Monday, March 31, 2014

Seven Down, Two to Go!

Hello Everyone!!

This semester of school is just flying by!  When I got back from our big London/Paris trip, I went straight back to studying for my final.  Then March 5th rolled around, the most important day of the year!  It was my birthday!!!  My parents surprised me with a bouquet of flowers and my friends surprised me with another!  They were beautiful.  Also, I would like to say thank you for all of the wonderful messages I received on my birthday, it really made my day!!  Finals were the next day, just my luck, so I didn't have a big party but some of my close friends took me out for a lovely dinner!

We went to our favorite restaurant L'Entrecote.  It is very popular in Bordeaux.  It opens for a few hours for lunch, and then it opens again at 7:15 for supper.  Every single day, rain or shine, there is a line of people down the block waiting to get in.  The menu is brilliant because there isn't a menu at all.  They serve one meal only, it is delicious, and it is obviously working for them.  You start off with a simple vinegar salad, bread, and some drinks.  Of course we always get wine, lots of wine.  After all, this is Bordeaux.  For the meal, you get a plate filled with all you can eat fries and steak cooked to your preference.  The steak comes on a giant platter bathing in some sort of rich, creamy, buttery, garlic sauce.  This sauce is a secret recipe of the restaurant and is to die for.  We pour it over our fries and usually clean the platter with some bread.  I don't even think about ketchup.  Again, coming from a Weinberger, that is a big deal.  I eat ketchup with everything.  After the meal, even though we were stuffed, we decided to each get a desert and share.  To my surprise, they got a waiter to put a birthday candle in my desert and they sang to me, very loudly, in front of the busy restaurant.  Oh I just love when that happens.  Not only were they really loud, but they sang to me in English, so everyone had to look.  It was adorable though and I loved it!  

This was my 21st birthday, and even though I have been able to legally drink since I have been here, turning 21 is still a big deal for an American.  So we put off studying for a bit longer and went to a fair.  We walked around, listened to music, and bought a bunch of beer.  We walked over to the big fountain at the park and in true American fashion, I told them we were going to Shotgun our beers...classy.  That turned out to be a bigger project than I had ever imagined.  This was a new concept to them, so I explained it over and over and then Emilia and I went first.  I finished mine in a few seconds, Emilia took a bit longer but made it!  Then Denisse and Mariana tried it.  Denisse made it about two seconds before her beer exploded everywhere.  Mariana literally took 4 minutes.  I have never met a slower beer drinker in my life!  We laughed the whole night, and had a really good time.  We drank some more and then headed home to study for those darn finals!

On Saturday, March 8th, we went on an adventure to the Dune du Pyla by the ocean!  There were about twenty of us in 5 cars.  It took about an hour to get to the dune from Bordeaux.  Dune du Pyla is the highest sand dune in all of Europe.  It has a forest on one side, the ocean on the other side, and is 350 feet tall!  This thing is huge!  Climbing up 350 feet is one thing, climbing up 350 feet of sand is a whole other story.  The sand is all soft and mushy where everyone climbs up it, so the sand came up to the middle of my shins most of the time.  For every 3 feet we climbed, it felt like we sunk back down 2 1/2.  I was out of breath and thinking "People seriously do this for fun?!"  ; )

When we finally reached the top, I completely understood all the hype about this place.  It was gorgeous!!  The dune itself was incredible and felt like you were on a different planet.  For miles and miles you could see beautiful forests on one side, and ocean waves on the other side.  There were sailboats in the distance that we watched for a while.  We sat in the sand and soaked up some sun.  Most of the people that came on the trip with us were from my friends' church group, so I was able to meet a lot of new people and have wonderful conversations.  I met a guy named Laurent, who is from Paris and just got done studying abroad for a year at the University of Oregon.  His choices came down to either Oregon or Marquette University in Milwaukee, so he knew a lot about Wisconsin.  He practiced talking with an American accent a lot while he was in the States, so at first, I thought he was American.  His English was perfect and he understood my humor, so we had fun talking!  After a few hours, we decided to head back.  Going down the giant pile of sand was definitely a lot more fun than going up it.  Every step I took I slid about 5 feet down.  It felt like we just skied down the hill.  We drove back to Bordeaux, went grocery shopping as a huge group, and then went to an apartment to have a party.  It was a great day!

Lately, I have just been focusing on school work and having fun in Bordeaux.  The class I just finished was Investment Banking Operations.  I liked the teacher and the material was pretty interesting!  We learned a lot about the major investment banks and their roles throughout history, stocks, bonds, brokers, traders, and all that fun stuff.  We focused a lot on the Great Depression, Black Monday on October 19th, 1987 when the stock market crashed, and the Subprime Crisis of 2008.  For obvious reasons, the material was a bit dark and depressing, but interesting nonetheless.  My next class is Globalization and Risk Management in the Supply Chain!

The weather has been great lately!  Last week it rained a lot, but other than that it has been in the 60s and sunny.  I was on a major margarita kick for a while, so we had to keep trying different bars until we found a place that made really good ones!  We have been going to a lot of movies lately also.  Yay for student discounts.  Recently we saw Monuments Men, Dallas Buyers Club, and this Saturday we saw Captain America 2!  I loved all of them!  A few Sundays ago, we went to an outdoor market and got some food, then sat by the river for a few hours.  We got some nice tans and had a very relaxing fun day!

Tomorrow is April already!!  I just can't get over how fast this year is going!  While I still love France and I am having a great time, I am inching my way towards being ready to just go home.  Trying to live two lives 4000 miles apart is really starting to get old.  This time of year is crazy for having to plan things.  I am trying to figure out a summer job, a job in the fall, where I will be living next year, classes I need to take next year, finishing requirements for graduation (holy cow), and a whole bunch of other fun stuff.  My only line of communication is email, which already takes long enough to get responses, but then there is a 7 hour time difference, so there is little time in the day to get things done.  It gets to be a bit much sometimes!

