Country Number Two: Paris, France

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Bonjour soeurs!

I’m currently sitting in my hotel in Amsterdam. Yeah, I said hotel, not hostel. Molly’s mom and sister are here so we’re being treated to some luxuries not given in hostels, but anyway, this is about France.

France was actually really fun. We met up with our friend from Uni there, Emily (pictured above), and she knew all about the things to do around Paris and had an actual typed up itinerary, so we let her be our tour guide through the beautiful city. Emily is also from the US, she lives in New Orleans, but she’s a French major so not only did we have a tour guide, we had a tour guide that other French people didn’t hate and who could help us order in restaurants.

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Once getting to France we quickly made our way from the airport to our hostel. This was surprisingly easy and not nearly as stressful as trying to find the hostel in Spain. We looked up directions from the hostel which told us how to get there and I would highly recommend doing that. The hostel knows what they’re talking about, us as foreigners, do not. Once getting to our hostel we were told that we had actually been upgraded from a ten person mixed dorm to a four person dorm which was just a good omen for the whole trip.

Our first stop was to the Eiffel Tower, because of course it was. It was really weird seeing this famous landmark just because I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to. It’s something I always kind of thought about, but never considered an actual possibility. Plus, it was a surreal experience when Molly asked what I wanted to do and I was able to say, “uhm, let’s go see the Eiffel Tower.” Because that’s not a big deal or anything.

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Our next big stop was the Louvre. Fun fact, the Louvre is open and free to enter on Wednesday and Friday nights from 6:00 – 9:30, so that’s when we went. Seeing the Mona Lisa was kind of strange as well. You can see we took the obligatory selfie with her and that the painting itself is actually really small. Not to mention it’s covered with a bullet proof case and in a temperature controlled area. Obviously, the Louvre is insanely impressive and I’m really glad we went. It’s huge. I think if you spent a minute looking at each piece it would take over a year. That’s what Emily told us and she knows French, so I believe her.

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Our second day of Paris included a lot of walking, but also a lot of beautiful sights. We walked down the Champs-Élysées continuing past the Louvre and a walk from there to the Notre Dame. On the way we passed the lock bridge, which is actually boarded up right now because all of the locks are so heavy that it’s starting to make the bridge collapse. They are apparently going to tear it down and put up one you can’t put locks on, but it was still cool while we were there. The fact it was boarded up made me feel less bitter as well.

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There’s a picture of Notre Dam and also how we ended the day, with cheap champagne in front of a sparkling Eiffel Tower. It was a really amazing experience, sitting there with terrible champagne and macaroons, pretending to be fancy with our plastic cups. I remember saying “You guys, I’m really scared life doesn’t get any better than this.”

IMG_3608DSC_0035 DSC_0042 DSC_0051DSC_0067 Our third day in Paris Emily went to Versaille and Molly and I were left to roam the streets alone. I attempted to plan out a fun day for us including the Tuileries Garden, Saint-Germain-des-Pres, the Latin Quarter, the Pantheon, and Rue Mouffetard. It was a fun day, but a lot of things didn’t work out quite the way they were supposed to. We did stop in a small shop in the Latin Quarter and I got the best crepe I’ve ever had which was smothered in Nutella.

Later that night we met up with Emily again to go to the Catacombs, which is what the pictures above are from. They were really interesting although slightly errie. I had to not think about it too hard to enjoy it, but I’m glad I went. It was definitely something new and something you won’t see anywhere else. Later that night we also got to meet up with our other friend, Erin, which was really fun. Meeting people in Paris is just the best place to meet up with someone.

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Our last day in Paris was started in Montmatre. We came up the Metro to climb the stairs up to the Sacre-Coeur which provided us with a fantastic skyline of Paris. The Sacre-Coeur was actually a really interesting cathedral just because it looked a bit different than other ones I’ve been to recently. Emily and I took to calling in the church mosque because that’s what it looks like and I literally can’t remember the names of anything in Paris let alone pronounce them correctly. The rest of the day was spent shopping the really cute streets and boutiques of Montmatre, which feels a bit different from the rest of Paris in the fact that it’s all small streets and smaller stores rather than the Louie Vuitton and Burberry that make up the bigger streets.

