Thursday, March 31, 2011


Today, I witnessed something incredible and unbelievable to a typical Londoner.

I saw somebody openly display emotion.

Yes, all you stoic, cold, stone-faced, gray Londoners, with your apathetic sighs and rolls of your eyes. I saw somebody... not even just somebody, one of your kind, show emotion in public.

I was walking in the Bank tube station toward the Northern line going home from class. The typical, monotonous loudspeaker voice comes on:

"Mind the gap. Mind... the gap. Mind... the gap. Mind... the gap. Mind..."

And he broke. "He" is a middle-aged bald man, in a suit and carrying a brief case, probably heading back to work from his lunch break (as it was about that time). He was walking a little in front of me, and I hadn't even noticed him until it happened.

"Oh my God, just SHUT THE F**K UP ALREADY!"

I was stunned. I felt so many things in that moment, so many thoughts ran through my head. I honestly truly believed that right then and there, everybody would join him. There would be a sudden outbreak of Londoners finally letting down their guard, screaming;

"Yeah, you're right!"
"That DOES get annoying!"
"I'm angry too!"
"I hate the tube!"
"I hate my job!"
"This city is too gray, and I'm tired of it!"
"I'm tired of being treated like an animal every time I smile in public!"
"I'm tired of feeling forced to remain silent on my commute!"
"I'm tired of this city, and my job, and this tube, and all of you!"

...but it didn't happen. Nothing happened. Nobody even looked up, nobody took their eyes off their newspaper, nobody slowed down on the steps or looked over to see who said it or even made a face to themselves. There was nothing. Finally, a chance. Somebody else broke, now's your time! Follow him!

But nobody did... and London remained the same. And all of them remained the same. And the middle-aged, bald, suit-wearing and briefcase-carrying returning to work from his lunch break man, well, he remained the same too. As soon as he broke, he immediately remembered his setting and snapped the pieces back together. Everything remained unchanged. Everything.

Except me. Because now I know the truth. London is not emotionless... it's trained to appear that way. People do feel. They get angry, and I'm sure they also get sad, and... dare I say it? I'm sure they also get happy. Yes, happy. Do you know what the word means, Londoners? I'm sure you do, but you'll never admit it. But it's okay, you don't have to, because I already know now. So next time I'm sitting on the tube alone, smiling to myself because it's a beautiful day, don't stare at me like my head is melting off; I know you feel it too. Next time I'm on the tube laughing and having a good conversation with a friend, don't scoff at us like our happiness offends you; I know you feel it too.

You will never deceive me again, London. I know you.

And you know what? I'm telling everyone.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I'm going to the Canary Islands! Unfortunately, this will be my last trip while in London (I seriously underestimated just how expensive this city was), but at least it'll be a glorious one. I'm going with my friends Jordan, Mike, and Sam, and we were able to book the trip for 5 nights at a four star resort hotel for only $300 USD (flight included). Yeah, I know. We also have our own apartment at the hotel so we are just going to buy groceries and cook for ourselves. Since it's a beach trip also, our daily activities will consist of 1) laying on the beach, 2) swimming, 3) tanning, 4) more laying on the beach, 5) pool, 6) swimming, 7) tanning, 8) more laying on the beach, 9) pool, and 10) more laying on the beach. That's all free. Oh, and climbing the volcano there. So, since we won't be spending money besides the initial $300, and groceries there for the week will cost less than groceries in London for the week, I'd say we made a sound economical choice.

I am a little sad that my traveling is over though. There were still a lot of places on my list that I didn't get to see. I wanted to visit Adrienne in Sevilla, Jessica in Graz, I wanted to go to Croatia with my friends here, and maybe Prague, and I feel a little ashamed that I've been in England and never made it to Scotland or Ireland. However, I got to go to some cool, different places, and for that I am grateful. Besides, it's not like I'll never be back. I'd rather make sure I have some money to see a little bit of Italy while I am in Milan.

This trip will definitely keep me inspired to keep running though. As if I wasn't motivated enough to do these runs, knowing that I will be in a bikini in a little over a month will definitely get me out there working it.

My runs have been going really great. I'm not going every single day like originally planned; I skipped today because it was dreary and rainy outside. However, I am definitely making an effort to go every other day, if not everyday, and have only skipped a few days since I started. Plus, I've been running 4-5 miles each time, so I feel that I'm still getting a decent work-out even if I skip. I am just afraid of overwhelming myself: I know I need to go more frequently, run faster and farther, cut candy out of my daily diet (my biggest weight gain problem... sour patch kids will be the death of me), not eat so late at night, etc. etc. If you try to do everything at once though, you do it for a few days, decide it's too hard, and give up everything all together. So, if I just start with running, slowly pick up my pace or run farther each time, and once I'm in a routine with that start to work on my diet, it'll be more effective. However, I only have 41 days until the Canary Islands, and I will not settle for anything less than Heidi Klum status.

If I needed any more motivation, Jordan and I have signed up to do a 10k on May 4th! Yes, a 10k. Not even just a 5k... a 10k. That's over 6 miles. It's for the British Heart Foundation, and it's a 1k loop around Tower of London that you can do up to 10 times. We, of course, are going to do the whole 10 laps. Go big or go home, right? I have total confidence that we can handle six miles in about a month. We've already been doing about 5 mile runs, and we've been doing it for just over a week. At this rate, that race would be our warm up! It's right before our trip also, so by training for this we're also getting in shape for the Canary Islands. Smart thinking, I know.

Changing the topic, I find a lot of times here that while I am always missing everyone at home, one person will stand out for the day. There's usually not a clear reason for this, and it's generally always a family member or Steve. Yesterday, it was definitely my dad. At home, if there are three people I talk to a good amount every single day, it's my mom, my dad, and Steve. Well, I get to talk to Steve a good amount out here still because he has Skype on his phone so I can message him like we're texting. I get to talk to my mom a good amount because the time I'm usually available to talk to someone is when only she is home from work, so we'll talk almost everyday. However, I don't get to talk to my dad often. We're lucky if we can talk more than once a week, because it's always so late for me when he's home from work. While I definitely don't talk to anyone as much as I can at home, at least it's easier with my mom and Steve. I went from talking and spending some time with my dad almost everyday to talking for a little bit once a week, and that is not cool with me. I got to talk to him for an hour and a half last night though, and that made me really happy. What makes me even happier is knowing that in 24 hours, they'll be on a flight to come see me! AAAAAH! I am SO beyond excited.