On an exciting note, I just bought my tickets to go to Dublin, Ireland in two weeks!!  My friend Emilia is coming over tonight to talk about another possible little trip, and there is a possible school trip in May to San Sebastian, Spain for a weekend.  Also, I received news of a possible visitor or two that might come over here when I am done with school, travel a little, and then help me move back home!!  No final plans yet though!

Try not to get fooled tomorrow on April Fool's Day!!

Thank you all for reading!


"Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present."
-Jim Rohn

"Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible'!"
-Audrey Hepburn

Friday, March 14, 2014

Family Adventure Part 2: Paris, France!

 Hello Everyone! This is the second part of my family's big trip.  We are now in Paris!

When we arrived at our house in Paris, we were a little apprehensive at first.  Our last experience with renting a house was a little..eventful.  As we were heading to the front door, it opened up without us even having to knock.  Dominique, our host, was standing there with a big welcoming smile.  As we stepped in the door, Judy laughed and said "Okay, this is nice."  Kari and I dropped our bags and began the exploration.  We would run into a room, freak out, and then run to another room.  It was an old factory that had been renovated into a vacation home.  There were 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms.  We absolutely loved this house!!  It was huge and had so much room!  We wanted to take that evening to just relax and enjoy our fun home.  We explored the neighborhood and went on a little adventure to the grocery store, Monoprix.  (No matter how hard I tried, no one could get the name "Monoprix" right! They said everything except Monoprix. There was Metroprix, and Motoplex.  Jeesh, I tell ya!)  We grabbed a bunch of snacks and went back to the house.  We sat around our large 10 person table and had lots of wine, cheese, and bread (so French!)  We relaxed, and talked and laughed a lot.  As night rolled around, we decided to go to a little Italian restaurant not far from our house.  The area that we were in was not very tourist oriented, so the workers at the restaurant didn't speak English, and the menus did not have any English on them.  Bob and I tried our best to translate as much as possible, but there was definitely some guessing.  The food turned out to be great and our first meal in France was a success! 

On the 26th, we woke up to breakfast waiting on the table.  Dominique came in every morning, would make breakfast and put everything on the table, then quietly disappear again.  That was very nice!  We went to the train station close to our house, and took that to the main station in the center of Paris.  Then we had to get "Paris Visit" passes that gave us access to all public transportation, unlimited, all day.  Figuring out the transportation was a bit crazy at first, but we got the hang of it!  We started sightseeing on Champs Elysees.  This avenue is one of the most expensive places in the world.  Due to property prices being so high, only a handful of people still live there.  It is now stores, office buildings, and hotels.  At one end of the avenue is the Arc de Triomphe.  This was built from 1806-1836 by order of Napoleon.  This arch is dedicated to all of the victories by the French armies.  Surrounding it is a very large, very dangerous roundabout.  Twelve roads feed into this giant circle.  Because of this roundabout, the only way to actually get to the arch was to go underground and come up right beside it.  It was massive, and beautifully decorated.     

After the arch, we headed over to the Eiffel Tower!!  The tower was completed in the year 1887 for the Paris Exposition of 1889.  When the exposition was over, they found out that it would be a lot cheaper to reinforce the structure and leave it up, than to take it down, which was the original plan.  At first, the people of Paris did not like it, they thought it was ugly.  Now, it is the most visited monument in the entire world.  The top floor of the tower is the highest publicly accessible viewing deck in all of Europe.  The Eiffel Tower was the tallest building in the world for 43 years until the Chrysler Building in NYC took its place in 1930.  (The Chrysler Building only had a one year reign until the Empire State Building took the title in 1931.)

We had reservations to eat lunch in the restaurant up in the tower!  Usually the line to get onto the elevator that takes you up the tower is about 4 hours long.  Since we had reservations, we got to skip the line and go straight to the front.  We had a very yummy 3 course meal, and we drank none other than Bordeaux wine.  When we made the reservation, we had to pay for our meal upfront.  So when we were done eating, there was no hassle about figuring out what everyone had to pay, we could just get up and leave.  After eating, we were faced with a difficult decision.  We were not allowed to get back on the elevator from our level to take us to the next level.  So it was either go back down, or climb to the next level.  We decided to climb...22 flights of stairs later our legs burned and we could barely breathe, but we made it!  Then we had to wait for another elevator that took us to the actual top of the tower.  When we finally got to the top, we were about 80 stories high.  There was a little shop where you could buy glasses of champagne, and we did just that.  Looking out over the city of Paris, we toasted and then sipped our wonderful champagne.  You could see just about everything from the top.  You don't realize just how massive the Eiffel Tower actually is until you see it!  

(Champagne at the top of the Eiffel Tower!)

After lunch, we did a little more sightseeing from a bus.  Then we were on to the Louvre!  The Louvre is the most visited, and possibly most famous, museum in the world.  The building is an old fortress dating back to the 12th century.  In 1682, Kind Louis XIV built the Palace of Versailles as his main residence, leaving the Louvre Palace as a place to display the royal collection.  In 1793, it was officially opened as a museum.  Today, the Louvre displays 35,000 pieces of artwork in its 650,000 square feet.  That means that if you looked at every single piece of art for 60 seconds, it would take you 600 hours, or 25 whole days, to see everything in the museum, it is huge!!

Since the Louvre was originally a palace, the building itself is a major piece of art.  It is the perfect place to hold all of the wonderful and important art that is inside it.  In the picture above, Kari and I are standing in front of the Mona Lisa!  This is the most visited piece of art in the world, with a staggering 20,000 people that come to see it daily.  It is held in a very secure room, which is essentially a large vault.  The painting, usually smaller than what people expect it to be, is 30in x 20in.  So many people had told me that it was smaller than they thought in person, that when I saw it, it was actually bigger than I had imagined.  There is always a large crowd in this room.  You have to wait in a sort of line formation until you reach the railing that is about 10 feet away from the wall, with guards standing next to it.  That is the closest that they will let you get to the painting.  The Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo da Vinci from 1503-1506.  It was carried by da Vinci for his entire life, never leaving his side.  Throughout history, numerous artists have been fascinated with the painting and studied it.  This attention from others, and da Vinci's own fascination helped create the great myth that surrounds it: Who was she and why did Leonardo da Vinci paint her?  To see the Mona Lisa, one of the greatest works of all time, was absolutely incredible! 

