Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Wednesday May 30, 2012 – Going Home

            On May 9th Mike and I went to the Edinburgh Zoo and climbed Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh.  I was very excited since the zoo had Giant Pandas (we were lucky enough to see one of them awake and walking around!), koalas, pygmy hippos, penguins, and LOTS of monkeys!  Afterwards, we headed back to the city centre of Edinburgh, walked along the Royal Mile, and then trekked all the way up the mountain called Arthur’s Seat.  It surprisingly only took us about 45 minutes to climb.  The views were spectacular.
            On May 17th I had my last exam.  After I was done it was such a huge relief since I’m fully done 3rd year at university now!  Mike and I spent the next couple days around Glasgow shopping and sightseeing.  We explored more of the West End one day and saw the Armadillo building, the Glasgow Science Centre, the Riverside Museum, and the Clyde Arc bridge.  We also went out for dinner at my favourite burger place called Ketchup.  Mike ended up getting the Colossal burger and finished it all!  We then got the largest sundae I’ve ever seen in my life.  Right when it came I couldn’t believe that they made sundaes that big.  That dinner was definitely extremely filling but REALLy good!  Mike and I also explored Pollok Park one day.  It is a park south of Glasgow where there are 100 Highland cattle and some Clydesdale Horses.  Walking around the park was very beautiful since lots of flowers and trees were in bloom and it was a warm day.  Parts of the park reminded me of Highland Creek.  Mike and I also went to North Queensferry one day to the Deep Sea World.  We saw the Forth Bridge there, which is famous in Scotland, and then we explored the tiny little town – there was hardly anything there.  We then decided to go to the Deep Sea World.  We saw many fish, frogs, an alligator snapping turtle, which has the strongest recorded bite on the planet, eels, piranhas, and crabs.  We then went in the longest underwater tunnel in Europe where there were sharks and other sea creatures!  I loved the giant aquarium because many of the creatures were very interesting.  Afterwards we saw a seal perform a show and saw a Bearded Dragon get fed.  We then went back to Edinburgh and explored the Royal Mile one final time before going back to Glasgow.
            On a gorgeous day last week we went to Loch Lomond for the day.  Loch Lomond is a national park that is known for being very beautiful and a great hiking destination.  Mike and I hiked around the various trails throughout the woods and by the water.  We also people watched a lot and relaxed in the shade on top of a hill overlooking the loch by a castle there.
            Over these past few weeks being done school Mike and I have done a lot of day trips, but we’ve also relaxed around Glasgow and hung out with various friends here one last time.  Now I’m sitting in the Glasgow airport waiting for my flight to Heathrow.  From Heathrow I’ll head back to Toronto.  I’m so excited to go home after these past 5 months since I miss everyone and everything about home so much, but I will definitely miss Glasgow.  I’m so thankful to have had this opportunity that not many people get to experience.  I feel like I’ve learned a lot more than a normal term in school at McMaster, just by travelling and living abroad.  Although the schooling wasn’t as busy and hard as McMaster, it has still been very beneficial to my education and myself as a person.  This will probably be the longest day, but in about 12 hours I’ll be home!  Fingers crossed that there won’t be any delays!  Canada here I come! <3

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Thursday May 10th, 2012 – The Past Few Weeks

            These past few weeks I’ve been very busy finishing final essays and studying for exams.  In fact, today I just submitted my last essay which was 3000 words and worth 70% of my final mark.  Last Thursday I had my first exam and it was definitely an experience.  I arrived there half an hour early and nobody was there.  10 minutes before the exam was supposed to start there was still NOBODY else there.  When the invigilators opened the doors I was the only one there.  They were very surprised, and the reason why was because there was a separate door that everybody else was waiting at – it was very odd.  The exams here do differ from McMaster’s exams quite a bit.  They seem to all be essay style here, whereas at McMaster they’re multiple choice, true/false, or short answer for me usually.  Now I just have one more exam in a week.  Even though I’ve had work to do, that hasn’t stopped me from shopping and travelling.  I’ve gone shopping a lot in Glasgow getting some new clothes, and souvenirs for myself and people back home.  Yesterday, Mike and I went to Edinburgh one last time to go to the zoo and climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat (hill overlooking Edinburgh).  At the zoo we saw the Giant Pandas, koalas, pygmy hippos, penguins, and MANY kinds of monkeys.  It was definitely not as good as the Toronto Zoo which is a lot bigger, but was still fun.  We then went to the city centre and walked up and down the Royal Mile and then climbed to the top of Arthur’s Seat which took us about 45 minutes to do.  We then sat at the top for a while admiring the view, and then started the descent down.  After shopping a little more we then took the bus back to Glasgow.
            I’m going home in 3 weeks minus a day now and I have mixed feelings about it.  Of course I’m super excited to go home because I miss everyone there like crazy, but I’ll be very sad when I leave Glasgow.  It has been my home for the past 5 months, and I’ve met so many amazing people and had so many amazing experiences that I’ll remember forever.  I wish I had more time here so that I could travel to more places because travelling in Europe is so cheap with easyjet and ryanair and all the buses here.  Next week after my last exam Mike and I are planning on travelling through England and Wales more to see more of the UK.  I figure I better see more of it since I’ve only been to London, Bristol, Bath, and Windsor in England, and nowhere in Wales.  There’s still so much to see!

