Friday, April 27, 2012

CZECH me out

I didn't really know what to expect when I got off the plane in Prague. I don't really know anything about the Czech Republic except that they have great Swarozski crystals. That's about it. We found our way to our hostel which was in a sketchy area and there were homeless people outisde our gate and we all were a little weirded out. But once we got inside the gate, it wasn't terrible at all. It was fairly clean and fairly small so we got settled quickly. We were eager to go out even though it was a Sunday night so we struggled to find a bar that was open. 

GA was turning 21 at the stroke of midnight, so there was no choice but to go out and celebrate his awesomeness. Most of the bars we found were closed so we continued to wander around until we found an Irish Pub but they closed at 1 am so we had to find another bar. The waitress at the Irish pub spoke perfect english because she has family in Oregon and visits there often. She was quite the chatter-box and talked to us for over 20 minutes straight about her life, Prague life, American life, party life, etc. It was an ongoing ramble of words that we all just smiled and nodded to. She was very nice but the level of her chattiness was not something we were prepared for after a full day of travel. So we left the bar after our one beer and two bags of chips and walked down-town. It was freezing outside and we were all a little grumpy from traveling and being so cold so we got pulled into the first bar that we could find which was actually not a bar, but a strip club. 

I've never been to a strip club before, and neither had Kels or Steph so we were curious but definitely weirded out. We went straight to the bar part of the club and ordered a beer. A bunch of guys from England were there for a bachelor party so they approached us and asked us what we were doing in there. When they found out it was GA's birthday, the groom-to-be (who was dressed in drag) grinded on GA and made a bit of a scene. Out of all the English men, Liam was the most memorable. He asked LA who he was dating out of me and Kels because he immediately assumed GA and Steph were dating because they are both Asian. LA said neither but then Liam thought he was lying so he paired me with LA saying: "I can feel there is something between you two, I can feel it." He then proceeded to give LA and I relationship advice for fifteen straight minutes, holding both of our hands together. It ended in Liam forcing LA to get down on one knee and propose to me using one of my rings. Oh dear lord. Steph, GA, and Kels were dyingggg with laughter because LA and I have been fighting almost non-stop since we arrived. He really drives me insane. So the fact that he was forced to propose and that we were forced to listen to relationship advice was...difficult or bizarre or a riot. You pick the word. It was quite the story. They Englishmen shifted to another bar, so the five of us sat down at a table. There were girls dancing on poles in lingerie which wasn't too terrible, I just thought back to my days in Basic Drawing and Painting classes when we had nude models. I was focusing on imagining painting them and where the light was hitting and the contours of their skin. Then things got a little graphic with a girl-on-girl show and my jaw dropped and I was taken aback. LA and GA watched my face instead of the show because they said that I was more interesting than the girls. I was shocked. We were all sober and I was not prepared to handle that. We left the bar immediately and went straight back to the hostel. That was... it was... yeah. A story. That was quite the story.

The next morning we woke up late and grabbed brunch at a traditional czech restaurant that was right by our hostel. I ate beef sirloin in a vegetable cream sauce with bread dumblings. It's a very traditional dish and only cost 98 Czech Crowns which translates roughly to 4 euros. It was unexpectedly delicious. There was whipped cream and jam on the meat which I just kind of pushed to the side, but the sirloin and the sauce and the bread dumplings which taste like steamed bread (like the outside of a BBQ steamed pork bun from a dim sum restaurant) was amazing. I was thouroughly happy and satisfied. Huge bummer is that Kels wasn't able to join us for lunch or for the rest of the day because she felt so sick she needed to stay at the hostel and rest up. Poor girl. Three down and two to go. GA, Kels, and I are all sick and LA and Steph have resisted the sickness so far. We all have hacking coughs and sore throats. It could be worse but we are going through cough drops like candy and taking all the medicine possible that we packed, codine, nyquil, dayquil, nasal decongestants, advil, etc-- anything that can let us handle a busy day and not feel too terrible. After lunch we went to a beer tasting at a restaurant that brews all their own beer. The whole restaurant is filled with the aromas of hops and barley. It was rather strong and not to my liking, but I really enjoyed the beer. We tried banana beer, coffee beer, nettle beer, dark beer, wheat beer, light beer, wild cherry beer, etc. It was really cool. My favorite beer was the banana beer. It tasted just like a banana flavored laffy taffy and was positively divine. Who knew beer could be that scrumptous? We ordered "beer cheese" and "marinated sausage" off of the menu to eat in between each beer sample so we could cleanse our palatte. Too bad we suck at life and ordered the most disgusting things possible. The cheese was rancid and I refused to try it because just smelling in made me nauceous. And the marinated sausage looked like a raw can of spam. Yuck. I tried a little bite but none of us could really stomach it. We left almost the entire hunk of cheese and chunk of sausage on the plate when we left.

