Tales from abroad: Europe

A scenic view of the London skyline. (credit: J.W. Ramp | Publisher) A scenic view of the London skyline. (credit: J.W. Ramp | Publisher)

In high school I was lucky enough to spend a summer in Bath, England while my dad was working there. I knew I wanted to go back to England someday, and that ended up being sooner rather than later when I decided to study abroad. I was lucky enough to find a school, London Metropolitan University, which had the classes that I needed to take for my biology major and art minor. Throughout my semester in London, I kept a blog so that I could easily share my adventures with family and friends back home. Every couple of weeks, I would write up a long entry describing my experiences. The following are highlights from my blog posts.

Jan. 28, 2009
As I drove to the airport it finally hit me: I was going to London... alone. Later, when I looked out my window as we were landing and saw the English countryside, I got a surge in my chest that was a mix of excitement and apprehension when I realized that I was really going to live here!

I spent the first few days settling into my dorm room, as well as exploring the neighborhoods around King’s Cross, touring Piccadilly Circus, and investigating my new campus.

Feb. 3, 2009
On Saturday, I went to St. Paul’s Cathedral with other students in my program. My friends in other programs were jealous that ours had so much planned out for us. We saw where St. Paul’s was hit in the blitz, and I was absolutely in love with the wood carvings and glittering mosaics.

In that first month, we checked out the famed Oxford Street for some shopping, watched the Steelers win the Super Bowl in an American student bar, and found out that our first day of classes was canceled because London had had the worst snow in 18 years the night before.

Feb. 10, 2009
I remember seeing Windsor Castle as I was flying in — it’s hard to miss! It’s the largest inhabited castle in the world. The main rooms were absolutely gorgeous with amazing gold tapestries, paintings, furniture, and clocks everywhere. There were enormous armory rooms with huge displays of guns and swords to show how well the Crown is protected.

Feb. 24, 2009
One of my favorite sites was the Tower of London — it’s always cool to see the Beefeaters, medieval graffiti, and the original chopping block used for executions. We continued our big tourist day by visiting Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.

Apr. 20, 2009
It was tough to adjust to a new Blackboard-like website and class structure, and figuring out when my final exams were was the final challenge. In the UK they call studying “revising,” and the last day of classes and finals are often far apart.

My program took weekend trips to Edinburgh, Oxford, and Stratford. Highlights of the trip were the great English accents, seeing Edinburgh Castle, trying haggis — a dish made of sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs and usually boiled in the animal’s stomach for three hours, and plenty of Harry Potter, Shakespeare, Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis landmarks pointed out to us by our tour guides.

A few friends and I planned our own Ireland trip. We saw the beautiful cliffs of Moher and subjected the Irish to dealing with crazy Americans getting lost driving on the other side of the road with a stick shift.

Apr. 26, 2009
For spring break, I took a trip around Europe on the Eurail with two friends, one of whom had won three passes through a Facebook contest. We went to too many great cities to describe them all. We first landed in Hamburg, which was having the largest fair in Northern Germany, and we had fun checking out the rides and eating bratwurst. Prague was one of my favorites with beautiful old landmarks like the Old Town Square, Old Jewish Cemetery, and the Charles Bridge.

We continued on to Krakow to see the World War II concentration camps: Auschwitz and Buchenwald — an unlikely choice for a fun spring break trip, but we thought it was something we needed to see. When the tour guide stated how many people died in Auschwitz, I uncontrollably got the chills and felt the gravity of the fact that this happened here.

Next, we traveled to Vienna for a day. We learned a lot about train travel, including how you should always designate a private sleeping car and shower when you have the option. Also, we were awoken when the train crossed the border into Austria by knocking and “Austrian police! Passports!” When the border police officer saw our passports, he exclaimed, “California! Arnold Schwarzenegger is a good president of California!”

Venice is a great city for just walking around and getting lost. I was lucky enough to go to the San Marco Basilica for Easter mass — all in Italian, of course. We took a train to Dusseldorf but got to the wrong airport. We had no idea that there were two airports in Dusseldorf, so we took an expensive, long cab ride to the right airport and, thankfully, made it in time for our flight. At least things had gone relatively smoothly until the end.