Wednesday, December 7, 2016

London Travel Guide + MUST SEE Places!

Since I've been back from studying abroad, it's been so hard to find motivation for blogging, especially since I've been so busy with school and work this quarter. I feel super overwhelmed, but as I'm taking a study break during dead week (ugh), I thought I would sit down and write a blog post. I'm feeling really inspired this month, so I hope that means that I'll again find my motivation for everything and anything since I've been so consumed with school this quarter. I have seriously written ten papers this quarter, and still have two more to go, so needless to say, I've been feeling a little burnt out lately.

As most of you probably know, I spent part of my summer studying abroad in London before I did another program in Spain. For that reason, and also the fact that one of my best friends will be heading there in about a week (wowow Rachel!) and has been asking for a travel guide, that's exactly what I decided to do today! I've looked through all of my photos, and while they make me extremely homesick for London (I WANT TO LIVE THERE ONE DAY), I picked my favorite places that I visited, and have some tips for getting around the city!


Places you have to see

The British Museum



This one is a bit obvious, since the British Museum is well-known, but even if you aren't a usual museum junkie, you should definitely stop by! It is a huge museum and has an exhibit that will at least appeal to everyone, so there's most likely something for you to see there. I split up the museum by spending a day on each floor, because if you try and do it all in one day, you'll definitely be overwhelmed. There's a lot of coffeeshops and lunch spots around, though, so if you need a break to re-charge, that's definitely an option!

Oxford Street


This is arguably one of the best places to go shopping in London, especially if you aren't looking for designer shops. There is a huge Primark (think, giant Forever21 with even cuter clothes) on Oxford Street, as well as Topshop, and all of your other favorite places to shop. My friends and I spent way too much time and money here, but hey, when in London...

The West End

I didn't actually realize just how much I love theater until I studied in London. I had been to plays before and really enjoyed them, but I went to so many in London and enjoyed them all. The West End is honestly just fun to visit in general, since there's so much going on, and there's usually a lot of street performers who are all so talented. It's at least worth it to stroll through on an afternoon!

Trafalgar Square/Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus is actually really close to the West End as well as Trafalgar Square, so you should just generally go to that area. Trafalgar Square is so cool to see - it's huge in person! - and also a great place to sit outside and have lunch. When I was there a ton of people just hung out in the area, especially since it was summer, and the atmosphere is just a lot of fun to be in. The fountain is also really pretty, and the lions are also really impressive to see, so it's definitely worth the visit!

Buckingham Palace and the Surrounding Garden




Chances are, if you're in London, you're probably going to visit Buckingham Palace. I visited the actual palace one day, and then another day my friend and I were walking to class, and we stumbled upon the surrounding garden (probably the most posh sentence I've ever said), and got to see little goslings, a ton of other wildlife, and also some beautiful sights of London, like the London Eye in the distance. That's probably one of my favorite memories of London, since we didn't mean to go there at all, and just kind of ended up there. We ended up late to class because we were taking so many photos and walking around the garden, but honestly I'm going to remember that garden far longer than what I learned in class that day.

The Various Churches by Christopher Wren (or any church in London tbh)




Christopher Wren was an architect who built a lot of churches around England. We saw a lot while we were in London, and they were all so beautiful, and had so many intricate designs on the inside. The architecture in even one of the churches makes everything in America look so bland and boring!

St. Paul's Cathedral





Pro-tip: if you don't want to pay for a tour, you can always go to a service! You don't have to pay for them, and you get to see the inside of the cathedral. The only catch is you can't take any photos, although I definitely snuck a few. I'm sure they get super annoyed by tourists trying to take photos, but it's definitely worth going to the service! The choir was so amazing, and seeing the inside was honestly breathtaking.

Warner Brother's Harry Potter Studio Tour






I made a whole post about the studio tour, which you can read here, but I just wanted to reiterate how cool it is! As soon as you know the dates you're going to be visiting the area, I'd suggest getting tickets for the tour because they go fast! I bought them at the beginning of the program, and had to go at the end of my program (like five weeks later!) because tickets were all sold out until then. It was so amazing to see, especially if you're a Potterhead like me, and definitely worth the money. Just a warning that you'll probably end up spending a lot of money at the gift shop afterwards!