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We ended our last night at Montparnasse tower. 56 floors up on the roof terrace we were given a 360 view of Paris at night. The city was lit up a beautiful before us. We watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle and ran around pointing out monuments and things we recognized. It was a fantastic way to end our trip to the famous city. Now for a Christmas in Amsterdam and canals on canals on canals.

Barcelona, Spain: The Beginning of our Journey

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HOLA HERMANAS

I’m currently sitting in my surprisingly nice hostel in Barcelona, Spain! It’s our last day here in this beautiful city and it has been a fun and exhausting visit. We’re currently at the Black Swan Hostel which I highly recommend to anyone coming to visit. Even though we’re in a ten person, female dorm, the hostel has been a really good place to both rest and make inexpensive food. Not to mention they made us cheap homemade paella, so good, and have many activities which are free including walking tours and pub crawls.

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Speaking of Walking tours, today we went on one that showed us the three different Gaudi buildings throughout the city. Our guide was super knowledgeable about everything Gaudi and I now too, feel somewhat knowledgeable about the artist/architect. Fun fact, because the city declared his building more “works of arts” than actual buildings, he was able to bypass restrictions on elements like the height and volume of buildings and would boast about how he was so good the system just didn’t apply to him.

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While we’re on the topic of Gaudi, Molly and I also visited La Sagrada Familia which was wow. A must visit upon coming to Barcelona. We literally just walked around the inside for over an hour just amazed. The colors from the stain glass windows are incredible and the tall ceilings and columns and walls and everything. I never knew I could love architecture so much. It was something I’m so glad I saw.

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Last thing Gaudi related was the Park Guell. Although Molly and I didn’t actually pay to go inside, we did climb to the very top of the park which provided us with this fantastic view of the city. We also poked around the free areas soaking up all of the art we could while staring at the city laid out before us. An amazing city to be honest.

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We also did some non-Gaudi related things like taking a walking tour of the Gothic district. This part of town is full of history and amazing sights to behold. This is the main Cathedral, free to go inside and gawk at. Amazing. This part of town is also home to parts of the Roman wall which have still survived, the art school Picasso went to, a square dedicated to George Orwell, and many more significant things that occupied our time.

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And of course, you can’t come to Barcelona with out visiting the beach. What a better way to reboot than kicking it next to the Mediterranean Sea? Barcelona was everything I wanted and more. We had so much fun in this city and it’ll be kind of sad moving on to the next one tomorrow. But, I mean, the next one is Paris, so not too sad.

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It’s Beginning to Look Like Holiday Spirit

DSC_0201Ah man, look at me being terrible at posting on time again. Well, better late than never?

Anywhos, it’s the last week of classes here and I’m dealing with packing and trying to complete some essays before I leave for my month long, graceful, tumble around Europe. At this moment I’m a bit sick, which is a little terrifying, but I’m keeping my head up that I’ll be mostly better by this weekend. This upcoming Monday will be my first day in Barcelona so I don’t know how well posting on this blog will go, but I’ll do my best.

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The pictures you’re seeing are from the city center of Nottingham where they have a Christmas market set up. Apparently they have Christmas markets all over Europe. The best ones are in Germany and Austria, but I’ll just have to settle for the few we stumble upon while traveling and this one, about twenty minutes away from me. The holidays are making me both really sad and happy. Sad because I will not be with family this year, but happy because I’ll be in Amsterdam instead. Not to mention Christmas in general makes me happy (it helps you guys sent me presents to open on actual Christmas day).

