Rome

I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend in Rome, an amazing city with so much to offer.

Kristin and I arrived in Rome late Friday night. We took the bus from the airport to our hostel, where we were greeted by friendly staff dressed in togas and a spacious room that provided both lockers and safes for our belongings. After dropping off our things, we headed to the restaurant next door. We ordered a 1/2 liter of their house red wine and ate our first Italian pizza. Following dinner, we turned in early after a long day of traveling.

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On our second day, we woke up early to get a head start for the Vatican. We set out on foot, enjoying all the beauty of Italy and grabbing a cappuccino on the way. We passed by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which was very powerful and impressive. We continued on towards the Vatican, and St. Peter’s Basilica came into view. It was stunning, towering over the city against the blue sky. We joined the line to enter the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. Once inside, I was blown away by the hundreds of sculptures that lined the walls, including Laocoön and His Sons, Apollo Belvedere, and many others. We spent time gazing at them, wondering how long it took to carve each of the features in their faces. We continued through the museum towards the Sistine Chapel, mesmerized by the intricate designs carved in the ceiling, the spectacular paintings on the walls, and the mosaic images that made up the floor. When we reached the Sistine Chapel, my eyes immediately went to the Creation of Adam. It was surreal to stand under it, an image I’ve seen since I can remember. We left the chapel to join the next line to enter the basilica. All of the churches in Rome are free to enter, so that was really nice throughout our trip. When we entered the basilica, my eyes immediately went to the massive dome at the top. The ceilings of many of the buildings we saw in Rome were my favorite part. We walked through the basilica, including the crypt that provides the final resting place of the popes. I decided to climb to the top of the dome, as I really enjoy getting a bird’s eye view of the magnificent cities I’m fortunate enough to visit. It was stunning, with towering mountains in the distance and thousands of rooftops side by side. Next, we walked back towards our hostel, passing the Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel) on the way. We had dinner and found our way to the Trevi Fountain. We were bummed to find out that it was shut down for the winter so we continued on towards the Spanish Steps. We purchased a cheap bottle of Italian red wine and sipped out of plastic cups on the steps, watching people socialize. On the way back to the hostel, I got some pistachio gelato, which was amazing. We turned in early after a long day of sight seeing.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica

Vatican Museum

Vatican Museum

Laocoön and His Sons

Laocoön and His Sons

School of Athens by Raphael

School of Athens by Raphael

Inside of St. Peter's Basilica

Inside of St. Peter’s Basilica

View from the dome of St. Peter's Basilica

View from the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica

Castel Sant'Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel)

Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel)

On our last day, we had great coffee at a little cafe before hitting the Colosseum. When it came into view, I was filled with excitement to be inside of one of the most iconic structures of all time. We wandered around the levels, imagining all of the events that had taken place so many centuries ago. We continued on to Palatine Hill, where we walked through a garden of orange trees and saw the Colosseum from above. Next, we visited the Roman Forum, where massive pillars still stand. After relaxing in the sunshine, we headed to a restaurant for pasta and wine. As the evening progressed, many street performers began to play and people began to fill the streets. We continued to the Pantheon where we marveled at its structure, especially the domed ceiling and massive pillars. We saw the tomb of Raphael and many more incredible carvings. On our way back to the hostel, we heard some chanting and once we approached the source of the noise, we discovered a large protest. We headed back towards our hostel, not wanting to be caught in the middle. We spent our last night drinking wine and discussing the amazing things we had been fortunate enough to see, not only this weekend but over the course of our entire time in Europe.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

Inside of the Colosseum

Inside of the Colosseum

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Pantheon

Pantheon

It’s starting to sink in that I only have two more weekends before my family arrives, and then it’s nearly time to go home. With each new city I see, I am once again overwhelmed with the realization that I’m living my dreams.

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This week is going to be a long one, filled with readings and essays. I just received the topics of each essay for the remainder of my classes so I’m ready to jump in and get them accomplished. Next weekend I’m off to Edinburgh so check back next week to hear about adventures in Scotland! Thanks for reading!

Chelsea

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.”

