Monday, March 31, 2014

Winding Down


This week has been pretty great and despite feeling like I don't have much to tell you, I'm sure I'll think of things as I'm writing this out.

Thursday was my last day of Film Theories and Creative Writing. We learned about Bollywood in Film Theories and read our "What Happens in Paris" themed scripts in Creative Writing. It was a good wrap-up for both courses and I honestly can't believe that they're already over! Modern America and Photographing London end tomorrow too so after that I'll have no more classes. I have a paper due on April 10th and one more due on April 30th. Not too shabby, huh? Although I will admit that I've been struggling to get research done for those papers. I have no motivation! Especially with the weather being so warm lately.

I finished my photo project this week and my idea was to photograph study abroad students holding signs that say where they're from and how much they're spending on coming to London for the semester. My volunteers were great and they all met up with me in various places around the city to take pictures. Most of them guessed at how much they'd be spending this semester and I can't blame them because I haven't totaled up my expenses either.

On Friday evening, Anna and I went to Riverside Studios in Hammersmith to see a live taping of "Sweat the Small Stuff," which is a comedy panel show broadcast on BBC Three, presented by Nick Grimshaw, featuring team captains Melvin O'Doom and Rochelle Humes (Wikipedia).

I signed up on Applause Store's website back in January after one of the Arcadia staff members mentioned how handy it is if you want free tickets to show recordings in London. I made sure that my name was on the reserves list for "Sweat the Small Stuff" because I love Nick Grimshaw. I first heard about him when I started liking One Direction because he often interviews them on his radio show and he is best friends with Harry Styles. I really enjoy watching and listening to his interviews with celebrities because he's really funny, down-to-earth and good at his job.

I received an e-mail a few weeks back saying that the show was booking and that two dates were available for ticket requests. I requested two tickets and the next morning I received another e-mail with the e-tickets attached! I was so excited and Anna said she'd come with me.

When we arrived at the studios the sun was starting to set and there was a pretty bridge over the water right near where we had to line up. Anna and I snapped a few pictures and then walked over to the line. We noticed there was a longer line and a shorter line, both formed in a little tunnel/back alley area of the studios. We approached a girl and her father and asked them which line was which. They were helpful but Anna wanted to make sure so she went to ask the guys in the front while I stayed and chatted with the girl we met. She told me she really liked my accent and I giggled because I never think about myself as having an accent. I know that sounds dumb but I have been complimented on my "accent" a few times since moving here and I'm always surprised to hear that people like the way I speak, ha!

When Anna came back she said that the shorter line was for people with general e-tickets (us) and the longer line was for priority ticket holders who were guaranteed entrance. We were kind of bummed but we moved to the other line and tried to figure out our chances of actually getting in. The other line was pretty long and they had all purchased tickets. We were technically back-up in case some of those ticket holders didn't show up. I had no idea that's what our tickets meant so I felt pretty stupid.

While we were weighing our options, the girl we had met in the longer line came up to us. She said that her and her dad realized that they had two extra tickets because her mom and sister couldn't make it. She asked us if we'd like to have them and join her in line. We were so shocked! I felt so lucky and grateful that we had met them so briefly because normally I don't talk to many people when I go out, and the first time I really did they were so kind and generous.

We walked back to her dad and thanked them both a lot. They introduced themselves as Olly and Beth and we got to know them a bit while we waited in line. They said that they're from the midlands and Beth loves Nick Grimshaw and One Direction so of course I was happy to chat with her. It didn't feel like we waited very long because we were inside the studio before I knew it.

The exterior of the building was very industrial and old. The building was made of brick and it definitely didn't jump out at me as I was approaching it with Anna. It was old and worn down and did not look like a modern studio. I liked that it was older and had character.

When we walked inside we made our way through the small lobby, past bathrooms and through a little bar/restaurant area. The door to the studio was open and as we entered we were handed laminated pictures of Nick Grimshaw that were to be used during one of the games. On one side he was smiling and blue and on the other he looked angry and was red. I could only imagine what we would have used them for since they never got to the game they were needed for.

The studio was pretty small and we sat in the front row of the main audience section. The cameras moved back and forth in front of us and a small group of audience members sat in front of those cameras, right up near the stage. I could see pretty well the whole time despite the camera movements in front of me. We were really close to the side entrance where the producers and show runners were standing.

The show was really funny and the guest panelists were all British comedians, actors and singers that I had never heard of (Khali Best, Gareth Malone, Tom Rosental and Roisin Conaty). They were all pretty hilarious though and I'm definitely going to look them all up and learn more about their work.

There was one skit where they showed videos of people they interviewed on the streets of London. They asked them which celebrity they think they look like and they'd pause the video right before they would answer. The panelists would have to guess who they're going to say and it was pretty hilarious to watch because none of the people really looked like anyone famous. The first guy said he looked like Harry Styles and I thought that Nick Grimshaw was going to fall right out of his chair. We were all laughing pretty hard. He definitely didn't look like Harry.

It was really interesting to see them record the show because Nick had an ear piece in and he would often pause and talk back to whoever was giving him instructions. It kind of looked like he was talking to himself, haha! He also had to re-do a few parts and one time he had to change "Louis Vuitton bag" to "designer bag." They recorded the audience portions of the show before the panelists came on and I honestly don't think you'll be able to see me but I'll share any link to the episode that I can find when it premieres this week.

At one point I was looking at the audience behind me during a break, and when I turned around both Beth and Anna said that Nick had just passed right by us to go get coffee. I was so mad that I missed it! He was so close!

It was such a cool experience to see a live taping of a show and I will never forget how kind Olly and Beth were to us by giving us their extra tickets. We had so much fun!

Other than that life has been pretty mediocre this weekend. I've been a little run down so I haven't done too much in the past few days. I was supposed to go to Oxford for Liz's birthday today but I don't feel well enough to make the trip there and back. I'll have to make it up to her before I leave in a month. At least I got to see her, her mom and her sister, Emma briefly on Saturday afternoon when we met up by Big Ben. I spent a couple of hours at the South Bank beforehand and it was so nice out. I got an ice cream cone, people watched and sat on a bench with a sweet elderly couple while we watched the buskers (street performers) and enjoyed the view of Big Ben, The Eye and the Houses of Parliament. We were right by the base of The Eye and as it slowly rotated the compartments would cover and uncover the sun. When it was exposed, the rays beat down on my legs and warmed me up from head to toe.

I listened to one busker named Charlotte Campbell who sang some of my favorite songs from "Lego House" by Ed Sheeran to "How Long Will I Love You" from the movie About Time. She was really talented and I really enjoyed her original song called "Streets of London." I'll embed the video for it so you can watch! She reminded me of Maggie a little bit. I can't wait to get home and listen to her play her guitar and sing again.

Can you believe that I'm leaving exactly one month from Friday? It's so bittersweet to think that I'll be leaving London and returning home to my family and friends. I'm so excited to see them and to start off my summer but it'll definitely be tough leaving the life I've become accustomed to here.

It's still too early to think about that though. I have my host visit this weekend and I'm really looking forward to that! I can't wait to see a different part of England and meet new people. It'll be a great experience.

After that I have a paper to work on and then my big trip to the South of France and Italy with Anna! We're going to Marseille, Nice, Cinque Terre, Florence and Rome for ten days. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing some water and enjoying the nice weather.

I better go get some work done but as always, I'll write soon.

xx Sheila

Cinque Terre, Italy is one of the places I'll be visiting in a few weeks! (Google Images)
Marseille, France is the first place we'll be going during our April trip. (Google Images)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ed Sheeran at Royal Albert Hall

Photo by Christie Goodwin, 2014.
Me and Liz waiting in line for the show!
A month or two back, Liz and I forked up some serious quid (pounds) and bought ourselves tickets to see the love of our lives, Ed Sheeran, at Royal Albert Hall on Monday, March 24th. Time flew by and between trips to other countries, schoolwork and planning for my south of France/Italy trip next month, I nearly forgot that the concert was coming up!

As soon as I woke up yesterday I was freaking out because the day had finally arrived. I spent the morning doing some chores, met with Megan for Chipotle around 2:30PM and then picked up some groceries on my way back to my building. Liz arrived around 3:30PM and after she put her stuff down in my room, we headed out to get to the venue a little early. Liz picked up some Subway and we hopped on the tube at Baker Street. We had to switch one time at Edgware Road but once we sat down on the second train we started talking about what we hoped he'd play at the show and almost missed our stop at South Kensington. We laughed it off and walked about ten minutes to Royal Albert Hall.

We approached the building and noticed a small queue (line) near one of the doors. We sat at the end of the line and waited for about an hour while listening to Ed Sheeran and watching the line grow behind us. It started to get a little darker and around 6:15PM or so the security guards told us to stand up and move closer to the door to make the line more compact. We ended up standing over a heated vent which was really nice. The doors opened around 6:45PM and the ticket collectors scanned and then kept our tickets as we passed through the entrance. I was a little disappointed because I love keeping my ticket stubs, but we got bright blue wristbands to replace them. After checking my coat, browsing the merch table and wandering around the bar area, Liz and I took our place near the stage, right in the center and about six messy rows of people back. I was really excited about how close we were!

