24. The Malta Chronicles: Prologue, Traveling, and Initial Impressions

As many of you may have seen on my social media over the past couple of days, I just spent those past several days in Malta. It was an incredibly beautiful place. Why Malta, you may ask? And why only for two days in the middle of October during the middle of the week? I left so soon I really never even got a chance to sightsee other than walking around to find dinner both free evenings.

The answer is the ocean. Or, to be more precise, the Our Ocean conference.

Prologue
To give a background to this story, back last October I found out through Georgetown that there was going to be an event at main campus called Our Oceans, One Future, an event where John Kerry, then Secretary of State, and Adrian Grenier, actor and co-founder of the Lonely Whale Foundation, would be speaking. So I, along with one of my classmates, missed Bargain (Contracts + Torts) that morning in order to go to main campus and attend this amazing event. It was so inspiring to sit there and listen to the head speakers talk about the current issues facing the oceans and the slow upwelling of commitment towards figuring out a way to save them. Heads of states, including ministers from Europe and South America, also talked at a panel at that time about their different states’ commitments and achievements over the past year.

Then, in March, I was a liaison between Georgetown Law’s Chapter of the UN Association and Georgetown main campus’ Sustainable Ocean Alliance, or the SOA. The SOA was started a few years ago by an undergraduate student at Georgetown to help bring youth voices into the ocean discussion. So in March, the SOA had their annual summit at main campus and I went and attended and tabled a table promoting Georgetown Law during the lunch break.

Fast-forward a couple of months and I get an email from the SOA announcing they were then taking applications for the Our Ocean Youth Leadership conference in Malta in October. I looked at the application, figured I would qualify since a) I was a “youth”, and b) I’m planning on going into ocean conservation and want to be involved in as many ocean-related things as possible. So I applied and got accepted. I booked my ticket for Malta. A few weeks later I booked a spot at a hostel that multiple other people attending the conference were staying at. And otherwise I tried to brush it out of my mind that somehow I would be going to Malta against all expectations in October.

Traveling & Initial Impressions
Monday night, I packed a small carryon suitcase of business professional clothes and books to take along in my book bag. I slept only 4 hours that night because of last-minute homework assignments and work early the next morning. I went to the morning portion of a hearing on dumping of solar cells and solar panels from other countries at the International Trade Commission, ran back to the EPA to tell my supervisor about it, and then ran home, showered, kissed Ricardo and Rumple goodbye, and drove to Dulles airport.

My plane left from D.C. at 6:00pm. I arrived in London Heathrow at around 6:00am. I ate at Pret, camped out for a few hours, and then flew to Malta. I arrived in Malta very motion sick around 3:00pm and proceeded to half-consciously ride a bus for an hour all the way to the hostel I was staying at. I’m still mad at myself for being so motion sick, because that hour-long bus ride was probably the best view of the city as a whole that I would get during the daytime, but I was so miserable I could barely keep my eyes open. I finally found Boho Hostel after taking two wrong turns and wheeling/carrying my little roller suitcase up a series of steep stairs and narrow sidewalks.

The thing about Malta roads is the sidewalks are barely wide enough for one person for the most part and there are very rarely crosswalks anywhere. So you just have to run across the street and hope you don’t get hit. I could never be a driver in Malta; I would be far too terrified to run into people or cars parked on the sides of the roads or the sides of buildings, since the streets are so narrow. However, I will admit I love the architectural style. For the most part, most of the buildings are made out of this yellow stone that I assume is abundant all across the island. The buildings are all square – almost cubical – with their chief adornments and character created by the railings, balconies, and windows that are attached to these cubical structures. It’s very economical and efficient, I think. The cubical structures mean all the buildings use the most amount of space possible in a very space-limited region; after all, Malta is an island surrounded by the Mediterranean on all sides.

Back to Boho. I’ve never stayed at a hostel before, so I didn’t really know what to expect, other than the fact that I knew several other youth delegates were also staying there. The whole hostel is a hippy little world tucked right in the middle of a neighborhood, with hammocks and palm trees and little Buddha statutes in the yard and walls painted with maps of the world and inspirational boho-style quotes about traveling making one rich. The staircase leading up to the bedrooms (3 bunk beds to a room) was decorated entirely by shoes hanging all over the railing. There was a little female cat there that had similar colorings to Rumple but definitely had an island-y look about her.

I checked in and right as I was doing so, a group of younger people all dressed professionally were assembling. I assumed they were about to head out to pick up their badges for the conference and from there go straight to the reception. (It was 5:30pm by then and the badge office supposedly closed by 7:00pm, which is also when the reception for us youth delegates started.) I was right, and they were all kind enough to wait for me to change really fast so I could head out with them. We walked for a good 20 minutes and during that time found our way to the coast of Malta. Saint Julian’s was this magnificent church we passed that was right on the bay and the waves crashed upon its base in a glorious display. We snaked our way around the marina, where picturesque boats all floated tied up in the water. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a picturesque place in my life as that marina. The boats were all brightly painted, the buildings around the marina were beautiful pastels, and the clouds and the ocean were all this glorious harmonization of greys and purples and blues.

We met up with some other youth conference members at the inside edge of the marina and everyone took some time meeting one another and taking photos. While walking to the marina, I met two friends from Paris, France, a girl from Germany, and a girl from Spain. (I’m not going to put names here for privacy’s sake.) Very early on into the evening, it became impossible to learn any new names or remember where everyone you met had come from or how exactly they were working on or wanted to work on ocean issues. Regardless, all 100 of us selected were passionate about the oceans; the oceans were what brought us all together. I cannot tell you how amazing it was to be surrounded on all sides by fellow ocean lovers from such diverse backgrounds and places of origin who all came together for a common cause. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

The original Boho group ran up to the Hilton and got our badges after going through security. We then joined outside to take photos in front of the #OurOcean sign in the fountain and the Our Ocean illustrations everywhere. We then made our way across the hotel to a bar that was more reminiscent of the inside of a ship than a bar for the opening reception for the conference. The room was round and had the zodiac illustrated as if a night sky on the ceiling. On the walls were mirrors and inlays of ship motifs, while the floor was a giant marble compass rose.

We all got a drink, ate hors d’oeuvres (which there were not nearly enough of), and just spent the evening mingling and getting to know people. It was fantastic. People were from all different countries. There were a lot of Europeans, which makes sense because it was much easier for them to get a plane ticket to Malta: see Spanish, French, German, Danish, Serbian, Italian, British, Scottish, etc. There were a few Americans, mainly from D.C., California, and Duke University, to be specific. And there were also people from Thailand, Peru, and Brazil, among others. It was an incredibly diverse group of people.

Some individuals were still finishing their undergraduate degrees. Many had masters or were currently in the middle of pursuing masters in oceanography, marine biology, marine law and governance, and policy work. There was an economist, a few budding and full attorneys, and some engineers. Overall, the amount of diversity was one of the most inspiring things about the entire trip for me. Also, there was a freedom to follow one’s dreams, whether that meant moving to another country or learning another language or pursuing a completely different type of degree.

I realized that night at the reception that Americans tend to be close-minded about living in other places. I don’t know if close-minded is the right term, but Americans just don’t think about actually moving abroad and staying there for a number of years. It seems to me that many other countries, especially in the European Union (to be fair though, it is easier since their citizenship automatically enables them to work or go to school in any other EU country outside of their own), have a bigger sense of freedom about exploration. During this conference, I’ve met more people than I can count who have actually lived in more than two countries. To be fair, the individuals who attend an ocean conference in Malta are probably some of the most exploratory and open-minded individuals, so the conference definitely did have a demographic bias. Nonetheless, I have been so inspired.

The Boho group left back to our hostel shortly after 9:00pm. We were all exhausted and had to be up at 5:45 the next morning in order to make it to the conference in time. And thus, we walked back to the hostel, said goodnight, and fell immediately asleep.

 

19. The London Chronicles: Part VIII – Spain and Travels Home

I apologize for the delay in posting this final part! I wrote the last several blogs while in DC, but we’ve been visiting my family and friends in Albuquerque since last week and I really haven’t had a moment of downtime to write until now.

