The Final Days :(

Who knows, I might only get to visit this beautiful country once… so why not book a random trip to go skiing? Monday was hands down one of my favorite days of the entire trip. After moving the schedule around to accommodate a free day in Christchurch to study for our exam or for some last minute fun, a group of 7 of us decided skiing in New Zealand was a necessity. So we got up early, caught a shuttle to Mount Hutt, and headed to the mountain for it’s second day open for ski season. It turns out it had just snowed the night before so the slopes were nice and fresh! After getting fitted for skis and snowboards, helmets, poles, and everything else, we headed out to the slopes for a day of fun. To preface my story, I should tell you that I’ve only skied once in my life and that was like 8 years ago. Moving on… I somehow managed to get on and off the ski lift without falling which was a miracle in itself and then followed the group to the start of a slope. I didn’t see any signs saying what level of difficulty it was, but it looked relatively simple from the start off point so I went ahead and pushed off. Little did I know it was a death trap of epic proportions and I ended up trying to practically kill myself 6 times. Not even kidding I made it out in one piece by a stroke of God. It’s all kind of a blur (for obvious reasons to soon be understood) but at one point I was flying through the air with no skis on the ground. So that happened. I got back up, checked that all my ligaments were still attached, and continued down the mountain because I didn’t exactly have a choice. 100 feet later I find myself whizzing down the mountain going 60mph with absolutely no control despite the fact I was attempting to zigzag and pizza my skis to slow down. Next thing I know I’m on my back with one ski on and the other 20 feet up the slope along with one of my poles. Hmm. It was about at that point where I decided that skiing was in fact not as much fun as I had remembered. But I was wrong, it is fun- but only when you know how to actually control where you’re going. After that, I stayed on the green trails and actually got pretty good yahoo can’t wait until when I attempt skiing again in a few years and fail all over! Overall, I only fell 6 times and the first 5 were on that first slope which I think is pretty darn impressive. I have a black and blue bruise the size of a cantaloupe on the back of my leg to prove it. But guess what? Now I can say I skied at the top of a mountain in New Zealand!

After such a long and tiring day of alpine air, a few of us walked to a restaurant in Christchurch called C1 (AKA most fantastically fascinating genius business to exist). It’s impossible to try to explain… but there are tubes coming from the kitchen, along the ceiling, and down to the tables which carry your food that is neatly packaged in little bank teller cylinder containers. Probably doesn’t make sense but your food goes through a tube in the ceiling to get to you I mean come on can it get any more awesome? Why yes, it can- because the water came out of a sewing machine and the door to the bathroom was a giant bookshelf that automatically slid open and then once in the bathroom there was an audio reading of Harry Potter. Wow. Just wow.

Tuesday was a day set aside for school, but we still managed to make the most of it! A set of essay responses was due in the morning, and then after breakfast we had a 3 hour written exam over all of the material we’ve studied the past 3 weeks. After the test and a quick lunch of ramen (yum), we had another group debate about rising oil prices and sustainable tourism in New Zealand. As celebration for the end of our school studies, my group of friends and I hopped a shuttle to the edge of Christchurch to catch a ride on the gondola up to the top of a mountain. The views were absolutely stunning and we had an hour left in the day to run around on the hilltop and try to sneak up on sheep and frolic through the meadow grass. I probably looked ridiculous, but who cares I was so incredibly happy that my last full day in New Zealand could be spent on the top of a mountain looking over the whole city and ocean beyond.

