30 Nov | Kristen Thies | No Comments

Sunday, November 30, 2008 | Florence, Italy

Hello Rome! So this morning we had to get up at 4 a.m. Tara and I didn’t get much sleep last night because we were up until 12:30 working on assignments, so we were pretty exhausted at the start of our journey. We drove on a double decker bus for four hours on our way …


27 Nov | Amanda Porter | No Comments

Thursday, November 27, 2008: Tour of Italy

Ciao. Sorry for the delay yet again, but this time I have a legitimate excuse: I’ve been battling bronchitis.  Let me make a recommendation here and now: bring cold medicine from the US. You’ll miss it when it’s not here. Last week I had a great time just wandering around Florence once again.  My apartment …


23 Nov | Kristen Thies | No Comments

Sunday, November 23, 2008 | Florence, Italy


The turn around between Paris and Barcelona was far too quick. I was gone in Barcelona for three days, home for two and a half, and then we left for Paris for about five days. I am definitely ready for a break after this week of traveling.

This is my last trip outside of Italy, so I had to enjoy it while I could, and most importantly, I had to say goodbye to Ryanair. Oh Ryanair.

When we arrived in Pisa, there was a huge thunder and lightning storm. We looked at the flight board, and our flight to Paris was delayed. About an hour later, the Ryanair representative came over the loud speaker and said that the flight to Paris had been indefinitely delayed due to technical difficulties (the plane had been hit by lightning!). The whole room went into an uproar; she probably shouldn’t have used the word “indefinitely.”

The next three hours were a mixture of the Ryanair representative passing the most current information over the loud speaker in as many languages as possible. They were luckily able to get us a plane, but lightning had not been the only kink in our plan. The Beauvais airport that we were supposed to fly into closed at midnight, so now we had to fly into Lille, which is a city quite far from Paris.

When we arrived in Lille, they had luckily arranged two buses to take us into Paris. It was 1:30 in the morning and we were tired, freezing cold, and yet still laughing and shaking our heads at the whole situation.

The bus driver made us stand outside his bus for 30 minutes as he took his break for the day. What a nice guy.

We loaded up the bus, pushing and shoving and acting like we were cattle about to be slaughtered. The bus took three hours to get to Paris and I had a hard time sleeping because I was worried about how we were going to find our hotel. When the bus arrived in Paris, it pulled over into a random parking lot and just dropped us off. Everyone scattered into different directions, and I just kinda laughed and thought “great.”

I wasn’t exactly sure what to do next; the metros, conveniently, are not open at four in the morning. We saw two women walking towards the street and they seemed to know what they were doing, so we followed them.

We ended up walking to the front of a hotel with the intentions of finding a taxi. Just our luck, as we were walking up, we saw a taxi driving by and I quickly waved it down. Neither Marci nor I knew any French, so we just kinda pointed at the directions of our hotel and smiled. We asked the taxi driver how much it would cost, and he said that he didn’t know. At that point, we had no other option but to trust that this taxi driver would get us to our hotel and not take all of our money. We arrived safely at our hotel and set our alarm to sleep for about four hours and then begin our marathon Paris days.

For the next five days, I would find myself in heaven every morning. We were greeted with “Bonjour Mademoiselle” and brought some of the best bread I have had in my life. Breakfast consisted of hot chocolate, orange juice, a warm croissant and a huge baguette. So basically, our breakfast was bread, and I couldn’t be happier. At first, I had a hard time finishing both the croissant and the baguette, but by the last few days, I could finish both off like a pro. 

First off on our list of things to do for the day was to visit Paris’ famous cemetery. We were greeted with a pathway of tall gorgeous trees with bright yellow leaves and large cobblestones that are much more difficult to walk on that in Florence. So of course, we decided to take our traditional jumping pictures. Little did we know that we would come to curse these jumping pictures as our feet were in throbbing pain for the five days following. Fantastic. We weaved our way through the large cemetery, seeking out the tombstones of Ingres, Delacroix, Seurat and my favorite, Oscar Wilde. 

We then jumped on the metro and made our way to the Notre Dame, which is by far my favorite church off all that I have seen throughout Europe. In order to better admire the Notre Dame, we stopped at a crepe place and grabbed warm, gooey nutella crepes to go. We sat on a bench in front of the church and pondered its magnificence :). As we entered the church, candles were lit everywhere and cast a beautiful glow on the columns. The other source of light was through the natural light seeping through the walls of stained glass that surrounded the church. Suddenly, the sounds of a choir filled the church. They were not anywhere to be seen, but their voices softly bounced and played amidst the church walls. It was exactly as I pictured Notre Dame, filled with flickering candles and soft soprano voices. 