Wednesday, August 2nd
So we arrived in Madrid, Spain! Our plane landed around 11:00pm, so we couldn’t actually see much of the city except lights laid out below from the plane window. Our Uber driver was a Romanian who had initially come to Madrid for a girl and then never left. He gave us a drive-by tour of a lot of the big, important buildings we passed on the way to our Airbnb (with everything in Spanish, of course).

Our Airbnb was on the third floor of this apartment building that had the most southwestern wooden staircase that I have seen since I moved from the Southwest. The apartment itself was strangely reminiscent of our flat in London, with a red kitchen and everything. I suppose that’s part of the reason we chose it. But it was lovely. We were greeted by a cat looking at us from the apartment opposite us. The cat sat outside on the windowsill and just watched us as we got there. Ricardo and I talked well into the night and finally fell asleep around 3:00am or so.

Thursday, August 3rd
We were up at 11am in the sweltering heat. Man, Spain is hot. Spain is especially hot when it’s in the 90s and you’ve been in London where it’s been in the 60s and 70s for the past month. We didn’t know the area at all so we found breakfast at the second place we could, which was this Spanish diner run by Chinese people. I had a tortilla and toast. A tortilla in Spain is essentially an egg omelet filled with sliced potatoes. It was quite yummy.

Ricardo and I headed to Parque de El Retiro, which was probably around a mile away from where we were. On the way, we got sunscreen and slathered it on. I see now why everyone is so tan in Spain. The sun really is relentless. Once we got to the parque, Ricardo spent some time talking on the phone while I sketched a scene of the trees and grass. We then ventured further into the park and came across a magnificent and larger-than-life pond and fountain surrounded on two sides by little outdoor cafes and ice cream places. We got coke zeros and wandered towards the Palacio de Cristal and found the small modern art museum in the middle of the Parque.

The modern art museum looked like it used to be a station house or something of the sort. Inside, the building was just a series of enormous white spaces. There was one room with signs with different typefaces, and another with framed letters of the alphabet. Giant plush letters filled one part of the place while colorful fabrics and sticks made up some of the exhibits. Ricardo and I had a long discussion about modern art while we were there. Afterwards, we again entered the bloody hot sun and found the Palacio de Cristal (or Crystal Palace) right across the way. It was an absolutely beautiful building created completely out of steel framework and glass panels. You could see straight through the Palacio to the other side. The building – really, more a piece of art than anything – was surrounded by trees on all sides. A pond rippled in front and it was filled with turtles and giant carp fish and two black swans that glided around most majestically. Inside, the Palacio was even hotter than outside. Which makes sense. Essentially the Palacio was one giant greenhouse. Afterwards, we returned to the area in front of the giant fountain and got a luxurious, true Spanish lunch in one of the outdoor restaurants. We got “summer wine” (really delicious sangria), Russian salad, rice with spices and seafood, and olives. Everything was so savory and full of flavor. I was absolutely stuffed.

After lunch, Ricardo’s friend Gian Piero met us at the Parque. He’s one of Ricardo’s best friends and had just moved to Madrid a month or two before. He led us on a walking tour throughout many of central Madrid’s landmarks. We walked past the Museo de Prado, but didn’t go in because a) there was a super long line, and b) Ricardo and I were museumed out by that point. To be honest I still am museumed out. We saw Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor de Madrid, which were both enormous plazas with bricks underlying everything and a vicious sun beating down across all of it. Statues of famous generals and other such things stood proudly in the centers. We walked through large avenues and small side streets. We had to stop and get giant water bottles, one for each of us, at one point because it was just so hot that you have to drink a lot of water to even maintain a façade of health wellness.

We ended up seeing the remains of an old Islamic site, and we went inside the enormous, magnificent Catedral de al Almudena. The vaulted ceilings were painted in the most colorful, bold designs. My favorite part of the Catedral was the part of the ceiling right above the alter: vivid blues and whites and oranges made a sky filled with the sun and stars. The Catedral was lined with alcoves dedicated to different saints. Every saint statue or painting was created in a different artistic style. It was beautiful. And then we saw the Palacio Real, which is where the Spanish royalty used to live. We didn’t get a chance to go in because it was already closed. The Palacio was very reminiscent to me of Versailles, since it was lined with gold gilded gates. The main difference was that while Versailles was more white and orange on the outside, the Palacio was this beautiful pale blue color.

We did get a chance to walk through the Palacio gardens. In the gardens, a very strange little man walked up to us and asked if we spoke English (he was British), and since we did, he wanted to sing a song to us. We told him we didn’t have any money on us to give him (because we had never gotten euros), but he said he didn’t mind at all. He just wanted to sing to people. So he sang us this song for the longest 30 or 45 seconds of my life. None of the three of us knew where to look when he was singing. Finally, it ended and we thanked him and he thanked us for listening and then walked away to sing to someone else. It was very, very strange.

After the Palacio Real, Gian Piero, Ricardo, and I got churros con chocolate at the most famous churro place in Madrid which was called Chocolateria San Gines. So churros in Spain are very different from the cinnamon and sugar dusted churros we are used to in the States. In Spain, churros are just the fried pastries without any sugar or cinnamon and they are served three at a time with a melted cup of chocolate. The chocolate is not sweet, but it’s not bitter. It’s the perfect composition. So you dip your churro into the chocolate and eat it that way. It was very yummy, but I still think I’m partial to our cinnamon and sugar churros. After that, Gian Piero led the way across town again to this restaurant called Goiko Grill, where they had burgers and Venezuelan cuisine. Gian Piero’s girlfriend  Adrianamet us there as well and the four of us had the most delicious burgers. I was the only one of the four not from Venezuela, so I was the only one who didn’t know what food or appetizers where from Venezuela or not, but Ricardo was very excited about the food.

We didn’t get home until quite late but it was completely worth it. The area of town we were in was still bustling with people at 1:30 in the morning and apparently it is very normal for people to be up very late at night. I loved that part.

Friday, August 4th
Friday started with breakfast with Ricardo’s cousin who lives in Spain. The summer is the off season in Madrid, since everyone who lives in Madrid travels to the coasts and the beaches to escape from the heat. So there was hardly anything open, even though it was already past 9:00am. We passed by this really incredible building built in the early 1900s that was just covered with organic natural shapes like leaves and vines and flowers all sculpted right into the very walls. We eventually found a Parisian bakery place. It was charming. There were French hot air balloons hanging from the ceiling and there were pastries galore. We had the best breakfast of quiche and eggs and crepes there. His cousin has been living in Madrid for around a year and is an entrepreneur there. He gave us a lot of really insightful information into the lifestyle in Spain and the people and what sorts of things set Spain apart from other places. For instance, Spain is very laid back. Suddenly it made perfect sense to me why New Mexico is also laid back; many of the people who “founded” the culture in New Mexico came from Spain.

We spent some time back in our apartment in Madrid lounging around and taking naps. It was very reminiscent of a scene in For Whom the Bell Tolls (which I still haven’t finished reading; I really need to) that one of the women describes from her time vacationing in Madrid.

We then took the Metro out to the edge of Madrid where Gian Piero lives. As soon as we walked out of the metro station I was completely taken aback. It looked exactly like Albuquerque. The landscape was dry and barren with little shrubs and grasses in places, but not much more. The photo I took of the landscape looking at the highway looked exactly like I’d taken it in Albuquerque. It was the most surreal feeling I think I’ve ever experienced in my life. I was back in Albuquerque and yet I was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in a completely different country.

We hung out at Gian Piero’s apartment for some time. Ricardo and him played Super Smash Bros together while I read, and they taught me how to play after a little bit as well. (I was reading Love in the Time of Cholera while I was there, if you’re curious. It didn’t feel right to read a book about London while in Spain, but it felt very right to read a book in a Spanish place by a Spanish author while in Madrid. I loved the book. It was amazing. It weirdly felt like a kindred read to Lolita, which I’d read earlier during our travels. Both were very strange love stories, the likes of which I’d never read before.) After that, we went swimming in the pool. And then headed out to meet Adri at a fancy tapas bar in central Madrid. The tapas bar was three or four stories tall. The bottom level was more a restaurant where you ordered, but where we were on the second level you got your drinks (summer wine) from a waitress and then went around to all the tapas counters and got whatever you wanted from there. We got fish-topped crackers and Spanish tortillas and delicious food. The place had a giant stage where there was a DJ playing music, but apparently performers such as aerial silk artists sometimes perform there. It was a really lovely evening.