Monday April 23rd, 2012 – Isle of Skye Trip

            On Friday April 20th Mike and I went on the Isle of Skye trip with the international society at my university.  The Isle of Skye is a large island in the west of Scotland and is known to have the most beautiful landscapes out of Scotland.  On the first day we stopped in Glencoe (again) and saw the famous 3 Sisters Mountains.  We then saw the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which is famous for being in the Harry Potter movies where the train to Hogwarts goes along.  Afterwards we went to Eilean Donan Castle and saw beautiful views of the castle and the loch.  We then checked into our hostel in Portree on the Isle of Skye and had some free time that evening.
            The next day we went to the Sliagachan bridge which is famous for a myth.  The myth is that if you dunk your head in the water there for 7 seconds, you’ll have eternal beauty.  Mike ended up dunking his head in the water, but most of us didn’t.  We then spent 3 hours climbing the Old Man of Storr, which is a mountain.  It was definitely a good work out and was amazing eating lunch at the top above the clouds.  We were also able to go very close to sheep, which was very exciting.  Near the end of our lunch we saw some rain clouds moving in so we started to make our descent down.  We then went to Lealt Falls where we saw even more sheep, and then went to Kilt rock.  That rock was basically a cliff with formations on it that look like pleats in a tartan kilt.  We then stopped at random castle ruins, and saw many baby sheep that I was a couple meters away from.  We then drove through the town of Uig and went back to Portree where we had dinner beside the harbour.
            The next day we made our way to Inverness where we walked around and had lunch.  We had already been there back in February so we didn’t walk around too much.  We then went to Loch Ness where we went on a cruise past Urquhart Castle.  Next, we went to Cairngorm ski hill where we saw amazing views of the highlands.  There were actually people skiing there and I wish we could have too. L  Afterwards we stopped in the town called Pitlochry for dinner, and then continued home to Glasgow.  Was definitely an amazing trip with lots of friends, and a great way to end Spring Break.

Wednesday April 18th, 2012 – Nice and back to Paris to go home

            In the morning of April 18th we walked through the old town and the market of Nice.  We then took an elevator to the top of the hill in Nice where there’s a park.  We saw amazing views of Nice again and saw a waterfall.  We then walked around, had a picnic lunch on the Promenade and walked around the New Town’s shops.  We then got our last ice cream of the trip at a place with over 40 flavours including green olive, tomato and basil, and cactus flavours.  They had some really weird flavours!  I got stracciatella and amarena ice cream, and Mike got Ferrero Rocher.  After picking up our luggage from our hostel we then caught our train back to Paris since we were flying out of Paris to go back to Glasgow the day after.  On the train back to Paris I reflected back on the whole trip since it was basically over.  It was definitely one of my favourite trips I’ve ever been on BUT it has made me realize that there’s nothing like home.  I miss Canada and all my friends and family there so much.  Despite how much I love travelling and want to continue travelling, I can only take so much.

Tuesday April 17th, 2012 – St. Paul de Vence, Nice and Villafrance Sur Mer

            Today we went to St. Paul de Vence.  I wanted to go back since I loved it when I went there back in January.  We went in many artist’s shops and saw beautiful sculptures and paintings.  I wish I could buy all the paintings I loved there but if I did, I’d have no room for them.  They were all SPECTACULAR.  For lunch, we had ham and cheese crepes and we saw amazing views.  We then decided to go to Villefranche Sur Mer, which is a small town east of Nice.  We checked out the old town there and some touristy shops.  We also went to the citadel there but there was basically nothing and no one there, which was odd.  Afterwards, we sat on a beach for a while and skipped rocks into the Mediterranean Sea.  We then went back to Nice and made dinner at our hostel, and then went out to enjoy the city at night.  We walked around the old town, the promenade, and the new town where we sat down and got our last crepes in France.

Monday April 16th, 2012 – Nice, Cannes and Monte Carlo

            On Sunday April 15th Mike and I went on a 10 hour journey to get to Nice from Paris.  We had to get up at 5am to catch the first metro at 5:40am and go to the airport.  We then caught a TGV train to Lyon, transferred and then got on another TGV train to Marseilles.  We then transferred to a regional train, which brought us to Nice in the mid afternoon.  When we got there we walked around the old town and the promenade beside the Mediterranean Sea.  I think I’ve fallen in love with the Mediterranean.  I just love how there are palm trees there beside the sea, with the French culture.  That evening we walked up a hill to a park and took lots of pictures of the views.  We then went to a pub and got nachos and drinks.  We then made dinner at our hostel to save money.
            The next day we went to Cannes and saw the Film Festival Palace.  We then walked around the streets and shops and then caught a train to Monte Carlo.  I absolutely loved Monte Carlo, even though it was the 2nd time I had been there.  We first saw the Monte Carlo Casino and then I showed Mike the super pricey mall with the shoes that were 2500 euros.  There were beautiful Murano glass sculptures in a store in the mall worth 80,000 euros – wow!  We then walked along the track where the Monaco Grand Prix will be later in May.  Next, we walked beside the marina and then up to the Palace and the cute little streets around there.  There were many cute cafes and touristy shops in that area, and it was nice to see since I hadn’t gone to that part of Monaco in January when I was there.  We then sat down and decided to stop and admire the view for a while.  It was absolutely gorgeous with extremely blue water, palm trees, and warm air.  Was definitely very relaxing after having 2.5 weeks of hectic sightseeing.  Unfortunately, it was then time to head back to Nice.  We walked around the city more when we got back, watched a spray paint artist, and walked along the promenade.  After sitting and staring out at the dark Mediterranean Sea to the sound of crashing waves for awhile, we then checked out some touristy shops and then went back to the hostel.

