London Day I

So, I’m splitting my London trip into separate blog posts so my readers don’t have to read an entire book for one blog and also because it’s nearing exams, making me extremely busy. Thanks for understanding, here we go…Flew to London today! I chose London as my spring break trip while abroad. Arriving in the Luton airport, I was still a while away from the center of London where I’d be staying so I took a slew of public transportation to get to my airbnb. I was transferring from one station to Kings Cross station and as any Harry Potter fan knows, Kings Cross is a large part of the books so I was already pretty psyched to even be inside this particular train station. I was walking toward the platform for my platform transfer to London when I saw a large crowd of people gathered by the wall. When there is a crowd, I naturally walk toward it to see what the hullabaloo is about. The crowd was encircling the iconic Platform 9 3/4 from Harry Potter. DSC_6441editWords can not express how beside myself I became. I always knew I was a giant HP nerd, but this week took me to new levels. Naturally, I dropped all prior plans to get to the center of London to wait in this long line to snap a single picture in front of half a cart in front of a faux Harry Potter platform. There was absolutely no way in the world I could see Platform 9 3/4 then continue walking toward my destination like I hadn’t seen it. Technically this was on my list to do later in the week in my personal itinerary, but who am I kidding, I never follow my itinerary anyway. Physically shaking with excitement, I desperately needed to talk with someone who also loves HP as much as me(maybe as much as me), so I Facetimed my friend Lexi. Lexi was getting ready for her mother’s wedding, which I was bummed to be missing, but I was able to say congrats to her over FaceTime so that was cool and I think she was understanding about my absence seeing as I’m across the world, haha. Lexi shared in my excitement about me being in line to see Platform 9 3/4 which is exactly why I called her, because I knew she’d understand my enthusiasm. Thanks Lex(if you’re reading this). Traveling alone is so incredibly rewarding, but at times I really want someone to be here with me to share in my experiences, it would make standing in a long line much more fun. There were workers in the front who took the photo and also put a house scarf on you, I watched them thinking about how I would thrive working here. Closer and closer, I made my way to the front of the line, thinking about how I only had one chance to look decent in the photo and if I failed there would be no second chance. Finally, it was my turn. Proudly, I grabbed the blue ravenclaw scarf and walked toward the half luggage cart sticking out of the brick wall. Rummaging through the selection of fake wands, I had to make a quick decision. I saw the elder wand, Harry’s wand, Ron’s wand, Lucius’ wand, Hermione’s wand… but not Luna’s wand which I desperately searched for. Yes, I am a Harry Potter nerd, I already told you that, you just didn’t believe me. Choosing Hermione’s as a close second, I pointed it to the sign, the worker made my scarf blow in the wind and *snap* the picture was taken, scarf taken off, and another young wizard ushered into my spot. Well that was quick. Totally worth the 45 minute line though, I would have waited longer. DSC_6453After the photo, they had a Harry Potter shop full to the brim of merchandise. Obviously I wanted to buy every single thing but all the price tags were crazy expensive. I had to walk through the whole store, convincing myself I did not need £70 ravenclaw sweater. Not without difficulty, I made it to the end of the store to the cash registers to see my photo. Nervously, I looked at the photo assuming it would be absolutely terrible with me having my eyes closed or a double chin or basically anything ruining my one memento from being here. It was actually decent! Since it wasn’t dreadful, I bought the photo and went on my merry way.Platform934

Finally back on track to my airbnb, I had the most fun pretending to listen to music but actually intently listening to the English accents around me. Seriously, all week long I had the most fun listening to British accents and feigning my own accent in my head, it was bloody brilliant.