(Venus de Milo)                                         (Code of Hammurabi)

Two more of my favorite pieces were the Venus de Milo, and the Code of Hammurabi.  The Venus de Milo is one of the most recognized sculptures from ancient Greece.  It was created somewhere between 130 BC - 100 BC, and is 6 ft 8 in tall.  This is a sculpture of Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of beauty, love, and sexual rapture (this is the same as the Roman goddess Venus.)  A large reason for her fame is the mystery behind her arms.  Did she once have arms, and where the heck are they?  She did in fact have arms, but they have been broken off in her 2000 years of existence.  The other picture above is the Code of Hammurabi.  This bad boy was created around 1750 BC in Babylon, when Hammurabi was the ruler.  It is the most comprehensive code of laws from ancient Mesopotamia.  Carved into the stone are numerous laws relating to many aspects of life and Babylonian society at the time.  It also has a prologue and epilogue glorifying Hammurabi, making it a royal inscription.  Other famous art pieces that we were able to see were: The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I (painting), The Wedding Feast at Cana (painting), Colossal Statue of Ramesses II (statue), Saint Louis Metal Basin (basin), the Louvre's medieval moat, and we toured Napoleon's apartments, among many other things!          

We only had a little over 3 hours to tour the Louvre, so we had to move quick.  We used their maps that highlighted the most famous pieces and tried to make a plan to run around to see all of them.  This would have been easier if everything wasn't so confusing.  The Louvre is absolutely huge, has the weirdest layout, and the worst signs I have ever encountered.  We had maps, followed signs on the walls, and asked for directions from workers several times, and we still would get lost after every other turn.  It was just insane!  Through all of the headache, we still got to see amazing pieces, which made me extremely happy!!  You see, my minor is Humanistic Studies, which means a lot of my studying is on ancient civilizations.  Many of the main art pieces at the Louvre are all things I have studied in books for the last three years.  Seeing them in person was crazy!! (Yeah, I am a bit of a history nerd.)  I always say "One of the most important parts of the future is understanding the past!" ;)

(Palace of Versailles front gate)

We walked for nearly 12 hours that day and everyone was very tired.  The next day, on Thursday, half of the group stayed back at the house to just relax and enjoy the neighborhood.  The rest of us were on our way to the great Palace of Versailles!

The Palace of Versailles is one of the most beautiful achievements of French art.  In the 17th century, King Louis XIV wanted to build a new palace.  A palace where he could impress everyone with the symbol of royal absolutism and to glorify the French monarchy.  Louis XIV took his father's old hunting lodge and completely transformed it, and the surrounding area, into a huge palace filled with amazing decorations and art.  The picture above shows the hall of mirrors.  This hall is where all of the functions and parties took place.  It was absolutely beautiful!!  King Louis XIV loved the Palace of Versailles so much, he didn't want to leave it.  This lead him to moving the entire court and government of France into the palace.  Kings Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI, were the only three kings to live there until the French revolution in 1789.  After the main palace, we took a little train ride through the massive gardens to two other mansions and a little lake.  One of the houses was built by Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France.  She built the very large estate so she could often go there to feel like she lived a more normal life.  Keep in mind that this home was still huge and on the same property as her palace...boy oh boy.  

We spent all day at the palace, wandering around and learning about its history.  We did a little souvenir shopping and then took the train back to the center of Paris.  When we finally got back to our neighborhood, we decided to eat at the restaurant right next door.  It was Indian food!  Some people in our group had never tried Indian food before, so there was hesitation, but it ended up being really good!  

(Notre Dame)                                    (Jesus's Crown of Thorns)

On Friday the 28th, we had a very shaky start to our morning.  We left the house, excited for all that was ahead of us.  We got to the train station and everyone bought their tickets.  Then some lady that spoke English came up to us and informed us that all trains had stopped because someone had jumped in front of one.  Sadly, this is pretty common in Paris.  So we decided to go find a bus stop, and keep riding buses until we got to the main train station.  We were walking down the street, Bob was leading the group and I was right behind him.  All of a sudden, I saw something drop and splash all over Bob.  My first thought was a puddle of water dumped off of an overhang, so I laughed...but then I got hit too.  It took everyone a few moments to let what had actually happened sink in.  Then Bob said "You have got to be kidding me!!"  To say that this bird pooped on him would be a serious misrepresentation of what actually happened.  This nasty vile creature all but exploded on him!  It was all over his head, running down his face, on his jacket, it was everywhere!  It was not normal bird poop, it was like a bucket of diarrhea and the smell was absolutely repulsive.  I got some in my hair, it was running down my forehead, there was some on my back, down my sleeve, and on my purse.  We had to run back to the house, clean as best as we could, and start the day over.  Bob and I carried Febreze with us for the rest of the day because we felt like we kept smelling it!  

 Eventually, we were on our way.  Our first stop was at Sacre Coeur.  This is the highest point in Paris.  There are a ton of stairs to get to the top of this great hill, but we cheated and used the lift.  This site is considered one of the oldest and most sacred places in all of Europe.  For centuries it has been a very popular place for pilgrimage from people all over the world.  There are a lot of little streets at the bottom of the hill that have fun tourist shops.  We spent some time shopping around while we were there.  

Next we went to the amazing Notre Dame Cathedral.  Construction on this building began in the 12th century.  The story that we all know, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" takes place in this church.  The novel was written by Victor Hugo in 1831.  Part of the reason that he wrote the story was to get the attention of the French to be on Notre Dame because the cathedral was in bad shape.  It was this book that ultimately saved Notre Dame, and allowed it to still be here today, and in great shape.  It is very beautiful on the inside as well.  We explored the inside for a while, and spent time just sitting and looking at the architecture and designs.  Something that was really interesting is that the Crown of Thorns that Jesus had worn is kept here.  It is held in a red glass case.  You are not allowed to get very close, but you can still see it from where you stand.         