Pat Conroy

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Paris

Our weekend in Paris was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

We arrived Sunday afternoon on the Eurostar, which we had taken from St. Pancras International in London. We checked into Gardette Park Hotel and found out that it was a great location right near a metro station, our means of travel for the weekend. Our room had a great little balcony overlooking a small park and there was an impressive cathedral right down the street. After getting settled in, we set out to explore Paris.

It began to rain shortly after we left our hotel but we were somewhat prepared with an umbrella. We saw a couple monuments on our way to Notre Dame, including Place de la Bastille. When we approached the cathedral, my interest was instantly drawn to the gargoyles at the top. They were somewhat haunting, staring down at us and out across the city, guarding the cathedral. Pieces of some were broken off, while others were covered in moss. We got in line to climb the winding staircase to the top of the cathedral. We emerged from the stone staircase into the misty Paris air, right next to faces of the gargoyles, and stared out across the city. We could see several buildings and monuments that we would be touring later on in our trip, including Sacré-Cœur and of course, the Eiffel Tower. We spent some time walking around the top edges of the great cathedral before climbing the staircase down to view the inside. I found the inside to be a bit more simple than the other cathedrals we had seen, having less stained glass and paintings, but even more impressive. Its massive stone pillars and ceiling were a bit intimidating. After spending some time taking in the beauty of Notre Dame, we continued walking towards Pont de l’Archevêché, one of the bridges in Paris covered in locks, overlooking the Seine River. In the bottom of my purse there was a tiny TSA approved lock that I had used for my luggage on the way over from the states. We took the key and scratched the surface of the lock until we could read our initials, and clicked it shut on the bridge, facing Notre Dame. We stared out at the massive shape of Notre Dame until darkness fell, and we continued walking towards the Eiffel Tower. By this point, it had been raining for a while so our shoes, socks, and jackets were completely soaked. We got a glimpse of the tower before hopping on the nearest metro back to the hotel.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

View from the top of Notre Dame

View from the top of Notre Dame

Inside of Notre Dame

Inside of Notre Dame

Our lock!

Our lock!

Notre Dame from the Pont de l'Archevêché

Notre Dame from the Pont de l’Archevêché

On our second day, we woke up early and headed for Sacré-Cœur, a Roman Catholic church situated high on a hill, providing another panoramic view of Paris. We spent some time on the steps between the beautiful view of Paris and the impressive church before walking to Moulin Rouge. We didn’t go in, but we were able to see the infamous red windmill. Next, we headed for the Arc de Triomphe, one of the most well-known monuments in Paris. We then continued on down Champs-Élysées, one of the major shopping areas in Paris. We browsed a few stores until we reached the end of the street, where we headed for Les Invalides, a massive gold-domed building, serving as a museum and monument for the military history of France. We stopped for crepes on the way to the Champ de Mars and the Eiffel Tower. I got one with Nutella and bananas and Drake got the classic one with butter and sugar. Pastries and bread were definitely a weakness for us, as we stopped in nearly every shop we saw, often getting one to try and ending up eating the entire thing. My favorites were bread that had olives baked in and pistachio macaroons, and Drake’s were bread baked with a layer of cheese on top and vanilla eclairs. Our next stop was Saint-Chappelle, a beautiful church with magnificent panels of stained glass covering the entire upper level sanctuary. After marveling at the colors for a while, we headed for the Pantheon. The top part was under construction, but the inside was amazing. There are huge paintings lining the walls and impressive carvings throughout. In the crypt, there are tombs of many famous people including Voltaire and Rousseau. Next, we stopped at the Luxembourg Palace before continuing our walk. We followed the streets up and down, some busy with people, others deserted. We did a bit more shopping before stopping for dinner at a place that a local had recommended to us. I decided to just get a cheese plate, expecting sliced cheese and crackers or bread. When it arrived, the first thing I saw was a giant hunk of bleu cheese; something I’m not too crazy about. There were several other types on the plate, so I began to try the chunks of mystery cheeses. The smell alone was nearly impossible to get over, but the taste was even worse. I didn’t realize such pungent cheeses existed. I ended up eating some bread, butter, and a bit of the mildest cheese on the plate. I laughed nearly the entire dinner, wondering what the waiter would think if he noticed the giant chunks of cheese wrapped in my napkin.