Saturday April 14th, 2012 – Paris and Versailles

            On April 12th we took the train from Bruges to Lille, and then from Lille to Paris.  We decided to do that instead of changing trains in Brussels because the reservation from Lille to Paris was 3 euros, whereas from Brussels to Paris it was 30 euros!  When we got to Paris and checked into our hostel in the Latin Quarter we went to Notre Dame Cathedral and saw the inside.  We then went to the Champs Elysee and saw the Arc de Triumph.  After walked down the Champs Elysee and getting a baguette we saw the Grand and Petit Palace.  We then walked along the Pont Alexandre III Bridge to the Place des Invalides.  Afterwards we walked back to the bridge and watched the beautiful sunset.  Afterwards we walked all the way to the Eiffel tower and saw it twinkle.  After walking around all afternoon and evening, I determined that Paris is a lot nicer in the springtime than in the winter when it’s super cold!
            The next day we got up super early to get in line for the Eiffel tower.  We went to the 2nd level of it where I had gone before, but this time it was a lot warmer and less windy.  We got our 2 day museum pass and walked up about 300 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe.  Next, we went to the Louvre for a couple hours.  It was amazing bypassing all the lineups with our museum pass – if anybody goes to Paris and wants to see the attractions you should definitely get it!  Afterwards, we saw the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, walked along the gardens and saw baby sucks swimming in a pond.  We walked all the way to the Luxor Obelisk and then went to the Rodin Museum where there are beautiful gardens and artwork throughout them.  One famous statue we saw was “The Thinker”.  Next, we went to Napoleon’s Tomb and then got crepes for dinner.  That evening we went on a Bateaux Parisiens boat cruise up the Seine River since we got 50% off of the admission price with our Eurail passes.  It was an hour long and we went all the way past Notre Dame and then back up the river past the Eiffel Tower.
            The next day we went to the Palace of Versailles.  We toured the Royal Apartments and then went to the Gardens to see the musical fountain show.  The fountains started and sprayed the water to the music.  We walked around the gardens for an hour and didn’t even get to see them all they were so big.  In the middle of the gardens there was a hidden restaurant in one area, and another snack bar in another area.  I got ice cream, and Mike got a chocolate crepe.  Afterwards, we went back to Paris to spend the afternoon there.  First we went to the Notre Dame Crypt when we got back to Paris, which was very interesting.  We then went up the Notre Dame Towers, which was one of my favourite attractions we did in Paris.  We had to walk up 400 steps to the top of it but the views were spectacular.  You could see the fine detail of the cathedral on the sides as well.  We were right beside gargoyles and got to see the Big Bell of Notre Dame, which weighs 170 tonnes.  Afterwards we walked around the Latin Quarter.  I showed Mike the Great Canadian Pub but we unfortunately didn’t get anything there since it was very pricey.  After going into many souvenir shops and vendors beside the Seine River, we got dinner at a restaurant in the Latin Quarter and had chocolate crepes for dessert.  The next day we were leaving for Nice and the French Riviera.

Wednesday April 11, 2012 – Bruges

            In the morning on April 11th we left Amsterdam for Bruges.  When we got there we walked around the city.  I absolutely fell in love with it when we got there.  There were chocolate shops EVERYWHERE with canals just like Venice (just a lot larger).  There were cobblestone streets everywhere along with horse and carriage rides and swans.  In the afternoon I tried the Belgium hot chocolate and I was blown away.  It was the BEST hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted – I couldn’t even believe how good it was.  We spent the afternoon going into almost every chocolate shop we passed comparing prices (I got a lot to bring back to Canada!).  We then got Belgium waffles as an afternoon snack.  I got mine with cherries on it and Mike got his with caramel on it.  In the evening we had pasta in a box for dinner, which was surprisingly very good (and cheap!)  We then went back to the hostel to the pub attached to it to try Belgium beer.  I had the cherry beer, which was super sweet and tasty – wish we had it in Canada!  The next morning we had breakfast at the hostel, checked out, and went to the park by our hostel to see giant windmills.  After taking many pictures it was then time to head to the train station to make our way to Paris!

Tuesday April 10th, 2012 – Amsterdam and Keukenhof Gardens

            On Sunday April 8th (Easter!) Mike and I took the train from Berlin to Amsterdam.  We arrived in Amsterdam in the evening and only had time to walk around the old town and check out the Red Light District.  I’ve gotta say, I was very surprised with the Red Light District.  Not because of the prostitutes it’s known for, but how it was such a tourist attraction!  The streets were crowded with people of all ages checking the area out.  There were single people, and couples from their 20’s up to their 80’s walking along the streets.  It was definitely a different experience.  The next day Mike and I got up early to go to the Van Gogh Museum – good thing we did because the line up was HUGE by the time we left the museum in the late morning.  Next we went in many cheese and souvenir shops.  We discovered that you could go from cheese shop to cheese shop trying all the free samples so that it was basically lunch!  We walked through the flower markets and basically just around the city all day.  That evening we went to a pub and got a drink or two.
            The next day we went to Keukenhof Gardens.  The gardens were BEAUTIFUL with millions of tulips and flowers.  There was also a windmill in the park as well.  After exploring the whole park we walked to some nearby farmers fields full of flowers and took pictures.  The fields of flowers just kept going on and on.  Afterwards we went back to Amsterdam looking for more cheese shops – the Gouda cheese from Amsterdam is my favourite cheese now.  It was very sunny that day making it very nice to walk along the canal belt.  We checked out the city hall area and walked around the old town at night.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Saturday April 7th, 2012 – Berlin

            On Friday April 6th, 2012 we arrived in Berlin in the afternoon.  After we checked into our hostel we saw the Holocaust memorial, Brandenburg gate, Reichstag, DDR museum and went in some shops on the main street from the Brandenburg gate.  We also saw some parts of the Berlin Wall.  The next day we went to the Checkpoint Charlie museum where we learned about various escape stories of people trying to escape from East Berlin to West Berlin over the wall.  One women escaped successfully by hiding between two surfboards with a cut out of her body in them on top of a car.  Another women escaped by hiding inside two suitcases put together.  Other people escaped by creating zip lines, their own little planes, and other ladders that would quickly fit over the wall and then collapse again.  All of it was very interesting and I would greatly recommend going to it if anyone visits Berlin.  Next we saw the Topographie des Terrors exhibit where my hatred for Hitler exponentially rose x infinity.  In high school they taught you a bit about World War II and the holocaust, but not to the extent that I learned while in Berlin.  After reading some stories and things that happened to some of the Jewish people I shed a few tears right in the museum.  I just can’t imagine what it must have ACTUALLY been like.  Hearing the descriptions of everything in all the museums definitely doesn’t do it justice to the real thing.
            Next we went to the East Side Gallery where the longest piece of the remaining Berlin wall is.  There were many murals on it each portraying different messages.  After that we went to the Easter market in Berlin, which lightened up my spirits.  Sadly, I became depressed again when went to the Holocaust Memorial and information centre.  We learned all about the Holocaust in great detail there and it was all very heavy to take in.  Pretty sure I shed a few more tears while reading some stuff there too.  Finally, we decided to spurge and go out for dinner and we got ribs and wings at an Australian restaurant.  They weren’t too expensive which was why we got them.  That day in Berlin it was extremely cold and it even started snowing at some points, which was why we spent it in museums all day.  The next day we left for Amsterdam after a depressing day and a half learning about Berlin’s history in great detail.

