Leaving London 

As I write this blog post on the nine-hour flight back home, I’m once again grateful for my experiences traveling abroad, but more importantly, I’m grateful for the people I got to spend this past week with and the memories we share together.

 

Pic by Michelle ūüôā

 

Before this trip, I only knew one other student who would be traveling with me to London for the first time. By the end of this week, I’ve made so many new friends and had so many fun times and laughs with my fellow media students.

But we began the trip on a sad note. The terrorist attacks in Brussels, which happened exactly one year after I arrived in that same airport for my Belgium trip, really shook me up. As I explored the city for the first full day with my new friends, I couldn’t help but think about all the lives lost and the people affected for such senseless reasons. It made me appreciate that I live in a world where people come together in unity after such horrible events, and that together we can overcome these things.

As the week went on, I realized the importance of enjoying the experience of traveling, not just running around from place to place, making sure you hit all the sights, and not stopping to enjoy the atmosphere and the people around you. Several times this week I had to almost pinch myself and tell myself I was in London, a city I’d seen in movies and had only dreamed of visiting.

But more importantly, I was visiting such a great city and getting to see it with such great people. I laughed so much on this trip; it was a good break from the crazy stress of college to be able to see new things and enjoy new friends.

Some of my favorite memories from the trip included:

Our first tube ride and a selfie to commemorate it

Making a pit stop at King’s Cross station to take a picture that every Harry Potter fan needs

Faking British accents while we visited Buckingham Palace

Getting scared by a bunch of pigeons in Oxford

Exploring the fun shops in the Covered Market in Oxford

Crossing Abbey Road (check out my friend Michelle’s blog for confirmation of how excited I was)

And all of the ridiculous inside jokes we made within the span of a week.

I had an incredible time and I am so grateful that I became so close with the group of girls traveling with me. I’m so glad we’ll have these amazing memories to cherish for the rest of our lives.

London Day 5 – A Beatles Fan in London

What a day. It was our last full day in London, but I checked off something that has been on my bucket list for years.

Finally, I crossed Abbey Road, replicating the epic album cover that is one of my favorites and from my favorite band of all time.

But first, we began our day at the British Museum, where I got to view artifacts from something else I’m obsessed with — Ancient Egyptology.

The British Museum

 

It was so incredible to view the Rosetta Stone and think about its significance.

 

The Rosetta Stone

 

But we only had a little over an hour to tour the museum, which is certainly not enough to view the massive collection. I’d love to go back someday, but I did see some pretty cool stuff while I was there.


After the museum, we pretty much made a beeline to Abbey Road, which is a bit out of the way but a must see for diehard fans like me. I pretty much freaked out thinking that I was walking on the site of an epic album cover, and I got to see the recording studio where the Beatles recorded. I’m the kind of overly obsessed Beatles fan who knows every little detail about them. Today, my dream came true. Now I only need to visit Liverpool.

 

The studio is still a working studio so unfortunately you can’t go in ūüė¶

 

And my favorite Beatle is Paul McCartney, who happens to live just a short walk away at 7 Cavendish Avenue (yeah, that’s the extent of my obsession with the Beatles…I know their current addresses).

So I got to see Paul McCartney’s house and freak out a lot.

After that, I had to calm down a bit and then we headed to Shoreditch to do some shopping and see some really cool street art.

 

Shoreditch was great and the weather was beautiful

 

We had our final group dinner at Zaza’s, an Indian restauraunt near our hotel.

It’s hard to believe this was the last full day of our trip and that we’ll be leaving tomorrow. I can’t believe how much fun I’ve had with the great people I’ve been able to spend this week with.

 

 

London Day 4 – Exploring Oxford

We got a break from the bustling city of London today with a side trip to Oxford.

The hour long train ride was a great chance to get a look at some of the English countryside while getting a chance to sit and relax after a week of busy sightseeing.


When we got to Oxford, I was surprised by how cute and quiet the city was. But it felt like it was somewhere I could see myself living.


We met up with our tour guide, who was great and explained the fascinating history of the town and the university. It was especially interesting to hear about how unique Oxford University is and how different it is from American universities. But no matter what, it was incredibly beautiful – especially all the landscaping (and the centuries old buildings).


  

Also, a lot of the buildings in Oxford University were used as inspiration for sets of the Harry Potter movies.

After a tour, most of it in the sprinkling rain, we headed out on our own to explore to various shops in the town. We also ran into a beautiful covered market that I loved.

  

It was mostly a day of shopping and hanging out in Oxford. I got a chance to journal on the train ride and think about all we’ve done on the trip. And when we got back, we had an amazing dinner at a great Turkish place by our hotel.

London Day 3 – Rich History and Unexpected Surprises

Today was certainly a day filled with British history, monarchy, and lots and lots to look at. The history was almost hard to believe, and being surrounded by things that were so old and full of stories was incredibly cool.