After the beer tasting we wandered around our side of town and went into a second hand store where I bought an awesome white and black striped sweater and then we went into an antique store. LA was seriously considering buying a type writer because he desperately wants one. He imagines how bad-ass he would look typing away on a type writer in an Iowa City coffee shop. Typical LA. But he resisted the urge to buy it because it would be so difficult to transport and it'd be pretty impractical to buy one in Prague when we still have Budapest to go. Traveling with that thing would have been hell. 

After the beer tasting, we wandered into the old town square and went out in search of "the literary coffee shop" but we couldn't find it so we just stopped at the astronomical clock where there was an Easter celebration going on. Little wooden shops were set up around the clock tower and were selling souvenirs and fresh Czech food. Kels and I split lots of desert treats and we were happy happy happy. She loves chocolate and asked for extra chocolate on everything we ordered. One day Kelsey ate an entire jar of nutella in one sitting. That girl is OBSESSED. 

From the astronomical clock there was a trumpeter playing songs and a wedding was going on so the square was full of people looking up. The astronomical clock was the most intricate clock I have ever seen, having multiple faces of wood and iron and glass and had the 12 signs of the Zodiac inscribed on it. It was stunning. Lots of the shops that we wandered into were filled with marionettes, wooden dolls, glass art, and small intricate works of wood and glass. The czech people are true artisans. I was incredibly impressed by their level of skill.

We went back to the hostel and checked up on Kels who was soundly sleeping thanks to some Codine that LA provided her with. We woke her up-- or actually startled her awake from entering the room and we got ready for dinner. GA has a friend who lives in Prague and was born and raised here in the Czech republic. His name is Honza and he studied abroad for a year of highschool at GA's school back in the states. Honza and GA became best friends over that year and GA couldn't stop talking about how excited he was to finally get to see him again. Honza was meeting us for dinner and drinks that night to celebrate GA's 21st. Over dinner, Honza proved himself to be an incredibly intelligent individual quoting Steve Jobs and speaking about nuclear energy versus wind energy amongst other smart-topics. It caught me a little off guard. He's a cyber-robotics technology major or something of that sort-- which just sounds super nerdy and geniusy, but super awesome too. So he talked and talked over dinner and we all were just kind of listening in awe. No one has talked to us like that over these last two months and it's not what we expected from GA's best friend from his senior year of high school. Honza  was more than we bargained for-- in a wonderful way. 

We also acquired an Australian girl, Jay, to come with us out to the bars. She's beautiful and sweet and traveling europe for 5 months with her best friend. She's only 18. 5 months with one backpack and one friend. Now that's bravery.

