Wednesday, November 23, 2011


London was by far the city I felt the most comfortable in. It reminded me a lot of DC because there were constantly people speaking other languages. I arrived at King's Cross Station on Thursday evening. Fiona met me and we tried to find Platform 9 and 3/4 but it was missing. We went looking for it between Platforms 9 and 10, but nothing was there. I felt just like a confused Harry Potter. 

After dropping my stuff off at Fiona's dorm in Camden Town, we got burritos near Oxford Circus. London at night is so lively and it was really cool to take public transportation. I got an Oyster Card the first day, which is the equivalent of a SmarTrip except that it saves you at least 50 pence on every trip. 

Near Covent Garden:

The next morning, I went to Westminster Abbey. I was so excited and I loved doing the audio tour. From a history perspective, London was the most exciting place that I've gone. 

Then we went ice-skating by the Museum of Natural History with Fiona's friend Ellie. There are rinks all over London set up between now and Christmas.

Walking by the museums, you can see scars on the buildings from WWII:

We walked through Hyde Park and the Kensington Gardens, where we saw the Albert Memorial:

Kensington Palace is currently "being transformed," most likely in time for the 2012 games:

We had afternoon tea at the Orangery, the restaurant at Kensington Palace:

The next morning, I went to the Tower of London. I got there just in time for a yeoman tour. The yeomen have at least 22 years of military experience and spend the tour alternating between historical stories and poking fun at the crowd. 

We met friends at Picadilly Circus for lunch. My friend Dean dragged us to a Texan restaurant, which was pretty funny to find in the center of London. 

After lunch, Dean, Lea, and I went to an arcade where we spent the afternoon bowling and playing games. Fiona took me around Camden before dinner, showing me the Camden stables. The stables were turned into a market, with stalls being different stores. Fiona, Ellie, and I got French food for dinner in Islington, which is a really nice neighborhood. On Sunday morning, I went straight to King's Cross. It was then that I noticed a sign for Platform 9 and 3/4, which had actually been moved out of the train station during construction. I opted out of seeing the fake one.

I really loved seeing all the different neighborhoods in London and taking the tube everywhere. The downside was that both Fiona and I weren't feeling well, possibly because of food poisoning. I still went out even when I wasn't feeling well, but I can't wait to go back and see even more of the city!


Last Wednesday (Nov. 16), we went to see The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. It's an American movie that turned the French comic books into a 3D animated film. It released a lot earlier in Europe and there were a lot of older people there. It was really cute and a great use of 3D!

It's a really great movie regardless of your age. A little violent for children in my opinion (which is weird for a children's movie), but still good. 


Amsterdam is as beautiful as Paris, but less crowded. It's one of my favorite cities to walk around. Most tourists try to bike a little, but I was not a fan of that idea. Most of our weekend there (Nov. 11-13) was spent walking around the canals and eating street food.

Sitting by a canal:

Amsterdam was full of really great graffiti: 

Near all the museums:

Line for Van Gogh museum:

The Van Gogh museum was really great! We saw a few of the sunflower paintings and lots of self-portraits. It was definitely worth the wait. Afterwards, we went by the biggest flower market:

We stopped by the Anne Frank House, but didn't have a chance to go inside:

We made sure to go by a cheese shop before leaving, where I picked up some Gouda from Holland:

On our way to the train station, we saw a lot of people dancing around in blackface. It was super confusing and we later found out that their Christmas includes Santa Claus and "black pete":

I'd love to go back to Amsterdam at some point!

Céad míle fáilte!

100,000 Welcomes to Dublin! Fiona and I went to Dublin for the weekend of November 4th. It's taken me a while to post about it because I've been traveling a lot since then (more on that later). 

I took a morning flight (which Lorrie happened to be on) and got to Dublin before 10am. I was really early to meet my friend Abby so I wandered around and saw the Whitefriars Street Carmelite Church (where St. Valentine is buried) and the Shaw birthplace:

I met Abby around noon at the Chestur Beatty Library. The library is a museum built around Beatty's private collection of rare books, especially Asian ones. The library is right behind the Dublin Castle (which I went to later). I was practically falling asleep because of my early flight, but it was really amazing to see such early books from all over the world. Here are the castle gardens and the stagecoach house by the museum:

I went to check in to the hostel after the museum and it went pretty smoothly at first. I took a nap because I didn't have anything to do until Fiona arrived in Dublin, but I was woken up by a Spanish man telling me I was in his bed. The hostel had just given me the wrong bed number and it was easily fixed but it was not the best experience. Fiona got to Dublin easily, but then tried to take the tram (LUAS) to our hostel in Smithfield. First, the tram stopped and no one was allowed off. Then they were all forced off because of a fire on the tram tracks. Finally, she met me at the hostel and then we went to dinner. 

