London: The cheeriest city

Our final stop on the European Study Tour was London. This vibrant city was bustling and busy and very easy to get swept up in!

1. I loved the neighborhood that our hotel was nestled in. We came into town on a charter bus from Hades with no air conditioning and a very talkative bus driver. So we would have been eager to hop off regardless of where he stopped, but luckily he stopped on a quiet little street in Kinsington. To help create a mental image, just picture the street that Lindsay Lohan’s mom lived on in the newest Parent Trap movie. In fact the house they used for filmiing the movie was just a few blocks from our hotel! It was a very residential area and located by lots of good restaurants. One of which was Gourmet Burger Market, one of my new favorite places to eat in the world! The lobby of our hotel became a good gather location for our group as we planned our days and the super market down the street was the most convenient. I liked this hotel, as opposed to a hotel chain located downtown, because it really gave us the impression that we were seeing what it felt like to live in London. In the mornings when we made our way to the metro (called the tube) all of our neighbors were headed to work and taking their precious little British children to school. It was a very great location!

2. The talkative bus driver that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time did have a few good suggestions of sights to see. One of which was Hamley’s Toy Store, the biggest toy store in Europe. (So he claimed) A few of us girls went one afternoon and it was so neat! There were four floors dedicated to Barbies, Legos, stuffed animals, and so much more! It was a child’s dream come true. They even had barbies of Princess Kate and Prince William! What was most impressive was the collection of lifesized lego replicas of the royal family. I’m not sure how one goes about becoming a professional lego construction worker, but I want that job. It was just a fun stop on a schedule that was full of serious museums and things like the Tower of London. It made me want to be eight years old so I could justify an excessive amount of spending on the Barbie floor!

3. The timing for our stop in London could not have been planned any better. We arrived three days before the Diamond Jubilee and got to enjoy all of the decorations, excitement, and set up for the festivities without enduring the influx of tourists who were coming for the week. The streets were lined with British flags and they stretched across major intersections. When we walked past Buckingham Palace we got to see the set up for the huge concert they were holding in the Queen’s honor. The timing was also keen because of the upcoming Olympics which are also being held in London. On our last day in London a group of us took the train out to Olympic Village and got to see where all of the excitement will be taking place! Having seen all of these locations in person made watching the news coverage of the Diamond Jubilee so much more meaningful and I can only imagine that the Olympics will be the same way! I cannot wait!






The olympic countdown clock in Trafalger square and decorations for the Queen’s Diamon jubilee.

4. The most long lasting impression that I think I left London with was a new found love for the Royal family. I didn’t have much interest in them before we went to the United Kingdom, but even from our arrival in Canterbury I began to become more and more intrigued. The royal family holds the attention of citizens all across Britain, they possess a class and elegance (and scandalous past) that is not replicated anywhere else in the world. We had several encounters with royalty while in London and this only served to solidify by new interest in these men and women. As we were taking a walking tour of London we passed by Buckingham Palace right as the guests were entering the gates for Kate’s first garden party! The ladies and little girls all wore lovely sundresses and fancy hats and the men were in the sharpest suits I have ever seen. As neat as this was to witness it couldn’t compete with what we saw later that afternoon. As we were walking to the National Gallery we turned the corner and saw a huge mass of people. Someone informed us that Charles and Camilla were about to arrive for a church service honoring miliary heros. We waiting anxiously and snapped pictures that even the most experience paparazzi couldn’t compete with. I’m not sure what was so special about those two. They were just people, and not even people with exceptional morals or character, and yet they were so captivating! I caught Royal Family fever when we were in London and am happy to say that I still have it!

Leeds Castle: Living the dream for an afternoon

Leeds castle was like walking into the life of a Grace Kelly movie. It was a stark contrast to the stature of Dover and the historical significance was much more light hearted but intriguing nonetheless!

1. The maze was our first stop as we explored the grounds. Lauren had given us a presentation on Leeds in class so we were all excited about conquering the maze. Needless to say, it was much more difficult than we had anticipated! We wandered around for what seemed like ages, somehow always ending up looking at the same dead end shrub. I began to wonder if this maze was really created as a recreational option or to punish guests at the castle that the owners didn’t particularly like. Then Annelise had a fantastic (and daring) idea. She climbed up on the shrubs that were taller than we were and peeked over to see the maze from a birds eye view. While this gave us some sense of where we were in relation to the exit, it still took a few trial and errors before we succeeded! The exit was located in the middle of the maze and you had to go underground into a grotto to really get out. This grotto was designed to resemble Dante’s inferno. That was when I became convinced that the maze really was intended for the less favored friends of the family. I began making a mental list of people I would love to recommend the maze to after we got home 🙂

2. The wildlife at Leeds was certainly one of a kind! We had the opportunity to hold owls while we were in Canterbury and I felt like Jeff Corwin as I held a Hedwig look alike, but nothing compared me for what we would see at Leeds! The pathway from the enterance was lined with ponds with baby ducklings paddling around under the weeping willows. It was so picturesque. But as cute as the little ducks were they couldn’t keep our attention long after we spotted the albino peacocks! These birds are one of the great sights at Leeds and unlike anything I had ever seen. They were simply the royalty of birds, so elegant and regal. If I could finagle a way to have these birds trotting around my wedding I would totally do it. Guess I’ll just have to marry a royal. As we walked to the castle we simply saw them from afar but on our walk back toward the exit they were interacting with one another and we got to see them in their full glory as they spread their wings and showed off. I couldn’t help but laugh. What was I doing here at a fairytale castle watching albino peacocks flaunt around a beautiful garden? That is one story I never thought I would experience. I’m so grateful I could go on this trip! It truely was one of thoes moments that I knew I would remember for a lifetime.

