Friday, October 21, 2016

Dancing in the [London] Rain

>>> Hello London <<<

“Bloody idiot” spoken enthusiastically in a British accent almost made me laugh audibly, but I kept it together.

“Bloody idiot” is probably also what I am for fitting in as much travel as I have over the past couple weeks, especially since I’m taking off in an hour for fall break Oct. 21st – Nov. 2nd.

It’s worth it, though; I’m still loving every minute.

View of Big Ben walking out of the underground

I went to London with my friend Troy. He and I had an amazing time exploring the major sights of London, and hiding from the rain in museums, markets, and a number of restaurants and cafes. We arrived very late on Thursday night, and departed very early on Monday morning. Travel times aren’t ideal, but, when you’re playing games with cheap flights, you have to take what you can get.

I'm desperate to post this blog about London before I start my long trip, so bear with me as I post another butchered blog post with only an outline of my travel and very little style. 

On Friday, Troy and I started the day buying transportation passes, "oyster cards" as London calls them, and we ate the most delicious almond croissants from an independent seller on the way to the Swiss Cottage underground station. It was the closest thing I've tasted to a doughnut since I've been in Europe, and it would be an amazing additional to Bill's Donut's menu. We stepped out of the Westminster Underground station, and the first thing I saw was the bottom half of Big Ben. As I actually got to the street, I was amazed by how tall Big Ben really is, as we were so close I was craning my neck to see the top. Throughout the day on Friday we saw sights around Whitehall and Trafalgar Square. We also spend a lot of time looking through the National Gallery. At a friend's recommendation (thank you Ana), we stopped at Jamie Oliver's Italian for lunch, and I had the most amazing chicken club and a strawberry sorbet dessert as part of a fairly inexpensive two-course lunch. Would recommend. We continued the day walking to Green Park to Mayfair and Burlington Arcade. We walked down Bond Street which was full of high class shopping, and enjoyed window shopping our way to Oxford Street. Eventually we got to Grosvenor Square and saw the American Embassy, passed through Marble Arch, and went to Hyde Park. We spent time there to look through the gardens although it was getting pretty dark by that time. Chinatown was our dinner destination, and after we enjoyed watching street performers around SoHo and took the tube at Leicester Square. We headed back to the hostel to get comfortable since we had come in so late the night before, and we spent some time planning the rest of our trip before we called it a night. (Destinations enjoyed but not listed above include London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Houses of Parliament, Horse Guards Parade, and the area of Piccadilly Circus)
Palmer's Lodge hostel in Swiss Cottage was really cozy and nice!
inside our hostel

Saturday was spent in the city center of London. This included visiting St. Paul's Cathedral, The Tate Modern, and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in the morning. The Tate Modern was absolutely amazing... Modern art is crazy and complex, but I could've spent hours wandering through and seeing all of the amazing pieces. The commentary these artists can make with their various mediums of expression are just breathtaking.  After this we went to Borough Market for lunch! I ate an amazing pork sandwich from a stand run by Portuguese men. It was fun because I could greet them and say thank you in Portuguese, and one of the men happened to be from the same town as Francisca. The world is small, but Europe seems super small in pretty much all of my interactions so far. We  ate on the London Bridge because there weren't tables in Borough Market, and I laughed as I looked at the city and ate a humongous sandwich because they definitely gave me extra food since I spoke in Portuguese to them. Saturday continued sightseeing at the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, the Shard, and City Hall. It started raining pouring, so we found a Pret a Manger to hide in and grab a coffee hoping the rain would slow down. Naturally it persisted, so we crossed London Bridge to go to a pub across the way to kill time and dry off before dinner. It was nice because the heated lamps convinced us we weren't freezing even though I was definitely feeling like a wet dog. Once the rain slowed down, we went to an Indian restaurant that Troy found for dinner. A funny thing about my trip to London is that I ate food from a number of cultures, and had fish & chips once, also. Troy is big on eating well when he travels, so by the end of the weekend we had meals that were natively Chinese, Portuguese, Indian, and English. I'm not sure what my Sunday lunch was from, but we can assume I'm missing at least one nationality on that list. Anyway, as we finished our dinner the man beside us caught us into a conversation. This Mr. James (actually his name) was such a nice guy! He grew up in Notting Hill and knew London quite well, and he was happy to make recommendations for fish & chips on Sunday. We stayed at the restaurant probably an extra thirty minutes talking to Mr. James after we had paid for our dinner, and he gave us his email so we could contact him for recommendations for ourselves or friends traveling to London, Dublin, or Venice anytime in the future. Very cool. We planned to check out some of the night life on Saturday night, but we were soaking wet and tired, so we decided to sneak back to the hostel early again. To be honest I don't regret this decision at all. This particular hostel had super comfortable beds, too. 
Those almond croissants ^ are perfection.

