Saturday, February 7, 2009

Oxford Video Blog

Originally Written Feb. 7th

Last weekend, the girls and I decided to go on the first of (hopefully) many trips! Nicole and Nathalie did all the planning, and for less then 50 quid, we took the Megabus two hours north, and stayed in one of the cleanest and most comfortable hostels I've seen since I've been there.

Here is the highlight reel from my weekend in Oxford with Jac, Nathalie, and Nicole :-)

Here are more photos if you'd like to see more.


A Quiet Day in the Country

Originally written January 23

Sometimes a girl needs a break from the big city to go see the country. One of the most common things that Brits have told me is that London is not England. Its like people talking about New York, and assuming you're talking about the City. There are so many other parts to the country, and deserve exploration. With that in mind, earlier this week, I went online, looked up places that weren't too far, and decided to take a little trip.

Saturday night I had a city night. My friends and I had talked about getting together, but everyone ended up being too wiped out, but I had spent about 45 minutes curling my hair (more cuz I was bored then anything else) and decided I would take myself out. I took the Picadilly Line into Leicester Square, and was trying to decide what I wanted to do. When it came down to it, I wanted to spend time with people, so first I looked for theatre tickets, but as it was 7:30, I was a little late. Instead, I bought myself a slice of pizza from a vendor, and went to the sold out show of Slumdog Millionaire. This was a great movie, but it also showed all the poverty in India. I understand its a big cultural influence, and there are aspects that are beautiful about it. But it still made me sad to see children bathing in the same water that cows defecate in, and so much prejudice. If anything, it makes me want to work harder to learn and understand about other cultures. I feel very lucky that I am experiencing that in this time in my life, even if its still a 'Western style' culture.

Sunday morning, I got up early and headed to the train station at Waterloo. I took a 35 minute long train out of London to Woking. From there, a REALLY overpriced cab took me to the RHS Gardens to see the Butterfly Exhibit. Basically, this is the Royal Horticultural Society's garden that is open year round. During January and February, they have one of their tropic greenhouses filled with hundreds of butterflies from a farm in South America. They all fly around you and even land on you. The rest of the gardens are beautiful, and I got a great day with lots of sun. Here are just a few of my favorite pictures from the day:

Ok, so Blogspot will only let me load so many pictures, but I have a ton more. Please take a look at them here and here. They are so amazing. The day was just about me walking around in the peace and quiet, surrounded by all this natural beauty. It made me homesick, but was so refreshing. Everyone should do this for themselves. For my first spontaneous, relatively cheap trip, it was perfect.


Clubbin' at KoKo

Originally written January 13

Ahh, London nightlife. Its pretty sweet.

This past weekend, I think I did all my girly-girl friends and relatives proud. I got a hot new style haircut (parted on the side, choppy bangs across forehead, kind of punk rock layers – I think he actually made my hair thinner, but that’s cool) I wish I had taken a picture right off the bat – I think I tried, but I was rushing to get ready.

Random picture interjection: I am trying to take as many as I can whenever I go out and about, or even if its just a nice day. However, when I’m getting into the swing of things, I tend to forget about taking pictures and just want to enjoy the moments as they come. New Year’s Resolution: Live in the moment, and be content with it. So, sorry for the lack of pictures, but you are all creative people, I think you can work it out.

Anywho, so I went after work on Friday to SoHo to get my hair cut. It was fantastic. This really nice Spanish guy did it, and when I came in and told him I needed something new, he totally got me. He took a nice long time to shampoo and condition my hair, gave me a killer neck rub, then sat me in the chair and made me feel really great about this new look. I gave him a tip (they don’t really do that here, so he was hyped) and I got European cheek kisses and instructions to come back in 6 weeks for a bang trim. I went home, did the whole smokey eyed red lip thing, and headed off to Camden Town.