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The holiday season also gave the hall an excuse to have our Christmas formal, which is why we all look so dapper in these photos. I’m really going to miss all of these kids while I travel. I’m really glad I come back for two weeks to take finals because it would have been a rough couple of days if I had to say a permanent goodbye.

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There are a lot of opportunities to get into the holiday spirit. A bunch of girls from Linfield all volunteered with helping to make holiday decorations for a party and spending the afternoon drinking Starbucks Christmas drinks while cutting out paper snowflakes and not so carefully applying glitter to everything was the perfect way to bring myself some holiday cheer.

Okay, now I should really stop avoiding other responsibilities. This Shakespeare Histories essay is not, unfortunately, going to write itself. Hopefully next will be a post from Barcelona where it will not be quite as cold.

A Mini Adventure: Southwell

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I forgot to post. Sorry that I forgot to post and then continued not to post til today, but also not that sorry because it’s really pretty hit or miss as far as your posting goes Alyssa. But anyways, here’s a quick little blog about mine and Molly’s mini adventure to Southwell.

Southwell is just kind of a random town that’s about an hour and a half by bus from my University. Molly and I like to try and get out and do stuff on days that we don’t have class and find that we don’t have too much work and Southwell was an easy destination to get to seeing as we could use our bus passes to get there making the trip about three or four pounds all together. And that was spent on tea, because I mean, you have to have your afternoon tea.

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The attraction of Southwell comes from two things, their minister and a workhouse that’s near by. The minister was, in fact, beautiful and we’ll talk about the workhouse later. But this is where we sat and ate lunch, just looking at a cool building and laughing and having fun. We spent probably a good half hour attempting to take jumping pictures in the garden next to the minister, but were unsuccessful in all attempts.

DSC_0209This is the workhouse. I kind of forgot what a workhouse was until we got there and read signs with people saying things like “I had no other choice to come here, it’s like a prison, I’m going to die here,” and other fun things like that. In case you’re like me and totally forgot what a workhouse is, think Oliver Twist. The signs said it wasn’t quite as bad as that portrayal, but I mean, that is where Oliver Twist lived before he went to go thieving or however that novel ends. Anyways, the workhouse was a kind of museum where you could walk around the whole area, but you had to go through a gift shop first, so Molly and I headed right in and just started touring. We did find out later that we were supposed to actually buy tickets to go in and look around, but we failed to do so and never actually did and no one asked for our tickets… so you know.

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There’s Molly, standing in a tunnel under the workhouse, not giving two shits that we are essentially criminals and accidentally stole from a museum. I know, such rebels. Anyways, that was just a random mini adventure I had in the beautiful country of England. I’ll try to actually remember to post on time next week, here’s hoping your weeks are both good and that your days are superb as well.

Much love sisters!

A Weekend in Edinburgh: Feelin’ that Scottish Pride

DSC_0134Hello you two. This past week has been absolutely insane with traveling and I’m honestly still very exhausted. Perhaps I’ll write about the other adventures later, but for now, we talk about Scotland.

Scotland was a very good trip. Once again, a rough start seeing as we left for the train at 6am on November first, meaning the night after Halloween and well, I’m not just going to stay in on Halloween… so… let’s just say I was working on just a few hours of sleep and almost fell asleep while brushing my hair, but I made it on the train so that’s what really counts.

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Once we arrived to Scotland and got situated in our surprisingly nice hostel (Edinburgh backpackers) we learned a very valuable lesson. Ask the person at reception what to do. Not only was the girl who checked us in super knowledgeable about the city, she actually took out a map and wrote down where she thought fun things were, what places we should eat, and most importantly, what all of the free activities were. This led us to our very first walking tour (which was in fact free minus tips) and a really fun and event filled trip.

Our walking tour was an interesting and fun way to get to know Edinburgh. We stopped at different sights, heard stories about locals, and were treated to an interesting afternoon walking around a beautiful place with less beautiful stories. Edinburgh has some pretty gruesome history (we learned even more about this when we went on a Ghost Tour later, also free, also awesome) but hearing about it from people passionate about their town is a great way to learn.

