Spring Break, Part 1

Well I haven’t been keeping up with this nearly as much as I had hoped. So I’m just going to do two separate updates on the past like 6 weeks. Part 1: here we go..

For those who aren’t familiar with the UK system, I’ve actually been done my actual classes since late March. We then had a 5 week long break, and now I’m in the middle of review classes, where my exams don’t actually start until May 20. So that’s nearly 2 months since I’ve learned anything and yet I’m expected to remember everything from September to take exams over the course of a few weeks. We’ll see how that one goes. Regardless, the past few weeks have been such a great experience because I put down all of my books and just traveled. I don’t know if that was the best idea, but I’ll determine that on June 2 when I’m officially done.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been to 5 countries, including 2 with my mom and sister!

First stop: Lisbon, Portugal

So I’ll just throw this out there before I get into anything: every country I went to with my friends, we seemed to hit the worst weather of the season. It definitely started in Portugal. You would think at the end of March, Portugal would be a great spring break destination. Well, we got incredibly unlucky because the few days we were there, it was cold, windy, and quite unpleasant. But, we did get a ton of sightseeing in, and got a great workout on all the massive hills and cobblestones. When we arrived our first day, we ran into problems early on when we were trekking through an unknown city in the rain on slippery cobblestones uphill with all our bags. We eventually arrived sweaty messes to our hostel, and decided to grab some food. The hostel recommended some good local food that was relatively close, so we decided to try it out. Well, then came our next obstacle: none of us knew Portuguese. The recommended place had one English speaker that was incredibly busy, and they put a ton of bread and cheese on the table right in front of us. Word of advice to those traveling through Europe: the bread is not free. Don’t touch it or you will be charged per piece. So after that incredibly stressful meal, we decided to go on a, thankfully English speaking, free tour. My friends and I are suckers for the free tours because they really are the best thing in Europe. On this tour, we saw things such as the oldest book store in the world! I didn’t know we would stumble upon that! We also saw remnants of the city that was devastated in a huge earthquake in 1755. It was so unfortunate the stories our guide told us. The city was destroyed in a matter of hours. There are a select few places which still harbor the devastation, including a church that lost its roof, but the walls still remain. On a brighter note, our guide also brought us into a church that no one would look twice at from the outside. The inside however, so stunning. I’ve never seen a church covered in more gold in my life. I’m so glad he brought us in there, because it inspired us to go into many more churches that we never would have thought would be so beautiful. Aside from the churches and earthquake stories, we did get a chance to sit down and enjoy authentic Portuguese desserts. We tried custard pastries and bean pastries. These bean pastries were heavenly, and they were only made from beans. They were so sweet and delicious, and I’m still wondering how theres hardly any other ingredients in such a delicious masterpiece. We also tried a dessert-like liquor that is popular in Portugal, called Ginja. The Portuguese really know how to do dessert right. Later on the tour, we got to the coast and our guide pointed out something peculiar: in Lisbon, there is an exact copy of the San Franciso Bay bridge and the Christ the Redeemer statue which is famous to Rio. The next day we decided to venture up to a castle atop one of the hills which gave incredible views of the city, and housed peacocks! They were so beautiful, and I think all the tourists were more interested in the peacocks than the actual castle. One of our last days in Lisbon, we decided to take a long walk down the coast to see the large monument, Padrão dos Descobrimentos, or Monument to the Discoveries. It was one of the largest monuments I’ve ever seen. We continued along the coast to see the Belem Tower which was a sight in itself from the outside. Unfortunately we didn’t go in because it was a ridiculous entrance fee that we decided wasn’t worth it. After that day ended, we calculated we had walked a total of about 10 miles. Our last day, of course was raining, so we decided to take a trip to the Lisbon aquarium. I think we spent most of our time in the sea otter room watching them eat and steal each others food. Aside from all this, Lisbon is an incredibly quirky city that was still really great despite the cold and rainy weather!