3. Hands down, my favorite room in the entire sprawling castle was the library. It was exactly how I want my library to look in my dream home one day. (one day far far away, I’ll enjoy the dorms for a couple more years!) The rest of the castle had a lot of older decor from King Henry’s day and the dark hunter green and tangerine colors were not my favorite. But the library was a timeless and classic beauty straight from the 1940s decorating style. It was warm and inviting with buttercup colored walls and the floor to ceiling windows complete with window seats were begging people to come curl up with a good book and waste away an afternoon. (It took every ounce of self restraint I could muster not to abandon the group and hide out on one of those window seats reading the countless books they had lining the shelves.)







4. The gardens at Leeds were stunning. One of my dad’s favorite things to do in life is garden, roses are his specialty. And while I’m a biased judge and don’t think that any other gardner can ever compete with him, the gardens at Leeds were a close second. They varied from huge trees in all sorts of shapes and growing in different directions close to the enterance to dainty flowers scattered around the moat leading to the castle. My favorite garden was one that we passed on our way to the maze, a little ways from the main castle. It was encompassed by a stone wall on one side and a simple wooden fence on the and then attention that had been spared the sturdier perimiter was definately invested in the plants. There were too many to even began to list and they were all different colors, sizes, and heights. It looked a little haphazard to some degree but it was organized so perfectly that you really didn’t notice. There were grass sidewalks inbetween the flower beds that gave it some sense of order in the chaotic festival of flowers. It was very beautiful but nothing compared to coming home and seeing all of the roses around our backyard that I know my parents have invested so much time and effort to.

Dover Castle, oh the history!

As I’m sure you have caught on by now I love history. And Dover Castle was overflowing with a rich legacy that kept us busy for the few hours that we had to explore this daunting old fort.

1. I loved the medical tunnel that we toured. It was decorated and filled with replicas from the time period. Walking through the dank corriders deep undeground it was easy to picture what it must have been like for soldiers during WWII. The tunnel also had sound effects and accurate smells to go along with our guided tour. The operation room smelled like an overwhelming amount of cleaning supplies. (Not the most pleasant, but neat!) We manuvered through a maze of dimly lit tunnels and saw cots, medical supplies, kitchen untensils, and even some of the soldiers personal belongings scattered around at every turn. Wounded soldiers from the coast of France were brought to this medical station across the English channel. It was very interesting because it was not nearly as equipped and high tech as I had imagined it would be. I can’t imagine having to save wounded soldiers and deal with the horrors of war while being tucked underground in very humble circumstances. That gave me even more respect for all of the surgeons, doctors, and nurses that worked in the medical tunnels. (unfortunately we werent allowed to take pictures in the tunnels so I don’t have any images to share about these!)

2. I was also fascinated with the tour we were given in the main tunnels which were seperate from the medical tunnels. Not everyone chose to go on this guided tour but it was well worth the chilly temperatures and 50 minute walk. This experience was very different than the first tunnel because it encompassed dorms, kitchen areas, and large meeting rooms where officers and secretaries would exchange communications with France and create game plans for their subsequent military actions. On this tour each room that you entered had a 5 minute video that was projected on the old stone walls that gave us all a lot of history and information on not only the tunnels but also on the war in its entirety. I loved this and was surprised how few times the USA was mentioned in the recollections. In many history classes in the US it is common to focus on the US’ involvement but these videos rarely mentioned our home across the sea. It was very interesting to hear details about Great Britain’s involvement and the attitudes of soldiers staying in the tunnels that I had never heard before.

3. I loved the proximity of Dover Castle to the English channel. It is right on the water and the view is so neat! Our guide told us that on sunny, cloudless days you could sometimes see the coast of France. I have never claimed to be a geography genius, but I had no idea that England and France were THAT close. When we arrived that morning the whole cliff side that the castle was nestled on was covered in fog and even though we were a little disappointed we couldn’t really see the ocean it was still beautiful! It looked just like how I imagined Ireland looking in the Gone with the Wind sequal, Scarlett. It was so pretty! But luckily later on in the morning the fog cleared and we could see the channel! (But we never could spot the French coast).

4. The architecture of Dover castle was exactly how one would picture a midevil castle from a fairy tale. It was perched high on a hill surrounded by green meadows complete with sheep grazing. How cliche but perfect. It had a very foreboding look and I can see how it was designed to intimidate and cause potential invaders to second guess their plans of conquest. We had to sprint due to time constraints, but were able to climb to the top of the highest tower and look over the complex and could see for quite a distance! These towers must have been perfect for keeping an eye on the surroundind countryside and who was coming and going in the area. I was thankful I had conquered by fear of heights at St. Peters or this might have been a very traumatic veiw!

Canterbury: A pretty little village

Our first stop in the U.K. was in Canterbury. It was the prettiest little town I have ever been in. Everyone was so friendly (a stark contrast to the social interactions of the French). We were only there on day but I could have stayed there for weeks. It was so relaxing and seemed so far away from any sort of hustle and bustle. Coming up with at least four good things for this pretty little town will be a piece of cake.

1. Our hotel was wonderful! The Falstaff had been there since 1403 and it had so much character. The lobby and main building were tudor style and had beautiful flowers growing on the sides of the building. It looked like how I had always imagined a cottage in an English countryside to look. Our room was in a converted coach house a short walk from the main building. We had become accustomed to slightly smaller quarters in Paris and were so excited to see that this huge room was practically a suite! We had room to spread out and explode and that we did! It took less than five minutes to unpack and soon our belongings were all over the room. We also loved getting to watch TV in English! (it’s the little things) Going to the UK at the end of the trip was very good for all of us because by that point we were all missing familiarity a little bit. We had a delicious and very filling dinner at the hotel that night (complete with a riveting game of telephone across the dining room) and the breakfast the next morning was an obscene amount of food. We were all a little sad to leave our quaint little abodes after just one night, but so excited to be heading to London!

