Sunday, May 29, 2011

ireland - little island of fairies, friends, and the absolute craic.

just to preface this post, i’d like share a comparison with you that i made the other night while describing my trip to ireland. if countries were animals, france would be a sophisticated but rather unpersonable black cat – sleek, aloof, sometimes holier-than-thou, but charming if you can get on its good side. ireland, on the other hand, is like an 8 week old floppy chocolate lab puppy – never-ending energy, undying devotion and love, ALWAYS down for some fun, and selfless joy. i hope that sheds some light on why i love the irish so much.

monday, 16 may 2011

my journey began on monday, when i left my dorm around 11:30am to catch the bus to the train station, to catch a train to nantes, to catch a shuttle to the airport, to catch a plane to ireland, to catch a bus limerick, to catch a bus to dublin to meet my friends!! all that to say, i had a long day of traveling. a couple of my friends came to see me off at the train station, including one friend who i won’t see again for a long time! ariel, i miss you already!! my shuttle driver in nantes was irish, which i took to be a sign. also, my friends keith and paddy (both irish) were on the same flight as me! so that was super fun – we played crosswords and joked around for the hour and forty minute long flight. once we arrived, keith left to go meet his brother and paddy and i took the bus to limerick. he was meeting friends there for the night, and i had to catch a bus to dublin! he made sure i knew where the bus left from, and then went on his way.

while i was waiting for the bus, an old man came up to the stop and asked a worker if it was the stop for dublin – the worker said yes, and the old man came over to where i was standing. i asked him if he was going all the way to dublin, and he said “no, no, just halfway along the same route – here, sit down, talk to me!” so i did, and we ended up sitting next to each other on the bus as well. his name is donnchadh o’riordan. we talked for nearly two hours, about everything from his childhood in southern ireland, his early days of schooling when he had only thirty minutes of english lessons a day (everything else was in irish), where he’s traveled in the states, and what my travel plans were. we also talked about the irish language for a long time – he explained what his name meant (brown warrior), how to pronounce the letters, what some useful phrases are, and the differences between dialects. it was probably one of the best conversations ever. he was SO nice and cheerful and just lovely. as if this wasn’t already an awesome story, about 5 minutes before he got off the bus, he pulled out his wallet, took out 10 euro, and said “when you’re on o’connell street in dublin tomorrow, buy yourself a coffee” and GAVE ME 10 EURO. what?! i gave him my email, and i’m sincerely hoping he will email me so we can be pen pals. i actually teared up a bit when he got off the bus.. nicest man ever, and he was the first person i properly met in ireland. wow.

the bus arrived in dublin around 11:30 pm, and my friends came to pick me up. it was shane, jessie, and andrea and shane’s friend rowan, whose house we were crashing for the two day visit. it was SO good to see shane and jessie, who i hadn’t see since before i left for spain in april! we all piled into the car and headed back to rowan’s place, where there was curry waiting for dinner, bless them. we talked well into the night and fell asleep around 4am, the 4 of us in rowan’s double bed. it was great.

tuesday, 17 may 2011

at some point in the night, i had to leave the 4-person-to-a-bed situation.. it was just excessive. i made up a little pallet on the floor and cuddled up for the last few hours of sleep.. we woke up around 10am, worked out the kinks in our necks and backs from such tight sleeping quarters, and headed downstairs.. to find zero food. soo we got dressed and headed out in search of nourishment before our day of sights! luckily, there was a little supermarket just across the way, so i had a muffin and some fruit. yum. :) the goal for tuesday was to visit the kilmainham prison – one of the most historical places in dublin. the student entrance fee was less than 2 euro, and we had an EXCELLENT tour guide. his name was ruiari (pronounced rory) and he was SUPER knowledgeable, engaging, and aware. the tour was filled with historical background information, stories, and trivia about the inmates. almost every irish revolutionary was held in the prison at one point, and many of them were executed there as well. i left the jail feeling like i’d learned a year’s worth of irish history in about an hour and a half! it was awesome.

after the jail tour, we walked to the IMMA – irish museum of modern art – to check out a frida kahlo exhibit before walking into dublin proper. on our way in, we passed the guinness storehouse and brewery and even happened to be on the quay as the queen’s motorcade drove by! so i saw the queen of england. no big deal. actually, it was a HUGE deal  that she was visiting at all. it was the first time that a british monarch had set foot on independant irish soil – the last monarch was george, who visited in 1911 before ireland was a republic of its own. there was a fair bit of tension in the air, with people worrying that there would be conflicts instigated by anti-royalists. thankfully, everything went smoothly and the state visit was a huge success!
after our history-packed tour and queen sighting, we got some lunch at a pub in temple bar (irish red wine and guinness soaked beef stew with mashed potatoes.. MMM) and did a little walking tour of the downtown area. we went through trinity college, which was gorgeous, all the way down grafton street and into st. stephen’s green shopping centre. on the way home, we got some groceries for dinner (pasta – surprise!) and took the tram back to rowan’s house. we had intended to go back out after dinner, but we ended up staying in and spending time together, goofing around on the internet and listening to music. rowan left to go stay at his girlfriend’s place, and after he was gone, we all sat down at the table to make birthday cards for him! his birthday is the 18th. it was actually really awesome, because he was in angers the morning of my birthday, april 18th,and i got to be in dublin for his birthday a month later! our cards were all really great – very individual and unique. we spent a long time making them and then finally got to sleep around 3am. i didn’t even try to sleep in the bed – i’m fairly sure the floor was much more comfortable. :)

wednesday, 18 may 2011

rowan’s birthday!! :) and also our last day in dublin. since we went to bed late, it was up to me as the morning person to rustle the others into action at a decent hour. they were less than pleased when i woke them up around 11.. oh well. i had intended to go into dublin myself a little earlier to see some sights that we’d missed, but i ended up changing my mind and waiting for rowan to come back – i wanted to see the reaction to his cards! he showed up around noon and was so excited about all the cards – he really loved them, and it was an awesome personal touch. :) we were all basically ready to go, so we just motivated rowan to get dressed and then we headed into town. since we were leaving from the bus station around 6pm, we took all of our stuff with us from rowan’s. i only had a backpack, but jessie had a suitcase and no one really wanted to be lugging anything around for the day, so we went to an internet cafe place downtown that had a luggage-leaving service. convenient! once we were free of baggage, i split off from the group to go see two of the landmarks on my list – christ church cathedral and st. patrick’s cathedral. since they were far-ish away, the others stayed and walked around the neighborhood while i double-timed it across town. on my way, the queen’s motorcade passed by again! so i got to see her twice! as it turns out, rowan was exaggerating how far away the churches were.. it was really just like an 8 minute walk. but it was nice to have some alone time to walk through the cathedral and contemplate the history. there has been a cathedral on the site since 1030AD.. which means they’ll celebrate 1,000 years just 19 years from now. WOW. i explored the main nave and also the crypts below, which were really cool. after christ church, i walked down the street to st. patrick’s. it was a bit more expensive, so i just viewed it from the outside – still amazing!

