3 Months in China: An Update (or expect the unexpected like food poisoning and getting robbed)

Well. The last 3 months in China have been an absolute roller coaster. (He’s a nice photo of Shanghai from 3 years ago just because).

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The thing with living in China is that you must expect the unexpected. And I do. I really do. However, it is still shocking when the nature of the unexpected is revealed. I am never prepared. But I am always ready to laugh it off and hopefully learn from whatever bizarre experience is thrown my way.

So let’s see. We went to New Zealand at the end of August till the beginning of September and I had one of the best travel experiences of my life. I am still hording all the amazing photos but they will have to wait till I am back in the states… You will understand why in a bit.

After New Zealand I was just really sad. Post- travel depression is real and it sucks. So I threw myself into new activities, joined two expat choirs, took up boxing lessons, and started hanging out with some friends who finally were back in town. And it was good. Then we went on the cruise to Korea and Japan which was fantastic and a lot of fun. After Japan, Peter had a few days off of work so we hung out at home for a few days, readjusting to the craziness of Shanghai. Well I didn’t adjust as well as I had hoped and had a ugly tear-soaked breakdown on my way to choir rehearsal. It was not pretty. It was the typical “I can’t handle all these people”, “I am so overwhelmed”, “can I just live my life and not be ogled like a freak and not worry constantly about how to call a taxi or buy groceries because I can’t communicate with anybody”. A normal China freak out. I am surprised it took this long…

Breakdowns are good because once you release those emotions you can finally MOVE ON. So started taking regular boxing lessons, learning how to punch and kick like a bad-ass with my trainer Hope. He only speaks Chinese and I only speak English so we communicate with elaborate gestures and Google Translate. It is frustrating and hard and I look like a heaving red-faced mess but OMG it is FUN. The Chinese staff love me and mostly I make them laugh while jumping around and acting like a lunatic. I think they appreciate my tendency to bust out random dance moves and curse words when I spectacularly mess up combinations or accidentally hit Hope in the face. I enjoy the challenge and my right hook is showing a lot of improvement!

Besides boxing some other some fun things went on like a cool concert with my friend Lisa, an amazing karaoke birthday night with our friends and finally going to see Guardians of the Galaxy in theaters. Life was good.

Until last Monday.

Peter woke up for work at 6:30am and asked me if I knew where his work laptop was. It had been sitting in his backpack next to the front door since the night before. Well his backpack was there but his laptop was not. As we started searching our apartment with mounting anxiety, I suddenly realized that my own laptop which I had left on the coffee table after a late night of online reading was also gone. WE WERE ROBBED.

I am not even kidding.

Sometime between 1-6am, somebody walked into our apartment, WHILE WE WERE SLEEPING, grabbed our laptops and left. Our door lock had actually jammed a couple days before and could only be locked from the inside with a key. Well that was the ONE NIGHT we forgot to lock our door. Of course we felt like total and complete idiots. But seriously, WTF. Thankfully I had most of my files backed up and had actually planned on getting a new laptop in a few months anyway. It was however a big scramble to change all my passwords to make sure nobody could access my bank accounts or work email. After filing a report with the police we learned that several other apartments in our complex were robbed of their electronics as well. Hopefully they were stolen just for parts and not for actual personal data. OH and they also stole Peter’s sunglasses and 120rmb in cash from my wallet but left about 700rmb in cash sitting on the table where my laptop was. Um. I don’t get it?

So now I am doing all my work on Peter’s enormous gamer laptop but I no longer have Photoshop for my blog :-(. The only files I didn’t back up were all my edited photos from France and New Zealand, literally hours and hours of work which sucks. I will not be able to blog about those trips until after Thanksgiving once I get a new laptop. So while this situation absolutely sucks, I feel so grateful that we are safe and that we are privileged enough to afford new laptops. It honestly could have been much worse.

One more thing.

After this whole ordeal we went back to our normal lives, this time with locked doors. This Saturday a friend took us to a church on a mountain near our apartment and we had a lovely time walking through the forest and watching random couples get married. That night we ate a northern Chinese restaurant which was delicious but made my stomach a little queasy. NBD. Sunday we spent the day relaxing and picked up some KFC for dinner.

Well turns out I got a nasty case of food poisoning and spend all night hunched over the toilet puking my guts out. Oh my god it was absolutely terrible. I was finally able to fall asleep at 1oam and basically slept all day Monday, feeling like absolute crap. It is now Wednesday and I am finally starting to feel human again with some semblance of an appetite. Meh. Not really.