Saturday, August 5th
I woke up Saturday morning feeling very sick. Part of it was dehydration, part of it was my immune system had relaxed for the first time in months, and part of it was the dread of traveling for 36 hours that we were getting ready to face.

Firstly, Ricardo and I had to check out of our Airbnb, so we packed up all of our luggage and went to Adriana’s house to drop off our luggage there for a few hours. We went to a store around the corner to get me a gatorade or powerade for the electrolytes and I chugged it. Apparently when I had gotten to her house I was pale pale, and I began getting color back in my face after that powerade.

After that, Adri, Ricardo, and I headed over to this place that served Venezuelan arepas, where we met up with Gian Piero. I’ve only had arepas one other time at Raquel’s (Ricardo’s sister’s) house in New York. They’re essentially these really thick corn flour tortillas or pancakes in a way. You cut them open through the middle and then stuff them with anything from eggs to beef or chicken or anything in between. At the arepa place I got a tuna salad arepa and it was delicious. After arepas (where we watched this one little finch go around hopelessly pursuing a girl finch that kept rejecting him), we went to a frozen yogurt place down the road. It was delicious. Honestly, we had so much delicious food in Spain (qué sabroso!) that I was constantly full. I would get un-full enough to have another delicious meal and then was full again. Perpetual fullness everywhere.

After that, we went back to Adri’s, picked up our bags, and said goodbye before taking an Uber back to the airport. And thus started out day and a half travels back to D.C.

Saturday, August 5th/Sunday, August 6th: Perpetual Traveling
So we got to the airport in Madrid, got through security, and looked out at a landscape that looked like it could have been New Mexico. Our plane back to London was uneventful. We arrived at the London Gatwick airport to the south of London and got through customs. We then took the tube back to the Blackfriar station and got out to find somewhere to eat. We’d arrived in London around 8:00pm and since our plane the next morning left from London Heathrow at 5:30am, we decided to not get an Airbnb for the night and just camp out out the airport. So since we had plenty of time to get to the airport, we walked from Blackfriar’s towards Temple station until we found a lovely Italian restaurant where we decided to eat.

The meal was lovely. It was my first attempt in a month at eating healthy again. (I was doing a really good job of eating vegan since last January for environmental reasons, but it was impossible to do in London. Why deprive yourself of all the delicious meat pies and pub food while you’re in London?) The bathroom played classical music and it was a perfect, lovely meal to end our travels in Europe with.

We then made our way to Heathrow airport and got there around maybe 11:00pm. We camped out on a row of chairs by the entrance and took turns taking naps, charging phones, and reading books. Finally, around 3:00pm we checked in our luggage and got through security. Our first plane flew from London to Chicago. Even though we flew for around 8 hours, we were flying back in time so we got to the Chicago airport around 7:30am. I probably slept maybe an hour or two on that plane, which totaled to maybe three hours of sleep total in two days? We had to go through customs and security again in Chicago (and Ricardo had to throw away the sunscreen in his carry-on, which had already made it through security in Madrid AND in London). Our flight to DC was thankfully short and we made it back home by about 4:00pm.

Thus ended our travels in Europe.

Afterward
I’m still in disbelief that I got to visit three different countries (England, France, and Spain) and five different cities (London, Oxford, Paris, Dover, and Madrid) this summer. I had no idea I would get to travel so much. The most expensive part was that plane flight across the Atlantic. After you’re there, it’s so much cheaper to travel between countries. I have loved every moment of it and would move to Europe in a heartbeat if it was easy enough to do so. Ricardo has been the best travel companion one could ask for and I’m so lucky to have gotten to experience it all with him.

London is still my favorite city of all time. Paris came in second. Madrid came in third. I think DC is probably somewhere on the same level as Paris or Madrid. I have so many photos that I may or may not ever publish them all somewhere. But regardless, it was an amazing trip.

If you’ve been reading all these travel blogs (which I know from talking to some of you that you are), I’m really glad you have. You’re the best. Thanks for sticking through this trip with me!

18. The London Chronicles: Part VII

Sunday, July 30th
After we arrived back in London from Dover, it was only noon. We went to the King’s College library straightaway so Ricardo could borrow a computer. After that, we studied at The Press, which was the really hipster-y coffee shop I fell in love with the week before. Ricardo went back to the library to continue studying; I joined him a few hours later after the coffee shop closed. We both continued studying and writing at the library until late, since our Human Rights & Human Trafficking final was the next morning. We had a nice dinner at The George and went home for more studying.

Monday, July 31st
We were up early and had a good breakfast before heading to Swan House. Since there were more people in our HR & HT class than there were tables, everyone voted Ricardo and I to sit at the same table for the exam. Oh my goodness, that exam was two hours long and handwritten. Thus far, my shortest law school exam has been around 4 hours long and all of them have been typed. To say that two hours for this handwritten test was too short a time is a gross understatement. My hand was cramping so badly by trying to fit so much information in such a short period of time that there were times I literally could not feel my hand or my wrist. But overall I think the exam went well!

After the exam, four of us girls went to go get lunch at Eats while Ricardo went to return the laptop at the library. He joined us for lunch a little later. After lunch, Ricardo and I crossed the river towards the colorful pier we had visited before. We went back to Foyles bookstore so I could go buy the remaining three books in this series that I had been reading called the Onyx Court. I had simply devoured the first book. It was the perfect series to read while in London because it was about the historical court (at least in the first book) of Elizabeth I, while at the same time the intrigues of the faerie court that lay beneath the surface of London.

We walked to the Tate and studied for a time with tea and scones in their tearoom that overlooks the Thames. What a wonderful place to study. The view – six stories up – is simply breathtaking. We also finally did the research to determine exactly which bridge in London was the bridge that death eaters blew up in Pt. 1 of the Deathly Hallows. It was, in fact, the bridge laid out right below us. Watching that scene with Saint Paul’s Cathedral in the back and then looking out across the actual scene in front of us was so incredibly awesome.

I returned to The Press for studying (since I work best at coffee shops with ambient noise), while Ricardo returned to the library (since he studies best at the library). We studied for several more hours in town before returning back home for further studying.

Tuesday, August 1st
Early Tuesday morning, Ricardo left for the library since his paper was due that evening. I studied at home for a while for our Corporations final that afternoon and then eventually left for Café Nero, my typical haunt.

After our Corporations final (multiple choice and so much harder because of it), I walked to the National Gallery in Tralfagar Square since I’d never been. Ricardo had to work on his paper for the rest of the evening so I had the day to wander around. In Tralfagar Square, before I entered the museum, there was a classical guitarist playing music. He was incredible. His name was Tom Ward and he really knew what he was doing. He introduced every song he played with some classical music history. The street artists in London are truly amazing. They are all trained musicians and you know they know what they’re doing. Oh, he was wonderful. It took me a good ten minutes to even leave the crowd listening to him and get to the museum. The National Gallery was incredible, but to be terribly honest, I’d seen so many art museums and museums in general over the past month that I more or less walked through a lot of it without spending too much time in any particular gallery. I did get a lovely snack in the café and got a bit of time to catch up on correspondence with some of my dear friends that I haven’t had a chance to talk to all month.

When the National Gallery closed, I walked down towards Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, got a sandwich at one of the local coffee chains, and spent some time just watching the Thames and taking artsy pictures of the London Eye. I took a photo for some tourists and they all thought I was a London native, which was pretty cool. On the way towards the library, I stopped for a bit in a park and ended up talking to this 17-year-old girl who was going through some issues. I think she honestly just wanted to talk to someone. So we talked for a good 20 or 30 minutes before I headed out again. I talked to Ricardo for a bit at the library and then headed on home to read books.

