France Day 1: At the End of the Earth

It’s about time!!! I have been so busy with work, and it’s only going to get worse so I thought I might as well start posting the final photos from our Eurotrip 2014. Um so it is DECEMBER and these photos are from JUNE. SAY WHAT. As a brief refresher… in June C and I spent a week in Ireland on the Shamrockers Bus Tour and then 5 days in London before traveling to France to meet up with Tasha.

After an awesome last day in London at Tower of London and Street Feast, we woke up Saturday morning for our flight to France! We took the train to Southend Airport and after a short plane ride arrived in Rennes, where Tasha awaited us with open arms! After picking up the rental car we drove 2.5 hours to Brest, the department of Finistere, which means “end of the earth” in Latin/French.

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As soon as we arrived, we joined the crowds flooding the city for the annual festival, “La fete de la musique” which takes place on the summer solstice every year all over France. We ordered enormous and insanely delicious Moroccan style kebabs and devoured them while overlooking the harbor from our vantage point on the main street in town. Later in the evening we went out to support Tasha’s roommate who was DJing at a bar across from the University building. It was an exciting and fully immersive evening in France and was just a teaser for what was to come!

The next morning we bought food at the local farmer’s market before embarking on our first day trip in our spiffy rental car. A big shout out to Carina for being the designated driver and driving like a boss all over France. YOU ROCK.

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France tried to confuse us with the Welcome to Florida signs. We were like psshhh please. We are actually Floridians and this is definitely not Florida. Silly French.

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First, we drove to La presque ile de Crozon, the almost island or peninsula of Crozon. We were confronted with stunning cliffs and jagged rocks basking in the warm sun and the bluest blue water of the ocean. It was STUNNING. This is France??? I love France.

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We made sure to sit down for a real French picnic. Good thing we came prepared! We had a rocking spread of cheese, strawberries, pate, a baguette and Nutella. It doesn’t get more French than that! We had to fend off a gigantic seagull from our stash but it was worth it.

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In the afternoon we drove to a picturesque town on the sea called Camaret-sur-Mer. If you googled “charming French village on the sea”, Camaret-sur-Mer would come up. It was quite charming.

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Besides a bizarre graveyard of boats, we experienced another surprising French phenomenon: old French mean wearing nothing but jorts. I swear, it was a thing. We saw at least 5 alarmingly tan old French men wearing the exact same thing. Jorts. Oh dear. Can you spot it?

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Check out our adorable rental car! This baby went through A LOT. I think Carina both loved and hated this car by the end of the trip lol.

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We drove out to a few lookout points so we could see Brest from across the water. We also visited a few old fortresses? I don’t really know what they were or why they were there, but it was cool!

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Thank god I had to go to the bathroom because if not I would have never had discovered these amazing caverns from my precarious vantage point on the side of the cliff. It was quite the view!
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We finished off the day with a crepe dinner at a small town called Morgat. We started with savory buckwheat galettes and finished with white flour desert crepes. Mine had plenty of chocolate of course. God FRENCH FOOD IS SO GOOD. Better than English food…

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It was a lovely first day in France that completely surpassed all my expectations. Honestly my expectations of France were low… and I was blown away by the beauty of this region. And this was just the first day!

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And I would like to thank Tasha and Carina for being such lovely travel buddies and for helping me piece together this leg of the trip and for taking some of the photos you see here. You girls are the best! Much love xoxo

Bamboo Forest, Karaoke and Halloween in Shanghai

Greetings from Florida! Yes, it is winter I swear…

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Well it has certainly been awhile since I last blogged! And wow, I have missed writing so much. But more than anything I have missed taking and editing photos! This last month and a half I have felt… incomplete. It is interesting to go without something you take for granted in order to rediscover what exactly makes it so important and how it fits in your life. That is basically what living in China does. You go without so many things that you become immensely grateful for the littlest things.

