritz Pfeffer were confined in for over two years. The rooms were left empty for the most part, per her father’s request, but pictures of what the rooms would have looked like and entries from her diary donned the walls. The windows were blacked out, just as they had been when she resided there, which left me feeling some-what claustrophobic.

I heard the floorboards that she walked across daily, groan under the weight of my steps. I stared at the pictures Anne carefully pasted onto her wall in an attempt to brighten her stark living conditions. I climbed past the infamous bookshelf-turned-secret-door and I still cannot fully comprehend not only the life that she was forced to live but really any of the events that transpired during the Holocaust and WWII. The more I try, the more nauseated I feel.

At times it feels wrong to talk about or analyze any of it. What words can I say that haven’t already been said? I can’t. There are none. Even if there were I don’t even believe I’m worthy of saying them.

Before going to Amsterdam I read that the Anne Frank House was a tourist trap. That the lines were disgustingly long. That one could visit the city and not feel as if they had missed out on an important “must-see-sight” if they chose not to partake. That may be true for some, but it wasn’t for me and it’s not true for my friends either. The visit was integral in opening our eyes to the world we live in and gaining perspective. Something we all claim is the fuel behind our semesters abroad, but is at times ignored in favor for another trip to the pub or a night out.

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 2.57.34 PMI said before that photos weren’t permitted – which is true unless you’re the goddess gracing us on Earth in human form as Beyonce I guess.

Our night ended with a trip to the Red Light District where our new-found-friend Perspective paid us our second visit.

If you are Rick Steves reader he claims the area is unsafe after 10PM, give or take.

He lies.

In a large group, of both guys and gals, I felt no danger as I walked through the streets, past windows illuminated in red with true “ladies of the night” standing behind them.

Only a slight feeling of disgust. Not in the women, but in the hoards of men (and women) ogling them. Their jaws essentially scraping the ground and slapping their buddy’s back, as if to congratulate them, should one of the women look their way.

I wasn’t immune to being a little disgusted in myself either. While I didn’t reap the same pleasure that the majority of the crowd seemed to be, I was still there. I was still milling in the streets, albeit attempting to not make eye contact with anyone, but still physically present nevertheless.

It was weird.

After our “tour” of the area, Amy and I spent the rest of the night in a bar with our friends, using the wifi to google the stories behind these women like the true party animals were are.

This wraps up day one of three in Amsterdam! Stay tuned!**

Muchos Besos!

*My definition of “foodie” is the following: I see food. I contemplate if I can eat/afford said food. If the answer is yes to at least one of the two requirements, I inhale said food only remembering to savor it within the last few bites. Then I rank how much I liked the food, usually in comparison to whatever I ate last and decide if I’ll ever eat it again. The answer is yes 93% of the time. Tough critic, I know. Keep your eyes peeled for my upcoming show on The Food Network, title to come.

 **I’m dragging this out so much because I loved Amsterdam (I say for the 8th time) and I would like to just relieve it all again if that’s alright with y’all. So just indulge me in my one wish? Please and thank you.

 

Leed-ing the Pack

From photos, blog posts, and bits of communication here and there it may have become apparent that I don’t spend many weekends in Nottingham. While I’m certainly not complaining (I wouldn’t dare!), it has meant sacrificing time with my sweet flatmates. As luck would have it, before I skedaddled off to Leeds the weekend of March 28th, I was able to pop by the Malaysian festival in the city centre. There I watched Elyssa and Aisha preform a traditional Malay dance like the rock stars that they are. My only regret is that I couldn’t stick around to sample (aka inhale) the Malaysian food that there was to sample. This, I’m sure, is surprising to no one.

IMG_0643 IMG_0645Per usual I’m unable to ride or even enter the vicinity of a train without incident. Walking up to the station I noticed something was amiss. There were a large number of patrons – all men and of course all donning some sports jersey for a team I’ve never heard of.

I mean-mugged my way into the line for my tickets. Once securing my place, I made eye contact with the only other female in line. I attempted to catch her attention to give a lil’ roll of the eyes and head shake as if to say “ohohoho these men, we are the more evolved gender, clearly“. She instead responded with a blank stare and then PHYSICALLY ROTATED HER BODY 180 degrees.