Wednesday, August 2nd
We got up fairly early and spent a majority of the morning packing. It’s amazing how much you can take over a flat by living there for a month. The thing that was hardest to pack was honestly all the books. I probably had bought at least 10 books myself over the course of the month. Regardless, I’m so glad we spent the time packing then.

As it was our last afternoon in London, we set out for Greenwich and took a tube into a part of the city we had never visited before. It’s a pity we waited so long to venture that direction, because it was really a lovely part of the city. Once we disembarked at the Greenwich station, we found our way to the Greenwich pier, were there was a magnificent ship on land and next to it stood a sweet carousel. The pier itself had flower beds everywhere, including flower beds of mountain flowers from Skyrim. Or at least flowers that looked remarkably like mountain flowers in Skyrim. There was a pub there called the Gipsy Moth, and while we loved the name, they served mainly burgers and it didn’t feel right to eat burgers the last day in London. We headed towards the Greenwich park and found a place called the Spanish Galleon; this was ironic because the Spanish Galleon was apparently the oldest English brewery in the area. We had lovely chicken and leek pies there and it was the best last day feast.

By then it had started to rain. We hurried towards Greenwich park and saw the little church where Henry VIII had been baptized. By the time we got to the park it was pouring rain, so we made our way to the National Maritime Museum on the north end of the park. A giant ship in a bottle stood at the entrance. Inside the museum there were actual figureheads that had really seen history, stories of people sailing to the poles of the earth, and replicas of the White Cliffs of Dover. The gift shop’s selection of books covered so many subjects that I’m fascinated by that I could have easily bought half the books there. But being as we were already out of room for any more books, I had to resist.

We left the National Maritime Museum, picked up our luggage at our flat, and said goodbye to our flat in Whitechapel forever. I am relieved to never have to go back to that particular area of London. I love London and it is my favorite city in the world, but Whitechapel is far from my favorite neighborhood. After leaving Whitechapel, Ricardo and I took a train down south to the Gatwick airport and made our way to Spain!

 

 

17. The London Chronicles: Part VI – Dover

Alright. So here’s the special edition on Dover.

Background on Dover. Ricardo and I had already planned to go to Paris. That was the only trip outside of London that we had planned for when we initially got to London. At some point along the way we decided to go to Dover and booked train tickets and a little bed and breakfast place. So the last weekend before exams found us in Dover. I will definitely admit that it was very nice to stay in some small town in the English countryside at least once during our trip.

Friday, July 28th
I left off the last blog post at King’s Cross and getting on the train to Dover. The train ride to Dover was very nice and not too long. It took us maybe an hour and a half to get there? As soon as we exited the train at the station, the cool sea breeze and the low-lying fog on all sides hit us and it was magical. I love the ocean, and I could sense the ocean was near.

We started walking towards the bed and breakfast place we’d booked at and on the way hardly nothing was open for food. We passed one open gas station and one pub that had stopped serving food an hour or two before. And mind you, it was only 8:00pm there. When we were getting close to our destination, we finally found this Italian restaurant that was warming and welcoming. We got red wine and spaghetti with shellfish and it was one of the best meals I have had in a very long time. Admittedly, we did smell of garlic for a day afterwards. But hey, at least we were protected from vampires!

We finally got to our b&b right before the check-in time ended. It was a lovely house two houses down from a local tattoo parlour that was also in a lovely house. The hostess was this very sweet older woman who had just finished getting a teaching degree and had been running this whole b&b business for some time. We had the garden room, which was this cozy sweet room that overlooked the beautiful garden in the backyard and had a whole dining table and chairs and baskets for tea and coffee tucked away in the corner. I slept so well that night.

Saturday, July 29th
Saturday began bright and not-too-early with delicious English breakfasts brought straight to our room. Warm toast with butter and jam and eggs and beans and tomatoes and mushrooms and ham and so much goodness all contained so well. We were told that it was supposed to start raining around 2pm, so we decided to try to walk to the top of the White Cliffs of Dover first and then head to the castle. Well we started walking and on the map it showed that we were over 3 miles away. People kept telling us we could walk but the road we were supposed to take had no sidewalk. People in front of us kept walking and people behind us passed us but there really just didn’t seem to be a good way to get up there. We did follow a path and ended up at a “cliff edge” that was hidden by a great deal of foliage. So while we didn’t get to see the actual cliffs, we did get to find a hidden faerie glade in the middle of the woods outside of Dover.

On the way up to the “cliffs”, we passed the Dover Castle and a whole bunch of sheep that were grazing! They were so funny. I’ve never seen so many sheep up close like that before. Of course I would get to see sheep in the English countryside. After we get back from our mini hiking trek, we headed straight down the road to the castle. There were more sheep on the way there, but for the most part they’d disappeared from the main road where we had first seen them.

The castle itself was amazing. We’d already seen the Tower of London in London, but the Tower is a fortress, not a true castle. This was a true castle. (I’ve seen one other true castle in Edinburgh over two years ago.) We arrived at the castle just after they had opened so there weren’t many people yet. The day we were there happened to be a “Peasant Life” day or somewhat of the sort, so there were people dressed up in middle ages garb going about their respective jobs in the castle. We talked to the executioner right towards the entrance of the castle who laughed that the place we came from didn’t exist yet. He wasn’t wrong.

The first thing we did in the castle was go on a tour of the hospital tunnels. So something I didn’t know about the Dover Castle is it was also an important base during WWI. The movie Dunkirk (which recently came out and which I have not seen yet) was around the area. So within the walls and caverns around the castle they had built bunkers for the soldiers and an underground military hospital. There were two tours possible: a tour of the underground bunkers and a tour of the military hospital. The tour for the bunkers took twice as long as the tour for the hospital and had a much longer line. It was already 11:00am and at noon there was going to be a presentation by the same executioner we had run into that Ricardo wanted to go to, so we did the hospital tour. It was intriguing. The thought of people living down there in the dark with spotty electricity (due to the ongoing air raids) was powerful. It really did take you back to the time of WWI and at least get a slight bit of an idea of what life was like back then. After we finished that tour we found the military outpost where the military kept a lookout for foreign ships on the horizon.

At noon, we went to the executioner’s show. After that, we explored the central castle, complete with room replicas everywhere. The kitchens looked almost exactly like something you would find in Skyrim. There was a cauldron set up over a fire, baskets of fruits and vegetables, and barrels of food. Ricardo and I sat in the throne room upon the thrones set up there and gazed out above the land and sea from windows high up in the castle. After we explored the medieval castle, we went to the restaurant within the castle grounds that contained a giant cannon. We had delicious chicken and leek pies with potatoes and beans. English food really is amazing.

By the time we had finished eating, it had begun to pour down rain outside. It was almost 2:00pm on the dot, so the weather predictions in Dover really are excellent. By that time, we’d seen everything in the castle that we were interested in (aka we saw all the medieval castle stuff and had seen all either of us cared to see of WWI relics). So Ricardo and I headed home in the beautiful British rain. We passed spiderwebs in blankets of ivy along stone walls and outposts of the castle that looked almost as wonderfully magical and medieval as the castle itself had. Luckily our b&b was almost a straight shot down the road so we didn’t get lost on the way down. We were very drenched when we finally got back to our room though so we curled up in lots of layers of warm clothes and took a nice long nap.

We spent the rest of the afternoon studying. The landlady had recommended the pub across the street to us as the oldest pub in Dover and said it was really worth going to. So come evening, we headed over to the White Horse and discovered that this pub was actually the famous pub of the Channel Swimmers. All the walls and ceiling of the place were covered in markered-in names of swimmers who had swum across the English Channel. Most of the signatures included details, such as time of the swim, what date the swim had taken place on, the location of the swimmer, and other such quirks. It was really something to see. Almost as soon as we sat down at a little table in the corner I spotted a channel swimmer signature from a swimmer from Albuquerque, New Mexico. I swear, New Mexico really does follow you around.