Some of you may be wondering, "Hey, is Kate using this blog post as a means of procrastination from her three assignments she's trying to get done before her parents come out to visit her?" If you are wondering that, the answer is: absolutely. Yes, yes I am. But YOU are probably reading this post as a means of procrastination from doing something you should be doing also. It's just so hard to find motivation to do homework these days. I'm already trying to motivate myself to run, I don't have that much motivation to spread around.

So, a final note: if you would like to support Jordan and I in our 10k, here is our fundraising site! You can donate directly through this site, which is quicker and easier for everyone, and all proceeds go directly to the British Heart Foundation. As our team name, "Hungry Hungry Hippos," and mission statement implies, you will be helping two causes: the BHF, and giving Jordan and I motivation to get off our fat asses and work off our winter fat.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


And now for a recap of this past week.

I started running. Yes, me, running. Am I good? By all means, no. It isn't about that though. It's for physical and mental health. Physical health is the obvious one: I've gained a little bit of weight out here, and I'd like for that (and then some) to be gone. Not enough where people notice, but enough where I notice, and that is unacceptable. The mental health part is the important one though. I have recently complained about not having any routine out here; that I'm not working toward a goal, I have no purpose, and I feel completely useless. This is all true. I'm hoping running will help with that. If I make myself run everyday (or at least majority of the week), it will give me a routine and something I feel I have to do. Also, it's something that will hopefully produce results, i.e. I'm working toward a goal. With classes ending this week, it's something I will be able to dedicate time to, something that will get me up in the morning, something that will get me outside enjoying the fresh air in the park, and also something that'll make my shirts fit nicer.

As for activities? Tuesday I had class, which was, as usual, a joke. I am not going this week. It's a pointless waste of money and time. Sorry, Dad.

Wednesday, I planned out my fall schedule for Montclair. This doesn't seem like a day's worth of activity, but I LOVE planning schedules. Unfortunately, my beautiful schedule I planned A) has to change, because it is going to be too expensive to take summer and winter classes like I planned, and B) is subject to change depending on Brian's schedule, since we want to carpool. Then, I went to the London Symphony Orchestra at night, which was really lovely. I miss attending shows like that; I guess I took working as an usher at Kasser for granted.

Thursday, after going to the National Portrait Gallery for class, I had a picnic in Hyde Park with Jordan, Sam, and Natalie. Then, Jordan and I went for a run together along the canal by our flats. It was so nice out, I think I even got a little touch of tan on my arms!

Friday, after fashion class I went for a run, and then went to the V&A with Sam at night. They do a huge theater night once a month, and it was so cool. All around the museum were different moving performances, like Hamlet being performed throughout the halls, dancers in-between artwork, musical performances by the entrances, and, my favorite, the red carpet walk, where you walk along a red carpet to the next exhibit and actors scream, take your picture, and beg for your autograph. It was the coolest thing ever.

Saturday, Sam and I went to the traditional Oxford vs. Cambridge rowing race. With our purchase of a pint, we got a free scarf, so I got a Cambridge scarf and he got an Oxford scarf. We made a bet with each other, which I lost because Oxford won the race.  It was still pretty exciting to be able to watch the race along the river.  However, panic soon set in. Initiate pickpocket panic.

I was pickpocketed.

At least, that's what I immediately assumed when I looked in my purse when we got to the tube station after and my wallet was gone. I borrowed Sam's phone to call my mom and have her cancel my cards immediately, so no asshole could deplete my bank account (that's MY job). Sam suggested we go back and check by the cotton candy stand, where I last used it, just in case. I knew it wouldn't be there, it was definitely pickpocketed. It was gone. Some asshole was walking around with my debit card, my credit card, my two oyster cards (one with a fresh 80 pound unlimited month on it), my drivers license, and 40 euro and 10 pounds of cash.

We arrive at the stand, and I approach the girl. "I know this is a long shot, but did I happen to leave my wallet here?"

She hands it to me.

I scream and jump on her, attacking her with loving hugs. I have never felt such a desire to kiss a random British girl before (or any desire to do so before, actually). I guess I was SO excited about getting cotton candy, I put my wallet down and left it there. But... oh crap.  My cards. I call my mom, hoping it's not too late, but it is. My cards are deactivated. The solution? Well, luckily since my parents will be here Friday, they can bring me a new Visa card, and I won't need any money then because they'll be paying for me all week and leaving me cash. However, until then, that 10 pounds in my wallet has to last me all week. I am low on food, my phone is out of credit, and I really wanted to get Chipotle (the essentials), but all of that is going to have to wait. At least this will jump start my weight loss.


I realize it has been an eternity since I last updated. This is because from March 9th-21st, my boyfriend Steve was here visiting me!

I really hate recapping things, I'd much rather talk about things right after they happen, so I'm going to briefly recap. We did all touristy things around London, of course, like seeing Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Tower of London (which he loved), did a tour of Parliament, went in the London Eye, rode bikes in Hyde Park, walked around Kensington Gardens, walked along the London Eye Pier, went to Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, and got delicious red velvet cake at Hummingbird on Portobello Road. He even got to come on our ISA trips to Stonehenge, Bath, and Cambridge with us.

In addition, we made a 2-day, 1-night trip to Paris together, which was absolutely beautiful. I will admit, I liked Paris so much more this time around. It was beautiful and sunny out instead of gray and cold, I wasn't sick, we stayed in a nice place instead of a sketchy hostel, and I was with Steve. So, it was a lot nicer. We saw the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night, had a really classy dinner of Filet Mignon together, saw the Arc de Triomphe and walked along the Champs Elysses. Unfortunately, we didn't get to go to the top of the tower or go ice skating there because I'm an awful person. I had to write a Shakespeare paper due that day, and our hotel didn't have WiFi, so we spent a good couple hours searching for a place with WiFi. When we finally found one, I realized my adapters were back at the hotel and my computer had 10 minutes of battery. We had to go back to get the adapters, go to McDonalds so I could stand up by the straw counter to write my paper (which only took an hour to write, it's just all the other stuff that took so long), and then the Eiffel Tower had a long wait and we ran out of time. I'm still really upset with myself about this, but Steve has told me to stop blaming myself. Well, we'll be back, Paris.

