Monday, November 12, 2012

London Calling (but Berlin Called First)

This past week has been the longest week of my life! And not just because it was 10 days. Travel "break" is more like a marathon, and frankly, it takes a lot out of you. But man, was it fun!

Last Friday, the entire castle shipped out to a required excursion to Berlin. This was a lovely and extremely tiring haze of museums and walking tours. Some memorable highlights were being led around by our history professor and getting to spit on the site that Hitler was burned (thus officially making my history class the coolest there ever was), having a hotel room with only 2 beds (although they were pushed together I Love Lucy style for reasons I don't understand) AND OUR OWN SHOWER, finding a shop that was just like Beadles in Chelmsford but in an indie Berlin sort of way, getting really cheap ethnic food and delicious bubble tea, going to an "Authentic Irish Pub!" in Germany that turned out to include a live Irish band, and going to a bar with OSA.

MEGA highlights included going down a giant snow slide with the quad, on tubes, backwards. Yeehaw!

Lowlights included that time Z and I booked the flight for the wrong day without noticing, and had to sleep in the airport. Oops.

We made the best of our extra day by going back into the city and seeing Skyfall to get jazzed up for London (Berlin theaters are so much nicer than US theaters could ever hope to be), getting Orange Mochas (serious Zoolander flashbacks), and having an insanely long lunch that included pumpkin raviolis (!!!!!), free WiFi, and Irish cider. mmm. I loved Berlin more than I thought I was going to, the vibe was very chill and there seemed to be history everywhere you looked. Not to mention, the layout was very logical (coming from "our-streets-were-designed-by-cow-paths!" Boston makes this an exciting thing for me). Then, we headed back to the airport to wait, and wait, and wait.

Being abroad on election day is a strange feeling. We finally made it to London Stansted Airport, and on the bus on the way into the city, I spent the entire time refreshing the CNN homepage. Tragically, there were no updates of significance before I had to give up and crash back at the hostel. I woke up at 6 AM in a panic, refreshed the page again, saw the first headline - "Obama's Acceptance Speech" - and went back to sleep happy.

Wednesday, we headed off to the Warner Brothers Studio to visit the Harry Potter set!

We spent 3 and a half hours here, and we had to reflect on the fact that we had been to dozens of museums, but this was the only one we read every single plaque at. I'm a little afraid of what that says about us.

We got to see Dumbledore's office and the Weasley Burrow, sit in the flying car, walk across Hogwarts Bridge, see the Sorcerer's Stone and all the original costumes, and oh god you guys it was so amazing.


(Flawless concept art gallery. This stuff was museum quality)


(Scale model of Hogwarts. ahhhhhhh)


(Here I am on the Knight Bus reunited with my one true love, Butterbeer)

(Here I am at #4 Privet Drive, loving life and stuff)

(Here I am looking pensively off the Hogwarts Bridge, because any time they show it in the movies, someone is contemplating on it)

We even found this at Weasley's Wizard Wheezes


And I knew I needed it for the blog, haw haw.


We went into Leicester Square that night and decided to pop in to the theater and see a show! We got 10 pound tickets to a musical called Loserville, which was fun and hip and nerdy all rolled into one, and then got CHIPOTLE! (!!) With real guacamole and everything (a hot commodity in Europe). It tasted like home.

The next day, we woke up at the crack of dawn to wait in line for 2 of the 8 student tickets they release daily to Matilda the Musical. We made it in time, and scored 5 pound seats! Then we jetted off to the Zoo!

We saw penguins,

and giraffes,

And not-so-pygmy hippos (not pictured, because I was so mad that they were so gigantic). We did a quick trip through the Camden Market, which was overwhelmingly full of deals (I scored 2 dresses for 22 pounds after some impressive haggling on my part), and stopped by Primark, a 24-hour Black Friday wonderland. I ditched my horrible shedding blue Cookie Monster coat for a sherpa-lined bomber jacket, and all was right with the world.

Matilda was beautiful, technically impressive, and really touching and nostalgic. Trunchbull was pitch perfect, the child actors were so impressive, and there were truly hilarious moments for adults and kids alike. The song "When I Grow Up" may or may not have brought a tear to my eye. Matilda has been one of my favorite books since I was a kid. She just really resonated with me (the reading and storytelling part, not the absentee parents part) and this rendition did the book so much justice. I just really like Roald Dahl.

(This doesn't do the set justice - it was scrabble pieces, and the ones on the floor lifted and turned into desks. Amazing).

We hit the Tower of London and the Natural History Museum the next morning. There was lots of pretty scenery to be seen,

And we got to see pretty jewels, and learn about executions and murder mysteries, which are my favorite things to learn about. The Natural History Museum was required for class, and we were painfully exhausted, so it called for a quick run-through. We did encounter this poor hygienically challenged T-Rex along the way:

(Their plight is a serious one).

We spent like 3 hours in a Starbucks desperately trying to recharge, then rallied for a pub crawl that night. In a very strange twist, we met 2 girls from B.U. who were friends with someone back at the Castle! Small world. Apparently, London's nightlife scene varies very drastically from quiet pubs to clubs made out of old horse barns whose private booths are stables equipped with mounted deer heads with signs hung over them that say things like "RED RUM". The crawl decided we should see the whole spectrum.

Z had one goal for this trip: London's first Warped Tour in 15 years. That hasn't really been my scene since my early teens, but I thought it might be fun for nostalgia's sake. And hey, it was! We jammed out to the Used, 3OH!3, New Found Glory, Family Force 5, and my old favorites Bowling for Soup (who have a really strong following across the pond). It was overcrowded and there wasn't enough food, but it definitely brought me back to the good old days of mosh pits and ugly black and neon clothing.