Brighton



If you're willing to take a train for about an hour to Brighton, it's definitely worth the visit! It's an adorable little beach town with some great shopping spots in the Lanes, and also a lot of cool historical places to see around town. The beach is also really nice to sit and just watch the ocean! Just know that the "sand" is little pebbles, which can hurt on bare feet, but with shoes you should be fine! The pier is also so adorable, and will live up to all of the arcade/ride/food dreams you had as a kid.

Best Places for Going Out
My favorite places to get drinks with friends is the London Bridge area, Covent Garden, and Camden! All of these places have really cute pubs and bars, especially London Bridge area. The younger crowd is definitely usually in Camden, so the night life there is a lot of fun! There are clubs that have themed nights, and I ended up going to a 90s night with friends, and it was probably one of the most fun nights we went out.

My Favorite Pubs
I went to a lot of pubs while in London - I totally fell in love with them - and I definitely had some favorites!
Ye Olde Chesire Cheese - Blackfriars. This pub has a lot of history since it's one of the oldest pubs in London. Since it's in Blackfriars there's a lot around it, too!
The Churchill Arms  - Notting Hill. Also a really cute pub because of the interesting look on the outside.
The White Hart - Waterloo. This one has really great food!
Wetherspoons - multiple locations, my favorite is in Victoria!
Honestly, you can find a good pub probably in any part of London you're in, I just recommend doing a quick search on Yelp and reading the reviews!

Tips on Getting Around the City
It's actually pretty easy to get around London, since the public transportation there is pretty straightforward. The tube goes all around the city, so it's super easy to go to all of the districts around the city! It can be really confusing at first since there's so many lines, and especially if you don't have a lot of experience with subways (like I did), but after a day or two you can start to get the gist of it. There's also apps you can download like Tube Map and CityMaps2Go that really help, or you can simply use Google Maps! That's what I did and never had a problem. There's also maps everywhere in the tube stations, so you can generally figure out how to get where you need to be.

It's important to know, though, that the tube stops running at midnight, so if you're out for a late night you have to take the bus, or use a taxi/Uber/Lyft. I never really had a huge problem with this since there's so many taxi's around, and you can always call an Uber, but it could get annoying sometimes since the tube gets you where you need to be pretty quickly, and obviously it costs money to use Uber or call a taxi. If you're splitting the cost with friends, though, it really isn't bad!

If you're going to be doing any travel by train, coach, or plane, book your tickets as soon as possible! Usually the most in advance you can get tickets is the best, so try to plan out all extra travel beforehand, rather than going to the train/bus station, or airport and buying a ticket there.

If you ever get lost in the city, it's best to just stay calm, and ask someone for directions. I found the people of London to be really nice (I mean I'm coming from Seattle, so you can only go up from there, right?), and they'd help me out if I just asked. The police officers there are also really nice, and you can easily find one to ask for directions, especially at night. My roommate and I ended up slightly intoxicated and lost one night, and a police officer helped us out by pointing us in the right direction, and we got home just fine, after only a couple of complications of finding the right bus.


Alright well there is my London travel guide, places you gotta see, and tips on getting around the city! If you are going to London, I am so jealous, but also hope that you have the best time! It's such a beautiful city with so much to see, and I can't wait to go back one day.

Thank you so much for reading, and have a wonderful day! :)

Friday, November 18, 2016

Fantastic Beasts And Where to Find Them: Movie of the Year?

It is no secret that I am a huge Harry Potter fan. I have read all of the books and watched the movies more times than I can count, so when I heard about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I was extremely excited. I was nervous about how I would like it in comparison to the whole Harry Potter franchise, so I was definitely ready for the movie to come out! Since I went and saw it last night, I thought I would write a review on it, and start to get back in the swing of things here on my blog!


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a whole new era of Harry Potter
As I'm sure many of you know, this movie is set in a whole different time than the main Harry Potter series. It is set in 1920s New York, specifically 1926, when Newt Scamander comes to America by boat. Through many unforeseen events, he ends up in trouble with the American equivalent to the Ministry of Magic. I don't want to give too much away, but the set up for the film is great, as well as the backdrop! It's so interesting to see a different time and place of the magical world, one where magical laws, regulations, and attitudes are very different. I really enjoyed the 20s fashion, music, and architecture throughout the whole movie, because it was very fitting to the movie itself, in that it added a lot to the quirkiness. It also really allowed the audience to immerse themselves completely in this new era of the wizarding world.