Last night in New Zealand? Definitely deserves an A+. After returning home, we all got together to walk to our last meal together as a group. Once full of tasty Indian food, some of us stopped by an outdoor dance area that’s part of the Christchurch rebuild project. So imagine a place in the middle of torn down buildings, and there is a dance floor with a random washer machine sitting next to it. In order to plug in your phone to listen to music as well as turn on the studio lights, you just had to pay $2 for a half hour of electricity. So we put on a playlist and started dancing. In the middle of a city. In the middle of the night. It was one of the most fun and random things I think I have ever done. Why aren’t these makeshift dance floors everywhere?

https://www.flickr.com/gp/132720548@N07/77C22q

Kaikoura to Christchurch

Friday was our Maori tour day where we went all over Kaikoura learning about their culture and traditions. We learned how to fold flax leaves into really cool flowers and shared a delicious traditional Maori meal while memorizing Maori songs and singing them way off key, gaining some funny looks from the professionals. Afterwards, we had a dinner out in the not- so- bustling town of Kaikoura and celebrated one of my fellow student’s 21st birthday (even though the legal drinking age in New Zealand is 18 he still had to do it). Saturday morning was filled with excitement because the big excursion scheduled for the day was a dolphin swim! It took us an hour to get all fitted in wetsuits and out on the boats, but I was so incredibly glad we were wearing those ridiculous outfits covering our bodies head to toe because the water was less than 50 degrees no lie. To add to that, a storm on it’s way from Antarctica was coming up the coast (that’s actually not a joke they call them Southerlies and are feared across the nation for bringing in chilly weather and crazy wind). Our guide, Pat Devlin, a New Zealand native and elderly man with too much wisdom and kindness to even know what to do with told me that a Southerly can make the temperature drop by half of the original amount in just 20 minutes… YIKES. Of course this incoming weather wasn’t a great help to those prone to seasickness. At one point, I looked around the boat and at least 4 people were over a bucket …yes, it was that bad. But don’t get me wrong, it was also AMAZING. On the way out to sea, the boat was going up and down like a buoy the swells were so big and we even saw some albatrosses. If you don’t know what those are they’re pretty much just gigantor seagulls with an 11 foot wingspan (some refer to it as the modern day pterodactyl not kidding). With our wetsuits, flippers, facemasks, and snorkels covering every inch of our body besides the little part between your nose and your chin, we headed out to where a pod of more than 200 DOLPHINS were spotted. The captain barely slowed the boat down before we all leapt into the freezing cold water hoping the dolphins would come swim with us. Because they’re wild, the only way to lure them in is to make the most obnoxiously high-pitched noises underwater as possible. We probably sounded like absolute freaks but let me tell you it definitely worked. Despite the fact my whole body felt like an ice cube (hypothermia would have been a definite if we were in there without a wetsuit), the dolphins seemed quite interested in the annoyingly high-pitched melodies I was making and would zoom past. I swear to God I had eye contact with one dolphin and it just swam around me in circles for a few seconds. The best way I can describe the experience is when it’s just one of those times where you have to keep reminding yourself that it truly is real life even though it feels too perfect to be true. After the dolphins had moved on, we quickly swam back to the boat sitting on the back platform (mind you still sitting in the ice water) until we caught up to the front of the pod again to hop out another time! This process happened 5 times and was the most exhausting yet exhilarating experience I think I have ever had the opportunity to take part in. It truly felt like I was visiting another world with how ridiculously perfect it was. I mean come on… swimming with dolphins in New Zealand??? Sunday was our service learning day back in Christchurch where we went out to the eastern suburbs of the city to help with earthquake devastated areas. We spent a couple of hours pulling weeds and mulching for a new native plant initiative on land where an upper class residential neighborhood once stood. It was pretty eerie with the streets and some of the driveways to a cement foundation still somewhat evident, but it was also rewarding to know we were helping to start the rebuild. After wheelbarrowing for a while, we drove to the beach for a nice packed lunch at the pier watching the surfers and getting attacked by seagulls. Once we returned to the center of the city, we took a small tour pointing out different projects attempting to revamp the area and encourage people to live there again despite the previous natural disaster’s toll. We also had a lecture with a man who was extremely crucial to the earthquake recovery project and even the past leader of the Student Volunteer Army who organized local Christchurch students like himself to help those in need. Here’s some crazy cool pictures so you can feel like you were swimming with dolphins too! https://www.flickr.com/gp/132720548@N07/584g59

Luxembourg: Fin

Luxembourg City After being here for a month, I have come to realize Luxembourg is an unbelievable place to live, work and study. From the safety to the prosperity to the multitude of  nationalities and languages, it does not get much better. There’s rich culture in the caves of the Casemates and great shopping in the City Center (which is cheaper than Paris). While my travels have not led me home yet, I finished my study abroad program on Friday. I (luckily) still have 3 weeks in Europe but wanted to wrap on here with a few things learned during my four weeks in Europe (primarily in Luxembourg but also France and Brussels).

