Beachin in Brighton

One of my last excursions while in England was the coastal town of Brighton.  Famous for it’s retro pier and extroverted inhabitants, Brighton proved to be an exciting hip place to visit with friends.  While there, I was lucky enough to have  toured the Royal Pavilion.    It was built in three stages, beginning in 1787, as a seaside retreat of George, Price of Wales who became the Prince Regent in 1811 and later King George IV.  The Indo – Saracenic style architecture of the massive building adds a heightened sense of wealth; it was if the pavilion was one of the extravagant mansions described in the Great Gatsby.  With the audio guide that comes with the self-guided tour ticket, you can learn a lot about the history of the palace and the royal history of Brighton.  Numerous famous and wealthy people think of Brighton as a second home, or used to at least.

 

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On the Pier you will find arcades filled with any kind of game you could imagine.  Families and people of all ages come from all around the world to experience the fun-filled amusement pier.  Alongside the games are stands of souveniers, greasy snacks and sweet treats, jewelry and much more.  There are of course rides at the end of the pier, which you can see in the photograph on the left.  It was quite chilly when I went but I hear that there are long lines at every ride when the sun stays out in the summer.

My favorite thing about Brighton was the endless coast.  For what seems like hundreds of miles all you can see is the greenish-blue shoreline of the English Channel.  My friends and I relaxed on the rocky sand and took in the unique atmosphere that surrounded us.  Brighton is indeed full of people from both ends of the spectrum, and everywhere in between!

DSCN6819If you are planning a trip to England, I would certainly recommend taking a day trip or spending the night in coastal Brighton.   DSCN6786

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Picnics in the Parks: Hyde, Green & Regent

Entering May and the spring season, London has finally been experiencing some warm weather.  For the past couple weeks the sun has been out and shining bright for all the city slickers of London to enjoy.  A favorite activity among most Londoners is heading to the beautiful parks of the city.  Within minutes of the sun appearing in the sky, the parks are flooded with families, students, pets and people of every kind.  You might choose to bring a lunch and snack in the park as my friends and I do, or you might choose to sit in one of the park chairs; but beware as some do not know that it costs several pounds to sit in the lawn chairs until they find the park police making their hourly rounds.

Swans in the pond

Swans in the pond

London is home to some of the most beautiful parks filled with flowers, trees and ponds.  Swimming around the ponds are numerous geese, ducks and birds of different kinds.  You will see people feeding the animals by sprinkling bread crumbs into the water.

Another activity that many people do at the park is rent either paddle-boats or rowboats on 30 minute or hourly pay basis.  It is quite pricey (7 – 10 pounds per adult per hour) but it is a fun activity to do with a group of people because up to about 5 or 6 people can fit on one boat!

I would highly recommend having a picnic in one of the parks.  Pack a lunch, bring some music to listen to and relax in the sun, there’s nothing better!

Regents Park

Regents Park

Hyde Park

Hyde Park

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On Holiday: Amsterdam > Prague > Budapest > Florence > Venice!

Easter break just ended and boy am I upset about that; I spent my holiday vacation on a European excursion to some of the most wonderful world class cities.  From the tight streets of Amsterdam to the water highways in Venice, the incredible sites covered in my trip exceeded far beyond expectations.  To kick off backpacking around Europe I first arrived in Amsterdam, Holland in the Netherlands the most famous of Dutch cities.  Everyone talks about the overwhelming hub-bub and bright lights around this Dutch fantasy location and now I understand why.  In the middle of the city you will never ever find your self alone as the tourists and local natives are ALWAYS out and about.  The Dutch might very well be the most social people I have ever encountered.  As you walk the narrow streets, and I mean narrow, you feel like you are walking through a real life gameboard filled with cafes, sweet shops, casinos and much more.  The section of town my hostel was located near is the Red Light District which is both shocking and incredible.  Besides the city lights and fast pace night-life, Amsterdam is also one of the most beautiful cities to visit due to its many canals, bridges and unique architecture.  And don’d forget about the bikes…BIKES BIKES BIKES!  Everyone rides bikes to get around the city whether they be a suited business man or a mother of three.

DSCN5917 It is a wonderful thing to see but makes crossing the streets a death sentence.  I swear I will forever have anxiety whenever i hear the ringing of a bike bell in the near distance.

