After a long absence from writing on this blog, I have finally returned! Life has just been so busy since the New Year began, and now I am finally settling in again with more time to write.
We are finishing our first semester still (the Winter break didn’t constitute the break between semesters, and we have another week long break at the beginning of February before the Spring semester begins on Feb. 22nd) and finals are coming up soon. Over the winter break I visited mainly London and Amsterdam… with some random stopovers en route and in between. The entire trip was such a blur- we had surprisingly good luck and karma, but naturally ran into some problems here and there. And thus the stories begin!..
My friend Ginny (pronounced Jee-knee, not Jinnie:-p) and I left for London on Dec. 30th, and flew into Birmingham, England. We did this because it was much cheaper to fly into Birmingham during the NYE holiday season, and we saw that we could catch a 3 hr coach directly to London from Birmingham for only 7 GBP. So when we arrived to Birmingham we were searching at the airport for the coach stop, but after no luck finding it we asked the information booth where it was located and they informed us that that coach stop we were looking for was located in town near the city center. So because my dumb ass didn’t read the email the company sent me when I booked the tickets (which I apparently didn’t need to do, but my friend recommended we do because it was “necessary”) I wasn’t aware that we needed to get to the city center to catch our bus, which is about a 30 min ride from the airport, and so we had about 2 hrs to figure this all out and get there on time. Once we figured that out it was about 12:30pm and our bus we booked left at 2pm, and the next bus into the city came at 1pm. So we finally got to where we were told was the city center around 1:35pm, and with much misdirection and anxiety we were running around a quarter mile radius trying to find this so called “bus stop.” After no luck, and already having missed the bus because it was ten passed two, we figured we would ask somebody how to get where we needed to be in order to catch the next bus. We walked into the closest store and the first people we asked were incredibly kind and told us our map was shit, and so they offered to drive us to the city center (which we were no where near by the way.) I figure she and her friend decided to so generously offer us a ride because we were sopping wet from pouring rain and we must have looked miserable, and because her and her friend appeared to be of a background that would support positive Karmic acts and energies. After she dropped us off, we spent a generous amount time looking for this ambiguous bus stop, that was described as being in front of a “McLaren” building on X and Y streets. We found the McLaren building and asked the front desk man about this bus company and he said we had found the right place and that he had seen it many times stop outside, but there were, I kid you not, absolutely no signs or ways of knowing that it stopped there… had you not been from Birmingham. After he helped us call the company (since our phones weren’t able to call the help line since they are Italian, and nothing Italian ever works!) we found out we had to wait three hours for the next (and last) bus at 5:30pm. We killed time by having fish and chips at some mall food court, drinking beers at a local pub, and waiting, freezing cold in the pouring rain. But this mysterious bus finally did come! And we were truly over joyed when it turned the corner and saved us from the dark, damp city of Birmingham. In the end we were grateful that we had such great help from the locals, and that at the end of our English journey we were NOT flying out of Birmingham, but had booked tickets out of London instead! Phew! And when we caught the bus we had to pay again because we had missed the bus we booked, had we not booked it we wouldn’t have lost out on 20 pounds!
After a relaxing three hour bus ride, we arrived at Victoria street station in London. It was a short walk and tube ride to the Hostel we booked, and it was good to see some familiar streets again. I stayed at the same hostel when I came to London the first time with my friend Kyle a few years back, and so it was fairly easy to find from memory. We tried to go out and walk around after we settled in a bit, but there wasn’t a whole lot open in that quiet neighborhood at that hour of the evening, and we were exhausted anyway and so we decided to call it a night. And the next day was New Year’s Eve!
