London, Paris, and Prague

Sorry for the delay in posting! Things got crazy when I got home with the holidays. We had an amazing time in London, Paris, and Prague.

My mom, aunt, and cousin arrived in London on the morning of December 12th and I took a coach from Leicester to meet them at Heathrow. We then took the Underground to our hotel, which was not an easy task with all of my luggage. We finally arrived and checked in before setting out to see the Westminster Abbey. Even though I had already been inside, it still took my breath away and it was great seeing my family’s reaction to its beauty. Since everyone was exhausted from their long flight, we headed back to the hotel and went to bed early.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

On our second day, we went to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards. The band played Christmas songs, getting everyone excited for the holiday season. Next, we headed to Trafalgar Square and St. Paul’s Cathedral. We climbed the 500 plus stairs to the top for the stunning view of London. My mom was apprehensive of the edge but I think everyone was glad they climbed to the top. We stopped by an outdoor ice rink to watch the skaters and marvel at the huge Christmas tree on our way to the London Eye. We had a nice pub dinner before calling it a night.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral

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The next morning we visited the Tower of London and walked across the Tower Bridge. We also took the Underground to Abbey Road to attempt a replica of the iconic picture of the Beatles crossing the street. We spent the evening walking up and down Oxford Street, enjoying the lights and the crowds of people shopping for Christmas.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

Crossing Abbey Road

Crossing Abbey Road

Oxford Street

Oxford Street

The next day we headed for Paris. Our flight didn’t leave until the evening so we spent a few hours in a pub at Heathrow. When we arrived it was pretty late so we found our hotel and headed right for bed. The next day we went to Sacré-Cœur, climbed to the top of Notre Dame, visited the Eiffel Tower, and went to the Pantheon. Everything was decorated for the holidays and the weather was great.

Sacré-Cœur

Sacré-Cœur

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Pantheon

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Pantheon

The next morning, we visited the Louvre. Since I wasn’t able to see it last time, I was really excited and it definitely didn’t disappoint. I could have spent all day walking through the rooms filled with beautiful and historic artwork. It was pretty amazing to see some of the painting and sculptures that I’ve heard about my whole life. After spending a few hours at the Louvre, we walked towards Champs-Élysées, stopping at the Christmas market for some crepes and souvenirs. We walked all the way to the Arc de Triomphe and back down the other side of the street before making our way to the Eiffel Tower to visit the top. After seeing the city lights from the summit, we returned to the place where Drake proposed. I felt blessed to be able to show my mom one of the most important places in the world to me and to see it one more time for myself.

Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa

The Winged Victory of Samothrace

The Winged Victory of Samothrace

Venus de Milo

Venus de Milo

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Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

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We headed for Prague the next morning early. When we checked into our hotel, we were surprised to find that it was an actual apartment, complete with heated marble floors and a Christmas tree. It’s interesting to see what the same amount of money will get you in each country. After getting settled in, we walked down the charming streets to a restaurant called Lokál for some authentic Czech cuisine. I got their speciality, a fried square of cheese with some baked potatoes and a beer. We then walked across the beautiful Charles Bridge towards Old Town Square where the Christmas market was. We saw the famous Astronomical Clock and the Church of Our Lady before Týn. There was a magnificent tree in the center the square that looked like it was dripping light. We spent some time enjoying the market before heading back to our hotel for the night.

Prague Astronomical Clock

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Prague Astronomical Clock

Church of Our Lady before Týn

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Church of Our Lady before Týn

On our second day in Prague, we visited the Prague Castle. We went into St. Vitus Cathedral, which was stunning. We walked around the castle grounds for a while, enjoying some hot wine and the Christmas decorations. We continued on towards St. Nicholas Church, which was beautiful. It was completely embellished with gold designs inside and an impressive painted, domed ceiling. We spent the evening wandering the streets, taking in the beauty of the city. We went back to Old Town Square and climbed to the top of the Astronomical Clock Tower where we got a bird’s eye view of the Christmas market.