Having my laptop stolen was a wakeup call in so many ways. First of all, it was a reminder to LOCK YOUR DOORS. HIDE YOUR KIDS HIDE YOUR WIFE. But mostly it was a reminder that material possessions are replaceable. At the end of the day what matters most is the fact that you are safe, healthy and surrounded by the people you love the most.

For the last couple of weeks I have been back in the States attending weddings, stuffing myself with pie on Thanksgiving and visiting friends and family. Peter has already returned to Shanghai to work until Christmas while I am still in Florida, working in the office and setting up meetings for wedding planning stuff. So far so good! I miss Peter so much but it is nice to be home.

Let’s catch up with photos from my last few months in China shall we? I think last time I posted about our cruise to Japan and Korea in late September. God and don’t even get me started on France and New Zealand. Those photos are burning a hole in my brain and I am just happy to work on them again in Photoshop. So expect a travel photo dump soon. NOT ENOUGH TIME, TOO MANY PHOTOS. SORRY I’M NOT SORRY. And sorry for these all caps sentences. I’m just super enthused about photos YAY. Ok back to China!!

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In Shanghai we live in Jiuting which is a bit far away from the center of the city. However our neighborhood is still developed, crowded and very Chinese. One weekend Peter’s friend from work invited us to visit a church in the Songjiang District. Turns out we live just one subway stop away from Sheshan National Forest Park, a beautiful forested area with several churches, temples and trails! Like what??? We were SHOCKED. A mountain in Shanghai? Let’s go!

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For two weekends in a row we met up with friends on the mountain to just walk around and enjoy the scenery. However, this is still Shanghai so we had to look our very best among the crowds of people walking about in their designer jeans and high heels. You can never really avoid people in China, you learn this quickly. Peter wore his very “urban Chinese” best (which I love).

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We climbed to top of the mountain to Sheshan Basilica where we witnessed a massive group wedding. I mean like we actually sat down in the pews and watched 6 couples get married at the same time. It was bizarre! The ladies all wore these elaborate gowns with enormous tulle skirts and sequined bodices. It was fabulous. And weird. Definitely not like my wedding will be.

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Our favorite area on the mountain is a hidden gem, the Bamboo Forest. Below the Basilica and off the main path is an unusually quiet section of the forest filled with enormous bamboos (that sounds so silly). The trees are huge and you can actually hear the quiet enveloping you. It is a magical sensation in one of the loudest cities in the world. We love it! The bamboo is also fun to climb. Although I wouldn’t recommend it. I ruined my shirt when I ascended bamboo marked up with ink. Sweet.

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Let’s see what else? Oh we had an awesome karaoke night for our friend’s birthday. We started with a huge Japanese hibachi dinner and followed with hours of fun in a private karaoke room. My friend Lisa and I killed it on countless songs by Adele and One Direction while the boys tried to keep up. It was a blast as always! I love our American and Scottish friends.

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For Halloween we dressed up and went to a club hosting a weird Circus-themed Halloween party. I went as Rosie the Riveter and Peter as Jackie Chan which was all in vain since nobody in China dresses up. There were some people in costume at the club but other than that… nope. I was stuck in the rain trying to catch a cab for half and hour and people were staring at me like I was some weirdo. I mean doesn’t everybody wear jean on jean? The club was actually really fun and they played some great music from the 80s! The only good picture is this half-assed selfie from earlier in the day. YOU CAN DO IT.

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And finally, if you recall I was taking boxing lessons at my local gym. In the middle of my sessions I switched trainers and was coached by Ares, a sweet 19 year-old kid who laughed at me more times than not. He made me run laps and sprint and kick him for hours on end. It was so much fun! I learned so much and laughed a lot. I taught Ares some English words (including most curse words lol) and he taught me how to count in Chinese! This is just proof that language doesn’t have to be a barrier to friendship. I really am going to miss boxing and all my trainer friends at the gym…

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And that’s all folks! Soon there will be an update on our time here in Florida. But for now I will be outside enjoying the sunshine!

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!