After dinner we went to THE PUB, which is the name of a bar that has individual taps on every table and it's a huge competition in between each table to see who can drink more beer. There's a digital scoreboard on every table and also a giant scoreboard projected onto a wall. Talk about a great idea. That could get dangerous back in the states though, beer competition? Yikes. We all passively sipped the beer and found ourselves in second to last place out of 20 tables or so. We arrived at the bar rather late for czech standards so we couldn't catch up to the 52 beers of other tables. I sat in between Kels and Honza and was happy to be surrounded by friends. Honza and I had an incredibly intellectually stimulating conversation. It was so refreshing to be able to elevate my vernacular from concersational colloquialisms to a more sophisticated diction. I haven't been able to do that in awhile. I'm not implying that the people I'm around in Greece aren't intelligent, they are! It's just that Honza presents himself as an intellectual and is unhindered and unafraid to come off as one.  Therefore, it was comfortable to speak as he speaks. We spoke mainly about philosophy and psychology and other related topics. He had a lot to say that I really respected. We live our lives conversely, his day-to-day life is filled with logic and reason so he keeps his personal life void of it, whereas I life a creative life and choose to put more logic and analysis in my personal life. It's a balance between the both. I think I like how he treats his personal life much better, he chooses not to figure things out about people and with that active choice to not know, he finds peace. I find that I choose to search and search for answers revolving around peoples decisions and choices to try to understand them better and how I can be a better friend to them. Not knowing is frustrating and knowing provides me with varying levels of frustration as well. Honza lives smarter than me. When I came home, I jotted down a few "pearls of wisdom" he bestowed upon me. He really got me thinking. I couldn't be more appreciative for all he said. 

The next day was a full day of exploring Prague. It was one of the best days of the trip as well. TODAY, I FELL IN LOVE WITH PRAGUE.

We woke up earlier than normal around 9 am and headed straight out to the center of the city. We walked down the main street and went into H&M (we're going to an H&M in every country) and a couple other stores. We grabbed a hot dog at "the best hot dog stand in the city." It was delicious. Their hot-dogs are normal but but inside a small bagette with spicy mustard and ketchup-- delicious! We grabbed a couple pastries from an open air market and we were all surprised by how delicious everything was. Yum yummy. 

After our food extravaganza, we took the train into the center and walked across the Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) which connects the Old town with the Kesser town. It was filled with musicians, painters, and vendors. I bought a hand-made leather necklace that is intricate and beautiful. I was very happy with that purchase. I passed many other jewelry vendors, wood vendors, painting vendors, photography vendors, etc. There was a live band playing some upbeat music with a trumpet and guitars and all that jazz. I also rubbed a statue that when you rub it, it's good luck and a wish of yours will be granted. Right in front of that statue, I lost the lens cap to my Canon and was ticked off. Without that lens cap, my lens could get scratched and that would be NO BUENO. 

We found the Lennon Wall, filled with quotes and paintings and drawings. We took a million photos in front of it because who could ask for a better backdrop? 

After the Lennon wall we were all ready for lunch and we grabbed lunch at a Bagel shop, which was BEYOND DELICIOUS. We were all incredibly, almost deliriously, happy to have bagels and for it to be so delicious. I got french toast bagel with REAL maple syrup. It was heaven. I also had a bottomless cup of coffee and it's amazing what some caffeine can do for a girl. Woo, I felt so chipper and happy after a couple cups-- just what the doctor ordered. 

After lunch we went to St. Vitus cathedral and then enjoyed sitting on the church's steps. It was sunny and warm and our group loves to soak up the sun on steps. It's our thing :) After soaking up some sun, we visited the Prague castle. It's a fairy tale castle up on the hill overlooking the city. It was beautiful and reminded me of my time in Romania. We got tickets to walk around the castle so we saw old suits of armor and shields and weapons. We went into the church, which was stunning, but compared to the sistine chapel and all the other churches in Italy, it doesn't quite compare. The stained glass was glorious though. The castle church was built in the 13th century but the stained glass was relatively new, installed in the 1920s. 

After the castle, we went to the Museum of Young Art. The boys opted out for it and headed for the hostel. The Museum for Young Art was not what I bargained for. It was strange. Theart was very much about the message, less about the art itself. I'll let the photographs speak for themselves...

Next, we decided to go to an infamous ICE BAR. The bar is kept at -5 degrees you have to wear special coats and gloves to go inside it. It's freezing in there. You can only stay in there for 20 minutes and your drinks are served in cups made completely of ice. The entire room is made completely and absolutely out of ice. It was really cool but there was only one other couple in there with us so it was a bummer that it wasn't bumpin' but it was still a fabulous photo op which we took full advantage of.