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Our next day in Edinburgh we climbed Arthur’s Seat which is a hill on the edge of the old town which offers beautiful views of the entire city and parts of the North Sea. That is where the first picture from this post was taken and where I want to go back to. That was probably the highlight of my trip, even though none of us were properly dressed for it. Notice Molly went up rugged terrain in a dress and knee-high boots. What a trooper.

DSC_0172 DSC_0060Edinburgh is an old city and accordingly, it is so interesting and aesthetically pleasing to look at. Another brilliant thing about Edinburgh, it’s rich in Harry Potter history. We stopped by the Elephant Room, where J.K. Rowling wrote the second – fourth books, for some lunch, and went on a Harry Potter walking tour where we saw the school that inspired Hogwarts, Tom Riddell’s grave (she changed the spelling for the anagram), a grave for a horrible poet who had the last name McGonagal, and saw the stretch of road that may have been the inspiration for Diagon Alley (Victoria Street). It helped that our tour guide was one of the most adorkable people I’ve ever met, but regardless that was another highlight of the trip. A fun note about The Elephant Room, J.K. Rowling wrote graffiti in the wall of the women’s restroom and now the entire thing is covered in Harry Potter quotes, notes from fans, and words of inspiration.

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Edinburgh was definitely worth the trip and taught us a lot on how to travel. Ask people who know and do free things. Learn about the place you’re at and the stories that come with it. It will make traveling a lot more interesting and the places you’re in have more meaning. If you guys have any more tips for me, just let me know!

An American going to School in England: What to Expect

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“Hi, my name is Lacey.”

That’s all it takes before someone knows I’m not from England. Every time I introduce myself I’m instantly asked two things. One, being “Lucy?” the other being “Where are you from?” Apparently, the name Lacey is not popular in England. In fact, it’s so unpopular that I always have to introduce myself twice. Once the fact that my name is Lacey not Lucy is confirmed, people usually remember someone named Lacey being on a reality T.V. show. Which I have also realized is true, I have a reality show girl participant name. That’s fine though.

The question “Where are you from?” has also been an interesting one. Instantly when I speak people can tell I’m not from England. The accent is a dead give away and despite the fact that I’ve been here for a month and a half, I really can’t do an English accent to save my life. But the actual question has been interesting because one, people are scared to ask if I’m from the States, and two, it’s difficult to know if they know exactly where Oregon or Washington are. Usually when telling people where I’m from I’ll say “I’m from Oregon, in America.” Which, then based on their lack of acknowledgement I’ll follow with “It’s above California” or “It’s on the West coast.” What I’ve found really interesting about this question is the fear people have that I’ll be offended if they assume I’m from America and I end up being from Canada. Apparently that’s an issue, Canadians don’t like to be confused with Americans, who knew?

Anyways, now that I’ve been here for a considerable amount of time I thought I’d do a post about some things I’ve learned about being an American in England. There have been some ups and downs, but these are things that have really stuck out as far as being foreign goes.

1. I don’t know how to speak English:

Upon hearing that I’m an American student taking English courses most people have replied with “But you don’t even speak proper English, isn’t like learning  a second language?” I usually reply with something equally sassy, but the truth is there have been quite a few struggles dealing with language. Sometimes words are hard. Talking about school is hard. Here they don’t have majors, their college was part of high school (which is not called high school) and they have no idea what a sophomore, junior, or senior is. Here’s an example of just a random conversation that became a struggle:

“You know, you really should have worn soccer cleats… I mean football cleats? Or football trainers? Or… football shoes?”

“There called football boots.”

This is just one example. There have been many many instances when I realized that I don’t know how to speak English.

