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Today we woke up to just beautiful weather. We decided that this is the perfect day for the beach. After slowly waking up and waiting for the bus, we headed for the beaches in Nice in the afternoon. When we go there, we realized that this beach is different from most of the other beaches we have seen because there is no sand just small, smooth rocks and pebbles. It was nice that we did not end up leaving with sandy feet and clothes. When we got there, unfortunately the clouds were rolling in at that time, but it was nice to relax and read by the Mediterranean. My sister and I put our feet in when we first got there, but we decided not to go swimming because the waves were too big for us. As I was looking out onto the water, I kept seeing these small white birds skiming the water and then diving straight in! They were trying to catch fish and we actually saw one catch a fish. It was funny watching them because they would first fly higher and nose dive right into the water. I have never seen a bird do that. We all of the sudden heard some fighter planes shoot out from the airport and display a short show for everyone on the beach. Then the colors red, white, and blue shot out from the tailpipes of the planes. They were celebrating the 150th birthday of Nice becoming part of France.

Around 5:30 we decided to head to the old town of Nice and look for a restaurant for dinner since we did not have lunch. This part of Nice was beautiful. There were narrow alleyways with high buildings connected by lines of laundry hanging out the windows. The green shutters against the yellow walls just made the area look so wonderful. A lot of the architecture we have seen reminds us more of Italy. We recently found out that Nice used to be a part of Italy until the 1800s when it became a part of France. After enjoying a nice dinner in the heart of the old town, we decided to walk around and explore. We saw some touristy shops that we loved looking around. Do you know how they have all different souveniers with peoples names? Well, my mom and I always look for my name, Justine, and never find it. We found it two times back in the United States and had to buy those two things. This time I looked, like I always do, and I found my name!! I found my name on a ruler and then on a pen, and then on a coin purse…it was everywhere! We asked the person who worked there if “Justine” was a common name in France. He said yes it is very common because it is a French name. I found a necklace with my name on it and I had to buy it. I was meant to come to France!

I wish we had more time to just wander and get lost in Nice, but we had to get back to the bus station to go back to Vence. Unfortunately we missed the bus and had to take a taxi back. I am planning to go back to Nice some other time this week and explore the old town and other districts.

Before I went to France I wanted a good book I could read on the beach. Since I loved the movie Julie and Julia so much, I wanted to get the book that the movie was based on. While I was in the bookstore in Edinburgh, I saw a book titled “My Life in France” by Julia Child. I asked the people who worked there if this is what the movie is based off of. They said yes. So I bought the book, but then I realized that it was actually a biography about Julia Child and her time living in France. It was not about Julie Powell at all. I considered returning it, but after reading some good reviews online I decided to keep it. I think it would be good to read since I am here in France. I am so glad I accidentally stumbled upon this book because it is turning out to be so interesting. Today I was reading about her trip to Monaco in 1950 where she stayed at the Hotel de Paris! I cannot believe that I was in that exact hotel yesterday. All of the people, food, and culture that she references to is so relevant to my vacation I am just loving every page of this book.

Bojour!

I am in France! This is my first time out of the UK since January. I flew from Newcastle and met my family in Nice. We are renting a house in Vence which is a small town about 15 miles outside of Nice. The house we are staying in was built in the 1200s and even better than what I expected. Since this is a small town, not everyone speaks English, so we manage by looking up words in the phrase book, speaking broken French my dad learned in High School, and by using a lot of hand gestures. Everyone is very nice and some people try to speak English to us even if they know just a few words.