the best part of that whole property is for SURE the archbishop’s personal library, which is in a little building out behind the church. i was walking along the wall when i noticed a little archway door with a sign that said “marsh’s library – opening hours...” nothing else. no explanation, nothing. but, being the massive library nerd that i am, i decided to have a little looksie. i walked into the house, which really was just a house from the 1700’s, and up the stairs to find myself on a landing with several closed doors. one door had a bell next to it that said “ring for attention”. so, i rang it. and a middle-aged man opened the double-door and asked “would you like to visit the library?” .. “yes?” i replied. and when he opened the doors all the way, i actually gasped. i had stumbled across an authentically-preserved, still active library – that was over 300 years old. it had been archbishop marsh’s private collection at first, and each subsequent archbishop had added to it.. there were over 25,000 volumes of the oldest, most beautiful books.. all leather-bound, sitting on gorgeously carved dark-wood shelves. and that amazing old-book perfume wafted through the air.. it was heaven. the guard told me a bit of the history, showed me a 600 year old book in the case, and then left me to marvel in peace. there are two rooms at the library – the main gallery and the back gallery. in the back gallery, there are cages where the librarians used to ahve to lock people in with the books so they wouldn’t run off! each year, the librarians organize a display of a few select books pertaining to a theme – this year was medical. i saw a book of medicine written and illustrated by rene descartes himself! too cool. i chatted with all of the employees, who were all so nice and so informative. one woman had worked there for 18 years.. dream job, much? once i was officially late for my rendez-vous with my friends, i signed the guest registry and tore myself away. incredible place, and an amazingly fortuitous find!

on my way back, i walked through st. stephen’s green, which is dublin’s mini central park. it was beautiful! and i walked along grafton street again, heading towards the pub where my friends were grabbing lunch. i dropped my stuff with them before running down the street to trinity college, to see the reading room. a few years ago, i found this website that had the 100 most beautiful libraries in the world.. ever since then, i’ve wanted to visit all those places – i’ve gotten to probably 5 of them at this point, so i have a long way to go! but the “long room” at trinity college is definitely on the list. it is AMAZING. plus, since i got there just about 12 minutes before closing, they let me in for free just to have a peek!! so, 8 euro saved there. i even got to take a few illegal pictures. on display in the library, they have the book of kells, which is a 1000 year old, flawless illuminated manuscript, the harp on which the national emblem of ireland is based, the skeleton of a 7 foot tall, 400 pound irish giant, and a medical book with the signature of obama’s irish ancenstor, michael cearney! it was a very, VERY cool 12 minutes.

once they kicked me out, i went back to the pub to gather my friends. we stopped by the internet cafe to grab our bags and then headed down to the bus depot. the ride back to the west wasn’t bad at all – we had snacks, and comfy seats, so it passed quickly. our next sleeping place was shane’s house, which i was so excited to see!! mostly, i was excited to play with his dog. his dad picked us up at the bus stop and drove us back to the house.. through some seriously beautiful fairytale landscape. we finally arrived, met his mom and sister, and went to set our stuff down. it was a little surreal, being in shane’s real house. we’ve all been friends for a while now, and talked about our “real” lives so much, and it was really cool/weird to actually experience that. i’m sure it was weirder for shane, having us in his house. we ate dinner really late, and stayed up talking even later. we all crammed into shane’s little room and had a wonderful slumber party!

thursday, 19 may 2011

thursday was our day to explore shane’s home turf. i didn’t want to sleep the day away, so i woke up around 9:30 with the intention to take lady, shane’s dog, on a walk. except there was such a lovely bathtub calling my name... so i took a bath instead. it was awesome. i went back to lie down for a bit afterwards (baths always make me sleepy) and then we all woke up again around 11.. except jessie. she slept for ages! but she hadn’t been feeling well lately, so she needed it. shane, andrea, and i went downstairs to eat and hang out and then jessie finally appeared a while later. i played outside with lady while they got dressed, and then we all went on a magical romp through the fields. it was lots of fun! we got to really see “the land” that shane loves so much, talk to some cows, do some cartwheels and handstands, take lots of silly pictures, and just spend time together. plus, the weather even held out for us! when we came back, the other three stayed outside and played while i got to indulge my inner domestic goddess and bake. i miss having an oven SO MUCH. so they climbed a tree while i baked some chocolate chip cookies.. my goodness, i sound like a mother. but it was awesome. jessie told me later that she had expressed concern to the others about my being by myself inside while they all played, and andrea just told her – “she is content. she is happy in there.” and i totally was. they came inside just as i was finishing up the cookie dough. jessie helped me by chopping up the chocolate, and then they all got a spoonful of dough. i popped the sheets in the oven, and in 12 minutes – cookies!!! except i had tried to squeeze too many onto the tins, so they were a little squished. but they tasted great. and i felt wonderful. for dinner, we made a chicken stir fry, which was delish! after dinner, we watched ‘clueless’, which i’m not sure i’d seen fully before.. maybe just the end. but it was really good! we had an early morning coming our way, so we tried (and slightly failed) to go to bed at a reasonable hour..

friday, 20 may 2011

our early morning came early for the goobers who stayed up all night.. we had to wake up around 8am to be ready to leave by 8:45. shane’s dad kindly offered to drive us down to doolin, on the west coast of county clare, so that we could catch the ferry to inis oírr, which means ‘small island’ in irish. it’s part of the aran islands, called inis man, inis mor, and inis oirr – big island, middle island, small island. creative, eh? we were joined by our friend danjoe, who met us in doolin. the ferry ride actually almost killed me though.. the sea was CHOPPY and the ride was about 40 minutes.. ugh. shane got a picture of me at one point, which i didn’t see until much later, and i literally looked like a corpse. i do not exaggerate – ghostly pale greenish white, blue lips, eyes closed with a blank expression.... death incarnate. it was frightening. BUT once we got off the boat onto sweet land, i got to feeling much better. we stayed in a hostel, where the 5 of us got our own room, which was fun! once we dropped our stuff off, we went right out and had a LONG walk around the island.. climbing over rocks, checking out tide pools, walking along the beaches.. we even got to pet some nice farm animals and see an old shipwrecked boat! the weather was lovely, too, which was a bonus. we came back and made a late lunch before lying down for a bit of a nap. 