2. England is expensive:

I knew coming here that the exchange rate was going to be rough. 1.7 dollars is 1 pound and that has not been a pleasant thing. Basically, everything is priced the same as in the states (a burger is 7-8 pounds a candy bar is a quid) but that price goes up when you’re using American dollars to pay for it. Not only that, but you have to pay for everything here. There are hundreds of societies for students to join, which is great, what’s less great is that they all cost money. Want to be on a sports team? That’s going to be fourteen pounds, plus you need to buy a gym membership so you can come to training, plus you need to pay sixty pounds for kit, plus tournament fees, plus transportation fees to get to the tournament. The school literally has tickets for clubs and events every night, but you need to pay for all of it. Lets just say my wallet is hurting a lot more than it should responsibly be hurting and I’m going to blame England rather than myself for that problem.

3. Public transportation is the best thing to exist ever.

The public transportation in England is amazing. You can get anywhere on a bus and the train tickets are actually decently priced. Traveling is a lot easier when you can get to the train station from a bus that picks you up directly from your school. Not to mention that the actually university is a far walk from the town center, but the bus comes by every five minutes, so it’s not even an issue. It makes me feel like an adult using the bus system correctly and it makes me wish we had a better system in America.

4. The classes are entirely different, and I don’t know if I like it.

I actually only have classes two days a week. Tuesday and Friday are the only days I actually attend school, but it doesn’t feel that way. There is so much independent study and as an English student, I am doing so much reading. The first week of classes my Victorian Literature class announced we were reading Great Expectations and expected to be done by that time next week. It’s a new novel every week, a new play every week, and a few of Shakespeare’s history plays thrown in for good measure. My entire grade in the class is determined by one thing at the end. For two classes this is an essay, for the other two it’s a test. I’m terrified of this, but I’m also really enjoying what I’m studying. Let’s just say it’s been interesting.

5. British people are really nice.

I’m surprised how much I actually love living in a dorm hall again, but the people in my corridor have all proven to be fantastic people. We play hall wide games of Monopoly, do pub quizzes, and just in general, hang out a lot. I really love the feeling of someone just knocking on my door and saying “we’re going out now” and your plans for the night changing from watching Netflix to going to a bar. I’ve made some friends here and it’s going to be hard to leave.

 

Okay, I apologize for the amount of text that was that post, but if you made it through, may I commend you on your perseverance. I’m looking forward to the rest of my time here and hopefully next week I’ll be back with some great stories from Scotland. Until then, cheers and other British words.

 

Exploring Shakespeare and Castles: Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick, and why you shouldn’t pack while drunk

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HI GUYS.

Lyssa, you didn’t post this week. How am I supposed to learn about your life if you don’t post?

This weekend was spend at Stratford-upon-Avon, home to the Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare’s house, his grave and other Shakespearian homes and locations as well as a Sunday trip to Warwick Castle. This weekend was also spent in the company of good people. Some I came here from Linfield with and also some other Americans we have happened to find since arriving.

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In case you were wonder, yes these are all iphone pictures. You see, Friday night I was being a good, hard-working student and studying in the library. I knew I wasn’t going to be doing homework this weekend, because traveling, so I was trying to get some stuff done before leaving (very early) in the morning. Unfortunately, the library on campus closes at 9:45 every single night. Which led me to ask upon first hearing this time “what is wrong with England?” At home I pretty much live in the library, so begrudgingly I packed up all of my stuff and made my way back to my hall. Once arriving I quickly found everyone in my corridor in the room at the end of the hall. I popped my head in to say hello, was quickly given two shots of vodka (yay legal drinking age being 18) and then convinced to go out to a club. Around 2am I finally made it back to my room with the thought of having to get up at 5:30 to catch a train being in my head. So I packed, at 2am, after being at a club, and having had a few too many jagger bombs (which they love here) hence, I forgot multiple items. One being the battery for my camera. I did wake up the next morning after about two hours of sleep still a little drunk, very tired, but altogether in a good mood.