Camden is a really cool part of London. Its hip and goth and cool and chill all rolled together. You can see any type of people here, but the more outrageous the better. There are a lot of Goths, but also people that wear pearls with pink hair, or Doc Martins, or Chucks. The bars are all trying to show each other up with music and random drink combos (tho the smoothie/tonic/mixed drink I had was AMAZING). I was going to Camden to meet Jac to go to Hollie’s birthday party at the Fifty Five Bar & Lounge. Hollie is the girl that we met in our first week who showed us around London. We got to the bar, and she was already Drunkie McDrunk, but had a lot of friends there. The bar was hot – the bartenders were showing off like they were in Coyote Ugly, the music was good, and there were a lot of interesting people. I ended up talking to this guy Scott for 20 minutes. He was from the States, but here for break from studying in Germany. I told him some good places to go. He was so sweet—before he and his friends left, he came over and gave me a hug. Too cute. We sat with Hollie’s friends, had a few drinks; Chris showed up about a half hour after us, and we got to talk for a while while guys were hitting on Jac. It was a good time—I really like him, and it’s nice that Jac found someone so great.

So we left early-ish, because we were all going out the next night as well. There is this club called KoKo; it is a nightclub in an old theater where they ripped all the seats out, and you just party everywhere. ButtonDown Disco was spinning, and they play all kinds of stuff, but specialize in British pop/indie rock. The plan was to meet up around 9ish, and get into the club before 10 so we wouldn’t have to pay the cover charge. Saturday morning, I slept in, got up, and realized I have no idea what the hell to wear to a London nightclub. I then did the next shockingly girly thing, and took myself shopping.

They do a lot of huge sales here after Christmas, so I knew I had options. I decided to stick with Oxford Street. I knew it was going to be a zoo, which I hate, but I had to go to the Apple store to get new headphones anyway, and I knew there were at least 2 Evans (plus size fashion store) within a 15 minute walk of each other. To make a long story short, I found out that I kind of actually like shopping, but I think it had a lot to do because I was alone. I felt less pressure and was able to make decisions without worrying too much. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather have a friend there to chat with, or give opinions, but it was nice to just go with my own flow. I ended up getting 2 different tops: one with pink sparkle straps, then it was off the shoulder with this ruffle sleeve thing, and a black top that was really loose and flowy, but came in a band around my hips and slits in the sleeves. I’ve sure you’ll see pictures of both. I also got a cool long chunky necklace, a small black bag so I’m not loosing Bambi everywhere, and some hair clips. All and all, I was pretty stoked.

I went back to my place to get ready, and got a call from Nicole and Nathalie seeing if I wanted to come to their place for dinner before going to the club. It sounded great, so I stopped at Tesco to get a bottle of wine, and headed over. I ended up having to take the bus from Notting Hill, and for some reason I was the only one on it. I asked the driver if he was going to the stop I wanted, and he said yes. Then he starts driving like a maniac, skipping stops and all this, and always looking back at me and winking and smiling. I’m just sitting there with my headphones in, and waiting til I see my stop. About 15 minutes later, we cross the river. That is REALLY not good as the girls live in the same neighborhood as me. I went to ask the guy why he’d blown past my stop, and he said ‘Oh! I thought you didn’t get off because you wanted to stay on the bus with me *sleazy wink*’. Chya, got outta there right quick, I’m tellin’ you. At this point, it was too late to go to dinner, so I took the tube and met up with Jac, her flatmates, and some friends of Chris’s. We went to this pub across from the club for a few drinks before heading in. Luckily the que wasn't too long, nor was the coat check, so we were able to grab some drinks and go right into dance mode.

View of the dance floor from the balcony

Some of Chris' London friends

Not my fav. picture, but the only one I got of me all night--Jac is sadden by this

KoKo was amazing. It had good areas to sit and then to dance, and others just to hang out and watch everyone. I was really into the music, and it was great to just dance with a big group of people. Everyone looked London hot, and we were there until the club closed at 4am. Then it was off to the night bus, grabbed a bottle of water and some crispes at the Tesco, and home in bed right when the sun was thinking to come up. Definitely going to have to be done again.


My Very Own Studio....I think it was the mudroom...

