Tuesday, December 20, 2011

London, a final reflection

I'm back in America.

I was afraid that my life would now pale in comparison to the past few months, and I am slowly finding that to be true. But I've learned a lot over the course of the past semester, and would like to recall some of that here.

Firstly, traveling.

The world is crazy. awesome. huge. There are so many places to explore. Every city has something new to bring to the table, something new to discover. It is difficult for me to choose a "favorite" city I traveled to, but there are select things I will always remember about each place I traveled to.

Berlin - There is so much history and cool buildings around every corner. Also, they don't accept Deutsche Mark currency there even if the ATM mistakingly gives some to you. The Berlin Zoo also houses the scariest tiger I have ever seen. But Berlin was a welcome surprise, I went in not really knowing much about it, and left with a real appreciation for the city.

Oslo - Don't go camping with only tents and no sleeping bags/relevant gear and expect to sleep that night, however, Oslo was one of the most fun/craziest adventures of my life. Oslo is also the most expensive place I visited by far, no idea how people actually live there. The fresh air was definitely a welcome change and I would love to go back to Norway someday to hike among the giant fjords!

Rome - I loved Rome, and Italy in general. I definitely hope to return there to explore some of the smaller cities one day. Rome is big, rustic, raw. The amount of ruins and history in Rome is unreal. Our apartment in Rome was also super fun. I had gelato 5 times in 3 days and also learned that my body literally rejects absinthe. It is death.

Paris - This was the second time I went to Paris, and I loved it just as much. I love crepes and speaking French and the Eiffel Tower makes me go weak at the knees. Only in France can you buy 1 euro bottles of champagne and pop it while the Eiffel Tower is sparkling at night. Paris is also the first time I have stayed in a one star (yes - ONE star) hotel. Probably will try to avoid that experience next time...

Amsterdam - Amsterdam is a crazy place, certainly the most liberal, progressive place I visited. Although I'm not so fond of all the drug paraphernalia and the Red Light District, Amsterdam is actually really quite scenic. The water is extremely pretty, and fresh stroopwaffel is one of the greatest foods on the planet. The trolley system is also quite nice there.

Barcelona - Although the rainy weather dampened the overall weekend, literally and figuratively, I still loved Spain. Barcelona is a perfect mix of sand and city. We played in the ocean and went to some of the best bars/clubs out there. I now can tell the difference between good sangria and bad sangria. Our hostel in Barcelona was also top notch.

Prague - Prague is a most compact city, which makes it easy to walk around. The public transportation there is great, with both trolleys and an underground system. I stumbled upon some absolutely fabulous hot chocolate in Prague. It is also crazy cheap there, with a really fun night life. Also the only city where people can smoke indoors... crazy.

Edinburgh - Edinburgh was adorable. I don't know whether it was the Harry Potter atmosphere or because Zack and I splurged on a fairly classy weekend, but it was a great little city. Taking the train was fun and convenient, and Scottish people are very friendly.

General tidbits about Europe:
-Bathrooms are luxuries. Finding free bathrooms in Europe is extremely difficult and time consuming.
-Sparkling water is no good, and they love to give you sparkling water as opposed to regular water. In some places, water actually costs more than alcohol! (i.e.: 1 euro bottles of champagne in Paris)
-Most people throughout Europe were very welcoming and accepting of Americans. I didn't really ever sense any cultural discrimination.
-Public transportation is great in Europe.
-Some places are cheap and some are super expensive, it totally depends on the place.
-Markets are always fun no matter where you are.
-Any chance you get to walk up something and get a view of a city, do it.
-RyanAir and Easy Jet are a little ghetto, but definitely worth the cheap flights.
-Cabs are so great even though they cost more.
-Traveling in groups is fun, and it's nice to mix up the groups you're with. Sometimes it makes it a little trickier to travel when you're with a ton of people, too.

Even though I traveled all over, my favorite city is certainly (drum roll) ... London. London is my favorite city in the world. Yeah, it's expensive and busy and a little bit more rough around the edges, one could say. But London has so much to offer, to anyone. I can go a museum, see a play, hit a jazz bar and then go clubbing all in the same day. It is so bustling and multicultural and diverse and interesting. I loved being busy all the time in London because I feel like I really made the most of my study abroad experience. It is certainly difficult to do homework in London, which I figured out immediately. I will definitely have more motivation to go to the library once I am back in South Bend.

I love British accents, pub culture, the easy ability to travel, the tube, the mild weather, nutella, cafes, walking across the Thames and seeing a beautiful view everyday, the history, the markets, the pubs, the Notre Dame London Program, London theatre, English tea, London during Christmas time, cider (Strongbow and Bulmer's, I will miss you so much), English fashion, how cute the English one pound coin is, looking out my bedroom window and seeing the London Eye, the Globe theatre, The Mulberry Bush, Las Iguanas, Piccadilly Institute, O'Neill's, shopping at Topshop and Zara, fish and chips, the ability to walk anywhere at anytime, working at NBC, family dinners, and probably many other things about London that I am forgetting.

I am coming back from studying abroad with many things. I have a much better sense of direction and ability to navigate through cities. I'm better at asking for help. I somehow now magically have an interest in cooking, and I like almost every food I try, it's a miracle! Most of all, I am coming back with some of the best times with the best people. I went in with a lot of friends, but I also made so many new ones! London gave me a chance to break out of my usual friendship circles and meet people I never would have met otherwise. I miss it already, but I know I will be back someday, hopefully soon. I also can't wait to go back to Notre Dame's campus. I miss that a lot, too. As for now, I will continue to enjoy all things American.

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