For all of the White Horse’s charms, it didn’t have any food, so Ricardo and I set out in the direction of the Burger King that was supposedly open. It was dark outside and we got to see the White Cliffs of Dover – at least the ones that look across the town – from below. The stars were beautiful. And suddenly I heard the sound of waves crashing upon the beach. There, to our right, was the beach we had looked upon by day from the seat of the Dover Castle. Me being me, of course I had to get closer to the ocean. There was a flight of concrete stairs leading down to the beach, so I started to walk down them. About four stairs down suddenly the steps became unbearably slippery with seaweed underfoot. The moment I realized this was the moment I first stepped on a slippery step and my foot went flying out from underneath me. I fell down that step on my butt and continued thumping down a good half dozen steps before I could finally stop myself. Ricardo, who was a step behind me, called out to me to be careful the moment I slipped and within another moment was thumping down beside me. Luckily neither of us was hurt (R.I.P. technology). We spent some time out on the rocky beach staring out at the beautiful ocean. It was so beautiful. There’s something so peaceful and strong and absolutely transfixing to me about the crashing of waves onto the shore. Afterwards, I still had to walk back up the stairs barefoot because it was too slippery to traverse in shoes. I learned my lesson that night. Don’t go running down to the ocean on stairs in the middle of the night if you don’t know whether or not there’s seaweed there. Or at least don’t do so if you care about not falling.

And when we got home we discovered the seats of our pants were completely green with seaweed and moss.

Sunday, July 30th
Our breakfast started at a somewhat bright but definitely early 7:30 in the form of the same delicious breakfast as the day before. We packed up and checked out and walked right back to the ocean that had so taunted us the night before. The shore by day in Dover is at least as beautiful as the shore by night. Oh, I could watch that beautiful, sparkling ocean forever, if given the choice.

We walked back to Dover Priory (the train station) and from there took a train back to the Blackfrier Station in London.  Thus ends Dover. It was lovely.

 

 

16. The London Chronicles: Part V

Monday, July 24th
Okay, honestly, our Monday after coming back from Paris wasn’t all that exciting. We went to our two classes (complete with normal coffee shop stop at Café Nero in the back of the bookstore between classes, as always) and had a lot of homework to work on for the coming week. But since we were hungry after Corporations, we decided to go to the City of Yorke.

Now the City of Yorke is a pub probably four doors down from Swan House on High Holborn. The sign is a golden shield with “City of Yorke” proudly painted in gothic letters. The gothic lettering of the “Y” looks so much like a “D” that the first day we were there, Ricardo called it the “City of Dorke”. And ever since then we’ve wanted to stop at the City of Dorke.

Needless to say, we went in and were greeted by this pub that looks small before you enter but after you make it past the hallway opens into a large room with a high ceiling. There were lots of little cubby tables around the edges and one of these is where we sat. I got a delicious mushroom and goat cheese pie? It was so good.

And then we went home and studied for the rest of the evening.

Tuesday, July 25th
On Tuesday, as we made our way from the Strand building and Human Rights & Human Trafficking up Chancery Lane (the law capital of London) towards Swan House on High Holborn, we detoured and went to this little coffee shop called The Press. I had kept seeing it every day but we had never stopped in there. I’m so glad we did stop that day. It was this little hipster bar with typewriters on the walls and the most delicious chai latte you ever did have. We had a lovely little break with said chai and a flat white (a favorite in London) and pastries.

After Corporations, the law program had set us up a Tour of Parliament. Most everyone in the program went, so we all gathered at Swan House and set off towards the famous Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. (In case of any confusion, Big Ben is the clock on Elizabeth Tower which is part of Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey is adjacent to Houses of Parliament. They look much the same because the same architect built them both, or modeled Houses of Parliament after Westminster Abbey. One or the other. I can’t remember which.) Houses of Parliament was amazing. No photos were allowed. There were portraits of English royalty everywhere and I realized during that trip exactly how much I know of the Tudors and that period of British history. And also how woefully ignorant I am about any other point in British history. The architecture was beautiful. The House of Commons is on the other side of the building from the House of Lords, and the House of Lords is all red while the House of Commons is green. We learned about the voting system there and got to see Theresa May’s box where she receives her daily mail and updates. The whole experience was pretty amazing.

After Parliament, Ricardo and I headed just across the Thames and past the Tate museum to Shakespeare’s Globe. I had gotten sitting tickets for Much Ado About Nothing weeks before. The Globe was so much more than I could have even expected. The outside was full of these semi-artificial painted trees that were so full and rich in their prop production that they simply added to the magic of the whole place, as did the strings of colored lights everywhere. “LOVE” was written in big colorful letters on the side of the theatre as part of the theatre’s Summer of Love theme. (The whole city of London embraced the Summer of Love theme for gay pride; signs of such celebration and rainbows were seen everywhere throughout the summer.) We were up in the very right-hand corner of the second level of chairs. You could get standing tickets for five euros and stand right up close to the stage like the commoners back in the days of Shakespeare, but I was very lazy and wanted to sit for the play.

As soon as we walked into the theatre (which was open to the elements, by the way), the first thing I saw was a giant logo for “Santa Fe R.R.” on the side of a boxcar. Oh my goodness, I found it hilarious. New Mexico even follows me to the Globe Theatre in London. The whole stage was set up in Hispanic Mexican style, as the whole play – all with the original Shakespeare script – was set in the time of the Mexican Revolution. It was absolutely fantastic.

After the play, Ricardo and I walked across the Harry Potter bridge that the Death Eaters tear down at the beginning of Deathly Hallows Pt. 1. Right on the other side of that bridge was Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The cathedral looked so much like the U.S. Capital that I was suddenly very confused about how I’d gotten back to D.C. from London in the blink of an eye. On the other side of Saint Paul, we met up with several of our classmates as it was two of their birthdays and they were on the tail end of having a night out to celebrate. We all walked around for a good half an hour or forty-five minutes together, found that everywhere was closed, and we headed home.

Wednesday, July 26th
Between classes while Ricardo and I were at Café Nero, we decided that we would spend the few extra days we had before I started EIW interviews (since we had three or so extra days) in Madrid. So the entire luncheon time was a frenzy of rearranging flight tickets home, getting tickets to and from Madrid, and booking an Airbnb for Madrid. It was such a great decision.

After Corporations ended, I dressed up quickly and met Julie so we could go have high tea! She’s the only other person (other than Ricardo, obviously) that I knew going into the London program since we were both Section 3ers. A week or so before London, Julie had asked me if I wanted to go get high tea on July the 26th since she had to make reservations a month ahead of time. I’m so glad she looked into it.

The place Julie and I got tea at was called Sketch and I have to say it was one of the coolest, most bizarre experiences I had while in London. You walk into this very modern-seeming place with a piano covered in pink neon lights that plays by itself, you’re ushered into this very pink, very fancy room lined with pink cushiony chairs on all sides, and you look closer at the walls and realize this place is very different from what you first thought. Tons of sketches were framed on the walls on all sides and they said things like “PENIS” with a sketch of a tree, or a T-Rex saying that he’d pooped a lot. The sketches were hilarious and so random and so absolutely inappropriate that it made the whole experience that much more memorable. We had a huge selection of teas to choose from. When they brought the tea to us, the teapots were white with labels of “Ghost” on them while the teacups had “Just forget about it” on the inside. All the ceramic pottery used was the same way. There was a Caviar Man that came and brought caviar around to each table as the appetizer. He was dressed in a pink suit and had a straw hat and waxed moustache. I swear to you I have never seen a man at his job more fawned over than the Caviar Man was fawned over at multiple different tables while we were there.

The multi-layered tray of finger sandwiches, pastries, and bubble-gum-rose marshmallows looked absolutely delicious and tasted even more delicious. I was ready to explode by the time we’d finished eating everything.

And the bathrooms. Oh, the bathroom. So you walk into these double doors and suddenly there’s a large round staircase leading up both to the left and the right while in the middle of the staircase is a small, tucked away bar area. You ascend the staircase and are greeted with a completely white room with stained glass square colored skylights and giant eggs everywhere. You open the door to one of these eggs, walk inside, and go to the bathroom in a giant egg. You can literally poop in a giant egg there. (That thought was so funny to me that I had to write it down.) And then after you exit your giant egg you find one of the many Victorian sinks along the wall. Man, that was a zany bathroom.