1. Stay in the present

It becomes very easy to look forward to somewhere like Paris and miss somewhere incredible like Strasbourg

2. Be flexible.

Plans change. If you want to grumble about something that’s already happened, it fixes nothing.

Umbrellas in Reims, France

Though the souvenir shop umbrellas can result in adorable photos

3. Bring an umbrella

Or you may just end up with a crappy Paris one from the Reims’ Cathedral souvenir store

4. Sometimes the cheapest adapters the best

All my friends bought  ~$30-50 adapters and converters but almost none of the pieces had the necessary 3 prong outlet for laptops. Half the time they would blow out and fail especially with hair equipment. I ordered REI adapters (with 3 prong outlets) for $4 off amazon knowing nothing about them except they were cheapest (probably not my brightest idea) but they worked perfectly. It worked perfectly with a hair straightener, laptop charger, and phone charger.

5. Eat small

If you know me, you’re going to laugh at this one. I love food and eating. But if you eat small like a one scoop ice cream rather than 2, then you can eat often and get a second scoop later. Or a different dessert. Everywhere you pass seems to have the most scrumptious food you’ve ever seen so eating snacks everywhere rather than large meals, allows you to try more.

6. Everyone eats gelato

It’s awesome

A Belgian waffle in Brussels

And waffles

7. Just accept anything you eat that’s not chocolate/gelato will likely be carbs

I ate pizza, bread, croissants, and pasta. I realized when my mom arrived that I had not eaten chicken more than once while here. I eat chicken once a day at home. I would get strawberries a few times a week at school but that (and strawberry ice cream) was the extent of my vitamins. I would recommend purposely trying to get some nutrients for your body a few times a day but don’t stress about what you’re eating. Walk instead of taking the metro and you should not have any issues. I walked over 10 miles most days so while probably not properly meeting my body’s needs, I did not do irreparable damage.

8. Public transports great to utilize (and way cheaper than taxis)

While walking’s great for eating, one hour walks may not be the most efficient way to get most places. The public travel ways are fantastic and take you within steps to basically any place. The bus/metro maps can be a bit confusing but just double (and triple) check your stop and the line needed. Also always be aware.

9. No matter how many churches you go into, the next one is always just as if not more gorgeous

Whether it was Saint Catherine in Brussels where Van Gogh was once a pastor or the details of the architecture in Notre Dame of Strasbourg, every cathedral was breathtaking in its own way. After visiting so many, unfortunately, churches began to run together. On one of the last church visits of very many, another student exclaimed, “It’s annoying because it’s are just so pretty!”Notre Dame of Reims

These adventures have definitely been once in a life time and will not be forgotten. The chance to travel abroad has expanded my world view in an incredible and slightly different way than expected. I see America differently. I believed everything in Europe would be better but upon actually visiting I appreciate little things such as free tap water and larger things such as fast wifi. I will of course miss things in Europe such as the great Metro and Bus system. No matter the specifics learned, I have unquestionably, permanently widened my perspective.

-Taylor

All photos are my own and more are available on my Flickr.

Rural South Island

I’m back after a week of long travel days full of adventure and crazy memories!