2. One of the most special experiences that we had on the trip was attending church at Canterbury Cathedral on Sunday. We had the opportunity to tour the cathedral prior to church and learn about its riveting history. The martydom of Thomas Beckett made Canterbury Cathedral a point of pilgrimage for Christians near and far. The eerie tombs on the lower levels and breath taking stain glass on the main floor were a stark contrast but all of it culminated into one very unique atmosphere that wasn’t present at any of the other churches we had visited. During the evensong service we heard what was easily one of the most talented choirs I have ever witnessed. It included members ranging from childhood to late adulthood and they sang beautiful songs that gave us all chills. The memory that sticks with me the most from this service though is the sound of the organ prelude. It sounded like the musical score to the second coming. I know that everyone has different worship styles and preferences, but I particularly like the traditional worship services and this evensong service was beautiful. It portrayed God’s majesty and power through song and the architecture and decor of the church in a way that I had never seen done before in our quaint southern Baptist churches. It was a very humbling experience and I’m so grateful we had the opportunity to attend it.

3. That sunday afternoon we explored the village and the area around the cathedral some and stumbled upon an antique car show in the back garden of the cathedral. It was such a surprise and so much fun! It was the equivalent of elderly tailgating. All of these cute old couples came out with their lawn charis and picnics and croquet sets and showed off their very well kept antique cars. It was like being on the set of chitty chitty bang bang. They were all so precious and so friendly. It was a wonderful afternoon and a good reminder that all of the cities we were visiting were not simply tourist destinations. There are families and grandparents that live and work in all of the places we were witnessing. And they have fun little activities on Sunday afternoons just like we do at home. They were all so welcoming and it gave a very homey and human atmosphere to Canterbury that hadn’t necessarily been there for all of the other cities we had stopped at.

4. I think one of the things that stuck with me the most about Canterbury was simply how pretty everything was. The lawns were all so green and perfectly manicured. Flowers abounded over garden walls and cobblestone streets led from one precious shop to another. The cars and people were even pretty! It reminded me a little of the movie the Stepford wives as I found myself wondering, is this real life? How can any town be so perfect and lovely? I’m not sure what Canterbury’s secret is but it had the architecture of Hogwarts with the beauty of a child’s fairy tale. Canterbury also seemed like a very innocent town. Never did I have to avert eye contact with a seedy looking individual or keep my purse tucked under my arm to prevent a pick-pocket. I suppose it can be attributed to the fact that the town was built up around a Cathedral, so the center and and thriving lifeblood of the town is centered on religion and thus a lifestyle held to a higher standard. But that was one thing that stuck with me about Canterbury that I couldn’t exactly pinpoint. It was beautiful in its timeless innocence.

 5. My final favorite thing about Canterbury was that it was our first glimpse of British culture. I loved the UK so much and this town was the perfect introduction. The people have so much pride in their royal family and their heritage. The shops boasted tea sets made especially for the diamond jubilee, and “God save the Queen” memorabilia was everywhere. Everyone was buzzing about the Queen and the upcomming festivities and the excitement was very contagious! The Union Jack was flown from nearly every storefront and restaraunt and there was nevery any questioning the pride that the people had in their country. That is not always the case in the United States. It is more common at home to hear people tear down the government and chastise the efforts of politicians, and I am not naive enough to think that our elected officials shouldn’t be held responsible for their actions by any means. But maybe instead of our first instinct being to assume they are all self serving narcissists we should have faith in our system and be open minded to the ideas of others instead of always assuming that every Democrat is a socialist or every Republican hates minorities. That attitude was not evident in the UK and it made me wonder how much more progress we could make in the United States if we put a little more faith and pride in our government instead of viewing them as the bad guys.

Paris: The city of lights

Paris was such a fun city to be in. After being in Venice, Paris seemed so huge in comparison and it was definatly a more metropolitan feel. While in the city we saw many museums, statues, and beautiful pieces of art. It was hard to narrow it down to four or five things but here we go!

1. The eiffel tower was one of the first things we saw upon arriving in Paris and it was as incredible as we’d all imagined! I can see why some Parisians didnt like it when it was first constructed….it did stick out a little bit. But overall it was such an impressive sculpture that the lack of aesthetic appeal was easy to overlook. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait in the long long lines winding around the base of the tower because we had a reserved tour to go to the top. (a perk that we experienced many times throughout the trip!) We went up…up….up… and still farther up (by elevator, not stairs this time!) and the view was so gorgeous! It was so neat to see the city where we would be spending the next few days from such impressive heights. It was also neat beacuse when we go to each museum or building our focus is mainly on that particular item that we are seeing, but from such great heights it was easy to soak in Paris in its entirety. The city itself has such a rich history, from Revolutions, to the reign of Napoleon, to the occupation of the Nazis. As we looked out over all of the streets itnertwining and overlapping it was very humbling to realize how long Paris had been established and all that this city had seen over the centuries.







2. One of my favorite Disney movies growing up was the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I always felt so rebellious watching it because the old man in the stocks said “Dang it” once. And that type of language was NOT allowed in the Fowler house. Needless to say I was very excited to see it in person! It was so beautiful and the movie (which Annelise and I watched the very next night) was actually very accurate in its depiction. The setting right on the river was very neat and they had a beautiful rose garden in front that was in full bloom the day that we saw it. It was very different from the intimidating structure that was portrayed once or twice during the movie but I like to think that this is what it would look like after Claude Frollo fell to his demise and everyone, gypsy or not, lived happily ever after. We climbed to the top of the bell tower (where Quasimodo lived in the movie) and it was quite the climb! We came face to face with the Gargoyle’s and even practiced our own gargoyle faces. It was such a fun thing to see!! The lasting impression that I took away from Notre Dame was that Disney movies (with the exception of Pocahontas) are pretty accurate. And it also made me feel very grown up (which was kind of scary) that I was actually climbing all over the mysterious cathedral that had entertained me for many afternoons growing up.