There are strong female leads
Tina and Queenie, the two main women of the film, as well as the president of MACUSA Seraphina Picquery, are all very strong females. Tina is very stubborn, and is successful in her career, even though she has hit a rough patch before she meets Newt, which is awesome to see. She isn't talked badly about for wanting to have a successful career, and is encouraged by her younger sister, Queenie. They are both very supportive of each other, which is portrayed wonderfully. Queenie is not a career women, but she isn't portrayed as "weaker" or "lesser" than her sister at all. We don't really get to know Seraphina that well, but the interactions she does have with the main characters leave the audience with the sense that she is a very strong woman. She doesn't let anyone push her around, and she is strong in her decisions and rules.

The world in Newt's suitcase is beautifully made, as well as the beasts
We have seen Hermione's expandable bag on the outside, but we never saw the inside. It was so cool to actually be able to see the inside of Newt's suitcase, and see where all of his magical animals live. Of course since I absolutely love animals, that was one of my favorite parts of the movies. I'm really glad, though, that they didn't show the inside of his suitcase a lot in the previews, so that it was more of a surprise for the audience. The creativity that was put into imagining the beasts and his suitcase was so incredible, and the fact that the magical creatures were still relatable to real animals was great. The fact that Newt Scamander had made his suitcase the way he did in order to save these magical beasts was also super touching, and a part of the movie that I absolutely loved.

Eddie Redmayne made an incredible Newt
I had only ever seen Eddie Redmaybe in Les Mis, so it was super cool to see him in something else! His Newt was super quirky, likable, nice, and strong, and he played him so well. He was exactly what you think a magical beast collector/saver/caretaker (?) would be like, but he also had a depth that played into his character development very well. Throughout the movie we learned a lot about him, and saw his softer side, rather than his initial blunt character. Above everything, he cares for his magical creatures the most, and feels a pull to save them, or anyone else in need. He was super relatable, and fit in perfectly with the other quirky wizards and witches we know and love so much.

The incorporation of Grindelwald, and other known families, was done very well.
Through what J.K. Rowling has hinted at, it was clear that this new series was going to include Grindelwald in some way. In the beginning of the movie, it is made clear that MACUSA is looking for Grindelwald after he has committed crimes, but it is unclear where he is at. I won't give anything away, but the way in which they incorporated his story into this one was done very well. I'm so excited to learn more about him (and possible Dumbledore??) in the coming movies. We also hear a bit about a Lita Lestrange, so I'm interested to see if she has to do more with the coming movies, or if she'll be included!

Overall, I really enjoyed this movie! It does make me long for more about the characters we know and love in Harry Potter, but I'm super excited to see how the characters from Fantastic Beasts progress and develop.

Do you plan to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them?

I hope you have a wonderful day! :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

How Studying Abroad Changed My Life


When I first started college, I knew that I wanted to study abroad. One of my majors is International Relations, so it is definitely highly recommended by our advisors to study abroad and actually experience the world. Being in my freshman year, I didn't have any idea of where or when I wanted to go, I just knew that I had to go.

Fast forward to about halfway through my sophomore year, and I was sitting in my English class (my other major) and someone came into our class talking about a summer program held in London for about five weeks. My interest was piqued, and I felt that this program was perfect for me. I went home that night and looked up the application, and started with my essays. The next week I was sitting in my Spanish class, and another person came into our class to talk about a different summer program - right after the London one - held in Spain. Again, I was super interested, and thought I would enjoy the program. I looked up the application and trip information and decided to apply to both programs, and go to whichever one I was accepted into.