I loved having Steve here. It was wonderful to have someone from home so important to me out here, and reassured for me that through all the bad times I have out here, I still have people at home who love me and will help me through. It was also nice because it felt like we were living together (because we were, essentially), and it made me think about us in the future a lot, even more than I usually do. Saying goodbye was tremendously difficult, because now instead of waiting 2 months to see him, I have to wait 4.5 months.

However, Steve missed his plane so we ended up with one extra day together.

This was absolutely horrible because it cost almost $300 to change his ticket, which I gave him the cash for because it was the money he owed me and had just given me. I know he'll pay me back eventually, so that's not a concern at all, but I knew he didn't have the money to put down himself. However, I really need all the money I can get right now. Things are just tight for everyone. Besides that though, it was really good to have him here the extra day. I felt so much better the next day when he was leaving, because I already got all the emotional stuff out the night before. We were both just in a better mindset about it, knowing that we'll be fine and we can absolutely do this, instead of being sad and crying about it.

I miss him terribly, but time is going to fly. My parents are going to be here now in less than 5 days, which I am SO excited about. Classes are done this week, then I have Jim coming out at the end of April, and hopefully finding a way to do a final trip in May (making the decision between Scotland and Ireland in April or a beach trip in May is really hard). Then, Milan will be here before I know it, and I'm really looking forward to that.

So, while I miss having Steve here and know it will be a while before I can see him again, I think he came at a perfect time. The first two months were the hardest. I was getting adjusted, it was miserable outside and I certainly haven't been the happiest, and it was really hard at first. He came at a transition period. The weather is getting nicer, and if the weather is nice out I'm automatically a much different person. My classes are ending, which will make me happier because I hate my classes. The next few months will fly by because they'll be much easier on me. At least, that's the plan.

 In front of Stonehenge.

Being cute in Bath.

Everyone is really excited about the tour in Cambridge.

In front of Tower Bridge after a fun dinner with my Montclair girls! From left to right, Wynn (Jessica's boyfriend from London), Jessica, Claudia, Ali, me, and Steve. Aww.

By the lions in Trafalgar Square.

On the London Eye.

In Paris, stereotypical couple Eiffel Tower picture.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Dear London,

I feel I have not been entirely fair to you, and for that I apologize. It's true that since my arrival here you and I haven't exactly seen eye to eye. After all, you're a city and I don't like cities, and you're quite a gray one at that. Although I have made a couple efforts to give you another chance to no avail, I believe you deserve yet another chance.

Why? Because it isn't entirely your fault. I hate winter. I am a radically different person in winter than I am in spring and summer. My entire outlook on life and overall attitude changes drastically once the temperature changes. I don't like anything in winter, so coming to you in January was definitely a harsh first impression. Truth is, if I was still home right now, I would still be hating winter. It's hard for me to enjoy anything when it's so cold out.

Today you were blessed with sunshine, blue skies, and 53 degree weather... and you were lovely. I went to Hyde Park with Izabela, Mike, Amanda, Jordan, Kentucky, Cori, and Kim, and we rented bikes and rode around for a bit. Despite almost getting kidnapped and/or my bike stolen at one point, it was still a beautiful day. I got to wear a lighter jacket, I only wore one pair of tights instead of my usual two or three, and I was able to feel the sun on my face. The sun suits you well: you look much better draped in sunshine than you do in fog.

So, London, I want us to make this work. After all, we may not be the best of friends, but I still have to live in you for another three months, and it'd be great if we could make those three months positive ones. I am going to give you another chance... but not yet. At the end of the month, it will start. I don't want to give you this chance and have the weather turn sour again. I really want this to work. Who knows, maybe we'll actually start to like each other. I think it will help, too, when Steve gets here tomorrow, because I will have a sense of pride showing you off to someone from home.

I'm really hopeful for our future. I hope you feel the same, and will give me another chance as well.


Monday, March 7, 2011


My mother complained that my previous blog entry was too depressing and I need to write a happier one. I cannot change my feelings, and I will not write a peaches-and-cream blog entry if it is not an accurate account of my life at the moment. However, luckily for her, I went to Amsterdam this past weekend and absolutely loved it. So, here is a genuinely happy blog post.

First of all, we need to briefly discuss the voyage Izabela and I went through to get to Amsterdam. Our plane was scheduled for a couple hours earlier than we originally thought, and she had to run home from her internship to grab her bag so we could go. We're sprinting all over the place, get off at Victoria, and we're running all over but we can't find our bus. All of the sudden while we're running, I hear a scream. I turn around, and Izabela is on the ground.

"MAN DOWN!" I scream, but in the typical London fashion of truly caring about those around you and helping each other out, everyone walked past and did nothing. We get her up, and keep running and finally see the bus. It's the 4:00 one though, not the 3:45 one we booked. We had no choice but to take this one instead, even though it wouldn't get us to the airport until 5:30 and our gate closed at 5:45. We're on the bus panicking about how we don't have enough time, we're going to miss the flight, how did this happen, we ran so fast, etc. etc. In this process of panicking, we mentioned things we would do for extra time, as a joke. I said, "I would definitely sacrifice a small animal right now for an extra 15 minutes or so... like, a wounded one that needs to be put out of it's misery. Like a bird."

I sacrificed a bird.

Literally five minutes after I say this, a bird flew straight into our bus and died. We watched it happen, jaws on the floor. And what happens? We get to the airport earlier than scheduled, our plane is slightly delayed, and we had time to not only get through security at a comfortable pace, but we grabbed a bite to eat as well. This was the craziest thing that has ever happened to me. We have named the bird Jesus (pronounced the Spanish way, for variety), because he gave his life so that we could live... in Amsterdam.