So, my next trip lined up was with my mom and sister. Pretty exciting! I was really nervous for them getting here, but they did just fine! All in all, it seems like they enjoyed themselves! I know, I tired them out a lot. But they wanted to see a lot, so I packed all I could in! Their first few days we did generic sightseeing like my school, Westminster Abbey, and a general walk through all the main parts of central London. We also saw Wicked! It was a great show, even though Tori fell asleep a few times because I really wore them out. Being here for almost a year, I didn’t realize other people aren’t used to the extensive walking I have grown accustomed to. We also went to the Warner Brothers Making of Harry Potter exhibit! After, of course, we stopped at Kings Cross station and went to Platform 9 3/4! All year I had seen all my friends going to the studio and they came back with such great things to say. I was so excited we finally got to do this because it was well worth it. Even though we had to take the tube, train, and then a bus to get there, I had a great time. There were so many props from the movies, I felt like I was reliving my whole childhood. When we got into the last room, I’ll admit, I cried a little. I don’t know whether my mom and sister got as emotional, but I sure did. I won’t ruin the surprise directly for anyone that hasn’t gone yet, but it was really so cool to turn the corner and BOOM there it was. We also, as per Tori’s request, went on a “Rock and Roll Tour” where we sat on a little bus for about 3 hours and a tour guide showed us all around West London. I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it! The guide pointed out many areas that are now virtually unknown what they once were, but he did point out places such as Ringo’s current apartment, the rooftop where the Beatles played their last show, among many other really cool places that the average Londoner wouldn’t know at all. I’m sure Tori could tell you more about what we saw, since I didn’t really know half the bands he talked about, but I still got a lot of enjoyment out of it. We also stopped at Abbey Road. Word of advice, never go to Abbey Road during rush hour. You may actually get run over. Regardless, we got a few subpar pictures and got to walk across many times in our numerous attempts.

In their last few days in London, we did a run through of many big landmarks to take pictures because, well, we had a bit of a mishap with the previous pictures. I’ll get into that in a second.

First stop after London was Madrid! We visited a friend that we knew was living there, and she graciously showed us around and let us stay in her flat. Even though we only had 2 full days there, we packed quite a bit in! She showed us around the whole city and brought us to places typical tourists don’t usually go. We were so grateful to have great weather for the most part! Our second day we went to a market that was incredibly flooded with people. We got a lot of great deals, but unfortunately a thief stole my mom’s phone right from her pocket which put a damper on the day. I felt terrible because that was something I was trying so hard to prevent, as Joe’s stuff was stolen just a few months prior in Paris. But, these things happen, and unfortunately we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, we recovered and got ourselves together to later sort things out with the phone company. This is where most of our pictures disappeared unfortunately. We however recovered most of them our last few days in London. I’m just glad it wasn’t a wallet or someone getting physically hurt!

We packed our things after the two days in Madrid and flew over to Rome. I was really excited for Rome because I found out the bed and breakfast my mom booked was right next to the Vatican! That was something to look forward to. After a long and slightly confusing trek from the airport, we finally made it with some time to rest before yet another free tour. I really enjoy them and I try to find them in every city I go to. This one was a great overview of the city and our guide brought us to so many places including the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain! We knocked out a lot of the tourist things just in those few hours which was really convenient. The next day we decided to go to the Colosseum which was far more incredible than I imagined, even though it was covered in scaffolding. However, we continued through our day and went into many churches, including ones that housed a relic of Mary Magdalene’s foot, and the chains that were on Saint Peter. Rome is full of history and you can find so much just wandering around without a map. Our third and final day in Rome we were so excited to have tickets to see the Pope! We were apart of the papal audience, and to our surprise, he came around in the Pope-mobile and drove nearly 5 feet from us! It was a really great experience, especially hearing the translations into nearly 10 different languages. There were thousands and thousands of people there all for the same reason, and it was really a blessing to have been there on a Wednesday to experience that. Afterwards, battling through the illegal street vendors who scuttled away every time a cop showed up, we went to the Vatican Museum, which to our surprise wasn’t right near the Vatican. However, we saw incredible pieces of art including The School of Athens and the Sistine Chapel. I wanted to stay in those rooms all day. We raced through the rest of the museum because we didn’t really know what we were looking at, and stumbled upon an exhibit of Pope-mobiles from past decades and centuries. It was really fascinating to see the progression from horse drawn carriages to VW Beetles. Later that day we made our way back to the airport to head back to London. By this time my mom and sister were exhausted! So was I! I got stuck carting around their 50 pound suitcase because they didn’t know what they needed. It did work out however in the end. We made it safely back to London to wrap up the rest of their trip by seeing St. James Park, Hamley’s, and more souvenir shops than I’ve ever seen in my life. I still don’t know how they got it all home! I’m impressed! Apparently Tori ended up with over 10 t-shirts.

All in all, I think it was a very successful trip aside from some minor mishaps. I’m so glad they came and enjoyed themselves! I apologize if I missed anything in this writeup! It was already so long ago I can’t keep my trips straight! I’m glad I finally found the time to at least post about the first half. However, thank you Mom and Tori for coming! I hope you recovered alright!

As I wrap up Part 1, here are some pictures from our trip together. Part 2 coming soon..

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