I turned in my applications, and patiently waited for about a month or so. As it turned out, I ended up getting into both programs, and I was so happy, but also super confused about which program to choose. Both England and Spain have been on my travel bucket list ever since I could remember, so I had no idea how to choose between the two. I agonized about it for a couple of weeks - I am an extremely indecisive person - until finally I called up my parents and asked for their advice. My dad told me point blank that I should do both programs. Oddly enough, the thought never crossed really crossed my mind, especially since I didn't want to spend a whole summer away from my family (and probably more importantly my puppies and kitties). I thought about it, and with my parents full support, I committed to both programs.


To be completely honest, I was excited, but I thought I would be more excited, if that makes sense. When I told other people about it, I didn't have strong feelings either way, and sometimes the other person seemed to be more pumped up about it than I did. I think that's because I was subconsciously super nervous, since the only time I had left the country before was to go to Mexico when I was 5, to volunteer. I had my brother and my mom, and later my dad, with me, so it wasn't scary at all. This would be the first time that I would be leaving the continent, and it was by myself. After the first meeting for the England program, I actually came home and had a panic attack because I was so scared. I started to regret my decision, and had a lot of nerves about going.

The nerves started to ease since I had finals to focus on, and once I was finished with the school year and home for the summer, I was still really scared, but I was getting more excited. I waited until the night before to finish packing, which was a huge mistake, and went to the airport the next day with my parents. Once I was on the plane, it finally started to feel a little bit real that I was going, but I don't think I quite believed I was going to London until I was actually there. Getting an international SIM card was a great idea, because I was able to call an Uber to get to my homestay, rather than figure out the tube system with my giant suitcase.


When I arrived at my homestay, I was instantly homesick, because I was at a home but it wasn't mine. My homestay mom was so sweet and fixed me some lunch, and it was so nice to have a home cooked meal. I did miss my own mom, but it was nice having someone there to fix me some food when I was completely, and utterly exhausted. The first couple of nights were really rough because I was missing home a lot. I also had a lot of time to think about and miss home since classes hadn't started yet, which probably made it a lot worse. I got through the homesickness with Harry Potter and my favorite Game of Thrones book, also my sweet roommate and homestay family, and once classes started, I was fine. For some reason, I was also super worried about traveling to Spain by myself, and couldn't stop thinking about it for the first week. After getting around London, though, and visiting the surrounding cities, my anxiety about that eased up a bit. I only had two panic attacks in the beginning, and I'm actually really proud of myself that I didn't have more when trying to use the tube for the first couple of times.

Now you know a bit of the background to my study abroad, here's how it changed my life!


I had to rely completely  on myself for probably the first time ever.
When I first started college, I thought I was relying on myself, but in reality I was still leaning heavily on my parents. I called them everyday, texted them multiple times a day, and still asked their advice constantly. When I was in London, I texted them once a day to tell them I was still alive, but other than weekly Skype calls, I didn't talk to them a whole lot. I made decisions for myself, and had to figure out how to use the tube systems and get around the city on my own. Yes, it was scary - terrifying - in the beginning, but after a while, I got used to it, and enjoyed relying on myself and no one else. I've always been an independent person, but this was independence on a whole new level.


I learned how to be alone.
Again, I have always been an independent person, but I think I've always been a little scared to be alone with myself, especially when I'm so close with my family. I don't have a huge family, but since we're close knit, I usually spend most of my time with them. Being in London taught me how to be alone, and that it isn't scary, but actually quite enjoyable. My roommate and I rode the tube together to class, but usually after classes we went our separate ways. Yes, it was scary to ride the tube completely alone for the first time, but I came to really enjoy it. Don't get my wrong, I enjoyed her company, but I also loved my time alone on the tube, where I got to read on my Kindle and just listen to music. Long tube rides also didn't bother me in the slightest, because it just meant I had more time to read, and I ended up reading about six or seven books in my five weeks spent in London. I also wasn't bothered to eat alone, and actually learned to love to people watch while sipping coffee.


I learned how to take risks.
First of all, I took a risk by studying abroad, since it was something that scared me, but it ended up turning out wonderfully. I guess I've always been more of a physical (if that's even the right word to use) risk-taker, in that I'm not afraid to jump off a cliff into a pool of water (check out this vlog to see what I'm talking about), go on crazy roller coasters, or anything like that, but other risks like forcing myself out of my social comfort zone terrify me. I'm not one to strike up a conversation with a stranger, so going to two whole new culture with two different groups of people from my university who I didn't know at all, and go to a whole new continent in general was taking a huge risk for me. I don't mean that I didn't want to travel, quite the opposite actually. I've always wanted to travel, but I definitely let my anxiety hold me back. Actually doing these programs was a huge step for me, and I learned how to take risks, and that they result in wonderful, wonderful things.