Thursday April 5th, 2012 – Vienna and Prague

            On Monday April 2nd Mike and I arrived in Vienna bright and early from our overnight train.  We only had about 5-6 hours in the city so we decided to mostly walk around and take the subway everywhere to see as much as we could.  We walked around the old town, and saw the beautiful architecture and gardens.  We walked by the Hapsburg Palace but sadly couldn’t go inside since we didn’t have enough time.  Next, we went to the Schonbrunn Palace and walked around the grounds and Easter market there.  I wish we had more time in Vienna because it looks like a gorgeous city to see in more detail with many palaces and museums to visit.  After lunch, we then took a train to Prague.
            Prague ended up being our favourite part of the whole trip, and is probably my favourite city I’ve ever visited, tied with Hawaii.  When we first got there and checked into our amazing hostel, we walked around the Easter markets and old town.  Right away I was in love with the Easter markets.  They offered many different types of traditional Czech food, which were ALL amazing and relatively cheap.
            On the Tuesday we had 2 3 hour-long walking tours of the city.  We started off with the free walking tour, which made me LOVE the city.  Our tour guide was superb at her job and told us all about the history of the city.  I didn’t know much about Prague’s history so learning about it was definitely very interesting.  Mike already knew about it so he ended up teaching me about it further after the tours.  During the tour we saw the Old Town Square and the famous astrological astronomical clock.  We also saw the Estate’s Theatre where Mozart conducted the premiere of his opera Don Giovanni in 1787.  We walked to Wencenslas Square and learned about the modern history of the country including the Velvet Revolution, which happened within that square and led to the fall of communism in the country in 1989 (so recent!).  We then saw the powder tower, the Spanish synagogue, and Old New synagogue, the Metronome, and Prague Castle.  Afterwards, we did a 3 hour tour of the Prague castle and surrounding area where we had a panoramic view of Prague, saw the TV tower with babies on it, St. Vitus Cathedral, the castle district, changing of the guards, and a monastery.  That evening we had dinner overlooking the Charles Bridge on a boat restaurant on the river during the sunset.  That pasta we had was the best pasta and food we had on our whole trip.  It wasn’t too expensive either and definitely was a highlight of mine of our time in Prague.
            The next day we saw the memorial where Jan Palach set himself on fire in 1969, the Museum of Communism, the giant baby sculptures in a park, and the Lennon Wall.  We then went inside Wallenstein’s palace for a while and saw white peacocks.  We also saw two peacocks mate in front of 20 people!  Next we walked up to the 75-foot tall metronome, which was ereceted in 1991.  It stands on the spot where an enormous monument of Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin once stood but was destroyed in 1962 by dynamite.  It represents a separation from communism, pacing time toward the future.  We then walked to a beer garden in a park and had beer and ice cream on a patio, which were both super cheap.  Next we went to my favourite part of the city in the old town square and listened to traditional Czech music while traditional Czech dancers were performing as part of the Easter Market.  We then got fried cheese, nuts, and a deep fried garlic and cheese bread thing that is apparently a traditional Czech food.  The food was AMAZING.  Next we went to the top of the Old Town Hall Tower to get a view of the city at night.  Finally, we ended our night by going to a rooftop patio overlooking the old town square and getting drinks and ice cream as a treat.  The day was definitely a good one.
            The next day was our last full day in Prague.  It was cold and rainy but that didn’t stop us from exploring more of the city.  We saw the dancing house, walked up to the little Eiffel tower, went in a mirror maze, and wandered back down to some shops.  We then went to the Easter Market yet again (because I loved it so much) and saw some farm animals there this time.  We mingled around the vendors, then did some grocery shopping and went on the internet at the hostel and then back to the old town square for our final night there.

Sunday April 1st, 2012 – Milan and Venice

           So I know I’m long overdue with updating everyone about my Eurotrip I went on!  Here is the first post of many about my 3 weeklong trip!  On Wednesday March 28, 2012 Mike and I left for Milan and got there pretty late with only enough time to check into our hotel.  The next day we spent the morning in the city.  We saw the Duomo Cathedral and went inside of it.  We then walked around the streets and saw the La Scala Opera house.  After walking around and going into a few touristy shops we then had lunch and went on our first train ride of many on our trip.  We started to make our way to Venice with our Eurail passes!
            That afternoon we arrived in Venice and checked into our hostel which was right on the Grand Canal.  Right when we arrived in the city I was blown away by it.  It’s SUCH a unique city with only vespas and people walking everywhere since some of the “roads” are pretty much alleyways.  That evening we walked around the city and saw the Rialto Bridge, the Bridge of Sighs, and St. Mark’s Square.  We then decided to go back to the hostel since it was starting to get dark and we had a 30 minute walk ahead of us through the maze of Venice “streets”.  Unfortunately, we kind of got lost and ended up walking around for an hour before we found our way home.
            On Friday March 30, 2012 we spent the day touring around the islands in Venice.  We first took the waterbus to Murano where the famous Murano glass is made.  We started off with seeing a glass blowing demonstration where the two men made a vase and a gorgeous horse in just a couple minutes.  We made our way along the main canal in the island and went in MANY small shops that sold Murano glass.  Even though most of it was out of our price range, it was worth it just to see the beautiful art the people of the island make.  Next we went to the island of Burano, which is famous for its differently coloured houses.  The famous leaning church steeple was there and it made me wonder if it would ever fall down.  After exploring the island, going into shops, and getting some gelato, we then made our way to the main island of Venice again to St. Mark’s square.  We decided to splurge a little and go to a restaurant for dinner so we found a cute restaurant and ate our amazing pasta we got outside.  Afterwards, we walked around St. Mark’s square more and listened to the music that was being played by musicians.  Since it was already 9pm at this point, we decided to take the waterbus home since there was a bus stop right in front of our hostel.  It was nice taking the waterbus at night since we basically got an amazing tour of the Grand Canal.
            On the Saturday we went inside St. Mark’s Cathedral – wow!  The whole inside of it has mosaics on the walls that were individually placed there by people many, MANY years ago.  The mosaics themselves were incredible.  We then went in the museum and the terrace at the top of the cathedral to overlook St. Mark’s square.  Next, we went inside the Doge’s Palace, which had amazing artwork on all the walls inside the giant rooms.  It reminded me of the Palace of Versailles.  We ended up seeing the dungeons and walked inside the Bridge of Sighs.  Next, we went to Academia, which was a famous art gallery.  We then walked around that area and found an area where gondolas were made.  Since it was a warm day right by the water, we then decided to have some gelato beside a large canal.  We ended up walking along the canal and then had a private “gondola” ride of our own in one of the traghettos, which were basically retired gondolas (rides were only 50 cents to get across the Grand Canal!).  We then made our way to our hostel and ended the night with making our own dinner with multi coloured and different shaped pasta we had gotten earlier in the day.
            Sunday was our last day in Venice since we were leaving that night to go to Vienna on an overnight train.  We spent the day walking around Venice in the area by our hostel.  We walked all the way to the Rialto Bridge and market where we got lunch as well.  Of course we went in many cute shops and bakeries as we walked around.  Since we had walked around a lot during the past few days, we decided to sit around more to rest our feet.  We went to the Jewish Ghetto and people watched in the main square there.  We saw a few churches including the Frari as well.  Lastly, we sat by the Grand Canal for a while and walked to a nearby park and through laneways.  Finally we left Venice in our 6-person couchette within the train to Vienna.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