Optimism alone got us through these rainy days.
Sunday we knew we needed to complete our London Bucket List, so we really wandered all over town to see as much as we could in our last day. We started our day in Camden Market, and we could've spent the whole day there, really. The shops were endless, and they were full of cheap and exciting finds. I even found a super ridiculous 80's windbreaker sporting good old Michigan. For 30 pounds, about 40 USD, I resisted that impulse buy. For lunch I had an amazing salad with duck and a cranberry dressing... I typically don't eat duck in America, but oh my gosh this was an amazing meal. It was cheap too! Double win. After Camden, we took one of the double decker red buses to the city. Wespent a few hours in the British Museum, and it was so impressive. The Rosetta Stone and huge pieces extracted from the Parthenon are just two of the amazing artifacts we saw. Then we ventured over to Kensington and saw the Kensington Palace, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and walked through Harrods so Troy could get one of the "Top 5 Carrot Cakes in London". We accidentally waltzed into Notting Hill, and then we got back to the hostel to pack because we had to leave at 3:45am on Monday morning. 

The trip home seemed to take forever. Troy and I had an amazing time, and he's amazing company, but I was extremely ready to be home. This weekend was the first time I could really say I missed anywhere since I've been in Europe... And it was Strasbourg I was missing. I missed Francisca and the rest of my friends here, and I really felt for the first time like I had been spending too long away from my home here. (I laugh as I type this because in 20 minutes I'm leaving for 12 days, but I'll be taking more than 12 of my friends with me this time... hopefully there won't be much to miss.)

Enjoy the pictures and excuse the typos!

Love, Jules
"Wander with wonder and the whole world becomes home." - Tyler Knott Gregson

Entertaining sidenote: Packing for a 12 day trip when you came to a city with two suitcases is hilarious because your apartment looks straight up barren. 


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Ljubljana (Lyoo-BLYAH-nah), Slovenia

>>> Hello Slovenia <<<

Ljubljana is the red flag in Slovenia, and you can see Strasbourg near a northeastern point of France. 

Note to readers: I'm playing catch up with this blog post because I needed the get the pictures from a friend's camera. The weekend trip to Slovenia was October 6-9th, and I'm in the middle of writing the post for London this past weekend. (Scholarship applications and school work have been stealing just a bit of my attention, also.) 

Four friends and I made the LONGGG trip to Ljubljana, Slovenia for a long weekend. I’m running low on time, but I want to get this post up before I head out of town tomorrow… Bear with me as you read the fragmented skeleton of what should’ve been a really nice blog post, and I hope you enjoy the sensory overload with all of the pictures... 10 points if you're not my parents and you make it to the bottom of this post.J
The lady who was taking the picture suggested a 'weird pic. This is in downtown Ljubljana.
 We left for Ljubljana on Thursday at 9:30p.m., and we arrived back in Strasbourg Monday at 11:00a.m. The bus rides were around 12 hours there and 14 hours home (due to 3 extremely thorough border patrol stops in Austria, Germany, and France). I would’ve liked to sleep better than I did on the overnight buses, but neither trip was too miserable.

Eventually I’m going to have to stop saying this, but this was the most exciting weekend for me since I arrived in Europe on August 28th. Ljubljana was such a pleasant city, and our day trips were full of remarkable sights. It hurts my heart to think I may never return to see this lovely country again.

A view of Ljubljana from the castle. 
Another huge thank you to Natalia for all of these amazing photos we were able to take on her camera during our trip.

The weekend went like this:


We left Strasbourg in the evening.
We could barely contain our excitement as we started our adventure.
After a layover in Karlsruhe, Germany, we settled in for the overnight trip to Ljubljana.
I woke up to admire this portion of the Alps,
and then I fell back asleep like this for the last hour of the ride.