After dropping off some cumbersome items in my backpack, I headed back out to see the most remarkable crosswalk in the world. Turning the corner in Westminster, I came upon Abbey Road. The zebra stripes themselves were fairly insignificant, but knowing the Beatles were here and they recorded at the studio right across the street made these white lines extraordinary. A handful of tourists gathered around Abbey Road taking turns finding the perfect opportunity to cross traffic and capture the perfect photo. For some reason, I thought maybe the road would be blocked off or away from traffic but nope. Cars continuously streamed down the street, the drivers angrily honking at various tourists running into the oncoming traffic. Watching people take photos was deeply entertaining as they waited for an absence of cars, ran into the street and froze for a few seconds, then quickly bounded to the other side of the street. I stood at Abbey Road for entirely too long watching tourists getting honked at, kind of wishing I had someone to take a photo of me being an idiot in the middle of the street. A lone girl on the other side of the crosswalk looked as though she were thinking the same thing as I was. After a few minutes, I decided to run over and offer to take a photo of her if she would take one for me as well. It worked out perfectly. I love the fact that you can see the cars waiting for me to un-freeze and make it to the other end of the street in the photo. Yay for being an annoying tourist!9D8E7C74-F830-47F5-931A-5A7B35312E4A

While I was at Abbey Road, I made sure to FaceTime my grandma and my mom and show them where I was. I even walked across Abbey Road again so my Grandma could go with me(virtually) across the famous street. I love being able to share fun little experiences with my family back home. After Abbey Road, I walked toward Notting Hill but became utterly sidetracked when I saw a Chipotle on the horizon. Shining in all it’s splendor, Chipotle called to me. I love Chipotle, I eat it constantly when I’m home in America. I haven’t eaten my beloved burrito bowl in months. Honest to goodness, the amount of joy from seeing that Chipotle sign was way beyond the excitement I felt for Buckingham palace the day after, I know I’m ridiculous. Well, the day was basically over after eating so I headed back to my rented room to settle in for the night. Lovely first day in London. More to come when I have time in between exams/presentations!

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Vienna Waits for You

DSC_5847ResizedSpontaneous trip to Vienna, Austria! When I say spontaneous, I mean spontaneous. I planned this trip two days before I left. To kick off my little weekend trip, my bus was two hours late so I had to kill lots of time at the bus station and it was pretty dang chilly outside. Luckily there were a two girls waiting for the same bus and I heard them speaking English so I went up to them to tell them how late our bus was. They were really nice girls about my age from Ireland who invited me to go have a coffee with them while we waited for our very late bus. It’s always fun to meet random strangers on my solo trips. Uneventful bus ride to Vienna…then to start my adventuring. Arriving in Vienna in the middle of the day, I went into the subway system to buy a ticket for the next 48 hours and noticed a couple of Canadian girls struggling with the ticket system so I helped them out and spoke with them for a while until they hopped off the train a couple stops before me. My inexpensive airbnb was an apartment owned by a girl who lived in Vienna. I knew I’d be staying in her living room area on a sofa-bed and I was fairly skeptical about how it’d work out. After walking up three flights of stairs, I made it to her door. Her apartment was so cute. The living room area was covered in plants, there were vintage pieces of furniture, a record player, books, and interesting art, plus she had an adorable pup. After dropping off some of my things, I headed into the center of the city. I got out of the underground and started walking with no destination in the middle of the city when someone taps on my shoulder. I turned around to find a young guy standing in front of me. He started saying something to me in German, then I told him I only spoke English. He switched to English and proceeded to say he wanted to stop me to tell me I was beautiful. I honestly don’t remember how I responded. Probably some dumbfounded look followed by an extremely awkward thank you. I think I might be in a parallel universe where people think I’m attractive, It’s very weird, unfamiliar and unpleasant. He asked me what my plans were for the day and I told him I would just be walking around the city. He asked me if it would be alright if he walked with me, I feel like if I said no to him simply walking with me, that would be quite rude so I ended up wandering about the city with some blonde haired, blue-eyed Austrian guy. He had some helpful tips about the area and certain museums to visit so that was cool. After having some coffee, I was anxious to explore the city so we parted ways.