So much for making friends.

After obtaining my tickets and making my way to the platform, I was now the ONLY person with two X chromosomes within eyesight.

The only obstacle between myself and Platform 4, where my train to Leeds sat waiting for me, was and entire barricade of police officers. No big deal. I rolled my shoulders back, shifted the weight of my backpack, and widened my eyes to give off the whole “I’m-just-an-innocent-lil-traveler-please-be-nice-to-me-or-forever-ruin-my-view-of-humanity” look. Easy enough, eh?

I cautiously approached the officer who had what I deemed the “kindest eyes” and attempted to explain that I did not in fact need to get on whatever train they were blocking, but the one two platforms down, and could they please let me through, please. My repeated gestured towards my tickets, the platform, and overall frazzled (yet hopefully chic and empowered) look must have been somewhat effective because the officer not only stepped aside to let me pass but then accompanied me to my train.

Guys. I had a bodyguard aka ultimate status symbol for achieving fame and popularity.

The following series of events were pretty standard:

  • changed trains
  • attempted to woo British boys on said trains with my love of reading and seemingly never ending supply of chocolate
  • found Julia in the Leeds train station
  • spent the usual 5-7 minutes lost and/or confused
  • located Hailey and Alex and made our way to where we’d be bunking up for the night
  • watched boys watch soccer and horse races (its as fascinating as it sounds)
  • napped on the floor
  • napped on a bed
  • ate substantial amounts of chocolate and surprised others when I did’t fall into a sugar coma, #talent
  • got ready for the night out

Pretty average day, no? At some point I realized (or should I say realiSed, thehehe British spelling) that I left Nottingham without socks, tights, or deodorant…BUT HEY I remembered four different lipsticks (none of which I wore) and a pair of slippers, so does it even matter?

10155196_10201720237787848_1008819826_nAbove: Ladies & gentlemen please meet the three ladies who will be representing Texas across the pond this spring, thehehehe. Below: CFA Summer 2012 All-Star Staff

1959908_10201720237827849_1442446981_n

1974174_10201720237867850_95977854_oUs three ladies, with the help of Tom, Alex, and Alex’s “lads” painted the city of Leeds red, purple, green, blue, black, and every other color under sun. I say this with confidence only because have you ever physically moved someone out of the way while screaming Beyonce lyrics just so you could dance with two of your best girl friends? No? You haven’t? Then you haven’t painted with all of the colors of the wind (Disney reference number two, holla).

The night ended and the sun rose* just as it does every Sunday morning. Julia and I woke that morning with a mission. A mission that led us wandering through the streets of Leed’s student housing to two closed grocery stores, a gas station, and one halal market all in the name of American pancakes.

Being the gracious house guests that we are, we had decided the night before to provide breakfast**, ‘Merica style, in the morning. They were probably slightly less appreciative than they otherwise would have been, due to fact that when Julia and I are together it inevitably leads to spontaneous dance parties to accompany our sugary-bubble-gum pop music. Without a doubt we accidentally woke up two of them a little prematurely. Sorry!

The highlight of my trip to Leeds, and potentially for the rest of my life, was the Sunday roast that Karen (Tom’s mom) graciously cooked for us that afternoon.

Lamb, parsnips, and mash with gravy! Oh my! Not to be outdone by the broccoli, sweet potatoes, and swede. It was an American Thanksgiving on steroids. A feast worthy of royalty that had mistakenly found its way on to my plate. I’m forever in debt to Karen for providing what will likely be the only substantial, home-cooked meal that I’ll have during my time abroad.

1799921_10201720238987878_1924767205_o 1957758_10201720239067880_1118803818_o 1799111_10201720239987903_1457069124_oAbove: Front in center is Karen. Not entirely sure how royalty works here but I vote Karen to be the next queen. QUEEN KAREN! QUEEN KAREN!

