Well, you might be wondering why I jumped from week 16 to week 22 and that's because it has been 22 weeks that I've been abroad. 17 represented how many weeks I spent in Sevilla. But for the final chapter, I thought it was only fair to include every week I have been in Europe. It has been almost exactly five months...one day short. I left July 29th and am returning December 28th.
So, I am on my way home now--currently on the airplane over the USA, not quite yet to Charlotte. I am counting down the hours until I land at DIA. That's when I'll really feel like I'm at home. DIA has always been my favorite airport but hey, I'm biased. All right, so here's what happened this final week...
Christmas Day...I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas!! Ours (mom, dad, me) was uneventful. We knew most things would be closed on Christmas Day so we had bought potatoes and eggs and juice the night before to have for breakfast in the morning. It still cracks me up that people think that eggs are for dinner instead of breakfast... Seriously, most of Europe only eats a piece of toast and butter with coffee for breakfast or something super duper small like that. If they have eggs/bacon/sausage/potatoes/etc. it is definitely called the "American Breakfast" on the menu. During breakfast, we watched a movie all snuggled in on the couch together. We tried to find a Christmas movie but we had already watched all the good ones (that we had access to) and so we had a couple of failed attempts before settling for a love story that was not Christmasy. It was good but sad though, so then we watched another movie afterward to cheer us up. The wind was blowing and the clouds were dark so we felt better about being inside rather than trying to venture out. Since we stayed a ways outside of London in Greenwich, there wasn't much to do or places to go that we wanted to walk to and taking the metro required effort and we didn't even know if it was open. Christmas Day is an excuse to be lazy, right? I figured if I would have been at my Grandma's house (which is where we normally are on Christmas)--we would have just been stuffing our faces and doing nothing (in the best way possible). I did miss playing games and spending Christmas Day with the family and I especially missed the food. For our Christmas dinner in London, we went to look for a restaurant and ended up finding only a couple places open which was an American grill and this Lebanese place or something. We didn't want to be boring so we tried the Lebanese place (if that's even what it was) and it was...interesting. There was no flavor to the food really and when I asked about what was gluten-free, our waitress didn't even know what gluten or flour or wheat was. We figured she must not have spoken English very well. That was pretty much our Christmas Day.
Tuesday...we had looked up the weather and it was set to rain in the afternoon so we decided to go out early and try to be back by mid-afternoon. So, Google Maps is my very best friend and my life-line. You'll understand later why I said that. So my data expired on this day because I didn't want to renew it for only two more days and both my parents had plenty of data (or so they thought). My dad did well with the bus system and our Apple Pay and we got more downtown by the Shard, which is a famous really tall building in London. Fun fact, it is the tallest building in the European Union. So we saw that and then realized we were hungry for breakfast and found this adorable cafe. I got hot chocolate, fresh orange juice, and an American breakfast with bacon, mushrooms, eggs, gluten-free toast, and tomatoes. It was yummy, yummy. After that, we walked through the Christmas market along the river and for some reason I was shivering. I was chilled to the bone. But I really was liking London. We went to London Bridge and then decided we should take the metro to the other part of town where all the big attractions are: Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, etc. Well this is when we discovered that my parents' phones wouldn't work. We had to "steal" Starbucks wifi for 30 seconds just so I could figure out how to navigate us downtown. We figured it out but were very confused why my parents had no service and realized we would have to be resourceful. We made our way to this huge mall that my parents had gone to the first time they were in London. They wanted to show me the pretty Christmas lights and then a delicious crepe place that had gluten-free crepes as well. I had a mouth-watering buckwheat (gluten-free!) crepe filled with Belgian chocolate and bananas. It took forever for us to get them because it was so busy but it was worth the wait--the crepe was so good and filling. We then went to Buckingham Palace--took our picture of course--and then to Westminster Abbey, the Parliament buildings, this private school that looked like Hogwarts where amazing people attended (like Picasso I think but I could be making that up), and then took an amazing picture with Big Ben. That last statement is sarcastic because Big Ben is currently under construction for the next 3-4 years and it is very boring with all the scaffolds around it. Oh and then we also saw the Eye (Ferris Wheel) and the lit up building next to it (The Main County building or something) with Christmas colors. We accomplished all of that by 4:30pm and then realized we were ready to go back but had absolutely no idea how to get back. We were trying to use my parents' phones again and they weren't working so we thought we were stuck there forever. We seriously had no idea what to do... there's no just reading a map in London. There are way too many metro lines. It's too complicated. I finally tried my data and got enough "juice" to get us back home on a bus. I got to ride a double decker bus on the top level!!! Did you even go to London if you can't say that?