At 7:40PM, Passenger came on to open the show. He was really fantastic and I was so happy when they announced that he was the supporting act because he fits really well with Ed Sheeran's style of music. They both have incredible voices and they're really good songwriters as well.
"Passenger (aka Michael David Rosenberg) is an English folk-rock singer-songwriter who's single, "Let Her Go," has topped the charts in many countries (Wikipedia)." 
Passenger was phenomenal!
I downloaded his album, "All the Little Lights," last semester and listened to it on all of my drives between Vermont and New York with Maggie, Lauren and Shawn. His songs are very slow and are mostly acoustic ballads and I really enjoy that kind of music. He actually made fun of himself during his set when he said, "You've probably noticed from my first two songs that this isn't going to be the happiest half hour of your life. I only have one hit single." He had the whole place laughing after that comment, and I was really impressed by how respectful the audience was towards him even though he wasn't really playing lively, dance music. I think that Ed Sheeran fans are the perfect crowd for Passenger because they appreciate the slow, acoustic ballads more than some people.

After Passenger's set there was a break and they brought the house lights up so that people could go to the bar or the bathroom. I stayed put and appreciated the architecture of the room. There were huge white, circular installments hanging from the ceiling and the balconies or "stalls" were all ornately decorated with red curtains and beautiful carvings.
"The Royal Albert Hall is a registered charity held in trust for the nation and receives no public or central and local government funding.has a capacity (depending on configuration of the event) of up to 5,272 seats; standing areas and stage specifications can change this. Since its opening by Queen Victoria in 1871, the world's leading artists from several performance genres have appeared on its stage and it has become one of the UK's most treasured and distinctive buildings. Each year it hosts more than 350 events including classical concerts, rock and pop, ballet and opera, sports, award ceremonies, school and community events, charity performances and banquets (Wikipedia)."
Around 9PM they had the host of the show come up on stage again and he talked about Teenage Cancer Trust, which was the main sponsor of the concert series happening that week.
"Teenage Cancer Trust is a charity that focuses on the needs of teenagers and young adults with cancer, leukemia, Hodgkin’s and related diseases by providing specialist teenage units in NHS hospitals. The units are dedicated areas for teenage and young adult patients, who are involved in their concept and creation. Medical facilities on the units are equipped with computers, TVs, game consoles – designed to be places where friends and family feel comfortable to visit. Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of rock band The Who have been intimately involved with the annual charity concerts at Royal Albert Hall (Wikipedia)."
Ed Sheeran was their first concert in the line-up and they all raved about how he couldn't make it last year but was the only act who ever kept his word that he'd play a show next year. It was really nice to hear about the work that Teenage Cancer Trust does and we were shown a short film about it to give us a better idea of why it's so important to donate and help spread awareness of the organization. (I embedded the video so you can watch.)

One of the girls in the video, Amy, suffers from a horrible form of cancer (unfortunately I don't remember the name) and seeing the before and after pictures of her from just a few years ago to now were really heartbreaking. She can barely walk now so after the film ended and the lights went up, they brought her on stage in a wheelchair with a bunch of other teens who benefit from the organization and let me tell you, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. We gave them the biggest round of applause and cheered for them as they waved and marveled at the sold out audience in front of them. A few more people spoke, including Roger Daltrey from The Who and Noel Gallagher from Oasis, then they cleared the stage and announced Ed Sheeran.
Ed Sheeran is an English singer-songwriter who's debut album, "+" (2011), containing the singles "The A Team" and "Lego House," was certified quintuple platinum in the United Kingdom. In 2012, he won two BRIT Awards for Best British Male and British Breakthrough. Sheeran began to be known in the United States in 2012. He made a guest appearance on Taylor Swift's fourth album, Red, and wrote songs for One Direction. "The A Team" was nominated for Song of the Year at the 2013 Grammy Awards and he performed the song in duet with Elton John during the ceremony. He spent much of 2013 touring North America as the opening act for Taylor Swift's Red Tour. His second album will be released in 2014. He was nominated for Best New Artist at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards (Wikipedia)."
Roger Daltrey and Amy on stage during the show. Photo by Christie Goodwin, 2014.
The hall got really dark and the screaming began as Ed made his way to the stage. Right away he began playing my favorite song, "Give Me Love," which I used in my Ireland video a few weeks back. It was a great opening song because it builds up to a really intense part towards the end and he was really giving it his all. He uses a looping mic that can record his harmonies and different guitar parts so that he can layer each song without having anyone else on stage with him. It is so amazing to see him do it and each song sounded so big and incredible with the acoustics in the hall.

He played almost all of my favorites and here's the complete setlist with some of my comments about a few of the songs...

Give Me Love- Amazing way to open, like I already said. His shadow was huge on the wall to my left and it was really cool to watch it for a while as he performed.

Grade 8

Wayfaring Stranger (by Jamie Woon)- He needed us to be really quiet for this song but a drunk girl kept screaming and I felt bad for her friend who was trying to restrain her. She ended up falling at one point and just remained on the ground. Ed was cute and told us all to cuddle anyone who tries to yell out when he needs it to be quiet for the looping mic to work. He said someone punched a person in the back of the head at one of his shows once so he didn't want us to take extreme measures like that if someone yells.

Small Bump- We needed to be really quiet for this one too. This is one of me and Liz's favorites.

Be My Husband (by Nina Simone)- This one was really fun and he had us sing back to him a lot. He kept jumping up on the speakers and interacting with the crowd which really got everyone excited.

Kiss Me- Ed mentioned that he had recently been in Afghanistan playing for the troops and that so many of them went up to him and told him that this was their wedding song. He wrote it for his aunt and uncle's wedding. He asked us not to sing along for that one. 

Hearts on Fire (with Passenger)- This was really nice because he prefaced the song with a little background on how he'd played with Passenger before they found fame and they used to busk the streets together. It's crazy to think that they started off playing in small pubs and busy roads in London.

Tenerife Sea (New)- This is a really pretty ballad off of his new album and I'm really excited to hear more!

I See Fire- You might recognize this song from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Ed joked about how it's about hobbits and dragons and asked us if it was relatable. He said he can relate to it because he's been called a hobbit his whole life. Aw!

The Parting Glass- This is an old Irish song that Ed suggested was a good one to say goodbye with. He told us that he'd play one more song, leave the stage to drink a lot of water and that if we cheered loud enough he'd come back and play a few more for us. I closed my eyes during this song and it was amazing to just focus on his voice in the quiet arena. It sounded like we were the only two people in the room.

Lego House- The multi-colored lights on the screens behind him looked like legos which Liz and I loved.


You Need Me, I Don’t Need You- He was amazing during this song! It's a lot of rapping and he mixed in a little of "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore too. I think that it was the perfect way to start the encore because we were all singing along and dancing. The whole hall was buzzing.

Take It Back (New)- I LOVED THIS SONG. I'm so excited to hear it on the new album and he wasn't going to play it for us initially. He was strumming his guitar and he said, "Ah f*** it, I'll play you a new one." It was more fast-paced than "Tenerife Sea" and he raps the verses. It was about how things have changed so much for him but he always comes back to his roots. He also kind of preaches how you can achieve anything you set your mind to. I loved it.

The A Team- I think that we all knew this would be the last song he sang last night. It was really great to hear him sing it live after hearing it countless times on the radio over the last few years. Everyone was singing along. He had us all turn our flashlights on our phones on and we lit up the whole arena. It was really beautiful!
Photo by Christie Goodwin, 2014.
Well, there you have it. Ed Sheeran was amazing. I am completely in love with his ginger hair, his quirky tattoos, his soulful voice, his tiny guitar, his down-to-earth personality and his incredible ability to perform in front of sold out audiences all over the world. He commands the stage without the help of a back up band and he is so magnificently talented. I would definitely recommend seeing him live to anyone who has the chance and if you haven't listened to his music, DO IT. His new album should be out sometime this year and he said that last night might be the last time he plays all of those songs for a long time. It was his first show at Royal Albert Hall and he said that his parents came to see him. The last time he was there was a few years ago to see Eric Clapton with his dad. Now look at him! I'm so happy for him and I hope that I get to see him again soon. It was a huge blessing to be able to see him perform there. I'll never ever forget it!

I'm still exhausted and feeling a little run down so I should probably get some sleep. I hope that I feel better soon because I have a lot of work coming up and I'm seeing a live taping of "Sweat the Small Stuff" hosted by BBC Radio 1 DJ, Nick Grimshaw on Friday. I'm really excited for that!

I hope that everyone is having a great start to their week!

Write soon,
xx Sheila

Here's one of my favorite Ed Sheeran songs, "Give Me Love."