We started at the Tower of London and had an entertaining little tour from a yeoman guard. We wandered around the tower for a few hours, viewing different parts and exhibits and taking a look at the Crown Jewels, which reminded me of that great scene in BBC Sherlock where Moriarty steals the Crown Jewels.

After the Tower of London, we shot over in the tube to Westminster Abbey, but before that we got our first glimpse at Big Ben, which is much more massive than I would’ve thought from pictures.

Everyone is quick to tell you that Ben is the bell in the tower, not the clockface.

 

Westminster Abbey was a complete sensory overload but fascinating to see where people like royal monarchs, then others like Geoffrey Chaucer, were laid to rest.

On our way out, we saw a man painting and struck up a conversation. He gave us some cute little prints of his work, which he signed. It was a nice little moment of a nice meeting with a stranger.

Then we went on a roundabout journey to find Buckingham Palace, which was not far, but we happened upon the Royal Horse Guards Parade, a daily occurrence of the guards being inspected that was quite a sight to see of pageantry and yelling.

 

We laughed for probably 10 minutes after this ceremony because all the screaming.

 

Finally, we made it to Buckingham Palace, and by that time my new London pal Michelle and I were well versed in our British accents, likely annoying our fellow travelers but having a lot of fun.

 

Buckingham Palace

 

It’s surreal to see places where so much history has occurred, where so much has gone on before you. And then you turn and see a city that is booming, busy, and modern.

Overall, it was a great day spent with friends, exploring and adventuring on our own and getting more acquainted to this great city.

London Day 2 РA Global Tragedy and a Beautiful City 

One year ago today, I was at the Brussels airport, arriving in Belgium for a week long trip that would be my first amazing experience abroad.

Today, I woke up in my hotel room in London to my roommate telling me there were explosions reported at the Brussels airport.

I was incredibly saddened to hear of the terrible attacks in Brussels this morning. Belgium is a country very close to my heart, the first country I visited outside of the states that I fell in love with quickly. It was surreal to think that if what happened today had happened a year ago, my experience could have been drastically different.

I followed the news on the BBC from my hotel room TV and then headed out to a sunny London morning to visit none other than the BBC Broadcasting House, where I saw a newsroom full of journalists researching and reporting on the attacks.

Although my limited internet access kept me from keeping up with the news, it was in the back of my mind all day. We visited Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery, where a floor in the lobby gave me a sweet and simple reminder in the midst of the sad news today.

It was a beautiful, sunny day in London. We walked the cobblestone streets and I couldn’t help but admire just how great this city is.

 

Exploring Covent Garden

 

Russell Square

 

Then a group of my fellow travelers and I set out for our own adventure to Covent Gardens for shopping, eating, and finding our way home on the tube before stopping for a necessary picture at King’s Cross 9 and 3/4 platform.

 

Shops in Covent Garden

Tonight, after a long day of fun, laughter and adventures with friends in a great city, I am thinking of those in Belgium affected by the terrorist attacks today. But I am also resting, and I am thankful for this experience I am getting in a new city and a new country to fall in love with.

One Week to London

Last year, I went on an incredible trip to Belgium through the University of Illinois College of Media James Scholar program. It was my first trip out of the country and a completely life-changing experience. Going on that trip made me realize how much I want to travel.

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So when the opportunity arose to go on the same James Scholar trip again this year, only to London, I was beyond excited. I’ll be spending one week in the city with fellow College of Media students, visiting the BBC, seeing many of the tourist spots, and taking it all in as an aspiring journalist in the era of digital media.

My college experience has opened my world to so many new things, including my love for science journalism, my excitement about new¬†and social media, and the pursuit of learning new things and meeting new people through my reporting. But being able to study abroad has been an added bonus on top of everything, and something I would’ve never imagined I would be able to do. London will be the largest city I’ve visited yet, so coming from a small town¬†of 1,300 people makes this trip, once again, beyond exciting.

Until my flight leaves on Sunday, I’ll be reading up on London and thinking about the possibility of fulfilling the number one item on my London to-do list: getting that iconic Abbey Road crossing picture that every Beatles fan dreams of. Wish me luck.

 

Beyond Grateful for Belgium

Now that I’ve had some rest since returning from Belgium yesterday, I think I can effectively say that my trip through the College of Media’s James Scholar program to Belgium and France was an incredible event that I will remember for the rest of my life.

This trip was the first time I’ve been out of the country. I’ve heard from other people how life-changing of an experience that can be, but mine was extra special since I got to spend it representing the University of Illinois with my close friends and fellow students.

If you want to know someone better, travel with them. I knew many of the other girls who went on the trip beforehand, but after this trip, I learned so much more about them and grew to love them all even more. I am beyond grateful that I got to spend the past week with this group of wonderful and talented girls.

Secondly, the trip opened my eyes to the possibilities of studying abroad. As of yet I haven’t thought too seriously about it, but after seeing how much I can accomplish when I put my mind to it, I know that it is definitely an option. Every time I have traveled, I have had my world opened up to a new one. People live in their own little corners of the world, and when you discover the other little corners that other people live in, it’s pretty amazing.