Wednesday...well if you remember back to my blog about Albuferia or if you happened to read about when I was in Portugal, you might remember that I met a whole bunch of guys from England. Well, one of them, Byron, and I have kept in touch and we had set up a date to meet in London, the 27th of December (aka Wednesday). So, my parents and I had tried to problem solve the data and decided to go into the store the next day because of our need for Google Maps. I told you it was our life-line. And we needed to be able to communicate since I wouldn't be with my parents that day. I brought up the Google Map plan before we left and took us right downtown to the store where we figured out the issue--the first time, the company had gave my parents the wrong sim to begin with blah blah--all technical, frustrating things. Well, we ended up getting the right sims to last us for a day--yipee. And it was worth it. So, I had originally told Byron we would have to meet the "old-fashioned way" since I didn't have data so our meeting spot was the Victoria Memorial in front of the Buckingham palace. I thought that would be easy enough. Well, of course it was raining and freezing and, on top of that, right as we were set to meet, the palace was doing the "guard change" so the roads were all closed off and he was in the middle and I was on one of the roads and couldn't get to him. But it was cool to see the changing of the guards, although by the time I realized it was happening, the guards had already walked past me and I didn't get to take a picture. Oh well. I finally was able to cross and meet up with Byron. Okay so we definitely got our steps in for the day. We started by walking to a 'Pret a Manger' (a coffee shop) because they are seriously everywhere and I wanted to say I went at least once. We got a warm drink to warm our hands up. Then, we just chatted for a good while so I could just listen to his accent and then I shared with him all my British words I had come across to see if he actually used them. My favorite was wellies. When he first saw me, one of his first comments were on my bright "wellies" but I literally had no idea what he said. He pointed to my boots and I go, "Oh! My rain-boots?!" And he got a good kick out of that. He thinks Americans are so literal. Rain-boots are literally what they are and same with the side-walk. They call it "pavement" or "footpath" and he thinks "side-walk" is literal. I think British English is literal. Their exit sign says "Way Out." Any who, after we were warm (or as warm as I could be), I told him I had wanted to see the Harry Potter store and the Platform 9 3/4. We metroed (is that a word?)...took a metro there (better) and got jammed into a crowd. There was a massive line to, as Byron said, "Take a photo where you are pretending to push a cart into the wall." The "queue" (or line) was over an hour wait to take a photo and to go into the store. We decided we weren't that big of Harry Potter fans and so we next decided to go to the National History Museum. When we got there, there was a long queue there too... Wednesday after Christmas is apparently a busy day. But there was this pretty ice rink there and we had talked about going ice skating originally but I had thought it was going to be too cold. However, we did great. He said he was bad but he was actually really good! It was a highlight of the day. After, he wanted to show me this store called Harrolds which is sorta like Corte Ingles in Spain or IKEA or Macy's or something. It is a really fancy store with six levels that has a ton of fancy stuff that college students can't afford. It was so amazing and fun to walk through though. It was a mall in itself. Then, we went to Piccadilly which is similar to New York Square but so much smaller. Then, we decided to walk towards "The Winter Wonderland" at Hyde Park and we passed by so many Christmasy streets and that was a great time too. Like I said, we got our steps in...but it was good to walk and keep moving so we stayed warm. The Winter Wonderland was super cool. It was like walking into a Christmas festival. We walked around and then it was already 6pm and we needed to get dinner before his coach left that night. We found this cute restaurant and enjoyed dinner together and then he headed back to his city and I headed back to meet my parents. We had a lot of fun and he is super kind! I can say I went on a date with a British man in London. It was pretty special and probably a once in a lifetime opportunity...unless I move to London because I do like the city and the accents...they just talk so proper and I found myself talking proper with Byron just because it flowed better. I was proud of myself for not being the American that said "like" every other sentence. At least he said he didn't notice me saying like a lot. But then I also did realize that British people aren't always the nicest. There were quite a few angry people amongst the crowds throughout the day...London just needs more kind souls like Byron. But see maybe that means people outside of downtown London are nicer... who knows?