Review of last night: "From the moment he kicked into top-20 single Give Me Love, Sheeran dispelled any notion that he is merely a soppy acoustic balladeer. Dressed in scruffy black skater clothes, his ginger hair ruffled just so and a baby acoustic guitar strapped on, Sheeran transformed this formerly forgettable strummer into whirling arena pop-rock. Using loop pedals, he layered triple harmonies, Flamenco guitar twang and beatboxed drums on top of his soulful croon with military precision... The 90-minute set continued in this breathless fashion, with grime rapping, a cappella singing, one-handed guitar riffing and hip-hop beats thrown in. Sheeran was a livewire throughout, twiddling his effects pedals manically, or encouraging more participation from his eager audience (James Lachno, The Telegraph)."

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Creative Writing about London

From the time I was little I have loved to write. I still have the diaries that I filled with little descriptions about my days and my fights with my sister. Unfortunately, I stopped keeping diaries as I got older but I always enjoyed blogging and writing about my thoughts and experiences when I had the chance.

I never thought that I would be a journalism student in college until the middle of my senior year of high school. Yeah, I was in the newspaper club in fifth grade but that wasn't too inspiring. I always dreamed of becoming a teacher or a rock star. Those both seemed like very attainable dreams.

Alas, here I am, a junior in college and a Media Studies, Journalism and Digital Arts major at St. Michael's College. And you know what? I couldn't be happier!

I've really grown to love the MJD program at St. Mike's and I'm missing it like crazy now that I'm away in London for the semester. I wrote for the school newspaper, The Defender, last semester and it was a great experience. I loved reporting on local, national and campus news and my fellow staff members became like family to me. We spent long hours writing, editing and laying out the paper and I learned so much from that class.

Now I'm in London and I'm doing something much different than reporting the news in AP style...

Creative writing.

I wasn't initially enrolled in Creative Writing about London. I ended up switching my schedule around during registration when I first arrived and that was one of the courses that got added to it.

I was a little nervous to write creatively after becoming so used to writing for journalistic purposes, but after looking through some of the writing activities we would be doing, I was really looking forward to it.

My class is St. Mike's sized which is small, but not too small. We meet in a classroom at the Wells Street campus for three hours each week and our module leader is name Kate. She's really awesome and I'm not going to lie, even though I know she'll read this, I love her bright pink hair! I've never had a professor or "lecturer" who is as down-to-earth as she is.

Our class is made up of study abroad students (mostly from America) and we're all girls. It's been so amazing to hear the development in all of our writing since the beginning of the module, and something I really admire is how easy it is for us all to share. I feel like we've had an atmosphere of trust in the classroom since day one and that's really ideal for a creative writing class.

We've covered everything from characterization to subtext, registers, plot, narrative, dialogue and setting. I feel as though the activities we were assigned really helped my writing flow in a creative way, instead of in the formal and accurate way I'm so used to.

Our grade is made up of our 3,000 word short stories and our blog, which is why I have been sticking to posting at least once a week. I've mentioned the class a few times but I usually write about London and my weekend trips instead of particular writing activities we've done in class. I figured that this would be a good opportunity to reflect on the course as a whole because this Thursday is our final class.

I'm kind of sad that it's ending because I don't want to lose my drive to keep writing and imaging things based off of my surroundings, whether I'm in London or back home in the states.

I feel as though the detailed descriptions in my blog posts were really inspired by the work we've been doing in class. I'm even writing my short story based off of my personal experiences in London and I'm referring back to my blog posts for inspiration. They've been giving me great ideas and I'm really thankful that I wrote so much over the past few months. I'll always have those posts to look back at and remember the way I was feeling and the places I got to see during my time here in London.

It's definitely hard to stay inspired to keep a journal or to blog about your experiences, especially when they don't seem too out of the ordinary, but it's really fulfilling if you do. I'll probably be sharing my short story on here soon and you may recognize some of the things I wrote as experiences I've had since January.

As always, thanks for reading!

xx Sheila

Friday, March 21, 2014

Borough Market Fiction

I've been taking a creative writing class since January and our assignment for class this week was to write about Borough Market in London. We were asked to describe a character who was trying a food there for the first time. This is what I came up with...
Last Sunday morning I found myself wandering through Borough Market alone, past vendors and stalls filled with treats and dishes from varying cultures and traditions. I made my way past flowers and fresh vegetables and fought back the temptation to take out my wallet and buy everything that I saw. It was a beautiful day for the market and I was happy to have escaped my small, dorm room and the glow of my computer screen. As I wound through the pathways, my eyes darted from stall to stall and I cringed through the crowd as people pushed by with bags and stopped to take touristy pictures. The smell of Pad Thai and freshly baked bread caressed my nose each and every time I inhaled. I walked through the Scottish section of the market and stealthily slunk past the man offering free samples of Haggis so that I wouldn’t have to politely turn him down. As I rounded the corner and briefly contemplated leaving to escape the madness of the market, my eyes rested upon a stall selling fudge. I made my way towards their display and right away I was offered a free sample by the Italian man working behind the counter. It was toffee flavored and I pinched the small, crumbly block of it between my thumb and pointer finger and cupped my other hand underneath to ensure its safety if I let it slip between my fingers. I successfully delivered the tiny morsel into my mouth and right away the sweetness danced around my tongue as the fudge slowly dissolved into a creamy puddle and slid smoothly down my throat. I pulled out my wallet that I had been using all of my will power to keep from using, and I handed the man three pounds for a slice of salted caramel fudge. I watched him rip a piece of wax paper off of the roll and slide it over the slice of fudge closest to me. He slipped it into a brown paper bag and handed it to me in one fluid motion. I smiled and thanked him and turned to make my way out of the market. I impatiently rode the tube back and walked the familiar route to my dorm, holding the bag in my hand and awaiting the moment I’d be able to open it up and unleash the heaven inside. I keyed into my room and sat on my bed, with a beautiful view of the London skyline right there to keep me company. I removed the fudge from the bag and broke off a piece while the crumbs fell to my lap. I closed my eyes and took a bite and it was as if I was standing there in Borough Market again, trying the fudge for the first time.

xx Sheila

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Living for the first time

Just a couple of hours ago I posted this photo on Instagram. My friend, Rachel, commented on it and said, "Sheila, you make independent living look downright glamorous." I smiled and immediately thought about how great living on my own really has been for me. Then my fingers started twitching and the next thing I new I was typing another short novel of a blog post. So thank you for the inspiration Rachel! Here's what I have to say...

Everyone should learn how to be content with being alone. From the time we're babies, most of us are surrounded by family and friends 24/7 with only short-lived escapes into freedom and to be honest, most of us don't know how to deal with that freedom, so we reject it.

I rejected independence for so long and I would have never admitted it before. The common attitude among my peers throughout high school was "I can't wait to get out of this boring town and be on my own somewhere new." I was always too comfortable to feel that way unless something upset me for whatever reason. The few "world-shattering" moments I've had don't seem so bad now that time has passed, but those were the only times that I can remember truly craving space and time to be alone.

It's sad that being unhappy leads to that desire and I can't tell you if it's the cure to misery or not, because I tried something different. I tried living on my own during a good time in my life. I was perfectly happy with the way my life was going before I decided to study abroad in London. Coming here wasn't an escape from reality or depression for me. I came here to grow and experience life in a new way without the safety of my familiar bubble. I wanted to use this trip as a tool to grow as a person.

I suppose a good comparison would be relationships, because we're all taught that relationships are the healthiest and most fulfilling when you go into them loving yourself. If you enter into it looking for someone to complete you, fix your problems, or make you feel better about yourself, you're probably not going to have much success in the long-term.

I think that we all need to go through a few of those before we realize what's truly important in our lives. Happiness can be fleeting and attained by latching yourself onto other people with the risk of disappointment and heartbreak, or it can be lasting and rich because the source of that happiness comes from within yourself.

Now I really don't mean to sound like Ghandi or Dr. Phil (strange pair), because I'm only 21 and I still have a ton of insecurities and fears about silly things. I get lonely sometimes and hope for some company. You can hear advice from people all your life or read this post and it won't necessarily help you until you experience something that throws you in a new direction.

London has thrown me so far in a new direction that I'm probably going to have whip lash for the rest of my life. Yeah, I guess that doesn't sound too pleasant and I should probably quit using hyperboles and metaphors since they're really hit-or-miss kind of things, but you catch my drift, right?

Living on my own in a foreign country without any family and friends nearby to turn to (at first) has been absolutely, crazy good for me. I've learned to cook a bit more than toast and pasta, I can make phone calls to strangers without feeling pukey and shy, I can keep to a budget and stay organized when it comes to household tasks, I can plan huge trips to foreign countries and I can navigate through a city even though I've never lived in one before (and London is HUGE).

Those things are all important, and they're only a fraction of the things I've learned to do since arriving here, but what I'm going to take away from this trip is so much bigger than taking responsibility for tasks like those.

I have learned to love myself more and to treat myself better without depending on anyone else in the world to hold my hand.

I call my dad often and I keep in contact with people from home. I have friends here who I see daily and I chat with people during class. Those interactions are important, and they make me feel more established here in London, but they're not all that time consuming and I definitely don't depend on them to make it through my days.

To be honest, most of the time I'm alone. I grocery shop alone, cook alone, sleep alone, go to class alone, shop for essentials alone, read alone, explore alone and so on.