Now, Amsterdam is absolutely beautiful. It restored my faith in cities, showing me that it is possible for a city to be beautiful and not make me the least bit uncomfortable. You would think in a city where it seems like there are literally no rules that you wouldn't really feel safe in it. Not at all. I felt more safe walking through the Red Light District in Amsterdam than I do walking around a popular city street in London at night. Also, just as an interesting side note about everything being legal, marijuana is not legal in Amsterdam. Let me repeat that for those of you reading this while smoking a joint, living vicariously through my trip to Amsterdam. Weed is NOT legal in Amsterdam. But it might as well be. Our tour guide explained to us that the Dutch have a very interesting philosophy on laws and regulations. They're extreme businesspeople, so if it makes money, they can shrug it off. The rules for smoking just basically state that you have to be discreet about it, and you can't carry more than 5 grams on you at a time (which is a whole lot of weed). Though, I don't know how discreet countless "coffee shops" throughout the city really are (if you want a coffee, go to a cafe... not a coffee shop).

Our first day we had a free walking tour of the city, and our tour guide was absolutely phenomenal. Honestly, if you are traveling in Europe and want a fantastic free tour, look up Sandeman Tours. We saw a lot of interesting points in the city that you wouldn't be able to recognize just walking around by yourself, because while the some sites may look like nothing now, they historically mean a lot to the Netherlands.

In addition to this walking tour, we also went on a bike tour the next day through the same company. You know the phrase, "It's like riding a bike?"  Well, you would think riding a bike would be like riding a bike. It took quite a few blocks and more than a few stumbles, swerves, and collisions before it all came back to me. I guess there is a time limit on that phrase. This tour was possibly my favorite part of the trip though, because we learned a lot of other cool things like we did on the previous tour, but it was such a beautiful day and it was so nice to be riding a bike around the outskirts of the city.

The Van Gogh Museum, while I absolutely adore Van Gogh with all my heart, was about 15 euro and I'm a little strapped for cash. Also, we had so much we wanted to do to fit into two days, and it was either that or the Anne Frank House, so we opted for Anne Frank instead. It was so strange to be walking through the annex that the Frank family lived in, the one I had to picture for myself in 8th grade when we read the book. It was really powerful. It was emotional for some others who actually have emotions (one girl even threw up, which was quite the gross and smelly overreaction), but I just took it more as a piece of history. 

We also walked through the Red Light District at night for a little. It's actually a very tiny area of only a few blocks, and it's not sketchy at all. You'd also expect the prostitutes to be really gross, like the image of the trashed out girl with 4 teeth. No. They're all dangerously attractive, and I mean dangerously. They stand in their windows and just point you out and try to lure you in. We almost lost Mike a couple times. We learned about prostitution in Amsterdam on the tour, and it's actually very interesting. First of all, since it is legal, the girls are their own bosses, so there are no dangers with pimps. This also means that the girls are protected by the law, so if anything did come up, they wouldn't be treated like criminals but be helped instead. They also have an extremely low STD rate, because every single man is required to wear a condom. They essentially rent out the window, like a hairdresser rents a chair at a salon, and works for a normal 8 hour shift daily. The standard package is called a "Suck and..." (I think you can fill in the second rhyming word). This consists of 15 minutes of the aforementioned procedures, and costs 50 euros. 50 euros for 15 minutes! That's 200 euros an hour! If you consistently do that for your full 8 hour shift, you're making 1600 euro a day. Izabela and I highly considered starting a new career choice. After all, morals and dignity don't buy you shoes.

I honestly think America could learn something from Amsterdam. We have all these laws against prostitution and marijuana, and clearly they're so effective because nobody in America smokes weed or is a prostitute. We spend so much money each year trying to fight marijuana, but Amsterdam brings in an absolutely ridiculous amount of money each year in tourists buying marijuana (which it is mainly tourists, since locals rarely smoke if they do at all). America's argument is that it's a "gateway drug." This is complete crap. If people want to smoke weed, they are going to whether it is legal or not. Likewise, if they want to move on to higher drugs like cocaine or heroin, they're going to do that too whether it is legal or not. The difference here is that Amsterdam made an effort to legalize heroin when they had a huge heroin problem, so that users were seen as ill and treated for their condition rather than being punished for being a criminal. Prostitutes are much safer if it is legal, and the country could gain so much in profits if it just legalized marijuana and taxed us up the ass for it. It's not like these are things that don't already exist in our country. Nothing will truly change. People who don't want to smoke still won't, and those who do still will.

But that's enough of that. Let's talk about some really funny moments that happened on the trip:
1. I sacrificed a bird. I can't stress this enough.
2. On the tram to the tour, this crazy homeless guy kept trying to talk to Izabela and I. He was trying to touch my hand on the handrail, so I moved it away. Sam was standing with us, and the man said something to him about not letting us girls make him pay for everything. I joked around and grabbed Sam's arm, and said, "No, that's okay, don't listen to him." The guy loved this and told me I had to marry Sam, right then. So, I think Sam and I may be married.
3. Possibly my favorite moment on the trip when I just could not stop laughing was what I like to call, "Sam and the Fam." At the IAmsterdam sign, Sam climbed up on the letter S (for obvious reasons) so we could take a picture. As he does this, this family of literally about 20 or more people crowds in front of the S where Sam is sitting to take a picture, completely unaware of his presence. They're posing for their picture and Sam is sitting on the letter above them posing with them, until the very end of the photoshoot when they saw us all laughing and looked up to see Sam.
4. Izabela bought a wind chime. You may be wondering how this could possibly be funny. Izabela had the idea to buy the wind chime in the souvenier shop, and asked several of us our opinions on her buying it before she would get it. When her friend Grace asked, "Are you sure you really want to buy a wind chime?" she said, "I think I will really regret not buying it." So she did. Not even a half hour later, walking back, we hear Izabela, "This was so stupid! I'm so stupid! Why would I buy a wind chime?! I'm so dumb, this was such a dumb idea..."
5. While I wasn't there for this one, we heard it mentioned enough where I can still appreciate it. Mike, Sam, Amanda, Cori, and Bryttie went on a boat tour their first day (Izabela and I came together a day late). Mike slept through it. This is not unusual, because Mike also found a way to sleep in the Louvre on our Paris trip. However, he apparently would be completely unconscious, wake up and start taking pictures instantly as he sits up, and pass out again. Repeatedly.

I really think Amsterdam may have been my favorite trip so far. They've all been so incredibly different, and I would say it's a close call between whether I liked Toulon or Amsterdam better. It was really a beautiful city, and while I was only there for two full days, it was such an awesome time and I'm so happy I did it.

So, you know what's next. Amsterdam: Conquered.

