Monday, March 2, 2015

One month left in England

(Apologizing in advance for the somber post)
Exactly one month from today I am packing up all of my stuff in England and heading to Antwerp, Belgium. Just writing this blog makes me feel sad because my time in England has been entirely too short, and, although it's not over, this experience has made me understand just how quickly time passes. There is no way I can squeeze in everything I want to do still in England into one month.
Canterbury, with all of its rain and cobblestone streets that I have tripped on MANY times, has become a home. It's funny how quickly you can adapt and become comfortable in a new environment. 

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to Paris, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen during Christ Church University's "self-directed study week." I can assure whoever may be reading this that I was not studying. I was seeing some amazing things...

like this:
(Frederiksborg Palace, Denmark)

and this: 

(Amsterdam, Holland)

oh, and this:



This trip was 10 days long and for 3 fairly inexperienced travelers in 3 different countries, things went extremely smoothly. I was waiting, and prepared, for something bad to happen! When my bus from London made it into Canterbury, though, I was so happy to be back. 

I missed these familiar streets:







Something I think about a lot is that it really doesn't matter where you are, it matters who you are with. You could go to what you imagine to be paradise, but if you are not surrounded by people who make you happy, the experience won't reach its full potential. In Canterbury, I was lucky enough to meet some of the most genuine and fun people I know. The people are what have made my study abroad experience so great.



I'm not entirely sure how accurate this statistic is, but supposedly less than 1% of US college students study abroad for a semester or longer. I am lucky enough to be in the very small percentage, and I'm only hoping my last month passes by slowly. 

I'm closing this blog post with a picture of the Eiffel Tower because it's perfect.




Sunday, March 1, 2015

European Escape: Reading Week Edition

The halfway point for my term in Canterbury has come and gone, which is quite upsetting at the thought of all the things and places I have yet to see and do here. However, last week gave me an opportunity to see so much of the things I have long desired to visit. At Christ Church University--and I presume other universities in the UK--they give students a reading week, or "self-directed study week" in the middle of the term. As much as I would love to be a good student and say I got a lot of studying done during those ten days, I used the opportunity as a chance to see parts of Europe about which I had always dreamed.

On February 12th, two of my flatmates and I began our long-anticipated journey at 4:30 a.m. We took a train to Ashford, which is not far from Canterbury, and then caught the Eurostar train to one of the most glamorized cities in the world: Paris! It was crazy to think that it took almost the same amount of time to get from Canterbury to Paris as it does for me to get from college to home back in the States. The size of these countries--which are comparable to the size of some U.S. states--still astounds me. 

We arrived at Paris Nord around 9 in the morning, and our adventure began! Due to the confusing streets (Paris is not on a grid AT ALL), it took us a little over an hour to find our hostel. Though it was a hike from the station, we were staying right next to the Louvre! The location was also right between the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, so we could pick a way to walk and go see whatever we desired. We spent four days in Paris, which was the perfect amount of time to spend in such a city. We took in the main sights, the tucked away cafes, amazing food, and relaxed vibe of Paris.

To be honest, I was braced to be disappointed by Paris. Every time I talked to someone about Paris, they complained about the smell, the people, the traffic, the everything. They all told me that French people would be rather rude because I'm American. While I'm sure people have experienced such things in Paris, I was really lucky. Everyone my friends and I interacted with, from waiters to locals on the street, were incredibly friendly and helpful. There were three instances where we could not find where we were going and a local Parisian approached us to offer help. It was comforting to know that people wouldn't just scowl at us tourists, but instead lend a helping hand. My advice to future travelers is to always go to a city with an open mind; don't put your expectations too high or too low. Just go in willing to embrace the city and culture, and let it show you what it's all about. And the best way to do that is follow the locals, and find out what you really should see. Don't rush yourself; just enjoy the opportunity.
Donnie and I at the Eiffel Tower!

Notre Dame!

Up close and personal with Mona Lisa!

A beautiful sight at night.
On the 16th of February, we woke bright  and early to make our way to Adventure #2: Amsterdam! Amsterdam is the most culturally-intriguing cities I have ever visited, and also one of the most beautiful. The canals everywhere were picture-perfect, and the amount of bikes was INSANE. It was really neat to see a place where cars were the underdogs of transportation, and it was also kind of scary trying not to get hit by the millions of bikers that flew down the cobble-stone and brick streets. We went on a canal tour, which showed us so much of the city. It was crazy to see just how many canals there were. We also went to the Anne Frank House, which was one of the most humbling experiences one can have. The profound words of such a young girl going through such a painful time were really powerful, and I was so grateful we got the chance to see the house and hear/read stories about the Frank family and others going through the same hardships. Trying to gain the whole Amsterdam experience, my friends and I rented bikes and took a ferry just north of the city to a place I cannot pronounce. We rode around the quiet streets and bike trails along the canals before getting dinner overlooking the water as the sun set. It was an amazing trip.
City of canals (and bikes)

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Anne Frank House--my favorite part of Amsterdam!