Sunday was a day of travel but we spent a few hours at a local dairy farm along the way to Hokitika. It was one of the two dairy farms along the west coast of the South Island and we learned a lot about how the production process works and the future of the dairy industry. We even had the chance to milk the cows and then drink the milk (pretty sure it was whole milk times 3). Then we continued our bus ride up the coast with beautiful views of the ocean the entire way. Once we finally got to Hokitika, some of us went to the beach to soak up the rays despite the fact it was still 50 degrees outside. *Fun fact, some of their beaches have pebbles instead of sand and it creates the most fascinatingly perfect sound when the waves crash. New favorite sound to add to the list. Later that night after making pizza, we went and explored another glowworm dell. Alec (one of the students on my trip) decided to go hide up in the bushes farther up the trail so he could pop out and scare us in the pitch-black darkness. However, a group of other people went ahead of us on the path and because it was so dark, ended up getting attacked by Alec who jumped out thinking it was us. We heard the screaming further up the trail and knew what happened, therefore causing us to literally fall to the ground sobbing we were laughing so hard. Oh sweet revenge.

On Monday, we drove to see the Pancake rocks (look at the photo link below to see why it’s called that)! We followed a nice little boardwalk along the cliffs with gorgeous views of the coast and lots of photo opportunities. As soon as we knew it, we had driven for hours along the coast and through the mountains and were at the Nelson Lakes. We got all checked in to our accommodation, had a class lecture, and then made a family dinner in our hostel kitchen of Mexican rice. Afterwards, a group of us hiked out to the larger of the Nelson Lakes in complete and utter darkness because the moon wasn’t even up yet and out onto one of the docks, shining a flashlight at the water and luring in tons of long- finned eels… update: they’re still creepy. We stayed out on that dock for 3 hours staring at all of the Milky Way and it was the clearest night yet- I counted 16 shooting stars. Now that is ridiculous! It was so clear we could see a constellation called the Southern Cross that’s only visible from the southern hemisphere! It was also so incredibly cold that we formed a line of bodies to block the wind and had designated rotation times every few minutes so the person on the end wouldn’t freeze to death. No kidding I think it was like 20 degrees, but seeing the stars that clearly was 1000000% percent worth it. The next day, we went for a nice little walk through Nelson Lakes National Park on a trail called Honeydew Track and learned a lot about different native tree species and their characteristics and roles in supporting the local wildlife.

By Wednesday, we had made it Motueka which is right outside Abel Tasman National Park. We had a full day of kayaking starting out with questionable weather, but by the time we were all in our kayaks in the freezing cold 50 degree water, there were bright blue skies ahead of us and a beautiful rainbow behind us. My heart was so content. We kayaked along the coast for a little before stopping at a beach and having lunch and hot chocolate. Who knew I’d ever be able to say I drank hot chocolate sitting at the beach?! For some crazy reason, I decided to go for a little dip in the Tasman Sea which ended up being painfully cold but also really awesome. Then we started our hike back to town along the Abel Tasman track with absolutely gorgeous views of the coast. It looked a lot like Costa Rica with huge fern palms along the cliffs down to bright blue waters, and was definitely one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever been on. On the way back, there was a group of 8 of us with no leaders or directions, just a time to return by. It was so refreshing to be able to take it all in and reflect on how beautiful the park truly was.

On Thursday we started our trek to Kaikoura, a small beach town known for its wildlife and beautiful coast. We stopped a few minutes out of town to go on a quick hike up to a waterfall where baby fur seals were swimming all around. It was by far the cutest thing I have ever witnessed. (I require you to go watch the video in the link below because it was just too adorable). Afterwards, we drove to a hike that went through meadows and along the cliffs right next to the Pacific Ocean. It was unbelievable. One second you were walking through knee high grass next to cows and the next you were 5 feet from a sheer drop off with a view of hundreds of seals sunbathing on the rocks far below. It’s impossibly hard to pick a favorite hike, but this one was most definitely top 3. You could say I was in heaven.

One more week in New Zealand!
https://www.flickr.com/gp/132720548@N07/73QrMf

Paris Was Always My Favorite

Our first priority when we got there was to get a baguette.