Originally written January 7th.

So I started out in a posh neighborhood in a nice hostel. Then I moved to the sticks into a kinda crappy hostel. That kind of crappy hostel became home, with friends who became family, and all those old problems most people my age encounter in their first place: bad water, limited space, millions of roommates so you can afford the rent, not the most comfortable bed, etc, etc. But now, I’ve upgraded to the best of both worlds. I’m living in one of the richest neighborhoods in all of London, but living in a small humble room to keep my humility. Or something.

I’ve officially moved into my new place in Kensington. When I told the only true Londoner I know – aka Jac’s boyfriend Chris – this, his response was ‘You lucky sod.’ Apparently, this is the neighborhood to be in. Chris said it was where all the rich kids lived and went to school, and he dreamed of living there when he grew up and made millions. It is really beautiful. If you want to Google Earth it, I’m in postcode SW7 4JZ, about a five minute walk from Glouster Road tube station. The buildings are these old white ones with columns and old brick churches. One of the selling points for me were the gardens. I have access to one of the private gardens in the center of my block. Go watch Notting Hill, and see the garden that Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant climb into when they play ‘When You Say Nothing At All’. That’s what my garden is like—down to the towering trees and the gazebo. It has lined paths all around it, and is always lush and green due to the gardeners who come 3 times a week. It blocks out all the light in the area, enough so that you can even see the stars on those rarely clear England nights. I love it so much. Within a 10 minute walk are other smaller public gardens, and Hyde Park. Notting Hill is a 10 minute tube ride, and the center of the city is maybe 15 minutes. Sure as hell beats the 45 it was taking me to get into town from Hendon Central.

As for the place itself, it’s a good thing I grew up living in small spaces. My room use to be the mudroom for the flat. No lie. It has a door that goes out into an alleyway where people use to come in after being in the garden. It has a sink, and where the shower is I think was the area to wash off their Wellington boats. The shelves that hold my clothes are the right size for shoe racks, and my closet is….well, fine for me, but Breanne would cry ;-). I had to shove, but I got my luggage under the bed, and cut out some pictures and such. The girl before me left gold and pink curtains, and the duvet and pillowcases that I got from my landlord are pink, orange, and yellow. Oh, and the walls are yellow. All in all, it’s pretty cozy and comfortable. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to have guests, since my bed is my bed, couch, and kitchen table, but we could make it work. Honestly, for those who have seen my little room at home, it’s about that size. With a sink, closet, and shower. Yea. Grammy is scared of my heater due to the fact that its really a pipe being supported on old VHS tapes. But it does the job alright. I leave it on all day, so the room stays comfortable.

Right now, there is one girl living in the room next to me, and that’s about it. There are 3 double rooms, then a single room way in the back behind my landlord’s ‘office’ (which is really the full size kitchen that use to be used when it was all one flat). My landlord turned all of the rooms into studios, so its like we have mini-flats in this big one. The girl next to me is moving out on Tuesday, so it’ll be just me. Oh, and Matt and his wife aka my landlords. He owns a bunch of properties like this, and he and his wife just move from place to place where there are empty rooms. This is kind of weird since Matt doesn’t sleep. Seriously. He told me he sleeps maybe 3 hours a night. They aren’t loud or anything, but its still weird to see the light on all night.

The neighborhood is nice. Jac and I went to one of the pubs and had Sunday roast this week. There is a laundry matte, a huge Sainsbury’s (grocery store), a 24 hour Tesco, some cafes, a bank, a post office, and the Tube all within a 5 minute walk from my flat. The nice thing is that the buildings are so huge that all of this is in a noisier part of the area, but you turn on to my street and you can’t hear a sound. I’m going out late with Jac next week, so we’ll see how far the night bus is *note: its maybe 10 minutes walk. In very well lit and monitored areas*. I feel doubly safe because the dorms for Ithaca and Boston University’s study abroad programs are on my block, as well as 3 hotels with security cameras.