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St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Downtown Vienna was immense and bustling, full of people, stores, towering architecture, statues and the great St. Stephen’s Cathedral. As luck would have it, St Stephen’s was under construction, covered in scaffolding and barely visible. Therefore, I was only able to take a few decent photos of the beautiful gothic-style church. Vienna is a beautiful city full of history, classical music, and art, I did not expect such a grand downtown area. The weather in Vienna that day was rather unfortunate, very cold and dreary. As I did not bring my gloves from Ljubljana and I was constantly taking photos, my hands were so raw. I wandered into a souvenir shop to warm up and found that my phone was nearly dead and I had conveniently left my portable charger back at the airbnb.DSC_5891Resized When traveling, I rely so heavily on google maps to direct me everywhere I go, so having a charged phone is necessary. Forced to go all the way back to the airbnb apartment, I got there when the sun was beginning to set. I didn’t really feel like wasting the evening away so I headed back out and walked to Schönbrunn Palace. The walk was a bit longer than I expected but it was quite nice to see bits of the sunset peek through the streets of Vienna. Turned out to be a very beautiful walk, although intensely chilly. Once the palace was in view, there was no mistaking I had made it to the right place as the colossal piece of architecture stood in front of me. DSC_5928ResizedIn the back of the palace was a large park, gardens, statues, and even a zoo. I wasn’t able to get any photos because it was quite dark and becoming increasingly cold. I found some trolley to take me near the airbnb. Sleeping proved rather difficult, turns out staying in a living room with loads of open windows means early rising the next morning.

Museums Day! Today was mostly taken up by visiting several museums. I wanted to start out the day by going to the Belvedere Museum to see Gustav Klimt’s famous painting The Kiss before things became too busy. The Belvedere Museum was a work of art in and of itself.

A large beautiful pond in the front and an extravagant garden in the back. Once I got inside, I went straight for the Gustav Klimt collection where a long line had already formed. Bored, waiting alone in line, I looked up to the most exquisite ceiling. DSC_6001ResizedWaiting in a room to look at art was another work of art. I swear, everywhere here is a piece of art. I wish the photo would do the real thing justice, but honestly none of the photos I’ll be posting will come close to seeing these works of art in person, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth sharing or experiencing through an online platform. Closer and closer I got to the front of the line. I was so excited to see The Kiss in person. Before coming to study in Ljubljana,  I never thought about all the incredible works of art I’d have the opportunity to appreciate in person. Here are some my favorite of Klimt’s I was able to see:

There were so many people gathered around The Kiss, but I was still able to get a decent photo once I waited it out for a window of time with less than 20 people gathered. Some of my other favorite pieces I saw included:

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Napoleon Crossing the Alps –Jacques Louis David
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A Pathway in Monet’s Garden -Claude Monet

 

I saw many more incredible pieces of artwork but I’m sure you guys don’t want to see every single photo I took, besides, I still have two more museums to go! Hahaha, sorry. After the Belvedere, I sought out a classic Würstelstand to buy some Viennese street food.   After all, how could I be in Vienna without eating sausage?IMG_1996 Completely unaware of what to order, I basically just pointed to the first thing on the menu, then the vendor asked me what kind of sausage I wanted and of course I said “the spiciest” and I was not disappointed. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of meat but it was pretty dang good and the warm bread it came wrapped inside was more than ideal(mmm bread is always the best here). Having been on my feet all day and walking around the city, I wanted to find someplace warm to sit down. I had eyed a Starbucks around the corner and was intent on getting a coffee before leaving Vienna. A little background: there are absolutely no Starbucks in Slovenia. Zero. So when I see one elsewhere on a trip, I get quite excited. After a quick coffee break, I headed to Museums Quartier where several museums are located in Vienna.

Passing by the Natural History museum, I went straight for The Kunsthistorisches Museum to see more remarkable pieces of art! So many marvelous pieces to choose from, but I’ll show you a few of my favorites again.

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The Crowning with Thorns -Caravaggio
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Vienna Viewed from the Belvedere Palace

IMG_2439By the time I left this museum, the only museum left open was the Mumok, a modern art museum. Full of exceptionally weird and abstract art, the Mumok checked off all the things I expect from a modern art museum.

Sorry to my readers who don’t like art, this post was probably boring. I love all of the art, even the super weird art that generally makes no sense. Yay art day! I spent all day at museums in Vienna, what a dream.

Last day in Vienna and I decided to use my half day before my bus back to Ljubljana in a graveyard. Yep, in a graveyard. Before I get to that though, I had to gather my things into my backpack to check out of my airbnb. I’ve become really efficient at packing for trips in a single backpack(I bet my family doesn’t believe me) and I’m pretty proud. Before going to the cemetery, I quickly stopped at a second hand clothing shop recommended to me by the girl I stayed with over the weekend. The shop was rather depressing and sparse, I miss thrift shopping back home. Okay, onto the cemetery. First of all, I think old cemetery headstones and mausoleums are super cool. Secondly, some extremely important composers lay in this graveyard. I was able to see the resting places of Johann Strauss, Johannes Brahms, Franz Schubert, and Ludwig Van Beethoven.