Sacré-Cœur

Sacré-Cœur

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

Les Invalides

Les Invalides

Nutella and Banana Crepe

Nutella and Banana Crepe

Sainte-Chapelle

Sainte-Chapelle

Inside of the Pantheon

Inside of the Pantheon

Cheese

Cheese

Our plans for our last day in Paris were a bit disrupted when we found out that the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays. This was definitely something we should have checked ahead of time, but I had just assumed it would be open during the week. I would have been upset, but I’ll be back in Paris in a month with my mom, aunt, and cousin, so I will most definitely plan ahead better and see it then. This change of plans left us with a good portion of the day to do whatever we wanted, as our only other plan was to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower at 9:30 that evening. We decided to walk through the Tuileries Garden and check out the Louvre anyways, even if we couldn’t go inside. We did some shopping as well, and I found a Pandora charm that was the Eiffel Tower with a little gold heart dangling at the top to add to my collection. I’ve purchased a charm in every country I’ve visited so far, something I hope to continue to do. I found a brochure that described seven monuments in Paris that are important to France’s history. We had already seen four of them (Sainte-Chapelle, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Pantheon) so we decided to try see the other three. The first was the Basilica of Saint-Denis, a beautiful cathedral that serves as the place of burial for the kings of France. We also saw the Vincennes Castle, which still has a drawbridge and carvings done by the prisoners kept there. After we left the castle, it began to rain again. The boots I had been wearing since I arrived in England were falling apart so I decided to see if I could find a new pair for a decent price. One of the stores we stopped at was running a sale so I got a pair of rain boots as well, making the rest of the evening much more enjoyable. After shopping, it was time for us to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. When we were halfway up the tower, in line for the second elevator, an alarm sounded and a voice came over the intercom saying, “For your safety, this building is now closed. Please stay calm and make your way to the nearest exit.” I felt a little panicked, wondering what was going on, especially since we were already halfway up the tower. No one else moved though, so we waited for a couple moments until the elevator stopped in front of us. The worker smiled and said it was nothing to worry about so we entered the elevator and were relieved when we heard an announcement apologizing for the alarm and to please disregard the message. We continued up to the summit, the very top of the tower. When I stepped out towards the edge, my palms began to sweat and I felt like I had to grab on tight to the railing, even though a fence surrounded us. We stared out across the lights of Paris, picking out the buildings and monuments we had seen the past two days and breathing in the chilly air, nearly 300 meters above the ground. After viewing Paris from every possible angle, we took the elevator back down to the ground.

The Louvre

The Louvre

Basilica Cathedral of Saint-Denis

Basilica Cathedral of Saint-Denis

Château de Vincennes

Château de Vincennes

View of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower

View of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower

There was a place we had heard about that provided the best view in the city of the Eiffel Tower, so we decided to head that way. It was a beautiful night. The rain had stopped and the Eiffel Tower stood clear against the night sky. We crossed the river to Place du Trocadéro to find the area quiet, with only a couple people passing every once in a while to take a photo or to simply walk along the path. There was a pool in front of us where the tower reflected on the surface, creating a mirror image. I stood up on the stone edge to try capture the beauty in a picture.

Place du Trocadéro

Place du Trocadéro

When I turned around to show Drake the picture, he was on one knee. A light shown from a little black box, catching a diamond… my engagement ring. We stared out at the Eiffel Tower, taking in the beautiful moment; something that cannot be captured by words.

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This morning we’re heading back to London on the Eurostar for our tour of the Warner Bros. Studio, the making of Harry Potter, and this weekend I’m flying to Rome with my friend, Kristin. It should definitely be another eventful few days so stayed tuned! Thanks for reading!

Chelsea

“Paris is always a good idea.”

Audrey Hepburn

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London

Drake and I had a blast this past weekend in London. It was great to see the beauty of the capitol city, only an hour from where I’m studying this semester in England.