When we left to go outside of Notre Dame, we looked up and there was a very bright double rain bow by the side of the church!  It was so beautiful!  We walked across the street to a little restaurant and had crepes as an afternoon snack, and then did some more shopping.

We were sightseeing from the bus again and we got to a stop by the river.  Jeremy looked out the window and said "Hey look, it's the Lock Bridge!"  We quickly hopped off and went over to the bridge!  None of us had even thought about going there.  It was just a fun spur of the moment type of thing.  The Lock Bridge in Paris is a bridge right by the Louvre.  Starting around the early 2000's, people come to this bridge with a lock and they hook it onto the bridge.  Then they keep one key, and throw the rest into the Seine River, to signify that their love will last forever.  Luckily, there was a guy on the bridge that was selling locks.  We bought one for the group and on one side we wrote "LeRoy WI Tour 2014" and on the other side we wrote the first letter of all of our names.  Kari and I then both took a key and at the same time we threw them behind us and into the Seine River.  The 3rd key is currently with me here in Bordeaux!  I was told I should put it on a necklace, and I just might do that!  After we threw the keys, we all looked at the bridge and slowly made our way back to the bus.  It turned out to be a very bittersweet moment.  We were all so happy that we got to put a lock on the bridge, forever locking our memories of this trip.  Then it dawned on us, it was all coming to the end.  That lock also signified the ending to an amazing trip.

We took the bus to the Eiffel Tower one more time because we wanted to see it up close at night.  We waited until the top of the hour because there is a five minute light show that makes the tower look like it is sparkling.  We enjoyed the view from right next to it!  Then it was time to go back to our lovely home one more time.  We were so tired we decided to just take cabs home, and we barely made it to the car!  We got home and went to Monoprix to get a bunch of random food.  Then we sat around our table and had a feast with the most random arrangement of food!  For hours we reminisced, told stories, discussed life, drank a lot of wine, and listened to music.  Perfect last night in Paris.

Waking up on Saturday was depressing to say the least.  I had been looking forward to this trip for almost a year, and in the blink of an eye it was gone.  It wouldn't have been so bad to end it, but saying good bye to loved ones for long periods of time is never easy.  Again I had to watch my dad walk away, and listen to my mom's voice crack as she turned to leave.  I won't lie, it's hard.  But..."It's not good bye, it's I'll see you later."  So I took my solo 4 hour train ride back to the south of France.  When I was once again in my old stomping grounds, I was feeling much better and ready to begin the end portion of my study abroad experience...weird!

London and Paris: Absolutely amazing...incredible...terrific...trip of a lifetime.  Words cannot fully express how glad I am that I got to go on this trip, and with a group of people whom I love dearly.  I will remember it forever.  And boy will I always laugh about our trip abroad.

Thank you everyone for reading my blog, I truly hope you enjoyed our grand adventure!!


"Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."
-Maya Angelou

"Having a place to go - is a home.  Having someone to love - is a family.  Having both - is a blessing."
-Donna Hedges 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Family Adventure Part 1: London, England!

Hello Everyone!!

Have you ever had one of those trips that you just know will stick with you forever as one of your most cherished experiences?  Well I just got back from mine!  A group of family members came over to visit and explore London and Paris from February 21st - March 1st.  There was my mom Kim, dad Tony, aunt Judy, uncle Ronnie, cousin Jeremy, his partner Bob, family friend Jackie, her mom Tricia, and one of my best friends Kari.  That brings our group to a grand total of ten people.  Having a group of tourists this size in Europe can cause quite a hassle, but with our experience of traveling in large groups, and my mom's fantastic planning skills, we did just fine!  Also, just to clear something up, anyone that knows our family and our crazy adventures, also knows our long standing joke of "Weinbergers don't take vacations, we take trips!"  Well...this was definitely a trip.  We have the itineraries, time tables, laid out budgets, and unbelievably sore/tired bodies to prove it!  Although we like to make jokes about this, I would just like to quickly say thank you to my mom.  She seriously has an incredible talent for planning events and trips, and she just does it for fun!  We were able to see all of the famous tourist destinations, while still seeing unique things, and being able to fit it all into our limited time.  I know she put many hours and a lot of hard work into this trip.  So thank you so much mom!! You truly made this the trip of a lifetime for all of us!!    

On the 20th, I took a train from Bordeaux to the airport in Paris.  I went to Terminal 3 and checked into my hotel room that was conveniently inside the airport.  I watched the Olympics still going on in Sochi, and tried to contain my excitement for the next day.  I hadn't seen my family since Christmas.  I was so excited, I could barely sleep!  In the morning, I went to Terminal 1 and waited for them to get off the plane.  We had a quick, but exciting reunion, and then we had to move because our cabs were waiting to drive us to the train station on the other side of town.  We boarded the Eurostar, which is the high speed train that runs under the English Channel connecting London and Paris.  When we arrived in London, we had some trouble finding our pre-ordered cabs.  After a half hour of phone calls, confusion, and messed up directions, we finally found our cabs and then it was off to our townhouse in Muswell Hill, a district of North London.  

When we arrived, our problems with the house began the minute we stepped through the gate.  Don't get me wrong, the house was charming, and more fun than a hotel would have been, but it was old and seemed to have one issue after another.  We were supposed to be greeted by our host, Daniel, to get the keys and get settled in, but he wasn't there.  So there the ten of us stood with our luggage on the sidewalk.  Nowhere to go and stranded in the middle of hundreds of townhouses in a foreign city.  My mom called Daniel over and over and just kept getting a voice mail.  Finally, she reached him and we found out that he couldn't make it and left keys in a hidden box by the outdoor stairs to the basement.  After what seemed forever, we finally got into the house.  And can you say stairs!  The basement led up to the kitchen and living room, then there was a small stair case going to the floor with the second living room and the front door.  Then a full flight of stairs to two bedrooms and a bathroom, a half flight up to another bedroom and bathroom, a full flight up to another two bedrooms, and then a half flight to the last bedroom, which was creepy and no one used...but it did have a ping pong table in it! 