3. Okay, so if you read the post about Padua you may remember me boasting about how we had the best leaders EVER. Well case and point, we all really wanted to see Versailles while we were in Paris but it wasn’t a stop on our itenerary. So our fearless leaders switched around our itenerary and planned a day at Versailles! It was so selfless and great of them to go out of their way and take the time to do that for us! Versaille was INCREDIBLE!!!! I am a bit of a history nerd (I’ll say it, no shame.) And I’ve read about Versaille and studied in class for years and getting to actually see it was a huge huge thing! It was so much more grand and elaborate that I had even imagined. We got the audio tours (I know i know, we were those nerdy tourists walking around with headphones in) and it was so worth it! I learned neat little tidbits and facts about Versaille that I had never heard in classes! I enjoyed imagining the hungry women storming Versaille and running through the hallways and ballrooms looking for Marie Antoinette. Many of the buildings and museums we saw gave us a glimpse of a past time but Versaille really uprooted us and placed us in the time period of the “Sun King.” Not only was the palace huge, golden, and stunning, but the grounds were also breath taking! There were lakes, countless gardens, and a hamlet where Marie Antoinette would sneak away and pretend to be a normal peasant girl. It was a whirlwind of a day to see it all and we didn’t get to explore the hamlet too much (or teach mom how to ride a bike) but everything we did see was just so so incredible. (I’m afraid im over using that word but its the first adjective that keeps popping into my head when I think about all that we saw.) It made me appreciate just how much wealth the royal family had at the time and the guady life style they boasted. It gave so much more meaning to all of the history lessons I have heard Dr. Auffenburg teach on the subject and it was such an enlightening experience.

4. I loved all of the food in Paris! I was very skeptical the first day as we sat down to a lunch of omlettes and french fries but after that first meal I was won over to French cuisine. The crepes are possibly the tastiest things ever created. Nutella crepes kept me going during our stay there (I’m going to be honest, I really only ate desserts while we were in Paris. So I can’t comment too much on the actual food.) Lauren also introduced us to Lauderee, an adorable pastry shop known for its macaroons. And the reputation was well earned! They had any flavor you can imagine, and even the rose petal flavored macaroons tasted like real rose petals. (or how I would assume they taste, I’ve never actually eaten any.) It was an adorable atmosphere and we all felt high society eating our dainty little macaroons. One night we also went to a Rick Steves recommended restaraunt on a side street by the river and Stephanie and Annelise and I spent a lovely evening getting to know the Canadian tourists next to us while eating a delicious meal! Food in Paris is so much more elaborate than it is in the U.S. Dinners last much longer and across table conversation adds to the atmosphere in cafes, bistros, and restaraunts. I didn’t see too many fast food places or witness people hurrying through meals to get on to the next big thing on their agendas. It was a very enjoyable change!

5. My last favorite stop we made in Paris was “Shakespeare and Company.” This is a little book store across the river from Notre Dame. It is tucked away in a little corner and is very easy to overlook if you aren’t searching for it. It is known as a haven for struggling artists as they are welcome to stay there overnight as they work on their masterpieces. I loooooved it. Typically my loyalties in book stores would lay with Barnes and Noble but Shakespeare and company took the cake. It is not a very big store but every inch of surface area is stacked high with books. There are old books, new books, famous books, obscure books, science books, history books, anything and everything that you might ever want to read is tucked away in some corner of this musty little shop. I bought the autobiography of the woman who founded the shop and learned that she was an American who wanted to provide American writers with an outlet to sell their books in Paris. She seemed to be a very spunky lady who was willing to sacrifice to see her dream of a Parisian book store come true. I just loved it so much.









Venice: My favorite city in the world

I don’t think there are enough good things I can say about Venice. It is beautiful. It is old. It isn’t crowded. There aren’t cars. It is unique. It is easily navigated. It holds a new adventure at every twist and turn of the windy cobblestone sidewalks. It is right on the water. I could go on and on and on. But as tough as it is, I am going to narrow it down to the five impressions that I found the most lasting.

1. My first good impression of venice was our hotel. We got off the vaperetto and manuvered our luggage through tiny alleyways and sidestreets. Buck and the diva bag, yikes. I was a little nervous at first as the alleys we were taking got narrower and narrower but then suddently we were in a cute little piazetta with a bakery and (thankfully) and H&M right beside our hotel. The building itself was very old and beautiful. The hotel had a “guard dog” named sleepy who really just sat at the foot of the stairs and grinned at you sheepishly until you came over to pet him. We had so much fun playing with him on afternoons when we relaxed at the hotel. The sweet lady that managed the hotel was precious and it al just seemed like something out of a story book. Annelise and I had a chandelier in our room from the Murano glass island, and I thought that was very neat even though we agreed it looked like a bad 1960s decoration from Elvis’ house. We had huge windows that overlooked the street below us and as we soon discovered thanks to David could be a handy mode of communication from one room to the other. Our hotel was centrally located between the Rialto bridge and St. Marks Square. This was perfect for visiting both sites and all of the tiny shops, restaurants, and hidden attractions between the two outer edges of Venice. I was already in love with the city and we hadn’t even completely settled in yet!  (Below: our hotel and Kylie playing with Sleepy)







2. The first thing we did the next day was tour the Doge’s palace. This is where the leaders of Venice lived and worked for hundreds of years. It is located on St. Marks square right next to St. Marks basilica and also beside the grand canal. It was rainy on this day but that didn’t do anything to take away from the majesty of the building. Everything was so impressive and designed to overwhelm. It was exciting to walk through the elaborately decorated rooms and picture merchants and local leaders conversing there during Venice’s hayday. They felt unstoppable and indestructable and it is very evident in the architecture and decorations. The walls were covered in stunning fabrics and tapestrys and the grand rooms were some of the biggest I have ever been in. The prison was also located in the doge’s palace and it was such a stark contrast between the lavish offices and rooms of the leaders and the stark stone that composed the prison cells. At one point the jail was moved across the little canal behind the palace into another building and so a bridge was built to connect the two. This allowed prisoners to attend court in the Doge’s Palace and then be taken immediately to face their sentence. Lord Byron dubbed this bridge the “Bridge of Sighs” because supposedly the prisoners would sigh at their last view of beautiful Venice as they entered the dreary dungeons. It was so neat to see this too and imagine the desolatoin they must have felt being led across that bridge.