March 28, 2012 – Northern Ireland and Dublin

            On the weekend of March 15-19th I went to Ireland to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day!  On the Friday we went to Dublin for the day and saw the Trinity College campus, but we didn’t get to see the Book of Kells due to the long line up in the rain and the expensive price.  We then made our way around the city and found a Tim Hortons like in London!  We got excited.  Next we went to the Guinness Brewery and had to wait 45 minutes in line to get in.  The line up was well worth it though and the brewery self guided tour was much larger than I thought it was – we spent the entire afternoon there.  The whole building was about 7 or 8 floors with different exhibits about the making of the beer.  We ended the tour off with a pint of Guinness in the Gravity Bar overlooking the city of Dublin.  Of course I ended up giving most of my pint to Mike.  It was amazing spending the day before St. Patrick’s Day in the Gravity Bar crowded with people all in green.  Next, we walked over to the Temple Bar area where many celebrations were taking place.  We went in a few touristy shops and walked around the area enjoying the atmosphere.  Eventually, it was time for us to head back to Belfast where we were staying for the weekend.
            On Saturday we got up and walked around the city of Belfast.  We walked along the boardwalk at the waterfront, and went up to the dome at the top of the shopping mall overlooking the city.  After finding Irish souvenirs to wear for St. Patrick’s Day, it was then time to watch the parade.  Shortly after the parade a series of sketchy events happened to us.  We started walking to the area where the Peace Walls are, and quickly realized that it was a Protestant area of town.  Of course we were all still dressed with our Irish flags and scarves, so a man and his kid stopped their car and told us to take them off since the area was Protestant.  We quickly realized what we were doing and stuffed them in Mike’s backpack.  We ended up finding the murals, but also passed by houses that had smashed and boarded up windows.  We wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.  We then made our way back to the city centre to go on yet another sketchy adventure.
            Most of the kids in the city were aged 12-15 and seemed like juvenile delinquents.  They were all VERY drunk.  We decided to walk over to the Titanic museum and to see the port where it was built, and on the way we passed by a group of probably 100 of those young teenagers who were acting very strange.  We then realized that they were all EXTREMELY drunk and acting VERY obnoxious.  We walked past them all very quick.  After an unsuccessful trip to the Titanic sights (museum doesn’t open until the end of March), we passed by where the group of teenagers used to be.  Thankfully some police had shown up and scattered the kids away.  The kids were still all walking in a similar direction as us though, and they were all very drunk still, crying, and limping as if there were a few fights.  We couldn’t believe how they were acting – so embarrassing for the city.  As we nearly passed all of them 8 or 9 police officers showed up to deal with them.  We didn’t stay to watch – just got out of there.
            For our St. Patrick’s Day celebrations we didn’t end up doing anything really exciting.  We talked for a while in the common kitchen area in the hostel as we ate dinner.  We then decided to go out to a pub somewhere to experience an Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day.  Problem was: they were all full or closed because they were too full.  It was a failure of an adventure.  We then came back to the hostel and just talked for awhile – not very exciting.
            On Sunday we took a tour to the Giant’s Causeway.  We started off the tour seeing Carrickfergus Castle, and then the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which we crossed!  It was very nerve wracking, but the view afterwards was well worth it.  The water around that area was as blue as the Caribbean – couldn’t believe it!  We took the 3-hour coastal route, which was absolutely beautiful.  The sun was shining, sheep were everywhere, and the water was sparkling under the sun.  We stopped at the Old Bushmills Distillery for lunch, which is the oldest licensed distillery in the world.  Before we reached the Giant’s Causeway, we stopped at Dunluce Castle for pictures – really wish we could have gone in!  Finally we had reached our destination – the Giant’s Causeway!  Seeing the hexagonally shaped rocks was SO cool, and some of them were 12 metres high!  We spent over an hour there and even though we had a sun shower, it didn’t stop us from having a good time.  It was then time to go back to Belfast, but that day was definitely the highlight of the weekend.
            On Monday we walked around the city basically wasting time until we left to catch the bus for the ferry to go home.  There wasn’t anything to do in Belfast except to shop, which we didn’t really feel like doing.  The highlight of that day was the ferry, which had a cinema on it, video games, free ipads with Internet to use, restaurants, shops, casinos, and a spa on it.  It was a lot nicer than I expected!  We then had a two-hour bus ride that took us back to Glasgow when we reached the ferry port, which drove along the coast part of the way.  It was definitely a good weekend, and I’d go back to Dublin and the countryside of Northern Ireland in a heartbeat.  We’ll see if I end up back in Ireland at all in May.

Tomorrow Mike and I are off on our big Eurotrip!  We're starting in Milan and then going to Venice, Vienna, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, Bruges, Brussels, Paris, Nice, and Monte Carlo ALL in 3 weeks!  Definitely can't wait!