around 6pm, we got back up and did some more exploring. unfortunately, jessie had been feeling pretty atrocious since we arrived on the island.. but being the absolute superhero that she is, she powered through the whole afternoon of exploration. by the time 7pm rolled around, she was not doing so well. we ended up going to the island doctor to get her some medicine, and then stopped in one of the island’s three pubs for dinner. i had some awesome vegetable soup and also had my first taste of guinness in ireland! i just had a few sips of andrea’s, but still. it had begun. we stayed around for a while after dinner, because there were three older men playing music in the pub and it was lovely. i even beat danjoe at pool. we left around midnight to put jessie in bed, and then the 4 of us went back to the pub and continued our night.. played some more pool, listened to music, talked. i ordered my own pint, but didn’t finish it.. around 2am, we left and walked along the beaches for a while until i decided to go in to sleep. the other 3 stayed out for a while – they walked up to the old church ruins and played on a playground until nearly 4am, the crazies. but they came back eventually, and we all slept soundly. the duvet on my bed was amazing.

saturday, 21 may 2011

saturday was a little rough, mostly because we weren’t sure if we would be able to get off the island at all due to weather. so we woke up around 10am because we were supposed to “check out” at 10:30.. except that was a very loose time. we were actually downstairs with all of our stuff around 11:30am, but the weather was so bad that we just sat in the dining room and played games. at one point, we did go out to the store to get some milk to make hot chocolate.. yum. :) around 1:30, we moved over to the pub next door to spend our last few hours on the island next to fire, playing cards and drying our socks and shoes. at 4:30, we got on the one and only ferry back to the mainland. i was verrry apprehensive about the ride, but it ended up being completely fine! who knew. we arrived back to a down called rossaveel, and then took a bus back into galway city. there was a big to-do about trying to surprise our friend trish at work, and also meet up with emma, but my phone ran out of credit and the others’ phones were dead.. it was a big fail all around. we did end up seeing trish for about five minutes, but emma never got to meet up with us. at 8pm, we took a bus back to shane’s neck of the woods. we had a nice dinner – roast chicken, veggies, bread – and then talked until bed.

sunday, 22 may 2011

after finally getting a good night’s sleep, we woke up and did our usual morning routine – breakfast, tea, goof off, get dressed. in the early afternoon, shane’s mom drove us to the coast again to see the cliffs of moher, which were absolutely astounding. the weather was bad for a spell, but it cleared up after a while and we had an awesome afternoon! i had one of the most surreally surprising “small world” moments of my life on the cliffs – we asked a man to take a picture of us, which he did gladly, and then we offered to take a picture of him and his family. after a few sentences exchanged, we figured out that they are friends with my boyfriend’s family in huntsville, alabama!!! their son, stahler, was friends with drew in middle and high school. CRAZY. i got a picture with them. my brain was exploding. after that, we drove down the road a bit to lehench for a snack of chicken and vegetable soup and then continued home. on the way, we stopped for groceries and also at our friend niamh’s house to say hello/goodbye! i had actually never met niamh, but jessie and andrea both had. when we arrived, niamh and her younger siblings had made everyone cards – including me!! the irish are the nicest people EVER. the cards were adorable. we visited for a while and then headed home to cook a fabulous asian noodle stir fry dinner.. yummm. about halfway through the meal, though, andrea commented that it was our last meal together, at which point the food started tasting like ash. the rest of the night was us trying to be happy but actually being sad. we even hugged each other before bed. sigh.

monday, 23 may 2011

after very small amounts of sleep (are you sensing the trend yet?), we woke up and packed our stuff.. we left to drop andrea off at the airport, which was heartbreaking, and then jessie and i took a bus up to dunmore to go to emma’s house! she met us at the stop and it was GREAT to see her. we went to the store to pick up things for dinner and then came back to watch president obama’s address. it was AWESOME. great man. anyway, after all that inspiration, we made spaghetti bolognaise for dinner and then talked for quite a long time. we watched breakfast at tiffany’s before bed. emma’s mom had gone to stay at her parents’ place across town so that jessie and i could sleep in her bed (bless her!) – it was the single most comfortable bed i have ever slept on in my life. margie cheevers, you are a goddess.

tuesday, 24 may 2011

our happy, quiet little day around dunmore. we woke up and ate a little breakfast, hung out around the house for a while, and then got dressed to leave. we bought food for a picnic and then passed by the school to embarrass emma’s brother dan. he ignored us. we walked a few kilometers out of town to eat at the castle! there is a great old ruin just outside of town. after lunch, we took the epic “bog walk” of emma’s youth – a really nice walk through the fields surrounding the village. after the walk, we came back and talked with dan and his friend james for a while. i went upstairs for a little nap before dinner, and then we all ate pizza together. yum. :) after dinner, we did a “pub crawl” of dunmore – and by that, i mean we went to two different pubs and hung out. at the first pub, i FINALLY finished my own pint of guinness – life accomplishment! at the second pub, emma got another bulmer’s and we sat and talked for a while. we came back around midnight and went to bed at a fairly decent hour – i couldn’t wait to get in that amazing bed again!

