Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Go to Stonehenge. Make it happen. It's totally worth the travel time. Seeing this magnificent piece of history is breathtaking. When we visited, We were staying in London at our friend's dorm, near the Kings Cross station. We took that to the train depot and then took a train to Bath. I can't remember exactly how long it took us, but I'm thinking the travel time was something like 3 hours round trip. After we arrived in Bath, which is an awesome little city (and home of Jane Austen, we had another hour or two to kill before the bus took us to Stonehenge. Then, it was another hour ride on a tour bus through English countryside. We froze our asses off, but Stonehenge is something everyone should see.
Okay, London is a great city. It's huge and confusing and getting around takes patience and time, especially if you don't know what you're doing. We made a list of places we wanted to see and tried to get to as much as we could. We didn't make it to Abbey Road, but we did get to Bath, which I'll talk about later.
Anyway, the underground is a lot of fun and super easy once you learn a little bit about your location. I would avoid taking the double-decker buses, as fun as they sound, they aren't very safe for women. Also, keep an eye on your belongings all the time. A friend had her bag cut open on a bus and didn't even know until it was too late....
Alright. Places to see in London: Big Ben and the London Eye. I already talked about those. Also, West Minister Abbey is next door to Parliament so definitely check that out too.
The free museums in London are great but prepare to spend an entire day at them. You could really spend a few days at every museum, but if you're limited on time, stick to exhibits you want to see. We went to the British Museum and the National Gallery. The National gallery is great, but we didn't get to see all of the Van Gogh paintings because they close early...(around 6p.m.)
Check out this website for information on the National Gallery:
Other cool places to check out are the Tower of London, Harrods Department Store, Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace. Tower Bridge is pretty famous and it's a block or so from the Tower of London. Actually, You can see St. Paul's Cathedral, take a nice walk along the river, go up in Tower Bridge and tour the Tower of London all in one day. Just make sure you have about 3 hours free for the Tower tour because it takes a long time.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
By some sort of luck (and having a friend in graduate school in London) Chris and I made it to Europe for winter break. We spent about 16 days traveling different countries and fighting the frigid cold. First stop on our list: London. We arrived in late December and I was battling the worst cold of my life.
We weren't prepared for the severe jet-lag our first few days in London. We woke up at around 3 or 4 in the afternoon and had to rush to get ready and see the sights. My biggest advice for European travelers is to allow an extra day to sleep a few hours. It will help tremendously, especially if you're on a long trip.
After a few days of nursing a cold and celebrating the New Year, we started to visit all the popular tourist sights. New Years day, we visited Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and the London Eye. The eye is pretty cool if it isn't zero degrees outside. If you plan on going up in the eye, expect long lines and spending about 15 euro a person. We were unable to get up until 4:30 p.m and it was already dark, so our pictures weren't very good. It's definitely cool to get a view of the great city of London though!
Another problem we faced frequently was the lack of things open during the winter. We weren't able to go inside West Minister Abbey, Parliament, or Buckingham Palace. Parliament is actually closed to tourists all year round, but other places are typically open in the summer.
Part of our Belize trip included a week-long stay on an island called South Water Caye. It's located two hours from Belize city and the private island about 15 acres in size. It's the perfect place for a romantic getaway. During our stay, we had the whole island to ourselves.
The rooms at Pelican Resort are individual houses equipped with private bathrooms, hammocks and private decks. There's a common house where we had our meals and class. We also had access to Kayaks and volleyball.
We did a lot of snorkeling during our week on South Water. We visited mangroves, the coral reef and other interesting places. I was afraid of some of the snorkeling areas because there was strong currents sending us further and further from our boat. The mangroves were filled with jellyfish and nearly everyone swam through a prickly-stingy patch of jellyfish eggs. (It was awful!)
I just started this blog a few days ago so I'm back tracking and jumping around a lot when it comes to sharing this information. Even before I went to Belize, I took a short trip out west to Portland, Oregon. This turned out to be an interesting experience because for the first time ever, I was traveling alone.
Actually, before 2009, I hadn't flown since I went to the Cayman Islands in 2000. It turns out that flying isn't as romantic or hip as it seems. I was on a plane squished next to people I didn't know and for the first time I became aware of my claustrophobia.