I woke up early in the morning to the Slovenian border and my first ever views of the Alps.
We arrived in Ljubljana and made our way to our hostel.
We wandered aimlessly around the city, drank coffee, and ate delectable Slovenian cuisine.
(There’s a market with the best restaurants from all around coming together on Fridays!)
The castle was calling our names, so we ventured to the top that overlooked all of Ljubljana.
At the castle we stumbled upon a group of Portuguese speakers… it’s a very small world.
Trivoli Park and Pivnica Union Pub made the first day lineup, also.
Slovenian food snatched my approval quite easily, and we were lucky to have the name of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant from another exchange student at EM who’s from Ljubljana.

We get kind of excited about Brazilian flags :)  
There are a surprising number of dinosaur statues around Ljubljana.


10am bus to Lake Bled. Quite naturally, we met three new Portuguese friends on the bus.
After venturing up to the castle, we went to a cute restaurant on the lake for lunch.
I enjoyed the soup, and snagged a bite of Lake Bled’s famous Cream Cake from my friends.

Naturally, we found three Portuguese who study in Triste, Italy on the bus from Ljubljana to Lake Bled, and we spent the morning with them! I missed my Portuguese girls from Stras this weekend, but it was fun to meet a few more. :) 

Lake Bled Castle

Friends enjoyed this famous Lake Bled Cream Cake!

From there, we made the 4km walk to Vingtar Gorge.
The small residential areas and countrysides we walked through were so nice.
Once we reached the gorge, the super clear, bright blue water took us aback.
This stood out to me as significantly clearer than Lake Superior, which seems unreal to me.
We could see trout fighting the current, and it was just so undisturbed and peaceful.
Walking back, we enjoyed a slightly different route with equally awesome views.


Once back in Ljubljana, we went to a touristy restaurant because our hostel had coupons.
I ate a great vegetarian casserole, and we all enjoyed an overly exaggerated Slovenian meal.


10am bus to Divača, Slovenia.
4km walk to Škocjan Caves. (Laugh and pretend we didn’t walk on the side of a busy road.)

I can’t describe the caves in a way that will do them justice. UNESCO protects these caves for a really good reason. The stalactite, stalagmite, and columns of the Silent Cave system were absolutely amazing. Every 50 years, stalactite in this part of the cave grows 1 centimeter. Just thinking about that fact as I looked around at the complex system of what thousands of years had created all around me made me feel insignificant in a really cool way. 

Moving forward to the flowing water section of the cave, I was completely in awe. I’m sharing pictures so you have some type of reference, but please do not think these pictures capture the magnitude of the natural beauty these caves possess.
Photos aren't allowed inside the cave, but I found this professional photo online. This is the best picture I found to document the size of the cave. I wish it were realistic to tell all of my friends and family to go see it for themselves.
After Floris and I raced up the hill to the information center, we discovered that the last bus back to Divača had just left… We were trying to be responsible and pay for a bus back to Divača since we felt so unsafe walking over to the site of the caves, but we were given a walking map that led us back to Divača via a much safer route through the woods. It was a gorgeous walk, and we arrived back in Divača in just enough time to catch the last train to Ljubljana.
We were on the wrong trail here, but it was a beautiful wrong turn. 
This is the view from the location of the pictures above. Again, wow. Slovenia is so perfect. 
We got to Ljubljana with just enough time to grab some dinner and last minute souvenirs, get back to the hostel to pick up our luggage, and head to the bus station.


We got back to Strasbourg a couple hours later than expected, but otherwise it was a fine trip home.
Thank you to every single one of these friends for such a great trip. Love you all dearly!
It’s funny how after hugs, kisses, and goodbyes at the bus station the next thoughts were, “Oh yeah we need to get together today to book the hostel for Thursday-Sunday in London.” It's also funny how hugs and kisses so naturally accompany goodbyes here.

A post about London is coming soon! Then Friday my friends and I are taking off for our fall break trip around Eastern Europe!

Thanks for keeping up with my adventures.

Love, Jules
"Wander with wonder and the whole world becomes home." - Tyler Knott Gregson