We arrived on the train from Leicester on Thursday morning and took the Underground to Rushmore Hotel, where we stayed for the three nights we spent in London. After getting checked in and settled, we decided to walk to Kensington Palace. We viewed the palace from the outside and then ventured through the Kensington Gardens to Hyde Park. It started getting dark but the city lights reflecting on the river provided a beautiful guide. We continued walking until we reached Buckingham Palace where we peeked through the regal gates to catch a glimpse of the palace, lit up against the night sky. We kept walking until Big Ben’s bright face stared down at us, where we stopped for a while to enjoy the view. We then continued on to the London Eye, where we were able to purchase two-for-one tickets by showing our train tickets. The view of the city lights from the top of the London Eye was stunning. We were able to see St. Paul’s Cathedral, Big Ben, the Olympic Stadium, and many others. When our ride on the London Eye was over, we took the Underground back to our hotel, where we grabbed dinner at a place called Nandos. This became our go-to for the weekend. Later, we found out that Freddie Mercury’s house was a few blocks from our hotel so we decided to take one more walk. The walls that met the door of the house were covered in notes of tribute, including very recent ones reading, “Freddie we still love you.”

Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

Big Ben

Big Ben

View of Big Ben from the London Eye

View of Big Ben from the London Eye

The next morning, we walked back to Buckingham Palace, hoping to see the Changing of the Guard. We found out that it was actually the following morning since they only do it every other day in the winter season, so we planned to see the palace one more time the next day. We continued our walk to Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, which reminded me a bit of Times Square in New York City. We then walked over to see the Palace of Westminster in daylight, stopping in the park to feed the birds and squirrels. We also stopped to take some pictures in the iconic red phone booths, which are still used today. Next, we took a tour of the Westminster Abbey. It was breathtaking and packed with history. We learned about the many historical figures that rest in the abbey, and the many events that have taken place there, including the Royal wedding. After taking our time in the Westminster Abbey, we went to King’s Cross station to figure out how we are going to get to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour (the making of Harry Potter) that we have planned for the day we get back from Paris. Of course, we had to stop at Platform 9 and 3/4 for a photo of the trolley entering the brick wall. We then took the Underground back to our hotel for dinner and to plan our final day in London.

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Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

King's Cross Station

King’s Cross Station

On our last day, we walked once more to Buckingham Palace. On the way, we passed the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, both impressive buildings. We stopped at a little cafe for tea too, so I can officially say I’ve sipped tea on the streets of London. We also purchased train tickets for three pounds, so we were able to use the two-for-one vouchers again at the attractions for the day, saving us a lot of money. We were finally able to see the Changing of the Guard. It was awesome to witness such a significant part of the Buckingham Palace and London as a whole. We continued on to the Tower of London where we learned about its history, including some stories about the kings of England, prisoners, and other mysteries of the tower. We saw the Tower Bridge before walking to St. Paul’s Cathedral, one of my favorite parts of the trip. The cathedral itself was amazing, with mosaic designs and a huge, painted, domed ceiling. We learned about the history of its design before taking the 500 some stairs to the very top. We stopped on the way up at the Whispering Gallery, where we could get a closer took at the dome and stare down at the cathedral floor and alter. We continued up the tiny, winding stairs until we met the fresh air and a breath taking view of London. This view was different than the London Eye because we weren’t enclosed in anything. There wasn’t even a fence to obscure our view, so it was pretty amazing. We then headed down and over to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, where we took a tour. The current theatre is a near exact replica of the original, because it burnt down and was bombed over the course of history. It was very interesting to learn about the great playwright. We didn’t get to see a play in the theatre because they only perform from April to October, due to the open ceiling. After leaving the Globe, we walked through the Tate Gallery before taking the Underground to Herrods, Europe’s largest department store. We walked up and down the several stories of top designer brands before ending the night with dinner and packing up our room.

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Tower of London

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Change of Guard

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral

View of London from St. Paul's Cathedral

View of London from St. Paul’s Cathedral

Globe Theatre

Globe Theatre

Harrods

Harrods

This morning we continue our adventure on the Eurostar to Paris! Thanks for reading!

