So I'm just going to pretend that the reason I haven't updated in so long is because it drove Andy nuts and I thought it was funny. I don't really have a legitimate reason, though, so I'm just going to skip the making an excuse part and just say I'm sorry.
Wow, so the last time I updated was before I went on spring break. Ok. Get ready for a long post.
The last week before spring break, I had a couple papers and presentations to do, so my life wasn't really that exciting. However, I was able to find time to pull an April Fools' Day prank. Yes, I am very proud of myself. Carrie hates pictures and posters where it looks like the people are staring straight at you, where their eyes "follow" you. I still had a couple magazines that I had gotten at the airport, so I cut out all the pictures I could find of people staring at the camera. I also found an ad for colored contact lenses, which was perfect with all the pictures of eyes. Louise got Carrie to go into town with her, and I tricked Carrie into letting me stay in her room. I covered her room with the pictures and hid them all over. Unfortunately, I couldn't be there when she opened the door to her room, but her reaction afterwords was pretty good.
That was Wednesday, April 1st. On Friday, the 3rd, I turned in my last midterm and was free for two weeks! Carrie's mom, Mrs. Minnick, had arrived the day before. As soon as I was done, we went to Giant's Causeway, this AMAZING natural rock formation. There are all these rock columns sticking up out of the hillsides, ground, and water, and they're all shaped like hexagons. It's bizarre, but absolutely beautiful. It's also a good place to go hiking (bonus). There are all sorts of legends about the place, most of them dealing with a giant who lived there and built it to fight off a Scottish giant. There's really no way to describe it- you have to see the pictures (which will be up soon).
The next morning, Mrs. Minnick, Carrie, and I left Coleraine to go to Scotland. Our flight landed in Glasgow, but we saw very little of it as we ran to catch a train to Edinburgh. Most of that day was spent traveling. The next day, Palm Sunday, we were able to relax and do a lot of exploring. I absolutely loved Edinburgh- there's so much history and beauty there! We first went to Edinburgh Castle, an ancient fortress on one of the highest points of the city. The Castle was built around 1100, but there had been people living on that hill since 900 BC, and there had been a fortress there since 600 AD. The Scottish royalty lived there for centuries. It was amazing to acutally be in the middle of all that history! We were able to walk around most of the castle, and they did a really good job of setting up interesting historical exhibits. Afterwards, we walked across the city to Holyrood Palace, another extremely old palace. Mary, Queen of Scots, actually switched back and forth between living in the Palace and the Castle. The British royal family actually stays in Holyrood when they come to Scotland. We toured the inside of the Palace and walked around the gardens outside. We were also able to see the Scottish crown jewels. Later that night, we took a bus down to the harbor and ate at an Italian restaurant that was on a boat. It was a really fun day, but it was long. All of us were exhausted that night.
The next day we caught a flight down to Cardiff, Wales. We promptly took a long detour on the bus to our hotel (we got on the one going the opposite direction), but at least it gave us a chance to see some of the city. There was so much random "modern" artwork scattered around the city. Carrie enjoyed it, but I guess I just don't have much of an eye for it. There was a Doctor Who museum near our hotel, so of course Carrie and I had to go check that out. We were very close to the Bay area, so we walked around there for a while. It was really pretty, but it was also quite built up with shopping and dining areas. Later that day, we went to Cardiff Castle. It was really interesting- the castle's Keep is still intact, surrounded by a moat and everything. We toured the castle and climbed up to the top of the Keep. It was raining and the stone steps were quite slippery, but the view from the top was beautiful. The rain did make it harder to see (and to enjoy what we were seeing). That evening, we went to this cool Turkish restaurant called Bosphorus. It's built on a pier that juts out into the Bay, and the outer walls of the restaurant are glass. It was a really interesting atmosphere, and the food was fantastic.
The next day, Tuesday the 7th, felt a bit stressful. We traveled from Cardiff to London, and it felt as though we kept getting on the wrong bus, missing our train stop, or going to the wrong hotel. When we finally arrived at our hotel, it looked a bit sketchy. Not horrible, but grungy. That evening, we tried to relax; we found a Pizza Hut and did some shopping. We also vented some of our stress out in a list of things that Europeans "don't believe in." I'll post the list as my last entry- but please remember how frustrated we were when we compiled this list.
Wednesday was our first full day in London. We were able to see a bit of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, but not much. The crowd stretched from the gates, across the street, and way back. We saw Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Big Ben, St. Margaret's church, and the British museum (where we met Beca and Teresa, two of Carrie's friends that would go to Rome with us). We walked around the museum for a while, then had fish and chips for dinner. We went shopping afterwards, and Carrie and I both got dresses. The next morning, we bought tickets to Les Miserables for that evening. We also switched hotels- the new one was incredible. It was so nice and clean and comfortable. The rooms were very small, but the prices were lower, so it turned out to be a pretty good deal. We tried to see Madame Toussaud's Wax Museum, but they were having some sort of family promotion, and the line to get in was stretched around the block. We did go see the Victoria and Albert Museum, which was filled with old artifacts from ancient Greece, Rome, and the mid-East, as well as a fashion exhibit and lots of European antiques. We ate an early dinner, got dressed up in our new dresses, and went to see Les Mis at the Queen's Theatre. It was incredible- the company did an amazing job.