Damn you KFC. I will never eat your chicken crunch wraps again. NEVER. Ugh I feel nauseous just thinking about it. UGHHHH.

And that just about sums up the last few months in China. Unexpected and never boring with a small bout of food poisoning. Haha.

But in 3 weeks I’M GOING HOME!!! Then it will be an action-packed couple of weeks of wedding stuff, a One Direction concert (OMG YES), our friend’s wedding in Pennsylvania, Thanksgiving and possibly a best friend trip to NYC. IT’S GOING TO BE GREAT. Till then I will be training like Rocky and taking long strolls in the cool and hazy autumn air of Shanghai.

Just another day in the life of an expat.

Cruising… to Fukuoka, Japan and the Kushida Shrine

After an awesome day in South Korea, I was excited to return to Japan, a country that I absolutely loved when I visited 2 years ago. Japan is surprisingly clean and compact, basically the complete opposite of China. I was once again fascinated by this contrast during our short time in Fukuoka, the capital city of Japan’s most southernmost island.

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We waited for the Chinese tour groups before going through the mandatory immigration process to leave the ship. We walked to the bus station with many of the crew members and exchanged some money into yen before boarding a public bus into the city. Despite some confusion over the bus tickets, we got off at the correct stop and began to walk to Kushida Shrine. Of course we got lost, accidentally walking through Canal City, the shopping are we so desperately wanted to avoid, before finally arriving at the shrine.

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Only once we found the canal did we find the shrine, hidden away down an unassuming side street. As soon as we walked up the stairs we came upon a gigantic structure that can only be described as… EPIC. Inside a tall white building was a 3D representation of some sort of story told in glittering details and life-size Japanese characters. I believe this is the float from last years Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival, a 750 year old Japanese festival that centers on the Kushida Shrine. This festival draws over a million spectators to Fukuoka each year!

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We walked around exploring the many layers of the Kushida Shrine including the various torii, prayer cards and other symbols of the sacred. The torii are one of my favorite visual aspects of Shinto shrines.

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My other favorite aspect of Shinto shrines is the o-mikuji, or fortunes written on pieces of paper and tied to string. I think they are beautiful.

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One of my favorite parts of Japan is the random vending machines dispersed every where. They always have such a wide variety of beverages, including plenty of coffee based drinks. It is heaven!

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We rubbed this bull’s backside for good luck. Because why not?

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We left the shrine on the look out for some shopping and some authentic ramen. I was determined to actually eat Japanese food in Japan. Last time we were forced to eat at a Chinese restaurant in Tokyo... and of course I got sick. This time I would have my ramen and eat it too!

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Well we found a nice ramen shop and I had the most delicious curry ramen of my life. Oh boy was it good. No photos were taken because I was too busy eating. Sorry. We shopped around for a little bit longer, admiring the amazing amount of junk being sold in shops, including a ton of Halloween decorations. I love Halloween! We also admired the poor little squids swimming around in preparation for somebody’s dinner. Sad.

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We bought a few Japanese sweets before catching the bus back to the ship.  It was a short but sweet trip to Japan and a lovely contrast to the craziness of China. If only I could stay a bit longer…

But no, our cruising days were over.

 

Cruising… to Jeju Island, South Korea

Well it’s Golden Week in Shanghai and do you know what that means?? Everybody is gone! Well not really. But a large percentage of the city has gone back home to other parts of China for the week-long holiday. So the streets are less crowded, the pollution is minimal and there is a cool breeze in the air. It is a beautiful thing! I love this time of year!

Last week we went on a holiday of our own, a 4 day cruise to South Korea and Japan! We did a similar cruise 2 years ago to different places in Japan like Tokyo, Hososhima and Wakayama. However, this cruise was a little different. This time we were on an incredible Royal Caribbean boat and we were one out of only 3 American couples on board!! The rest of the guests were Chinese which made the cruising experience unique, like always.

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We left Shanghai last Saturday and set sail for South Korea with our friends Randy and Jenny and their daughter Sammie. The next day we arrived in Jeju, a volcanic island in South Korea. While the rest of the boat set off on Chinese bus tours, we took a taxi to Seongsan Ilchulbong or “Sunrise Peak”, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After a 40 minute ride through open fields and orange groves, we saw a chunk of rock rising from the sea. Seongsan Ilchulbong is a tuff cone formed by hydrovolcanic eruptions that created a bowl-like crater surrounded by steep cliffs. It basically looks like a giant stone fortress in the sea. Cool.