Caring about what others thought of me stopped becoming something I worried about.
With so many other things to worry during my time spent in London and Spain, worrying about what others thought of me quickly got put on the back burner. I also started getting so much for comfortable and confident in myself by navigating through the different cities I was in, that I just felt so much better in my own skin. Those theoretical things other people thought about me started not to matter, because all I knew was I was happy with myself, so I didn't care what other people thought about me. I realized things people thought about me - people I don't even know - really don't matter at all, because chances are, I'm probably never going to even talk to those people.


I learned not to judge others before getting to know them.
Something that happens when you go to a foreign country with a group of people you don't know is judgement. On the first day of classes I found myself making assumptions about people before I even talked to them. Throughout both programs, I learned not to judge someone before getting to know them, or assume that they are a certain way, because oftentimes you will be wrong. On my London program there was a deaf girl, and she was one of my favorite people to talk to and get to know. Her outlook on life and people was incredible; some people in the program were unintentionally very rude to her, but she tried to understand where they were coming from, and saw that they weren't trying to be rude, and didn't even get upset about it. Her first reaction wasn't to immediately get defensive and mad, but try to understand why they would unfairly be rude in the first place. If we all had an outlook on life like hers, I think we would all be a lot happier.


I also learned that people aren't as scary as I thought they were, and starting a conversation is actually pretty simple.
I've never been one to strike up a conversation very easily, but being exposed to a ton of different types of people taught me that people aren't as scary as they seem. Just because someone isn't actively talking or smiling, doesn't mean they aren't open to talk. Now I definitely never started a conversation on the tube because people appreciate silence, but if I was waiting in line at a busy coffee shop or in a more "social" setting, it was fun to talk to people who were a lot different than me. You really learn a lot about people, and it makes you look at yourself differently.


Eight words: strawberry-lime cider, halloumi cheese, and patatas bravas.
Okay, these things didn't so much change my life, but ohmygosh I got addicted to them. Strawberry-lime cider was my drink of choice in London, and I fell in love with halloumi cheese. It was absolutely everywhere in London, but I haven't seen it here in the states. I have heard that Trader Joe's has it, so I'll be on the look out, but it definitely isn't as accessible here. While in Spain, patatas bravas were my friend's and I's favorite bar food. We'd grab some after class and snack on them before our (very late) dinner, and wow are they delicious. I haven't tried to make them since I've been home, so I really want to see if I can make them as good! I'm betting on probably not, but hopefully I can get them close.


Going to museums and just simply looking at art made me look at myself differently.
There's something about looking at art from hundreds of years ago that starts to change your perspective. It's easier to understand how life was like back then, and also how life now is different. Looking at art also just forces you to reflect, so you find yourself reflecting on more than the artwork in front of you, whether it is a painting, sculpture, or something else. I went to museums in both London and Spain with my study abroad group, and also by myself, and looking at a ton of art really teaches you how to look at things differently, and just reflect in general. I never thought I would enjoy museums so much, but I definitely love them now.


I immersed myself in two different cultures, and it made me look at my own - and myself - differently.
Like going to museums and looking at art from different places from around the world, immersing yourself in different cultures teaches you so much that you really can't learn anywhere else. Experiencing two very different places was so beneficial for me, and I learned to be so much more open to other people's customs and way of life. Just because something or someone is different doesn't mean they're wrong. You can learn so much from different people and places, as long as you keep an open mind about it. Not only did I learn about these places, but I learned so much about my own culture by comparing it to those of London and Spain. People told me I would learn so much, but I don't think I quite believed them until I was in these places, actually experiencing them.


I now have the undeniable urge of the travel bug.
Once you get a taste of the world, all you want to do is travel and see other places. Countries that I really didn't have an interest in visiting before are now places that I really want to see. Basically, there isn't a place that I don't want to see, and I have a better understanding that every place in the world has something you can learn from.


