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Amsterdam

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So I'm a bit behind again but I feel like I should write about my last two trips at took at Kent Uni. I took a four day school trip to Amsterdam during my first writing week. We left at midnight on a thursday and headed by bus to Holland. They said we would be taking the ferry but to my dismay we got stuck taking the Chunnel yet again. This time it was absolutely freezing--guess you can't win. After 7 or so hours on the bus we hiked it to our hostel but we couldnt check in yet so we ditched our luggage and set out to explore the city for a couple hours. My friend Kendra and I walked around getting lost, grabbed the most expensive bagel and coffee ever at a cute corner cafe and took a bunch of cheesy photos around town.

The first thing that surprises you is the number of 'coffeeshops' everywhere. They're in between restuarants and boutiques... some are small and cramped but many are big. And, by looking in the window, you can tell that there are more 'upscale' coffee shops and other 'dirty hippie' ones. But there is so much more to Amsterdam than Marijuana and the red light district.

It's hard to explain exactly what we did... I mean we went to the Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank's House, the Heineken Experience (it's delicious in Holland by the way). Kendra and I came up with a silly checklist of all the dutch things we needed to do... eat a danish, drink certain beers, see the tulips, dutch chocolates (YUM!), dutch pancakes... we wanted to ride bikes but  there are so many bikes in amsterdam it's worse than the cars on the rode. We avoided pissing off a lot of natives.

 The city had the feeling of a big town where you can reach everything on foot if you wanted and could see the whole thing in 2 days. So by our 4th day Kendra and I felt right at home. We knew the cheap places to eat and drink and where the best souvenirs were. So many people I know were upset that they spent too  much time getting high to enjoy amsterdam, which is a shame because the city was inviting and had an air of Christmas about it... it was comfortable and felt safe (minus the red light district).

The RLD is larger than you think... you can wander into by accident, think you're out, and then BAM, a naked woman is dancing between a bakery and a pub....put your camera's away... they don't like to 'violated'.  Kendra couldn't get over the fact that it was okay to pay for sex in this town, but I understood the economics of it... Amsterdam is exploited the things that are normally illegal in states, and are taxing and making money off of it. How the girls end up as window dancers- I don't want to know, but I bet they are making more money than Vega's show girls during the busier months. Sometimes you have to let your morals stop clouding your brain to understand new things.

Overall- I love amsterdam. The people were sweet, the food was amazing (I mainly ate sweets) and the city was accessable. The Buildings were old and decorated with christmas lights. So if you, yes--go to a coffeeshop, but then walk around,  talk to people, drink the beer and eat the food (don't waste all your money on weed). The town can feel like home in no time.

Learning French

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Mike and I caught a midnight, overnight bus to Paris on Friday. Word of advice... get there early. Mike and I showed up 10 minutes before our bus left and couldn't sit together. The bus was completely packed and totally uncomfortable. We took the Channel Tunnel across to France. It would have been cool had it not caused the temperature of the bus to rise and make it impossible to sleep. We arrived in Paris at 7 something Paris time and luckily the metro stopped at this bus station. The bus station was a shady place at that time of day. Gypsies incessantly beg for money (don't give them any! it only starts a snowball effect). Young hipster looking guys, and middle-aged men stand around the edges spying on who would be easy to pick pocket. My tactic was to make sure they knew I knew they were there and they figured that I wasn't an easy enough target. Be alert is my best advice. Nothing protects you more than common sense.

The metro took us with in 3 blocks of out hostel and Paris at 8 in the morning was beautiful. It was bright and chilly, and the stores had already started baking their breads and pastries. I couldn't wait to shower and eat my way across the city.

By the time we ate breakfast ( a baguette with jam or nutella), napped for 40 minutes and showered. we didnt hit the city till 12ish. Paris was our oyster and we headed out on foot to explore. We came across Clichy, a square outside the major city center--it was exactly what i pictured Paris to be like with people sitting out side drinking wine and espresso. Moms and their children sitting around a fountain-- the children chasing down the pigeons. (I would later recognize this square in a van Gogh painting in Amsterdam-- a really cool feeling to actually have been there). Nearby was the most amazing park I've ever seen. It had water falls, enormous hills, and bridges. At the top of the tallest hill was monument-type thing where u could see all of northern Paris, all the way to le Sacre Ceur (don't hold me to the spelling).

We stumbled across the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower while we walked around Paris. As big as the city is, if you're willing to get some exercise, it's accessible by foot and well worth it. My favorite part of Paris wasn't any of the monuments of Museums, but just walking around getting a feel of the place. And drinking a lot of wine!