Once we were done freezing our butts of at the Ice Bar, we headed back to our hostel to scoop up the boys for din-din and then for party time. We went out to a traditional Czech dinner again. It's just so delicious, why would we stop eating it? I know I couldn't eat such a heavy, filling meal 24/7, but I can definitely do it a few days in a row. GA ordered Kangaroo and I tried a bite, it was kind of like steak, just a little chewier. I didn't mind it. When Kelsey saw "Kangaroo fillet" on the menu she asked, "what's kangaroo fill-it?" (pronounced as such.) We all laughed and enjoyed her pronunciation mistake and it quickly became a quote of the trip. Honza joined us for dinner again and I greatly enjoyed his presence once again. Such a bummer he has class during the day and isn't able to explore the city with us.

Kelsey and Stephanie didn't feel like going out, so I was the lone girl out with the guys. We started out just the four of us: Honza, GA, LA, and me at a sitting bar. We had a little booth to ourselves so we had a beer and chit-chatted. Honza's room mate Justin and his cousin Katerina joined us after a bit and we headed down town to look for a fun bar. Justin and I walked with each other on the walk and we had a wonderful conversation about Prague and about America. He doesn't speak English nearly as well as Honza, but he speaks well enough that we can communicate relatively easily. Justin was such a sweet guy. Katerina is beautiful and funny, she has a wonderful smile and is great company. She was bold and wore giant high heels which was definitely a mistake after all the walking we ended up doing. So... we went to a dancing club but it was pretty dead so we walked right out, we went to bar number 2 and it was pretty dead so we walked right out, then bar number three was fairly dead but we were all sick of wandering, so we settled in at a high table. I had told Honza earlier in the evening that Mojitos are my favorite drink and he ordered a gigantic Mojito-bucket for the table. It was very sweet of him. We all sipped the delicious drink and danced a bit. Honza had told me the other night that he was in the mood to dance and promised me to show off his skills the following night (tonight). I was expecting him to be an alright dancer. He's a brainiac. Seriously, on the verge of being a genius. I didn't expect him to have any sort of moves. But he does. Yet another thing that Honza is great at. He's such a fun dancer, he has a good sense of rhythm and his move are all goofy, but not silly. They're just.... fun. For a bit we tangoed and twirled and it was a blast. Katerina and Justin were dancing with us and GA for awhile too. LA was hitting on some locals, so he just did his own thing. But I loved dancing, I loved the night. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful, wonderful trip to Prague.

I AMsterdam [Part 2]

After a long bus ride from London back to Amsterdam, we arrived to the Flying Pig two hours earlier than we planned. Instead of arriving at 9:30 am, when the boys were expecting us, we arrived at 7:30 am. Luckily, the guy at the Flying Pig desk was a sweetheart and let us sit in the coffee shop area until LA & GA woke up. We snuck upstairs after a couple hours of waiting and took turns taking showers. We got ready relatively leisurely. The guys were feeling super sick, both LA and GA-- all 5 of us have finally fallen prey to the illness-- so the guys stayed behind. However, all 5 of us did go out for breakfast at an Irish pub and Kelsey and I split a "traditional Irish breakfast" of toast, sausage, fried egg, and black and white pudding. After breakfast, the guys headed back to the hostel and Kelsey, Stephanie, and I all headed over to the Van Gogh Museum. On the walk, we stopped at grabbed waffles which I was not expecting to be as positively delicious as it was. I think they put chunks of sugar inside of the batter so when they cook it, it has pockets of extra sweetness. It's either that or some sort of magical ingredient that makes it the best waffle I've ever had in my life.

I mean, just look at how happy I look? Kelsey talked me into buying some fashion glasses in London so you get to preview my new look in the above photo too.

Anyways, we went to the Van Gogh museum and I was blown away. I was expecting to see just Van Gogh paintings and only Van Gogh paintings, but no, there was a huge collection of other artist's work as well. I got to see Gauguin, Monet, Manet, Toulouse Latrec,  Cezanne, etc, etc! It was incredible. I just took an exam a few weeks ago on these exact paintings that I'm standing face to face, inches from! It's just so cool to be that close to such famous works of art that I have studied the ins and outs of! 