My boyfriend, Vivek, came to visit me in Brussels for a week and we decided to take a weekend trip to Paris, as one does. It was really quite casual. We got on the bus, fell asleep, woke up to a beautiful view of endless fields, fell asleep again, and voila! We were in Paris. It cost me less (in both time and money) to travel between Brussels and Paris than it does to travel between Miami and Gainesville. It’s a shame, really, since Paris is a much more exciting city than Gainesville.

Me wearing a beret in front of Sacre Couer and probably offending some French people.

We did all the things tourists must do (Vivek had never been to Paris before, so I proudly showed him around the 3 spots in the city that I know), including spending obscene amounts of money on mediocre food, but wonderful wine, taking selfies with famous art, and walking until our feet burned.

Paris has always been my favorite city in the world, and spending a weekend there without the pressure of a tour guide made it even better. We walked along the Seine, watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle at midnight, and drank some delicious wine that I’ll never be able to find (or afford) again. To say it was magical would be an understatement. I got to see Monet, Da Vinci, Cezanne, and Michelangelo all in one day. The Mona Lisa and I met for the third time and I commemorated our third date with a selfie.

I figured that after 3 meetings, we're basically friends

I figured that after 3 meetings, we’re basically friends and she’ll accept me no matter what

Paris has always been my favorite, so the next few words are really hard for me to think and even harder to put into writing: I like Brussels more.

When I was in Paris, I missed the bad French, cheap food, and confusing street names I have grown so accustomed to. I missed going to work (if you didn’t already think I’m crazy you do now) and the understated beauty of Europe’s capitol. As I sit in my little apartment in Brussels writing this, I wish I could say that the sparkling lights and romantic bridges of Paris still hold my heart like none other. But I can’t. Paris will always be special and beautiful and magical, but it’s a caricature of a city. It’s the idea of Paris that I’m in love with, and will always be in love with, but it’s no longer the best city in the world. Paris was my favorite. But I must confess, the soft lights of Grand Place shine brighter in my eyes than all the sparkle the Eiffel Tower could ever offer.

Winding Down

Only three days left in our summer program in Spain! While we miss our families, friends, and macaroni and cheeses, we are all sad to leave! Spain has grown on us.

Tomorrow we have our last classes and tomorrow night we will return to the ISA building for a farewell dinner. Tuesday night at ten, we will board a bus back to Madrid where we will catch our separate flights home on Wednesday.

First off: apologies. Between the excursion to Lisbon and the demanding nature of our classes, I did not get around to writing about Granada and Córdoba. So now I must backtrack a bit chronologically.

Córdoba and Granada are both wonderful, and I have given up on trying to rank the best places that we have been. Every place has something amazing and special about it.

When I was in elementary school, I did a small research project on the Mezquita-catedral de Córdoba, and have found it fascinating ever since. Well, now I can say that I have been there and that pictures do not really do it justice (and especially not mine – while in the Mezquita, my camera suddenly broke and I had to resort to my phone…)
The Mezquita has been both a mosque and a church at varying points in its history. Since 1236 AD, it has functioned as a Catholic church. It was built on the site of a Roman temple. Some columns from this temple were used in the construction of the Mezquita’s hypostyle hall.


(Photo: Mezquita-catedral de Córdoba)

Lunch in Córdoba was one of the best meals I have had in Spain. I tried “rabo de toro” – bull’s tail. Very, very tender and tasty! I also had some of the best sangria out of the trip there.


(Photo: Rabo de toro. Yes, I took a picture.)

No one was left unimpressed by Granada, for there one will find the Alhambra! However, the night before visiting the Alhambra, ISA treated our group to a Flamenco show. Tinto de verano was passed around and fun was had by all.

The real attraction of course (as I hinted above) was the Alhambra which has existed in part since 889 AD. It also held palaces for Muslim emirs starting in 1333. After the Reconquista, it has also been used by Spanish royal families. (As an aside, I would like to shout out to any Game of Thrones fans who will recognize it as Sunspear in “Dorne”. This has made this season very exciting for me. ;) ). I would also like to shout out to the tourist who pronounced the Alhambra’s Palacio de Generalife as “General Life”. I do not know how you made it this far in Spain but good job, I guess.