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St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral

Inside of St. Vitus Cathedral

Inside of St. Vitus Cathedral

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Inside of St. Nicholas Church

Inside of St. Nicholas Church

View of Old Town Square from the top of the Astronomical Clock Tower

View of Old Town Square from the top of the Astronomical Clock Tower

We spent our last day in Prague doings some last minute sightseeing and packing for our long day of travel starting at 4:00 am the next day. Our first flight on December 21st was from Prague to Heathrow where we spent a few hours waiting for the long one (9 hours) to Chicago. Customs in Chicago were very busy so we had to run to make our next flight to Fargo. We were successful and arrived safely back in Park Rapids around midnight.

I spent the two days prior to Christmas Eve doing laundry, baking, and preparing the Christmas gifts I brought back from Europe for my family. We headed up to my grandparents’ on Christmas Eve and enjoyed our time with family. I haven’t had a lot of time to reflect on my truly amazing experience but I’m looking forward to letting it sink in over the next few months.

I’m planning to make a list of things I would recommend for future students who plan to study abroad in Leicester so check back soon! Thanks for reading and for your support during this experience. It really meant the world to me!

Chelsea

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

Miriam Adeney

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Leaving Leicester

Today I said goodbye (for now) to my amazing friends and the place I called home for the past three months.

On Thursday, I submitted my essays and said goodbye to my classmates and the University of Leicester campus. I waited at the bus stop one last time and watched the familiar stores pass by on the route back to my house, fully appreciating everything that I learned this semester. I now know what they mean when they say that travel changes you.

On Friday morning, as I sat on my bed staring at my suitcase and empty room, I was overwhelmed with so many different emotions and memories from my semester abroad. I can honestly say that this was the greatest experience of my life and I am so blessed to have had this opportunity. I met some of the most amazing friends I have known and experienced beauty in both cities and countryside that I didn’t realize existed.

I took a coach to Heathrow Airport in London where I met my mom, aunt, and cousin who flew in from the states to do some traveling  before we all head home for Christmas. We’re spending three days in London, three days in Paris, and three days in Prague. It’s so good to see them and I’m looking forward to experiencing some of the greatest cities in the world with my family.

I’ll write again once I arrive back in the states on December 21st to fill everyone in on our adventures! Thanks for reading and have a great holiday season!

Chelsea

“Travel far enough, you meet yourself.”

David Mitchell

The First Night and the Last

From the first night to the last.

Scotland

Cloé and I spent this past weekend in Edinburgh. It was the last of my travels until I finish classes and head to London, Paris, and Prague with my family. Scotland has one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. I hope to go back someday and spend some time exploring the Highlands.

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We arrived on a coach in Edinburgh on Friday evening. The ride was nearly nine hours long so we were ready to get out and explore when we arrived. We checked into our hostel and set out for the Scotch Whiskey Experience, which taught us the intricate process of making Scotch. It was very interesting, especially the time it takes. By law, the whiskey has to mature in barrels for three years to be sold, but the really, really good stuff matures for 40 or 50 years. We also got to see the world’s largest collection of Scotch Whiskey. There was a bottle being sold in the gift shop for 18,500 Pounds, about 29,000 US Dollars. After the tour, we had dinner at a local pub before setting out for Arthur’s Seat, a hill towering over Edinburgh. It was very dark but we thought it would be a beautiful view of the city lights. When we reached the bottom of the hill, I was apprehensive. It looked like something you would see in a horror film. The top was barely visible amidst the fog. After a few minutes of debate, all common sense went out the window and we started up anyways. It was slightly damp so everything was slippery, but we found a path and made it to the top. The fog was pretty dense but the view was still amazing. Not surprisingly, we were the only two people on the entire hill. The trip down was a bit more interesting. Somehow we lost the path and ended up sliding in the mud and grass most of the way to the bottom. It made for a funny and interesting night.