The coolest thing about the Van Gogh paintings themselves was truly being so close to them. I have always appreciated Van Gogh's art, who doesn't love and adore starry night? However, one of the most  amazing aspects of Van Gogh's paintings are the texture of them. His paint is so thick that almost creates a relief out of the canvas. He has a choppy, quick brushstroke that provides swirling movement to his work. He didn't always paint like he painted in Starry Night or with the Sunflowers, he painted with the classical, styles as well, portraying things realistically. It was amazing to walk from room to room to see his style change and develop. Wow, just wow. It was very humbling to see his progress and how he finally settled in his own unique style. He painted reality in his own special way, with his own sense of rhythm and flow. He used rich, thick colors that celebrated his surroundings and nature itself. The best thing was seeing the surface made out of color, they are more than just paintings, they are thick and textured and complex. To me, it was as beautiful as seeing the Trevi fountain in Rome. 

I saw most his his famous works of art, the skeleton smoking a cigar, the irisis, the sunflowers, the night cafe, his vineyards, etc etc. However, I didn't get to see Starry night. It is housed in NY and I was seriously bummed that I didn't get to see it. But now I have one more reason to visit NY... I need to get myself out there. Traveling Europe has reminded me just how little of the United States I've seen. People I meet at hostels or around the foreign cities, will say! Oh I've been to the States once, I went to Florida, have you ever been there? It's embarrassing when I answer "No, I haven't." But here I am all the way in Holland? I need to see more of the states, I've never even been to the south at all. Unless you want to count Arizona, but that barely counts. The only states I've been to are: California, Oregon, Washington D.C., Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Illinois. That's 13 states for you. That's not super pathetic, but it's not impressive either. I have friends who go to school in or who live in almost every state, I need to go visit them. I just made my class schedule for Fall 2012 back at University of Iowa and I only have classes Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday so that means 5 day weekends! And that means plenty of time to pop over to Delaware to visit Dana or up to Boston to visit Kelsey and Steph or down to New Orleans to visit Lauren. This needs to happen. Anyways, I digress.

The rest of the afternoon we spent wandering.. we met up with the guys much later and then we caught our flight to Prague. 

One sad fact is that my boots I brought here from America, my boots that I have worn almost every single day so far in Greece died. (Luckily, I bought 4 new pairs of shoes in London so I was ready to make the change.) My boots had been ripping and tearing and it was no bueno, but the sole of the shoe finally cracked and every step I took felt like I was stepping on a nail, so they had to be trashed. Let me just show you up close and personal the wear and tear my boots had suffered. They lived a good life, a long life, but it was time they were finally put to rest. 

We're all off to Prague now, minus my trusty ol' boots...  So here we go!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

mind the gap! in La-La-London

London is nothing like I expected. When I hear London I picture dreary weather and lots of clouds and fish and chips.

Stephanie, Kelsey, and I decided to break off from the guys for a 2 day excursion to London while the boys would stay behind in Amsterdam. We're actually saving money by leaving Amsterdam because the Flying Pig Hostel is incredibly expensive. So, we're saving money by seeing another country. I think we're winning. This girl-trip came at the absolute perfect time. We were all getting a little tense from being travel weary and from mixing different priorities and schedules and whatnot. So breaking off from the boys was a supremely good idea.

The bus ride was jolty and despite taking a couple Nyquil, I did not sleep soundly. I let Steph and Kelsey sit together and my bus passenger was a kind 30-ish-year-old French man who is currently living in London. Within ten minutes of exchanging the typical bus-conversation-initial-pleasantries he came out and told me he was bi-polar. Whoa there turbo. I was a little alarmed but not severely. I was just a little taken aback that within 10 minutes of knowing me he felt it was necessary to share such information with his bus passenger. To be honest, this is not the first time something like this has happened to me, but I still was a little on edge during that 8 hour bus ride.

