At Last!

Spain was at the top of my list for destinations when I first came to study abroad in Norway and somehow it got pushed to the very last flight I went on.  The trip to Spain was special because I took Spanish classes in high school and always dreamed of actually being able to use some of my Spanish!  Of course, the image I had in my head of all of my Spanish that I learned in high school miraculously flooding back to me when I was surrounded by the language didn´t quite pan out as expected.  On the last day of the trip I came to terms with the fact that despite wanting to be magically fluent, I was still utterly clueless.  It hit me as I was standing at the counter of a McDonalds trying to order some milk – I know, an odd thing to order at McDonalds but that’s beside the point – and I simply couldn´t convey to the lady what it was I wanted.  At first she got me coffee with milk, then chocolate milk, then steamed milk…  So three wrong drinks later and an annoyed look from the cashier I had my milk and was feeling quite humble about my Spanish skills.

What little I did manage to recall was extremely helpful though.  Essential even.  This is what set Spain apart from the other places that I have visited.  In France, Greece, and Italy when people saw our dumbfounded faces at the sound of their native language they were able to switch to English, sometimes very rudimentary English but English none the less!  In Spain, we started every conversation with, “¿Usted habla inglés?” meaning “Do you speak English?” and the answer was most often a simple, matter of fact, “No.”  At this point, my roommate and I would take a deep breath, smile, and stumble through some mangled Spanish phrases.  Of course, communicating the simplest things was a huge accomplishment.  There was something rewarding about feeling like the group we were traveling with was somehow dependent on my roommate and I to get around.

Valencia, Spain, itself was like jumping right into the pages of my Spanish book from high school.  The beach was beautiful, the sand was a lot finer than the sand in Greece, but the water was still pretty chilly.  The biggest difference that I noticed was the people themselves.  Being to a topless beach was a new experience for me.  Old and young women alike weren´t shy about not wearing anything!

The weather was only really nice for one day so we divided the rest of our time in Spain between the museums (Valencia is known for its excellent museums) and the city center.  First we went to L´Oceanogràphic, the largest aquarium in Europe and the next day we went to El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe, an interactive science museum.

The aquarium.

My favorite part of the aquarium!

The architecture of all of the museums was very modern. Here is the science museum.

This was one of my favorite places in the science museum. They showed a video clip in a room of mirrors.

These red flowers were everywhere!

The Central Market.

Out of all of the places that I have traveled to, I have to say that my favorite architecture is a toss up between Spain and Greece.

Valencia is known for its beautiful graffiti.

London for a Day!

When I first told people that I wanted to take a day trip to London, most people reacted with, ”You’re going to go to London for a day?  That’s not enough time to do anything!”  So I definitely had my doubts about how successful the trip was going to be.  I’m happy to say that the trip was a success!  Equipped with only a rudimentary map, my friend and I managed to maneuver our way around the city and see everything that we wanted to.  Luckily, London was filled with handy little signs directing us to all the major sites and also has some of the friendliest helpful people!  I wish that I had done more day trips during my stay here…there is something refreshing about boarding a plane with nothing but a camera and money.

We saw Westminster Abbey and Cathedral, the London Eye, and Big Ben, and walked along the London Bridge and through St. James’s Park to Buckingham Palace.  My legs were incredibly sore the next day but it was worth it!

My favorite place was St. James’s Park.  This may be in part because St. James’s Park was the only part of the whole day when the rain ceased and the sun decided to make a brief appearance.  If I ever go back to London I will certainly be sure to pack an umbrella!  I also really liked how it was so teeming with life.  There were squirrels, rats, mice, ducks, and many other types of birds everywhere.  The squirrels would practically eat out of your hand.


James’s Park had the most gorgeous flower displays I have ever seen!

A typical London street.
We stopped in this quirky little café called, “The Folly” for a bit to warm up from the rain.
London Bridge from a distance.
At first, I was a little confused because every bridge says, “London Bridge” on it. The London Bridge is the impressive looking one!

Big Ben.