Oh, and I'll see Steve in less than 36 hours. Aaaah!

Pretty church in Amsterdam. In the typical Dutch business fashion, they made the Church a business. When sailors would come into the city and perform, erm... immoral acts, they would sell them a piece of paper written by a minister (priest? pastor? I don't know the difference, honestly) of their sins but signed that they are forgiven. But what do the sailors do if they leave early in the morning after these immoral acts and the church isn't open? Don't worry, you can pre-order your paper. Just let the priest know the day before what you plan on doing, but it'll cost you double.

Down the canal on a street in Amsterdam. No fun story to go with this one.

Where the Dutch East India trade used to occur. You can see part of my blonde head all the way to the left behind Sam (if you're not too distracted by Izabela's bright yellow coat).

This building looked so majestic and beautiful, we figured it had to be some kind of government building or grand museum. No, it's just the train station.

An early shot of "Sam and the Fam," before about 20 more of them crowded into the frame.

Yeah, that's me in a giant wooden clog. Yeah, it was entirely necessary.

Friday, March 4, 2011


I feel like I've done so much this week, and so little at the same time.

On Tuesday, I went to class. It doesn't sound like much, but I'm pretty sure I haven't been to class in like 2 weeks at least. At least it feels that way. It's not even that I've been skipping many classes at all, we've just had random classes canceled and then "Guided Independent Study Week" (A.K.A. Go to France and Forget About School Week). After class, I'm pretty sure all I did was eat, read the fashion articles in the newspaper (which I'm trying to do daily, and I'm taping them all on my wall), and wash some clothes.

On Wednesday, Jordan and I went to Kensington Gardens and walked around for a few hours. We saw the palace, which is a little anti-climatic, and we watched all the dogs and tried to dognap them all. Then I went to the BBC World Studios to have a tour, which was really cool. It would have been a lot more cool if I went while I still wanted to be a journalist, but I enjoyed it either way. Then I went home, cooked and ate dinner, did another small load of laundry in the sink, and I think that was it too.

Then today, we went to a really boring museum for Art and Society. The best part of it was the coloring room, where my friend Sam drew me a shockingly impressive portrait of myself. Jordan and I were drawing stick figures, and then Sam turns around this masterpiece and we just felt embarrassed. Then, I printed my boarding pass for Amsterdam this weekend, and went to Top Shop with Jordan and Kim and bought really adorable clothes. And they're bright colors! See, it IS possible for me to buy clothing that isn't black. We had an ISA tour of the Bank of England then, which was unbearably boring just like the museum. After that, as per usual this week, I cooked dinner, did a small amount of laundry in the sink, and did nothing else.

The retail therapy really helped me today. At first. While in Top Shop trying on all the cute, bright clothes, I felt awesome. Even when I had to narrow it down a bit (because I couldn't justify buying 12 pieces at Top Shop's outrageous prices), I still felt really good, and accomplished. There are honestly very few times here that I have felt really happy, and this was one of them. Then, the ball dropped.

My bank account has a hole in it.

I don't know how it happened, but I think the gypsies in Paris got a hold of my account information and have been stealing money from me this week. Okay, I know I've been doing a lot of traveling and that gets expensive. And yeah, I know I went to Top Shop today and spent maybe more than I should have (especially now that my budget is 0-5 pounds a week maximum). I really don't feel like I spend a lot of money though. I don't drink, I don't go out at night to clubs or pubs anymore (and haven't for many weeks), I do all of my laundry by hand, and I haven't even bought a single pair of shoes since I've been here. So how is it that I am in this position?

It's time to get into a little emotional rant bordering on complaining. I don't like London very much. There are parts and features to London that I like, but as a whole I don't like it and I'm pretty unhappy in it. I try to just ignore this, take it for what it is, and try to learn from the experience anyway, but it's hard to pretend you're so happy when, A) all the other study abroad kids around you are truly really happy, and B) nobody else in London is happy. Everyone is miserable. If you see someone that looks happy, they're just a visitor. Everyone is just as gray as the London skies.

I have made an honest attempt to like this city. I've made the list of things to do and tried to keep myself occupied. It's hard though. So, I do things to make myself happy: travel and shop.

Well, let's reflect. I didn't really enjoy Morocco. Some aspects were cool, I like the things I bought (retail therapy is a language everyone speaks), but other than that, it was too out of my comfort zone to make me happy. Paris I didn't like, and it just reminded me of my newly discovered hatred of cities. Toulon was wonderful, but that's because the trip was so relaxing and I was with my best friends. So, I've been spending all this money on trips to get out of London, and I haven't even been on a trip yet that I can say I truly loved.

What bothers me the most is how my life has absolutely no structure. I don't do anything. I wake up every single morning and have to ask myself what I would like to do that day, and I hate that. I like having obligations, and stresses, and things to do. I have never been without a job for this long, so my bank account just keeps going down and I can't see it go back up. I have always felt like I was working toward a goal, no matter how big or small, at some point in my life. I'm never without a purpose. Here, I am... and I feel so incredibly useless.

At least right now I can look forward to Steve being here in five days!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Immediately after my return from Paris, I unpacked some dirty clothes, repacked some clean clothes, and slept for a total of 30 minutes before embarking for Toulon, France. Toulon is in the very southern tip of France, and is a very small town that is used as a naval port. This was our big JACKA trip, (my best friends from Montclair, Jessica, Adrienne, Claudia, me, and Ali), but Claudia is holding down the fort in Montclair and won't be out here visiting til next week, and Adrienne couldn't afford to go. So, Ali and I were traveling there from London together on the 23rd, and Jessica was meeting us there the 25th.

I do not understand the buses in London, and the time to try to figure them out isn't at 4 in the morning alone trying to get to the airport. I was supposed to meet Ali at Victoria, because she had bought the coach ticket for me, but I could not get there in time with so many problems with the buses, so I ended up just taking a train to Stansted from the Liverpool station and had to pay for it twice. Bollocks. Regardless, I got to Stansted even before Ali, and we had plenty of time to kill so we sat in a little cafe in the airport before going through security and heading off to Toulon.