Friday, we toured the Globe Theatre, saw the London bridge, the Millenium bridge, and the Tower bridge, toured the Tower of London, and tried to tour the Tate (but it cost money). We also saw St. Paul's Cathedral, but we weren't able to tour it because it was Good Friday. It was a really fun day, but really busy. I loved seeing the Globe, and I think I would have enjoyed seeing the Tower of London, but the place was absolutely packed with spring vacationers. I was surprised at how old some of the gates in the Tower were- some of them dated back to the 11th century.
Mrs. Minnick left to go back to the US early Saturday morning, so Carrie and I were on our own the rest of the day. We saw Piccadilly Circus, Covent Gardens, and Buckingham Palace (this time, the crowds weren't nearly as big) before we left for the airport. Turns out that Piccadilly Circus isn't really a circus, and Covent Gardens aren't gardens. Piccadilly Circus is just a square with monuments and statues a short distance away from an intersection with two really busy streets, and Covent Gardens is a huge indoor/outdoor marketplace. We got to the airport with plenty of time, thankfully, because the computers were down for our airline and there was an inadequate number of airline workers. We arrived in Milan late that night, and were glad to finally find our hostel and go to bed.
The next morning, Easter Sunday, Carrie and I slept in for a while. We had originally planned to find a local church to attend service, but ended up just reading a few Bible passages in our hotel room instead. We spent most of the day waiting in the airport for our flight to Rome. Beca and Teresa met us at the airport, and we arrived in Rome that evening. Our hotel ended up being on the outskirts of the city, but we were able to see more of the city that way. On Monday, we met up with one of Teresa's friends that lives in Rome so that she could give us a tour of the city. We saw the outside of the Colosseum and some of the old churches nearby, as well as the Pantheon. It was really cool to be able to have a local show us around, but Carrie and I split off from them after a bit because we were too tired to keep up. We enjoyed just slowly wandering around, eating gelato and pizza (I actually think American pizza is better than Italian pizza- does that make me uncultured?). That evening there was a misunderstanding with the bus driver, so we ended up staying in the city an extra two hours, but it gave us a good excuse to go get more gelato. That night we went to bed fairly early and got about ten hours of sleep- it felt incredible. I had so much more energy the next morning!
Tuesday, Beca, Teresa, Carrie, and I saw the Spanish steps, the Trevi Fountain, rode one of those four person cart-bike things through a park, saw the Casa de Popollo, and walked to the Vatican to see St. Peter's Square and Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican museum. It was a lot to take in, but I loved it. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, perfect for taking pictures. I wish I could describe the sights in detail, but words just can't do it justice. I'll post pictures soon! Dinner that evening was an interesting experience. The restaurants are crammed next to each other and across the street from each other, so the hosts of the respective restaurants compete with each other to grab potential customers before the other guy can get them. It ended up being slightly awkward when we turned down one restaurant and ate at another just down the street- the host of the spurned restaurant kept looking at our table. In any case, it was fun to watch the antics of the waiters and hosts. We were given complementary champagne with our meals, so I had my first taste. I must admit, I prefer sparkling grape juice.
Wednesday was our last day in Rome and the last day of Carrie's and my trip. We went back to the Colosseum and toured the inside. I always knew that the Colosseum was huge, but it didn't really register just how big it is until I saw the inside. It was strange to think about how many people had walked over the same stones- not just tourists and visitors to the Colosseum, but ancient people as well. After a couple hours, we went to a park across the street to rest and sit in the shade. Carrie and I wanted to shop a bit to get some souvenirs, and then we all ate one last authentic Italian meal (pizza again). Because I thanked the waiter in Italian, he thought I was fluent in the language and dubbed me "Miss Italy." I must have good pronunciation of "grazie" or something...
Early that evening, we all took a train to the airport, where Carrie and I caught our flight back to Belfast, and Beca and Teresa headed to the beach. Carrie and I landed in Belfast around midnight, but unfortunately that was after the busses and trains stopped running, so we were forced to spend the night in the airport. Neither of us slept- we both watched movies on Carrie's iPod. We also met two German girls who were also forced to spend the night in the airport, as they had an early morning flight. They were really excited when they found out that Carrie and I were Christians, and we talked for a while. They were both really warm and friendly. Eventually, they left to catch their flight, and Carrie and I were able to take a taxi to the train station. We finally arrived back at the university around 8:30, and slept most of the day. The remaining three days of our break was spent relaxing and working on papers and presentations.
Overall, I really enjoyed my trip. I loved getting to spend time with Carrie and her mom, as well as Beca and Teresa, and we all traveled well together. None of us really fought with the others- we all got along pretty well. The history of all the different places fascinated me, and I feel like it gave me a better foundation for my studies (it's true, as nerdy as it sounds). The atmosphere in all of the places was different, but that was part of what made it so fun and interesting. Having gelato two or three times a day in Rome was also a highlight.
This entry is already really long, so I'm going to end it now and make a separate post about the rest of my time here. Stay tuned!
Lots of love and hugs!