Spring Break in Corfu

I apologize for posting so inconsistently!  I’ll admit I’m pretty behind on my posts… I have yet to write about my travels to Greece, Britain, and Spain.  I returned from Spain yesterday and will be boarding the train for another adventure in three days.  All this during final’s week!  Not to mention I am quickly realizing that with only 14 days left here I am not going to be able to accomplish everything that I want to.  There simply isn’t time.  Perhaps the saddest part is knowing that a lot of the people I have become friends with I won’t see again for a while, if ever.  I love traveling but I feel as though the more places I go, the more people I miss, and the harder it is to mentally be in one place.  Here, I am always partly back home in Dickinson, North Dakota, with my family and high school friends and partly in Grand Forks, North Dakota, with my college friends.  I suppose when I return to the U.S. part of me will stay behind in Norway.

Greece was a wonderful break from all of the sightseeing trips that I have been on.  I didn’t have a single thing in mind that I absolutely had to see or had to do in Greece as I stepped off the plane.  So I was really free to just relax and experience a new place.  Greece was also a different experience because for the first time it wasn’t just my roommate and I going.  Including myself, there were eleven ACNers on the trip.  Only five of us were American.  Actually, most of the people staying at the hostel were Americans who were studying abroad in Barcelona.  To be honest, being around Americans again made me gain an even further appreciation for Norwegians!  For the first time, I was able to recognize the different cultural characteristics that are distinctly American.  Before coming to Norway, I don’t think I really had a good grasp on what American culture is.  I wasn’t the only American who preferred the Norwegian demeanor.   At one point, my roommate and I were approached by a very friendly guy who thought we were Norwegian girls and when we corrected him and told him we were American he suddenly lost interest and walked away.  It was quite the change from Norway where I feel like people are more interested in getting to know me because I am American!

As much as I love Norway, I do miss the United States.  I miss how accessible everything is.  I miss being able to walk up to someone in the store or at a restaurant and know without a doubt that they will be able to speak English.  I miss my crazy friends who aren’t afraid to act ridiculous in public places.  The quiet calm of Norwegians in public is nice but sometimes it feels rather restricting…like I can’t break the silence or I will be interrupting everyones’ thoughts.  Most of all, I am excited to be done with school!  Juggling school with friends and sleep has been even harder here than it is in the United States.  I have never had to try and force myself to focus on school so much.  Halfways through the semester I realized that this will most likely be the only time in my life that I will live in Europe and that I should probably make the most of it!  Homework just didn’t seem as important anymore.

Speaking of focusing… back to the topic of Greece!  We went to Greece at the end of March and the beginning of April so we just missed when the tourism season really starts up.  This came with its pros and cons; we had the beach to ourselves a lot of the time which was really nice, but…the water wasn’t really the prime temperature for swimming which was disappointing.  When we got to Agios Gordios (the little town where our hostel was), it was kind of a ghost town.  The little shops, bars, and restaurants hadn’t yet opened.  By the time our stay there was over, everything was just starting to come alive.

I was interested to see how Greece was doing in light of the current economic crisis, but honestly I couldn’t feel any of the financial stress.  This was understandable in the little town where our hostel was, but I definitely expected to be able to tell in Corfu town.  However, even in Corfu town, I didn’t catch any signs that anything was askew.

Corfu town was filled with an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants.  It seemed like everywhere I turned there was someone offering me something called a kumquat, a tiny grape-shaped/sized orange that you eat with the peel on.  I tried ones that had been processed with preservatives, fresh ones, and even ones that had been made into liquor.  We also visited Palaio Frourio, also known as the Fortress.

Corfu town street: bustling and bright.
The Fortress. Located on the east side of Corfu town.
Another shot from the Fortress. The colors were so vibrant!

Normally, I would have taken part in some of the day activities that the hostel had going on like kayaking, cliff jumping, and four wheeling.  But with the weather being a little chilly and the high prices, I opted to just hang out on the beach during the day and do the nightlife activities.  I read some J.D. Salinger, built a giant turtle in the sand with my roommate, explored Agios Gordios, took the bus into Corfu town, and was brave enough to jump into the cold water a few times.