In the mid-afternoon heat, we began the steady climb up the cliff, maneuvering through the throngs of Chinese tourists. It was a beautiful day and I was excited to be in South Korea for the first time!

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It was going to be fun!

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We love stairs. Look, so happy!

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We passed by several of these funny little stone men, said to be protectors of the mountain. Locally they are called “dol hareubang” or “stone-grandfathers”.

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With our friend Jenny. Why am I so tall.

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After 30 minutes of intense stair climbing, we made it to the top of the crater! It was quite amazing to see.

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Looking awesome (and tired).

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Thankfully there was a legit staircase back down the cliff, which was a lot easier than the stone staircase on the way up. We had an amazing view of Jeju Island!

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With little time to spare, Jenny and I ran down to the ocean to take a few photos before finding our taxi driver again.

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After only 10 minutes or so we had to run back up the stairs! I was ready.

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On the way back, we saw a lot of people walking around with these oddly shaped snacks that looked cream-filled? Oh dear. Sammie bought one and found out that it was ice cream! The design is actually genius because it prevents the ice cream from melting onto your hand. But it just looks totally inappropriate. Hahaha.

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We didn’t have any time to shop for souvenirs so we piled back into the taxi all nice and sweaty for the long drive back to the boat. It was perfect timing because we arrived back early enough to quickly board the boat before all the Chinese tours. We even had time to go for a swim and we had the pool deck all to ourselves!! It was glorious. Almost like a real vacation!

That night we enjoyed a nice dinner and went to bed early. We were exhausted from all those stairs and we had to rest up for Japan the next day.

We love cruising!

London Day 4: Tower of London, Borough Market, Tate and Street Feast

Well we are leaving for a cruise to Japan and South Korea in a few hours for Chinese national holiday so here is the final London post! :-)

After failing to visit the Tower of London the first time when my neck seized up, we were determined to go on our last day! For the longest time I thought the Tower of London was literally a big tower where they kept prisoners. But oh boy was I wrong. Let’s take a look!

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Ready to rumble.

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First we walked up the walkway along the stone gates, visiting various dungeons along the way and learning about its famous prisoners. It was eerie to see the messages scratched into the wall by prisoners years and years ago. It must have sucked to be locked up in a cold stone room like that. Eek.

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We went into the White Tower which was the strongest structure in the medieval castle. Up each floor we followed the well-designed museum through places like the armory, lodgings for the lords, and chapel. It was a really awesome display and was well worth the high entrance fee to the Tower.

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Then it was time to visit the dungeons!! The line to enter was long and we were excited…. until we walked inside. The “dungeon” was literally a single room with one torture device on display. We almost walked out on accident, thinking there was more! Oh well.

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But we saw a polar bear and were appeased. Bowdoin represent!

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Some “well-equipped” armor made us giggle because we are children.

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And then we waited in line with a large tour group of Japenese tourists to see the crown jewels. Even though they filter you through quite quickly, the whole display was great and the jewels were just unreal.

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We left the Tower of London and headed straight for Tower Bridge to cross the River Thames.

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We were on a mission to find some refreshments at Borough Market, one of the oldest markets in London. It is located under an overpass, making it feel like you are underground.

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Unfortunately the market had just closed, so we got some gelato the size of my head to make ourselves feel better. It worked.

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Then we walked on to the Tate Gallery, which definitely looks as modern as the art it houses. The museum was absolutely enormous on the inside and we saw a few cool displays. However, I was exhausted and more than ready to sit down for a while.

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Once we left the museum we sat by the water to chill for a while before making our way over Millennium Bridge. It was the perfect time of day as the remaining light shown down on St. Peter’s and the London skyline.

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Finally we took the tube back to the flat and met up with Val and her friends at Street Feast! Street Feast is a cool outdoor area that fills with permanent food vendors on the weekends, selling everything from BBQ to Thai food. I had the shrimp and grits which were DIVINE. It was a really cool atmosphere and we enjoyed a few drinks with all our new friends.

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Later that evening we went out to a weird reggae bar called Passing Clouds where we danced to a hiphop latin fusion band. We ended up back at a friend’s apartment under the bright moon and watched the sunrise on her rooftop patio. It was the perfect end to a wonderful time in London.

