14 Mar | Kristie Serrano | No Comments
This past weekend I was able to enjoy the nature of Firenze. I love nature and feel serenity and oneness that can’t be simulated anywhere else. Lorenzo de’ Medici had a hiking excursion for us and I’ve to got say, I’ve been very satisfied with all the extra curricular activities they have planned. They all have a cultural component and are very interesting.
I loved the mask-painting day, I would have loved to learn how belly dance if I didn’t have class when it was scheduled and all the clubs, like yoga, sports clubs, and Tasting Tuscany where very good options and I wish I could have picked more than one. I picked jogging club and I’ve loved every second of it. We run up these steep hills with a group from Florence that are too much fun. The leader of the group is 62 years old and very personable. He wears his little short shorts and runs with the best of them.
Every practice they keep increasing the miles by 2 or 3 and they all train for marathons. I haven’t run more than three miles since high school, yet I can easily run 5 miles with the amount of encouragement they give me. Next week will be 8 miles I think. I’m dreading it a bit, but next year I plan on training for a marathon, so this is good practice.
On Monday, I went to the cinema to see Alice in Wonderland. I completely forgot that it was playing until my roommate called me. It was very exciting news and it made my already great day even better. The only crazy thing that happened was that in the middle of the movie, something went wrong, so we had to wait a little bit for it to start playing again!
This week I also made a very impulsive decision to book a trip to Interlaken this coming up weekend, despite the fact that I have exams next week. I’m sure everything will work out fine and I’m having a blast so far. It seems to be the land of extreme sports. There is skydiving, cliff jumping, skiing, snow boarding, night sledding and who knows what else. I’m going alone since my other two roommates are going to Madrid to meet up with some friends. I’ve met a lot of cool people so far and I’m really looking forward to the crazy things I’ll be doing.
Thursday night, after trying to get much needed studying in, I went to the train station to find the Florence For Fun tour group. We were traveling by bus and it took us eight hours to get to Funny Farm, which was the name of the hotel we stayed at. Right when I walked in I saw my first Saint Bernard. I didn’t realize how massive they were. Her name was Splif and everyone who saw her couldn’t help but love her. I really liked the lounge area too, a great place to study and they had some wooden tables that had a chess board carved them it with a bowl of chess pieces available on the window ledge.
We had a very unflattering complimentary breakfast that included bread, jam and butter, with your choice of coffee, milk or tea. You could also order lunch there, and if it included mayonnaise, they give it to you in a tube. Fun fact: Switzerland’s national dish is Rösti, which means hash browns! I had the pleasure of eating some while I was there. I also explored the city, which was amazingly clean and very adorable. The weather stayed clear all weekend, so you could see the mountains perfectly. The weather was cold enough to keep our water cold, so we left them outside in the patio and used it as a refrigerator.
I jumped out of a plane on Friday. I think everyone should experience skydiving at least once. It’s nothing you’ve ever felt before. I was free, at peace, and surrounded by beauty. I was alive. I did a very good job at relaxing and not psyching myself out before my jump. I almost gave into a little bit of nervousness when they pulled up the plastic covering to jump, but it was so beautiful, I was distracted and completely forgot to feel scared. Another reason I felt very safe was because my guide has jumped out of planes over 8,000 times. No worries, right?
I spent the day at the skydiving place because we were an odd number so I volunteered to go last. We were there at 9am, but I didn’t get to jump until 3pm because they required that two people to go up in the helicopter so that they don’t lose money. For single jumpers they had a plane was an hour drive away, but the drive was very scenic and beautiful. I didn’t mind waiting at all especially after I jumped. Another perk is that I was able to see everyone else’s reactions after they jumped, which only made me more excited. It was well worth it to me.
When I first saw the plane, it looked like a toy! It was so small, didn’t have any seats inside, and wasn’t even tall enough for anyone to stand. It was quite adorable and luckily turbulence doesn’t really bother me. It wasn’t bad turbulence but it was more noticeable than the huge planes I’m use to flying in. I’m really glad I bought the video too and I can’t wait to show my family.