After exploring the house and settling in, we decided to walk to a cute little pub that we found on the internet.  Everyone was so hungry from all of the traveling!  We toasted to our first night in Europe and the start of what would be an amazing trip!  When we got back to the house, there was very little energy left.  Around 8:00, everyone started heading to bed.  I was talking to my parents, and both of them feel asleep right in the middle of one of my stories! Haha I understood that they were tired though, so I just quietly slipped on up to mine and Kari's room.  Kari was sitting on the floor going through her suitcase, so I sat on the bed and we started catching each other up on recent events in our lives.  And this is where the "evil house" comes into play again.  

The bed was in the corner of the room.  I was sitting on it, with my back against the wall.  Little did we know that this bed was held together by tape, evil I tell you...evil.  Since I was leaning on the wall, I was pushing the bed sideways.  The center support under the bed, barely in place with crappy Scotch Tape, flipped up.  The entire bed started to shift, and the boards started to move.  Suddenly, one board that I was sitting on, moved just enough so the end came loose and sling-shotted against the hardwood floor with a great force.  It made me jump and I looked at Kari with pure panic in my eyes and hers were showing her one thought: "We. are. going. to. die."  Then in rapid fire the boards started crashing against the floor one after another.  Kari's eyes bounced all over the room with a look of terror, and the mattress and I started to sink through the bed.  With some help from adrenaline, I somehow leaped out of the sinking hole to the side of the bed.  I looked from the bed, to Kari, to the bed, and back to Kari.  All she could say was "I thought we were being shot at!!!"  Which now explains her level of panic and fear!  We just looked at each other for a few moments, and the giggles started.  We waited for people to come running, to see if we were all right.  Not a single person came to our rescue...not a single person in the house even woke up.  Talk about tired people.  I had laughing attacks for the next four hours!  We reassembled the bed, but we didn't want to chance anything, so we put the mattress on the floor and slept there for the rest of the time we were in London!

(Leeds Castle)

On the 22nd,  we woke up to a strange beeping noise.  We thought it was a dying smoke detector at first...but it ended up being the alarm system on the house.  We tried fixing it, but couldn't completely solve the problem.  We were on a strict schedule that morning, so we had to leave.  For most of our transportation in London, we used a pre-order car service called Addison Lee.  They were wonderful!  Driving was entertaining to us because in England, cars drive on the left side of the road, and the driver sits on the right side of the car...that was very weird for us!  As our driver was taking us to our bus tour, he took us on one of the most expensive streets to live on in Europe.  The houses were amazing!  We drove on Baker Street and went past Sherlock Holmes' apartment, and also got to see the U.S. ambassador's house and the U.S. Embassy (the largest one in all of Europe.)  When we arrived to our destination, we got on the Golden Bus Tours.  It was a ten hour tour, and somehow the only people on that tour were the ten of us, and Chon.  Chon was touring by herself, so we decided to adopt her for the day.  

Our driver, Paul, took us through London and our tour guide, Sue, told us many interesting stories and facts about the sights that we were seeing.  When we left the busy streets of London, we were winding through the countryside of the county Kent.  We drove through small towns and between farms.  Hidden away in the woods, we arrived at our first stop: Leeds Castle.  Leeds Castle is very pretty, historical, and is surrounded by a moat!  There has been a castle on this site since the year 1119.  Throughout history, many monarchs would use this home.  One of them was King Henry the VIII, who used this castle for his first wife Catherine of Aragon.  We toured the castle, tasted Mead in the library (an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey,) and went outside to explore the grounds.  We went through the gardens to a giant maze, which was more difficult than anticipated.  In the center of the maze, was a stone tower that people would stand on and help direct you.  Once all of us made it to the tower, we had to go through an underground grotto to finally get out of the maze.  It was an adventure!

(White Cliffs of Dover)

After the castle, we went to the city of Canterbury.  Canterbury is one of the oldest cities in the country.  We ate lunch at a little family owned restaurant...delicious fish and chips!  Then we went to tour the cathedral, which is the spiritual head of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.  It was very beautiful!  While we were there, a choir was rehearsing for a concert and they were great to listen to!  We then left Canterbury and headed for the White Cliffs of Dover.  These cliffs, some reaching up to 350 feet tall, make up the boarder of England that is closest to Continental Europe.  As we looked across the English Channel, we could just barely make out the cliffs on the other side in France, 22 miles away.  We walked along the beach and searched for fun rocks.  Then Kari, Jeremy, Bob, and I decided that we wanted to touch the English Channel!  It was harder than we had thought because of all of the waves.  Kari and I got really close and were about to touch the next wave that came in, but of course it was a bigger wave than the rest.  We screamed and tried to run backwards.  My feet were buried in the rocks though, so I just fell flat on my butt!  We laughed so hard, and to my surprise, not a single person saw except Kari...whew!  Eventually, after many failed attempts, we were able to stick our hands in the water and run away giggling like 5 year olds.  Also, we completed this great conquest with dry feet!  Jeremy soaked his shoes!  