We arrived in London and had absolutely no difficulties finding our hostel. We caught the tram and then found our hostel within ten minutes. Easy peasy. It was eight in the morning when we arrived at our hostel and we couldn't check in until 11 and the wouldn't let us chill in the lobby until 9:30 so we found a currency-exchange place for Kelsey and an ATM for Stephanie and me and then we got ham and cheese croissants and tea at a little nook n' cranny breakfast shop called Cafe Roma. Naturally, I spilled half of my tea on my lap and across the table. Luckily the tea dodged everyone else and our food but it still spilled. I believe this is the third time I've had a massive spill on this trip. Number one was in Rome when rolled a red-sauced-gnocchi down my pink blouse and number two was when I was in Rome and dripped pizza Greece down my teal top. I'm on quite the winning streak here.

After the croissants and tea, we still had some time to kill so we bought some post cards from a souvenir shop and wandered into a coffee shop where I got a latte and we had some solid conversation. Our girl-talk got more intense than I thought delving into our childhood and our relationships with our siblings and other interesting topics as such. It was perfect. Just what I needed, some good girl talk.

Our hostel is in a super nice area of town, surrounded by big white buildings and lots of little coffee shops and restaurants. We have our own bathroom in our hostel and only one random woman in our room. It's wonderful not to be surrounded by random people, to have a 6 person room almost to ourselves.

London is a push and pull of modern and historical architecture. There are castles and tall Greek inspired churches and lots of red brick classic buildings. But turn around and you see the Swiss egg and the shard and lots of glass sky scrapers. It's an interesting blend that compliments each other quite well. So Kelsey, Stephanie, and I had a day that was full of seeing the sites. We saw the Swiss Egg, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Tate Modern, Millennium Bridge, Saint Paul's Cathedral, the Shard, and Borough Market. The Swiss egg was captivating. It wasn't even part of our "to-do" list but the metro dropped us off right around there and when I saw it I was drawn to it. I had to walk closer to it to check it out. It's a stunning piece of architecture and art, it's twisting movements of glass it beautiful. After we got close enough that I was satisfied we decided to try to find lunch. We were in the business district and every restaurant we looked at was filled with men in suits. We decided to walk a little farther and we stumbled into a little fish and chips place that was also filled with men in suits but it was much more quaint. The girls got fish and chips and I got a corned beef sandwich. It was cool to be in this little "you'd never found it if you looked for it" restaurant surrounded by English people. Not a single tourist was in the place and I doubt they ever really go there unless they stumble in there like us. I didn't particularly like my food but the girls were happy to get their fish n' chips-- a London tradition.

The Tower Bridge reminded me of a Disneyland bridge. It was more colorful than normal bridges and was ornate and pretty. I didn't think it quite fit with the whole classy-london-feel but I still thought it was cool. On our walk to it, we were serenaded by a little high school orchestra in the park. How cute. 

After the bridge, we got a little turned around but we finally found our way to the Borough Market. All the aromas were tantalizing and we immediately regretted not having our lunch there at the market. We indulged in some sweets though, I got a slab of carrot cake and Kelsey and Steph split a piece of "Lemington" cake which apparently is an Australian recipe. They guys who were working the sweet booth were both very interested in learning our thoughts on London and if we were enjoying our stay. It's great to meet people who are genuinely interested in "tourists," they don't just brush them under the rug or stick their noses up to them. It's frustrating that some countries have zero interest in meeting people who are visiting their countries. All I want to do when I travel is meet people from the county I'm in and getting to know about their culture, traditions, and mannerisms from an actual local. How can you feel as if you've truly BEEN to a country if you don't meet any locals?

After the market we went to Tate Modern which was I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E. I love modern art so so so much. It's just... mind blowing. Admission was free into the Tate and there was floor after floor of great paintings and installations. I'll let the photographs speak for themselves.
red stairs room at Tate
installation at the Tate
Sculpture at the Tate

Millennium bridge has a really progressive, artistic, modern design which makes perfect sense since it leads to and from the Tate. We took in and walked to Saint Pauls Cathedral which was pretty, but nothing as astounding as the churchs in Italy. We sat on the cathedral's steps for a bit and enjoyed some sun. We then grabbed smoothies and some free wi-fi and then meandered back to our hostel area to grab dinner. We got Thai food which was fairly crappy and tasted like Chinese food but it was still good to get some different flavors and spices than we normally get. After that we went back to the hostel and crashed because we were all drained from a busy day.