Well after my date, I took a bus home and then my parents were supposed to meet me but couldn't because the police had blocked off the entire street for a "crime scene." I walked right past it and I think what happened was a pedestrian was hit... scary stuff. I finally caught up to my parents and we went to this restaurant on the corner of the street that was literally a five minute walk or less from our place. My dad had the best salmon and of his life and my mom and I got butternut squash soup. It was so tasty. Then, we went home and packed up because the plan was to stay up all night and leave at 2:30am to get to the airport by 3:30am because my parent's flight was at 6:30am or something like that. Mine wasn't until 9:45am--and no, we weren't on the same flight since I booked mine for abroad way in advance... in case you were wondering. We were gonna watch a movie to stay up but our plan failed and both mom and I ended up taking naps before leaving because we were so exhausted. At least I figured I would sleep on the flight. The next plan that failed was my parents and my plan to go through check-in, security, and customs together and then separate at the gates... but that didn't happen because our flights were in completely different terminals so I got dropped off at 3:30am all by myself in terminal three. There was hardly anybody even there so I think I did sleep a few winks and then checked in at 5:45am. But then there was confusion because one person sent me to one line and then the other sent me to another and then I had to go in the back of the line and ahh, it was so stressful. I hit that point where I was just absolutely done with travel. I was so happy this was my final trip for awhile. I just wanted to be home. It got a little better after that... security was easy and then there were comfortable spots to wait and a coffee shop called Caffé Nero, which is an Italian coffee shop. Side note, out of all the countries I visited, my favorite coffee was in Italy. This coffee shop just further proved that because I had the best chai of my life. Yes, I know it isn't coffee but still. I also got a gluten-free sandwich to eat on the plane because supposedly they weren't going to feed us during the eight and a half hour flight. I found out right before I boarded that they actually do serve food but you have to tell them about food allergies 72 hours in advance. We had tried but couldn't figure it out...but I had come prepared this time. I learned my lesson the first time (on the way to Europe where I missed my flight, had to switch airlines, and then they yelled at me for not pre-ordering gluten-free even though that wasn't even my original flight).
Well, it is true they fed us several times but I could only eat the salad...but I was also served a hefty glass of wine so that was nice. And I was thankful I had my sandwich and a bar although--strange thing--only about an hour after the flight left, my stomach started to get a really sharp pain. I tried sleeping through it, but was in and out of sleep and then I finally decided to watch a movie called 'Everything.'
I am now about 30 minutes away from landing in the US, which means it will be the first time I've touched foot in America since July!!! And I did it!! I completed my goal... I made it to 10 different countries. And who knows how many cities... I'll have to count them all soon before I forget.
I am very excited and a little overwhelmed. I will be starting classes in six days from now....but I can't think about that right now. I am just going to focus on being home and enjoying the New Year!!! Happy New Year friends and family. I wish you all the best. Thank you for reading my blogs... I have enjoyed writing them to keep track of my adventures. There has been so much that has happened and so much has changed and I feel like more change is right around the corner.
Study abroad is an amazing opportunity and one I would encourage any and everyone to do. I honestly feel like there is no way to describe it in words... even the best authors in the world would have trouble finding a way to make someone who has not studied abroad understand. It is one of those things you have to experience for yourself and I am so glad I have. It has broadened my world view more than I could have ever imagined. I will now forever live by this quote that my dear professor Rubén shared with the class. It's by Ludwig Wittgenstein and it says, "The limits of your language are the limits of your world." What better way to broaden the "limits of your language" than to learn a whole new language and culture and live in Spain for five months? And now, my goal is to not stop there. That might not mean learning French or German, but it does mean to be aware of how I can expand even my own language, which is English (I think...hehe). Well--this might be the final chapter of my study abroad, but it is not the final book. I know that for sure. Hasta luego Europa... gracias por todo.
|My British date!|
|This is the luggage we lugged up and down stairs and on trains... I was SO sore the next day.|
|Reppin' "Stanton" in London|
|Tower Bridge..but I kept singing "London bridges falling down"|
|Hogwart-looking school where famous people attended|
|The amazing Big Ben picture!!!!|
|Harry Potter Platform--I can still say I went...|
|National History Museum!|
|More pretty streets!|