In an attempt to walk off our ever-protruding food babies, Tom took us ladies to Roundhay Park for a post-meal stroll. We made some friends with the locals (see photo directly below), Tom picked us daffodils, and we all took some “cheeky” photos together.

IMG_0647 IMG_0651 1799185_10201720241067930_1683848314_oHow I’ve lucked out with not one, but several, sunny weekends I don’t know. Maybe my personality is just sooooo bright and cheery that the sun can’t help but come out to say “Hello!”?

I flip-flop between complaining about lack of dreary, doom-and-gloom weather I was promised and basking appreciatively in sunshine while I can.

1957724_10201720242907976_1299490194_oAbove: Hailey, Tom, myself, & Julia. Below: Green, mossy ceilings/buildings have stolen my heart. Add them to the reasons why I don’t want to come home.

IMG_0659 IMG_0663 IMG_0665And to round out this photo overload, I’ll leave y’all with some jumping pictures, just ’cause we’re so cute.

IMG_0671 IMG_0673

I spent my train from Leeds to Nottingham acknowledging that I’m blessed in more ways than I could ever count, but attempting too nevertheless. I’m a lucky, lucky girl y’all.

Muchos besos!

* Well, the sun wasn’t technically visible through the dense, English cloud cover but I assure you it was there.

**We were unaware/blissfully ignorant to how labor intensive it would be i.e. six boys eat A LOT of food. To be more specific, “A LOT” equated to more than three dozen pancakes. Grandma are you proud of me? All those pancake lunches prepared me for this morning, I swear it!

Cardiff Bey

Have you ever landed in a place and known immediately that WOW this is the place for you? In this daydream of mine the sun is shining (oviously), I’m wearing the chic-est outfit possible (likely involving stripes and cateye sunglasses), and I make eye contact with fellow passerbys that’s not creepy nor does it insinuate that I’m a lady of the night a la Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. I’d look exactly like the photo below:

IMG_9013Have this picture painted in your head? Got it? Good. Erase it. This was not the case with Cardiff.

The start of my Saturday mornin’ travels was nothing out of the ordinary. I deciphered the train station time table with ease, boarded the train, and snuggled up to my kindle (cough cough my mom’s kindle. Thanks again mom). Up until the stop before Cardiff Central the only noteworthy event was the number of selfies that my seat companion took of himself. IT WAS IN THE 30’s YALL.

Then. THEN. Theeeeeen the train stopped in Newport. Glancing up from my reading, through the train windows clouded with grit, I see dozens of individuals pouring down the steps. In my mind the scene before me equated to the moment in the Lion King where Mufasa is mercilessly killed in a stampede (RIP). The wildebeests are replaced with meaty men with their chests puffed out and donning red jerseys and scantily clad, over tanned women tottering on spikey-heels.

They forced, shoved, and yelled their way onto the train carriages. I’m not sure what this looked like from the outside of the train to the Welsh police but I assume it looked like this:

Only everyone was holding an alcohol of some sort in one hand trying not to spill it. This was not so much as a courtesy to others, but not wanting to waste a drop.

The train went from being moderately full, to every flat surface being occupied with a standing body. From my seat I could see people sitting up on the luggage rack.

Five minutes later we arrive at Cardiff Central and my new-found, fellow travelers either exit or fall out the train. I follow suite and begin to attempt to get my bearings/separate from whatever insanity I’ve found myself in.

I walk up to the nearest sign and it reads like this:

indexHmmm. Caerdydd Canolog you say?

In my head I could. not. process this sign. I legitimately thought the top line was in English and that I had lost my mind. I gave up attempting to read the signs and followed the “Way Out” aka “Ffordd Allan” signs. Actually, I was herded out of the station. The mob and I were treated similar to a herd of cattle, with the station employees being the wranglers who poked and prodded us in a general direction.

By some miracle Eve and I spotted each other across the sea of red. Our frantic eyes met and we dodged bodies and beer cans until we could reach each other.

Seeing as I am such a die-hard rugby fan, I was completely aware that March 15th was the date for Cardiff v Scottland in the RBS 6 Nations Cup. IN FACT, forget seeing Eve, rugby was the real reason I went. Ha, ha. Jokes guys. I had no clue.