The food in Greece was also some of the best that I have tried on all of my travels.  The hostel provided three course meals every night as well as breakfast which was convenient and for lunch there were several places that offered delicious gyros for around 2 euros.

Building a sand castle seemed like too much work, so we build a turtle instead. 🙂
The beach! You can see some tourist shops and restaurants in the background.
I only caught a glimpse of these pretty little lizards a few times but I managed to snap a shot.

Coming  back from Greece was by far the hardest out of any of the trips that I have gone on.  Many of the people who went on the trip came back with a cough and light-headedness which we affectionately named, “the Corflu”.  And to top it off, ironically, my only souvenir from the hostel that we stayed at, the Pink Palace, was a case of pink eye.

“Smile and the whole world smiles with you. Cry and you cry alone.”

“Smile and the whole world smiles with you.  Cry and you cry alone.  It’s an old saying we have here.”  These were the first words I heard in that cheerful Irish accent.  The man who was stamping my passport found it a nice surprise that I was smiling in my passport picture unlike the hundreds of serious portraits he sees in a day.  I think this saying will forever be branded in my mind as a good summary of the feel of Ireland.  Friendly, open, and genuine.

Dublin was in a way a nice break from Paris and Rome because I didn’t have a checklist of monuments or museums that I HAD to see.  I didn’t have any expectations for Dublin whatsoever.  Mostly, I just wanted to see a castle.  So we ended up pretty much doing two things in Dublin: shopping during the day and checking out a variety of pubs at night.

The shopping in Dublin put the shopping in Rome and Paris to shame.  We walked down Grafton Street, O’Connell Street, and Henry Street.  The two main malls are the Jervis Center and ILAC Center; they both have reasonably priced clothes.  My favorite store was the giant Forever 21.  You might wonder: why would I shop at a store in Europe that I can easily shop at in the U.S.?  The answer is that the United States Forever 21 doesn’t carry the same clothes!  The huge clothing stores like Forever 21, H&M, and Top Shop cater to the different fashion trends of the countries that they are in.  There is even a wide variety within the clothing lines in Europe.  The clothes in the Rome H&M were very different from the clothes in the Paris H&M.  I think one of the mistakes that I made before coming to Europe was lumping all of European fashion into one category.

The atmosphere of the pubs was precisely what the movies portray it to be.  When I got to Dublin, I heard a lot about Temple Bar.  I’m embarrassed to say that I originally thought Temple Bar was one pub.  It’s not.  Temple Bar is referring to an entire area of Dublin, the cultural and nightlife area.  Imagine my initial confusion when I was suddenly in a district that had dozens of pubs named “Temple Bar”!  Temple Bar is one of the most alive, vibrant places I have ever seen.  There are talented street performers left and right and so many different types of people.  There were fat potbellied men waving their pints of beer in the air and singing along with the live music.  There were men in kilts walking around everywhere.  There were lots of redheads, but most weren’t natural.  It’s a trend to dye your hair red I guess.

We found one low key pub that we particularly liked and went back to multiple times called Fitzgerald’s.  The bartender was very Irish and I think he took offense to a few of our comments.  My friend offhandedly said, “I don’t like beer”.  He was quick to respond with, “You don’t belong in this country then”.  At another point, she mentioned men wearing skirts everywhere and he quickly stopped what he was doing and pointedly corrected her, “They’re kilts.  They’re not skirts.  They’re kilts”.  He made sure she knew the difference before he resumed his work.  When we weren’t offending the bartender at Fitzgerald’s, we were watching rugby and trying a pint of Guinness.  I’m not a connoisseur of beers but to me it had a very distinct, strong flavor that almost reminded me of coffee.

Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to the Guinness factory.  That would have been very interesting to see.  I did however visit Trinity College and the Dublin Castle.  It was refreshing to see all the green grass after being in gray Norway for so long!  We also took a ferry ride down the Liffey River.

Everything was so GREEN!

The Liffey River

One of the main shopping streets. You can see the Dublin Spire in the distance. It is also called the “Millenium Spike” and has a few silly nicknames like “stilletto in the ghetto”.

Dublin Castle

One of the many huge shopping centers.