DSCN5943Amsterdam is also home to one of the most famous beers in the world: Heineken.  I was lucky enough to tour the Heineken brewery/factory, tasting the very hopps they put into the beer.  Heineken is the only beer company that is allowed to used the specified sweet wheat they use, giving them a secret ingredient and advantage over other lager.   Enjoying one of Amsterdam’s  dutch dessert waffles while sipping on an ice cold Heineken definitely gave me a true  Holland experience, and a delicious one at that!

Heineken can from vending machine

Heineken can from vending machine

Dutch dessters

Dutch dessters

 

 

 

 

 

The next step in my journey was the gorgeous city of Prague.  This was arguably my favorite place I went on the trip, although it may have a little to due with the sunny 75 degree whether we had while there.  Prague is much larger than Amsterdam, thus to see as many sites as possible my travelling partner and I segwayed around the city which proved to be one of the most joyous experiences.  Prague is filled with so many beautiful sites including the John Lennon wall and the Prague Castle hill view of the city.DSCN6070

John Lennon Wall

Prague is also famous for beer and their many breweries in the city.  I have never seen so many different types of beer in my life!  And since beer is so popular around the country it is extremely cheap, which makes dinner and drinks outing s very popular around places like the Old Town Square.  Recommended from a tour guide I was able to find the oldest restaurant/brewery in all of Prague and ate some traditional Czeck food which includes dumplings, goulash, beef and cream.

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The third stop on my excursion was Budapest, Hungary a place I never would have imagined going to.  Hungary is an interesting place with a very inflated currency ($1 = 228 FT) meaning I was able to take out a 10,000FT note from the ATM!  We took a 7 hour bus ride from Prague to Budapest and were able to see the beautiful countryside of Hungry with colorful houses on colorful farms.  Budapest, unlike Prague and Amsterdam is much more city-like similar to New York or Boston with multiple lane roads and wide streets.  The weather in Budapest while we were there was amazing, so people were all over the parks and lawns napping and soaking up the sun.  Since we were nearing Italy, we noticed ice cream, and more so gilatto, was very popular around Hungary.  My favorite part about Hungary are the thermal baths scattered around the cities.  They are essentially large scale spas that anyone can go to for a day or a month, year etc, kid of like a gym membership.  The baths contain indoor hot-tubs saunas, a gym, and outdoor pools and thermal baths (like a very big hot-tub).  From the outside you cannot see the baths as the glorious building wraps completely around the outdoor waters.

Thermal Baths

Thermal Baths

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View from Fisherman’s Bastion

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DSCN6289 Parliament

As the sun went down, the city of Budapest seemed to grow in beauty.  Hungary, by far, has thee most beautiful Parliament building I have ever seen, which can be seen best across the river.  Two other famous buildings in Budapest are the Buda Castle and even more impressive, the Fishermen’s bastion which is basically a castle.

The most impressive view of the city can definitely be seen from the                 .                                                steps of the bastion and the back of the castle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last on my backpacking excursion was Italy which I think tied with Prague for my favorite.  First up in Italy was Florence, a city filled with friendly people, scrumptious food and beautiful nature.  Italy is really a place you need to see rather than read about so I  will try to show you how wonderful it is through photography.  DSCN6350DSCN6451DSCN6471DSCN6566DSCN6506

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is no beating the food in Italy, especially the gnocci pasta and bruschetta you see above.  In Venice the water-filled streets are perfect for gondola rides and outdoor restaurants.  I could talk for hours about Italy but it is a place everyone should experience for themselves.  I hope one day I can live in Italy for a few years and be able to travel around the whole country.DSCN6619DSCN6446DSCN6495

 

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Boogie Down in Camden Town

As we all know, London is widely known for its extensive music scene.  Countless artists and bands originated in London and many continue to do so today.  The fact that London is one of the most popular spots for musicians to tour and perform was the key factor in my decision to study here.  I have been to several shows so far and look forward to seeing more before my time here is up.

The most popular place for musicians, home to numerous music venues is Camden, a region of London.  In Camden you  can find just about any type of person, music and art; it is an incredible place with such uniqueness you have to truly see it to understand.  From indie to electronic music genres, the venues around Camden and all throughout London host all different sorts of performances.  Live music makes just about everything better and if you agree then London is the place for you.

Some of my favorite venues include Scala, Koko, O2 venues (like Sheperd’s Bush Empire), 100club and many more.  So far I have seen Angus Stone, Walk the Moon, Sons & Lovers, Jeremiah Farrari, Sheepdogs, Hummingbirds and several others.  The most recent performance I attended was the Sheepdogs, a rock with sounds similar to the some 60′s bands like the Grateful Dead.  They put on an incredible show and I would definitely recommend seeing their show if you have the opportunity to.