The bridge of sighs (left)

Annelise really tried to relate to the prisoners.

3. St. Marks Basilica was incredible, stunning, beautiful, and just amazing. The inside was decorated with mosaics that have stood the test of time for hundreds of years. They were my favorite part of the basilica. It was breathtaking on the outside with its imposing grandeaur and onion domes that looked like something straight from Moscow. But the inside was enough to give you chills. The candlelight portrayed an almost eerie atmosphere and even in the dim lighting it was easy to see the shimmer of the countless tiles adorning the walls and ceilings that formed the mosaics. Annelise, Stephanie, and I decided to venture upstairs and it was well worth our two euros. We saw the four bronze horses face to face! (or face to muzzle maybe?) These horses were smuggled out of egypt in Pork barrells and then taken to France during the days of Napoleons rule before being brought back to Venice. They kept watch over St. Marks square until the 1980s when they were moved inside to be protected from smog. Those four horses have covered a lot of ground in their days and they history behind them is so unique. We also had the opportunity to see the interior of the basilica from up above in the balcony. I thought it was breathtaking from the ground floor, but I had no idea. Up close and personal, the mosaics were even more intricate and we could see how they had been chipped and broken in places. We also got to go out on the balcony and look out over St. Marks square. It was such a beautiful view and a wonderful way to see the entire piazza. I was in love with Venice by this point but this adventure just continued to seal the deal.

4. I loved all of the water surrounding Venice. It was so nice, especially after being in larger cities like Florence and Rome, to be in a city that was smaller and surrounded by beautfiul architecture and water as opposed to high rises and concrete freeways. It rained a lot while we were there and as much as that sounds like a pain it really added to the experience! Being in Venice and right on the water was like being at the beach only better because you dont have to worry about getting sand everywhere and all of the buildings have rich historical significance unlike Joe’s Crab Shack which lacks slightly in it’s significant role to past civilizations. Watching boats drive by and people get on and off at the docks located all around the city made for very interesting people watching. We also got very lucky with navigating the city. I have heard horror stories about getting lost in Venice, and with the winding sidewalks that can just dead end with no fair warning or merge into another narrow alleyway I was expecting that but we wandered all over from morning til night and never got into too much trouble! Justin did a presentation for class about how Venice was a city of mystery, and I agree whole heartedly with that description. It seemed like there was so much going on and I was just being exposed to a small glimpse of the current excitement and legacies that were intertwined between beautiful old buildings, palaces, and tiny shops filled to the brim with masquerade masks, Murano glass, and other trinkets that you could probably live without but that embody the sense of intrigue that overcomes you while you are in Venice.

5. On our last day in Venice we toured the Murano glass island. I had the opportunity to visit with Dr. Wight before going on the trip and he had assured me that Murano was worth visiting, and I completely agree! We took a vaperetto over to the island and upon arriving we went straight into a glass factory to watch some of the workers making the glass. It was so neat to watch! All of the guys had been trained in the art and had spent many years perfecting their trade, and it was evident. They swiftly moved around with scorching hot iron rods of glass that had been heated to incredible temperatures without ever stumbling or seeming too worried about their manuverings. I can’t even imagine. Knowing my coordination, I would burn down the whole place within five minutes of being hired. The glass companies are mostly family own businesses who have been in this trade for generations. That added to the significance of it too. They really loved the business they were in and took pride it in. Unlike a lot of big companies today that go public and switch ownership periodically through mergers and buy outs, these businesses were the family’s identity and lifeblood. Before we left on the trip my Grandmother told me that when my Grandfather was stationed overseas during the war that he got to visit Murano and that it was his favorite place in all of Europe. Even today in her dining room she has beautiful murano glass pieces from his visit. I was so excited to be able to bring her back another piece to add to her collection from my trip. I think this connection made Murano even more special to me. It was the perfect conclusion to a wonderful stay in Venice.

Padua…enough said.

Our 8th day included a stop in Padua. I’m going to be honest, I did not like Padua too much. But luckily it was just a stop for a couple of hours and I can come up with at least four things that were good….right? We’ll see!

1. We stopped on a Sunday afternoon, so in the middle of the town was a HUGE flea market. My dad would have loved it! It was a lot different from what we had seen in Florence because these were not professional merchants, they were local people from the area who were peddling goods on card tables from estate sales, family heirlooms, and hand crafted goods. It was actually really neat! Being my dads daughter, I have seen my fair share of estate sales. But these trinkets and pieces of furniture were so different than any I had seen. They were way older than a few generations and the detail work on them was so nice! The people selling their stuff were very laid back, it was no big deal to them to have beautiful hand made and painted vases being looked at and handled by clumsy American tourists. (If they only knew how terrible my hand eye coordination is they might not have let me touch anything.) If I had a way to bring some of the china cabinents and pieces of furniture back that we had stumbled upon from old Tuscan villas I could cross furnishing my dream home off of my to do list. But, being a fund-limited college kid, and not relishing the idea of carrying a dining room table around in my suitcase for two weeks, I just bought a scarf. But getting to see so many beautiful things littered around a flea market was a very memorable experience!

2. Okay, good thing number two. Since it was a Sunday afternoon not many restaraunts were open. So this made deciding where to go for lunch much easier! We had two or three options to choose from and that sped the process up a lot! Ummm….. okay I’m having a hard time thinking of other good things about Padua so I am going to take this opportunity to express how thankful I am that I went to Europe with the group that we had!