I’ve only been there a few days, and I’m LOVING being unpacked and settled, but I miss my hostelmates. I miss walking into my room, dropping my stuff, then going into the hang out room and being greeted with calls and kisses. I miss talking to Todd while we’re making dinner, or bantering with Andy, or talking with Jason or Darren or Mathason while we’re all just relaxing, or chilling with the girls while Harry and Stephen dance around to some random YouTube video. We’re all on facebook, and I’ve heard from a few of them, but it was hard to say goodbye. I hope I get to see them again. I’ll make sure I do.

London Backpackers: Have you heard the word? ;-)


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Happy Belated New Years

New Years resolution: remember to update more ;-)

Ahhh, 2009. I feel like you’re going to be a hellova year.

The week building up to New Years and the week after prove this to me.

So I was working up until New Years Eve. At the time, I was trying to decide whether I wanted to join the millions of throngs of people out in the city, or hang back at the hostel. I decided the most important thing was to be with my friends. My boss was really great and let me out early. I had been working the week alone as everyone was out on vacation, but I feel really comfortable in my job. Maybe not very challenged, but this is a means to an end, aka money for travelling, more then the career move. I swung by Bunac to pick up some mail, and then made my way to the hostel (thanks again for the Christmas cookies, Brushaka!! They were amazing!)

I got back fairly early, and took a nap for a while. When I got up, I met up with the guys and went down to the shops to stock up. We went back to the hostel, and all broke into food and drinks. The difference tonight was really interesting: People were drinking a lot, but no one was being crazy. It was more about people talking, and listening, and sharing. The hostel was fairly busy, but only the regulars were staying in, at least for a while. I talked with Jason, Todd, Darren and Steven, and they let me in on something. They think I’m clairvoyant. One night, when I was a little less then sober, I started grabbing people’s hands and reading palms. I do know how to read them, but never really thought anything of it. Its more like reading the person, and knowing the lore behind what bumps and lines stand for. But the more people I read, the more they were blown away by how much I got right. I scared the crap out of Jason because I told him he was going to have a kid in his twenties, and that it would be a girl. Apparently, he got a girl pregnant before he left New Zealand; 2 days after I read his palm, she called to say she had found out it was a girl. Andrew said I made him cry—he just didn’t think anyone could see what I saw. So now, whenever someone new comes in, especially girls, they guys bring her straight to me. I usually don’t know anything other then their names when their hands are thrust out to me. But I’ve blown them away; I knew about a bad relationship a girl was getting out of, that another had a sister die of breast cancer, and other random stuff that I have no idea where it came from. I mean, I'm good at reading people, but this is just random.

So after my chat with the guys about my Powers That Be, I decided that I would take a night off from that, and try to not creep anyone out. Most of the crew was going down to Trafalgar Square to watch the fireworks, then to the Walkabout in Shepard's Bush to dance. I wasn't feeling the going out vibe--I just knew that I'd get mixed in with the crowd, lose my friends, and have to fight to get home. More importantly, two of my favorite people, Heather and Todd, where sticking around, so I stayed with them. It was really nice when everyone was taking off: we'd all become like family, so there were a lot of hugs, kisses, and Happy New Years exchanged. Afterwards, Heather, Todd, myself, and these two really nice French girls sat around and talked. There were family stories shared, life stories, death stories, home stories. I love those kind of talks. And yes, when midnight hit, I may have been wrapped up in some smoochies with a fantastically skilled kisser and Aussie (think about the only people left there, and I think you can figure out who ;-))The night kind of slowed down after that. I went to bed around 2am, and got to hear everyone else trickle in until sun up. New Years day was spent lazing and nibbling food, taking a walk, and doing a lot of thinking.