Eve and I started to make our way through the city-wide tailgate party in attempts to reach the Cardiff Market. I warn you though this was no easy task. I was more or less controlled by my stuffed, errr efficiently packed, backpack. My tactic was just to shift the weight in a general direction and use it’s momentum to get me to a destination. Looking back this may or may not have been a blessing in disguise. I was able to propel us through the crowds with Eve following in my wake shouting directions at me.

When we arrived at the market, stalls overflowing with vibrant flowers and kitschy merchandise awaited me. Sah cute. Eve persuaded me (aka just casually mentioned) into trying a lil’ Welsh delight known as a Welsh cake. Fresh from the oven top to my mouth, the little treat was part scone, part pancake and very good.

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1969270_10152032829548775_829152673_n-1We braved the crowds again to make our way to the Cardiff Bay. Along the way we picked up Eve’s friend Josie, and her sweet sister Naomi.

If the city center of Cardiff was rush hour traffic then the Bay was a casual Sunday drive down a back-country road. It was largely deserted except for families soaking up the sunshine or perhaps others attempting to avoid the mayhem.

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The Bay provided two necessities needed for any decent tourist stop: ice cream and gorgeous views for optimal pictures. It’s debatable about which is more important (lies, we all know ice cream is).

IMG_0601\m/ BURNT ORANGE BUILDING WHOOOOO HOOK EM \m/

After a leisurely homemade dinner we met up again with Josie and Naomi and went for some “casual” fancy drinks at a local cocktail bar. This would have been fairly uneventful except the establishment was packed with men in kilts…thanks again rugby!

I was tempted to ask for a picture with one but I figured that their inability to support their own body weight would ruin the photo op.*

OooOoOoh look how classy we are!

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That’s me below, Queen of Class (lol). I don’t know where my eyes go when I smile…Squints it is then.

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In the morning I was greeted with blue skies n’ sunshine and the promise of a British pancake** baking lessons! AHHHH ALL MY DREAMS CAME TRUE. Did I need a baking lesson in yet another delicious carb/gluten-based meal? No. Did I even stop think about the repercussion my waistline might face if I knew how to make my favorite British treat (except for Cadbury chocolate. Nobody comes between my Cadbury and me)? NO! NO! NEVER! NEVER!

Seriously guys, when I get back who wants some?

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10014613_10152032831008775_2129375919_nAbove: Caught in the act of gorging myself. Below: giggly Eve-y and her pancakes.

IMG_0606In my last few hours Eve, her flatmate Liv, Josie, and Naomi and I wandered through the now considerably less dense streets and let my tourist-freak-flag fly. This just means they indulged my need for cheesy photos and frequent stops.

IMG_0612Cardiff University, goOooooOOo dragons!

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1965623_10152756160539988_662076796_oWe ended our “tour” in Bute Park. There we had a casual picnic IN FRONT OF A CASTLE and had a PHOTO SHOOT IN A FIELD OF DAFFODILS. Is my life real? No. I don’t think it is.

My arrival in Cardiff may have left me a wee bit frazzled for an hour or so but the events that transpired and the company I kept made up for it three million billion thousand times over.

1902991_10152032831998775_164282642_n  OMG.

IMG_0626 IMG_0632If I could remember my dreams I’m sure they would revolve around skipping through fields of flowers and dancing to Beyonce for 48 hours straight. Seeing as that’s exactly how I spent my time in Cardiff, I can say with ease that life is currently better than my dreams (yes, I too just gagged on that cheesiness).

Muchos Besos!

* Remember: these men have been drinking since before noon, all in the name of sportsmanship…

**For those unaware that British pancakes even existed as I was three months ago, they are the lovechild of American fluffy pancakes and and French crepes.