wednesday, 25 may 2011

my last full day in ireland. :( we woke up early and were all ready get on the bus at 10:55.. only to find out that we had mixed up the timetables, and the bus had actually come at 10:45 – dang. so, we spent a few more hours in dunmore before catching the next bus at 1:55. we got to galway around 2:45 and met up with shane – yay! the 4 of us walked down to my friend hannah’s apartment, where we were staying for the night. i met hannah through one of my best friends from high school, cat. they go to vandy together. hannah is WONDERFUL. she let me bring five of my friends to crash her apartment, and had cookies baking when we arrived. seriously.. amazing human being. we sat and talked at her place for a while before walking into town to do some exploring. we met up with our friends niamh and danjoe in town. i finally got to buy a claddagh ring, which is a traditional irish design – two hands holding a heart with a crown on top. hands for friendship, heart for love, crown for fidelity. it’s beautiful! we went and looked around NUIG, my friends’ university – we played hide and seek in an empty lecture hall, and i kicked butt. around 8pm, we went back to the apartment to regroup before heading out for the night. it was international fish and chips day, so naturally we went out for fish and chips. except i had chicken, because i actually don’t like fish that much. it was great though! we kept meeting up with more and more people, since emma and shane are so popular, so at one point in the night we had a pretty big group. we left the restaurant and went to a pub called ‘the quays’, which was SO fun! the décor was like the inside of a pirate ship, which was awesome, and there was a live band. we played games with the coasters and took pictures and joked around.. it was probably the best time i’ve had in a while. i just love those people so much. after the quays, we went to emma’s natural habitat – a hipster haunt called ‘the roisin’ (pronounced row-sheen). i hadn’t been in such a hipstery place since i left cafe coco. it was fun, though, they had dancing and an outdoor area and a great bar. we stayed there until nearly 2am before getting a cab back. on the way home, we got some milk and stuff for breakfast. shane also got some spring rolls and a bowl of indian food. weird. we got back and cooked the food before making up our beds and hitting the hay.

thursday, 26 may 2011

the day i had been dreading for weeks. we got up and got packed quickly, scarfed some food down, and headed to the bus station so jessie, niamh, and danjoe could make their bus to donegal. after that, i had to wait for 30 minutes before my bus to the airport came at 11:05.. hannah came with us to say bye, and then left to meet her friends. so it was just me, shane, and emma. i gave them each a little bar of chocolate with a note that i’d already written, just so i wouldn’t have to actually say anything meaningful through the inevitable tears. i hugged them each about 5 times and tried to hold myself together.. but at 11:04, i made myself get on the bus. i waved at them and smiled through my tears until the bus pulled away, at which point i absolutely lost it and cried for about 30 minutes. pitiful. shane and emma, i love you two so much and i am literally hurting without you. <3

the rest of the day was a blur of bus ride, airport, shuttle, train, bus, home. it was hard to come back to my dorm knowing that my three main peoples on the floor were gone. but i got to skype drew for a while, which was nice, and then my mom too.


as always, for pictures of this trip, check out my facebook album. my trip to ireland was 10 of the greatest days ever.. i miss it, but mostly my friends, so much, and i cannot wait to go back. gráím thú, eire. x

Monday, May 16, 2011

the french riviera; it’s like florida, but way less tacky.

(continued from the post “getting down in barcelona”...)

tuesday, 3 may 2011

...we landed in lyon, a city in the eastern region of france. after the previous days’ housing worries, i was glad to have found a place for us to sleep! we took the tram from the airport to the city centre, and then the metro out to meet our host. her name is hélène, and she is an angel from heaven, i swear. she came to meet us at the stop and then walked us back to her flat. she live in a little neighborhood at the top of a hill, overlooking the main city.. and her apartment is incredible. we walked in and were immediately greeted with a deep red, textured-wall entry way. hélène said we’d be sleeping in her room, since it was at the back and furthest from the morning’s construction noises. her bedroom was this lovely eggplant colour with orange trim and awesome african-print fabrics on the bed and chairs. her sitting room was bright yellow, with funky and unique couches in purple, and a patio table complete with umbrella in the breakfast nook! the apartment went on for several rooms in the same style.. rachel and i were astonished. usually, the french are so demure and muted in their colour choices. but not hélène! she matched her apartment perfectly – bright reddish-maroon hair, ecclectic blue and green outfit, red lipstick and blue eyeshadow.. and a wonderful spirit! she immediately offered us food – fruit, cheese, bread, yogurt – and then let us get settled.

around 4pm, we left to go explore the city, as it was really our only chance! we walked down this huge set of stairs into the town, and then literally just walked up and down streets, along the river, through plazas.. trying to soak up as much of the city as we could. we stopped for a drink, and then grabbed some groceries before heading back up the hill around 8pm. since lyon itself isn’t actually very big, i feel like we did a good job seeing a large percentage of the city in such a small amount of time! once we got back to the apartment, we were exhausted.. hélène wasn’t home (she’d given us keys), but i cooked us a little dinner of pasta and then we just laid in bed reading until bedtime!

wednesday, 4 may 2011

i thought that i couldn’t sleep for more than 9 hours, but after many nights of sleeping on small pallets or couches, a real bed was enough to keep me out for more than 10 hours! it was luxury at its finest – but considering we’d gone to bed around 11, we still woke up earlyish at 10am. we packed our stuff up and then hélène surprised us with an awesome savory tarte for lunch! two kinds of cheese and garlic.. it was DELISH. she had to leave around 12:45, so said our goodbyes and left then too. we hung out in a park for about an hour before heading to the train station...

our next stop was a city called nice (pronounced neese, like geese), situated right on the mediterranean coast, almost all the way to italy. we had several hours on the train, though, since we had to go out of our way and change trains in marseille. we finally arrived in nice around 8:30, where one of our hosts came to meet us at the train station. we stayed with an awesome french couple, valentin and yasmine, in their incredible attic apartment. it was the fourth floor of this beautiful old villa building, on the north side of the city. they have a sweet cat and an adorably decorated place. rachel and i enjoyed every minute of our stay! we talked for a long time after arriving, especially about the 3-week tour they are doing of the southwest USA, starting in a few days! they are starting in albuquerque and visiting several national parks, vegas, and eventually making their way to san francisco.. couchsurfing all the way! i hope they have an absolutely marvelous time – i know they will! valentin even helped me plan out our touring for the following day – he had some awesome suggestions! yasmine made an awesome quiche and salad for dinner.. yum. after dinner, i took a much needed shower before skype-calling my parents and heading to bed.

thursday, 5 may 2011

thursday was a long day!!!! so much walking. but totally worth it! we woke up around 9am to the sound of oranges being juiced... and walked out to the living room to find breakfast pastries and goblets (yes, small crystal goblets) of freshly squeezed orange juice. more praise for couchsurfing, can i get an amen? awesome. we ate and then walked down to the train station to catch our 17-minute-long train to the swankiest little principality on the planet – monaco. what a freaking FANCY place! we spent the morning wandering around monte carlo, marveling at the amazing amounts of money on display. i literally lost count of the number of bentleys i saw.. but i am absolutely sure than i saw probably 25 million dollars worth of car.. so many bentleys, rolls royces, ferraris.... my word. and then there were all yachts in the harbor... plus the stores – gucci, prada, hermes.. all in a row. SO MUCH WEALTH. even the banks were called ‘wealth management’ places.. geez. we went up to ‘old’ monte carlo and watched the (rather unimpressive) changing of the guard, grabbed some sandwiches for lunch, and taking in the amazing views before hopping a bus back to the train station.