**A/N: I'm going to go ahead and post this since I have so many others to catch up on. After New Years, I stayed at the hostel for 4 more days, then moved into my new place. My last nights there were great. The guys took me to a pub to play darts, and on my last night there, all 22 of the long termers took me out to dinner and then we came back to drink some more and hang out. The great thing was that for once, we didn't hang out in the TV room but went downstairs and talked all night. Todd got me vodka slushies and Stephen was so happy to have someone who knew how to play Circle of Fire. But more importantly, they were all so sweet saying goodbye. I love these people so much, and miss them dearly. Here are some pictures of my last few nights:

Happy New Year,

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Very London (Hostel) Christmas

“I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.”
~Taylor Caldwell

I knew that Christmas was going to be different from the get go this year. It's the first time away from my family, my friends, and all our traditions. I didn't get any of Mama's candy, Bre and I didn't get to watch The Grinch with Daddy, Michele and I didn't get to make our Christmas cookies then veg out on the couch with half the dough, etc, etc, etc. It was hard also because it was an Andersen Christmas this year (my family went to Grammy and Grandpa's in Connecticut) AND Aunt Kate was home in Maine. But I was pleasantly surprised when I ended up having a very busy and awesome Christmas :)

I worked right up until Christmas Eve day. The night before, Jac and I went to our favorite pub for food, and really got to catch up. We talked about taking more trips, especially since we're both working and I'll be in my own place soon. So, Christmas Eve Day I come into work to find out that all the offices are basically shutting down at noon for the annual hallway Christmas party. I helped them set things up: there were 4 tables of food (cheese, crackers, bread, meats, olives, cookies, cake, etc.) and then 2 of wine, beer, and champagne. Thats right--when the Brits do an office holiday party in the middle of the day, they really do it up. The deal was that everyone came out at noon, had some munchies, downed a few drinks, then snuck out around 2. I ended up leaving at 1:30 after my boss tried to give me a third glass of white wine. I went from the party to Bunac because a Christmas miracle had occurred, and my Christmas present had arrived from my family. Woohoo!!! I picked it up, and was back at the hostel by 4pm.

I got back here, and got a call from Allie Packard. She is this total sweetheart who I met through Aunt Kate. She is an actress, New England, and does some voices on Mr. Men. She had decided to come to London for the holiday, and had just flown in. We chatted for a bit, then decided to meet for dinner in Trafalgar. I took the tube in, and met her under the huge Norwegian Christmas tree:

We walked around the area for a while, then found a nice little Italian place for dinner. Our waiter was a very very flamboyant gay man from Poland. He tapping our shoulders with his fingertips while we were ordering food. We both had wine and sea food, and split a piece of the most amazing cheesecake. From there, we walked down to the Christmas Fair in Leicester Square, and grabbed coffee. We clicked really quick, and she was so funny and friendly. She had no problem making friends, and it was nice to spend some time with someone who reminded me so much of home.

After parting ways with well wishes, I headed over to St. Paul's Cathedral. I'm not sure why, but I really wanted to go to Midnight Mass. I heard the service at St. Paul's was amazing due to their choir. I called Nathalie, and she met me there. We were so early, but when we went around the Cathedral (which I have to go back to--it was so beautiful) there was already a line wrapped halfway around the building. We waited for an hour and a half, but it was worth it--we were part of the first hundred people in the door, so we got to sit in the 15th row back, right under the dome:
It was beautiful. There were candles everywhere, and the music was lovely. The service was a Catholic one, which I was a little uncomfortable with, but overall, I'm really happy I went.We sung three of my favorite carols, and it just felt nice to be with people from all over the world and of all faiths. Afterwords, I took a taxi home, and went to bed.

Christmas morning, I actually got up early…ish. A few of the guys were up as well, so we all wished each other a Merry Christmas and puttered around until the others got up for secret santa. While we were doing this, Steven tricked Harry into running out to buy a bunch of breakfast stuff by saying that I had already cooked everything we had, and there was nothing left. 10 minutes, 2 loaves of bread, a liter of milk, a dozen eggs, and a pack of bacon, and I was a French toast machine. They were getting eaten faster then I could make them. Luckily, the boys broke out the goods for champagne breakfast, and made sure to keep my glass full.