Three months ago the thought of that would have horrified me. We can all pretend that being alone is great and doesn't bother us, but binge-watching Netflix with our pets during school breaks doesn't entirely count as being "alone." Experiencing life and enjoying it without the constant presence of familiar faces is the most challenging and strange task I've ever been given. Instead of feeling anxious and sad that I have no one to talk to like I would have in the past, I feel liberated and happy.

I'm not afraid to be alone with my thoughts and I can entertain myself with simpler things. Of course it's always amazing to be surrounded by the friends I've made here and that happens often, but it's not like I have anyone to go home to or lounge around with on slow days. This is the first time I've truly had to rely on myself to be the decision-maker and the source of light and positivity that I need.

Instead of feeding off of the group or settling into a routine of socialization, I look to myself for insight, comfort and happiness. And you know what? I'm so damn proud of myself for that.

It feels amazing to be able to feel that way. I don't need people the way I used to. I don't crave constant interaction anymore. I don't even think that I realized that I did before because I would hide away in my room sometimes and then re-emerge when I was ready to eat or have a conversation. I didn't see that as dependence on others at all. I thought I was quite independent when I wanted to be. That wasn't the case and I completely see that now that I can't just hide away and then go downstairs for some company or drag my sister around when I don't feel like going somewhere alone.

Besides the freedom that comes with this new mind-set and lifestyle, I have also gained some awesome experiences. Like today for instance, I bought myself some strawberries, indulged in some Nutella and watched an episode of The Vampire Diaries. Okay, okay maybe more than one episode... but anyways, I had a lovely little break from the hustle and bustle of the London streets and museums and the constant hopping on and off of the tube. I set aside some time for myself to relax and I even had some time to write this blog post.

I've had tons of little moments like that since January and I can't wait to take that all home with me. Instead of bringing home emotionally damaged baggage, I'll be bringing home an overweight checked bag, a carry on, my camera bag and the new-and-improved me.

I hope that I can continue to grow in this direction because whether I'm in Europe or not, it's something that will help me for the rest of my life. I hope that you can all experience that too at some point in your lives because it's a beautiful thing.

Happy International Day of Happiness! :)

Write soon!
xx Sheila

"The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” (Coco Chanel)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Edinburgh Reflections

King's Cross Station in London.
It's been a lazy Monday here in London and my shins hurt. Yes, my shins.

Scotland beat me up like unrequited love and that's the perfect comparison really because I dreamed of going there, loved every minute of it and now I'm left alone in my bed with aches and pains that will only go away in time.

That sounds terribly depressing but don't worry, my weekend in Edinburgh wasn't bad at all. I'm just feeling the after effects right now. All in all, the trip was fantastic and it was really nice to be able to visit somewhere in which my heritage is so deeply rooted.

I met up with the Arcadia group at King's Cross Station here in London on Friday afternoon around 12PM. We were instructed to meet the staff members at platform 9 3/4 which is a tourist attraction at King's Cross for Harry Potter fans. The ten-year-old in me would have nearly died of excitement at the fact that we were meeting there and I'm not going to pretend like my 21-year-old self wasn't pretty darn excited as well.

We boarded our train shortly after 1PM and took off for Edinburgh. It was a lovely train ride because we were very relaxed and well-rested due to the later departure time and pre-planned itinerary (for the most part). I bought a Vanilla Coke right before we left King's Cross and that alone made the journey enjoyable for me.

After passing through the countryside with the occasional stop in places like Newcastle and York, we arrived at Edinburgh Waverly Station (around 5:30PM). The walk to the Edinburgh Youth Hostel was about ten minutes long and we were led by an Arcadia staff member from the Edinburgh office. It was still light out so I got to see the main rotaries and sights along the road to our hostel.

We were assigned rooms and Megan and I ended up together with two other girls, while Anna and Amy were together in a room right next door. We put our stuff down and left almost immediately to grab some dinner.

The hostel was really modern and spacious.
We stopped at Al Fresco for some Italian food and I ordered lobster ravioli. It was a bit of a daring order for me because I rarely eat seafood and I've only tried a little nibble of lobster once before. It ended up being quite delicious but now when I think about the creamy orange sauce and shrimp mixed in with the filling ravioli I get nauseous. As good as it tasted, it may have been too much for me that night. Megan, Anna and I split a bottle of white wine with dinner and I snacked on olives as well. They were huge and really salty which was something I'm not used to. Sometimes I feel outnumbered as an olive lover because I've only met a few who appreciate them like I do. I used to put them on my fingers when I was little and wish that I could get away with eating a whole can one day.

Anyway, back to the story...

We left the restaurant and walked across the North Bridge to the Royal Mile. We wandered around and got a flyer for a comedy show at a pub down the hill. We searched for it on our walk but came across another pub called The White Horse before we could find it. They were also having a comedy night so we went right in and ordered some cider. There was a beautiful white and ginger spotted cat perched on a chair near the bar and although on one hand it seemed quite out of place, it also struck me as perfectly fitting for an old, quirky pub in Scotland.
The White Horse Pub was really cozy!

The pub wasn't all that busy so we went straight into the back room and sat down to wait for the comedy to begin. The room was decorated with bluish/white twinkly lights and flags from countries like Scotland and Ireland. It was really cozy and welcoming and I felt like we had found the perfect place to spend our first night in Scotland.

The comedy show was pretty funny, but mostly because we were one of two groups there to see it. The other bunch had just gotten out of work at Creative Scotland and had come to have some drinks and unwind. They were really friendly and participated in the back-and-forth with the comedians often. We were sitting across the room from them and the host of the comedy show, Bob, felt sorry for us that we picked that pub on such an empty night. We laughed at the situation and it was brought up a few more times throughout the night.

The comedians were pretty funny but I'm also the type of person who laughs at anything so maybe I'm not the best judge. There was one guy with a guitar, one with a really raspy voice, one who jokingly referred to himself as an "androgynous wind chime" and told stories of problems he's had with his flats in Edinburgh and finally one who told really creepy and bad jokes for way longer than his allotted time (or so it seemed). 

When we left the show I dropped a pound into the donation jar and we stopped in the front room by the bar to chat with Bob and pet the cat. Bob was really friendly and gave us a few suggestions for what to see and do in Edinburgh. We left in a really good mood and walked back to the hostel to get some sleep.

I slept on the top bunk, above Megan and despite the creakiness of the bed, I found it really comfortable. Maybe it was just how exhausted I was but it felt a lot more comfortable than my mattress in Marylebone. I fell asleep pretty quickly and only woke up once for a little while because I was really warm and a bit thirsty. All I could taste was that lobster ravioli and it was making me feel gross.

We woke up around 8:30AM and met Anna and Amy in the lobby at 9:15AM. We walked up the street a little to Cafe Marlayne and decided to grab our breakfast there. I ordered a waffle with bacon and a glass of orange juice. Sounds pretty generic but it was really the first time since my trip to the Breakfast Club with Liz that I had ordered breakfast while abroad. It was delicious! The cafe was really adorable as well and we were surprised at how empty it was for a Saturday morning. I really liked the artwork on the wall and there was one white canvas near our table with half of an older woman painted in the lower right-hand corner. Her other half is cut off by the edge of the canvas but there was just something so striking about it.

Calton Hill was one of our first stops on the walking tour. 
After breakfast we walked back to the hostel to embark on our walking tour with the other Arcadia students. We got split up into groups but Amy, Anna, Megan and I stuck together and followed our tour guide to our first stop, Calton Hill. It was a bit of a steep incline but it only took 10 minutes or so to get to the top. The pathway was paved so it wasn't too rough but I really loathe hills and I felt pressured to walk really quickly to keep up with the group. I was a bit nauseous from the night before and I felt dehydrated so I was really out of breath when we reached the top. It didn't help that I had so many layers on.

Once I caught my breath I looked around and we had a gorgeous view of the city and Arthur's Seat. I couldn't really hear our guide over the wind so I took some pictures while she explained the history of the hill. We spent about 15 minutes or so up there and then descended back down on the other side by the government buildings. We stopped on the steps and she explained the referendum and how divided Scotland is about becoming independent from the United Kingdom. She was personally quite against it and said that the younger generations were more fond of the idea. I couldn't imagine being a part of such a historical decision. Imagine having to vote in that situation? I have a huge fear of the unknown and I'm not too fond of change so that would just give me an absolute heart attack. Honestly I don't know enough about the situation to have an opinion, but it's a crazy time for Scotland!

We continued on our tour and saw monuments, museums, statues and more but it's hard to remember the names of them all. It was a nice day though so I enjoyed strolling around the flatter portion of the city for a while. The wind wasn't as bad when we were at lower altitudes.
Harry Potter graffiti in the bathroom of The Elephant House.
Closes are little alleyways that connect streets on different levels and Edinburgh is filled with them. We climbed up through one of them and emerged in the old town area of the city. I really like that area because the buildings were older and we were much closer to the castle. The whole city was much more architecturally fairy-tale like but the new town has many more shops and main roads.