we took the train 8 minutes back towards nice, getting off in a town called ‘eze’. this stop was purely on valentin’s recommendation, and it was SO worth it. we had to take another bus up into the mountains, but once we got there, we were rewarded with a teeny little stone village, perched high up on top of the hill, overlooking the medeterranean and the beaches below.. each little street was so cute, with art shops and other merchants. we got ice cream and wandered around for an hour before heading back down to the beach. on the bus ride down the hill, rachel realized that every single passenger on the bus was an anglophone – we were on a bus with probably 40 middle-aged to elderly american tourists. haha. we got back to the train station and walked down to the beach and dip our toes in the water for a bit before our train arrived. once it did, we had a short ride back to nice!

once we were back, we still had lots of time to kill before yasmine was off work. we ended up walking allllll over the city, carrying the groceries we had bought while still thinking we could drop them off at the apartment.. whoops. this was our best time to see nice, though, so i’m happy we did so much walking. we even got to sit on the beach for a while before yasmine called us and said she was home. we got back and chilled for a bit before breaking out the supplies we’d purchased – because we promised to make yasmine her favourite treat.. blueberry muffins! i even persuaded everyone to let me do half the batch as raspberry muffins. they turned out well, if just a little crispy due to some temperature confusion and a super hot oven. they were definitely edible (more than edible!) and we all enjoyed them immensely! it was nice to do some baking, too.. i’ve missed it!

after the muffins, we all went out for drinks and snacks in old nice, at a really cool bar. it reminded me of being inside jules verne’s sketch book, somehow.. really interesting décor. we walked there and back though, completing a VERY long day of walking! once we got back, i looked for a few hosts in cannes, our next stop, before heading to bed.

friday, 6 may 2011

in retrospect, i would not have done this day the way it happened. but i cannot tell the future, so when it started i was still pleased with my plan! we woke up to muffins and orange juice around 9am again. we ate, packed up, said our goodbyes, and left around 10am to catch our 10:30 train to cannes, of film festival fame. the ride was short, but unfortunately, the luggage holding area in the station was closed. so we had to lug our bags around with us as we strolled the beach walk for a while. we got to see the set up preparations for the film festival, which began a few days after we were there. the city was nice, but the beach itself was gorgeous. i’d just like to insert a comment here that can be applied to every time i saw the ocean during this trip – the colour of the medeterranean is incomprehensible. it is blue.. but it is turquoise, and green, and purple, and indigo, and navy. it is the brightest body of water i have ever seen.. i could have stared at it for hours. anyway, we got sandwiches for lunch and headed back to the train station.

our next stop was st. tropez, the famed beach destination for stars of every generation. it’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful beaches in europe. too bad it’s next to IMPOSSIBLE to get there!! ugh. we took the train from cannes to st. raphael, the nearest city with a train station. from there, we had to take a bus. if i had known how long the bus ride was, i would have just suggested we stay in st. raphael and go to that beach. but, we commited to st. tropez and got on the bus. an hour and a half with a crazy bus driver later, we finally arrived in st. tropez.. only to realize that, in order to be back in st. raphael in time to make our train to our next host, we had to be back on the bus in an hour and a half. and we were on the exact opposite side of the city from where we needed to be.. and we still had our suitcases. struggle. after walking for a while (in the wrong direction, as it happened), we finally decided to give up on the “famous” beaches, and just find ANY beach to lay on for the 45 minutes we had left. so we took a nap on the beach and then woke up just in time to make it back to the bus. the ride back was twice as bad as the ride there, because there was so much more traffic and complaining from the driver (of course it was the same guy). he yelled at people for talking too loudly.. and by that, i mean talking. at all. we FINALLY made it back to st. raphael, got some food for snacks, and got on our train to marseille.

our next host was actually a friend of ours, not a couchsurfer. her name is laure and she is awesome! she had done a semester abroad at belmont, where both rachel and i met her. i only knew her in passing from the language lab where we both worked, but she and rachel became good friends during her stay. rachel even spent a week at her house in january before coming to angers. laure picked us up from the train station and drove us back to her house, about 25 minutes away. we got there and i got to meet her parents, who are both so sweet! we talked for a while, had snacks, and then rachel and i gratefully got into bed.

saturday, 7 may 2011

we slept in quite a while (for girls with things to do!) and woke up for breakfast around 10am. we had time to shower and get ready before laure drove us into aix-en-provence, another town nearby, to explore. it is a beautiful city! we toured the fine arts museum, which had several cezannes, as aix was his hometown. we found an awesome english bookstore/tea room, exactly like the one i would open if i were to open a bookstore. since it was saturday, the town was bustling with activity – terraces full of café-going people-watchers, shoppers with arms full of their latest hauls, tourists snapping photos of statues and church spires. we stopped for drinks at laure’s favourite bar before heading home. on our way, we grabbed some groceries to make burgers for dinner. the burgers were great, but the fries were soggy. i don’t know how i made my first batch of fries earlier this semester, but i haven’t been able to make them crispy ever since! i don’t understand it. anyway, we had some ice cream for dessert before settling in for a ‘friends’ marathon before bed! such a fantastic show. after a few hours, we called it a night.

sunday, 8 may 2011

american mother’s day! i have the best mom ever!