After tea, Julie and I said goodbye and I found my way to this giant toy store called Hamlin’s. It just looked too cool from the outside that I had to go in. That toy store was at least five stories tall and had literally everything I have ever wanted from infomercials over the course of my life in there. They also had an entire floor dedicated to the Noble Collection, which I didn’t find out about until after I left. This was all by the Oxford Circus area, so I walked past many a fine clothing store while heading home. I finally made it home to where Ricardo was studying and read books and studied together for the rest of the evening.

Thursday, July 27th
On Thursday, it was starting to get to be crunch time. Ricardo had a paper due on the 1st of August, which was also the day of our second exam. So after we got done with our two classes (we always got done at 3:30pm every day), Ricardo headed to the library to work on said paper and I headed to the Victoria & Albert Museum for the last hour or so before they closed. I spent a good while in a room full of sculptures and sketched a beautiful torso sculpture that was there. I got a scone and a glass of wine and spent a lovely half an hour reading and eating underneath enormous chandeliers in the grand café. I spent a little bit of time outside in the massive courtyard where a wading pool and fountain entertained children and adults alike. The children all waded in the wading pool and splashed around with joy while the adults merely satisfied themselves with putting their bare feet in the pool from the sides. Honestly, I think every person in that courtyard really wanted to go play in the water. It’s such a pity that adulthood makes us so dignified that we can’t go have joyous fun when it’s right there in front of us.

[Rewind to before the Victoria & Albert Museum:] I said goodbye to Ricardo at Swan House and started walking towards the Holborn station by myself. As I was rounding the corner of the street, I saw a man that I thought looked like Benedict Cumberbatch. He was wearing exercise clothing and holding a shopping bag while smoking a cigarette. I was pretty sure it was him. To my surprise, he entered the station right behind me and went through one of the turnstiles right before me. It was most definitely Benedict Cumberbatch. I couldn’t be a creeper and take a photo (and it was obvious he was trying to avoid attention; he kept his head down and kept looking left and right to see if he was recognized), but I wish I could have. We went down the same elevator and both of us got on the Picadilly Line, even though he went the opposite way. That was my major celebrity sighting in London!

Earlier in the day, I had gotten tickets to An American in Paris, which was to be playing at the Dominion Theatre. So I found myself at the nearest tube station and walked through Chinatown (a cool, accidental find) and this Harry Potter themed store that was all about the graphic designers who had designed Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes, for instance. It was so cool. I still had an hour before I could even go pick up tickets so I finally found a pub with seating and food and got an appetizer and read until it was time to go to the theatre.

An American in Paris was fantastic. I’ve heard a lot about it but really didn’t know any specifics. It was essentially a musical ballet or a ballet musical. One or the other. One of the two main girls was a beautiful ballerina who did sing a little bit, but mainly danced, while the other main girl was just a singer. The whole thing was incredible and I’m so glad I went. It was especially neat since I recognized most of the places they were talking about simply because I myself had gone to Paris less than a week before. Had I seen the show before that trip, I wouldn’t have understood nearly as much geographically!

Friday, July 28th
Second celebrity sighting in two days! I’m pretty positive I saw Maisie Williams walking past me on the way to my first class in the Strand Friday morning. I’m pretty positive it was her. I really lucked out with celebrity sightings while in London. Did I mention that at some point during our trip Ricardo and I had to stop before crossing the road at a light and wait for a while because the King and Queen of Spain and their caravan of cars and security passed in front of us?

Friday was our last day of classes. A month of classes went by so, so very quickly. Human Rights & Human Trafficking was wonderful since we mainly had a day of questions and answers and threads of topics that didn’t necessarily have to do with human rights specifically but linked up, whether by international law or some other means. I guess I should take a bit of time to talk about the classes now. Our professor for HR & HT was named Klaus, and he is from Berlin, Germany, where he currently teaches and is Vice President at Frau University and is also a judge. He was a wonderful, wonderful professor. I really admire him. He was funny and made everything we discussed in class incredibly interesting. He really cared about our learning and gave us excellent advice for the duration of the summer program on great things to do in London.

Between classes Ricardo and I had our last lunch and coffee/tea time at the Café Nero in the back of Blackstone Books. I bought so many books while in London and read four of them over the duration of a month. That’s a rather impressive amount if you consider how many hundreds of pages of homework we had on top of just being in London in the first place. Regardless, I bought many books at Blackstone over the summer. Perks of having a bookstore/coffee shop a block away from one of your classrooms!

After Corporations, which was a short review day, several of us went to… Petticoat Lane? Some Lane that was close by to go to this café that had Strawberry Champagne ice cream. And true to the café’s word, their ice cream (which also included marmalade and some orange chocolate ice cream) was deliciously yummy. On the way to the ice cream place, Ricardo and I spotted a barbershop, so Ricardo also got a haircut! It wouldn’t be worth mentioning except that we’d looked for a barbershop off and on the entire time we were in London.

After finishing at the café, we all headed down to The Old Bank of England, where the program head (with Klaus’ help) had set up a program happy hour for us all. Being as there were 19 students, 3 professors, and 1 program head, everyone knew everyone by the end of the summer and I really do feel closer to this group than I have so far to any other group in law school. A bit of a digression. Anyways, on one of our first days in London, Ricardo had spotted the Old Bank of England and had talked about maybe opening a bank account there, just for the sake of opening a bank account in London. We walked in and discovered it was not a bank but a pub instead. So I’m glad the happy hour there happened because we had enough time to discover that it was actually a wonderful place.

From the Bank of England, Ricardo and I headed straight to King’s Cross/Saint Pancras to catch our train to Dover!

 

15. The London Chronicles: Part IV – Paris

Firstly, I know I’m super behind on these travel blogs. As of the moment I’m typing this line, I’m already back in the States and will probably be back in DC by the time I post this. So much has happened, but I promise I will get it all down!

(Editing update: I am indeed back home in D.C. at the time of publishing this post.)

This here is a special edition blog on Paris. Firstly, Paris is amazing. Secondly, we were only there for three days. Thirdly, we did a ton while we were there. So hopefully this blog doesn’t end up being too lengthy.

Thursday, July 20th
So the whole Paris adventure starts with Ricardo and I running, quite literally running, through King’s Cross/Saint Pancras to try to get to our train on time. We made it and checked in literally a minute before the gates closed for check-in. We went through two levels of passport control and basic security before finally making it onto the Eurostar. We slept for a good hour or so and read books and wrote the rest of the trip.

We made it to Paris and arrived at the Gare du Nord station late in the evening. We could not find a free bathroom within the station (since they all made you pay euros and we had no cash) and so we went to Burger King across the street and got French fries in France to use a French bathroom. It was a very impressive entry into Paris.

We took the underground Metró to the Marais district where our Airbnb was located. We found a nice Parisian restaurant almost immediately and ordered escargot (which I’ve never had before), onion soup (not French onion, because we were in France), and two coke zeros (our joint soda of choice). The coke zeros came out in glass bottles with accompanying glasses of ice with lemons and long spoons. The escargot came out in a little tray with indentations for the shells – which were beautiful – and had either 6 or 8 escargot all filled with pesto sauce. You pick up a snail shell with this reverse claw grabber and then take this little tiny fork, dig out the snail meat, and then pop the whole snail body into your mouth. Oh my garlic, escargot is absolutely delicious. I could eat it every day. Also, the coke zeros cost more than the escargot did; we found this was a trend in France and eventually started avoiding sodas because they cost more than a glass of wine, for instance.

On the way to our Airbnb, we got sidetracked by the beautiful Hotel de Ville which was lit up in the night. From the plaza in front of the Hotel de Ville, we could see the bell tower of Notre Dame. We immediately beelined our way to Notre Dame. Notre Dame was incredible. Even at 11:30 at night, there were people. After Notre Dame, we walked along the Seine towards our apartment and oh how the bridge lights illuminated the river. As soon as I saw that vision, I understood why France was perfect for the Impressionists. The photo I took of that river and the bridge over it looked exactly like an impressionist painting. The entire picture was complete with a street musician playing an accordion down on the nearest street corner.