millenium bridge

St. Pauls Cathedral

red curry!
We woke up fairly early and grabbed a free breakfast downstairs of toast and jam and terrible coffee which I took 2 sips of and then threw out. We packed up and stored our bags and headed out for our final day in London. We saw the London Eye, Abbey Road, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and the Kensington Gardens. The London Eye was even bigger than I imagined. It cost about 30 euros to ride it so we weren't willing to thrown down that kind of cash, so we just took pictures of it. Abbey Road was a trip! We got there pretty early in the morning so it wasn't swarming with tourists yet. We tried to take the classic Beatle's photo multiple times but it was a huge struggle because traffic was a little thick and dodging cars was a wee bit terrifying. Kelsey almost got destroyed by a bus. We got a fairly decent photo though. We took some time looking at the "graffiti wall" in front of Abbey Records and took some artsy photos with the graffiti art.

We also got to go to Platform 9 3/4. I felt like such a Harry Potter nerd and I LOVED every minute of it! One ticket on the Hogwarts Express please!

Buckingham palace was disappointing. We were all a little taken aback at how lack-luster it was compared to all the other incredible buildings we've seen so far. The coolest part of it was the guards and the gate, but other than that the building was fairly bland. Big Ben was gorgeous and huge and all it's cracked up to be. The Palace of Westminster added to the beauty of course. Now that's what's up.

The Kensington gardens were pretty, Steph is obsessed with flowers so she was oohing-and-ahhing the entire time. I actually think I find leaves to be more beautiful than flowers. Flowers have the kind of beauty that is expected. We assume flowers are beautiful simply because they are flowers. Leaves stun us with their beauty. Every leaf is bursting with an individualized beauty that is much more difficult to be captured in painting. Every rose resembles just about every other rose out there, but I find much more specific beauty in leaves. Anyways, random tangent...

StephKels, and I all got Lunch at a typical "London Pub" and I ordered a huge hamburger which was incredibly satisfying. After lunch Steph was craving a good shopping trip and we WERE in the area so she convinced me and Kels to go with her. We both resisted the idea at first because we weren't in the mood and because the Pound is so so much more expensive than the Euro or the dollar. We just didn't want to have to deal with that terrible conversion rate. But we went with her. And we ended up buying more things than she did! We both found cute headbands at the first store on sale for 1 pound, so we grabbed one each. Then at the next store, Primark, we went crazy. The store itself was like Walmart on Black Friday. It was SWARMING with bodies. Every square foot of the 2 story store had at least 2 bodies in it. It was terrifying. I felt like I couldn't breathe in there. There were lots of cheap and cute stuff (similar to Forever 21) but we were too intimidated to try anything on so Kels and I went up to shoes and I don't know if I've ever had a more synchronized shopping buddy. I would go and grab a few shoes to try on while she was trying on some shoes at our little "chair" area, so we would take turns sitting in the chair and going to get shoes. If she needed something in a different size I'd go get it for her on my shoe-run and vice versa. It was like shoe magic. I ended up buying 4 pairs of shoes and Kels got 3. I got 1 pair of gold gladiators, 1 pair of shower flip flops, 1 pair of tribal print shoes to walk around in, and 1 pair of linen and lace slip-ons that will be perfect for summer days. I got all 4 shoes for only 18 pounds. Now that is what I call winning.

Shopping was a blast and we all felt so accomplished and satisfied after it. We went back to our hostel area so we could be closer to home for our 7 pm curfew so we could catch our bus in time. We grabbed apple pie and chocolate truffle ice cream and sat outside the shop for awhile. We then walked down the road in search of a restaurant and stumbled into a second hand store. We got lost in the books and I felt so drawn to literature because buying books in a second-hand bookstore just feels so... classy and classic London.  I bought two books, Girl with the Pearl Earring and Death of a Salesman.

It was only 5 pm and we had two more hours to kill so we went into Whiskie's, a traditional London pub, and sat in a back booth for the full two hours going over our life stories over English Steak and Ale pies and a big pitcher of Pimms. After a long dinner, we grabbed our stuff from the hostel and caught the bus back to Amsterdam.