We drove back to Greenwich, a part of London, and got on a large catamaran that took us down the River Thames to the central part of London.  We said goodbye to Sue and went in search for supper.  First we went to Covent Garden, which is a trendy market, but it was crowded.  We kept searching until we found a cute little restaurant hidden away on the second floor of a random building.  After a long day, we finally returned to our house.  Ahhh, but remember that beeping noise I mentioned this morning?? Yes, well it was now a constant noise.  We went to try and fix it again, and boom...full on alarms started going off.  It was incredibly loud!!  For the next hour, seriously HOUR, we tried everything to turn the noise off.  My mom was tucked away in her room trying to contact our host, whom she couldn't get a hold of again.  Then the neighbors came out of their house and started yelling at her through the window.  As if we were having a party to the freaking alarm system.  Anyways,  most of us were sitting in the kitchen, some plugging their ears, Bob had actual ear plugs, and the rest had headphones in.  My dad decided enough was enough, and him and Bob went to the basement to find the circuit breaker.  They couldn't figure out which switch went to the alarm, so they just cut the power to the entire house.  Finally!  Silence had never been so beautiful until that moment in time.  They turned the power back on, and only a little hum was coming from the alarm.  My mom finally got in contact with Daniel, and he gave us a code to shut the stupid thing up for good!  Bob came back into the kitchen and went to sit on a chair.  Only, he didn't stop at the chair.  The seat broke and Bob fell through it all the way to the floor.  Ronnie had to go over and actually lift him out of the chair, Kari and I felt bad for not helping, but we were laughing so hard we couldn't move.  Let's just say we were all a little cautious about sitting on things at this point.    

The next day, we all woke up ready to start the day.  But...surprise!  Since we had turned the power off the night before, things in this old evil house got all messed up.  One shower stopped working completely, and the other shower just dribbled water and only had warm water for the first two people to take a shower, the rest of us had ice showers! Lovely way to start the day!  After our cold wake up, we went to the Tower Bridge.  We got to go in the towers, and walk on the high walkway that connects the top of the towers.  In the towers, there were videos and a museum of the bridge, as well as others around the world, and facts about surrounding monuments.  After the bridge, we went to the Tower of London.  This is a castle and a fortress that has been around since the 11th century.  Although it wasn't the castle's main purpose, it was also used as a prison from 1100 to 1952.  It was a royal residence for many rulers throughout history.  We were able to walk through several of the towers, the torture chamber, and we got to see the Crown Jewels!  The Crown Jewels are held in a very large vault inside the castle.  In this collection there are all of the crowns, jewelry, swords, and apparel worn by the sovereign of the United Kingdom during the coronation ceremonies throughout history.  There are also the special items, such as gold platters and punch bowls, used at the coronations and other state functions.  It was very cool to see all of that!  

The rest of the day, we rode the "Hop On Hop Off Bus" around the city looking at all of the tourism sites.  We walked around Piccadilly Circus (London's equivalent of Times Square in NYC,) Trafalgar Square, and Pall Mall.  We went to see the Queen's Horse Guards, but all of the horses were put away.  Right by that was the Prime Minister's house.  Across the street, we got to witness a demonstration for Ukraine.  That was very interesting, and something I have never seen in person before.  After the demonstration marched onward, we were able to take pictures of Big Ben! (My picture above)  This is the clock that the world time is set to.  When in London, you have to set your watch to Big Ben Time, and you will always be correct!

On Monday the 24th, we left the house a little earlier so we could stop at a little cafe a block away from the palace and have some breakfast.  Then we finally got to go to Buckingham Palace!!  We wanted to see the Changing of the Guards, so we got there an hour and a half early to get places right against the gate!  While waiting, we walked around and took some pictures, and had a very nice conversation with a lady from Australia.  Then we watched the Changing of the Guards, which was about a half hour long.  After the palace, we went to Westminster Abbey.  Almost all of the coronations of the English Monarchs have been here, as well as many of their funerals.  When Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953, special tiers were constructed for the 8000 people who attended the ceremony in the church.  The chair that is used for the coronations is on display and has been used since the 14th century.  The most recent famous ceremony held there was just 3 years ago when Prince William and Kate were married there.  We also saw the tombs of many English monarchs as well as famous writers and scientists like Charles Darwin and Sir Isaac Newton.  It was amazing!!  The church is incredibly beautiful and holds so much history.    

We were pretty tired after Westminster, so we got back on the bus and toured London for almost an hour and a half.  We stopped at St. Paul's Cathedral to take pictures.  This cathedral is also a very important site.  It holds many festive occasions such as the Queen's Jubilees, her 80th birthday, and weddings including Prince Charles and Lady Diana's.  Right next door, we had reservations for supper at Jamie Oliver's restaurant "Barbecoa."  Jamie Oliver is a famous British chef and TV host.  The food there was absolutely amazing!!  We had fun drinks that were to die for (mine was a Charred Pineapple Mojito.)  Kari and I both got a cheeseburger.  The group laughed at us, but let me tell you, we both said it was by far the best cheeseburger we had ever had in our lives! Delicious!!  

To end our wonderful time in London, we took a ride on the London Eye.  This is a giant Ferris Wheel that actually has rooms that you stand in, up to 25 people.  We got our own capsule, so that was cool.  It is a very slow moving ride, you go around once and it takes about 30 minutes.  It was so pretty to see London from above at night!  Some had a few moments of panic due to fear of heights, but it was still very fun!!  As we got back to the evil house for our last night, Ronnie started to open his door to get out of the cab, and an oncoming car swerved into their lane to pass a car and ended up hitting Ronnie's door.  The noise was absolutely horrible and the car shook, there was some panic and fear, but thankfully, Ronnie was completely fine and so was the car! Whew!  We went to bed early that night because we had to be up bright and early to take the Eurostar back to Paris! 

That concludes the first half of our journey!  I have always dreamed about going to London, it just felt so unreal to actually go to all of the places that we did, and with family!  It was so awesome!!

Stay tuned for my next blog about our trip in Paris!

Thank you for reading!


"Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not."
-Henry David Thoreau

"Family is the most important thing in the world."
-Princess Diana

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Lausanne and Geneva, Switzerland!

Hello Everyone!