Angus Stone @ 02 Shepard's Bush Empire

Angus Stone @ 02 Shepard’s Bush Empire

Sheepdogs

Sheepdogs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=JHw6kdPdvAA

In May I plan to see some of my favorite bands including Cold War Kids, Milo Greene and Minus the Bear.

The Sheepdogs @ 100Club

The Sheepdogs @ 100Club

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An Eggselent English Easter

HAPPY EASTER EVERYONE!  I hope everyone enjoyed their holiday festivities whatever they might have been because I sure know I did.  For my Easter abroad, we organized a big potluck type dinner with several of the flats in our building all from API (my study-abroad program).  We weren’t quite sure how it would turn out since we all had to rely on one another’s cooking skills.  In total we had about 22 people and everyone made more than an adequate amount of food.  Our meal consisted of a cornucopia of dishes ranging from shrimp to Macaroni.  Our delicious three course meal contained:

Appetizers: Shrimp Scampi, Cheese & Crackers, Various Fruit, Salad, Garlic Bread, Veggies and Ranch dip, Deviled Eggs, Seven Layer Salsa Dip with tortilla crisps

Main Courses: Two oven – roasted chickens with gravy, Baked macaroni and cheese, Chicken Rossini , Shepard’s pie, Baked chex mix & Green bean casserole

Desserts: Chocolate pudding pie, Strawberry Shortcake, Chocolate chip – peanut butter – banana cookies, Chocolate cake, Double chocolate chip cookies & Apple Pie

To say the least, it was a spectacular feast!

My additions to the feast were the cheese plate (consisting of brie, cheddar, and prosciutto), the two seasoned roasted chickens, garlic bread, and my famous deviled eggs. We spent the whole day lounging in the flat eating our faces off going up for seconds, thirds, and even fourths!  It was so nice to hang out with everyone in the program and be with people whose company you enjoy since we would all usually be with our families on Easter day.  Everyone was tired and full to the brim when it was time for bed.  Some of the dishes were completely gone, but there was a plethora of left-overs for the next few days.  I was a little down thinking I would be missing my family a lot on the holiday, but I am so lucky to have such a nice group of kids to have shared the day with; I wish there were more holidays coming up before the end of the program so we could have another potluck feast.  easter547529_503222066382247_1223347965_n

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Weekend in Wales

Wales is a beauteous place filled with country-side landscapes, plains that go on for miles and old towns run by the jolly Welsh natives.  On my weekend excursion to Wales I visited various places taking in the historical beauty of the landmarks and ancient buildings.  There is not much excitement when it comes to the country of Wales and if you are someone who enjoys the fast paced style of city life, it is not the place for you.  The Welsh are calm, tranquil people who take joy in living off the land and being home with the family by 6pm every day.  On my trip I visited several places including the Chepstow Castle which is located on top of cliffs overlooking the River Wye & is the oldest surviving post-Roman stone fortification in Britain dating back to 1067!  it is massive and ancient with walls of warn down stone an moss covering many of the walls.  The views from the windows of the castle are certainly a sight to see.   Right on the ground on the castle you can actually have one foot in Wales and the other in England, quite the experience.

Window from the Castle

Window from the Castle

Chepstow Castle

Chepstow Castle

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Weary castle walls

Weary castle walls

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Hay-On-Wye

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Tintern Abbey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the Chepstow castle, I went on to visit a couple of other historic places in Wales.  The Tintern Abbey was founded by Walter de Clare, Lord of Chepstow on May 9th 1131!  The ruins are incredible and you could sit and gaze in awe for hours at the architecture.  The Tintern is situated next to a vast hillside of greenery;  when it is warmer out many visitors will walk around the grounds of the ruins and up through the trails in the trees.   The Tintern also looks over the River Wye, which runs past the town of Wales, Hay-On-Wye.  Now, when you think of one of the major locations of a country you may think of London or Paris but no, Hay-On-Wye is a quaint town filled with ma and pa shops and over 38 bookshops, and for that reason possesses the title of “The Town of Books”.  All the shops in the town close at 5pm and the locals seem to go about their daily rote without a care in the world.  It is very peaceful to see such a different way of life.  Next to the hotel that my travel group and I stayed was a a small dance hall that we later found out was the only night club or any of the sort in all of Wales.  We happened to meet a few young Welsh men aged 19 – 21 who informed is that the dance hall was “the place to be” and “the only thing to do in Wales”.  They actually hire party buses to take them there on the weekends, which I found quite surprising.  One boy who was 21 years old said he moved from hours away to work in Hay-On-Wye, I could not believe the difference in culture and lifestyle, it was very interesting to hear their opinions on their native land.  Most of them said they wanted to leave and go afar for school and probably not come back but that may just be the angst of youth talking.