The best day in Paris was spent in the d'Aligre Market. It's an open air market where all the Parisians get their weekly shopping done. There is every type of fruit imaginable, fresh hare and duck, plenty of fromageries and delis. After scooping the place out and getting a feel for how things happened (fast!) Mike and I finally built up enough confidence to try and buy some lunch. We successfully ordered some fantastic Gouda and ham. We stood in line at this cute little bakery (we figured if there was a line that it had to be good). We put our treasure in our pack and head over to local wine bar. Tourists aren't welcome but we smiled and drank plenty  so they were happy enough. We got a bottle to go (for dirt cheap) and headed back to the hostel to eat out treasures. Walking around Paris with a red wine buzz feels completely natural. It's an indescribable feeling really.

We spent our last day in Paris going to the Louvre and the Latin Quarter. The Louvre sucks. I love museums and I never wanted to get out of one so bad in my life. Everyone pushes and shows to get to the Mona Lisa, the place is a maze and they had the cafeteria shut on a Sunday. Overall we spent about an hour and half there, and left disappointed. But the Latin Quarter is a must. It's just across the river from Notre Dame (which is the most peaceful place). I ate an amazing crepe and sat outside under heat lamps drinking more wine. Mike and I had been walking around looking for a great place to eat. The owners would come out and tell us the kind of deals they would give us if we chose them. We ended up picking the most crowded place. It was this little restaurant (that i can't remember the name of) that made me fall in love with onion soup.  It was absolutely perfect. I would have been happy with it for every course I had.

In the end, I was sad to leave Paris and get back to school. It also meant I would be saying goodbye to Michael soon. If you approach the city and the people humbly and with an open mind, Paris will make you fall in love with it. I will definitely be going back one day.

Au revoir!





a not so brief update...

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Well it's been a while since I've last written on here. I guess I feel like there isn't much to say. I haven't been traveling, just enjoying school (minus 2 hr long seminars) and hanging out with friends. It's been really cloudy here with a few days of sunshine. It reminds me of the joke my friends I always talk about when we see high school students walking around state college on a really beautiful day.... the beautiful days are numbered and they make you forget about the rainy, cloudy, crappy, snowy days that usually fill your time at PSU. Canterbury is much the same.

Classes here are quite different. For each of my "classes" I have a 1 hr lecture (with 100+ people) and a 2 hr seminar with no more than 15 people, per week. All courses demand a lot of outside reading, but as an english major I wasn't really expecting much else. I'm finding it really hard to communicate with PSU from here... trying to plan for course and graduation, and making sure my courses here count for something so I can graduate on time (so if anyone from the abroad office is reading this, please respond to my emails, pleeeease).

I haven't been homesick yet (well, minus the 2nd day when I was truly ill and wanted to comfort of my own home). And just a little bit when my friends were talking to me on homecoming weekend. I illegally watch the PSU games on my computer, but the last one wasn't worth me getting my internet taken away so I stopped watching the horrendous game. And this whole "tv license" thing over her-- RIDIC! but hey, i don't watch TV anymore. But it's not like I'm replacing that free time with work!

Living with first years makes you believe your a first year too. We spend  all our time after classes just hanging around, planning for the night, and being bums. I forgot how cool it was to live in the dorms, despite how noisy the boys are.  The girls on my floor and I love to walk around downtown canterbury, get lattes and window shop (we're still college kids and too poor to buy anything). But... we're not to poor to book trips to Amsterdam! We're going to the first reading/writing week for 4 day :). it's a huge Uni trip so England will be taking over Amsterdam for a long weekend. I'm ready for some more adventures.

Speaking of adventures....Mike got here on Monday after going to Holland and Germany (he's the reason I'm blogging. He's done 4 blogs in 10 days and I've done 2 in almost 6 weeks). On the same day he arrived, so did my package from home! THANKS MOM! it had American Oreos (which taste completely different), top ramen, easy mac, and a bunch of other college staples that I was missing. She was even kind enough to throw in some red solo cups and ping pong balls so the americans can teach these english kids some beer pong. (oh and they literally think college life in the states is like american pie or old school).  But in an hour or so,  Mike and I catch a bus from Canterbury to London and then an overnight bus from London to Paris!! We're staying in the St. Christopher Hostel which is supposedly more like a crowded and wild hotel. So this is where I leave you all... au revoir!

a not so brief update...

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Well it's been a while since I've last written on here. I guess I feel like there isn't much to say. I haven't been traveling, just enjoying school (minus 2 hr long seminars) and hanging out with friends. It's been really cloudy here with a few days of sunshine. It reminds me of the joke my friends I always talk about when we see high school students walking around state college on a really beautiful day.... the beautiful days are numbered and they make you forget about the rainy, cloudy, crappy, snowy days that usually fill your time at PSU. Canterbury is much the same.

Classes here are quite different. For each of my "classes" I have a 1 hr lecture (with 100+ people) and a 2 hr seminar with no more than 15 people, per week. All courses demand a lot of outside reading, but as an english major I wasn't really expecting much else. I'm finding it really hard to communicate with PSU from here... trying to plan for course and graduation, and making sure my courses here count for something so I can graduate on time (so if anyone from the abroad office is reading this, please respond to my emails, pleeeease).