The day after we arrived in France, we started our morning with a Cafe Au Lait which is a very small, but strong cup of coffee (we all needed it). There are so many cafes with outdoor seating which is wonderful to just sit and absorb in the surroundings. Sometimes just sipping on a cup of coffee and people watching is the best part of traveling. Since it might rain later in the week, we decided to go to Monaco on the first day instead of on Tuesday. My dad and sister wanted to take a relaxing day to orient themselves to Vence, so my mom and I were the ones who went and took a bus and train to the second smallest country of Monaco. I have dreamed about going to Monaco ever since watching a Samantha Brown travel show on the Travel Channel. I just imagined everyone who lived there would be rich and own yachts. And I did see a lot of yachts! My mom and I first went to a cafe in Monte Carlo right next to the famous casino. While we were there, we were keeping an eye out for famous people and also the rich residents of Monaco. There was an old woman, probably in her 80s, sitting at a small table by herself and she had a huge purple hat on her head. She was wearing fancy clothes and a lot of make-up and just watching the people walk by. My mom kept saying that she thinks that she was probably a famous person when she was younger and looked like a very mysterious and interesting character. Have you ever seen the movie Sunset Boulevard? She reminded her of the main character in that movie. After that, we went into the casino to gamble! It was my first time gambling. We walked into the building and were taken back by how gorgeous it was. I wish we could have explored the rest of the building, but we just went into the foyer and one other room. We decided to only bet 5 euros and we ended up leaving with more money than we came in with! (Well, we won 1 euro, but it was still so much fun because we did not loose any money!). I can’t wait to try gambling again. Next to the casino was the Hotel de Paris which was designed by the same architect as the casino. We walked through the revolving doors into a grand foyer with marble floors and huge columns with a detailed ceiling. I would have loved to stay in that hotel! We saw a menu for the restaurant in the Hotel, and there was caviar for 550 euros! I do not think I have seen anything that expensive on the menu. After we went to the hotel, we walked around the port and saw beautiful views of the water and the old town from the hill across from us. By the time we walked to the old town, we relized that we have been walking almost all day. We decided to go back to Vence at that time since our feet were pretty tired of walking. For dinner, we went to a cute restaurant in the heart of Vence and I enjoyed the best muscles I have ever tasted.

This week I visited two of my flatmates in Ayr, Scotland and Newcastle, England. I had a great time!! Here are some photos…

Ayr

Burns' Cottage where Robert Burns was born

 

Culzean Castle

 Newcastle

Josie and I at the top of the art gallery. It had a wonderful view of Newcastle, but that day it was so rainy!

The Millenium Bridge in Newcastle tilted for the boat to go underneath! It only happens about once a day!

 

Hadrian's Wall

Alnwick Castle: Some scenes from the first two Harry Potter movies were filmed here such as the first flying lesson.

I am writing my last post from Edinburgh because I am leaving tomorrow morning. This does not mean that it is my last post ever, because I will be traveling for a few weeks and I will still keep you updated. Over the last week, all 11 of my flatmates have been going home and now I am the last one here. Early this morning 3 of my flatmates went home and one of my flatmates just left a few minutes ago. I don’t think it has really hit me that I am actually leaving. Yesterday, I was talking to my friend Carolyn who is from New York and also studying abroad in Edinburgh for the semester. She has a very different living situation because she only has 2 other flatmates! Yesterday the last one left and a her very good friend from the United States left to go back home. That is when it really hit her that she is leaving.

Before everyone left to study abroad, all of the UMW students who were going abroad went to a meeting held by the study abroad office. They talked about the “M” curve. What happens is that before you go, you are so excited and you cannot wait to go abroad. They call this the “honeymoon phase” where nothing is bad and nothing can go wrong. This may last a few months before you go and the first few months abroad. Then the curve goes down when you start missing home and missing your friends. This is the low point of the curve. Then it begins to rise when you are planning to go home and excited to go home. After a few days or weeks, the curve might go down again when you start to miss the country where you studied abroad.

I think that this curve definitely happens to everone who studies abroad. My “honeymoon phase” lasted a long time compared to others. I just fit in perfectly in Edinburgh. I am sad to leave, however I am also excited to travel and go back home. I have been here for five months and I think that is a good time period to be abroad. If I studied abroad in the fall semester, I would have only been abroad for four months. That would have been way too short and I would have been much sadder to leave if my time here was cut short. Since I have France and Italy to look forward to, I am not totally sad to leave. I am sure once I get back home I will miss Edinburgh a lot.

So my next stop is Ayr, Scotland. I will be visiting Sarah, one of my flatmates, in Ayr which is on the west coast of Scotland. Then I am going to Newcastle, England to visit my other flatmate, Josie. Then off to France and Italy. I will keep you updated on my travels.