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On the last day of my excursion, I was allowed the opportunity to go pony trekking on the mountain side past the grassy plains and cliff sides of Wales.  I have to admit that I was absolutely terrified.  Ponies and horses and not my cup of tea and I had never rode one before but it was an experience and i am so glad I was able to do it.  All the ponies had different names like Oscar, Ralph, Blaze, Tammy etc.  My little brown one was named lady, but she did get a little impatient at our trekking pace and 2-foot kicked the pony in back of me.  While we trotted around I was able to take in the overwhelming beauty of the nature around me.

Pony trekking

Pony trekking

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Welcome to Oxford

Last weekends I went on a day trip up to the beautiful town of Oxford, England.  It was frigid out and I could barely feel my toes, but let me tell you it was well worth it.  From the university to the bookshops, Oxford seems like a wonderful place to live.  I did not know much about Oxford University (rated number one school in the world) until I had the tour and learned how extravagant it truly is.  The University is actually split up into 38 separate colleges with different names, administration and grading systems;  it’s not like there is a college of business and a college of history, each college has a plethora of areas of study. All of the colleges combined are then referred to as Oxford University.  Another way to look at it would be to take all of the Ivy League schools (like Harvard, Brown, Columbia etc) and put them in the same vecinity and refer to the cobonatin of them all as Ivy League University.  Each one of the 38 colleges is unique in its own way with its own claim to fame.  Here are a list of all the current colleges of Oxford:

All Souls, Balliol, Brasenose, Christ Church, Corpus Christi, Exeter, Green Templeton, Harris, Manchester, Hertford, Jesus, Keble, Kellogg, Lady Margaret Hall, Linacre, Lincoln, Magdalen, Mansfield, Merton, New, Nuffield, Oriel, Pembroke, Queen’s, St Anne’s, St Antony’s, St Catherine’s, St Cross, St Edmund Hall, St Hilda’s, St Hugh’s, St John’s, St Peter’s, Somerville, Trinity, University, Wadham, Wolfson, Worcester               [some of the more well-known I have put in bold]

One of the most famous buildings at Oxford, one of the numerous libraries/study rooms is shown here.

Study Room at Oxford

Study Room at Oxford

 

All of the plots of grass at Oxford are very well kept and the only people allowed to walk upon the lawns are alumni of the university.  When Oxford holds a reunion, which is often, former graduates come to the school and run around on the grass celebrating the Oxford tradition.

 

 

 

 

 

On the way up to Oxford we stopped at Oxfordshire near the old town of Woodstock to tour the Blenheim Palace, home to the Duke of Marlborough and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill.  The palace is located on a gorgeous plot of land gives to the first Duke by the queen as a gift.  The Duke still lives in the private apartments on the left side of the palace where he is not to be disturbed.  The plot of land includes  a pond, a long driveway and a grassy plain filled with herds of sheep.  As you can see by the photographs below, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England is absolutely beauteous

Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace

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The Duke's backyard

The Duke’s backyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tower in the back of the palace

Tower in the back of the palace

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The buildings in the small town of Woodstock

The buildings in the small town of Woodstock

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The Real London “Eye”

ALWAYS Watching!

ALWAYS Watching

Cameras everywhere you can't see

Cameras everywhere you can’t see

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CCTV, or closed-circuit television is London’s security or surveillance system and is run all throughout the city. Although the purpose of the system is supposedly to keep civilians safe while reducing crime, CCTV can seem a bit “creepy” and invasive.  There is very few locations in London where you are out of site of the monitoring cameras, and therefore the government.  If George Orwell were still with us today he would have screamed “I told you so!” eluding to his novel 1984; The novel describes a society in which freedom is absent and structure is survival, with the entity of the government (Big Brother) always watching you.  For anyone not to make a connection between CCTV and Big Brother would be a shock to me.  On almost every store and restaurant, or any building for that matter there are signs reminding you that CCTV is operating at all times (as seen in the picture above); some signs even say “big smiles everyone, remember CCTV is always watching!” which is just downright intrusive of privacy.  The locations of the monitors are sketchy in the way that they are all strategically places where you cannot really see them, but they can ALWAYS see you!  Now if the police or the government really wants to prevent crime by monitoring all activity and scaring criminals by the threat of being caught on film, wouldn’t you suppose they would want the cameras to be blatantly visible?