I haven't been homesick yet (well, minus the 2nd day when I was truly ill and wanted to comfort of my own home). And just a little bit when my friends were talking to me on homecoming weekend. I illegally watch the PSU games on my computer, but the last one wasn't worth me getting my internet taken away so I stopped watching the horrendous game. And this whole "tv license" thing over her-- RIDIC! but hey, i don't watch TV anymore. But it's not like I'm replacing that free time with work!

Living with first years makes you believe your a first year too. We spend  all our time after classes just hanging around, planning for the night, and being bums. I forgot how cool it was to live in the dorms, despite how noisy the boys are.  The girls on my floor and I love to walk around downtown canterbury, get lattes and window shop (we're still college kids and too poor to buy anything). But... we're not to poor to book trips to Amsterdam! We're going to the first reading/writing week for 4 day :). it's a huge Uni trip so England will be taking over Amsterdam for a long weekend. I'm ready for some more adventures.

Speaking of adventures....Mike got here on Monday after going to Holland and Germany (he's the reason I'm blogging. He's done 4 blogs in 10 days and I've done 2 in almost 6 weeks). On the same day he arrived, so did my package from home! THANKS MOM! it had American Oreos (which taste completely different), top ramen, easy mac, and a bunch of other college staples that I was missing. She was even kind enough to throw in some red solo cups and ping pong balls so the americans can teach these english kids some beer pong. (oh and they literally think college life in the states is like american pie or old school).  But in an hour or so,  Mike and I catch a bus from Canterbury to London and then an overnight bus from London to Paris!! We're staying in the St. Christopher Hostel which is supposedly more like a crowded and wild hotel. So this is where I leave you all... au revoir!

Fresher's Week

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Traveling through London and Dublin with a backpack was quite entertaining but I'm glad to be settled in Canterbury now. It felt funny moving back into the dorms; it's every graduating senior's dream "to go back to freshman year and do it all over again." Well guys, I get to. Fresher's Week, as they call it, is a completely genius idea. One week where there is no class but just orientations for your major and the student union plans different drinking events every night (18 is legal drinking age). I have a bar in my halls and the store that sells paper and notebooks sells booze. So a whole week of bonding with your floor mates before the pressure of work can get in to the way. I wish it had been like that for me at PSU. I don't even think I can remember the names of the girls on my floor because I was never forced to get to know them, I met more people in class or at frats. Well, fresher's week is coming to a close and my liver hurts and I feel a nasty cold brewing but that won't keep me from doing our floors unofficial pub crawl tonight.

Although it was hard at first--being alone in a different country--I'm beginning to see how this could be one of the best experiences of my life. But class starts in a couple days so I may retract that statement. Doubt it ;)
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Getting to, Arriving at, and Surviving the first day in the UK

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Packing: I may have overpacked. I tried not to, I swear. I discarded pairs of heels, and tank tops, and I only brought one towel. But It's hard not to when you look at the conversion rates. Did I really want to spend 40 pounds on my conditioner instead of $28 (don't check my math), or 70 pounds on school supplies when over the last 3 years of college I've accumulated enough junk that I can take for free.  So, all you gals thinking you're going to show up in fall with one suitcase, you're wrong. Once you pack the peacoat and first pair of saddle boots, you'll see just how small that suitcase is...oh and remember, under 50 lbs, please. (But on the brighter side, if you do have to leave basics behind, I passed an H&M and a "TK Maxx"--yes, K--in Kensington, London.)

Traveling: Getting here wasn't all that bad. Taking off at sunset and arriving at sunrise can really mess with you though. But the hard part comes when you get off at the airport. Since I wasn't heading in straight to school (and I had no hotel reservations yet) my mom and I "winged it". So after attempting to the get a bus ticket to a place the bus doesn't go, we were directed 'underground'. Surprising the bus is typically cheaper, but the underground is far more accessible. So we arrive in South Kensington, packs on our back, with maybe an hour of sleep from the plane ride, and wanting to shower, and we had no reservations anywhere. We stopped at an internet cafĂ© (don't be fooled, there are cheap ones out there on every corner) looked at some local hotels and there prices, and since we had no phone yet we thought we'd just show up and ask if they had rooms (the internet said they did). Apparently this is blasphemous. "You mean you don't already have a reservation," he says in a nasally annoying French accent. Obviously not buckoo or we wouldn't be asking about your availability. And apparently some of this "cute little places" don't have the computers for booking. So after they jacked the price up and we widdled in back down, it came back to the fact that they sucked and we walked out, to which the other French concierge say, "good luck finding a place elsewhere" in a French tone you thought was only in cartoons.  Eventually found a place, still paid too much, but a lesson was learned: buy ahead of time and BUY ONLINE! Buying on line can save you 30-50 pounds... serious American dollars.

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