Now come the barrage of pictures, memories, and times I will say to my friends: “I wish I was back in¬†Belgium!” Now we will all go back to our lives having learned more about the world of journalism thanks to our educational sessions, and about the world itself thanks to the opportunity to travel abroad.

I can’t wait for my next adventure, whether it be in my studies of journalism¬†or (hopefully) in my travels.

 

 

 

Sightseeing, Shopping and a Scary Carriage Ride in Brugge – Belgium Day 7

Our last full day in Belgium was very long, but I’m okay with that.

We decided to spend our last day in Brugge, the beautiful and historic town about an hour train ride from Leuven that is more touristy than any other Belgian town I’ve been in.

Brugge is known for chocolate and lace, as well as shopping in general. Just looking at the candy and lace stores was interesting enough, but that didn’t stop me from buying both.

After arriving, we all ate lunch and then decided to pay for a horse and buggy ride through the town. We were a little surprised when we first set off on our ride, as we were going a lot faster than you’d think – which explains why the tour was only thirty minutes long.

Mariah reacting to our fast and scary carriage ride!

But the tour allowed us to see the town and figure out what we wanted to see more once we were finished.

We started on our shopping and I loaded up on chocolate, lace, and souvenirs. Besides these shops, Brugge also has many clothing stores along its main streets.

Our next stop was the Basilica of the Holy Blood, a church that has a vial of blood that they believe is Christ’s. The church was beautiful and we were able to walk up to the vial and see it up close.

When we exited the church, it started to rain, and we quickly found a place to sit down and eat – our last meal in Belgium, with a celebratory dessert!

 

Mariah and I enjoying our dessert!

But the best was yet to come. We walked to the more scenic area of the town at night and were able to get some great pictures.

The falling rain made for an added bonus on my pictures, making the flash against the rain look like stars!

     

 

I Love Leuven – Belgium Trip Day 6

After a hectic yet amazing day in Paris yesterday, I was so glad to have a relaxing day in Leuven today.

We slept in (a lot) and headed to a local cafe called the Coffee Cup, where we had coffee and breakfast and enjoyed watching people walking by outside.

 

A delicious sweet honey latte and blueberry muffin from the Coffee Cup.

We then headed to the Stella Artois brewery for a tour. Donned in our bright yellow safety vests, we were guided through the steps of brewing by our tour guide and got to enjoy a glass afterwards.

 

 

 

Following the tour, my friends and I headed out to do some serious shopping in Leuven. We all came back to the hotel tonight to show each other what we got and display our new outfits.

After a day of heaving shopping, we headed to our farewell dinner at Domus Brasserie, a popular restaurant in Leuven, where I enjoyed a Belgian meal of stoofvlees and croquettes.

Tomorrow is Bruges, our last full day of Belgium, and what I’ve heard is one of the highlights of our trip.

Rainy and Beautiful Side Trip to Paris – Belgium Trip Day 5

To be honest, I really didn’t like Paris at first.

But to be fair, it was rainy, cold, windy, and my feet were already tired from navigating the subway after some delays. Just taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower ended up being a hassle while holding my umbrella, yet it was still so beautiful standing out against the gray and gloomy sky.

After getting a crepe because we were all starving, we headed to a boat tour down the Seine, which allowed us to stay warm and dry while also spotting famous landmarks such as Notre Dame and the Leuve.

Notre Dame

Our tour guide, Aleide, was excellent and helped make the day so enjoyable! She led us to the famous shopping district, Avenue des Champs Elysées, where we took the wide variety of shops to our advantage and had a view of the Arc de Triomphe.

By the time we were finished shopping, the weather had not only cleared up, but warmed up. With my new shopping in hand, I was excited to hear we were heading to Montmartre, which I heard was beautiful.

And I was completely blown away by how beautiful it was. Set on a hill, it allows you to have an absolutely gorgeous view of the city, which was even better at the time of day we saw it. The city looked like it was glowing.

Me and the gals with Aleide, the best tour guide ever!

Every time I would climb a new set of stairs to the top, I would turn around, gasp, and immediately start snapping new pictures, as our tour guide assured us that the view would be better at the top and that we should keep walking. In all honesty, I could have sat there all day.

The beauty of the church at the top of the hill, the Basilica of Sacre Coeur, was pretty much the icing on the cake after the beautiful city I had just seen.

Basilica of Sacre Coeur
Inside the basilica

After touring the church, we headed to the square, the Place de Tetre, to look at the tourist shops and get a bite to eat.

We truly didn’t want to leave. I know there was a lot more of Paris to see, but I could have stayed and sat in a cafe in that square or looked out at the city for hours.

Paris, you didn’t impress me at first, ¬†but after discovering your beauty, I’m so glad I got to see you.