We get off the plane and we are absolutely in awe of how gorgeous it is. The mountains, the red-roofed houses, the green of the trees, the blue of the sky... all things I have been missing in my life since coming to London. The airport was about the size of an average family dining room, so we had to wait a little while before a bus to take us to Toulon. Thankfully, a wonderful young lady helped us figure out our buses, and we made it to the town safely. We found our hotel, which was absolutely darling, and set our stuff down.

Right by our hotel was Place de la Libertie, a square area with a fountain which served as a useful landmark for us to find our hotel. We walked around the town for a while, grabbing some delicious pasta for lunch and walking down to the port by the sea (the Mediterranean is so beautiful). Around 5:00, we decided we wanted to take a short nap. We had both only gotten a half hour of sleep the night before, and we were exhausted.

When we woke up from our nap, it was dark out, and I knew we slept longer than we intended. I woke up hungry, wondering if maybe there was anywhere that would be open for dinner. Ali asked what time it was, and I looked at the clock, expecting to see 9:00 P.M. but definitely no later than 11:00 P.M. It was 5:00 A.M. We had slept for 12 hours straight. We couldn't stop laughing. We set the alarm for 8:00 A.M. for breakfast (which was really 9:00, my mistake, because my phone was still on London time), but we slept past that and got up at 10:00. Well, that's fine, because breakfast was still being served for an hour. We go down to breakfast, and they say it's closed... ohhh, right. London time. It was really 11:00. We slept for 18 hours. We went to sleep at 5 in the evening, and overslept breakfast. What. the. hell. Thankfully, they let us eat anyway, and then we went back up to shower and get ready for the real day, nicely refreshed.

What was nice and different about this trip is that there was no pressure. It was so relaxing, because it is such a small town and there's no obligation to do and see a million things. You can literally walk across the town in about 20 minutes. There were things to do, but it wasn't a touristy destination where you had to make sure you saw A, B, and C before you left. I believe all we did that day was go to the port, buy a book, relax in the sunlight, read, and eat.

And almost get killed.

Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration, but probably not. We went to the fountain by our hotel to innocently read our books and eat an apple, and then we decided to walk down to the port to continue reading. When we're at the crosswalk, this young guy comes up to us and tries to talk to us. Obviously, he's speaking French. We try to tell him we don't understand, but he isn't leaving. He gets that we speak English, and says he doesn't know English. We say we don't know French. This is where the conversation would logically end. Between Ali and my experience with French, we were able to understand bits and pieces of what he was saying, but we couldn't respond. He said we were pretty, and I knew that was when things got sketchy. He was trying to call his friend over to come walk with us, but we really just wanted to go, so we started walking but he followed. He kept trying to make conversation with us, despite us saying over and over, "Je ne comprends pas," ("I do not understand"). I start charading to him that we were going to the port to read, a cue to not come, but he came anyway. We were literally sitting by the water, reading to ourselves and talking only to each other, completely ignoring him, and he just sat there with us. We were getting really creeped out. It didn't help that he was texting the whole time... I know he was probably just bored, since we weren't talking to him, but who knows? I've seen the movie Taken. He could have been texting a friend that they could come grab us. We get up and shake his hand and say goodbye, and he tries to start coming with us, and we say "No, goodbye," and finally get away.

Now, call me paranoid, but I don't trust anyone and my opinion is that if I am going to be sold into sex slavery or be kidnapped and missing for 8 years, I want to be able to say, "I did absolutely everything right, I did not make any stupid mistakes and I covered all my bases, but this happened anyway." So we walked swiftly away, making several turns away to try to lose him on our trail. We ducked into a couple stores along the way and stayed in the back for several minutes before walking back in our roundabout way. Since he originally met us right by the square by our hotel, we didn't want to go straight there where he could see us and know where we are staying. More than likely, he was harmless... but I really don't want to be sold into sex slavery. We're smart girls though. We didn't tell him where we were staying (he asked but we pretended to not understand the question), our names, or even where we were from (we lied and just said London). Still, we went back and Google translated some key phrases for the future, like "I am being followed," and "I would like to be left alone, please go away."

Then, we went out to a really fancy (and expensive) restaurant in the square by our hotel. We couldn't understand the menu, but luckily the waiter spoke English so he helped us a bit. I got ravioli filled with sausage, in a sausage cream sauce. It was really very good. Dessert, however, was... interesting.  We see underneath the Fromage section, "Fromage blanc... avec framboises." Forget what's in the middle, we see "white cheese" and "with raspberries." Awesome! A cheese platter! We were really craving one. It comes out though as a big bowl of plain Greek yogurt. Um, what? We start saying to the waiter that we expected different, we expected raspberries and---

"Say no more, I completely understand," he says, and takes the yogurt away. No, sir! Come back! You don't understand! We didn't even get to explain that we thought it was a cheese plate!

He comes back with the same bowls of yogurt with some raspberry sauce on top. We put on our fake smiles, thank him, and reluctantly dig into the yogurt. It was so difficult to get through. We literally resorted to chewing up sugar cubes to spit in it to make it sweeter (which is disgusting, and ineffective). Well, that was a bust, but the dinner itself was delicious.

The next morning, we went to the farmer's market and bought strawberries, raspberries, and cheese (since we were craving it from the dessert mishap the night before). We had a little picnic by the port, and it was so nice with the sun beating on us that I was able to lie out in my tank top for about 20 minutes in the warmth. Jessica arrived that day, so we walked around a bit with her, showing her the town and getting our dinner at McDonald's (to be fair, food in France is SO expensive, and we're poor). There is virtually no nightlife in Toulon, but that's okay because we filled our nights with YouTube videos of childhood cartoons, online games of Family Feud, and bonding time.

We wanted to go to the beach the next day, but we slept past our alarm again, so we spent the day around town. We went to a photography museum, which was an impressive two rooms, and an art museum, which was an impressive one statue. We pretty much just filled our days here eating and walking around the port. We finally made it to the beach the next day. We woke up early and went to the farmer's market to buy two baguettes, two bricks of cheese, two cases of strawberries, and three bags of olives soaked in herbs. We took it to the beach, and it was the most delicious lunch ever. If I could eat that lunch for the rest of my life, I'd be happy. We went to a cafe there and talked for literally about 3 hours.