I was so frightened that when I arrived in Houston, I called my mom and my boyfriend and wanted someone to drive me home. Ridiculous, I know, but I realllly didn't want to get on another plane. Who cares if I make it to Portland? I'm not getting on another plane!>
And so, finally, I did get on that plane and I made it to Oregon. I only stayed four days, but I saw some pretty neat places. I also attended an Andrew Bird show, which was one of those things on my so called "bucket-list." The item on my list was something along the lines of see a band you love in a really unique location...So I mean, the trip was worth it in that sense. As far as the rest of the trip, I was more excited to get home than anything.
I ended up visiting the Pearl District and some cool shops/restaurants. I really enjoy shopping at places like Plato's Closet and I found a unique store called Buffalo Exchange which sells used clothing.
I also had a chance to check out Powell's books, which is the biggest bookstore I've ever seen. I found some interesting books about the middle east, like the Lemon Tree and really enjoyed reading them on the plane ride home.
My friend lived a few blocks from the rose garden. We walked up a huge hill to the gardens, which were beautiful even without the roses. ( It was February )
The friend I set out to visit ended up trying to make a move on me. By my last night, it was so annoying that I couldn't take his propositions any longer and I went straight to the airport. I ended up staying in the Portland airport for about 12 hours and slept on a chair.
Have any of you been stranded at an airport or someplace you really didn't want to be?
Monday, April 19, 2010
In the Summer of 2009, I discovered an opportunity to visit Belize through school. I learned from my boyfriend, Chris, that the two week program was worth nearly a whole semester of credits and that we'd be hanging out in the tropics. "Perfect" I thought. I jumped on the opportunity to travel and a few months later we were on our way to Belize.
After what seemed like the worst flight of my life, (I hate flying) we landed in the Belize airport with a handful of other students we didn't know. Some of my favorite and most defining moments of the trip were things that seem so mundane. Our trip to the field station, our first rain forest trek and the people we met were only a few.
Upon arriving in Belize, we were greeted by tanned airport employees and our rain forest guide, Rudy. He led the IU East class to a large bus with big, open windows and helped us pile our luggage in the back seat. We began the sweaty, bumpy and dusty 3.5 hour ride to our camp at LaMilpa Field Station. During our bus ride, I was in awe of everything I saw. There were roadside stands selling fruit, horses tied to ropes and skinny little dogs running a muck. The roads were mostly dirt and horribly bumpy and our new travel buddies weren't very talkative...yet.
The minute we arrived at LaMilpa, everyone chose which cabana they'd share. Chris and I chose a room together. The rooms were like large cabins. There was an upstairs with a bed, and then two beds on the lower floor. We had electric, which ran on solar power, water-collected by the rain, and screens on the glass-less windows. It seemed rustic, but it was pretty nice for the middle of the rain forest.
So..during our stay at LaMilpa we had class, visited Mayan sites and hiked through the rain forest. I'll never forget our first hiking experience. Our guide, Rudy, took us on a hike through some pretty rough terrain and asked each student to spend an hour in a designated location. We were equipped with binoculars and notepads to observe the wildlife....alone. Rudy explained that the forest only comes alive after people leave or sit quietly, so that's what we did.
After about twenty minutes of poking around and looking at trees, I heard a rustling high above me. I snatched my binoculars from my pack and discovered monkeys! I was so excited and stumbled to grab my camera. I guess those damned monkeys spotted my binoculars because they were heading right toward me. Weren't monkeys supposed to be afraid of people?!! ahhh!
Those stupid monkeys came closer and closer until they had crossed over from one side of the trail to the other. By this time, they were right above me and they wanted me to be afraid. Branches and leaves started falling from the trees and landing right around me. I started to freak. I didn't know if I should stay and watch or run away. Those damn monkeys were taunting me, telling me to go away; they weren't going to give up. More and more things were coming at me from the trees, but finally, they head another student a few yards away and took off to torment her.
I found out later that those retched animals were Spider monkeys. They aren't afraid of people and will come nearly to the bottom of a tree to throw things at you. I also found out they get great pleasure from throwing poop at you, but I was lucky enough that didn't happen. They make horrible growling sounds that truly sound like a cat. After that whole ordeal, I was really excited to share my story because most of our group didn't see anything.