We wandered around the city for a few hours and then went to my favorite museum in the whole world, the Museo d’Orsay! I love impressionism, and I was in heaven. They even had a full room dedicated to Degas, my favorite painter. The only sad part about this visit was that our feet were in so much pain, that it took great physical strength to push ourselves around the museum. The Orsay is wonderful and it was so refreshing to see some Impressionist work after months of Renaissance and Baroque!

We were exhausted after that museum, but we didn’t want to call it quits quite yet. We went to a small shop and asked a lady where the closest movie theater was. It turned out that the Odeon wasn’t too far, and when we got there, we discovered that The Duchess was playing in English, perfect! For dinner that night, I had popcorn and chocolate ice cream while watching a movie surrounded by French people. It was amazing. We even found the same parts funny, what d’ya know! We’re not as different as we thought ;).

The next morning, we saw the Arc de Triomph, the Eiffel Tower (day and night), Napoleon’s tomb at the Invalides, the Champs Elysees and the Louvre. The Eiffel Tower was gorgeous and I think it is even more magical at night. It has blue lights on it for the most of the evening and then for the first five minutes of every hour, it sparkles! When we were on the Arc de Triomph, we walked to the very top and could see the entire city! We met a very nice Australian man who took a picture of Marci and me in our matching outfits of blacks and blues. At the Louvre that night, we actually got in free! Every Friday evening from 6-9:30 p.m., students under 25 get in free! The Louvre houses some of the most beautiful sculpture I have ever seen. We saw the Winged Victory and Canova’s Amour et Psyche and many many others. 

Saturday we went to Versailles. We purchased the audio guides and made our way around the beautiful palace. I loved seeing all of the bedrooms and the gardens. In a way, it reminded me of the white house because it had several rooms that were devoted to singular colors. We also were able to go out to Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet! We got to see her room and her garden areas where she had an entire mini town reconstructed. There were even horses, bunnies, goats, cows, donkeys and swans! It looked like we had stepped into a real life storybook. For dinner, we picked a restaurant full of Christmas decorations on the Champs-Elysees. I had pasta with tomato and eggplant and then Marci and I shared the dessert that the man next to us had ordered: chocolate cake with vanilla, coffee and chocolate gelato topped with whipped cream. In the evening, we went back to the Eiffel Tower, and said our woeful goodbyes. It’s crazy to think that I might not be back to see this city in over 10 years or more! Next time I come, it will be quite a different experience.

On Sunday morning, we enjoyed our last French bread and made our way to the Luxembourg Gardens, which we quickly found out was the perfect thing to do, because this is apparently what every Parisian person does on Sunday mornings. They go to the gardens with their friends and family to get some exercise and enjoy the afternoon. We couldn’t believe how many people were running laps around the garden! Some people were even doing tai chi, breaking boards, stretching, playing tennis, etc. We even saw one adorable family tossing a football around (yes, an actual football, not a soccer ball). There were also lots of people sailing small boats on the pond in front of Luxembourg. After our stroll through the gardens, we went back to the Notre Dame and said another set of goodbyes. We also walked by the Pompidou Center and had fun window shopping since all of the shops were closed.

For tourists like us who were looking forward to shopping on Sunday afternoon, we weren’t very happy that the only thing open were small cafes. But for the people who live in Paris, I’m glad that they actually do have a day of rest. I think that is very important, and I wish the U.S. followed this concept a little more closely. That day, we stumbled across Angelina’s, which is a cafe with the best hot chocolate in the world. We bought a cup of hot chocolate to go and sat in the park surrounding the Louvre and watched the families enjoying their Sunday afternoon around the carousel. On our way out of the city, we ran in to two street performing bands!


Notre Dame candlelight

Me in front of the Eiffel Tower

Arc de Triomph

The Metro system that was a great lifesaver when our feet had given up.

One of the gardens in the area surrounding Versailles.