Weird tidbit: Aussies and Kiwis eat their French toast cooked in oil, covered in salt and chilli sauce, and without anything like syrup or powdered sugar. So basically, it’s just fried bread. Me and Casey the Canadian were totally grossed out.

Finally, everyone was up and we handed out presents. I was really proud of mine. There is this long running joke in the hostel that I never really got the whole story. For anyone living there for more then a month, the two most common phrases (picked up from a French girl who stayed there a while back) are ‘F*ck my life’ and ‘Oh my Buddha!’. No idea why, its just the way we roll. So I was wandering around the kind of ghetto Elephant and Castle shopping center (think Westbrook) and I found a little Asian cart that had Buddha necklaces. Fairly unisex, and since we had a £5 limit, it worked out great at £4.95. Casey ended up getting it. I got this really pretty little paperweight thing. It’s a piece of cut crystal with a miniature skyline of the Southbank carved in it. (Big Ben, London Eye, etc) I really like it.

After that, everyone kind of drifted around and did their own thing. We watched a movie, had more drinks (Christmas is a HUGE drinking holiday here….) took naps, hung out. I had gotten a package from home that had my stocking on it. I talked to my folks on Skype for a while, then called them back and Mom, Dad, Bre and I all opened our stockings together. We were such dorks—going around in a circle, each opening something and showing it off—just like I was home. It made me really really happy. Best gift: a hamster finger puppet. I love it so friggin’ much!! He is now my travel buddy….still gotta name the little guy….Other then that, got a lot of smelly stuff (because I complained about my room smelling like feet) and just little odds and ends. It was nice to read all the messages from my parents on why they picked each thing.

The rest of the night kind of descended into debauchery, as you can imagine with a hostel full of especially drunk friends who became family. There was food in the afternoon—just cold ham slices, Brie cheese, crackers, mini pizzas, etc. We all drank a lot of champagne and got loopy. There may have been an incident with three streakers…all boys…cute toushies ; -) I took a nap in the late afternoon, then sat up talking with people into the wee hours of the morning. Overall, it was a good Christmas. We were all really happy to be together with people we had become so close to, and weren’t too homesick. For the traditional Boxing Day of shopping and insanity, I stuck with the Andersen family tradition of going to the movies and sneaking around to see more then one. I saw Yes Man with Jim Carry (very similar to Bruce Almighty, funny, but it made me unexpectedly homesick for California) and then Twilight (which I really loved. The scenes were shot so beautifully, I love the soundtrack, and they did a decent job of sticking the original storyline. I agree with Yun—it was a lot funnier they I was expecting). I may have to go back to the theatre and do more day trips like that.

Now New Years...

Friday, December 26, 2008

Chocolate, Lace and Beer: My Trip to Bruges, Belgium

I have had my first trip out of the Big City. As I've been talking about for about a month, Bunac organized a trip to Bruges for their annual Christmas market. Somethings I learned on the tour about it: The population of Bruges is about 100,000 people, but the weekend before Christmas, up to 600,000 people from all over the world come into town. Its a big deal. There are a million little shops that sell classic Belgium goods, such as chocolate, lace, beer and handmade gifts. Belgium has 3 official languages, and the official one in Bruges is Flemish, with some French thrown in there for good measure. If you're going to Bruges for a short time, the priorities are either to a) eat, b)drink, c)eat and drink, d) visit religious monuments or e) shop. I got to do a little of everything.

The morning started at a loverly 4:30am. I had to catch the night bus from my hostel to the International Students House to catch the bus at 6am. I get really lucky, and only have to wait about 10 minutes for a bus. I get on, and climb up to the top level, hoping it'll be quieter and I can just listen to my iPod and try not to miss my stop. Well, I get up there, and there is this guy sitting a few rows back. I watch in the window as he slowly moves up a few rows closer to me. Just as I was about to dig out my keys to gouge him if need be, he taps me on the shoulder and says 'excuse me, do you mind if I talk with you?' He looked kind of zonked, so I assumed he just wanted to stay awake. Wayyy off base. First he does a really slow scan of my body while asking where I'm from and all that. Then, he asks if I'm married. I say no, then he says, all slinky, 'Oh, so you're free then.' As every single gal should do on her own when presented with a creeper, I lied. I said I had someone back home who was meeting me in the new year over here. He bought it (barely) then launched into how he wanted to meet girls over Christmas, but not have a commitment. WTF?!!? THEN, he suddenly asks me 'Are you a Christian?' I'm like, no. This leads to a long, complex lecture about how god exists, and why, and don't I want to save my soul by accepting him? I almost slugged the guy. He finally got off, and I was pissed to see that he had made me miss my stop, so I had to walk back. That was my kick off.