We spent New Year’s Eve day exploring different neighborhoods of London, looking for good places to come back to during the night after watching the fireworks at the London Eye. Along with window-shopping and sight seeing, we visited mainly Brick Lane, Old Street, and Camden town. We asked random shop owners and passers-by about local spots, and were told of some good places to go. And after eating lunch at a pub called “The Ice Wharf” in Camden town, we headed back to our hostel to relax, start drinking and get ready. We met up with my friend Rachel from home (who was visiting a friend near London, and who was also coming back to Florence with me to stay for a while after celebrating New Year’s together in London) and took a walk around town before heading over to Embankment and the Thames for the fireworks show. Any area within a few mile radius of the London Eye was absolutely packed full of people, and they were herding us into different sections like cattle. After doing a huge circle to get to where we wanted to be, we had to wait for about an hour until midnight and it was absolutely freezing! But there was a DJ playing somewhere near by and it was definitely worth seeing the fireworks in person, in London! So awesome:) It took about an hour and a half to get out of the madness of the crowd leaving the fireworks show, and into the part of town where we wanted to be. So when we finally got back to Camden town around 2 in the morning, and stumbled into some random bar/club, we just decided to spend most of our evening there.
We ended up meeting some locals who invited us back to their place to experience the “real” London haha; They were some harmless English boys, who I am sure thought they were going to get more from the evening then any of us girls were planning to give…
But it was fun going back to their apartment anyways, because I was able to discover that they were fans of Banksy!!! and that they had some of his art up on their walls! And one of the guys even told me that there was a Banksy tag just five minutes down the road, and offered to take me to go see it! But aside from seeing the Banksy tag in person, it was really interesting hanging out with them and hearing their thoughts on American culture and music; One of the guys was really into electronic music and claimed to be a DJ so of course he had a lot of opinions on the subject. And I have to say, it was pretty funny being the novelty for once, and the people with the accents. Even though we were in London, to me it still felt like they were the ones with the accents. After hanging out with them late into the night/morning, we went back to our hostel and slept in to wake up to a beautiful, sunny, New Year’s day in London:)
Rachel went to go meet up with her friend, while Ginny and I walked around London, and went to go see Avatar! I was so excited to see it (in English nonetheless!), since I wasn’t sure if it was going to play entirely in English in Florence, and movies don’t come out in Italy until wayyyyy after they are already released everywhere else. And I was so happy that Ginny agreed to go with me! Unfortunately I have heard many people say they aren’t too pleased with the plot of Avatar, and that it wasn’t very original, yet I still loved every minute of it. So much, that I went and saw it again with Rachel in 3-D in Amsterdam:-p And again last night here in Florence haha!
After a lovely time in England, Rachel, Ginny, and I flew back to Pisa where we parted ways with Ginny. Ginny was off the spend the rest of her break in Prague, while Rachel and I were headed for Amsterdam! We spent a night in Pisa, because our flight into Brussels (en route to Amsterdam) left out of Pisa the following morning. Once getting through bullshit Ryanair personnel for the third time and we had arrived in Brussels, we were waiting in line to catch a bus to the main train station when a family approached us and asked us if we wanted to split the price of a cab for a little less then the bus would have cost. I only mention this small detail about our trip because during the cab ride into the city, some creeper flashed Rachel on the freeway! I was listening my music staring out the window when I heard Rachel shriek, and I look over to see her gesturing me to take my headphones off, and she explained the whole scenario. She was horrified haha! Welcome to Brussels!
The train ride from Brussels to Amsterdam is approximately three hours, so we got in fairly late, around 8pm. I had written down one hostel I had found online, but we decided to walk around to see what we would find. We didn’t find anything after searching for what seemed like a long time, but enjoyed the beautiful Christmas lights and holiday decorations. The whole town is covered in snow and it is absolutely freezing there! Something like -7 degrees Celsius. Bloody. damn. freezing. After giving up on randomly finding and selecting a hostel, we went and found the one I had looked up online as a back up, and decided to stay there.