From February 4th to the 10th, my friends Emilia, Denisse, Mariana, and I went to Switzerland!!  This country is absolutely beautiful, and full of fun things to do!  Something I didn't know before going there was what language they spoke (which is kind of important to know!).  Interestingly enough, this small country has four national languages: French, German, Italian, and Romansh.  We stayed on Lake Geneva the whole time which is in the French section of the country.  It is at a lower elevation, so the weather was in the 40s-50s and there was no snow.  Up in the Alps, the temperature obviously dropped and there was lots of snow!  Also, Switzerland is one of the few European countries that does not use the Euro, they use the Swiss Franc.  I never even thought to look into that until the day we left, woops!  But everything worked out just fine!  We were able to exchange money at the airport, and use our cards for the rest.  While we were on the trip, I looked inside my wallet and just started laughing.  I had five separate currencies on me! I have: U.S. Dollars, Euros, Swiss Francs, English Pounds, and Mexican Pesos!  I think my wallet is confused as to what I am doing and when! haha!

On Tuesday the 4th, we got out of all day classes, grabbed our bags and headed off to the airport.  We left Bordeaux a little after nine and landed in Geneva a whole 55 minutes later.  We took a taxi to our hostel, got settled in, and planned out our next day.  This was the first hostel I stayed in where we shared a room with two other women, and had public bathrooms for the whole floor.  There were beds for about 50 people (4-6 to a room) on each floor and the men and women's bathrooms were separate.  Hostels are definitely an experience, and I have heard a good share of horror stories, but I have been lucky enough to stay in some really great ones! No horror stories for me...yet...  Also, it is Switzerland, just about everything is good quality there.

On the 5th, we woke up early and had breakfast at the hostel.  Then we were on our way to officially starting our trip.  We took a 45 minute train ride to Lausanne, Switzerland, which is also on Lake Geneva.  We checked in to our next hostel, which we had a private room for the four of us, but still shared public bathrooms.  We talked to the woman at the front desk who gave us some suggestions on what to do.  The first thing we went to do was a visit at the Durig Chocolatier! (Because hey...we were in Switzerland: the land of chocolate!)  We were able to go in the work shop area and learn how they make different chocolates.  We then got to make our own chocolate bear!  We decorated the mold with white chocolate, let it cool, and then filled it with milk chocolate.  We named our very handsome bear, Arthur (who is pictured above.)  As Arthur was cooling in the fridge, we were able to help make other truffles and such and try many chocolates.  My favorite was watching how they filled chocolates with a homemade sea salt caramel.  They packaged our creations up for us, and even gave Arthur a special pink bow tie.  For lunch, we found a pizzeria place that had more than 75 pizza options.  The names of pizzas were mostly of famous people.  My first option was the George Clooney, but I went with a "build your own" option instead.   

(Hall of all of the Olympic torches)

Next we went to the official Olympic Museum!  This is honestly one of the coolest things I have ever been to!  In the late 1800s, Pierre de Coubertain, a French educator and historian, had a big dream.  He wanted to revive the ancient games that took place in Olympia, Greece, over 1000 years ago.  In 1894, he created the IOC (International Olympic Committee) in Lausanne, Switzerland, and was its first president.  In 1896, the first modern games were held in Athens, Greece.  In 1993, the IOC named Lausanne as the official Olympic Capital, hence the museum.  There have been 5 games that have been cancelled: 1916 Summer Games, 1940 Summer/Winter Games, and the 1944 Summer/Winter Games.  These cancellations were because of WWI and WWII.  Also, the winter and summer games used to be held in the same year.  In 1986, the IOC voted to stagger the games every two years.  The year 1992 marked the last time both games would be held in the same year.  

(Uniforms and equipment from the actual athletes)

The museum had just reopened in November after renovations, so everything seemed so new and modern.  The museum starts of with the history of ancient Olympia and neat artifacts from 400 B.C.  The rest of the museum focuses on the modern games.  We were able to see a lot of paraphernalia, stories from the greatest moments, and watch interactive videos/games of interesting facts and stories.  One floor was dedicated just to uniforms and equipment worn by the actual athletes.  There was one room with a floor to ceiling screen.  It played an epic montage of the opening ceremonies.  My favorite part was the torches and medals.  They keep every Olympic Torch and all of the original medals from every games at this museum.  I was definitely awestruck by these rooms!!  The Olympics are truly an amazing thing.  For those two precious weeks, the entire world comes together to watch and celebrate one common thing.  Everywhere in the museum, epic music was playing.  There were random sound clips of powerful speeches and videos of some of the most famous events in the games.  It gives you an adrenaline rush I guess you could say.  You walk out of that museum feeling like you personally just won a gold medal in front of the entire world.  We were so hyper for the rest of the day.  It was truly an incredible experience! 

(Olympic medals)

After we left the museum, we explored the city some more.  We went to some cathedrals, walked along the lake at night, and hiked to the highest point in the city and found a cute little fondue restaurant for supper.  It is so hard to eat fondue at first.  I mean, it's melted cheese...the entire restaurant smells like feet.  The cheese is just so good though that you get over the smell!

The next day we were up bright and early and took a train to a very famous castle: Chillon Castle.  We were blessed with sun that day, which made this place even more beautiful.  The castle is built entirely in the lake, and is only connected to land by a little walking bridge.  It is Switzerland's most visited historical monument.  There are no official dates of when building started, but records of the castle started around the 11th century, making this castle almost 1000 years old.  Chillon castle was never taken in a siege, but did change hands through treaties.  The castle is made up of 100 buildings that were added on and connected in its early years.   

We were able to explore the passageways under the castle.  They were used for storing wine, a pantry for the kitchen, dungeons, a small chapel, and random other storage places.  The picture below is of the only door in the basement of the castle.  It was the emergency escape door to the lake if the castle was under attack.  We were able to explore bedrooms, courtyards, passage ways, visiting Duke's quarters/private chapel, ballroom, formal dining room, look out towers, and their version of a bathroom.  Toilets were a wooden bench over a hole in the floor.  If you looked down, it was about a 4 story drop!  Thank you for modern day plumbing!  It takes people about two hours just to walk through this place.  We had been a little over halfway through our exploring of this maze (floor plans make absolutely no sense,) when we discovered that Emilia had left her purse somewhere.  Talk about an intense game of Where's Waldo!  But we eventually found it and continued on our journey.  