Chelsea

“Travel. As much as you can, as far as you can, as long as you can. Life’s not meant to be lived in one place.”

Oxford and Cambridge

This last weekend I took day trips to Oxford (Saturday) and Cambridge (Sunday), two of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen.

On Saturday morning my friends Cloé, MP, and I woke up early and boarded a 7:00 am train to Oxford. When we arrived, it was already raining. This wasn’t surprising, but a little bit of a bummer. We didn’t let it dampen our spirits as we set out to explore the beauty of Oxford. First, we walked up the narrow, spiral staircase to the top of the Carfax Tower. We could see the Oxford skyline, the tops of the amazing colleges, amidst the foggy rain. After descending the tiny staircase, we headed for the Ashmolean Museum. There were lots of artifacts from Ancient Egypt, including a couple mummies, still perfectly preserved in bandages.

After touring the museum, we began to wander towards the colleges, passing under the Bridge of Sighs as we went. The original bridge is in Venice, Italy, but both Oxford and Cambridge have similar structures that have adopted the name as well. There are several places in Oxford that are featured in Harry Potter, so we made sure to look for those. Unfortunately, a few of the colleges were closed to the public because it was Degree Day. We saw many students in their graduation gowns, reminding me that my own graduation is just around the corner in May. We were still able to peek in and see the grounds of some of the colleges, including New College (where Mad-Eye turned Malfoy into a ferret) and the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin.

Bridge of Sighs

Bridge of Sighs

Two of my favorite activities of the day were our visits to the Bodleian Library and Christ Church. The Bodleian Library served as the Hogwarts Library in the movies. Pictures were prohibited but it was so cool to stand where they filmed the stars while they huddled over books. The library itself owns over 12 million books. Our tour guide told us that the founder made a deal that the library would receive a copy of every book published in the UK. Back then in the early 1600s, that didn’t mean much but now, the library receives about 5,000 new books a week, some digital and some print. There are also some books in the library that are chained to the walls to prevent theft. It was an indescribable feeling to stand there, surrounded by shelves and shelves of so much history. Christ Church is another location that appears in Harry Potter. The staircase is in the first two films, and the Christ Church Great Hall served as the inspiration for Hogwarts Great Hall. After seeing most of the colleges, our last stop before heading home was a pub called Eagle and Child. It was recommended to us by the man on the train who checked our tickets. He said that he used to go there to watch rugby games when he was young. It was a great place to relax and take a break from the rain, as well as dry our soggy socks and boots.

Christ Church

Christ Church

Harry Potter Stairs

Harry Potter Stairs

On Sunday, Cloé and I boarded our bus at 8:00 am, barely making it when the taxi we booked to take us to the bus station decided not to show up. We arrived in Cambridge and stopped for coffee before exploring some of the colleges. We walked around for a while, basking in the sun that we missed so much in Oxford, before booking our punting tour. Punts are long, flat boats, in which the guide uses a long pole to push against the riverbed and steer. The tour was an excellent experience. We learned about the history of many of the colleges that make up Cambridge University as we stared up at them from the river. We also passed under Cambridge’s Bridge of Sighs (which we later walked across). When our tour concluded, we visited the chapel and grounds of King’s College.

Bridge of Sighs

Bridge of Sighs

King's College

King’s College

King's College Chapel

King’s College Chapel

After touring several other colleges, we decided to climb the Great St. Mary Tower. It had a spiral case similar to the Carfax Tower, enclosed with stone walls, making us a little claustrophobic and dizzy. However, the view of King’s College from above was well worth it. We visited St. John’s College next, followed by Trinity. After dinner, we headed back towards the railway station, exhausted from the adventures of the day. I can’t decide which college I liked better (University of Oxford or University of Cambridge) but the sun and blue skies for our trip to Cambridge certainly made for a more enjoyable day.