The next morning, we started off by wandering towards Temple Bar. The Bar part originally meant walkway, which is common throughout the British isles. There was an open air market and lots of clothing shops:

We got brunch at Elephant and Castle in Temple Bar, which is the name of a lot of restaurants in the UK and this one has a partner restaurant in Greenwich Village. After Temple Bar, we walked by St. Patrick's Cathedral. We didn't go inside any of the churches, but St. Patrick's green was beautiful in the sun.

Then we went to the Guinness Brewery! 

The tour is a separate building from the brewery. The different levels of the building take you through the entire process of making Guinness. They especially emphasize how they get the ruby color of the beer. They also had exhibits on employees and advertising campaigns. I did a search for McBride in past employees and only one name came up. 

At the top, there's the Gravity Bar. Everyone (over 18) who goes through gets a pint of Guinness:

A lot of stuff around the city was green, including the lighting under the bridges in the middle of the city:

 The next morning, I went to O'Connell Street, the historical center of Dublin. I walked by the Post Office that still has bullets in the walls from the Easter uprisings. In Remembrance Park, there was a memorial for the Children of Lir:

Afterwards, I went to the Dublin Writer's Museum, which is really underwhelming. It was interesting to hear about how James Joyce's Ulysses walked down O'Connell Street.

My last stop in Dublin was the Castle, which is really a Georgian palace. I got there just in time for a tour through the State apartments. There isn't much to see, but we saw the room where Queen Elizabeth had a formal ceremony for her visit earlier this year and where presidential inaugurations take place. I was actually visiting a few days before the newest presidential inauguration on November 11th. 

Overall, I had a great time in Dublin. It reminded me a lot of Boston and was full of the friendliest people I've ever met. The one thing I would like to do more of in Ireland is see the countryside, which seems beautiful. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Afternoon Tea

I brought up the idea of high tea to Lorrie and Molly a couple weeks ago. They liked the idea so I did some research. After ruling out places based on location, price, and menu, we decided to go to Eteaket, near Princes Street. Lorrie did some research and found out the difference between high tea and afternoon tea. High tea is actually dinner, eaten between 5 and 7pm, and is often fish and chips. Afternoon tea is the light snack between 2 and 5pm. It was actually quite confusing when I first got to Scotland because people would refer to dinner as tea and most of us Americans had no idea what they were talking about.

We went to tea on Sunday, October 30th. The "light" meal consisted of sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, jam, shortbread, pastries, and, of course, a pot of tea. Once the tea came, we each had a timer before we could pour it:

Our food arrived and it was somewhat overwhelming:

Between the five of us, the food barely fit on the table, even when it was stacked. 

We pretty much demolished the food. It was all delicious, especially the scones with clotted cream and jam!

This is definitely something the British do right. 


If asked, I would definitely say my greatest fear is heights. That's why I was extremely hesitant to go zip-lining with my friends. In search of adventure, a couple of them had found Go Ape at Aberfoyle, which had the largest zip course in the UK. Aberfoyle is a town in Stirling and the site is located in the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, which stretches across a large portion of Scotland, including Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine.

I went to the website and read this:
"Britain’s two biggest zip wires, each stretching over 400m long, flying customers 150 feet above the ground and over a 90 foot waterfall."
That only made me more scared, but I figured this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

We woke up before 6am on Saturday, October 29th, and set out towards Stirling. After a bus, a train, and another bus, we finally reached Aberfoyle. It was then that we discovered that the Visitor's Center was a little over a mile up the hill. We couldn't figure out where the path was so we just walked on the winding highway. It didn't seem like the best idea when we saw the remains of a car wreck on a hill by the road.

The safety portion was short and simple: always stay connected to the wires! The first and last zip lines were the longest. Here is a photo Lane took of me on the first zip line: 

There were a few obstacle courses, each ending with another zip line. There was a total of 6 parts, which included bridges, nets, and tarzan swings. 
Here are a few photos Lorrie took of the course:

The final zip was over 400 meters, the longest zip line in the UK! Matt took videos of the view and our landings:

Warning: there is cursing when Matt gets stuck

It was a huge rush and amazing, but once it was over we realized how wet we were. We went inside the park building, put on warm clothes, and bought hot chocolates. It was still raining so we waited until it let up. Once it did, we started to head down the windy highway to the town. A couple minutes after we walked outside, it started pouring. Even though we were under umbrellas and in raincoats, we were soaked in minutes. It took us over four hours to get home, four miserable hours. 

Once we got home, we rushed and changed in to warm clothes and huddled by the heaters. Overall, the day was epic and I think we would all love to do it again.