We got to see a lot of Harry Potter related things in the old town such as J.K. Rowling's hand prints for the Edinburgh Award, The Elephant House Cafe where she wrote a lot of the first book, Greyfriars Kirkyard where she drew inspiration from the graves of Thomas Riddell and William McGonagall for characters in Harry Potter, a school that inspired Hogwarts and finally Victoria Street which was a huge inspiration for Diagon Alley. It was amazing to be surrounded by the places J.K. Rowling spent her time writing about. Like I've said before, Harry Potter was a huge part of my childhood and I was overwhelmed with the immensity of the series and the impact the stories left on so many people in my generation as I walked through those places. The graffiti in the bathroom at The Elephant House is a tribute to the mark Rowling has left in our hearts and minds and I could have stayed in there for hours reading the messages people left. From quotes to thank you's and drawings, there were millions of messages in different handwriting and colors scrawled in layers covering the entirety of the bathroom's interior.

Victoria Street inspired Diagon Alley in Harry Potter.
 After we finished our walking tour, we headed towards Edinburgh Castle. It's huge and takes up the top of a hill in old town. It's everything I've ever dreamed about a castle and more. I felt so small as I approached it and the sun came out when we stopped to admire the views of the city down below. I saw a group taking pictures with their respective country's flag and families populated the plaza around us.

We entered into the castle and saw cannons, war memorabilia, the crown jewels and even a cemetery for soldiers' dogs. The cobblestone covered grounds were intertwined with green moss and I felt sorry for parents who had to push their strollers up the hill and over the bumpy ground below.

From right to left: Amy, Megan, Anna and me at Edinburgh Castle.

I bought myself a Celtic ring in the souvenir shop and we headed out after spending about an hour inside of the castle. On our way out of old town, I stopped and paid to hold an owl. It was small and brown with piercing, dark eyes. Its handler shifted it into my care by slipping his glove off and onto my hand. I held one of its talons between my thumb and finger to ensure that it wouldn't fly away and I gently stroked it's feathers as it nervously looked around the small crowd in front of me. I guess we both had our nerves in common because I was nervous holding it. I didn't want to scare it or hold it captive just for a few pictures. It was such a beautiful and gentle animal and I couldn't help but feel sorry for it. It must be rough being handed from person to person continuously all day. Poor little guy!

We stopped in at The Elephant House to grab a light lunch and I opted for Nutella hazelnut cake and fresh mint tea. It was alright but the cake was much too nutty for me. It was more enjoyable just being there than eating there.

After we arrived back at the hostel, we decided to sit a relax for a while and then get some food at Tesco Express to make at the hostel for dinner. We ended up making bow tie pasta and we each bought our own little snacks to supplement the meal. I had some clementines, an apple and salad. It was a filling and inexpensive meal and we sat around in the deserted common room chatting about gun control and senior pranks. After a while we cleaned up the kitchen (which was huge and fully stocked with all of the necessary cooking equipment) and then headed out to grab drinks and maybe see live music.

I was pretty exhausted and didn't particularly want to go out for too long but I figured we wouldn't go too far and we could be back early to get some sleep. We walked back to the area we had gone to see the comedy show the night before and after walking back and forth and going in and out of a few places we finally ended up at the Tolbooth Tavern which was located far down the hill, closer to the Queen's Gallery and Holyrood Palace.

I didn't order any drinks but the other girls did and we got a table on the upper level near the karaoke set-up. I was feeling really sore and nauseous from all of the walking so I wasn't too talkative. After being there for a while I kind of wanted to leave, but the others seemed to want to stay a little longer. By 10PM I was tired of the karaoke and disco lights and I told the others I was going to walk back. I didn't think they were going to follow right away but they ended up coming and we walked about half an hour back to the hostel. Normally I wouldn't have asked to go back but I didn't feel very well and I just needed to get some rest. The pub was really cute and I would have loved to be there under different circumstances, but it was such a long day and we weren't really talking to anyone or participating in the karaoke. It kind of made me miss my friends from home who are a little more my pace when it comes to things like that. I don't know why but there's still a lack of comfort and trust here which makes me miss home sometimes. I'm definitely not saying that my friends here are bad people or not as good as my friends from home, but I often feel like I'm walking behind the pack and I miss the dynamics of my friendships at St. Mike's. I never really feel left behind or excluded there which is a real blessing that I've had in my life. I know that I'd always have someone to walk home with in a situation like that, but this time I wasn't so sure.

Where we stopped on Saturday night.

I don't want to sound completely negative though because I am so thankful to have found and bonded with the friends I've made abroad. They've been good friends and travel companions and I've gotten to know them really well in a short time. It's interesting because we're all thrown together at such an incredible time in our lives when we get to experience living alone in a foreign country. It's a time of great transition, adjustment, self-discovery and freedom so to find anyone that you're able to grow alongside of is a really great thing. I got lucky because Anna, Megan, Amy and Matt were some of the first people I met here and I don't know what it'd be like without them. That being said, this is my reflection on my thoughts and feelings while abroad and my comments about feeling left behind or uneasy are just what I was feeling in the moment and not meant to reflect negatively upon anyone in particular.

I slept really well that night and I think that helped my nausea and mood immensely. I just needed to get off of my feet and let my body recover from the walking. I decided to get up and join the other girls for breakfast and see if I could attempt hiking Arthur's Seat but I was still pretty sore and didn't have great footwear for a hike like that.

Fun Fact: "Arthur's Seat is the main peak of the group of hills which form most of Holyrood Park, described by Robert Louis Stevenson as "a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design". It is situated in the centre of the city of Edinburgh, about a mile to the east of Edinburgh Castle. The hill itself rises above the city to a height of 250.5 m (822 ft), provides excellent panoramic views of the city, is relatively easy to climb, and is popular for hillwalking (Wikipedia)."

We ate at Cafe Marlayne again and I ordered the waffle and bacon for the second time. It took a little longer than the day before and my waffle was really overcooked. It was okay though because I was hungry and it still tasted pretty delicious.

We walked the same way we had on Friday and Saturday, across North Bridge and down the hill towards Holyrood Palace. We entered the park and Anna and Amy took off walking ahead of Megan and I. Megan eventually caught up with them but I was left alone walking along the dirt path toward the base of Arthur's Seat. I walked for about half an hour and watched the others disappear into the distance. I felt a little lonely but I put in my headphones and listened to music which helped. The park was so beautiful and the hills were dressed in the greenest grass which was speckled with yellow wildflowers. Dogs of all breeds ran through the park without leashes to hold them back from enjoying the beautiful nature around them. They barked and played with their owners and it was marvelous to watch. The sky was a beautiful shade of baby blue and the clouds were white and fluffy as they floated above me in slow motion. The water was far behind me but visible in the distance and it was so breathtaking when I stopped to turn around and see it all from the highest point on the path, near the base of Arthur's Seat.

Holyrood Park is one of the most gorgeous places I've ever been.
Like I said, I had lost the girls so I decided to sit on a rock shaped perfectly for my behind and hidden away near a big, barren tree and some yellow flowers. I had a nice view of the city from there and there was another path leading up to my spot so I watched many people venture up towards the mountain. I read more of my book, "The Book of Lost Things" by John Connolly, and enjoyed the sunshine as the warm rays shone down on me through the branches of the neighboring tree. Kids ran up the hill with their dogs and shed their jackets as their parents scurried to keep up with them. Many couples in hiking gear passed by and a young, French couple embraced and sang quietly to each other for a moment in a cheerful tone. I felt like I was interrupting their intimate little moment and normally I'd be rolling my eyes at the cheesiness of their action but in that moment I found it completely adorable.

Anna, Megan and Amy were back before I knew it and they said that it was beautiful, but extremely windy at the top. I felt okay about my decision to stay behind and I felt better that we'd be going the same pace on the way down, or so I thought. Guess who walked alone yet again? Hah, of course they probably didn't mean any harm and I'm used to it by now but I watched their backs as they got further and further away from me again. I never thought I walked that slow but I can never seem to keep up with them. I put my headphones in again and enjoyed the views and the easier nature of the hike down the hill. I caught up to them as we approached Holyrood Palace and we made our way up the hill toward the North Bridge. We stopped for fudge along the way and I bought a slice of salted caramel. It was absolutely to die for! It was crumbly on the outside but melted in my mouth every time I broke off a piece and indulged in a bite. I was so happy with my purchase! I bought a few more souvenirs and we eventually made it back to the hostel to retrieve our belongings from the storage room.

We rested for a little while in the lobby and then walked to Tesco again to pick up some lunch. I got some fruit, a chicken caesar wrap, an apple, popcorn, orange juice and water. We made it back to the train station and met up with the Arcadia staff. We sat in Burger King for a little while and ate some of our lunch. I couldn't help but buy some fries because the whole place smelt like a fast food heaven. I ate half of my wrap and the fruit as well and saved the apple, other half of my wrap and popcorn for the train.

We boarded around 3:20PM and left shortly after. I slept for about an hour, listened to music for a long time and then finally ate the rest of my food. We arrived back at King's Cross at 8:00PM and it was so nice to get back outside into the fresh air. The tube from King's Cross goes straight to Baker Street so we didn't have to transfer, which was so nice. I was relieved to get back up to my room and drop my bags. I started up the shower right away and once I was all ready for bed and unpacked I drifted off to sleep fairly quickly.