Monday, 26 March 2012

March 27, 2012 – London and Bristol

            So I know it has been awhile since I’ve done any posts, but that’s because I’ve been so busy travelling and ACTUALLY doing work throughout the weeks to the point that I haven’t had time to write.  Since I’m leaving on Wednesday for my Eurotrip, I decided that I’d better update everyone on what I’ve done these past few weeks, and all the exciting stories that have developed.
            On the weekend of March 9-12th Mike and I went to London and then Bristol on the Monday to visit Chris Spencer who is on exchange there!  After taking an overnight bus and getting 2 hours of sleep at the most, we arrived in London at 6:45am.  We spent the day walking around the city seeing all the sights.  We first saw Buckingham Palace at 7:30am, then walked through Green Park where we saw Canadian Geese and pelicans, saw the Wellington Arch, Piccadilly Circus, and then found the store that sells Tim Hortons hot drinks and donuts which we were VERY happy to see – of course we stopped and got coffee/hot chocolate.  There’s nothing like a bit of home when you’re away from it for so long.  We then went to Trafalgar Square, saw the Admiralty Arch, and then went back to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards.  Next we walked to Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the Parliament Buildings and the London Eye.  It was crazy how much walking we did.
            Afterwards, we walked all the way past Buckingham Palace to our hilariously small hotel.  The room was literally a tiny hallway, with a double bed at the end enclosed by walls on all 4 sides except for the where the hallway met it.  The washroom was a tad bigger than an airport washroom, and that is only because there was a tiny shower in it.  We then met up with a friend from Strathclyde at the British Museum (which we walked an hour to) and walked around it for a bit until we were way too tired to walk anymore.  After stopping for some dinner and a chance to rest our tired and sore feet, we then came to the touristy area of Piccadilly Circus again.  The whole area was buzzing with people everywhere and it definitely seemed like the place to be.  We went in a few shops and then found the famous M&M World, which definitely lightened our spirits after an exhausting day!
            On the Saturday we had the London Pass so we had to be as efficient as possible with our sight seeing.  We started the day off with Westminster Abbey, which was one of my favourite parts of London.  It was amazing seeing the inside of it where so many Royalties have been before (and are still there buried!).  It was also amazing seeing the features in real life that I recognized from watching the Royal Wedding on television last year.  We then took the underground to St. Paul’s cathedral where we spent the remainder of our morning.  Once again, we were blown away by the architecture and how beautiful it was inside.  Afterwards, we took the underground to the Tower of London where we walked around and saw the Queen’s Jewels and the White Tower exhibits inside.  We then decided to take a break and get ice cream since it was SUCH a beautifully warm day out.  We ate our ice cream between the Thames River and the Tower of London while seeing the Tower Bridge.  Was definitely a nice break.  Next, we went to the London Bridge Experience, which was definitely a let down.  I don’t recommend it to anyone because there was glass and fencing on each side of it so you couldn’t take any good photos or see very well even.  We then made our way to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre to finish the day off with our final tour.  After a very busy day sightseeing we decided to take it easy and splurge by going to a Greek restaurant.  Although it was still very cheap, it was a very nice change from the hectic 2 days we had just experienced.  We then finished the night off by going to the Queen’s Bowl and Skate at London’s ONLY indoor skating rink.  Mike was very excited since he missed skating very much, and I of course enjoyed it even though I only go skating like once a year anyways.  It was a very fun way to end our day, and by the end of it, we were yet again ready to crash as soon as we got back.
            On Sunday we started the day off early and went to King’s Cross’s Platform 9 ¾, Abbey Road, and Soho.  We also went to the Museum of Natural History which I LOVED, and just sat in Hyde Park across from Royal Albert Hall.  We then rented Bixi bikes and rode them for a bit, but then the ride transformed into the Amazing Race.  After 45 minutes we were ready to dock the bikes but the problem was, was that we couldn’t find a docking station for them.  Whenever we DID find a docking station they were all full.  After riding all around the city trying desperately to find a place to dock them we finally did and rewarded ourselves with some pizza.  We then walked back to Big Ben and the Parliament Buildings to take more pictures at night, and then decided to go home.
            We went to bed early since we had to get up at 6am the next day to catch a 7:30am bus to Bristol, but we ended up having to go to bed later.  When we went to bed we heard dripping sounds in the walls but we figured that it was from someone showering.  Then at about 11:15pm Mike woke up to a drip of water landing on his arm.  We turned on the light, looked up, and there was indeed a leak falling right where Mike was sleeping.  Mike went and told the receptionist, who gave us a better and new room.  Problem with this room was that they couldn’t unlock the washroom door.  We then got moved AGAIN to a smaller room like before, which hadn’t been cleaned and didn’t have sheets.  Then all of a sudden they said they got the washroom door open so we ended up staying back in the original new room.  The washroom was not clean though but it was already 12am and we just wanted to get some sleep before waking up early to go to Bristol so we didn't care.  We were not impressed.
            Finally, we went to Bristol on the Monday and met up with Chris!  It was nice catching up with him and sharing our stories that we all had experienced so far on exchange.   He first showed us around the University of Bristol, and to a nearby park with a large tower on it, which we climbed up to see a view of the city.  We then walked around the city until we came to a market and had some lunch.  After having some lunch, we then walked around the city more and went back to his residence to hang out.  We then left and led a blind man with his dog in the right direction, and then decided to go hang out in a pub for an hour before Mike and I had to leave for our plane home.  All in all it was a very fun weekend, but it was definitely jam packed with things to see, to the point that it wore us out.  There are still many sights that I want to see that we didn’t have time to see so I’d definitely go back.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