 

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Monitors all throughout London Undergroung

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CCTV monitors a 360 degree vies on any street light

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When closed-circuit television or recording systems of the sort first started being used, they were for governmental purpose only.  Mostly they were used for monitoring rockets, prison cells and some reasons that are still undisclosed to the public.  I understand that the police and government want to try to catch and prevent as many criminals as possible, but I feel as though the camera system is a bit too much.  Looking around at the fat – paced life of London where everyone knows what they need to do, where to go and will not stop for anyone that gets in their way, CCTV really adds to the whole 1984 vibe of it all.  People are just being watched and trained to do their job and make the city keep functioning, it is like some sort of experiment with all of London’s residents as the lab-rats if you will.  Now, don’t get me wrong I still think the city is fabulous and am having a wonderful time here I just feel as though something fishy is up with the security system and it almost has the opposite affect; instead of feeling safer, I feel a thousand times more paranoid knowing I am constantly being watched.  And, even if you try to forget about the cameras, yu can;t because in the underground transportation system reminders over the intercom state “CCTV is operating during all hours throughout London underground to ensure your safety”, it’s like they are trying to brainwash us.  If it is truly for our safety I doubt I would a constant reminder of the fact.

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Basics of the Brits

It has only been a couple weeks and I am still adjusting to the British lifestyle.  I thought to enhance my attempt I should probably explore the most common aspects of the country.  Apart from visiting the famous historical sites, other things in London have also been around for years; who can live in London without having and old fashion fish n’ chips an a local pub or having a picture taken in one of the famous red phone booths.  Well, I can now say I’ve crossed both those tasks off my list!  I might add that the original British meal (called the “Codfather” at the pub The Torch) was everything I had hoped for and more.  Although I am used to ordering Fish n’ Chips all summer down  in Cape Cod, that is about the only time I refer to french fries as chips.  Here, as many know fried are ALWAYS refered to as chips and what I know as chips are called crisps.  The slight differences in lingo have troubled me quite a difference so I thought it might be a help to list a few out for you.

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                                                             Tongue Tied
America/The States                                     United Kingdom

Chips                           =                           Crisps

Policeman/Cop      =                            Bobby

Thank you                =                            Cheers

Sneakers                    =                            Trainers

Class                            =                            Module

Professor                  =                            Lecturer

Vacuum                    =                             Hoover

Pants                         =                             Trousers

Underwear             =                              Pants

(You can imagine where that one can make for some embarrassing moments..i.e. telling a Brit you’re going to change your pants)

Waiting Line           =                              Queue

Bathroom                =                               Toilets/Lou

Middle finger (swear) =                      Backwards Piece sign (index & middle finder up)

phone

………more to come as my journey abroad continues

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From Burgers to Biscuits

Sconed

Sconed

My first encounter with the oldest British tradition in the book.  A good ole afternoon tea with fellow study abroad students in central London.  At the tea we were generously served a cornucopia of delicate treats including pastries, cupcakes, finger-sandwiches, and most importantly scones; for beverages, we were offered both tea and coffee.  As Americans, the group and myself probably ate a bit too much at a increasingly rapid pace, as we are still learning the polite manners native of the Brits.

Lessons Learned:

  • How to eat scones:  
  1. Place a full scone on an empty plate
  2. Cut the treat in half sideways to you have to flat, patty-like pieces of bread
  3. With a knife, gently spread some clotted cream (a think butter-like spread) on each piece of scone
  4. On top of the cream, knife s dollop of flavored jam
  5. Neatly and slowly eat each piece of scone with your fingers – NOTE: Scones are about the ONLY food that the English eat with their hands – they even eat pizza with a fork!
  • Polite Table Manners:
  1. Always place hands on top of the table, for others may think you are doing something innapropriaate or sneaky if they cannot see them
  2. Use silverware for almost all foods
  3. Finish the food on your plate before having seconds
  4. Eat your entire mean, the Brits aren’t to keen on taking food to-go
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