Today I got some planning done for next semester and I worked on the video of our trip to Scotland. It came out pretty good but I definitely wish I had Adobe Premiere on my computer instead of Windows Live Movie Maker. Oh well, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. I'll include the video below in case you're interested in seeing it.

I have an easy week of classes and then Maya is coming this weekend. I'm really excited to show her around and to see her smiling face! It's always nice to see friends from St. Mike's because as cheesy as it sounds, there's such a sense of community between us all. I'm seeing Liz on Monday for our Ed Sheeran and Passenger concert adventure and I'm really excited about that too! I've been dying to see Ed for so long and when it was recently announced that Passenger was his supporting act I nearly died. It'll be a great show!

Time is really flying by now that it's mid-March. I can't believe how quickly this is all going and I wish I could just hit the pause button. I still have so much I want to see and my end of the semester assignments are all hurling towards me at lightening speed which is a real bummer, especially since the weather has been so nice.

I have a lot left to plan, accomplish, see and look forward too and I'm getting closer and closer to coming home and reuniting with my loved ones for a (hopefully) beautiful summer. I'm a lucky, lucky girl!

Well it's now 1:30AM here in London and I have to get up at 8:30AM to get ready for class. I probably shouldn't have stayed up so late writing this but it was nice to get it all out. If you read my blog or even just suffered through the entirety of this post, thank you so much for taking an interest in my travels. I really love writing about it all and I know my posts get lengthy but it brings a huge smile to my face every time someone tells me they read my blog. I can't tell you how good that makes me feel! So thank you wonderful readers and I hope that you all have a lovely week!

Write soon!
xx Sheila

(PS) I went to Chipotle twice last week... I'm becoming obsessed...
(PPS) I went to Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium last Wednesday and it was a wonderful evening filled with peppermint tea and cuddly kitties. My motto is that tea and cats always make things better, so the fact that I got to have both at the same time really knocked my week out of the park.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Thanks and Thoughts

Regent's Park in London, England.
"Make it a habit to tell people thank you. To express your appreciation, sincerely and without the expectation of anything in return. Truly appreciate those around you, and you'll soon find many others around you. Truly appreciate life, and you'll find that you have more of it.
-Ralph Marston

Do you ever feel like you have to stop, look at your surroundings, take a deep breath and think about how blessed you are?

Not to sound like a typical study abroad student or anything, but I've had so many of those moments in the last two months. Up until my trip to London I was swimming through life, enjoying the comforts of home and school without pushing myself to experience anything far out of my comfort zone. Of course there have been some major highlights and unforgettable experiences along the way, and I've always been very thankful, but sometimes it's easy to forget to stop for a moment and appreciate where you are, who you are and who you're with.

I would spend my time waiting for the next thing or wishing time would move faster to get something better. That's not a good way to live but it's what we get used to doing when we're comfortable. I never had to stop and think about my surroundings before and now it seems foolish not to. When you're spending all of your time waiting for something great to happen to you, you are holding yourself back instead of letting go and experiencing every moment as if it were your last day on earth.

Of course I'm not a super positive person all of the time and I definitely have my homesick days or days when I wish I was someone else or somewhere else. That's unfortunately just a normal part of life. It's getting over the hump of your routine and taking time to do wonderful, simple and happy things that leads to more positive reflection and gratitude.

When I stay in bed all day and watch Netflix with my jar of Nutella and my phone in my hand I feel drained. I don't desire to go outside and socialize or run errands. I just want to hide away in my own little world and not deal with the challenges and uncertainties of what's outside my bubble. When you do that all of the time, you get into a funk. Trust me, I know.

The darkness that can encompass your mind when you isolate yourself is a hard thing to get away from. Sometimes it feels like it isn't a choice and that you're stuck in your room because of other people or the weather or a paper you have to write. But let me tell you, the times I feel the happiest and most energized are when I break out and focus on the amazing opportunities I have every day.

Obviously being in London gives me some extra things to explore but this goes for being at home in the states too. I spend too much time whining and not enough time appreciating and enjoying life.

I have never longed for a sunny day in my backyard with my family and the pool more than I have while I've been away. The camper is looking so good right now and I'm excited to have bonfires and movie nights with my friends when I'm home for the summer.

Even if you feel like there's nothing spectacular going on in your life at the moment, there is. You just need to go outside and find it.

I'm sure you're wondering what sparked this motivational and sappy blog post. Most of what I write about on here are play-by-plays of my trips and other experiences I've had abroad. This time I felt like reflecting and my walk through Regent's Park today definitely inspired my thoughts.

London is notoriously known as a rainy, damp, dark and gloomy place. I can't say that I argue with that most of the time, but like my friend Matt said today, we've been really lucky with the weather since arriving in January. The cold is nowhere near as harsh as it is at home and we haven't had any snow. The rain comes and goes and it has been a few weeks since our last purely sunny day. However, today was the epitome of perfection.

When I woke up I opened up my heavy curtains and the sun came pouring into my room like orange juice. I immediately felt refreshed and happy to be awake. I got ready for the day and then met up with Anna, Megan and Matt in Camden Town. On my way there and while I was waiting for those three to arrive, I noticed how many people were out and about. There was a much more cheerful mood in London and the people I passed by were wearing sundresses and short sleeves as they strolled down the street and basked in the warmth of the sun.

We made it to Primrose Hill which is one of the most beautiful places in London. You can see so much of the famous skyline from there and so many people were sprawled out on picnic blankets on the stunningly green grass. I had to take off my Columbia jacket because it was so warm and the breeze felt like heaven when it came.

We walked from Primrose Hill through Regent's Park and it was absolutely lovely. The flowers were blooming and that brought little pops of yellow, purple and white to the green landscape. The water was glistening like the Eiffel Tower at night and swans floated past the bridge as we journeyed further into the park. Not only was the weather perfect, but the company I had was as well.
Me and Megan during our walk through Regent's Park.

Megan, Anna, Matt and I went to Paris a few weeks ago and I think that especially since that trip we've become a lot closer. It was so nice to have them there and we were all in a really good mood. We laughed, took pictures and talked about life and it couldn't have made me feel better about my life at the moment.

The simplicity of the day contributed to how perfectly it turned out. We didn't make an elaborate and expensive trip to another country or see the touristy sights of London. We just walked through a park.

If I took the time to appreciate the beauty of the world every day like I did today, I would be so much happier. I have become much more aware of the beauty out there and how lucky I am to be alive lately and my main point is that I hope you can all stop and appreciate something or someone every day. Take a walk through the park or tell someone that you love them. Treat yourself to some ice cream or a hot cup of coffee. Just stop, close your eyes and breathe. You are alive, you are beautiful and you are going to do great things.

"The more one does and sees and feels, the more one is able to do, and the more genuine may be one's appreciation of fundamental things like home, and love, and understanding companionship.
-Amelia Earhart

Write soon!
xx Sheila

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A sunbeam to warm you, a moonbeam to charm you

Trinity College was founded in 1592.
I put my headphones in, sat back and closed my eyes. The train began to depart from the station and I felt it slowly crawl out of the darkness and into the light of the early morning. I opened my eyes and looked out of the window. What I saw was one of the most beautiful and calming sights I have ever seen. There were the greenest pastures filled with sheep, cattle and donkeys. Small farmhouses, isolated from the rest of society, sat perched upon little hills overlooking small bodies of glistening water. The clouds allowed the sun enough room to shine some rays down over this heaven I was in and I only peeled my eyes away from the beauty outside of the train when I felt the exhaustion of the previous week creeping up on me. I let my eyes close and my mind drifted to the beautiful world outside. I expected to open them and see buildings and graffiti, but every time I did, all I saw was green.

I soaked Ireland up like the rare rays of sun I've seen while in Europe and I loved every minute of it. The country was beautiful. From Dublin to Galway, I saw the most that I could see in three very short days. After spending the previous weekend in Paris, France, Ireland was an interesting change.

While Paris was filled with bread, landmarks, flowers, macaroons, wine, a lot of walking, sunshine and cobblestone streets, Ireland was filled with green pastures, extremely friendly and forward people, cloudy days, rainbows, Guinness, stew, pubs, sheep and seemingly untouched land that was so picturesque that it's hard to believe I didn't dream of it all.

We began our journey to Ireland early Friday morning (3:45AM), just like we did for Paris. I took a bus to Liverpool Street Station to meet Anna and Megan. From there we took another bus to London Stansted Airport to catch out flight which was close to 8AM if I remember correctly.

Navigating our way through Dublin!
When we flew over the coastline I saw my first glimpse of the green I've already mentioned so many times. It was breathtaking. As we got closer to the ground, Megan saw bunnies hopping around the grass near the runway.

We got through the airport really quickly and boarded a bus to Dublin. The driver and the ticket salesman were both really friendly and welcoming. We were on the bus for maybe half an hour and we got off at Trinity College. We walked around the campus for a little while and the old stone buildings were so beautiful amongst the little greens and bare trees. Students were walking to class and bikes were lined up against iron fences. It felt nice to be on a college campus like that because at home, St. Mike's is so small and familiar, and in London the campuses are really spread apart.