 Oh yeah, and this happened. I really love daffodils:IMG_0629

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things…

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1. Meet heaven on earth, the wind beneath my wings, the apple of my eye, Ben & Jerry’s Core Ice Cream. It’s two ice cream flavors separated by an oozy, gooey, yummy core IN ONE PINT. I’m unsure if these goodies have reached American soil, but if they have I can only advise that you RUN, not walk, to your nearest distributor. It was just a little entirely too much for my lil’ lactose sensitive stomach to handle but I have zero regrets.

2. CHERRY BLOSSOMS IN THE GOLDEN HOUR. Spring is starting to show and nothing makes me happier than seeing these trees in full bloom on. every. street. corner. Guys, can I just throw my passport into the Atlantic and never come back?!?! Jokes!

3. “Wow, what a large fire hydrant” you may be thinking. GUESS WHAT THAT’S NOT A FIRE HYDRANT. That is a mail box and a source of great confusion that culminated in me begging/terrifying a mail carrier into “just please I’m begging you” taking a letter off my hands. The first month here I spent running around frantically trying to find a post box never once suspecting that there are not one, two, or even three, but instead FOUR in my immediate area.  Don’t worry, once I figured it out I face-palmed my forehead myself enough for everyone.

Stoked For Stoke-on-Trent

It feels strange complaining about the stress levels that come with attempting to coordinate a multiple country multi-week multi-person travel extravaganza. But I will!

The process equates to something like this:

  • enter all personal and credit card information with glee, typing so fast the keyboard can barely register my keystrokes
  • wait as my info gets processed with visions of Belgium waffles, schnitzel, or crepes dancing across my mind
  • GET DENIED
  • hit refresh. this must be impossible. crap you can’t refresh sensitive information
  • fill in all information again.
  • GET DENIED with little to absolute no explanation
  • repeat 3 to 4 more times before getting so frustrated that I just flop on the ground and binge eat chocolate
  • email/call/send carrier pigeons to whatever contact help line is provided and wait for a response

So after doing that for nearly every country to which I planned to travel I was emotionally drained.

Meet Hailey and Alex who granted me the ultimate reprieve:

1477359_10153896181180156_1547816099_nHailey and Alex are fellow camp comrades that have recently settled in an English town called Stoke-on-Trent. Although I just returned from a visit I could only tell you maybe five things about the town. The likelihood that you’ve never heard of it is at an all time high.

Planning the trip to Stoke was everything that planning for my Easter break travel was not.

Buying the tickets? Cheap. My credit card? Accepted. Travel times? Ideal.

Within in maybe 10 clicks of the mouse, my trip to Stoke was booked.

After an easy, breezy, beautiful* train journey I arrived in Stoke and followed the helpfully labeled “Way Out” signs through the station. There, at the top of the staircase was Alex and Hailey, and I ran, screaming and giggling, into their arms. Literally.

From there we went to their apartment where we did all of the following activities: catching up, talking all things camp and life, learning about Alex’s real grown-up job, trying squash (it’s a drink y’all), cooking naan from scratch, attempting to use British measuring tools for an American recipe, eating curry, laughing, Hailey and I eating our body weight in naan, getting a crash course in football rivalries and customs, exchanging Pinterest and blogfinds, stumping doormen at pubs with our Texas driver’s licenses, gawking at British fashion, discussing our bright n’ shiny futures, and trying a tenacious drink called Snake Bite (akkkk!) etc.

My short trip (it was less than 24 hours) was filled with everything that I care for the most. The late-night fashion show we threw for ourselves was only the cherry on top. Theheheh, see below:

IMG_0563England has a strange fascination with onsies. I’ve seen them worn in nearly every social situation. “Impossible!” I can hear you all cry from behind your computer screens. You are all wrong. I’ve seen students wear them to class and up in tha club as well. The onsie knows no limits.

As a professional lounger I am all for this trend traveling across the Atlantic and through out the USA. VIVA LA ONSIE!

IMG_0663And I’ll leave y’all with this train station bathroom selfie!

Muchos Besos!

*The adjective beautiful is 100% accurate in describing my travels. This is because on my train from Derby to Stoke my view to the right was the gawwwwwjus English countryside and my view to the left was an equally handsome English gentlemen. Applying for my marriage visa now guys (JUST KIDDING).