3. Our group was LEGIT. We never had any serious diva problems over the course of the entire three weeks, including one night in a couchette. And if anything will bring out the diva in a girl, its a couchette. Everyone got along so well and was always willing to help someone else out in the group. When we would divide up from the group in the afternoons to go our own way there were always multiple groups with fun ideas and gameplans for the day! Never were we at a loss for company or an exciting adventure. Everyone always stayed positive and interacted with patience and kindness. Spending three weeks with a group of people leaves open the possibiliteis for hostilities to form, but our group never experienced that. We would all get tired and worn down on occassion but those points were usually when we would remember some silly story that had happened and we focused our exhaustion on rehashing it rather than lashing out at each other. We had a buddy system in place but the whole group took responsibility for everyone. If someone was always straggling behind, everyone kept an eye on them. The buddy system was good to have but the comradary in our group was even better. Our group was also so diverse! At any given time you could find a few people who wanted to hardcore scope out a museum, or wander around and explore the city, or even shop til they drop. This aspect added a huge deminsion to the trip. If I had been on this trip alone I would have missed out on so many things that each person on our group contributed. For instance, Lauren introduced us to Laduree, the best macaroon shop in Paris. And Stephanie had a way with the Italians that left all of us laughing. David and Nick were always into something exciting, and potentially mischievious that assured me there would never be a dull moment on the trip. And Krystal and Stephanie could always make us laugh as we waited in line or searched high and low for “Starry Night.” Kylie and Casey could find the cutest shops in an entire city within minutes of arriving.Buck shared my love of GBM in London and we went multiple times in our short stay there. I could go on and on listing the positive contributions every person made to the group but I procrastinated on writing these blogs so I need to hurry….but in conclusion I loved our group and can’t imagine going with any other awesome combination of friends!

4. Our leaders were LEGIT. As incredible as the group was, we would have fallen apart without “Mom and Dad.” Mom has an uncanny ability for knowing literally everything there is to know about Europe. If I’m ever asked a question on a gameshow about anything east of the Atlantic ocean she is the friend I’m phoning. Not only would she answer my question but she could probably also tell me the top three restaruants near by and rank them in order of price and quality. It was uneblievable how much she knew about everywhere we went! While we were in Florence she took Hannah and I to a tiny little pharmacy run by monks where everything is specially made and grown by them. Hannah and I were in shock, it was such a goregous building and all of the things we  saw were so neat but we never would have stumbled upon that on our own. And Dad not only had a talent for reading maps and manuvering a group of nearly 25 through any subway system but he kept us all together and organized. I know that “numbers are his thang” and all but I’ve never seen anyone count heads that quickly as we all piled off a crowded metro. And while these practical talents were much appreciated, Dad also kept us laughing through most of the trip. His tweets always hit on the highlights of the day and I am now an expert on 80s rap music. These two sacrificed sleep, patience, and time spent on grad school papers to ensure that we had an incredible trip and I appreciate that so so much! All in all, our leaders were LEGIT.

5. My fifth and fianl good aspect of Padua…..we were only there one day 🙂

Florence: Home of the haphazard

Florence, also known as Firenze, was not my aboslute favorite stop on our twenty-one day journey. But in the wise words of any college student, “You win some, you loose some.” Florence lost me. But, instead of being negative and sitting in the elementary school parking lot for hours I’m going to dig deep into my memory and try to find at least four good aspects of Florence! I mean, we were in Europe with the most fun people in the world, thats awesome in and of itself!

 1. Some of you may remember the Kenan and Kel skit that used to appear on Nickelodeon’s “All That” where Kenan professes his love to orange soda. (quite dramatically I might add) Well I dont have orange soda outburts by any means but I LOVE ORANGE SODA. (Fanta more specifically) It is the only carbonated drink that I will drink. I was estatic on our first day in Florence to find that orange Fanta was EVERYWHERE. It was also cheaper than water. So, in the best interest of my financial stability I decided I had to drink orange soda at any opportunity I had. This may seem rather insignificant, and I’m sure my parents are asking themselves “We sent her to Europe and she raves about orange Fanta??” but it was one of my favorite parts of this city so point number one it will be! (Below: it was everywhere.)

2. Florence also boasted a very nice hotel for us to stay in. (all of our hotels were nice in fact!) There was a ceiling that was actally a giant fish tank. You don’t see that too often in Arkadelphia. Annelise and I were lucky enough to have a pepto bismol colored room! Our favorite! (ookay, maybe I’m being a little sarcastic.) But it was a very nice hotel if you overlook the maids who were a little liberal with their cleaning duties in Hannah’s room. But it was a good opportunity for us all to remember that we were in a different country and to keep a close eye on our belongings. Hannah was the most positive person ever and turned a stolen phone into a reevaluation of how important our material things are to us. So while we may not have been fans of the paint shades chosen, the hotel was a good reality check for us all.

3. Numero three is probably my favorite overall thing about florence: we found our first hard rock cafe in Europe! As much as I love Italian food, and its a lot, I have never been so happy to see a cheeseburger and french fries! We all went out one night and it was not only a great bonding time for our whole group,but it was so nice to have a little taste of home! This began a tradition for our group to eat at a Hard Rock in every subsequent city. Drinking ice cold water while listening to “We are Young” was a great end to the day! This leads to an even bigger lesson that I learned while in Europe. I love America. Love it. SO much. I don’t want to come across as a xenophobic narrow-minded patriot, but until this trip I had no concept about how blessed I am to live where I do. Europe is not a culmination of third world countries, everywhere we visited was industrialized and advanced, but the simple perks that we enjoy on a daily basis (and are quite spoiled by) are not always so convenient. For instance, ice water, seperate checks, and Mexican food were not to be found anywhere on the continent. Don’t get me wrong, i loved Europe. It was the most incredible trip I have ever been on. But I appreciate my quirky American home. Never again will I complain when my parents want to get tex-mex for dinner for the third time that week, because you never know when you will go 21 days without so much as a bowl of cheese dip being offered to you. As crazy as our country seems to be right now and as much dysfunction as there is, we have a unique culture that stands out amongst other countries, just like they have cultures that vary greatly to ours.