Day got a lot better from there. I got to the bus stop, and recognized a few Bunacers who were also on the trip. There were 3 bus loads of us, so we got on the road quick. My tour guide was this really great lady from Toronto who was 6 months pregnant--lotta energy. We drove from London to Dover to catch the ferry. This was uneventful, other then I met the girl who I spent the day with, Elizabeth. We were waiting for the ferry to come in, and she was reading Twilight for the first time. We got to chatting, then hung out with this bunch of other Bunacers I had met at pub meets.

The White Cliffs of Dover

Around the boat to the route we would take to France.

I had slept a little on the drive, so it was easier to stay awake on the ferry. We arrived in France, and got back on our bus to drive from Calais up through Northern France, and into Belgium. Unfortunately, this is not the area that is all vineyards and rolling countryside, but looks kind of like....Idaho, or one of those middle states that start with 'I'. Michele will understand ;-)

We arrived in Bruges around 1ish. We were told to be back on the bus by 5:30 sharp so we could make a 7:45 ferry back to Dover. Then they set us loose. Elizabeth and I branched off from the main stream and went to the Ice Sculpture exhibit. This was amazing. The theme this year was Harry Potter, which I loved all on its own, but also rabbits. Have you ever seen the picture of the giant rabbit on joke sites? The one that people ask is it real or not?: Yea, this one ;-)
Well, they really exist, and are raised for food like sheep in Belgium. This was proven when we wandered over to the ice bar, and all the ice benches were covered in giant rabbit furs to sit on. So the other them was bunnies:

Harry Potter and Hedwig (the owl)

Hagrid discreetly casting a spell on the ice wall

Me with Bunnies

So we left the Sculpture exhibit, and made our way into the city center. It was pretty warm--maybe in the 50s--and everything is still very green. Bruges is known as the Venice of the North for its canal system, which was beautiful.

We walked into the area around the center of town, and did a little shopping. I went into a lace shop and got a few gifts (which I'm DYING to write about, but I don't want the people getting them to know ;-) ) then we went into this one chocolate shop. The family had been making chocolates for 130 years: They were amazing. I sampled, then got some to send home. We took our time walking around, and watched this one woman making lace. She was so fast, it was really interesting. We met up with some of the people from Bunac, and went to this pub that served 350 types of beer. I got strawberry for 2.50 euro. It was 3.5% proof, and my new favorite EVER:

We swung into the market, but honestly, it was really a bunch of cheap stuff. The real finds were in the shops that had been around for hundreds of years (no big surprise) By the end of the night, there was time to grab a bratwurst, and a Belgian waffle (with caramel and bananas...*Drools a little at the memeory*) and we had to high tale it to the bus. Got there with 10 minutes to spare, but we ended up sitting there for a while because two stupid girls got lost, and were getting a ride back from some locals. They finally called and said they were just going to get the Eurostar back, and we headed for the ferry. We ended up missing the 7:45, but luckily got the all felt very familiar ;-) The rest of the ride was uneventful, and I got back to the hostel at 1am...just in time to get 5 hours of sleep before work.

It was a really great little get away, and has inspired me to look into other trips--tho if I go out of country again, I will definitely be making it an overnight trip. My next ideas are Edinburgh, Oxford, The New Forest, Nottingham, and the Lake District to stay on a horse farm where you just ride your horse for 3 days. Thats my first choice. Any other ideas?