We finally made it to our Airbnb. I loved it immediately. You entered through a nondescript green door right in between two shops and entered this hallway that led to this sweeping wooden staircase. Right at the bottom of the staircase there was an open door that led into this little, tranquil courtyard filled with plants and a table and chairs and a fountain. The courtyard was surrounded on all sides by the walls of several floors of flats. Our little Paris apartment was on the second floor. It was a single room divided into bedroom and kitchen by a half wall. There were plants and large windows that opened down into the courtyard. There was no normal door to the bathroom, but instead the bathroom was separated from the bedroom by two swinging saloon-type doors. The little flat was lovely and I fell in love with it immediately. I would move there in a heartbeat.

Friday, July 21st
Friday morning started off with lovely sunlight streaming in the windows. We got breakfast of egg sandwiches, cappuccinos, and a Nutella crepe at a little café and then ate along the bank of the Seine. It was lovely. After eating, we walked back to Notre Dame, which was right across the Seine from where we were staying. The cathedral is even more magnificent during the day and the gargoyles are hilarious. There was such a long line to get into Notre Dame that we decided to not go on; when you have two days in Paris, several hours waiting in line is not a good time investment.

Our next goal was the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower was a bit over two miles away so we decided to walk. We saw the Eiffel Tower and the beautiful park in front of it and it was everything I could have imagined. You always see pictures of these iconic, famous monuments, but I swear to you the Eiffel Tower is so much more magnificent than it appears in photos. After we took pictures with the sunny, blue sky behind the tower, we headed in the direction of the Louvre. On the way, we got lunch at this supposedly fancy French restaurant where we got salmon salad and very, very smelly cheeses with crackers. I can’t way I was a fan, honestly.

After lunch – and on the way to the Louvre – we walked down the Champs-Elysees and got a Nutella crepe (delicious) on the way. We saw the Petite Palais and the Grande Palais from the outside, and I must admit the Petite Palais is by far my favorite of the two. It was just as elegant and beautiful but on a less grand and haughty scale. Ricardo and I sat down in the grass next to a fountain between the two palaces and spent a good hour or two dreaming about the future and what possibilities it could possibly hold.

More walking! We walked through the very large and very beautiful, sprawling Jardin des Tuileries, which were these magnificent gardens with lawn chairs and hedges with secret passages and flowers and a Ferris wheel, all leading up to the Louvre. Then the Louvre. We managed to get there at the perfect time when there was very little line indeed. You know the famous glass pyramid? The entrance is down through that pyramid and into this grand foyer-type area that then leads to many offshoots. The Louvre itself is so huge it sprawls longer than I dare estimate. As the Louvre is so big though, we just prioritized the few things we really had to see. As such, we beelined towards the Mona Lisa, found the magnificent Winged Victory (which is one of my two favorite statues), actually got to see the small but absolutely captivating Mona Lisa, and on the way out saw my other favorite statue Eros & Psyche. The entire museum was amazing, and had we had more than two days in Paris, I would have loved to spend an entire day exploring. Before we headed out of the Louvre, we had a small luncheon at the rooftop café and sat amidst statues of old French kings while looking over the plaza below.

After the Louvre, we headed north towards Montmarte. We passed the Paris Opera House on the way up there and I finally got the chance to see the Moulin Rouge. We got delicious gelato (by courtesy and suggestion of Ricardo’s mom) in Montmarte and saw the Montmarte Cemetery from an overlook on a bridge. We would have actually gone into the cemetery, but it had closed already since sunset was soon approaching. Regardless, the graves and mausoleums all piled on top of each other made for the most beautiful cemetery I have ever seen.

We climbed up a large hill and countless stairs to the Sacre-Coeur, which was a magnificent little cathedral that literally looked out over all of Paris. The inside of the cathedral was lovely, and the view was breathtaking. People sat on that grassy hill right below the cathedral simply to look out at all of Paris laid out below.

We ended our first full day in Paris by getting McDonald’s. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do!

Saturday, July 22nd
Saturday started out with breakfasts of eggs and bread with jam and butter at this little place across the street. Our main goal of the day was to see Versailles, so we got on the metro and took about an hour or more to get to the outskirts of Paris where Versailles is located. We already had our tickets, so we got a small lunch of sandwiches at a tourist trap nearby. After getting into the main gates of Versailles, we spent an hour and a half in line in the middle of the cobblestones surrounded by gilded fences of gold on all side, all to get into the actual palace. It worked well though; I had time to read my book and Ricardo had time to look over some philosophy.

Once we got into the actual palace, it was completely worth the hour and a half wait. Versailles was magnificent. Gilded gold and white surfaces everywhere, marble or wood floors (depending on what level you were at), and magnificent paintings and chandeliers adorning every wall and ceiling. Upstairs there were rooms all colored in themes, so the pink room had magenta pink wall hangings, curtains, and velvet wallpaper, while the green room had all the same items matching, just in apple green. The famous Hall of Mirrors, which I’ve read about so often when I was younger, was breathtaking. Photos simply can’t do it justice. We had a lovely luncheon tea of quiche and this fancy symmetrical cream pastry and wine and tea. I sketched one of the chandeliers in the dining room while we were waiting to eat.

After eating, we ventured into the Gardens of Versailles. And oh, they were magnificent. That day was one of the special summer days of Musical Gardens; this meant some of the largest fountains had shows where the fountain waters were set to grand classical music, and classical music issued from many different hedges and walkways. We explored through some of the different sections of the gardens – for it was divided into large rectangles with themes – like children, I taught Ricardo how to waltz and we waltzed down one of the boulevards, and we pretended to be statutes on an empty statue base. There was a large lake in the middle of the gardens and we discovered that this lake rented out rowboats for an hour. How often do you get to row on a rowboat on a lake in Versailles? So we rowed out and had a really lovely hour in the midst of this quiet little lake, surrounded on all sides by trees and Versailles and little ducks and a family of swans and cygnets.

After disembarking from the rowboat, we got kicked out of the gardens along with everyone else, for security was starting to set up for some large event that was happening there that night. We ran to Marie Antoinette’s estate a good bit off to make it in before they closed and we made it there within 5 minutes of them shutting the doors. The estate was small, but I’m so glad we saw it. When you first enter, there’s this little courtyard and it was literally the closest thing to a fairy tale setting that I have ever seen in my life. Rose bushes and trees filled the open space, while a little bird’s house hung from an overhanging rooftop edge. The inside of the estate was just as stunning, if a tad more simple, than the overly ornate main palace.

We got dinner at this place called the Americain. The menus had photos of some of the United States’ most popular presidents and the outside had vintage tin Coca Cola advertisements. I got the best chicken fajitas I think I’ve ever had and Ricardo got a crazy delicious burger that I think might have been called the Obama burger. We got pina coladas and apple pie for dessert and the irony is that one of our best meals in Paris was American themed.

We took the hour-long train home and relaxed for a bit before heading out to this jazz club Ricardo knew about that was just on the other side of Notre Dame and the Seine from where our Airbnb was located. The place was called Le Caveau de la Huchette and was very much a local secret. (Ricardo had been to Paris several years ago and found out about it then.) This club was two levels: the first level was a bar lit by stained glass lamps and had a couch extending across one whole wall, while the lower level was an underground dance place. The whole building had once been a prison back during the French Revolution and had been converted to a jazz bar. All the walls, especially on the lower level, were the same stone walls with engravings and cubbies carved out from the prison. A live jazz band played on a stage in one corner and the whole floor in front of them was taken over by whomever felt like dancing. The whole place reeked of the clean sweat of people dancing and it was such an experience to get to dance there in their midst to a jazz band while in Paris.

We wandered through a few streets after leaving Le Caveau and got another Nutella crepe on the way. I have to mention the absolutely terrible street artists who were trying to beatbox and dance to it on the corner. They were so bad the police literally showed up to make them stop.

Sunday, July 23rd
We were up early on Sunday to check out of our Airbnb. We left straight to the Musee d’Orsay, which was the Parisian art museum with most of the Impressionists. I got to see Monets, Degas, and Van Goghs, with my most favorites of course being some of Degas’ dancer paintings. Some of them were so tiny!