Thank you Val for being an amazing host! We had the best time!

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Sadly, it was time to catch a train to Southend Airport and head to the final country on our Eurotrip 2014…

FRANCE!

London Day 3: Getting touristy with Big Ben, Picadilly Circus and some One Direction

When in London for the first time, there are a few things that you just need to do. First things first, you must sleep in till noon (again), because hey you are on vacation and deserve some rest. Next you must take the tube, because a true Londoner is a pro at public transportation. Then you must accept the fact that you are a tourist and are destined to take silly photos with famous landmarks.

Well at least that’s what we did on our third day in London. On this overcast and humid day, we started at Big Ben.

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It really was just a big clock tower, a pretty big and immovable clock tower as such.

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We then walked to Westminister Abbey across the street and gazed up in wonder at this massive church. The entrance fee was way too expensive so we admired the exterior architecture before going on our merry way.

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Past Big Ben again. WOAHHH.

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Then over to Parliament which thoroughly impressed us with its intricate architecture and terrifying guards with guns. Yikes!

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The afternoon became a little less terrifying once we entered St. James Park and found plenty of ducks and homey cottages on the grounds.

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Across the park, we walked through the massive Horse Guards Parade and through the entryway where we found the Household Cavalry on duty. Apparently they are actually on duty guards and not just for show, which explains why they just stood there, looking bored amongst tourists waiting for a show. Silly tourists.

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Next up was the National Gallery where we got our free museum time in with some art before heading back to Picadilly Circus. I honestly was expecting something much better than the equivalent of Times Square, but I didn’t really care. Because I was on a mission. A 1D mission to be exact.

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Yes, I dragged Carina to at least four different tourist shops on the hunt for some Once Direction souvenirs to add to my non-existent collection. I ended up buying a goofy keychain and poster from the latest album, but also managed to sneak a few photos with their extra special t-shirts.

Oh hey lads.

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With my favorite, Louis.

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And with this baby deer in headlights, Harry Styles.

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When in London right? Right?? Haha, don’t answer that.

After satiating my need for 1D, we finished our day off at Covent Gardens, which was absolutely lovely. There was even a quirky little marching band playing old-school tunes in the lower gallery. They had a tuba player which automatically makes any band sound awesome.

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And then we took the most touristy photo of all in a red telephone booth that smelled faintly of piss. And it was epic.

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Overall our ulta-touristy day was a great success!

Back at the flat we lounged around and accidentally missed the England World Cup game. We heard a lot of yelling outside but were too engrossed in OITNB to care. Whoops. They lost anyways so everybody was sad when we met Val and her friends for dinner at an Indian restaurant. I was too happy slurping curry to notice. We finished off the night at a weird basement club that played awkward techno and boogie music.

What a day!

London Day 2: The Hunt for Street Art in Shoreditch

Woohooo we’re in London!!! Well actually we were in London in June which seems so long ago! But it is good that I am finally getting around to posting all these photos. However things are picking up here in China, I have joined a couple of choirs and recently started boxing lessons! Yup, I am a badass. Also on Sunday we are taking a cruise to South Korea and Japan during national holiday so there’s that. OH and there is typhoon headed our way which means lots of rain and gusts of wind. I kind of like it.

Right, back to London!  

tower4After a deliciously low-key first day in the city, we were determined to see more of London. So of course we slept all morning (YES) and walked to the Tower of London after a lazy noon-time breakfast of yogurt and coffee. Randomly in the middle of our walk, my neck seized up and I was paralyzed by a shooting pains running from my neck to my shoulder. Sitting me down a bench, Carina rushed off to buy an ice cream cone which tasted delicious and helped soothe the (emotional) pain while I comically kept my neck completely still. Awkward. We did however get a few photos in front of Tower Bridge. Again with the awkward, “I can’t move my neck and I’m gritting my teeth because this hurts” pose, but it works.

tower3Although I wanted nothing more than to go back to the flat and wallow in self-pity, we had already signed up for an Alternative London Walking Tour. This tour of street art in Shoreditch had come highly recommended from Tasha so we had to go. At 3pm we met our guide beneath the goat statue and away we went like hipster detectives on the hunt for street art gold.

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As we walked around Brick Lane and other areas around Shoreditch, we learned about the history of the area and about the signature style of various street artists. It was fun to try and figure out which artist had done what based on their own style.

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artwalk6artwalk7Some of the street art was very loud and commanding. This mural of the crane was even commissioned for the Olympics. Check out that detail, amazing.

