Europe: Expectations vs. Reality

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Sitting in a cafe for hours on end, drinking coffee, talking philosophy, watching bike riders pass by with flowers in their basket, happy people with free health care strolling down sunny cobble stone streets, staring wistfully out of train windows while fitting emotional music plays in the background.

Running late for the bus, sweaty, running late for the train, sweaty, climbing four flights of stairs to my apartment, sweaty, lugging backpacks full of groceries on my bike in the snow, cold and sweaty, emptying the food leftovers from the sink to the waste bin because there’s no garbage disposal, sorting my trash into six specific bins, everyone dressed in black from head to to because we haven’t seen the sun in five months.

Funny how life has a way of surprising us, isn’t it? I am somehow who sets her expectations very high (curse you, American idealism!!), and constantly has to check them and reassess.

I complain sometimes, especially in winter, but still have a huge soft spot in my heart for you, Europe. Thanks for being a continent.

iPhone Photos from Life Lately

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I spent five days in London over fall break, visiting a dear friend from college who is killing it in her masters program at University College London. I spent one month in London after my freshman year of college, so I had already done most of the typical “touristy” things. This trip was all about immersing myself in life as a local. I tried to envision what my daily routine might look like if I lived there. It wasn’t hard to picture- I’ve always been drawn to the city and could easily imagine moving there one day. Who knows?! That seems to be a big theme in my life these days: who knows? 

It was so wonderful to have deep, meaningful conversations with an old friend. I miss close friendships with peers. I know it takes time to develop these in a new place, and I just have to be patient, but it’s hard to wait. I want to have best friends here right now…and yet, I’m okay. Day by day, moment by moment. Trips like this sustain me until those new relationships take root and begin to grow. Can you relate?

Below are a few photos from my iPhone because I was too lazy to lug my nice camera around in the rain on that trip. There are also a few other photos from the past few days. Enjoy!fullsizeoutput_4e1dLook at this smart lady! She could defend me and my human rights anywhere, anytime.IMG_5345Sometimes you just have to geek out and play tourist.Processed with VSCO with b1 presetIf I look cold, it’s because I was.IMG_5383The Wheel of Fortune, otherwise known as the London Eye.Processed with VSCO with m5 presetIMG_5401IMG_5409IMG_5423Knotting Hill!fullsizeoutput_4e1eIMG_5447Dr. Who fans, where you at? This is the location of the original Tartus in the show.IMG_5452My new university ID. Never mind that I look like a Chinese boy…

My new friend Ian, with whom I take classes at Uni. We are always struggling with Wifi connections but it makes for a funny time.IMG_5557My colleagues and I at a dinner during our trip to Flossenbürg, the concentration camp in Bavaria where Dietrich Bonhoeffer was killed.IMG_5558Famous Nurnberger sausagesIMG_5568Processed with VSCO with c1 presetIMG_5588I’m always on some train or other. This one was bound for Frankfurt, where I went out with a few friends for Halloween.IMG_5590Processed with VSCO with x1 presetIMG_5595This photo pretty much sums up how Halloween ended…yes, I do know this person. It was fun 🙂

Have a good week, friends!

10 England Highlights

A few of the highlights from my trip!

  1. Highclere Castle- Otherwise known as Downton Abbey to fans of the show, this was one of my favorite day trips. It was an hour train ride through scenic countryside to the little town of Newburry, where we caught a taxi to the 5,000 acre estate of Earl and Lady Carvarvon. Read more about it here!
  2. Shows- I saw ‘War Horse,’ ‘Once,’ and ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ in the West End. There are a million discount ticket booths, and you can also go to the theater window an hour before the show starts to buy cheap tickets.
  3. Bath- Such an interesting town! It is in the more mountainous region of south England. The Romans were crazy good at innovation and architecture. I was so impressed by the ancient roman baths, I just wish I could have taken a soak in the natural hot springs. I would recommend the three hour bus ride, it was definitely worth it! Read more here.
  4. National Gallery- Degas, Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Michael Angelo, you name it, they’re at the National Gallery! This museum is an art lovers paradise- and free admission! What could be better?
  5. High Tea- I have been having tea withdrawals since I returned home. I need a tea IV hooked up to my arm. The tea there is wonderful, and it is usually served with scones, clotted cream, and jam. Yum!
  6. Camden Market- Crazy, overwhelming, and exciting! There were so many food booths I wanted to try, and innumerable stalls to explore. Definitely a fun day outing!
  7. Hyde Park- The house I stayed in was right next to Hyde Park, London’s ‘Central Park.’ It is an extensive network of gardens, fields, paths, and lakes. I rode bikes around it one Sunday afternoon and stopped to watch speaker’s corner for a bit. I would recommend spending some time in the park, and be sure to walk around Kensington Gardens and palace, a subsection of Hyde Park. Pictures here!
  8. Punting- punting in Cambridge is…an experience. It was hard to do by yourself if you’re a weak girl like me, so I would recommend getting a guide. But it is the thing to do in Cambridge!
  9. Pubs- I don’t generally drink or spend much time in bars, but I genuinely enjoyed kicking back in a pub for a few hours with friends. The atmosphere is relaxed and light. I loved sipping cider and talking about the days events with a close girlfriend.
  10. London Eye- A bit pricey (they don’t call it the wheel of fortune for nothing) but totally worth it. The views are stunning and it is an easy way to see all the big monuments. See pictures here. 