Not only was it freezing in Amsterdam, but I (stupidly) handed off my boots to Ginny for her to take back to Florence to make my bag a little lighter. I don’t know why I didn’t think Amsterdam would be covered in snow, probably because I am an utter genius! So the whole time Rachel and I were trudging around snow and ice covered Amsterdam in Converse and sneakers:) I only fell once!
Our accommodation was a studio with ten beds on the fourth floor of a tall, narrow, dutch apartment building. When we arrived, exhausted by the bitter cold, we couldn’t help but notice the girl in the corner coughing and sneezing up a storm. From that moment on I knew I was going to catch something. They had the heater on full blast, so to make matters worse, we were constantly going from freezing cold to a burning hot, stuffy room full of sick people. The following morning I woke up and my throat was rough and my nose was congested. I totally called that shit! I get sick fairly easily, but I tried not to let it ruin our time. We still ventured out during daylight, and sometimes late into the evening. I drank lots of tea and did my best to stay warm. I am still battling a lingering cold, but it is way better than it was and it never got terribly dreadful. I got lucky with that one!
Because it was fairly sunny while we were there, it was really nice to just walk around and admire the city. The canals were covered in snow and ice, and the buildings with their detailed mouldings and cute entry ways- it was all quite picturesque and entertaining to simply observe. Aside from seeing Avatar at this amazing art deco movie theatre, we went and visited the Anne Frank house. And although we expected it to be depressing, it was still really interesting to see and walk through what used to be her house and see all of her belongings that they have on display. I didn’t know how much of her stuff they still had honestly, and was surprised to see everything in such great condition. Something from the Anne Frank house that really stuck with me was a video they were playing at the end of the exhibit. The video was a short clip of Otto Frank, Anne’s father, taken in 1967. He explains discovering her journal in his briefcase, after the war and the liberation of the internment camp where he was held, and what he felt the first time he read it. One of his last statements in the video was that he never knew Anne had such deep feelings and thoughts about the war and her surroundings, and that he never saw her express herself nearly as much throughout her daily life as she did in her writings. He said that if anything, one of the most important things he learned from reading his daughter’s journal was that no matter what a parent thinks, they can never fully know their own son or daughter.
Of course Rachel and I spent some (or most) of our time in coffee shops, mainly because it was just too cold to be outside for hours at a time anyways! But it is such a surreal experience, being able to walk into a coffeeshop/bar and order a drink and a sack of herb, walk into the back and light one up.
Oh, Amsterdam. What would we do without you?
And one of the best things about our trip to Amsterdam was finding this amazing little dutch deli! So good! Once we found it, we ate there three times in two days! And not only was the food amazing, but the people who worked there were really nice. One of the ladies told us that “Croquettes” were the specialty of Holland, and had us try some. They are essentially twinkie-sized, fried corndog like things, filled with a combination of meat and some kind of mustardy sauce. Tasty!
Something I really enjoy about traveling (that being in Amsterdam reminded me of specifically) is not only getting to experience new places, but that sometimes it also feels like I could possibly be traveling back in time. Maybe this wouldn’t happen all over the world, but because of how old many old places there are within Western Europe (such as: old houses, roads and monuments) I am usually capable of tricking myself into believing that I am existing in a different era. Love it:)
We met some cool girls while staying at the hostel in Amsterdam, but didn’t formally meet them and hang out with them until the very last possible moment on the day we were all leaving, naturally, but that is how it always happens! But one of the girls was a school teacher, and so it was really nice to be able to talk to her and ask her some questions about how she got started with her teaching career, since I will be on that path in the very near future.
Rachel and I returned to Florence, happy to be somewhere ten or so degrees warmer, and she stayed with me for ten days and left yesterday. I miss her already and was really happy to have her around!:) But now I am back to school and life’s obligations, which aren’t so bad really, but I kind of wish I were back in London. It is such a cool city and I still have so much to explore there. Until next time!
Oh, and if you were wondering what “Cockfosters” meant, it is the last stop on the Piccadilly tube line in London. Makes me laugh every time!