we got up for breakfast pretty late, and made our way out to the little pool in laure’s backyard for some sun time in the afternoon. beautiful. around 5pm, we headed into marseille to do some shopping and walk around, hoping to ultimately find a place to watch the marseille/lyon football match later in the evening. we found this awesome bagel shop (lol!) and ate there for dinner.. i hadn’t had a bagel in over 4 months, so it was pretty phenomenal. the pub across the street was playing the game, so we went over and posted up at a corner table for a few hours! the game was great – started out slow but had several goals near the end! unfortunately, marseille ended up losing the match, but for a while the energy was pretty electric! it’s always so fun to watch a match with locals. after it was over, we walked back the car and headed home. we had another ‘friends’ mini-marathon before bedtime. :)

monday, 9 may 2011

our last day of the trip! we had purchased tickets to do a boat cruise of the ‘calanques’ along the coast near marseille. we took the train into town, to avoid having to find a place to park, and got lunch before heading to the port. we got on our little cruise boat and headed out to sea! after the 3 hour tour, i still wasn't sure what a ‘calanque’ is.. i've since learned that it translates to mean ‘rocky inlet’. but the whole thing was so pretty! we bobbed up and down the coast, snapping photos of the dramatic cliff faces and peaceful inlets.. again, incomprehensibly blue water, with broad, white cliffs as a background now! near to the end of the tour (we saw 12 calanques in all), the three of us got a teensy bit seasick, so we all laid our heads down for a while on the ride back. but we perked up enough to see the ride back into the port, through the massive entry corridor, framed by hilltop fortresses. just outside of the harbor sits the castle where edmund dantes was imprisoned in ‘the count of monte cristo’! three cheers for literary history. after our boat tour, we walked back to the train station and headed back to st. victoret, laure’s little town.

once we got back, we napped for a while before getting up for dinner. laure’s parents had friends over, a nice french couple who had no troubles speaking with us! we joked around for a while until dinner was served – a delicious sort of shepard’s pie type thing.. it was this huge casserole dish with duck and vegetables topped with mashed potatoes and baked.. YUM. we had salad, radishes, and bread as well. SUCH a great dinner! i have missed home-cooked mom food so much! after dinner we sat and talked and ate cherries from the garden for a long time before we three girls retired to our bedrooms downstairs. since it was our last night there, laure agreed to sacrifice sleep for more ‘friends’ bonding. :) we went to bed around midnight, though, so it wasn’t too bad!

tuesday, 10 may 2011

laure had to leave for work early, so we woke up to say goodbye. she was such a great host, and i am so grateful and happy we got to stay with her! she left around 8am, and rachel and i went back to sleep for a few hours. around 11am, i got up to take a shower. we both went out to lay by the pool for a while, and then came in to get our bags packed up. laure’s mom took us to the train station for our 3:30 train, gave us bags with food and drinks and cookies, and sent us on our way back home to angers.

the train ride was direct, but 5 hours long.. we were both so happy to be off that train by the end of it! we got back to our dorm around 9pm, and spent the rest of the night visiting with friends who we hadn’t seen in 2 weeks! i even went out that night, just so i could spend some time with them.. every minute counts!


the days in between my return and next departure have been filled with friend time. i’m trying to have as much as possible! i DID have a great free dinner on wednesday night, courtesy of the university of angers. free crepes are the best!! and i also got to read to SUPER AWESOME books – the first two books in the ‘hunger games’ series by suzanne collins. i highly recommend them and i can’t wait to get my hands on the third one!

i’m heading off to ireland in the morning! well, my flight isn’t until the afternoon, but i’m out of the dorm around 11! i’ll be there for 10 days, and i’m so excited! stay tuned for that post somewhere around the 28th.. :)

ps - as always, check out my facebook album for photos of the trip!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

monthly report!

today was may 14th – my 2/3 point! i’ve been gone for 4 months, and will be back in the states in just 2 months..

the biggest change i’ve felt during the last 2 months is my deep sense of attachment that i’ve developed.. attachment to my friends, mostly, but also to france, and my dorm, and unlimited traveling, and the food.... you get the idea. some of my friends have already gone home, back to their respective corners of the world. i’m preparing to move out of my dorm at the end of the month, becoming a vagrant, homeless wanderer for approximately 6 weeks before heading back myself. right now, the thought of leaving is bittersweet. of course i want to see my family and friends and everyone back home... but i have grown to love where i am so much that it hurts to think of being away. i’m talking about france, of course, but really just europe in general. in the next two months, i’ll visit 8 countries, bringing my total for this semester to 10. that kind of cultural diversity and experience is something that i will miss every day, i think.

however, i WILL be getting a wonderful taste of home in two weeks, when my parents arrive for a 10 day visit!! they are arriving just in time to help me move out of my dorm (bless them), and subsequently take home a very large portion of my belongings. but in between those events, i’ll be showing them around angers, taking them to the beaches in normandy, and then frolicking about paris! it is their first visit to france (and europe), so i’m hoping it will be excellent.. i’ve already planned some great experiences!

so as far as monthly reports go, i’d call this one prematurely nostalgic. i’m trying my hardest not to wish away my time here, or just overthink away my time, really. i’m working on enjoying each little moment i have left, and saying prayers of gratitude at every turn! because i still can’t believe that i get to live here and have this experience, one that will be with me forever as one of the highlights of my life.

sorry for the whirlwind of blog posts, but i’m trying to get some out in the world before i leave again on monday! stay tuned for the riviera installment, coming tomorrow! :)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

getting down in barcelona!

alright, team, i’m back! i just spent the last two weeks on my “easter vacation” – which is actually just the first two weeks of summer, because i had no school to come back to. woo! two weeks away from my computer has yielded many stories to tell. i’m going to split my trip into two blog posts – barcelona and the french riviera. here’s the first installment!

the days leading up to my departure were filled with preparations, friends, goodbyes, and planning. there’s always planning when i’m involved. rachel and i had many goals for our two week excursion to the south, and i wanted to make sure we did as many as possible! it was tough to say goodbye to friends, especially the few that i wouldn’t be seeing again! fortunately, i still have the chance to see the majority of my friends once more before we all go back to our corners of the world.

wednesday, 27 april 2011

i woke up early to finish packing, check my computer stuff, and say goodbye to shane (he moved back to ireland the day before we returned – but i’ll see him next week when i go visit!) rachel and i left the dorm around 11am.. with many  miles to go before we slept. we took several modes of transportation (bus to train station, train to the paris airport, plane to barcelona, bus to city centre, walked to apartment) and then arrived at our first of five lodgings for the trip!

our friend natalie and one of her friends visiting from canada were in barcelona with us for the first few days, so the four of us rented two rooms off of from a sweet spanish family in lieu of a hostel or hotel. natalie and alyse arrived only a few hours before us (they were flying in from bordeaux), so we all got to explore together. the bed and breakfast option ended up being pretty cheap (only 20 euro per person), and we got breakfast every day! having real beds is a nice bonus. :) the family was so sweet – three generations of spanish women; a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter. they were all so kind and funny – the five-year-old aurora was so spirited and engaging! we loved staying with them, because it gave us a feel for “real” spanish life.. not crazy hostel traveler life.