After our stroll through Trinity's campus, we walked across the street to KC Peaches for lunch. My friend Alex, who also goes to St. Michael's, is studying abroad at Trinity and suggested KC Peaches to me before we came. It was a great suggestion because we were starving and the food was amazing! It was an awkward time to go because it was after breakfast but before lunch so we helped ourselves to the cold pasta and salad bar. I got tomato mozzarella penne, pesto penne, feta salad, and rosemary seasoned potatoes. I also bought a blueberry apple juice which I'm craving right now as I write this because it was so good!

Lunch at KC Peaches in Dublin.
On our way out of KC Peaches I grabbed a huge chocolate chip cookie for the road. I shared it with Anna and Megan and we all agreed that it was pretty dang good. As I finished up the cookie, we walked towards the bus stop for the Hop-on, Hop-off sightseeing buses. We bought student priced tickets from the really friendly man at the sales bus and he wished us the best during our visit. We boarded the next bus and sat on the top level. The driver was named Barry and he was really fun to listen to. He told us about the landmarks we were passing and sang some Irish tunes as well. We saw St. Patrick's Cathedral, St. Stephen's Green and the statue of Oscar Wilde just to name a few places.

We got off the bus at the Guinness Storehouse and had to walk a little bit because the pipes burst near the entrance and the cobblestone streets were slightly flooded. It was kind of cool to see the way the sun was glaring off of the water and we passed many horses and carriages. I felt bad for the horses because they all looked dirty and tired. It must be horrible to be cooped up in the city all of the time. I wished that they could roam around all of those pastures I saw flying into the country.

We bought our tickets into the storehouse and checked our bags with the information desk. We walked through at our own pace since it was a self-guided tour and we got to see the whole process of making Guinness through their informational and visual displays. The ingredients in Guinness are hops, yeast, barely and water. I hope I'm not forgetting any!

We got in a queue to taste a sample of Guinness and when we entered the bar area there were four little pillars with scented vapor coming out of them. They were all of the scents that can be found in Guinness. We were asked to smell them all because it would help with the tasting experience. When we got our little samples we moved into a theatre-like room and placed them all on little pedestals of various heights. It was a really cool sight to see once everyone had set there's down on one of the surfaces. The employee working in that room taught us how to properly drink Guinness in order to get all of the taste out of it. Basically, you're supposed to lift your elbow up so that it's equal with your shoulder, inhale the smell of the beer and then take a mouthful of it, swallow, and exhale. He advised us not to take sips because the white, foamy area on the top is the hops and it is really bitter. When you finish your Guinness there should be most of the hops left at the bottom of the glass. I enjoyed the taste of the sample but I did feel as though it was a little too bitter for my liking.

Fun fact: Did you know that Arthur Guinness' wife, Olivia, gave birth to 21 children and only 10 survived to adulthood? That's really sad and I must say that it's hard to believe one woman could give birth to that many children without exploding! She was pregnant for sixteen years of her life.

When we reached the top of the storehouse, we entered the sky bar. The sky bar's walls are windows so you can look out over all of Dublin. It was an amazing sight to see. We got our free pints at the bar and the bartender made little shamrock shapes in the hops at the top of our glasses.

We found a table to rest our drinks on and took a ton of pictures of the view. It started to rain but since it was so abrupt and basically a sun shower, the most amazing thing happened right afterwards.

I bet you can guess what I'm going to say...

A rainbow appeared! Yes, a rainbow. In Ireland. It was the most cliche yet miraculous thing I have ever seen. The end of it came down right to the street below us. Since we were up so high we had the greatest view of it!

Can you see the rainbow?
After a while of trying to drink all of our pints of Guinness, we surrendered and decided to head back down to the bus stop. We made a quick stop in the gift shop and then headed down to get our bags.
On our second journey on the bus for the day, we saw more sights including the train station, Heuston, that we had to go to the next morning to get to Galway. We also saw the cast iron, Ha'penny Bridge which is a pedestrian bridge that was built in 1816 over the River Liffey. It cost a half of a penny to cross it once upon a time, hence the name (Wikipedia). 

We got off the bus again at Kilmainham Gaol, which is a former prison that has been turned into a museum. According to Wikipedia, it has been run since the mid-1980s by the Office of Public Works (OPW) and played an important part in Irish history, as many leaders of Irish rebellions were imprisoned and executed in the prison.

We paid two Euro to get a tour of the prison and it was really interesting. We started in the museum portion and I read about how the windows in the prison were a reformation to earlier prisons. They were installed with the intention to allow the light to fill the dark cells and tame the evil within the prisoners. The large ceiling skylight in the newer, bigger room of the prison that has been famously seen in many movies and music videos was installed with the same intentions of letting God's light in to reform the prisoners.

When the jail was built, the hope was to reform prisoners instead of lock them away without any hope of rehabilitation or re-entrance into society. The jails previously had been overcrowded and disgusting. Unfortunately, Kilmainham did not succeed as well as it's founders had hoped because of the rebellions in Ireland as well as the famine, which contributed greatly to the overcrowding. People thought that if they were imprisoned they'd be fed and given shelter during such hard times. This led to horrible conditions within the prison.

Our tour of Kilmainham Gaol was really interesting.
Many people were publicly hanged and executed at Kilmainham. Our tour guide said that it became a public spectacle more than anything and that the people became unnerved by the executions after a few controversial ones occurred during the time of the rebellion.

We got to see the small, cold, dark cells in the old wings as well as the newer cells in the big, most iconic wing of the prison. It was interesting to hear the stories of the prisoners who were held captive there. Some were young children who were thrown in jail for petty theft. The youngest was rumored to be 7 years old. Can you imagine that?

When we finished the prison tour we hopped back on the bus and saw more sights on our way to the hostel. We saw the President's house, the Dublin Zoo and some museums as well. We were lucky because we got on the last tour of the day so we had to get off at one of the last stops and walk to our hostel. We stopped into a few tourist shops and then hurried to get out of the cold.

We stayed at The Kinlay House which was located right near city hall and the Dublin Castle. It was a really big building with a winding, wooden, creaky staircase. We were in room 206 and we shared bunk beds in a room of 16 people. No one was there when we arrived in our room so we put our stuff away, washed up and headed out for dinner nearby. We ate at The Porter House a few blocks away and it was really delicious! Megan and I both got the Old Smokey Burger and I got mine without cheese and mayo. It had lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion rings and bacon on it. It also came with chips (fries) and we all shared some cheesy garlic bread.

We got back to the hostel, got ready for bed and settled in around 10PM before anyone was back in the room. Megan set an alarm for 6AM the next morning because we had to walk to the train station, and I figured I'd wake up when everyone trickled back into the room throughout the night so I put in ear plugs and rolled over in my bunk to face the old fireplace. The room was a little drafty and the pillow didn't give my head much support at all but I was asleep before I knew it. I was so tired that I slept through the entire night without waking up. When Megan gently shook my arm in the morning to wake me up I was startled because I felt like it was happening in my dream.

We quietly grabbed our stuff which we had packed up the night before and left the room. We got dressed and ready in the bathroom down the hall and headed downstairs to check out. The receptionist told us that it'd be easiest to walk to the station from the hostel, so he showed us a little map and we headed out. The walk was beautiful. It took about fifteen or twenty minutes at most and it was really calming to walk through the empty streets in the purple light of the early morning hours. We crossed over the River Liffey and saw maybe five people in passing. One older, Irish man said good morning to us with a big smile and I warmed up a little after that small act of kindness. We crossed another bridge to the station and the lights underneath were changing between green and orange. The reflection on the water was really nice.

I bought myself a cinnamon bun and some orange juice and we boarded the train around 7:30AM. That's where I began this post, so I won't ramble on too much about the journey from Galway to Dublin. It was simply beautiful and relaxing and I felt so comfortable there. I could have stayed on that train forever, staring out the window and listening to music while Anna and Megan peacefully slept next to me.

Here's some of the songs that I listened to on the train ride and later on the bus ride to the Cliffs of Moher. Maybe if you listen to them while you're reading this you'll be able to imagine how I felt while I journeyed through Ireland.

"Good Life" by OneRepublic, "Nirvana" by Sam Smith, "Home" by Phillip Phillips, "Wake Up" by Arcade Fire, "Before the Worst" by The Script (which mentions some places in Dublin), "Give Me Love" by Ed Sheeran, "Believe" by Hanson, "Big Jet Plane" by Angus and Julia Stone, "Bonfire Heart" by James Blunt, "High Hopes" by Paolo Nutini, "Come Pick Me Up" by Ryan Adams, "Always" by Blind Pilot, "All We Are" by Matt Nathanson, "Glitter in the Air" by P!nk, "The Great Escape" by Patrick Watson, "Happily" by One Direction, "Heart of Life" by John Mayer, "Helium" by Plain White T's, "Hey Jesus" by Tyler Hilton, "Home" by American Authors, "Running" by Delta Spirit, "Ho Hey" by The Lumineers, "Gravity" by Stephen Kellogg and The Sixers, "On Top of the World" by Imagine Dragons, "Open Season" by High Highs, "Wonderful Tonight" by Eric Clapton, "Over the Rainbow" by Ingrid Michaelson, "P.S I Love You" by Nellie Mckay, "Paris Nights/New York Mornings" by Corinne Bailey Rae, "Tiny Dancer" by Elton John, "Paradise" by Coldplay, "Rise" by Eddie Vedder

I bolded some of the best ones to make it easier for anyone who wants to listen to some, but those are all really great songs that I distinctly remember listening to at different parts of my journey.