Goodbye London

IMG_8008IMG_7989IMG_7953IMG_7960MeIMG_7974IMG_7952 The day has come to say goodbye to this great city! Last night my group took a ride on the London Eye (AKA The Wheel of Fortune) to see panoramic views of the city. Then we ate at an amazing Mexican restaurant near Leicester Square. I am sad to leave but also ready to be home. I feel contented and at peace because I know I will be back one day. London is not the kind of city you can only visit once, it demands a repeat! Who knows where God will lead me these next few years, but I sure wouldn’t complain if he led me here! Thanks for reading along friends, I’ve had so much fun documenting my experience. The next three weeks on the blog will be a bit quieter because I will be at school for RA training, but I’ll be fired up and rearing to go come September 3rd when I depart for Heidelberg!

The Cambridge Chronicles

IMG_7837IMG_7848Punting boats along the river. Punting is an old tradition in Cambridge, so I had to try it! Unfortunately I didn’t get many good pictures of myself punting because I was focused on not falling into the river 🙂IMG_7868When the sun is out, everyone is out!IMG_7880Good thing I’ve walked everywhere this trip! ^^IMG_7885The Round Church is the second oldest building in Cambridge, built in 1130 AD.
A cute little shop I peaked in ^^

Hello friends! My group has moved to Cambridge, a town about an hour and a half away from Oxford. Although they are both college towns, they have their own distinct atmospheres. Cambridge is much more rural, with more parks, rivers, and fields. There are also more tourists, street performers, and open air markets. The other day, for instance, I heard some noise outside my window and looked out to find a Shakespeare play being performed on a little stage in the park! There is a liveliness and optimism about this town that I love, and will miss when we leave on Thursday. I know this months prompt for Travel Tuesdays (a weekly blogosphere event I participate in) is Travel Bucket list, but I just couldn’t bring myself to write about another place when I’m presently enjoying this place so much! So if Cambridge is on your travel bucket list, I hope you find this post enjoyable 🙂

Lessons Learned About England

IMG_72301. British people are very helpful– Although Brits are a bit more reserves, don’t hesitate to ask questions. They are eager to help in any way they can. So many kind people have given me directions, discounts, and suggestions. They want to make sure you have a good time in their country!
2. Always carry an umbrella– It could be seventy five and sunny one moment and start a torrential downpour the next. Stick a rain coat or travel umbrella in your bag at all times. I learned that the hard way!
3. Look Right– When you go to cross the street, make sure to look right instead of left for on coming traffic since they drive on the other side of the road. It took a while to retrain myself and I still don’t quite understand pedestrian rules! Luckily in London they painted look right on all the cross walks to help out the tourists- how considerate!
4. Pronunciation– Sometimes I forget we are speaking the same language! Americans pronounce things much more phonetically than Brits. For instance, the H in Buckingham Palace is silent, the T in Tube makes a CH sound, and Gloucester Square is pronounced Gloster. Remember these rules and you’ll sound like a local in no time!
5. Museums are free– Most museums in London are free, which is great, especially for a student budget. Also, most things that require tickets offer a student discount with valid ‘student card’ as they call it.
6. Humor– I love British humor! It is more subtle and dry, but hilarious if you’re listening closely. Think ‘Mr. Bean’ funny. American humor is more blatant and pronounced, so you don’t have to pay that close attention to know when a joke is being made. Everyone here is so funny in an understated way! I’ve always had a quieter sense of humor, so I think I’d fit right in here.
7. European– Brits don’t really consider themselves European. They are in the EU, but have their own currency and identity. I think being separated on an island makes them a bit more distinct.
8. Fabulous Foods– England doesn’t deserve its reputation for boring food, in my opinion! I have had some wonderful meals. The UK is incredibly diverse, resulting in diverse and exciting foods. A few of my favorite meals so far have been Indian, Mediterranean, French, Lebanese, and German! Oh, and don’t forget to try the traditional Fish N’ Chips.
9. Tea Time– Brits really do love their tea. High tea is a specific type of cream tea served with scones, jam, and clotted cream. Yummy! I would have it every day if I could afford it. Tea and coffee are offered with every meal 🙂 I think I’ve had more tea than water on this trip! I’m officially converted.
10. England vs. Britain vs. UK– I was always confused about which title to use. England is only the country of England. (Great) Britain is England and Wales, and the UK is England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. Most English people I met call themselves Brits, although it definitely varies and I still probably get it wrong half the time 🙂



An Oxford Review

IMG_7590 I love this bridge 🙂 Can we build some in California please?IMG_7592IMG_7627IMG_7628IMG_7663IMG_7665IMG_7687The Thames river walk IMG_7709J.R.R. Tolkien’s HouseIMG_7750kebleIMG_7578Keble College, where I am staying. Lewis often lectured at Keble! One of the 39 colleges around town that make up Oxford University.IMG_7585A cute avenue in town- I kind of like it blurry!

A photographic review of my week in Oxford! I went on a long walk through town and out into the countryside, snapping photos at rapid speed. I also went on a walking tour of Oxford today, and the guide pointed out all the spots where Lewis and his literary group The Inklings met. The tour included Magdalen College, where he taught for most of his career. Inside the college grounds is Addison’s Walk, and it was on that walk that Lewis officially converted to Christianity. He walked with Tolkien and Dyson, who talked to him about the nature of myth and how the Christian story fulfills all other myths. At the start, he was not a Christian, and at the end he was. I can’t say I had any grand epiphanies- but it sure was relaxing and beautiful!

The Kilns

flower IMG_7532 IMG_7543 IMG_7544 IMG_7545 IMG_7546 IMG_7547 IMG_7548 kiln rugGreetings from Oxford! My group transferred here on Monday and we have been attending the C.S. Lewis Summer Institute. Today we toured The Kilns, Lewis’s home for the last thirty years of his life. It was named the Kilns because it used to be a brick factory in World War II, which has since been refurbished and remodeled into a beautiful home. I really loved seeing his actual possessions and walking around his gorgeous property. Being in Oxford helps me understand how and why he was inspired to write such fantastical works- this place appeals to imagination!