once we got settled in, we all decided to go out and see the nightlife a little bit. the night of the 27th was actually an important one in barcelona – the football club (that’s soccer team for you non-followers :P) was playing their biggest rival (madrid) in the semi-finals of the playoffs. as we were sitting in the apartment resting, we heard the streets absolutely erupt with cheers after the star of barcelona, lionel messi, scored two excellent goals. it was so cool to go out on the balcony and see people jumping and dancing and celebrating on all the surrounding balconies, in the streets, in cars – yelling, honking horns, blowing air horns. it was insane. when we left the apartment and got to las ramblas (the biggest streen in barcelona), we arrived literally minutes after the end of the match. there were probably thousands of people in the street, all cheering and singing.. some ardent supporters were even climbing lamp posts and waving flags from the top. it was an amazing welcome to an awesome city. we walked around some more before heading home and going to bed.

thursday, 28 april 2011

thursday was wonderful! we woke up and ate our breakfast before getting ready for the day. the four of us left around 11am and walked the 30 or so minutes down to barceloneta beach, one of the most popular beaches. it was really beautiful, but pretty annoying – every four minutes, a small asian woman came up to us offering a massage, or a henna tattoo, or something. we got really good at saying “no, gracias.” like we were professionals. there were some clouds in the sky, but it was still nice enough to lay out for a little while and soak up the beachy atmosphere. around 1:30, we left the beach and took the metro to the passeig de grácia, which is kind of like the 5th avenue of barcelona. there are several buildings on this street by the architect antoní gaudi, probably the most famous figure in barcelona. there is one block with three different modern-style buildings, by three different architects, right next to each other. it’s called the ‘illa de la discordia’ – the block of discord. the three buildings are very different in style, and each very unique. it was so neat to see the contrasts between such interesting architecture!

once we took our photos, we walked around for a while in search of some lunch. eventually we landed on a little corner store that sold these pizzas.. on baguettes. heaven! they were delicious. we ate as we walked back to the metro, and then hopped on to the base of the foothills on the edge of the city. we headed to one of the most famous landmarks in barcelona – park güell. there was an unbelievably steep hill to climb, but fortunately half of it was by escalator. but my goodness.. i couldn’t believe the incline! once we got to the top of the escalators, there was still a good bit of pathway before we reached the tippy top. we climbed up this stone structure to take in an amazing panoramic view of the second largest city in spain. from there, we descended into the park to check out all the gaudí designed elements. there was one part with these crazy concrete columns that looked like trees, but different.. i can’t describe it. there are pictures. from there, we went to the plaza with the craziest bench ever! it’s a super, super long squiggly mosaic bench that forms the edge of an entire rooftop plaza. it is SO beautiful! people brought their old dishes and tiles and whatever they wanted, and it came together to form one of the most unique pieces of art i have ever seen. underneath that rooftop plaza was a hall filled with giant columns (and more mosaic on the ceiling). the entryway to the park has two more gaudí buildings – which look straight up like gingerbread houses. again, check my album for photos! after the park, we made our way DOWN the steep hill (much nicer), stopping in souvenir shops along the way.  we hopped on a bus to the apartment, picked up some food for dinner, and made a nice meal. around 8:30, we went back out to catch happy hour at a bar off of las ramblas. it was called ‘betty ford’ and had a really cool 50’s vibe. plus, the drinks were great. we went to one place afterward to get a tapas snack (first experience with patatas bravas, GLORIOUS) and then walked home and headed to bed.

friday, 29 april 2011

friday was natalie and alyse’s last day in barcelona, so they got up really early to do some more touristy things.. rachel and i slept in a little before getting up and eating our breakfast around 9:30. we headed out around 11am to go explore a beautiful park in the gothic quarter – there was an amazing fountain, a pond with rowboats, a zoo, a botanical garden, and a geology museum! it started out rainy but the weather improved gradually throughout the day. we found a really cool burger place for lunch and split 4 fancy mini burgers and a plate of patatas bravas (number 2) while looking up photos of william and kate, who got married on friday. she.. looked.. AMAZING. we met natalie and alyse at the picasso museum around 2pm and looked around there for a few hours. it was a great museum, but the vast majority of the works were pre-cubism.. it did have the entire las meninas study, though, which was awesome. we left around 4:30 and walked around the gothic quarter for a while. rachel and i had read in our in-flight magazine (thanks easyjet!) that there were free tapas during happy hour at this certain bar.. so we went there at 5pm, only to learn that tapas were only offered in the summer. LAME. we kept looking and then eventually decided on a bar called ‘rosa negra’ – they had amazing margaritas (says rachel), plus great nachos and burritos.. she is as much of a mexican food fiend as i am, so we were pretty happy with this decision. we all ate and talked for a while before heading over to the olympic park to watch the magic fountain show. there is a beautiful and very large fountain in front of a very large judicial building.. every night, there is a water and lights show, set to music. it was REALLY awesome.. and i went a little crazy on the photos. :) we left the show around 8:45, and went on an epic (and ultimately unsuccessful) search for churros. we walked WAY too long.. by the end, my back was hurting worse than it ever has in my life. i was near tears by the time rachel and i took the metro back to the apartment. i took a super hot shower and fell into bed. natalie and alyse stayed out a little later, but came back to back before too long.

saturday, 30 april 2011

a very calm day, thankfully. we had already done SO much walking! natalie and alyse woke up really early to go to the airport, but rachel and i didn’t check out of our apartment until around 11am. we said goodbye to our little spanish family and then headed across town to find our couchsurfer’s apartment. we had to walk a little way from the metro stop, but once we got there, we were super excited! the flat was in a REALLY nice apartment building, just 3 blocks from the sagrada familia cathedral (gaudí’s masterpiece of a modern cathedral, which has been under construction for over 200 years and still has 100 to go!). i can’t tell you how great this location/apartment was. plus, our host was so, so, so nice (offered us chocolate within 5 minutes of our arrival!) and his roommates were all great as well. the weather was gorgeous, so we did some brief grocery shopping before going on a nice leisurely (but also stupidly long) walk.. actually, i’ve just done some clever google maps-ing, and i’d estimate that we walked between 7 and 12 miles every day. for 6 days.. we DEFINITELY walked more than 60 miles in barcelona. YEESH. anyway, we went on a long walk and then came back to cook dinner with one of the roommates carine and her friend axel. our host was at work until super early in the morning, so it was just the 4 of us. here’s the best part – the roommate was from angers! where i live in france! and her friend was french too.. so we spent the whole night speaking french. it was awesome. we even watched a (fairly depressing) french film as well. i had to stay up to let our host benjamin in the building (we had taken his keys earlier that day), so we arrived around 2:30am. we stayed up talking until nearly 4am before crashing on the couch/fold out bed!