I am officially leaving Edinburgh in one week. I feel like I just arrived! I know a few people who are already back in the US from their semester abroad. Two of my flatmates moved out already and some are leaving this weekend and the beginning of next week. I am staying until the last possible day along with 4 or 5 of my flatmates. I am glad that there will be people here until the end. After that, I am visiting my flatmate, Sarah, in Ayr for 4 days. Ayr is on the west coast of Scotland. Then I am visiting my other flatmate, Josie, in Newcastle, England for another 4 days. Newcastle is in northern England. Then I am flying from Newcastle to Nice where I meet my family. We will be there for 1 week and then we are traveling to Northern Italy for another week.

I have been spending my last few weeks here just hanging out with my flatmates and other friends. Last weekend the weather was gorgeous! It was in the 70s and I even got sunburn! (I didn’t know that was possible in Scotland). We were in the Meadows a lot that weekend. The Meadows is the park behind the University. We had a BBQ on the Meadows for our flat dinner (all 12 of us!). It was so much fun. I played my first game of touch Rugby. We ended up staying there until around 9:30 pm because it was still light outside! I wish that weather would come back to Scotland. The past few days have been ok, but definitely not warm enough to have a BBQ.

Flat 9 BBQ in the Meadows

My first rugby game

On Tuesday, I went to the Safari Park with Sarah, Steph, Josie, Molly, Luke, and Liz. This is different than a zoo because people can drive through it. I did not know that these existed…I have just seen them on TV and movies. Have you ever seen Jumanji? They drive through a Safari Park in that movie. This park was right outside of Stirling, so we had to take two buses there. It was a great day! We saw lions, rhinos, elephants, mercats, and lemurs! We also went on a boat ride to see the island where the monkeys live and we went paddle boating.

Yesterday I took my last final exam. It has been six weeks since the end of classes and I was just waiting to take my exams. I was ready to take them the week after classes ended. So since there was such a long wait I had to study more because I forgot some of the information I learned in class. I think the final exam process is more stressful here compared to Mary Washington because all of the exams are cumulative (tested on the material for the whole semester) and most exams are usually 50% or more of the final grade. My flatmate, Sarah, has two exams both worth 100% of the grade!! But for 1st and 2nd years, the grade does not count and everyone just has to pass the class. For me, I just have to pass the classes too since I am studying abroad.

 The exams are taken in huge rooms and we have to place our bags and backpacks at one end of the room and only bring a pencil and student card to the desk. (This gives me flashbacks of AP testing in High School.)For my exams I had two hours to complete them. My Archaeology exam was difficult because we have a choice of 6 essays and we have to do only two essays. That was worth 60 percent of the grade. I thought that my Celtic Civilization exam was going to be difficult because there is so much information (and I didn’t really like the class), so I studied extra for this exam. Luckily, it was not too difficult. The amazing thing is where I took this exam. It is called McEwan hall and it was built in 1874…it was so beautiful that I didn’t want to take the test, I just wanted to look around.

My last exam was my Architectural History exam. I was excited to take this because I loved the class. One of the essay questions was the exact same question I had on my Art History exam at Mary Washington! Compare and contrast the Guaranty building and the Seagram building. I was soooo happy when that question showed up on the exam. Another question on the exam was about Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan and I had to discuss why and how they wanted to create a uniquely American style. Since my art classes in Elementary School people have been talking so much about Frank Lloyd Wright (a little too much.) So I was glad to have that quesiton on the exam too.

Now I am done and have three weeks until I move out. Before my exams, I had a lot of free time, but I felt guilty when I was not studying. Now it is officially summer and it feels great! I have a few ideas of what to do the next three weeks. We are going to have a flat dinner (with 12 people) to celebrate the end of the semester. So we will make a big dinner in the flat when everyone is here. They had a big Christmas dinner in the flat before I came here.I am also definitely going to read a lot. I just started “Eat, Pray, Love” and it is really good so far. In June I am going to the south of France and northern Italy for two weeks with my family, so I will be planning things to do on those trips.