What I absolutely love about my JACKA girls is the talks we have. We have such intellectual, deep talks about absolutely everything, and it's always such a learning experience because we all always have different views on everything. We all get along so well because we are all intelligent young women, but in almost every aspect we are all on different levels. With every talk we had this weekend, it was Jessica and I on opposite ends of the spectrum, with Ali comfortably in the middle of us. I really miss being at Montclair solely for these talks. Freshman year, we'd be hanging out in 707 having these talks every night. Ah, nostalgia.

When we came back, we went to a cafe for ice cream and got the best sundaes ever. We sat there and talked for so long that we got hungry again, so I ordered a goat cheese and lavender honey crepe (which sounds weird, but it was amazing). We literally sat in this cafe for 5 hours... it was a pretty common theme that day. It was so nice to be able to talk like that again though, about real things. It was also nice to spend time with people from home.

The next morning, we bid our farewells, and headed back to Londontown. Overall, I'd say this was my favorite trip so far. It was the most relaxing, and felt like a legitimate vacation rather than a sightseeing fully-packed excursion. I loved spending time with Ali and Jessica, and I loved the area. I wouldn't want to live in Toulon specifically, but I think Southern France is so beautiful and I wouldn't mind living there one day at all. It was nice to get out of a built up city for a few days. The language was a bit more difficult than in Paris, because literally nobody knew English so nobody could help me out at all. We got by well enough though. It was a beautiful change of scenery overall, with amazing girls, but it was still nice to come back to a home base... even if it's only for a few days.

Conclusion? You know what it is. Toulon: Conquered.

Next up: Amsterdam this weekend.

Trying to navigate the French maps to Toulon.

The lovely bed that we slept in for 18 hours straight.

 The market street, with the mountains in the background.

It was such a pretty town.

Looking out over the port.

Our picnic lunch at the beach.

Looking out over the Mediterranean at the beach.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I've been a terrible blogger. To make it up to you all, I will be doing two posts tonight, one about my trip to Paris and one about Toulon. I hope you're really bored tonight or looking for a distraction, because this may take a while.

Let's talk Paris.

Ellen, Izabela, Kentucky, Mike, Brendan and I set off at 4:15 A.M. to catch our buses to our coach to the airport. They all had a ticket for 5:20, while mine was for 5:40, because I am apparently the only efficient one of the group and I ordered my ticket as soon as we decided to leave at 5:40, and it sold out before they did. It worked out fine though, because even though the bus driver wouldn't let me on their bus, a knight in shining armor showed up. Really, he was just a very nice bus driver of a different bus who saw me, asked if I tried to get on that bus, and demanded that bus driver let me on so I wouldn't be waiting outside alone til the next bus came. See, nice people do exist in London!

We get to the airport, go through security, and we're off. Once in the Paris airport, our skills were put to the test: can we figure out how to get to our hostel by navigating the Paris metro lines? Well, yes, we did... but thank goodness we weren't on a time limit, because it took a little while. We got there fine though, to our LOVELY hostel in the middle of the red light district by the Moulon Rouge, crowded with catcalling refugees. The hostel itself was decent enough: I have never stayed in a hostel before, so I had nothing to compare it to, but it seemed a little sketchy to me. Maybe that's just how hostels are. Either way, I slept with my suitcase on my bed next to me just in case.

We were a short walk away from Montmartre, the hill leading up to Basilica of the Sacre Coeur. Mike and Brendan were stopped on the way up by refugees who grabbed them, pulled them back, and forcefully tied friendship bracelets on their wrists and wanted money for it. This began Mike's battle with all the "eccentric" of the French: the refugees, and more importantly, the gypsies.

We ate lunch, where I finally got to try a Croque Monsieur, which I have wanted to do since first hearing about them from my French textbook in 8th grade. A Croque Monsieur is literally translated to "Mr. Crunchy," and it is an open-faced ham and cheese toasted sandwich. I upgraded to a Croque Madame though, which has a fried egg on top. Delicious, and well worth the six year wait.

I was our main source of communication in French on the trip, which anybody reading this who took French with me can get a good laugh about. It's honestly so surprising how much of the language comes back to you though. Sure, I can't hold a thoughtful conversation with anybody, but I was able to get us by with ordering in restaurants and whatnot. Everybody was really nice and helpful about it too (except one girl, but forget about her), unlike the stereotype of Parisians being really rude about the language barrier. As long as you make an honest effort to speak the language, they don't mind filling in some words and helping. They just don't like the tourists who come to their country and want them to drop their language and culture to accommodate you, which I can totally agree with and understand. 

Our next stop was, of course, the Eiffel Tower. It was so much bigger than I had imagined, so it was pretty magnificent in that regard. However, it looks pretty dull in the daytime. Nighttime though? My goodness. A funny moment was when Mike's parents called, and he's like, "Yeah, I'm in Paris, I'm underneath the Eiffel Tower right now." How many times will you ever get to answer a phone call like that? We walked along the green in front of the tower and sat on a bench to watch some dogs play for a while. Then, if I remember correctly, we went back to the hostel for a nap before dinner.

Dinner was absolutely delicious. I got a steak, and a creme brulee for dessert (because I couldn't leave Paris without getting creme brulee). Then, an older man comes over holding roses to sell and hands me one. I say "No, merci," because I didn't want to buy one. He keeps holding it out for me, and now I'm starting to get annoyed, until he tells me someone bought it for me. I turn around, and the chef in the kitchen winks at me. I turned around real quick. I thank the man, and everyone proceeds to pick on me. "It's always wasted on the taken girls!" The waiter came over, and in his broken English tells me, "My friend says... he loves you?" Ah, he does, huh? He knows so much about me, I'm sure. When we were leaving, he says to me, "See you soon!" ...excuse me, sir?! HOW ARE YOU GOING TO FIND ME?!

We walked around Paris that night, along the Seine River, seeing the Louvre and Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower in the background. Paris is absolutely gorgeous at night, and completely empty. It was definitely my favorite part of the trip, walking around that night.

Paris, to be honest, is not a very nice city in the daytime. It's very dirty, and the people are pretty sketchy looking. It was not a beautiful city in the daylight. Also, if you've seen one city, you've seen them all. There were a couple street corners that if you took a snapshot of them and said it was London, nobody would argue. It's all the same. At night though, when the Eiffel tower literally sparkles and you're walking along the river, it's a whole different city.