March 7, 2012 – Rugby Game and St. Andrews

            On Sunday February 26th I went to a 6 Nations Rugby game in Edinburgh with Scotland vs. France.  Of course I was rooting for Scotland, so we hit the touristy shops all morning to try to find the perfect Scotland souvenirs.  We ended up walking the whole way from downtown Edinburgh to the stadium which took 45min to an hour but it didn’t seem that long because there were giant lines of people dressed in France or Scotland gear parading down the sidewalks towards the stadium.  It was a sold out game with 67,000 people in the crowd!  The group we were with included a lot of French students that go to the University of Glasgow with Mike.  The game itself was very exciting and a tad stressful when the scores got close.  I learned the rules as it went on and came to the conclusion that it is more exciting to watch than football since the play doesn’t stop.  France ended up winning but it was still a fun game and a perfect way to spend an afternoon.  In the beginning of May Glasgow is hosting the Glasgow 7’s which is a weekend of rugby and Canada is probably playing so we’re going to go cheer them on!
            This past weekend on Saturday March 3rd we went with the Strathclyde International Society to St. Andrews, which is a small town about 2 hours away where Prince William and Kate met at university.  We started the day off by seeing the St. Andrews Cathedral, which are only ruins now with a cemetery all around it.  We went up a remaining tower, which was definitely an experience.  The door to go into it was about a foot and a half wide, and then right away you had to put your coin in and go through a tiny turn style.  Afterwards, the metal spiral staircase that was about 2 feet wide and very small and steep started which lasted for a while.  Finally we got to a concrete landing, went up more steps and another stone spiral staircase started which seemed like it wouldn’t end.  When we finally got to the top the view was well worth it.  Next we saw the St. Andrews castle.  It was just ruins of a castle but we were able to crawl through the mines underground.  After getting some free time walking around the town we then spent the remainder of the day at the Old Golf Course and beach.  The Old Golf Course is the oldest golf course in the world and is where the British Open is held every year.  We of course took pictures on the famous Swilcan Bridge at the 18th hole where famous golfers have walked across.  We walked along the beach and took many pictures there.  Lucky a rainbow formed since it was sunny and rainy at some points, which was very beautiful.  I felt like a little kid as we climbed all around the rocks beside the shore.  Finally, it was time to go home but it was definitely a great day.  We want to go back at some point if possible!  Now I’m off to London tomorrow (Thursday) night on an overnight bus!

Monday, 20 February 2012

February 20th, 2012 – Future Travels

            I have many exciting upcoming trips planned!  This Sunday I’m going to a rugby game with Scotland vs. France in Edinburgh!  I’m going with Mike, Janine, and a bunch of Mike’s friends who are French and German.  Of course, the French will be rooting for France, so the Germans and Canadians will naturally be rooting for Scotland!
            On March 3rd I’m going to St. Andrews with the Strathclyde international society for the day where Prince William and Kate, which should be good.  Mike and I have also planned our trip to London and Bristol on the March 8-12th weekend so we can FINALLY visit Chris at Bristol!  The following weekend we’re going to Belfast in Northern Ireland and Dublin in Ireland for the St. Patrick’s day weekend from March 15-19th!  Haven’t planned anything else yet except Mike and I have decided that for Spring Break we’re probably going to go to Venice, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Paris.  After Spring Break from April 20-22nd is the Isle of Skye trip which is the one place in Scotland I wanted to see the most when I came here so I’m really excited for that!  Hopefully we’ll be able to plan more trips soon once we know when our exams are, and when we have to go back home.  Time is going by way too fast.  Can’t believe its already February 20th!

February 20, 2012 – Inverness, The Highlands, Loch Ness, and COCKROACHES!!!!

            Last Saturday I went on the University of Glasgow international society weekend trip to the Highlands.  On the way we stopped at Perth, Pitlochry where we saw a fish ladder and dam, and Aviemore, which was a cute ski village on one street.  We finally arrived at the hostel in Inverness and I was quite impressed with how nice it was.  It reminded me of when I went to girl guide camp, music camp, or Camp Kearney when I was younger.  After getting settled into the hostel, we then had some free time in the city.  We walked around the streets and saw the castle, which was a let down.  It hardly looked like a castle and was the courthouse instead.  After walking around and having some free time in the hostel, we then had dinner in the hostel, which the international society provided and made for us.  Later on, everyone came down to the common room and played games, partied and hung out all night getting to know other exchange students.
            On Sunday we went to Loch Ness.  We first stopped at Drumnadrochit where the Nessy monument at Monster Centre and the monster exhibition was.  Everyone immediately went to the gift shop to get some Loch Ness souvenirs – I myself got a cute, soft stuffed animal of Nessie since I don’t have any stuffed animals here in Glasgow.  We then continued onto Loch Ness and saw the Urquhart Castle.  We were able to explore the inside of the castle and we watched a video about the history of it.  After Loch Ness, we then made our way to Fort Augustus/Fort William for lunch.  A group of us went in a pub to have a nice lunch and we thought we had time because we had an hour and 15 minutes.  It ended up that they totally forgot about Janine’s and my orders and I finally got my food 12 minutes before we were supposed to be on the bus.  I had to scarf down the food SUPER fast, which was a big struggle for me!  Janine didn’t even get her food, so we had to rush to a grocery store to get her some after she got her money back.  After frantically getting back to the bus we then continued on and eventually stopped at Glencoe to see the 3 sisters, which are 3 mountains that looked similar all beside each other.  The view was spectacular and we even saw hikers coming back with their crazy hiking equipment, which made me want to hike on the trail just a little ways.  Sadly we were only there for a photo stop and we had to get back on the bus to continue on our way home.  The only other two times we stopped was for another photo stop to see Loch Tulla and a toilet stop.  All in all it was a very good weekend with amazing scenery and many great people to hang out with!  Luckily we get to see Loch Ness, Inverness, and Glencoe again when we go on the Isle of Skye trip in April!
            This past weekend one of my flat mates saw a huge cockroach in one of our toilet rooms.  GROSS.  She said it was at least 2 inches long.  We haven’t used that toilet room since but thankfully we have two!  An exterminator came today.  He went right into the toilet room prepared with his flashlight, closed the door behind him, and looked everywhere in there for that cockroach.  He couldn’t find it.  He then went to our kitchen and pulled our fridge and stove out from the wall.  He found 2 cockroaches.  I haven’t been more disgusted in my life in a place I’ve lived in.  I’m wearing shoes everywhere I go and whenever I go to the washroom, I check the entire floor, walls, AND ceiling before I go in there.  To be honest, I do that wherever I go in my flat now.  I’ve developed paranoia of cockroaches.  The exterminator put down poison and traps, which will hopefully get rid of them.  He seemed to think that it shouldn’t be a big deal because he has seen A LOT worse.  I’ve never even seen a cockroach and I want it to stay that way.  We’ll see what happens to them in the next few weeks.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

February 8th, 2012 – Class and fire!

            Yesterday I went to my favourite class called “Pollution and the Rehabilitation of Degraded Ecosystems”.  We were learning about climate change so I was excited for it.  As the lecture went on, I realized a couple things:

- I already learned everything we were learning in my first couple years of university in various courses back at McMaster.
-This class was a graduate class, how did these students not know about this stuff?
-Students didn’t know the answers to his simple questions.