When we arrived in Galway, we almost immediately boarded a bus to the Cliffs of Moher. It was a two hour coach ride through the countryside, up winding hills, past those amazing green pastures you've heard so much about, through towns and villages in the middle of nowhere and past beautiful bodies of water. We even got to see a castle and drove through a small town that was hosting a huge marathon. It was a lovely ride and I was so happy we chose to do it.

When we go to the cliffs, we exited the bus and the driver told us we had one hour until he'd head back to Galway. We spent that hour well and walked all the way to the right where there was a little castle-like structure on a cliff and then all the way back to the left where we stopped at the first cliff we got to and took a lot of pictures. There was a little girl, I think she was Italian, who was sobbing her eyes out for so long. Her parents were trying to calm her down at first, but then they seemed to just be ignoring her. I'm not sure if she was having a tantrum or if she was cold and tired, but I couldn't help but chuckle at her in her pink hat and puffy little coat with little tears rolling down her rosy cheeks. She was sitting on a step while her parents walked up the path towards another cliff. I don't know if I'll ever forget her and I couldn't tell you why.

We soaked up the beauty of the cliffs and the misty air. The water was so blue and the waves were smashing up against the base of the cliffs. It was pretty epic to see something so naturally beautiful. The weather held out too and it wasn't too cold. Plus we had the whole two hour bus ride back to Galway to warm up.

 May God grant you always...A sunbeam to warm you, a moonbeam to charm you, a sheltering Angel so nothing can harm you. Laughter to cheer you. Faithful friends near you. And whenever you pray, Heaven to hear you.
We were walking back to the bus and I was telling Megan and Anna about this Lord of the Rings joke I had seen on the internet. I was saying "Swiggity Swaggins" to mimic Gollum's line in the meme and this older, Irish man heard me and said "Good ol' American English." I almost died. He thought I was being serious. We were laughing so hard the whole walk back to the bus.

We heard live traditional Irish music at Taafees in Galway.
When we got back we found our hostel, Snoozles, which was located a few blocks away from the train station. Despite it's funny name, Snoozles was the hostel of all hostels. It was big, clean and decorated really nicely. It felt so homey and safe. The girls at reception were extremely friendly and helpful. They gave us coupons for a free drink each at Busker Brownes, where we ended up going to for dinner. They also gave us a map and drew a little walking tour route on it for us.

We went to our room, 209, and it was so cute! It was filled with bunk beds, just like the Kinlay House in Dublin, but it was set up a lot better with cages for our belongings under each bed, cleaner bedding, a private bathroom and yellow cubbies.

After settling in a bit, we walked back to Eyre Square and to the pedestrian shopping street, which reminded me of Church Street in Vermont a lot. It was really quaint and clean. People were bustling about going into shops and pubs. We found Busker Brownes and got a booth in the corner right away. We each got some white wine (free with our coupons) and I ordered the Irish Guinness Beef Stew which was insanely delicious. Besides tasting so good, it warmed me up and filled me with contentedness while we chatted about everything from Ireland to the Westboro Baptist Church (not sure how we got there...).

After we paid we walked to Gino's and I ordered Ferrero Rocher gelato. It was SO GOOD. I fear that I will never taste anything as amazing as that gelato ever again.

We stood near a young (attractive) street performer with a guitar and ate our gelato while debating whether or not to give him some money. He played "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz which made me happy and both Megan and I gave him some coins. He nodded and smiled at us and I melted a little.

We walked towards the pubs in hopes of finding some live music and the first place we went into was Taafees. A few guys in there asked us if we were staying or leaving since we were standing apprehensively by the door and when we said we were looking for live music they laughed and cheered and said they were too. I felt as though they were just being friendly and were maybe a little drunk, and I didn't feel uncomfortable at all really. Anna, Megan and I are all pretty responsible so when we all started to follow them out of the pub I felt like we had pretty good chances of not dying.

We went into another pub and lost the guys pretty quickly. To this day I still have no idea where they went. On the way into the pub a guy greeted us and touched Megan inappropriately. Nothing too serious but it put her on edge and made me and Anna more alert. While we were standing by the bar and debating whether or not to stay, a gross older guy grabbed Anna's butt. She jumped and I looked at him while he stuck his tongue out and shrugged like like it was hilarious.

The people in Ireland were overwhelmingly nicer and more friendly than anywhere else I've been in Europe. However, the men were definitely the most forward of anywhere I've been and while I understand Anna and Megan's discomfort after being grabbed, I felt like the guys were just happy, drunk, disrespectful idiots. It was completely inappropriate but I did not feel as though they would follow us home or truly threaten our safety. Maybe that is a misguided feeling but it's just how I felt in the moment.

We decided to head back to Taafees and we found out that their live music was starting at 9:30PM. We ordered some pints of cider and sat down near the little make-shift stage and TV screen. We talked and drank our ciders and scoped out the people in the bar. A group of German girls came in and sat at the table next to us and gradually the bar filled up. The music came at 9:30, as promised, and it was certainly a treat. There were two men, one with an accordion and one with a guitar, and one woman with a violin. They played their hearts out and the woman ordered a huge Guinness which was overflowing as it sat on the little ledge next to her. The man with the accordion appeared to be the oldest in the trio and he was very angry looking while he played. He'd stick his tongue out a little and sometimes he's crack a smile when he locked eyes with one of the dancing audience members.

The common room in the hostel was really cozy.
Galway was beautiful, even in the rain.
Everything was going swimmingly until a really large guy fell into a table (not so accidentally) and spilled four pints of Guinness on the German girls and, of course, on me. My right leg was soaked as well as my jacket but it wasn't nearly as bad as the damage done to the girls next to us. We left soon after that because things we getting too crowded and we were tired.

We got back to the hostel and were there first again so we took advantage of the bathroom and got to sleep early. We slept until 7:30AM/8AM the next morning and got all dressed and packed up. We ate breakfast (toast, juice and cereal) in the dining room downstairs and then checked our bags with reception for the day. We sat in the common room for a little while Anna played with the guitar they have and I searched for a tune to play on the jukebox.

When we left the hostel it was raining. It was pretty miserable out but not bad enough to keep us from seeing the town while we had the chance. So we walked around literally the whole town in about an hour because of how small it is, and it was really nice. We went into the cathedral and heard mass being said in Irish. Then we saw the strip of colored houses by the water, which was rushing like crazy because of the rain. We saw the Spanish Arch and the museum which was unfortunately closed because it was Sunday. We made our way back to the area we were in the night before just as all of the shops were opening for the day. We went in some touristy shops and I got a green scarf from a nice, older couple who gave me a five Euro discount because the tag was missing. We also went into a bookstore and Butler's Chocolate Cafe, where I got a salted caramel and a hazelnut caramel to try. They were really good, which I'm sure you predicted I'd say.

We retrieved our belongings from the hostel and walked to the bus/train station. We purchased tickets to the airport and the ride was less than comfortable. The couple in front of me smelt horrible and they were clearly hippies. The guy had a really long, gangly beard and the girl's bright blue nail polish, rings and greasy scalp were one of the main sights I saw during the ride. They both reclined their seats all of the way so I was squished up right behind them. I pulled my sweater over my nose, put headphones in and slunk down into my seat with my head towards the window.

Photo Credit: Anna Alexander. Me on the left and Megan on the right.

The bus ride didn't take too long, thank God, and we arrived at the tiny Knock Airport after about an hour. We went through security with no other passengers in sight and sat at our gate. We had about and hour or so to wait until we could board so we talked, caught up on social media on our phones and bought some snacks. The flight itself was nice until the end, when it got really bumpy. Poor Anna was terrified. We landed safely at Standsted despite the wind and caught our bus back to Liverpool Street Station. I said goodbye to Anna and Megan and rushed to get out of the rain. I took the tube back to my beloved Baker Street Station and was showered and in bed before I knew it.

It was a radically different trip to Paris in so many ways, but it's left me dreaming of Ireland and longing to go back all week. If you ever have the chance to go, I'd strongly recommend it. I'll never forget walking up the stairs from the tarmac to the plane, staring at the fields around the runway and the setting sun and praying to God that I would be back one day.

Write soon.
xx Sheila

(PS: My dad used to sing to us every night before bed. One of our favorites was "Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral (That's an Irish Lullaby)" and Maggie and I sang it for the Oak Grove talent show when we were in third and first grades. It's a special thing to have a dad who sings to you and I couldn't help but think of him and that song while I was in Ireland.)

Galway, Ireland.