The next day, we wanted to do outdoor activities because it was looking like a really nice day. We went to the Eiffel Tower again, because Ellen, Izabela, Mike, and Brendan wanted to go to the top. I wanted to save this for when I go with Steve, and Kentucky didn't want to spend the money, so we were going to wait outside for them somewhere. We stood in line, and then realized that the sign said the top was closed, so they just said they'd do it the next day. We stopped at the ATM there, and that is where we were first attacked by the gypsies.

"Speak English," an almost sweet but way too eerie and soul-sucking voice says behind me.

I turn around and it's an old woman gypsy holding an index card written in English, probably with some sob story to make me give her money. I wasn't buying it. Clever gypsies, hanging out around the ATM at the Eiffel Tower, where tourists who clearly have money on them are. You'll never get me though, I don't buy into those tricks. I was able to shake off people asking for my money in Morocco, damn it, and I will not be defeated by a gypsy.

Mike, however, was not as confident in his gypsy fighting abilities as I was. I don't know where his intense fear of gypsies came from, but I had to go back to the ATM with him so I could shake them off for him.

"Speak English."

Mike's face turns to panic. "No, merci," I say forcefully to the gypsy. She isn't budging.

"Speak English."

She's getting closer. "No!" Every time she started to talk, I said "No!" Mike is wide-eyed and hyperventilating slightly as the gypsy is an inch away from him and his money. Eventually, she left, and we were safe.

After the Eiffel Tower failure, we went to the Arc de Triomphe. This was also much bigger in person than I imagine it being, and much more intricate. The detailing on the Arc is absolutely amazing. It's on the Champs Elysees, so we walked down that next to the Ferris wheel, stopping for lunch and window shopping along the way. The Ferris wheel is the biggest in France, and while it isn't as big or as pretty as the London Eye, it had a great view of Paris.

After that, we walked to the Louvre and waited in line, only to find out that it was only going to be open for another half hour. Another Paris failure. We then went to Notre Dame, and walked through the cathedral. Although I can't appreciate cathedrals on a religious standpoint, I love seeing the architecture and the stained glass. I find them to be absolutely beautiful buildings, and Notre Dame epitomizes Gothic style cathedrals.

We had the best dinner though at a truly authentic Parisian restaurant where they literally spoke no English. This adorable old lady waited on us, and she cooked our food too! I got the biggest omelette I have ever seen in my life, filled with ham, cheese, tomato sauce, and potatoes. It was all delicious, and it was such a cute place.

We closed out our night on a cruise of the Seine River. It was gorgeous to see all of Paris at night along the river, despite sharing a boat with an 8th grade class trip. I can't emphasize how gorgeous the Eiffel Tower is when it sparkles every hour.

The next day, we tried to go to the Louvre but apparently it is closed on Tuesdays. While this just meant they would have to go Wednesday, this was my last day because I was going back a day early to make it out to Toulon the next day. It's okay though, because I know my parents will want to go to the Louvre when we go to Paris in April. Mike, Brendan, Ellen, and Izabela wanted to try the Eiffel Tower again, so they went to do that and Kentucky and I went to the Musee D'Orsay. I love museums, so I was absolutely eating it up, especially since they had a whole room on Van Gogh and a ton of Monet paintings. I have a new favorite painting now too... I don't think anything will be above "Starry Night" for me, but now Winslow Homer's "Nuit D'ete" (Summer Night) is a close second.

After the museum, Kentucky and I went to the Luxembourg Gardens, which were so pretty even in the winter. I can only imagine how nice it will be there in the Spring. We watch some old men play bocce ball, and just sat and talked for a while. We got some food in the gardens, and then headed back for the hostel so I could gather my stuff to go. Remember the girl who was too afraid to leave her flat in London for fear of getting lost? Yeah, she was able to navigate the Paris metro to the train station, take a train to the airport, get through the Parisian airport to board her plane to London, get through London Luton to catch her bus to Victoria, get to the Victoria underground stop, and take the tube back home all by herself. Yeah, that's right. So, I'm not afraid to get lost anymore, right? Absolutely not. I'm still terrified. But, little accomplishments.

I sat next to this young man named Chris on the plane, who was one of the first people from England to truly be nice to me (besides that fabulous bus driver). He said he loved Americans actually, and he had nothing but high opinions of them. That was a refreshing change. I talked to him about London for a while, and how much it depresses me that nobody smiles and everyone is just so gray and miserable like the weather. He told me that London needs more people like me to walk around and smile, so never stop smiling. That was maybe one of the best moments of my time abroad.

So what is my overall view of Paris? Well, to be honest, I didn't like it. Maybe it was the fact that I was sick, maybe it was the fact that I had to wear my glasses the whole time because my travel contact solution disintegrated the protective layer on my contacts, or maybe it's that it was so cold there. I feel like the reason is just that I really don't like cities, and Paris is a dirty one at that. I never realized it until I came here and had to live in a city that I really just don't like them. I had only ever done day trips to New York, and had no problem with it, but I never had to live there. I miss nature. I like having a yard, and gardens, and seeing trees and plants naturally occurring instead of being planted in a park. I didn't feel comfortable walking around Paris at some points, like entering and leaving the hostel where we literally had a boy/girl arm-linking buddy system so we wouldn't get harassed (thanks, Mike!). Overall, I just thought that besides the obvious landmarks, it looked like a dirtier version of London, and it only became beautiful at night.

And the fashion? What fashion? Honestly, for a fashion capital, I was so unimpressed. This is Paris we're talking about, and I did not see one, not ONE person who's fashion sense impressed me. At all. London is much more fashionable. Everybody in London seems to have their own style: everybody dresses differently, but it all works and it's all interesting. Everybody in Paris was dressed so dull. Not even "basic," just dull.

So, in conclusion, my middle school obsession with Paris was a bust. I should have gone when I was 12, it would have been so much more magical. Still, either way, Paris: Conquered. 


Notre Dame at night.

In front of the Louvre at night, holding the rose the chef bought me. Le sigh.

Kentucky, me, Izabela, Ellen, Brendan, and Mike in front of the Arc de Triomphe.

Izabela, me, Kentucky, Mike, and Brendan (sorry Ellen!) in front of the Ferris wheel.

The Eiffel Tower sparkling at night. My goodness.