Today was the first time I went to the gym here! I used my flatmate’s (Josie’s) gym card to get in. Otherwise it would cost 3 pounds each day or 60 pounds per semester. I decided not to get a pass for the semester in the beginning of the year because I will be walking around the city a lot. I have been walking around a lot, but I just wanted to go to the gym and use the weights too. At Mary Washington, the gym is free and all the exercise classes are free. I think it costs money here because the tuition is way cheaper. People who live in Scotland do not have to pay for tuition for colleges in Scotland.

The gym was really new and really nice. I would say that it is nicer than the gym at Mary Washington. I wish I could take exercise classes, but I would have to pay for them and I would have had to start in the beginning of the semester. I will definitely go back to this gym.

The other day, I was discussing with my flatmates about how many things I microwave compared to everyone else in the flat. Here is a list of things I put in the microwave at home…

  • Water (to boil, for tea and instant coffee)
  • Macaroni and Cheese
  • Sausage
  • Potato (Baked Potato)
  • Bacon

I am sure there are more things…but these are the things that my flatmates are totally weirded out by. In the beginning of the semester to make tea I put a mug with water in the microwave. Everytime I did that there was at least someone shockingly asking, “You put water in the microwave?!?” They look at it like it is the weirdest thing ever. Everyone uses a kettle here. I think every house has one. We do not have one at home, so I always heat up the water in the microwave. Now I use a kettle because it is definitely faster than the microwave. I think we should get a kettle at home. Now it will be weird to go back home and not have a kettle!

My flatmates were also suprised that I put bacon in the microwave to cook it. However, the bacon here is pretty different to the bacon in the United States. The bacon here is not crispy. I am used to American bacon, so that is what I prefer. People here use the grill a lot to cook bacon. We do not have a grill at home, but it is right below the stove, but above the oven. I cannot explain it…but I have never used it here because I don’t see the need for it.  I remember a few years ago our microwave broke and we could not get one for one week (I can’t remember why) and it was the hardest week ever! We boiled water on the stove and had to heat leftovers in the oven. I am sure most of my flatmates would be fine if the microwave broke, but I would definitely have a hard time.

London

Last Thursday, Lindsay and I took a 4 day trip to London! It was great! We got on the train, and right when we got on I got a text message from Alistair (one of my flatmates). He said that all of the airports were closed in the UK because there was a volcano in Iceland and there was a huge ash cloud over the entire UK. It was not safe for planes to fly. Here is an article about that. Lindsay and I were seriously considering taking a plane to London…luckily we decided to take the train. After 4 hours and 45 minutes, we arrived in London. This was our first time in London so we planed to do everything.

We took the underground (tube) from King’s Cross to Victoria Station. It only took about 5 minutes to walk to our hotel. The hotel was an old row house and the location was perfect. After we checked in, we walked about 10 or 15 minutes to Wesminster Abbey. Unfortunately it closed about five minutes before we arrived. So we decided to take a cruise on the Thames River instead. This cost about 7 pounds compared to the bus tour which cost like 25 pounds! The cruise was perfect. We saw the Parliament, Big Ben, the London Eye, London Bridge, Tower of London, and Tower Bridge. The tour guides on the boat were not professional tour guides, but they were pretty funny. We passed by the Tate Modern (which is a Modern Art museum). The tour guide said that he went there a few year ago and left his wallet inside the Museum. When he came back a few hours later to get it, he found it on the floor and about 20 people standing around it taking pictures. This was because it was a modern art museum and they thought the wallet on the floor was part of the exhibit. (I thought that was funny).

Tower Bridge

After the cruise, we walked to 10 Downing Street where the Prime Minister lives. We went to the gate, as close as we could. We could definitely get closer than the White House. Then we saw that Trafalgar Square was about 10 minutes away, so we decided to go there. We planed to go there on another day, but we decided to do that then because it was so close. On the way, I saw a building that I recognized. I remember that I saw it on my flashcards when studying for my Art History text last year. It was the Banqueting Hall by Inigo Jones! (Those who have taken that class know which building I am talking about). We got to Trafalgar Square and there were so many people there. There was a huge fountain with statues of lions next to it. The National Gallery of Art was there, but we did not go inside. After that, we walked about ten minutes to Buckingham Palace. We saw a few guards, but they were not the guards with the fuzzy hats. Both of us were craving Italian food. So on the way back to our hotel we saw an Italian flag and it turned out to be a perfect Italian restaurant. We walked into a small restaurant with pictures of famous people on the wall that ate here before. I ate exactly what I wanted: Pasta with seafood…perfect. After a long day of traveling and walking we headed back to our hotel.