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Other street art was very subtle. My favorite were the artists who placed stickers over street signs, like the photo below. Do you see it?

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Bowdoin polar bears! Represent!

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artwalk16Honestly the details of each piece escape me and I am sure Carina took much more thorough notes on the subject. I just enjoyed finding beautiful murals or figurines hidden in alleyways or on top of lampposts. It was like a fun game of hide-and-seek and our tour guide was obviously passionate about each piece.

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The story behind the Star Wars piece below was that the artist dressed up like a construction worker while he illegally put it up in broad daylight. Awesome.

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The artist created the face below by covering the wall in plaster then drilling away sections piece by piece… till viola! A face! Absolutely incredible. I literally cannot comprehend artists like my girl Carina and how they can create beauty out of nothing. It is an amazing talent.

artwalk22It was a lovely tour, but really long. By the time it was over, the sun was setting and the wind was picking up… it was COLD. Huddled in our thin coats, we rushed back to the flat to get all fancy for our friend Val’s school conference. It was part of her master degree graduation presentation where really smart people talked about really smart things. So Carina and I flocked to the open bar and I ate a few bugs (no joke, they had baked good made from crickets and they were actually good!). Then we joined all the graduates at a place called Canal Bar, hidden away in the middle of a quiet residential area. It was too cool for school.

artwalk23It was very LONDON evening and I have never felt less posh. But no matter, we had a good day despite the pain in my neck. The next day promised to be a full out touristy day complete with embarrassing photos with One Direction merchandise and I was EXCITED.

YES, BRING ON THE 1D MERCHANDISE.

London Day 1: Buckingham Palace, Westminister Cathedral, and Billy Elliot the Musical

Welcome to London! 

Our second destination on Eurotrip 2014 and my first ever visit to England! Hooray!

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Exhausted from our action-packed escapades around Ireland, we spent our first day in London sleeping in and doing some much needed laundry. It honestly felt amazing to have nowhere to be with nothing to do. AHHHH. But we figured we should probably do SOMETHING so we purchased some spur-of-the-moment tickets to Billy Elliot the Musical that evening and dragged ourselves out of our sweet flat in Shoreditch for some pre-show sightseeing.

Somehow we made it to Buckingham Palace which like…. BAM. You know. Buckingham Palace. So surreal. I finally had the realization that oh wow I am actually in London.

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The sun was out, the weather was fine and we were feeling GOOD, probably due to the fact that we had finally had enough sleep the night before. Sleep is good.

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We left Buckingham Palace and walked towards Victoria Theatre, running into Westminister Cathedral on the way. What a nice surprise! Although I am sure if we had actually studied a map we would have realized that the Cathedral is literally across the street from Victoria Palace. However our attitude towards this leg of our travels was to relax and and enjoy ourselves without planning too much in advance. Oh and to sleep. We needed sleep!

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The Cathedral was absolutely majestic and wonderful contrast to the busy street outside. I love visiting churches around the world, they are just so beautiful and calming.

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We were stoked to find the Chapel of St. Patrick and of the Saints of Ireland. I went in to say a little prayer to St. Patrick to thank him for keeping us safe and letting us see his beautiful country. I also said a prayers to my grandpas to say hello and thank them for watching over me on this life-changing journey.

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Soon it was time to head over to the theatre for Billy Elliot! I have actually seen the musical before so I knew we were in for a treat. After a quick dinner at Pret a Manger, we picked up our tickets and walked inside the grand Victoria Palace.

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Since we had purchased our tickets that same day, our seats were at the very top row of the theater. However, it didn’t really matter since the top section was relatively empty and we could move around to better seats. Our plush velvets chairs offered us a bird-eye-view down onto the stage which came to life with the charming and hilarious story of Billy Elliot.

We absolutely loved the show and found ourselves dancing, laughing and even crying at all the right moments. The little boy playing Billy was marvelous and all the dancing numbers were just wild! And of course the music was amazing and I loved all the big choral numbers. We had so much fun that by the end of the performance we were jumping out of our seats and clapping our hands for an encore.

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By the end of the show were so pumped that we ran out of the theater laughing our heads off like maniacs and accidentally ran in the wrong direction! Weirdos. We caught the tube back to Shoreditch with smiles on our faces and visions of Billy Elliot dancing in our heads.

What a great way to start our 5 day adventure in London! Stay tuned for more…