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Bye Vienna! Thank you for a marvelous, spontaneous weekend trip.

The Floating City

After my social work class, I hopped on my 10 Euro bus to Venice and the adventure began! My bus was delayed for an hour at the Italian border as the polizia italiana did a very thorough check of our passports with a few complications with some of my fellow passengers. Finally making it to Venice, I took a people mover to the main island and set out to find my airbnb. As the sun had already set, it was a tad more difficult to find my place and I ended up near the right address but not quite.

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Spontaneous photoshoot in my Airbnb

Thank goodness a young Italian guy sporting a man bun came out of nowhere, said my name in a fun accent, handed me my temporary keys, then led me to the right door. My room was actually really nice, and conveniently right in the middle of Venice. Excited about my first actual day in Venice, I woke up super early, opened my window and saw nothing but fog. Fog is my absolute favorite! Anytime it’s foggy at home I jump on the opportunity to take photos because it looks so amazing. Setting out for San Marco, I walked 20 minutes through beautiful, fog covered Venice. By the time I arrived at San Marco, thick fog still covered everything. Piazza San Marco was full of beautiful architecture but I couldn’t even see anything due to the fog, so I walked along the water for a while, waiting for the fog to dissipate. Of course I really wanted to take a gondola ride but they were all crazy expensive so I just stood on the bridges and watched as others floated along underneath me. After San Marco, I walked around the little streets of Venice and visited a couple little shops. There was a multitude of cafes, pizzerias, clothing stores, tourist shops, shops full of carnival masks, and my favorite which was an adorable lavender store.

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Grand Canal
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Rialto bridge

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St. Mark’s Basillica

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Doge’s Palace

On a whim, I decided to take a ferry to Murano, a little island north of Venice. Colorful and full of works of art made of glass, Murano was a nice little escape from the tourism of Venice.

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Murano

Since this city is known for glass-making, the streets were overflowing with locally made pieces of glass works of art. Unfortunately I couldn’t necessarily buy a tiny glass flower to be put in a suitcase and accidentally crushed when it’s time for me to go back home. CC45C81D-887F-4ECF-99BC-9659238E4941Realizing I hadn’t eaten anything in quite a while, I searched around for a decent place to eat in Murano. I ended up finding a restaurant with a patio by the ocean and I freaking ate an entire pizza by myself. Turns out my capacity for eating is expanded when I have nowhere to take my leftovers. Exhausted, I took the ferry back to Venice and took a glorious nap. I made sure to wake up before sunset then took a stroll and facetimed my family so they could see a little bit of Venice. After it got dark, I walked around the main canal and tried to find a souvenir to buy. Undecided, I checked out some shirts and other knick knacks but nothing really seemed right. I came across a little shop full of Murano glass trinkets and an old man sitting down, sketching illustrations of Venice landscapes. He had a little box full of his beautiful art for sale and I found my perfect souvenir, plus he had a cute little dog sleeping in the corner of his shop which was even better.

Today, March 10th, is my bone marrow birthday. Eight years ago, I was laying in a hospital bed and received my bone marrow transplant. Honestly, I don’t really like celebrating my actual birthday but this birthday is meaningful to me. I didn’t do anything when I was born to earn a celebration, but I did endure chemo and radiation and come quite near death to have a reason for March 10th to mean something. Usually I celebrate by going to dinner with my family or they buy me a Papa Johns pizza, stick a candle in it and sing happy birthday terribly off-pitched and annoyingly loud just the way I like. Although, this year I’m celebrating by traveling the world and taking advantage of the life I’ve been blessed with! I’d say spending the weekend in Italy is a pretty great way to celebrate my life.

 

Day in Trieste

Spent a quick day in a little known Italian town called Trieste. There was a bus full of exchange students who had the opportunity to visit a cave, tour an anti-aircraft shelter, and walk around the city of Trieste, or Trst as the Slovenians call it. DSC_3312Edit.jpgSo far I’ve only visited one cave in Slovenia even though there are about 10,000 different caves in the country. Walking around in the cave was stunning and also quite frigid, as the temperature dropped every couple meters. Going to another cave while I’m here is most definitely on my list. After the cave, we went to the bomb shelter which was an experience all in it’s own. I’m planning to write a blog post specifically about the bomb shelter and some perspective on what I’ve experienced being an American in Europe.