Saturday I studied most of the day and then went night sledding! They provided a cheese fondue dinner with French fries beforehand and then we had to rent pants and snow boots before we took a train up the mountain. I ended up forgetting my gloves, so Toby let me use his. The first run was miserable because I had no idea how to steer, I kept knocking people down like bowling pins and old ladies kept running into me. Eight year old kids were passing me left and right, I kept flying off the sled, I didn’t have Toby’s gloves yet, so my hands were in a lot of pain and Frailen had to stay back with me and push me to get me going. The second run on the other hand was way too much fun!
I finally got the hang of it and had a buddy that was just as bad as I was, so we could stick together. We missed the third train to go back up the mountain, so we dubbed ourselves “the worst sledders” and had some hot wine. It was a very interesting experience because the wine tasted like warm cider with a hint of ginger. I decided to try the fast lane on the next run and absolutely loved it. I was a lot better because it kept a constant slope, so I could control it more. I wasn’t feeling well all day, so after that I decided to stop and not exhaust myself anymore. I bonded with some of the other girls that didn’t have the energy to go either and then we headed home.
On Sunday I was trying to find a pharmacy but I guess people don’t get sick on Sundays because nothing was open. Then I went to go look for some ginger ale, because that always makes me feel better, but for some reason supermarkets don’t sell ginger ale in Europe. The only place I can find it is in restaurants but they are tiny bottles and aren’t worth the money. So I settled for water and sprite to take on the bus ride back to Florence. It was really nice seeing my roommates again and being home because it felt like I was gone a lot longer than a weekend. On Monday, the dreaded exams begin. Wish me luck!
5 Mar | Kristie Serrano | No Comments
It was quite a journey to get to London on Thursday. We took a train from Florence to Bologna and then we had to catch the plane in Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet. With plenty of time to spare we took a decently cheap taxi ride over to the airport. To our delight we were at the wrong airport and not only that, we were 50 kilometers away from where we were suppose to be. Luckily the plane was delayed so there weren’t any major disappointment except for how much we had to pay for the second taxi.
The hostel we stayed at was very basic and served its purpose. It was a small room with two bunk beds and a fridge. We luckily had our own bathroom that was “cleaned three times a day!” We also had free towel rentals (yes, that is an oxymoron) and a complimentary breakfast at the pub next door that consisted of cornflakes and toast with jelly. It hit the spot every morning.
Waking up in London on Friday morning was much more exciting than Thursday night since we were a lot more alive and it finally felt real. We had quite an agenda that Chelsea put together since it was her Birthday weekend! We are all quite thankful that she was born, so we had a lot of surprises for her that day. The only problem is that she had to help us get around since she was the only one that knew how to work the map. (It was her second time in London) Our first stop was the Tower of London.
The weather was not the happiest, clouds were gray and it was drizzling, but it didn’t take away the beauty of the place. We were able to see the crowned jewels, crazy armor, and a variety of different weapons. I looked through a knight’s helmet (you can barely see anything) and watched part of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation on video. We also had an amazing tour from a Yeoman Warder also referred to as a Beef Eater who loved to use puns and tell corny jokes (My type of guy). He also loved to pull down Rachael’s hat over her eyes.
The history was fascinating and every room in the tower was at some point used as a prison. Also all of the Beef Eaters and their families actually live in the tower. One of my favorite parts of tour was entering the sacred church. As a gift to the Beef Eaters, they allow their children and grandchildren to be baptized there as well as get married there. It’s such an honor.
According to our guide, the step going into the church was haunted because people often trip over it, so he stayed at the door to catch any ladies who did. He said something along the lines of: “Being the gentleman I am, I will willingly catch any part of your anatomy that decides to fall on me. As for the men, I will be quite occupied, so you’re on your own.” He’s pretty much my favorite person. He expressed a lot of love for his wife “Pat with the Hat” who works in the building where the crowned jewels are held and he kept mentioning that after this tour he was going on holiday.
After the tour, we ate some fish and chips and were supposedly heading to the British Museum. This is when, we the roommates, took Chelsea hostage. The rest of the evening was left to unveil the many surprises we had planned for her. I had been anticipating this moment for weeks, as my segment of the evening was about to begin. We all dressed up in really nice dresses and painful heels and headed to the theater on a bus (that unfortunately wasn’t double decked… one day).