            From these observations, I concluded that North American schools must be better than European schools.  I know that you might be thinking that it is impossible to come to that conclusion from simple observations.  There are many facts, and proof from students themselves that made me come to that conclusion.  First, I only have 8 hours of class a week here, whereas at McMaster I usually have a minimum of 22 hours a week of class.  They say they focus on self-learning here, but they don’t give you enough work to do to equal the amount of hours I just go to class for at McMaster.  I usually have a ton of reading to do at McMaster every week, so much that it is impossible to not fall behind – I think many students would agree with me there.  At Strathclyde, they rarely have textbooks, and they just give you a reading list of articles to read.  In one of my classes, we don’t have ANY weekly readings at all.  It baffles me how I feel like I’m hardly in school.  Second, I don’t have any quizzes, tests, or midterms this term.  All I have to do are research papers, or essays, and then two final exams for my assessments.  At McMaster, I usually have some sort of test every couple weeks it seems, or else I’ll have labs due almost every week.  Students that are here doing their degree have even told me that school is a joke here.  I’ve overheard lots of students in my classes who don’t do the weekly readings in the courses, even though that’s the bare minimum of work that has been assigned so far!  I know that lots of people back at Mac don’t do those either, but there’s no other work to do here, so you might as well do SOMETHING.  Most students only have to take 3 courses as a full course load.  They say that it is harder to get higher marks here, and I wonder if the reason is because of the level of education.  Guess I won’t know until I get some marks back.
            I may be getting ahead of myself because I’ve only been here for a couple weeks.  I’m sure that the schools here are fine, I’m just not used to these great differences.  I feel like I’m on a giant vacation here, since I can pretty much travel every weekend, and not feel stressed about school.  I do enjoy my classes when I have them though.  They are all really small ranging from a class of 15 students, to maybe 40.  They have a lot of class discussion so everyone is involved which is nice.  My classes also have a lot of people from mixed backgrounds with all different accents.  I was surprised when I wasn’t the only one with an “accent”.  Made me feel more included to be honest.  Its cool getting opinions of people from different countries, and learning about how things differ around the world.  It’s definitely a different aspect of learning that I’m glad I’m experiencing.  Now I know why everyone recommends going on exchange.
            On Tuesday evening there was a fire in the James Weir Building.  Apparently you could see flames and smoke from outside the building and classes are cancelled in the building today.  That building has a lot of engineering labs, including labs with hazardous chemicals that made it hard for the fire fighters to put the fire out.  We’ll have to see what the extent of the damage is once they release more information.  I'm just glad it wasn't my residence!

February 7th, 2012 – Aberdeen and Dunnottar Castle

            This past weekend Mike and I went to Aberdeen.  We arrived on the Saturday to some nasty weather.  It was raining, cold, and extremely windy at times almost blowing me over.  We decided to start our day off indoors at the Maritime Museum.  It was very interesting seeing what the city was all about since Aberdeen is a port town with giant ships.  It reminded Mike and I of Halifax.  In the museum there were models of ships and giant sail boats that reminded me of Laura Mitchell and her dad since they both love sailing so much.  They also had illustrations of whaling that showed how people killed whales in the past.  It was upsetting, but crazy how they actually managed to kill the whales with the tiny arrows they had when compared to the size of the whales.  After spending a few hours at the museum we then decided to grab some lunch in a pub.
            For the afternoon we walked throughout the city and tried to take cover from the drizzling rain as much as we could.  We went to the King’s College campus, which was founded in 1495.  It was a very pretty campus with cobblestone streets and beautiful architecture.  For dinner Mike and I tried out the Old Blackfriar pub that everyone says is a must to visit.  I have to say, I was thoroughly impressed with the food.  I had cannelloni and it was some of the best food I’ve had in a very long time.  After we had dinner we then went to another pub that the girl at the travel centre told us to go to experience the Scottish culture.  There was a live band playing songs we both knew.  The funny thing was, Mike and I were probably the two youngest people in that pub.  Everyone around us seemed like they were mostly older than 40.  We just sat there listening to the music anyways, and then went back to the hotel to get a good night’s rest for the next day.
            On Sunday we got up and took the train to Stonehaven.  The train ride was beautiful with a view of the North Sea the whole ride there with the sun shining brightly.  It reminded me of being on the GO train back home looking out at Lake Ontario by Rouge Hill, except to be honest, the view from this train was prettier.  You could see rolling hills and cliffs beside the sea, but these cliffs were larger and more colourful than the Scarborough Bluffs.  When we got to Stonehaven we had to walk from the train station to town, and then find our way to Dunnottar Castle.  We didn’t know what we had in store for us.  We ended up having to walk almost 3 miles in total from the train station to the castle, but the walk was well worth it.  It was still pretty early in the morning so there was ice on the trail we walked along.  It was called the castle trail, and was right on the edge of the cliff on the North Sea with farm fields on the other side.  The view was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.  Right when Mike and I came up a hill we could see the castle in the distance on a cliff surrounded by water.  There was moss on the cliff faces and the fields were almost emerald green.  We stopped there for a minute and just stared in awe at the view.  From that point, we still had a half hour walk ahead of us to actually get to the castle.
            The castle itself was built inside the cliff it seemed.  We were able to wander all around the castle grounds and check out all the rooms.  Of course, it was just castle ruins.  For what was left, it was in pretty good shape though.  After spending a few hours inside the castle and around it by the beach and neighbouring fields of view with sheep, we then started the trek back to Stonehaven.  By the end of the walk, we were both extremely tired.  We decided to go back to Aberdeen, grab lunch there, and then just take it easy for a couple hours in the apple store playing on the ipads with free internet.  We then had a 3 hour bus ride ahead of us and we were thankful for that because we needed to rest our legs and feet.  Mike thinks we walked more than 6 miles that day, and it was up and down hills full of mud that melted in the afternoon after being frozen in the morning.  Overall, Sunday made up for Saturday to make the weekend amazing.  I think everyone that visits Scotland MUST see Dunnottar Castle and experience the long relaxing walk to it beside the North Sea.  If possible we want to go back and do it all again.  Next weekend, we’re off to the Highlands, Inverness, and Loch Ness to find Nessie!!!