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Once in the heart of Trieste, we were given time to walk around the city freely. Most of my classmates paired up or went as a group to find food. Not me, I spent my time alone, wandering around, enjoying the beauty and snapping some photos. The sea called to me first, I went directly to the pier and spent some time just sitting on the edge with my feet dangling over the water. fullsizeoutput_6311Noticing a small gelato truck, I left my spot on the pier, chose raspberry and enjoyed the BEST ice cream I have ever consumed in my lifetime. I’m honestly still dreaming about the sweet, berry flavored gelato. Still having a couple hours left for exploration, I walked around the old town of Trieste. Cute old buildings, impressive statues, cute cafes, colorful streets, leftover carneval confetti, and a curious Katrena walking about, genuinely enjoying life. There was a moment on the pier when I became overwhelmed with a sense of thankfulness and unfathomable gratitude for any and every person who helped me get here. If anyone would have told young, post-cancer me that I’d be studying in Europe and traveling solo to foreign cities when I was 20, I would have scoffed. Seriously, I’ve already done so many things I never expected to experience in my lifetime.

 

 

Abandoned Buildings Wherever I Go

At home, I love visiting abandoned places and it never crossed my mind that I would find one here in Ljubljana. Originally, I planned on going to the center of the town and attempting to find a bridesmaid dress for my sister’s wedding but my day turned out completely different. As soon as I had gotten to the bus stop, I received a message from the girl who lives in the room next to mine asking me if I wanted to go on a walk with her. She is from Lithuania and seemed amazingly nice so of course I said yes. We ended up walking across town to Tivoli park which is basically woody hills with walking/hiking paths. Stumbling upon an impressive abandoned building, we began inspecting ways to get closer. Climbing up the hill to get closer, we realized the whole building was surrounded by fencing to keep people out. Personally, I was ready to jump the fence and enter into the creepy old building but wasn’t sure if she’d be down for the adventure as well. DSC_2939Edit.jpgShe ended up telling me about an abandoned building she used to visit in Lithuania which ended up getting torn down and how she wanted to go into this building as much as I did. So I hopped the fence, went on in and she followed after. The building looked like an old hotel or maybe apartments, we both discussed how it was a shame it had been abandoned. We climbed up the three flights and discovered the top had been burned, explaining the abandonment. Finding a patio, we climbed out a window and onto the landing then into another section of the building. DSC_2957Edit.jpgA creaking door slammed shut behind us and we had a brief moment of terror, we chalked it up to the wind but still disturbed, climbed back through the window to the main section of the building. Turning the corner into what looked like an old bathroom, she gave a little shriek, apprehensive I hurried over to see what had startled her. There were red, bloody, dragged handprints on the walls thanks to a previous disturbed graffiti artist. After a laugh, we went back down the rail-less cement stairs and left. I will have to come back later when it’s not freezing and take some sweet self-portraits.

Next, we went to one of the two Mexican restaurants in Ljubljana. We sat down, I expected a waiter to come bring us chips and salsa as per usual in America but they never came. I explained how in our Mexican restaurants, we always get free chips and salsa before our meals and she thought that was amazing and also abnormal. I ordered taquitos because it seemed like a safe choice that couldn’t be messed up… I was incorrect. Mexican food here is so incredibly disappointing, hahaha. IMG_1029We take it for granted, but we are truly blessed by the rich hispanic culture in America and benefit greatly through wonderful food. They served my taquitos with nacho cheese, like sports arena nacho cheese. So weird. Also, the taquitos tasted like nothing, so bland and plain. Maybe I’ll try the other Mexican cantina and see how that one holds up. Although, I may just stick to the pizzerias and Italian food. I’ll keep updating you guys with my food adventures here in Ljubljana. I need to try some actual Slovenian entrees soon. I’m a little hesitant though because it’s a lot of soups, meat, sausage, and potatoes. The only thing on that list sounding appetizing to me is potatoes so wish me luck.