Banqueting Hall by Inigo Jones

Big Ben

The next day we woke up pretty early and headed to Wesminster Abbey. We were one of the first ones there and it was definitely good to beat the crowds. By the time we left, there were a lot of people. We took an audio tour of the Abbey. We saw where Mary Queen of Scots was burried and also where Queen Elizabeth (the first) was burried. After the tour, we took the tube to the British Museum. Here we saw the Elgin marbles and the Rosetta Stone. In the courtyard of the museum, they put this modern roof over it to enclose the space. I recognize this same roof from the National Portrait Gallery in DC! I remember when I went on a tour of the Portrait Gallery, they said that the roof was coppied from the British Museum. After the museum, we walked about  thirty minutes to our lunch place. This restaurant was recommended by Frommer’s and it said it was in the heart of the Financial District. When we walked in everyone was wearing suits or dressed up because they were coming from work. But it was a very good restauraunt. After that, we went to St. Paul’s Cathedral which was about a five minute walk. We walked into the Cathedral and I could not stop looking up at all of the details of gold mosaics and paintings. It was incredible. It was huge too! We walked 530 steps to the top to see an amazing veiw of London. Some of the stairways were very small and we even had to duck and some parts. Then towards the top we climbed these small, metal, spiral staircases. We finaly made it to the top section of the dome. I could see all of London from the top! If you are visiting London, I highly recommend climbing the 530 steps. It was totally worth it. After we managed to get ourselfs to ground level, we walked over the Millenium Bridge. This bridge is a modern bridge which was put there in 2000. In the sixth Harry Potter movie, this bridge is the one that twists and breaks. Then we walked about twenty minutes over to Covent Gardens. This is an area where there are great restaraunts, shopping, and there are always street preformers. We then arrived at the Lyceum Theater to see the Lion King!! It was amazing!! It was different than the other plays I have seen (Phantom of the Opera and Mamma Mia) because it was very visual and there were so many colorful costumes. For the Phantom of the Opera, I was listening to the orchestra the entire time. For the Lion King, it was interesting to see how the movie was interpreted to a play. After that, we took the tube back to our hotel.

St. Paul's Cathedral

View from St. Paul's

On the Millenium Bridge

We saw the Lion King!

The next day we went to Portobello Market in Notting Hill. This market was in the movie Notting Hill. I think this was one of my favorite things this whole trip. There were so many stands selling antiques, jewlery, and also food! It was the best. It is like the Eastern Market in Washington D.C. but ten times bigger! After the market, we walked to Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. By that time our feet were killing us! We had walked so much the day before and that morning, that we decided to sit in the park for an hour and just take a break. The weather was beautiful so everyone was at the park too. There were a lot of people pattleboating in the river at the park. After our break, we had enough energy to walk to the famous department store: Harrods. It was pretty big. There was a whole section of teas, coffees, and chocolate. We had dumplings there for dinner. They were good! It was around 6:00 and we were pretty tired, so we just went back to the hotel and watched TV. It was nice to take a break.

Portobello Market

Kensington Gardens

2 Flowers

The next day was our last day. Our train back to Edinburgh was at 3:00 and we had to check out of the hotel at 11. Since we would have our luggage with us, we decided to have a relaxing day reading in St. James Park. As we were walking there, we walked by Buckingham Palace again. We saw crowds of people and realized that the changing of the guards ceremony was about to begin in five minutes! We did not even plan to see it! We heard a marching band coming down the street, and they were the Buckingham Palace guards! We are sure that we heard them play “All that Jazz.” After about thirty minutes, we walked over to St. James Park and just read for about an hour until we went to Kings Cross for our train. We were pretty early, so we went to Platform 9 3/4 to get onto the Hogwarts Express! After that, we headed back to Edinburgh. It was a great trip and I will definitely go back to London!

Changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace

On my way to the Hogwarts Express!

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