19 Nov | Amanda Porter | No Comments

Wednesday, November 19, 2008: Tour of Italy

I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write again, but things have been so busy here. We’re exploring Florence and trying to accept the fact that these are our last weeks in Italy. I believe when we left off I was headed to London and Warsaw/Auschwitz. This trip ended up not happening. My flight …


10 Nov | Amanda Porter | No Comments

Monday, November 10, 2008: Tour of Italy

Hello, We’ve moved to our final city: Florence.  Although we’ve only been here for the weekend I already love the city.  We walk past “Il Duomo” everyday.  It’s spectacular.  We moved from Rome on Friday.  Thursday night we had several students over in hopes of eating all of our food before the big move.  We …


2 Nov | Kristen Thies | No Comments

Sunday, November 2, 2008 | Florence, Italy


We just returned from our one week fall break tour of the UK: London, Dublin and Edinburgh! We had a lot of nerves of both anxiousness and nervousness in the beginning, but we survived and had a wonderful time traveling and exploring these new countries.

I decided that the UK is my favorite place in the world. I think that when you really connect with a place, your heart swells and you know that this is the place that can make you come alive. The countryside was gorgeous with green and yellow and orange leaves, light grey sky and deep red brick buildings with white pointed scaffolding. I love England and also decided on that first train ride, that I have to come back and spend an extended period of my life here. Two and a half days are just not enough.

The Kensington Gardens, which is actually more like a park, was my favorite part of our London trip. We found a Starbucks on our way over to the park and I ordered a peppermint mocha and an apple spice muffin. The paths of the park were glistening and spotted with whimsical fall leaves. There were many people out exercising or walking with their children, lover, or in most cases, their small, spunky, yet still very british dogs. The park reminded me of Finding Neverland when Johnny Depp has a picnic with the young boys and dances with the friendly bear.

After dragging myself away from the park, we took the tube to Trafalger Square where I got my first glimpse of Big Ben! Oh, and I saw my first British flag flying there as well!

We then went into the National Gallery, for free might I add. We checked our coats, which I thought was very British. I spent the next two hours walking around the huge gallery by myself and admiring their amazing collections. My favorite sections were the 18-19th century paintings. I felt so blessed to be able to see some of the great works that I have studied for numerous years in my art history classes. I was able to see paintings by: Caillebotte, Gainsborough, Monet, Manet, da Vinci, Raphael, Carravaggio, Constable, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Degas, Goya, Hogarth, Seurat, Turner, etc.

We then made our way to Ireland and took a day trip to Wicklow to see some Irish countryside. I forgot my IPOD, which actually ended up in my favor because I listened to the Irish men as I looked out the window of the rolling countryside, vast skyscape and pebbled houses. Monday happened to be a bank holiday so many of the shops were closed. We walked up to a church on a hill and had an amazing view of the entire city. I walked in slowly, the church had a sweet candle burning. I sat down on one of the pews and sat in silence and prayed for a while. Sometimes I need to just sit and be still, let my heart catch up with my body and give God a chance to enter. When I make a conscious effort to give up my life to God, I fell more connected with my life, I feel happier and feel like I am truly living rather than running on reserve energy power.

We then walked up to some church ruins along the sea side. This was exactly what I pictured Ireland to be: green hills, icy water and cool winds. We were all wrapped in our scarfs and mittens and we all had the Irish flush cheeks and red noses. Hannah and I sat on a bench overlooking the seaside and ate our scones from the Irish bakery Queen of Tarts.

Our final destination was Edinburgh, Scotland. Scotland is such a magical city. As the plane was landing, we passed over castles, trees of deep green and orange and trickling hills. The houses also looked very peaceful and welcoming with architecture that reminded me of the east coast.

One morning we had breakfast at the Elephant House which is the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote her ideas for her Harry Potter Books! The cafe was very quaint with smooth music playing in the background and view of a cemetery, colorful trees and dark brick castles. I could see her drawing her inspiration from the castles for Hogwarts and the trees for the forest surrounding the school. There was also a very dim, but enchanting weather that seemed to play a magical role in her books.

Edinburgh Castle is so beautiful! We went into the military museum where we saw armor, swords, medals, kilts, bagpipes, etc. It was neat to see real scottish outfits since my high school mascot was the Highlander. I was also able to see the crown jewels! We saw a crown, belt and necklace with diamonds.

The last morning we had tea and scones at a small scottish tea house called Clarinda’s. I had jasmine tea and a fruit scone with jam and cream. We spent the rest of the day exploring some of the ruins and then just walking around the streets. It was a perfect, relaxing day and I loved walking around and enjoying the magical sights of Edinburgh before we headed back to our some-what reality, Italy.

Beautiful fall colors in the Kensington Gardens, one of my favorite places from our trip!

The view of the Edinburgh Castle and the National Gallery from the top of the Edinburgh monument.

Tara and Hannah in the Elephant House, the cafe where Harry Potter series were born!

Irish countryside in Wicklow.

The view of Parliament from the London Eye.



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