(Photo: Patio de los Leones, Alhambra)

Jumping back to present: this weekend we went as a group to Málaga, capital of the Costa del Sol, and birthplace of both Pablo Picasso and Antonio Banderas. The Picasso museum was very cool and we had an amazing and very informative guide. Before, I was never sure if I liked Picasso’s art, but now I can definitely say that I do, and I recommend visiting this museum if you ever visit Málaga for yourself. Afterward, ISA led us through Málaga’s Cathedral, known as “La Manquita”.

Then we were free to roam. Jonathan (“Jota P”) and I decided to go visit the remains of a Roman theater nearby. The theater sits below the Alcazaba which we decided to visit as well. It is like a much smaller (and, I have to say, less impressive) Alhambra.


(Photo: Teatro Romano de Málaga)

We spent our last hour in Málaga at the beach! It’s known as the “Playa de la Malagueta” and is on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. Jota P even found a sizable collection of sea glass there.


(Photo: Playa de Malagueta)

The adventures can’t continue forever, however, and now it is time for us to say our goodbyes and pack.

Weekend In Barcelona

Last weekend, I was able to visit the incredible city of Barcelona with a group of UF students. We spent the first afternoon checking out some must-see tourist spots: La Sagrada Família, the Barcelona Cathedral, as well some pretty streets, parks, fountains, and shopping areas. While those sites were beautiful, the experience that I will never forget was witnessing Barcelona react to their 2015 UEFA Champions League Final victory.

You didn’t have to be a fútbol fanatic to celebrate the team’s victory. Once Barcelona officially beat Juventus, the streets erupted in cheer. It began like any sports celebration (shouting, jumping, cheering) but escalated quickly. Fireworks went off randomly throughout the streets, to the point where my group had to dodge explosions happening just a few feet away from us. People began climbing anything they physically could: newspaper stands, metro signs, you name it. Someone burned a Real Madrid flag. One group of people even jumped into a public fountain, soaking each other and anyone they could reach.

It was the first time in my life that I witnessed complete and utter chaos.

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Sunday morning, we countered the insanity of the previous night with a day trip to Park Güell. The “Monumental Zone” requires the purchase of a ticket (costs 8 €) but the rest of the park is completely free to the public. Words can’t describe how incredible it was.

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I definitely want to revisit Park Güell. Next time, I’ll come prepared with a hat, tennis shoes, and my trusty DSLR. Climbing up Carmel Hill in sandals was not the ideal scenario (I left my Nike’s in Madrid) but the view was definitely worth the climb.

Isn’t it always?

I Swear Every Day Gets Even Better

Last Wednesday was the day of our grand and glorious Routeburn Track hike in Queenstown, adventure capital of the world! If you’ve ever seen pictures of New Zealand, a photo of this famous hike probably popped up because it’s so pretty. After an hour of van driving going wayyy too fast along a curvy mountain cliff road in which several people got sick along the way, we finally made it to our starting point. It was a dreary day so the views weren’t as great as they could have been, however it was really nice to get out of the city and breathe the fresh air of the forest. It’s 35,000 years old and practicaly untouched by humans so it couldn’t be any cleaner! It was freezing cold and raining but we came well prepared and even stopped at the turn around point for some much needed hot chocolate. When we returned to Queenstown after our 6 mile hike, we made sure to visit a famous burger joint called the Fergburger (where we proceeded to eat a frightening amount of food).

The next day was our free day, and lots of the people in my group took this time to go skydiving, bungee jumping, and white water rafting. I sadly realized that I’m barely 2 weeks into my more than 2 month long journey so I decided to hold off on the high adrenaline experiences til later. Instead, I found some somewhat reliable Wi-Fi and got to skype my family and friends for the first time since I’ve been abroad. Then I got some much- needed alone time from being with the group 24/7 (still love you guys though I swear!) and went to explore Queenstown as the sun set on the mountains. It’s a beautiful little town with a great boardwalk around Lake Wakatipu as well as rose gardens and trees galore to make my heart happy.