On the way, a creepy guy decided to start talking to us. He wanted to know where we were going and was trying to invite himself to come along. Then he asked us a “personal question.” He wanted to know if we were all taken, and we gladly lied and told him we were all in long, committed relationships. He was quite disappointed that he didn’t have a chance with any of us.
So Chelsea’s first surprise was a ticket to Avenue Q that I bought her and we had really good seats! The show was very well made and there wasn’t a moment we weren’t rolling in our seats laughing. I highly recommend it to anyone that doesn’t get offended easily. Some of my favorite songs were “It Sucks to Be Me”, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”, and “The Internet Is for Porn.” The next segment of the night was Rachael’s, where we ate at the Woseley, a very fancy restaurant filled with deep-pocketed people.
She was very overwhelmed at this point and she started to tear up. The funny thing is that before we left for London, I told her she wasn’t allowed to cry and she looked at me like I was crazy. I win! We went to the restaurant two hours earlier than our expected reservation time, but ended up getting the best table in the restaurant. It was front and center for everyone to see. We calmly ordered our appetizers and dishes that we couldn’t pronounce and tried to implement all the manners we knew. Luckily Rachael was pretty much an expert in the matter, so we looked to her for guidance. We played it off very well and the meal was fantastic. I really want to figure out the difference between British mustard and French mustard though.
The next morning we slept in until 8 instead of waking up at 7:30. Those 30 minutes were magical. Breakfast was the usual except that I added sugar to my tea this time. The server guy was very excited that I spoke Spanish so he would ask me about my day, compliment how pretty my eyes are and joke around with us. At one point he tried to convince Rachael that he needed to break an egg on Chelsea’s head because it was her birthday! Luckily for Chels that plan didn’t work out, though I would have thoroughly enjoyed seeing it.
We headed over to see Big Ben, the outside of Westminster, the London Eye, and Parliament and saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. The changing of the guard was not what I expected but it was quite entertaining. The band played “I’m Singing In the Rain” and the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song, the James Bond theme song and “Final Countdown”. Then after more fish and chips, we headed to the National Gallery.
It was a lot to take in and had so many rooms. By this time we were completely exhausted, so I let the Art majors choose which rooms we would visit before we headed out. It was absolutely beautiful and in one intersection they had paintings of the four elements, which I thought was a neat presentation of the paintings. After that, we went to Kings Cross to find platform 9 and 3/4!
We are all huge Harry Potter fans, so it was an absolute must. It was pretty hard to find. We roamed around for a while, and right when I was going to ask someone where to find it, there was an actual sign asking us “Are you looking for platform 9 ¾?” and then showed us a map of where to go. Success!
Fifty pictures later, we were all pretty hungry and Chelsea really wanted to go to the Black Friars pub. It was a very neat place with words of wisdom bordering the top, such as “Finery is foolery”. I ate the most delicious turkey potpie and drank some ginger beer while the other ladies enjoyed pear cider with their choice of potpie.
We were also going to get a treacle tart, like in Harry Potter but they weren’t serving food at that point, so we missed out. We talked for three hours until the place closed. It was really comfortable and a very good way to end the day. Random side note: since we spend a lot of time in the underground getting around, I need to make a special mention to the wonderful guitarists that eco in the tunnels. Also, I love how all of the cross roads in London tell you which direction to look!
On our last day in London we headed over to Westminster Abbey, but it was only open for mass, and since we were not in proper church attire, we didn’t go in. After some contemplation we decided to go over to the British Museum since we didn’t go on Friday. It was beyond incredible. We went to Egypt (I saw mummies!), Greece, Italy, and saw the Rosetta stone. The place was HUGE, so if I ever visit London again, I plan on exploring more countries there. Three hours wasn’t enough.
It was a long and exhausting trip back. I’m almost positive that this weekend we used every form of transportation possible: Train, plane, bus, taxi, walking, the tube, the underground train and the above ground train. We didn’t get home until three in the morning and stayed up a little longer doing some homework and such. We were all exhausted the next day, but we all had an incredible time, so no complaints at all.
“For a while we must part
But remember me sweetheart
Till the lights of London shine again”