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Stratford-upon-Avon is pretty quintessentially British. The buildings are old, there’s rivers to walk next to, we had to walk through multiple towns to get to our hostel, and even though it is also very touristy, I don’t know, it was really nice. Like, I didn’t actually pay to go into any of Shakespeare’s houses or anything, but I had a really good time walking around the town. I especially loved Anne Hatheway’s cottage because the grounds were just so peaceful. There was a “lavender maze” that was really just a patch of lavender in the shape of a heart with a bench in the center and I’m pretty sure I could have just sat there for hours. So yeah, Stratford is worth the visit, especially if you’re an English major, which I just so happen to be.

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Warwick Castle was the destination for Sunday and this was also beautiful and fun, although once again, very touristy. We walked into the entrance area and all the signs they had surrounding it made it seem like we were going to an amusement park rather than an old historic location, but worth the visit regardless. My favorite part of Warwick Castle was being able to walk the 533 steps up to the top of the tower. On top was a fantastic view as well as a lot of wind. When up there I had a moment when I was leaning over the edge on the railing and wind just kind of came of in a rush around me blowing my hair back and I was just looking out over the town with a great view and I involuntarily laughed out loud and smiled. Those are my favorite kind of moments, so when they happen, I tend to attribute them to the place they happened in.

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Overall it was a good weekend. Despite the rough start of a minimal amount of sleep and the anxiety I had at discovering what outfits I had packed the night before, the weekend was great. This could also be due to my friend Molly who puts up with me when I show up to get to the train slightly drunk, am extremely grumpy when I don’t have food in my body, and overall can be a bit of a brat. She’s a good one that Molly and we selfie wherever we go.

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London: My Heart Explodes from Happiness

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Let me start by saying, I never thought I would be able to go to London. In the sixth grade we all had to do a report on one country, an extensive report which we presented at the end of the year. I immediately knew I wanted to do the United Kingdom. I don’t know why I’ve always been drawn to England. I don’t know why I’ve always wanted to go so badly and even when people were asking me before I left, I didn’t really know what I was most excited for. But I’m here. I’m here with friends and making new friends and living in my dream every day and will continue to do so for three more months, that being said, on to London.

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When we got to London by train Saturday morning, we immediately went to our hostel and deposited our bags. We then took the tube (I love kind of sort of knowing how the tube works) to Westminster. Immediately when we walked up the stairs from the tube we were faced with Big Ben. Looking to the left there was the London Eye. Looking to the right was Westminster Abbey. We all just about lost it. I never thought I would actually get to go to London. I never even fathomed that it could be a possibility for me and I feel so overwhelmingly privileged to have experienced all I did this weekend. I don’t want to list it all out here, because that would be long and honestly not that fun to read. But I will add some pictures and let you know I nearly started crying while standing in qeue (so British) to get into Westminster. I was overwhelmed by all of it. By my good fortune and my luck and the history that I was about to be faced with. In fact, in Westminster, although I was presented with so many notable people’s tombs and remembrances and the ceiling is so beautiful I just wanted to lay down in look at it, I was especially struck by a random floor tile that was faded but clearly said 1729 on it. I was stepping on it. So many people had stepped on it before, I can’t even fathom that now.

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On Sunday night before heading back to the train back to school we decided to go back to Westminster one last time to see everything at night. It was there that I believe I had what could be called a perfect moment. We were walking on a bridge across from Big Ben, with the London Eye shining blue on the water and we walked past a teenage boy playing “Hallelujah” on his guitar and singing. It was in that moment that a rush of emotions went through me and I contemplated just how happy I was. This was the place I’ve always wanted to go and it wasn’t a disappointment. Although London may be one of the biggest cities for tourism in the world, there’s a reason this is the case. London is what I always imagined it would be and I’m so happy I was able to experience it.

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Also, a shout-out to the people I went with who made it even more enjoyable. This picture accurately describes the people in it.DSC_0081