4. My favorite museum we went to in Florence was the Academia. It was a modge-podge of modern and ancient art and rooms just flowed on and on and on in what seemed like an never ending corrider but each room was more interesting than the last and you just had to keep going to quench your curiousity. Michelangelo’s David was at this museum, and as impressive and daunting as it was my loyalties still lay with Bernini’s David. But I was interested in David’s hand, which is disporportionate to his body because it is supposed to show God’s presence and power in him. I thought that was such an interesting idea. We all have the opportunity to have God’s power and guidance in our lives and if it were to be materialized into our human structure what would it look like? When people look at me do they see God’s gifts and strenght or my humanity? God gave David strength and courage to fight the giant and Michelangelo portrayed that through his sculpture. We all have spiritual gifts but how often do we use them to furthur God’s plans for our lives? Maybe having a giant hand like the David statue would be a good reminder for us to use our gifts and the presence of God in our lives to fight the battles he has intended for us and not get caught up in the other menial aspects of life. I also loved this statue because it was made out of a leftover piece of marble that other artists had disregarded as not worth working on. And yet Michelangelo saw the potential for beauty in it and now it is one of the most famous sculptures in the world. How often in my life do I overlook people and the gifts they have to offer? I may be naive, but I like to think that everyone has a purprose and something to contribute. Michelangelo saw that in the marble that became David even though others couldn’t see it. I need to look closer at people I interact with and find the admirable qualities and gifts they have instead of just overlooking them because they may take a little more time to find.

A sunny day in Siena

In my journal from the trip the first thing I said about Siena was simply “I STINKING LOVE SIENA.” While I think that adequately sums up my affection for this precious city I’m afraid Dr. Brune and Mrs. Eurich would like a little bit more than that for this blog. So let the four favorite things game commence!

1. Our excursion into Siena started off exciting from the moment we stepped off the bus. While I don’t want to negate the chauffering abilities of our bus driver, in that department he was great, his musical selection skills were slightly lacking. Our drive through the Tuscan countryside that brought us to Siena was set to a soundtrack of Tina Turner and off brand 70s disco music. I like to think he was just trying to make us feel at home with his American tunes but was sadly a few decades off. So simply arriving in Siena without going crazy and breaking out any Saturday Night Fever moves was a miracle in and of itself. As we entered the gates of the city (or so we thought…) we were surprised to find a carnival. But not a unique Italian carnival, an exact replica of the Clark County fair. At this point we all just had to laugh. Our Tina Turner loving bus driver dropped us off at the Siena fairgrounds.

Luckily our fearless leaders found the way into the REAL Siena and we started into one of my favorite cities in the world. But the hilarious arrival and laughs that we shared at our luck were a great start to this adventure.

2. One of my favorite things about this city is the architecture. We saw beautiful buildings and cathedrals across Euorpe interspersed between high rises and modern developments. But Siena was just the picturesque homes, restaraunts, and stores without the 21st century construction imposing on the beauty of it all. Walking into the city walls was the equivalent of entering into a fairy tale. The flowers and gardens were manicured perfectly, the buildings fit perfectly side by side and almost seem to have been built one right on top of another so that not one thing looked out of place. The streets were cobblestone and those pesky cars that had shamelessly nearly run us over in Rome were few and far between in Siena. As we walked to the center of the city I began to wonder if we were the only people in town that day. It was so serene and peaceful it was hard to imagine that just a few hours earlier we had been so caught up in the hustle and bustle of a city like Rome. I’m not sure if this is the best way to word it, but my favorite part of Siena was the innocent beauty of the city. It could not have been more perfect.

3. I was also very impressed with the friendliness of everyone in Siena that we came into contact with. The citizens of Rome weren’t exactly rude, I think they were just in a hurry….everywhere….all the time. But in Siena people that we walked past on the cobblestone steps would smile and actually make eye contact. When we couldn’t find where we were going people who noticed our confused expressions were eager to point us in the right direction. As we ordered our lunch the restaraunt owner let us all have a taste test to make sure we liked what we were contemplating. He never tried to hurry us or usher us out to create a streamline for new customers. I know that living on OBU’s campus, where asking someone how their day is going as you pass them on the zig-zagging sidewalks is second nature, has made me very spoiled to a caring and genuine community. Siena had that same atmosphere that I have grown to love. And that welcoming nature in the people we encountered was my third favorite aspect.

4. The fourth good event that happened during our day in Siena was the introduction of pineapple gelato into my life. I’m not going to take the liberty to say it was the best invention ever known to man, but it is at least in the top ten. We stumbled upon a gelato shop right off of the main square and took a chance with the pineapple. Quite possibly the wisest decision we made on our trip. Gelato in general is one of the things I miss most about Europe. It is the perfect afternoon snack and mixing and matching different flavors became a daily activity for our group. Before I go off on a gelato tangent that incriminates me as a fatty I will simply make my closing argument: pineapple gelato is the best flavor ever and my fourth favorite experience in Siena.

5. My fifth favorite event that occured while we were in Siena involves shopping. If you are one of those boys who is going to simply roll your eyes then maybe you should just call it quits with this particular blog post. A habit I picked up when I was very little was an uncanny desire to collect salt and pepper shakers. (Boys, I warned you. Go ahead and roll your eyes.) I have added to my collection with items from Time Square, New Orleans, and even an obscure antique store in El Dorado. While we were in Siena I had the good fortune to stumble upon a little store while we were lost on some side street trying to find our way back to the disco boasting bus. In this store I found salt and pepper shakers in the shape of two chubby Italian chefs. While this may seem like a minor detail and not worth noting in my top five list, it made me so excited! I had made my first salt and pepper purchase in Europe. If that doesn’t constitute a successful day I don’t know what does.