Our trip ended with an excruciatingly long second night in the airport, but we made it back super tired and in one piece! My legs are ready to formally secede from my torso, but I'm so glad I got the chance to explore such an amazing city.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bonjour, Paris!

Paris. The city of love, the city of lights, the city I was most excited to see on this trip.


Arriving here on a budget-friendly 7 hour overnight bus might not have been the height of glamour, nor was getting lost in Parisian Chinatown finding my hostel, but by God, I made it. We went immediately from the hostel to Disneyland Paris, because who needs sleep when you can have roller coasters?


I promptly got these sweet Minnie ears (clearly hoping to distract from the most hopeless bags under my eyes I ever have sported), and we hit the town. Highlights of DLP were the fun Halloween decorations (Europe doesn't go hard during the 2nd most wonderful time of the year, but Disney sure does), some taste-of-home Ben & Jerry's sorbet, finding fun Disneyland Paris secrets (like the sleeping animatronic dragon under the castle!), the Phantom of the Opera-inspired Phantom Manor, the surprisingly intense Space Mountain 2, and the horrifyingly incomprehensible French Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

MEGA highlights included meeting the illustrious tri-lingual Jack Sparrow (I made my poor friends wait in line for like half an hour, BUT IT WAS ALL WORTH IT)

(I don't remember the last time a worse picture of me has been taken, but hey, we're all mermaids)

And the 20th Anniversary light show on Aurora's castle at the end of the day. I have never seen something so technologically impressive in my life. The story is that Peter Pan has lost his shadow, and he needs to chase it throughout various Disney movies. The entire castle was transformed into a movie screen/fireworks foreground/pyrotechnics hub. They made the facade into a waterfall, the city of Paris, and the jungle, among other things. All of my old (Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Jungle Book) and new (Ratatouille, Princess and the Frog, TANGLED!!) faves were represented. Tears may or may not have been had during the lantern scene and rendition of "I See the Light" with the famous kisses montage. I'll never tell.

(Here we are in front of the unlit castle, which was still pretty impressive. Being a giant is rough sometimes).

I caught some flack for deciding to take a day out of Paris to go to Disneyland, but honestly, it was a no brainer for me. If you know anything about me, you know that I'm a big Disney/amusement park fan, and I've never really gotten a proper day at a Disney park. The girls and I have been planning this trip for about a year and, barring some mishaps with the Parisian Metro system (what is it with me and trains? Thanks for the help, kind French mother and flower vendor), it was essentially flawless. I never knew how easy it was for four 20 year olds to conquer Disneyland!

We promptly collapsed, then woke up the next day to find some Parisian bargains. Shopping and a long, lingering lunch at a Parisian cafe was just what we needed to rejuvenate. As a bonus prize, we found a Starbucks serving PUMPKIN SPICE LATTES!! (This is important because pumpkin flavored things in Europe are elusive to the point of not existing anywhere, ever. They are missing out).

(My French name. My second barista got it right, and pronounced it "ah-knee," which is how I now demand everyone pronounce it).

That night, we saw the Eiffel Tower (!!!!) Our lovely hostel employee told us the best stop (not under the Tower, but nearby it), and the sight of it lit up against the night sky hit me like a ton of bricks. I literally had to catch my breath.


Also, it sparkles every half hour, if the sight of it alone doesn't do it for you. We had a lovely dinner at a French cafe down the street (I had the most amazing cheese plate...I will be dreaming about camembert forever....) then made our way up to the top. For October, it was unreasonably cold in Paris, and going to the top of an incredibly tall structure didn't help much.

The view, however, was breathtaking. It was like a dream.

The next day, we took a free guided walking tour through the city. Our tour guide was an incredibly friendly and informative expat from NYC with a master's in French history. So we pretty much hit the jackpot as far as free tours go.



(The Quad and honorary members

declared our eternal love on the Love Lock Bridge)

We learned, we ate.


(This is my standard order at every American restaurant, and god do the French do it better. I will be dreaming about this for the rest of my days)

And then we went to Shakespeare and Company! It's one of the most famous bookstores in Europe, started by the brassy Sylvia Beach in the roaring 20's. It's meant to be a haven for Americans in Paris and for starving artists looking for a place to stay. Her original location played home to Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein and Man Ray, and the new location on the Left Bank has housed Ginsberg and Burroughs, among others. It's absolutely trembling with history, and as a bunch of writing majors, we knew it was a must-visit.

I got a sweet cover of This Side of Paradise, with the signature stamp. I was a happy camper.

Sunday's schedule included a jaunt to the Louvre (of course!)


Where we saw the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory, and some nice Egyptian art.

And a trip to Europe's largest flea market, which we only saw like 1/10th of because we obviously don't know how to read signs and the neighborhood we were in was, as I described it to my travel writing professor, "the Bronx with a spritz of cheap French Perfume." Still, we got some good deals. A couple of members of the group were tired and wanted to head back to the hostel and chill out, but Lexie, Lindsay and I were off in search of good crepes. We decided to take an impromptu jaunt to a different stop on the Metro that was allegedly Montmartre, and we were so glad we did.


We saw the Sacre Couer, we saw an amazing view of the city, and we finally saw honest-to-goodness Midnight in Paris Paris, the Amelie Paris I had been dreaming about, with the winding cobblestone streets and the cafe tables on sidewalks. As my mother had warned me, some parts of Paris are better than others. I blithely ignored her, of course, but I had been underwhelmed by a lot of the neighborhoods we were walking around. But this...this was Paris. It was an amazing way to end the weekend.

I set a very high bar for Paris, and while it wasn't a flawless trips, there are moments I will remember forever. I can't wait to go back and do it right!