Bikes: the best way to see Amsterdam.

The famous I Amsterdam sign in front of Rijksmuseum.
Three days later, we made our way to Schiphol Airport for our last stop: Copenhagen, Denmark! While there had been a lot of fear in the media surrounding Copenhagen after some attacks, we were still stoked to see the city. On our first day, we walked around and saw some the picturesque sites Copenhagen is known for, such as colorful buildings lining the canals. It was simply a gorgeous city. We also took the train to Frederiksborg Slot, the largest Renaissance castle in Scandinavia and home to the National History Museum. It was so incredible and gorgeous that we didn't mind the snow and rain coming down on us as we walked up to it. The castle was huge and had some of the most amazing rooms in it. While the weather did not permit us to ride bikes like we had hoped, we still managed to see what we wanted to see. We went to the Royal Library, which was incredible. It's called the Black Diamond because the entire exterior is black-tinted glass and it's one of the most beautiful libraries I've seen, with green-lamped reading rooms and windows overlooking the water. Copenhagen was also home to the story of The Little Mermaid author, Hans Christian Andersen. We visited the famous statue of Ariel on Copenhagen Harbor, which was placed there in 1913.
Nyhavn!

Frederiksborg Castle and National History Museum!

The amazing, colorful, rainy city of Copenhagen!
After a few glorious but rainy days in Denmark, we flew back to London and caught a coach back home to Canterbury. It's funny how, though I've only lived in Canterbury for just shy of two months, I really missed it while I was away. However, the 10-day journey through Europe was amazing, and I am so happy we were given the chance to travel--and study, of course. :)

Cheers!
Jara

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tropical Island Getaway

Over my last weekend I went to Koh Samet. It is a small island about 3 hours South of Bangkok. I traveled with my friend Sina. We left on Friday morning. We took a taxi to the nearest bus station where we got a small van to take us South to catch the ferry.

On the ferry we met a Dutch couple, Fritz and Yeti. They are experts in mindfulness and meditation. Fritz was actually a practicing Buddhist monk for 5 years and speaks fluent Thai. Fritz and Yeti had just completed a 4 week meditation retreat at a temple somewhere in Thailand. During their retreat they only saw each other a few times and neither of them spoke for the entire four weeks! I think that Sina and I were some of the first people they conversed with. They had been to Koh Samet many times and knew the island very well. They helped us get accommodations for the first night and we saw them frequently throughout the weekend. On my last night, they invited us to dinner with them. It was a really nice meal and there was a fire show. I didn't take any photos because my phone was dead, but the three Cambodian guys did some amazing stuff with flaming hoops, balls, chains, and sticks. The youngest performer couldn't have been older than 11.

Because it was Valentine's weekend and the start of Chinese New Year, the island was busy so our first night of accommodation was not so great (no ocean view and very dark) and it was a bit over priced. We couldn't stay another night at that place so we searched elsewhere. We found a gem called Lablanc Bungalow Resort. We weren't on the water, but it was cheap and we could sea the ocean so it was an improvement.

We spent a lot of time on the beach and on the porch of our bungalow. It was the most relaxed holiday I have ever taken.

All together I think I spent less than $130 for travel, accommodation, and food.
Scootergram!

View from our Bungalow ($18 a night).

Shout-out to Donnie and Jara! I hope they are staying warm in Canterbury!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Still On My Mind...




Church above the Ossuary.



It has been approximately eight months since my trip abroad to Central Europe.  As an evening student, I never thought I would get the chance to embark on such a memorable journey.  But I did - and memorable it was!

One of the things I remember most - but haven't already written about - was the Sedlec Ossuary, or the "Bone Church" located in Kutna Hora, which is about an hour's drive from Prague in Czech Republic.
Coat of Arms
 













A brief history from the Ossuary's webpage (http://www.ossuary.eu/index.php/en/ossuary):

A monastery was founded near the site in 1142. The monks' primary task was land cultivation. In 1278, the Bohemian king sent the Sedlec abbot on a diplomatic mission to the Holy Land. When leaving Jerusalem, he took with him a handful of earth from Golgotha, which he sprinkled at the cemetery of the Sedlec monastery. As word spread, the cemetery became famous, and the desire to be buried here grew among Central Europeans. 

Bone Chandelier
After 1400, an abbot established a Gothic style church in the middle of the cemetery, and under it was placed a chapel destined for bones from destroyed graves, a task given to a half blind monk sometime after 1511. The current arrangement of the chapel goes back to 1870 and is the work of a Czech wood-carver, FrantiĊĦek RINT and his wife.
 
The Sedlec Ossuary contains the remains of roughly 40 000 people and is a World Heritage site.

While a destination like this may not suit everyone, it was a remarkable sight to see, and I am glad I took the opportunity to see it!


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