Roaming around Rome

When I was little I hated school, I blame it on reading “Junie B. Jones and the Stinky Smelly School Bus” one too many times. So to cure this daily apprehension my mom created a little game that we played every afternoon when she would pick me up. Before she would pull out of the parking lot of Central Primary School I had to name 4 good things that happened that day. Some days were easy and some days we sat in that parking lot for a long time. That habit of finding four good things in any event I have been a part of has stuck with me. When I was trying to sift through all of the exciting memories from Euorpe for this blog I decided it was time to play the game. This blog is going to sum up my four (or maybe a few more…) favorite things from each of the wonderful cities we visited. Lets get going!

Our first stop on our European adventure was Rome! We landed on the first day and jumped right into tourist mode with an exciting afternoon of walking off jet lag! This was our first glipse of Europe and it could not have been more perfect! It was as colorful, interesting, busy, and exciting as I had imagined it and maybe even a little bit more! We got to the end of our afternoon of walking and trying to keep up with the fast pace our sponsors set (eventually we would become accustomed to walking 90mph, this was just the beginning!)and were in for a surprise. They hoped we had been paying attention because it was up to us to find our way back to the hotel! As exhausted as we all were, that really got our attention and we were up to the challenge! After a few detours and sifting through conversations of broken English with the locals we finally found our way back! So my first good memory from Rome was our initial whirlwind impression of the city! Seeing so much in one afternoon really made me feel engulfed in the city and not like an outside tourist. I also loved the sense of independance that finding our way back gave us. Never again were we scared about being lost in Euorpe! (well…until Sienna, but we’ll get to that.)

Below: Navigating our way back to the hotel. Quite the bonding experience! 

Our first full day in Rome we had the opportunity to tour the Vatican. This was an incredible experience. It was our first glimpse of the beautiful artwork and statues that we had spent so many hours studying during the semester. (I can still recite the name, artist, and location of about any work of art between London and Rome.) The Sistine chapel was my favorite thing in the Vatican. It may sound silly, but in the pictures we had studied of the ceiling I had not realized just how vivid the colors are. It was stunning. The detail work and grandeaur of the paintings were almost overwhelming. Not only were they depicting Biblical stories that are thousands of years old, but the paintings themselves have seen many people pass underneath them. So, my second favorite thing from Rome was the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It’s beauty can’t be captured in pictures, which is irrelevent because taking pictures in the chapel is banned. But….in our usual fashion… Annelise and I snuck a quick one behind the organ! (Below)

When I was little I also had a terrible fear of heights. (I know, I was a dramatic child.) Over the years I have made baby steps in overcoming this fear. Our first full day in Rome I discovered the immediate cure for any fear of heights…. climbing to the top of St. Peters Basilica. We concluded our guided tour of the Vatican and decided to conquer the giant dome that had been mocking us all morning, daring us to make it to the top. We paid our euros and began a habit that would follow us throughout the European Stair Tour: we started climbing. And we climbed…..and climbed……and climbed. We made it to the base of the dome, where we came face to face wtih the beautiful mosaics lining the ceiling. And it was at this point that I looked down on the tourists below and began to question what I had gotten myself into. Finally we made it to the top!! It was certainly exhausting but the view and sense of accomplishment were exhilirating. None of us seemed to notice how tired or hungry we were as we all took in the beautiful sights around us. I wish I could shake the hand of every person who helped build such an impressive and giant basilica and personally thank them for helping me overcome my fear of heights. That climb was my third favorite thing in Rome.

Samantha didn’t love heights much either.






The next day we toured the Colesseum. Not only was this impressive simply because of its size and architectural acheivement, but the history behind its long life really interested me. The Colesseum was built to host games and events during Rome’s hayday. Many Christian marters and prisoners were murdered within those walls. There are also stories of the Colesseum being filled with water and reinactments of naval battles taking place. Imagining all of this happening before our eyes was crazy. Roman citizens from far away would come in to see these events and be impressed by the grandeaur of it all (this was also a way for the government to squelch revolts before they began. Peasant farmers would think twice about picking a fight with a government that could build such a majestic arena.) I saw many correlations between the Colesseum and the current popular novel “The Hunger Games.” The idea of governments manipulating easily entertained masses for their own agenda is not a new plot line. It also made me wonder what it would have been like to have been there at the time of the Colesseum’s popularity. I can only imagine how incredible it must have been to see it full and bustling. So my fourth favorite experience was soaking up the historical significance of the Colesseum. Possibly one of my favorite things from the entire trip.


 Last but certianly not least: my fifth favorite part of Rome. On the same day that we went to the Colesseum we went to the Borghese Gallery. Out of the many art museums we had the opportunity to see during our trip this was by far my favorite. The actual gallery is set in the middle of picturesque gardens which we had time to explore and relax in. After spending a few days in the bustling city of Rome, I cannot tell you how happy I was to see flowers and trees and even a woman and her puppy out playing fetch. It was very refreshing. But what is really responsible for my new found love of the Borghese was the sculpture collection inside. Bernini was well represented throughout the museum and I became a huge fan. Seeing pictures of his works in class had not done them justice or prepared me for how much I would be enthralled with them. They somehow captured the beauty of the stone they were carved from while at the same time portraying the human emotion so strongly that I couldn’t help but mean mug the statue figure holding Proserpine. David was the most incredible statue and out of the three David replicas we saw throughout the three weeks it was the one that stuck with me the most. (Showing Michelangelo that size really isn’t everything.) So the Borghese gallery and Bernini works inside were my fifth and final favorite find in Rome.