The next day we started our 9 hour bus ride to Fox Glacier. Yes, 9 hours. But to make it fair, they split it up nicely for us so we get to stop every hour or two for a snack break or quick hike. Our first pitstop was at Lake Wanaka where we saw a giant eel (the one and only bad thing I can find about New Zealand is that there are eels in literally every body of water). Our next stop was at Fork Farm, a local sheep farm where we learned all about the process of raising sheep and sheering them for their wool. I got to actually pet a sheep soooo I was pretty much in heaven. There was one brown one that was extra curly and it practically let me cuddle it, therefore dreams again came true. Later on during our drive, we stopped at Mount Aspiring National Park and went on the Haast pass {death} hike where we marched up some insanely steep switchbacks and came to an absolutely gorgeous view of the valley we had just hiked up from.

On Sunday, we took a sunrise hike around Lake Matheson which was extremely beautiful and a great start to an even greater day. The lake is known for being highly reflective of the mountain range behind it. I took a picture and turned it upside down and couldn’t even decipher which side was up! After lunch we headed to Fox Glacier itself and went on a hike down the valley up to the glacier. It was really interesting to learn about how much it has changed over time and the process of advancing and retreating depending on weather. The sky was a perfect blue compared to most hikes we have had bad luck with and it was awesomeeee to see how cool the glacier was up close. There were a lot of safety precautions because earthquakes are quite frequent and the rock walls of the valley often become landslides, but it was a wonderful adventure! After cooking spaghetti dinner with my friends, a group of us went to see glowworms! If you don’t know what glowworms are, just know they are some of the most fascinating little creatures. We hiked out of town and down a path through the forest, trying to find our way in the darkness. We turned off all of our flashlights so we could pick out the glowing specks and it was so dark you couldn’t see your hand if you put it right in front of your face. Good thing there’s nothing to be scared of in New Zealand! We were having a hard time finding the occasional rare glowworm along the path until we came up to a fallen tree and it’s roots were out and covered in the glowing specks. I sat down in front of it and got lost for 5 minutes just staring into the darkness and the little glowing dots- it looked like a galaxy! Lets just say my eyes were really confused when we finally got out under the lights of the town again.

Today marked the halfway point of my time in New Zealand… which is extremely sad but I’m so so so very grateful for all that has already happened and can’t wait to see what’s coming up next!

Here are some pictures from the week!
https://www.flickr.com/gp/132720548@N07/o797UQ

Familiar Unfamiliarities

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I’ve been in London for more than two weeks now, and time is flying by. The days have blended together in one constant stream of sightseeing, classes and social activities, mixed with short, intermittent, nap-length nights’ sleeps. Despite the chaos of every day, I’ve established a solid daily routine, and it’s easy to believe I’ve been doing this my whole life. That’s the crazy thing about studying abroad. It’s not just about visiting a place; it’s about learning to adapt to the culture and imagining yourself actually living there. I can definitely see myself living in London, but that feeling didn’t come without having a bout of culture shock. Confusingly, it was a lack of drastic change from the States that caused me to experience the shock. Last year when I studied in Austria, I had had to prepare myself for a whole new experience: The food was completely different from what I was used to, there was a strange balance between urbanism and quaint historical tradition and there was a language barrier to overcome. This year, I over-prepared.  The differences between London and the States are definitely abundant, but they’re also more subtle, and I sometimes still have to remind myself I’m in a foreign country.

As per requirement, one of my first stops upon arriving in London was wondering up and down the South Bank, which is located near Westminster Abbey and Parliament and is home to the London Eye, the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I loved seeing such iconic structures, but the walkways were too crowded with loud, meandering tourists for me to enjoy the atmosphere. My favorite part was visiting the Tower of London, which is a palace, castle and fortress built during the 1000s. The tower features living quarters, a torture chamber, crown jewels, an artillery museum and plenty of winding, narrow corridors.