View from the Great St. Mary Tower

View from the Great St. Mary Tower

Drake arrives tomorrow! He’s flying from Minneapolis to London where he’s taking the train to Leicester. I’m going to show him around Leicester Tuesday and Wednesday, but Thursday morning we’re London bound! I’ve never explored the capital city of the country I’m studying so you could say I’m pretty excited. After spending the weekend in London, we’re taking the Eurostar to Paris. We get back to London from Paris on Wednesday in time to do the Warner Bros. Studio Tour – the making of Harry Potter. I’ll try to get posts up as soon as I can, but I’m thinking things will get a bit crazy over the next few weeks. This is one kind of crazy I will never complain about, though. Thanks for reading!

Chelsea

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“Not all those who wander are lost.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

Ireland

My weekend in Ireland was excellent and far too short. I could have spent much longer in the charming city of Dublin, exploring the brilliant culture and history.

This trip was a little different than the others in that we went with a large group of other students studying abroad in Leicester through an organization called Travelholics. We left at 7:00 on Friday morning via coach until we reached the Irish Sea where we hopped on our ferry. The ride was a few hours long and the water was pretty choppy but we were able to have our first pints of Guinness to pass the time. When we arrived in Dublin, we took the coach to our hostel where we checked in and got settled before heading to a pub for dinner. It was great food and the entire town was dressed up for Halloween. After dinner, we headed back to the hostel to put on our own costumes. Kristin was Mary Poppins, Cloé was the ballerina from the Black Swan, MP was a vampire, and Brooke and I were cats. We spent the evening exploring Dublin’s nightlife, spending the most time in Temple Bar, singing and dancing with the locals. It was definitely the most festive way I can think of to spend Halloween.

The next morning, we awoke at a decent time and set out to explore Trinity College. It was established in 1592, making it Ireland’s oldest university. The college is also home to the largest research library in Ireland and the famous Book of Kells, created in 800 A.D. After seeing the university, we headed to meet the group for our tour of the Guinness Storehouse. The tour showed us the entire process of how Guinness is made. We were even able to pour own pints, which is an intricate process that affects the quality of your drink (or so they say). It was almost viewed as an art at the storehouse. One of the best parts about the tour was the beautiful view of Dublin from the top floor, the Gravity Bar. That evening, we had another authentic Irish dinner, and then headed to bed early to make up for our lack of sleep the night before.

Trinity College

Trinity College

Guinness Storehouse

Guinness Storehouse

View of Dublin from the Gravity Bar

View of Dublin from the Gravity Bar

We spent our final day in Dublin sightseeing, but first having lunch at a great pub that served unique sandwiches. We took a bus tour, which allowed us to hear a lot about the history of the city in addition to seeing the sights. The first place we stopped was the Dublin Castle, originally built in the 13th century. We walked through the castle, staring up at the stunning chandeliers and reading about it’s rich history. Next, we stopped at the Christ Church Cathedral and the St. Patrick Cathedral, where we went inside and listened to the choir practice. St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the largest church in Ireland so the choir’s voices echoing around the church were incredible. Our last stop was Oscar Wilde’s childhood home, now part of the American College Dublin. He and his family lived in the house, Number 1 Merrion Square, from 1855-1879. After the bus tour, we headed back to the hostel to check out, but not before stopping for one more pub dinner and pint of cider. We took the coach back to the ferry and relaxed until we reached land, where we drove back to Leicester, arriving at 5:00 on Monday morning. This made for a rough day of classes but it’s always worth it to me. Dublin was such a captivating city and I wish I had the time to go back and spend a little longer on the Emerald Isle. I’m so blessed to have had the chance to experience it.

Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle

Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral

St. Patrick's Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Inside of St. Patrick's Cathedral

Inside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Oscar Wilde's House

Oscar Wilde’s House

This week is going to be a busy one, as I want to complete an essay before I head to Oxford and Cambridge for day trips this weekend. My boyfriend, Drake, arrives next Tuesday as well. We’ll be spending a few days in London and a few in Paris so I’m going to try get ahead on homework while I can. Check back next week to hear about Oxford and Cambridge!

Thanks for reading!

“We travel not to escape life, but so life doesn’t escape us.”