Scotch Whiskey Experience

Scotch Whiskey Experience

On top of Arthur's Seat

On top of Arthur’s Seat

View from Arthur's Seat

View from Arthur’s Seat

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The next morning, we woke up early and headed for a cafe called the Elephant House. It’s the place where J.K. Rowling wrote some of Harry Potter, as she lives in Edinburgh. We then headed to the Holyrood Palace, the residence of the Royal family when they’re in Scotland. It was very interesting, especially the ruins of the Holyrood Abbey. Next, we went to the Edinburgh Castle, which was also very interesting. We grabbed lunch and headed for the Rosslyn Chapel, my favorite part of the weekend. It’s a hidden gem that most tourists don’t venture to, about a 45 minute bus ride outside of Edinburgh. We arrived as the sun was setting, so there was a beautiful pink hue to the sky. The village of Roslin is nestled in the hills in a quiet, peaceful area. The outside of the chapel showed its age; about 560 years. When we entered the chapel, the first thing that caught my attention was the intricate carvings throughout. Every inch of the ceiling and many of the pillars had unique designs, each handcrafted in the sandstone. The most famous is the “Apprentice Pillar.” The legend goes that the master mason left the country for inspiration for the design of the pillars inside the chapel. When he returned, his young apprentice had completed a pillar beautifully. The master mason was so jealous and angry that he struck the apprentice with a mallet, killing him. As punishment for the murder, the mason’s face was carved into the opposite corner of the chapel so he would be forced to stare at the apprentice’s pillar for eternity. There were only a few rows of pews, as the founder passed away before the whole chapel could be completed. We learned about the chapel’s history, finding out that it has suffered a great deal over the years and is still being restored. After spending some time at the chapel, we headed back to the city for dinner and a ghost tour. The tour took us in some vaults inside of the South Bridge. When homelessness was deemed illegal in Edinburgh, thousands of people lived in the vaults to remain hidden, resulting in death and disease due to the poor living conditions. The bridge was never waterproofed and the vaults haven’t seen the sunlight in well over 200 years so they were pretty spooky. Though I’ve never bought into it, many have reported paranormal experiences within the vaults as well. After the tour, we explored the Christmas markets. The lights glowed around the crowd, laughter and Christmas music could be heard, and delicious smells filled the air, reminding me how close the holiday is and how fast time has passed this fall.

"Birthplace" of Harry Potter

“Birthplace” of Harry Potter

Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Palace

Ruins of the Holyrood Abbey

Ruins of the Holyrood Abbey

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Rosslyn Chapel

Rosslyn Chapel

Christmas Market

Christmas Market

On our last day, we headed for the Black Medicine Coffee Company, another cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter. We also visited Greyfriars Kirkyard, where there is a grave that belongs to a man by the name of Thomas Riddell, the real life inspiration for Thomas Riddle (Lord Voldemort) in the Harry Potter series. We also visited J.K. Rowling’s handprints in the sidewalk where she won the Edinburgh Award in 2008. We then hopped on a bus tour to hear about some of the history of Edinburgh. My favorite was the story of Greyfriars Bobby, a little terrier whose owner passed away and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Bobby guarded his owner’s grave every single day for 14 years until he himself passed away and was buried in the same graveyard, not far from his owner. There is a life-size statue honoring the dog, which I looked at through blurry eyes with a lump in my throat. I’m always a sucker for animal stories (and animals in general, as most of you know). We had some lunch and finished the bus tour, checked out of our hostel, and hit the road back to Leicester.

Black Medicine Coffee Co.

Black Medicine Coffee Co.

Thomas Riddell's Grave

Thomas Riddell’s Grave

Edinburgh Award

Edinburgh Award

Bobby

Bobby

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This is going to be another busy week, as I am finishing up my essays. Next weekend is also the last one of the semester, so I’m planning to spend it in Leicester with the girls who have been my family this semester. The following Friday (December 12th), my mom, aunt, and cousin arrive in London where I’m meeting them so I’m getting really excited for that. I’m starting to feel a bit sad as the semester draws to a close, but I intend to make the most of the last couple weeks. I knew this time would fly by, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

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Thanks for reading!

Chelsea

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.”

Saint Augustine

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