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London’s many cultures shine through most drastically in the ample markets throughout the city’s boroughs. Within the past two weeks, I have visited the trendy, Middle-Eastern and Asian Brick Lane, the world-famous antique markets of Portobello Road, the edgy markets of Camden Town and the food vendors of Borough Market. The goods are cheap, the stalls are vast, and they’re the perfect locations to find unique souvenirs and accessories. Although my usual clothing choices lean toward the girly side, my favorite market is definitely in the Hot-Topicesque style of Camden, especially Camden Lock Market, which features rows and rows of stalls housed in old horse stables. I haven’t had a chance to do any serious shopping there yet, but I just know there are a handful of goodies just begging to be found.

Portobello Road Market

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Camden Town

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Camden Lock Market

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Borough Market

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As part of my Resident Assistant duties, I am in charge of chaperoning certain excursions organized by my study abroad program. Last weekend I was lucky enough to be appointed the chaperone for a day trip to Oxford University and Blenheim Palace. Oxford was even more impressive than I had imagined, and it was surreal to actually be walking among its famous architecture. As soon as I got a free moment, I split from the rest of the group and randomly strolled through the streets. Most of the courtyards were closed because exams were in progress, but I still got to take a peek inside at the vibrant green grass and ivy-covered walls. I can’t imagine going to school among all that greatness.

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The next stop was Blenheim Palace, which was the birthplace of Winston Churchill and the palace in the tasteless show “The Royals.” The interior was full of opulence, but it was the sprawling gardens and green rolling hills that surrounded the massive structure that impressed me the most.

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The next few weeks will be crazy hectic for me because my mom and sister are visiting, so I have to balance my time between visiting them, going to class, doing homework and performing RA tasks. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Accomplishments

My mission is complete. I found a beer that I like! It’s called Maes Radler. As someone who has hated every beer I’ve ever tried, I’m pretty excited about this. For all you Americans, it’s basically a shandy (beer mixed with lemon soda). It’s a girly, sweet, fizzy beer. And I’m not ashamed. Not even when I order it with cheesecake at Stam, the local bar at which I discovered Maes Radler. I’ve even expanded my taste to include Hoegaarden radlers! I have never felt more Belgian.

Finding a beer that’s to my taste isn’t the only thing I’ve accomplished since you last heard from me. I am proud to report that I have only gotten on the metro the wrong way once in all my time here (fortunately I wasn’t headed to my internship). I’ve also remained (more or less) on budget! To keep to the budget, I’ve had to cook pretty often instead of indulging in the €4 sandwiches right down the street. Happily, I have only completely ruined my food once (don’t sautée onions in white wine vinegar. Not ever).

All these accomplishments seem silly to you. They seem silly to me when I write them down, expecting a pat on the back for surviving by myself. But they’re more significant than they look on a computer screen. Each of these accomplishments is loaded with lessons, mostly about myself. When I did get on the metro the wrong way, I didn’t panic. I simply got off at the next stop, switched sides, and was on the right track in minutes. When I caused my apartment to smell like vinegar and onions (for reference that smells like either feet or sweat- my roommate and I couldn’t decide for sure), I laughed it off, threw it out, and started over.

Maybe for someone a little less uptight and constantly anxious as I am, these events aren’t even worth mentioning. But for me, it means that I’ve allowed myself to be the type of person I’ve wanted to be for a long time. I recall my reactions to these types of things back when I was in Gainesville. I would yell, stomp, and become generally frustrated at every small inconvenience. Now, instead of getting frustrated, I get over it. I remember hoping that I would come to Brussels and learn something about myself. I have not been disappointed. Still, I know that it’s easy for me to have a positive attitude when I can always look out the window and think “Well no matter how bad it gets, I’m in Brussels!” The challenge now is to be able to go back to America and keep that attitude. If I don’t take back any souvenirs for myself from this journey, I hope that the one thing that remains with me is the person I’m learning to become.