Monday, March 26, 2012

Mina and Kelly Come to London!!

I was so lucky this week to have my friends Mina and Kelly come to visit me!! Both are studying in Italy (Mina is in Florence and Kelly is in Siena), and each stopped by for a few days. Their paths didn't cross, so they didn't get to see each other, but I got to see both of them so I was lovin life! Mina came with Allie, an Alpha Phi at Virginia Tech, and a friend they met through their program, Josephine. I met up with them and walked around Buckingham Palace and Westminster, and then we went to a good Indian Restaurant. The next day I got to meet up with Mins, just the two of us, and catch up. It was sooo much fun, but definitely not enough time with her :(
Mina and I outside Westminster Abbey

Kelly came in Thursday night from Siena, and we headed out with a bunch of my friends in the program. She stayed with me for the weekend, and it was so nice to have her with me. I've definitely been missing Blacksburg lately, so it was nice to have a piece of it here with me in London! On Friday we (Kelly, Katie, Gracie, Joe, Ben, Bo and I) headed out by the Thames, around Waterloo, at some good classic pub food, had some happy hour specials at a great bar on the water, and walked around St. Paul's Cathedral. That night we went to an 80's club we'd never been to before. Definitely a nice change in scenery from where we usually go. On Saturday Kelly, Gracie, Bo, Ben and I went to Borrough Market, where we had some of the best grilled cheese I've ever tasted, and cheesecake! Gracie and I took Kelly to see Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, and headed back so Kelly could see Singing in the Rain with some of her friends from Siena. 
Me with Bo, Kelly, Joe, Katie, Gracie and Ben on the Millenium Bridge across the River Thames

Overall, such a great weekend, jam packed with friends from home, sightseeing and phenomenal weather (at least 60 degrees each day). Couldn't have had a more beautiful weekend in London!
Kelly and I showing a little Alpha Delta Pi love next to Parliament

Ooooh! And if my hair looks shorter, it's because I got a haircut :)

Portugal: Lisbon and Lagos

Due to some errors in planning on the part of Gracie and myself, which were fortunately caught before they became an issue, we made the plan to fly from Barcelona to Lisbon, Portugal, and then take a four hour bus ride from Lisbon to Lagos, saving us A LOT of money (you're welcome Mom), rather than flying into the nearest airport to Lagos, in Faro. That meant that we had about 6 hours to kill in the city of Lisbon. We had no idea what to expect, and looked like major tourists for the day with all our luggage, but it was fun nonetheless. 
No idea what these buildings are, but they're in Lisbon!
Gracie and I at the park!
Gracie and the boys relaxing, waiting for the bus
Favorite picture I've taken in Europe thus far

Surprisingly, I ended up really liking Lisbon. It definitely had a more dirty, run-down feel to it, like it was in somewhat of a decline (whether or not that's true, I don't really know), but for some reason it was completely captivating and beautiful. The buildings were all different colors, and a lot of them were not painted, but covered with decorative tile, which I am now completely obsessed with. We decided to take a hop-on hop-off bus tour of the city, so that we could see the most possible in the shortest amount of time. We rode around and got to see a ton of different sites. The one stop we made was at a gorgeous park (don't know the name of it), but we looked around and then just laid in the grass for about half an hour until we got picked up by another bus. The weather was completely gorgeous, perfect for sitting on an open topped bus. Overall, just a nice relaxing view of a pretty cool city that I had never intended to see, so it was a nice surprise. There was a little hiccup when Bo and I were in our cab headed for the bus station and our cab driver (who spoke zero English) casually clipped another car and tore it's side mirror off, but otherwise, it was wonderful (don't worry Mom, I'm alive, completely intact)!
More of Lisbon (still no idea what)

Loved the colors and architecture of the city

There was a little mix up with everyone's bus tickets when we got to the station, but it got figured out quickly, and we headed on a bus from Lisbon to Lagos. I fell asleep for most of the time, but for the part I was awake, Portugal was so beautiful. Just a lot of empty space, fields and rolling hills, completely gorgeous. When we got to Lagos we had a cab take us to the house we were renting for the week. The cab driver spoke only Portuguese and got pretty lost, but we eventually found it, and he didn't make us pay (not like it would have mattered because taxis cost almost nothing there) while he drove around somewhat aimlessly. Nonetheless, we eventually made it to the house, and the wait was well worth it!
A few pictures of the views from our house! Only about a two minute walk to the beach!!

Such a beautiful family dinner from Paige and myself! Sharing mom duties for the week :)

 The only words I can say to describe it are gorgeous. Beautiful house, beautiful view, beautiful pool, just beautiful. We met the five others at the house (Katie, Paige, Nicole, Josh and Alec), and pretty much had one of the best weeks ever. The weather was perfect, we got to cook every meal, drink as much wine as we could think of, and all for practically no money (again, in comparison to London). I did absolutely nothing for the 6ish days I was there and it was amazing. I was not ready to leave when it was time to fly back to London. Such a great spot for a vacation, and a phenomenal time with some of my favorite people!