sunday, 1 may 2011

after staying up so late, we definitely had a bit of a lie-in on sunday. i woke myself up around 11:30 and did some travel notes, etc for a while. two weeks away means i have to keep track of everything, or blogging would be impossible! i also got some planning done before rachel woke up around 1pm. we ate some cereal and got ready for the day, leaving the apartment around 3pm to explore some more! we walked around the gothic quarter, which is an amazing neighborhood in barcelona where the majority of the old, old buildings are. we also looked around the surrounding areas.. throughout the afternoon, we nibbled on waffles with ice cream on top and some more patatas bravas. i finally broke down and bought a barcelona football club jersey (with messi’s name/number!) – there was a place with a sale, and i got a kids’ size, so it wasn’t expensive at all! we met carine around 6pm outside the old cathedral to supposedly watch some traditional dancing.. except it didn’t happen. instead, we saw an awesome street dance performance with some jaw-dropping stunts! carine gave us a tour of the university area, which we hadn’t seen yet, and we went for a drink at the sister bar of rosa negra, called rosa raval. carine headed back to the flat around 8pm, and rachel and i went to find our dinner restaurant.

since i do most of the planning for our trips, i put rachel in charge of deciding where/what we eat.. she’s such a great foodie, i’m never disappointed! we went to one of the most popular restaurants in barcelona – les quinze nits. there was a big line, but it moved quickly. unfortunatly, they had NO chicken, so i never got my chicken and rice.. but we had good food anyway. :) after dinner, we stopped by a bar called ‘els cuatro gats’, one of picasso’s old haunts. it was so swanky! live piano in the back dining room, awesome murals, LOADS of picasso sketches.. i really liked it. we stayed for dessert and ended up sitting and talking for over 2 hours. we left around 12:30am and went to meet up with benjamin, our host, and his date for the evening – another frenchie! i swear, the french are everywhere! we met up in a central location and then walked over to a little area on the outside of town to a bar. rachel and i only stayed for a little while, and then got a cab back to the apartment. unfortunately, no one was there to let us in.... so we were locked out. after a few minutes of uncertainty and nerves, i finally decided to buzz the next-door neighbor (whose lights were still on at 2am, thank goodness) to ask them to open the outside door. i rang her, explained that we were friends of her neighbors staying for a few days, had no keys and no way to get inside, and could she please buzz us in? except i did that all in spanish. WHAT?! thank heavens that my spanish education was enough to get us off the street in the middle of the night. benjamin arrived back not too much later (after several phone calls) and he let us in the apartment. we stayed up talking pretty late (again) before i declared bedtime.

monday, 2 may 2011

our last day in barcelona! we woke up around 8am and left for sagrada familia by 9am, stopping by the bank on the way (but the ATM was broken.. lame). the line to get into the cathedral was long, but it moved really quickly.. we were inside by 9:30 or 9:45. the exterior of the building itself is breathtaking – so much absolutely mind-blowing detail! it’s actually OVERLY detailed.. you just can’t take it in all at once. it seems so busy! the inside, while still very busy and overwhelming, is much simpler in design. there was so much light inside, too. the overall effect was so beautiful. we stayed for about 45 minutes before hopping on the metro out to camp nou, the home stadium of the football club. camp nou is actually the biggest stadium in europe, with a 100,000 person capacity! it is ENORMOUS. we walked around the outside and then looked through the megastore, because the actual tours of the stadium were about 20 euro and there was a 3 hour wait! sheesh. we left the stadium around 12 and headed down to montjuïc park, where all the ’92 olympic buildings are. we didn’t really get to see the park, though, because our search for lunch ended up taking us in the opposite direction and we never doubled back. but we did get to run several errands (bank, post office, zara to get shoes) before heading back to the flat for a nap. we slept for a few hours and then woke up and wrote postcards before heading back out around 7pm. as an (ex)employee of the ritz-carlton in barcelona, benjamin gave us two spare room keys and some cards that would get us into any club for free! so we went to a café for dinner before doing some souvenir hunting down las ramblas. we walked all the way to the olympic port (where the hotel/clubs are) and then checked out the area and two super awesome clubs. the first one was a salsa dance bar, which was incredible! i seriously just sat for about 45 minutes and watched these beautiful people dancing like they were professionals. it was so wonderful! once midnight rolled around, we headed to the club that benjamin suggested – opium (pictured; outside beachfront seating). we had to show the keys to the bouncer, but he let us right in! sweet! it was by far the swankiest place i have ever been – beautiful décor, beautiful location, beautiful people.. i felt a little out of place, but it was great. we danced for a while and then took a few laps before heading out. after calling benjamin to figure out which bus to take, we hopped right on the bus.... except it never stopped at our stop. sooo we ended up riding the bus for about an hour and twenty minutes, on a FULL circuit of the city. whoops. we got back around 2:45 am and were in bed by 3:30. long day for sure!

tuesday, 3 may 2011

waking up was very hard. but we had to, because we had a plane to catch! we packed up and left the keys on the table. i’d been stressed due to a couchsurfing cancellation in lyon for the night of the 3rd, which still wasn’t solved when we left our flat in barcelona at 8:45am. i sent out one message, pretty much blind, to a woman in lyon who had logged on just 30 minutes beforehand. i wasn’t sure the next time we’d have wifi for me to use my ipod to check emails, so i left my phone number, asking her to call or text when she got the message. we made our way across town to the bus stop where the airport line would pick us up.. we got on the bus around 9:30 and were at the airport by 10:10 for our 11:40 flight. perfect! check-in was non-existant, and security took about 4 minutes, so it was a relaxing airport experience. we had some snacks at the terminal before boarding.. and i got a text from the woman in lyon! she wasn’t able to host us, but she had a friend who could!!! i texted the friend and let her know that i would call when we arrived in france. SO much pressure and stress off of my mind! we boarded the plane and took off back to franceland...

(to be continued in the next post, ‘the french riviera; it’s like florida, but way less tacky.’)

ps - to see photos of this trip, check out my facebook album!