 (Emilia and I trying to escape the castle dungeon)         (A guest's bedroom)

After our castle visit, we took another train and went into the Alps.  It was a beautiful winter wonderland.  We had to make a stop in a small village to switch trains and had a few minutes to spare.  So naturally we made a snowman and had a snowball fight!  Then we were off again to the small medieval village of Gruyere, tucked away in the Swiss Alps.  Gruyere is famous for making Gruyere cheese.  We visited the cheese factory and then went up the mountain by the Gruyere Castle to have lunch.  We had more fondue of course!  We were seated by a window which overlooks a valley, it was beautiful!

To get back to Lausanne, we needed to take three trains.  It was a little scary because it was at night.  At one stop, we had to wait an hour for our next train to arrive.  We were lucky because there was a building at this train stop.  It was a room with benches so you could wait in a warm area with light.  So here we are, 4 girls, waiting for our train at night, in a Swiss village with a population of less than 100, way up in the about a lack of life!  Denisse and Mariana had brought along two decks of cards, so we did that while we waited.  I taught them how to play Black Jack!!  We had a lot of fun and time flew by.  We got on our train and made our way safely back to Lausanne!

(The village by the Gruyere castle) 

The next morning we stayed in Lausanne to explore and shop.  One place we went to was the Notre Dame Cathedral of Lausanne (a very high part of the city) and looked at all the beautiful views.  Then we took a boat to the French side of the lake to Evian, France.  Here is where Evian water comes from!  We did some shopping here also and ended up having drinks in a bar.  The girls wanted to enhance their new found skills in Black Jack, so I acted as if I were a dealer from a real casino and dealt them the cards...just like my family does at home!  We had some onlookers who were amused by our game.  We went back to Switzerland for supper.  We wanted to eat at this small place we discovered the day before, it was called Holy Cow.  They only made gourmet burgers, and they were amazing! Any burger you could possibly think of was on this list!  I won't lie, some looked way out there, but the ones that we got were delicious!   

When we got back to the hostel for the night, we discovered that there was a special event about to take place.  The Olympic Games in Sochi had just started, and because we were in the Olympic Capital, they had a fantastic firework show over Lake Geneva.  There we stood on our balcony, friends from different countries, watching something very special that only happens once every two years.  It was one of those moments that a person will just never forget.

The next day we were on our way back to Geneva.  We checked in to the same hostel and started our journey to explore the city.  We went to the lake and walked on the beach.  There were a lot of ducks and swans that we watched for a while.  Then we went to look at the famous fountain in the lake that shoots water high into the air.  We took a water taxi across the lake and went to the Patek Philippe Museum, the watch museum!  Again, because we were in the land of watches!  It was interesting, we got to see watches that were from the 1500s!  I have never seen so many watches in my life!  I am glad that we were able to see it, but it isn't something I would necessarily recommend.  You just stare at thousands of watches, after a while they all look the same! 

To end our night we ate a nice Italian supper, walked along the lake, and got delicious ice cream.  A man, about our age, stopped and stared at us.  He was in awe, then smiled and said "Ice cream?! But it is freezing outside!"  Little did he know that we had a Wisconsinite and Canadian in our group.  Eating frozen foods in 43 degrees simply does not faze us. ;)  We went back to our hostel and watched Pitch Perfect on my tablet.  This is because earlier in the day, we had discovered that Denisse and Mariana hadn't even heard of the movie!  This surprised me because Mariana can beat-box just like the girl on the movie!  I thought that was were she learned it from.  So Emilia and I decided we needed to give them a "movie education, they needed a movie-cation."

(Denisse, me, and Mariana at the Botanical Gardens...not quite sure what we were going for haha)

Sunday was our last day in Switzerland.  Almost everything was closed so it was a relaxing day.  We slept in pretty late to let our bodies catch up on much needed rest.  We went downstairs to eat some breakfast, and were still in our pajamas.  So of course, I had on a Clay Matthews t-shirt.  Two girls saw my shirt, came over and said "Oh my god! I am sorry, but are you from Wisconsin?!"  We had a nice conversation and I found out that they were from Marquette University in Milwaukee, and studying abroad in Madrid.  One of girl's brothers goes to UW-Green Bay.  I find connections wherever I go apparently.  Later, we took a bus to the Geneva Botanical Gardens, saw a lot of fun animals, and hiked through the park.  It was a sunny day out again, and when we reached the top of the hill, we saw the pretty view in the picture below.  

(Hiking in the Botanical Gardens)

We went to a pub, and sat there for a few hours with some yummy drinks.  We told each other stories of our homes and laughed so hard our stomachs hurt.  We slowly made our way back to the hostel.  We ordered delivery pizza, and it was very good.  We went back to our room, and since Valentine's Day was almost upon us, we decided to watch Sweet Home Alabama.  I was the only one who had seen this movie, one of my favorites, and I decided they must all see it too.  They loved it!  While we were watching the movie, we finally broke Arthur apart (who hadn't been touched until now) and enjoyed our very own Swiss chocolate creation.  It was delicious!  

The next morning, we had to get up at 3:30 so we could walk to the train station because public transportation wasn't running yet.  We took a train to the airport and our flight left just before 7.  The minute we got to Bordeaux, it was back to classes and working on group projects and presentations.  That is always fun to come back to...haha, or not!

In a few days I will be going to Paris to meet a group of family members!  We will be exploring London and Paris for almost 10 days.  It is sure to be an amazing time and I can't wait to see everyone!!  

I hope everyone had a lovely Valentine's Day or Single's Awareness Day...depending on how you look at it! 

Thank you for reading!


"The only thing that stands between you and your dream is the will to try and the belief that it is actually possible."
-Joel Brown

"Rule #1 of life, do what makes YOU happy." 

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