Sorry, it's been forever since I've posted something! But here is my trip to Barcelona!!! By far my favorite city that I have visited thus far. I went with Gracie, Ben, Bo and Joe. It was an easy group to travel with which made it that much better. We landed in Barcelona early on Thursday morning and headed to our hostel. The metro system was easy to figure out and cheap so that was nice! We made a brief stop in our hostel, which was extremely nice, and then went to wander around. The first place we visited was La Sagrada Familia, one of Gaudi's buildings. The architecture is like nothing I've ever seen, both inside and out, just absolutely incredible. We took the lift up to the top and got gorgeous views of the city and ocean. 

La Sagrada Familia
Inside the Cathedral
The view of the city from the top of La Sagrada Familia

From there we ate some gelato (typical) and then continued to walk around, our goal being to get to the ocean. We walked by the Arc de Triomf and around that area in general, which is beautiful, and eventually made our way to the beach. The five of us just hung out there for a while and then grabbed a cab home (cabs are beyond cheap, in comparison to London at least). That night we grabbed dinner at a random, but really good restaurant. I'm sure for Barcelona it wasn't on the cheapest end of the spectrum, but for us and being in London, it was a steal! Later that night we headed to a club called Opium that I had been told about by a few people. By far the coolest club I've ever seen, right on the beach and just completely crazy. It couldn't even compare to where we go in London! It was a late night and consequently a bit of a late morning, but completely worth it.
Arc de Triomf, right by our hostel
Our walk to the beach
BEACH! Preparing us for Portugal

The next day we walked around Las Ramblas, then ate lunch in the Old Town area. We then went to Parque Guell, another one of Gaudi's works. From there, we took the metro to Montijuic and got to take a cable car up to some sort of military fort (not really sure what it was?), and then got a good view of the port, which we hadn't seen while being there. We explored around there for a while, then headed home and got ready for dinner. We had dinner at a place that my friend Sam from home had suggested, La Luna, and it was soooo great! We stayed for over three hours and just hung out, ate and drank. Overall, it was a great weekend. The city is gorgeous, the people were cool and there was so much to do! It's the first city that I could have seen myself studying in other than London, and I would definitely love to go back some time!
In Parque Guell
Me looking at the city from Parque Guell (photo credits given to Gracie Gerlach)
Joe, Bo and me on the cable car ride up to Montijuic
Overlooking the Port from Montijuic

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hindu Temple Visit

I am taking a course called Comparative World Religion here in London, and our first assignment was to visit a temple of a faith different than your own. I chose to travel to a Hindu temple, and was directed to one in Wembley, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. I did a little research on it beforehand, but had little idea of what to expect. 

Getting to the temple is about an hour and fifteen minute commute via Tube and bus. I was beyond proud of myself because I did not get lost (another lesson I've learned in London, I am not good with directions...)!! The tube station drops you off right in front of Wembley Stadium, which was really cool to see in person, and I made sure to walk around and take it in considering I probably won't be out to Wembley for any other reason. I then took about a fifteen minute bus ride to reach the temple. The area is much different than Kensington and other ones I've been in while in London. It seems like a much more working class, residential area; much less glamorous or "posh" as people here like to say, yet equally as fascinating. School must have been letting out about the same time as I was getting on the bus, because there were about 20 elementary and middle school aged children getting on as well. 

The temple itself was breathtaking. In the middle of a very industrial and somewhat dingy area, is a fantastic white limestone structure. It looks like some sort of palace. Once again, forgot my camera, so if you're really interested you can Google (plus no picture taking is allowed inside, which was the best part anyway). You are required to leave your bag across the road at the security building, and then must walk through a metal detector and security checkpoint once inside the temple. You are also required to take your shoes off and leave them at the front. From that point on, you are pretty much free to walk around as you please. 

I came right around the time that Murti Darshan, or viewing of the sacred deities, was open for visitors. I was able to walk upstairs into a massive marble room with about 20 marble statues of gods and avatars and observe the different practices of the people there. From about 30 to 45 minutes of observation, I learned that each Hindu seemed to have a different way of worshipping. Some would lie flat on the ground and say some sort of prayer, others would touch the stone closest to the foot of the statue, others placed their foreheads at the foot of the statues. I watched one man walk in circles around the room for a good 15 minutes, touching each statue as he passed and saying the same word over and over again. It was so different than anything I have ever experienced and so interesting to observe. 

I clearly stood out because I had multiple people come up and speak to me and explain different things to me while I was there. When I was in the area with the deities, an older man came up and began talking to me about the significance of some of the things I had been looking at. At the time, I was standing in front of a statue of Shiva, so he gave me a fairly detailed description of him as well as the "founder" of the sect's statue. 

Overall, I was at the temple for about two hours. Completely stunning and extremely interesting. Surprisingly, I think it was one of the most interesting things I've done here in London so far. Midterms are coming up next week, and then Spring Breakkkk (!!!!) so hopefully I'll be able to post something before then, but if not, be prepared for pictures of beautiful Portuguese beaches!