Studying abroad this summer really did change me for the better. I learned so much about myself, and I really wouldn't trade this experience for anything in the world. If you're considering studying abroad, or even just traveling, go and do it! You won't regret it, and you'll probably have an incredible experience. Even if it isn't completely life-changing, I guarantee you'll learn at least one thing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

My Time in Spain

As you probably know, I spent this summer studying abroad in London and San Sebastián, Spain. I've already done an overview of my time in London, so I thought it was about time I did one for my trip to Spain. I spent four weeks in San Sebastián, with the last couple of days in the fourth week being in Barcelona, and I spent a fifth week in Madrid. I got to travel all over the Basque Country (where San Sebastián is located), and I definitely fell in love with it! The Basque Country is so beautiful, and is a very charming part of Spain. Here's some photos!

 This gelato was seriously the best!



 My 10th gelato, probably...


 My favorite flavor combo - coffee and trufa negra (super dark chocolate)!


 The cute little town of Pasajes.

 A view of San Sebastián from one of the mountains! My friends and I did a sunset hike and it was beautiful.



 I loved the buildings in the smaller, surrounding towns.





 Caught the sunset one night - so gorgeous!





 This is the "romantic part" of San Sebastián.



 Okay, background to this picture: this was taken on the top of the mountain from one of the most grueling, terrible hikes that I have ever been on. It was one of the hottest days (about 85-90 degrees), right at the warmest and sunniest parts of the day, which our professors thought would be the ideal time for a hike. It was super steep in the beginning, which was fine because we were just starting out, but then we had to go up about 60 flight of stairs to get to the top of the mountain, in which a church was awaiting. Our professors gave us absolutely no context about the church, or why we had to hike the mountain (they didn't even join us on the hike!) to go see this one-room church. The view from the mountain was exactly the same from the other side, so all of us were generally confused and struggling to find a point to the hike. Also, at the top, a ton of gnats where flying around everywhere. We're talking get-in-your-mouth-and-all-over-your-body gnats. And the super steep part in the beginning? That was about ten times worse on the way back because we were exhausted and hot. Needless to say, the group was a sweaty, hangry mess by the time we got back on the bus to go to lunch.

 The mountain in question, with about half of the stairs we had to climb.





How beautiful are these sunsets?!

My time in San Sebastián was so much fun - we went to cooking classes, ate at a Michelin Star restaurant (oh la la), went on a boat tour, saw amazing fireworks from a boat during la Semana Grande (a week long party in the city, basically), tanned at the beach almost every day, ate amazing gelato, learned about Spanish culture, got to practice our Spanish, and just generally had tons of fun. It was actually surprisingly a lot of schoolwork, but I can't complain because I got to do a lot of it at the beach ;)

After our four weeks in SS, we headed to Barcelona!

 The cutest little "eyescream" store!

 Flower gelato!

 La Sagrada Familia!






 Gaudi is seriously one of my favorite architects - the buildings in Barcelona are gorgeous!




 My friend and I went to a fútbol game, too, which was fun!



Even though I spent the majority of my time in San Sebastián, and only about four days in Barcelona, I quickly fell in love with Barcelona. The atmosphere was so fun, the streets weren't too crowded, the food was wonderful, and the beach was beautiful and warm. Some places you just instantly feel a connection to, and that was Barcelona for me. I can't wait to go back one day!

After Barcelona was Madrid for about five days!

Churros and chocolate is one of the best combinations.



The buildings in Madrid are so pretty!

Overall, I learned so much during my time in Spain. I loved my time in London, but Spain had such a different culture, and it was so fun to experience a country that's vastly different than the one I grew up in. The people were so nice in Spain, and it was also super cool to actually use my Spanish outside of the classroom. I also fell in love living so close to the beach - it's so nice being able to walk for just 10 minutes and have a gorgeous place to relax! I definitely wish the beaches here in the Pacific Northwest were as warm. I also think this is the tannest I've ever been, which is pretty cool haha.

I'm going to be doing another post that's a reflection on the whole study abroad experience, as well as some tips, so be ready for that!

What countries have you visited?

Thank you so much for reading, and have a wonderful day! :)