Afterwards, we met up with one of Ricardo’s old friends who lives in Paris. We had a lovely lunch and I learned a lot about life in Paris and how different law degrees and education is in France compared to the US. Yannis took us on a small walking tour through the intellectual capital of Paris and we got to see cafes where famous writers through the years have worked. The old church the three of us had coffee across from was the center of what would bud into Paris’ intellectual corner. For the life of me I cannot remember what that church was called.

After Yannis departed, Ricardo and I went to the Gardens of Luxemburg. I sketched a scene at the Fountaine Medicis where a delightful quintuplet of ducklings and their parents were swimming to and fro. In the gardens, there was also a very large fountain where children and their parents launched these clever little sailboats with big sticks. The sailboats would sail across the water and the kids would run to wherever their sailboat was going to land so they could push it off in another direction.

From there, we took the metro back to the station and ended up missing the first train back to London. We also missed the second train back because the lines for passport control were so ridiculous. In our defense, a good 30 people, all on our train, all missed the train together, so we got pushed onto remaining room on the train after that. People on that train also missed it because our supposedly booked coach was half empty. The whole system there was very poorly set up. Regardless, we finally made it back to London after a delightful conversation with some fellow study abroad students who were doing communications internships. As soon as we walked into King’s Cross, I felt like I was home. There was a man playing piano in the hall and all was well.

The rest of the evening we spent studying at the Good Samaritan. Thus ended our weekend trip to Paris.

14. The London Chronicles: Part III

Sunday, July 16th
On Sunday, Ricardo left bright and early to attempt to vote. Venezuela, his birth nation, has been in a state of complete turmoil, to say the least. I’m not as informed about the present state of politics or political history of Venezuela as I should, but needless to say, I’m trying to learn. Anyways, an important vote for Venezuela took place across the globe on Sunday, so Ricardo did his best to make it.

We were supposed to meet up with a group of our classmates for brunch and then go visit the Tate late Sunday morning. I made it to the restaurant a good half an hour before anyone else showed up and had a really lovely time discovering these steps down to the shore of the Thames and looking for shells along the edge of the waves. Brunch was a delicious affair of a yogurt/granola/fruit concoction and the best cappuccinos.

After brunch, we all went to the Tate and split up into a few parties. Our party went through one of the multiple buildings and saw a good majority of the free exhibits. Modern art museums are now fascinating to me. I’ve been to more in the past six months than I’ve seen in the rest of my life and I have discovered that I really love seeing how creative people are and what ideas exist out there. After four floors of exhibits, our group went up to the café that looks out over the Thames. The view was absolutely breathtaking. So we had tea and scones and a view of lovely London.

After eating, we all dispersed our separate ways and Ricardo and I spent a good hour on the beach of the Thames collecting beach treasures. We found the coolest stones, an abundance of blue and green sea glass, and a few seashells. It was a really lovely afternoon. Did I mention it was our six month anniversary?

Sunday evening was a combination of studying, grocery shopping, and McDonald’s. London is all about real life.

Monday, July 17th
On Monday, we had a guest speaker between our two classes. He is an immigration and human rights lawyer and gave a truly wonderful and informative talk about human rights and the refugee children of Calle.

After classes, Ricardo and I went to Picadilly Circus with the purpose of going souvenir shopping. There, philosophy discussions and scarves of England intersected, because we are the scarf bystanders. We were both tired and hungry and grumpy and were trying to find somewhere to eat when all of a sudden we stumbled into a Rainforest Café. Just like that, we were transported back to our childhoods and had the best meal there. Who can resist the allure of jungle animals and thunderstorms that occur when you’re eating? We ate hummus and olives and chicken strips. It was such a happy meal. In the Rainforest Café gift shop, we got one of those little bags where you can mix and match little plastic animals and – I tell you – that was the best five pounds spent.

We left the café and decided to walk a little more. We passed a Waterstone Books. I almost didn’t go in because we’ve bought so many books already, but thank goodness Ricardo pulled me in. There in the front entrance hall was a poster advertisement saying Cornelia Funke, author of Inkheart and Thief Lord, was giving a talk and having a book signing at 6:30 on Monday. It was 6:40. We ran downstairs and I ended up getting to sit in on a conversation with Cornelia Funke. She was one of my favorite authors growing up. It was amazing getting to be there. It was so unexpected! No one expects to randomly run into their favorite childhood author. I got a chance to ask her if she bases most of her characters on real-life people (and she does). We got books signed by her and it was amazing.

We got home and watched the first episode of Season 7 of Game of Thrones, as it had come out the night before at 2am and Sunday evening was the first chance we had to watch it. Freaking Ed Sheeran. It was all amazing.

Tuesday, July 18th
Our summer program technically makes us students at King’s College London, but our specific program is actually through the Center for Transnational Legal Studies. Our Human Rights & Human Trafficking class meets in the Strand building on the King’s College London campus. Our second class, Corporations, meets in Swan House, which is up at the end of Chancery Lane about 15 minutes away. My whole point in explaining this geography is that between the Strand and Swan House lies the Court of Justice.

The Court of Justice is this overshadowing, sprawling building of stunning gothic architecture. According to our legal tour guide a few weeks ago, the building was made to intimidate everyone going to court; the Court of Justice is where most civil cases occur. You can go in and tour the Courts after passing through security. So after our first class down at the Strand, Ricardo and I went in and saw the courts. Inside, the building was beautiful. It really was like a castle or cathedral; I suppose you could call the place a cathedral of the law. We wandered around and saw both the display on legal clothing (lawyers in the UK have to wear wigs and robes every time they enter a court) and the Bear Garden, which did not have a bear and wasn’t even a garden.

After Corporations, Ricardo went and met up with one of his old friends that we had bumped into in Oxford. I joined up with them an hour or two later and we had a lovely conversation over coffee about our respective trips in London and Oxford. After that meet-up, Ricardo and I went back to The George and had hummus with olives and toast with avocado and eggs and a good period of very nice study time.

Wednesday, July 19th
Wednesday’s adventures started out after class with Ricardo and I going up towards Camden Market. The entire area is more hip than than area we’d seen in London so far. Lots of younger people roamed the streets and shops and stalls with souvenirs and cool gadgets, fidges, and clothing lined the streets. We first stopped at this pub called The Elephant Head for a delicious tuna sandwich and a light beer. The Elephant Head was definitely the most hippy-ish pub I’ve been in since arriving in London. There were elephant drawings and tads of tie dye on the inside and layer upon layer of flower pots hanging on the outside. There was a jukebox in the corner and our bartender had a ton of cool, artsy tattoos.

Camden Market itself is surrounded by some stream or river and you cross over a charming bridge to get there. The market is a giant, maze-like sprawl of various shops and stalls selling everything from food to jewelry to clothing to used books to antiques and everything in between. Man, it was amazing. There were amazing jewelry artists there. There was a stall with antique cameras. There was a stall of magic tricks. There was a stall with one last, remaining fluffy egg paste doughnut thing powdered with sugar that we bought and ate and the powdery doughnut thing was delicious. We wandered around for a few hours before getting lost on our way out.

Two of the girls in our program are from Italy and invited us all over Wednesday night to their apartment for a night of homemade Italian food. Ricardo and I got to the area early and studied at a little diner for a while before going over to their house. Just about everyone from our program showed up and the entire evening was lovely. I had so many great conversations over the course of the evening. They made two different kinds of pasta and homemade tiramisu. My goodness, that tiramisu (which is already my favorite dessert) was the best I have ever had.

At the end of the evening, we left just in time to get to the nearest tube station before the tube shut down for the night. But when we were close to the station, Ricardo realized he had forgotten his wallet at the house we had just left. (His oyster card – aka the way to get onto the tube – was in his wallet.) We started being followed back by some sort of crazy guy. He was making weird noises and followed us all the way to the gate of the house. When we got to the apartment, we called our friends to come let us in (they live on the third floor), and during that whole time this crazy man leaned on the fence staring at us and muttering in French. He finally left after Ricardo asked him what he wanted. But after that, we just took an uber straight home.

Thursday, July 20th
After class on Thursday, we headed home and packed and left on our way to Paris.