The parentals come visit!

This update is kind of delayed but I’ve been super busy so you have to forgive me.

On Wednesday, November 3, my parents arrived in London! It was a beautiful, sunny fall morning, and after a stressful class registration thanks to this terrible internet (although I did get every single class I wanted at the time I wanted), I walked to my parents hotel (thank you Tube strike) to greet them. I knocked on the door to their room and Mom answered. After giving her a huge hug, I went to hug Dad and then ELENA POPPED OUT FROM BEHIND THE BED!!!! I was so surprised/ecstatic to see her that I screamed and jumped up and down before I could even hug her! I had no idea my parents were bringing her! It was such a great surprise because I’d missed my little sister so so so much! After relaxing at the hotel and catching up for a while, I had to leave for my art class. My class was taking a field trip to Kensington Palace to see the Enchanted Castle display, which is where they transform the palace into an enchanted world of the seven princesses who had lived in the castle. Since this was a fun exhibition, I was able to bring Elena along with me! Her first college class: age 12. After the castle we met up with my parents and went to the Warwick Castle Pub near my flat for dinner, and then a French cafe for dessert. We called it an early night since my parents were exhausted.

The next morning we met for breakfast at my favorite pancake place for Kaasballens and Dutch Pancakes. I decided to skip class (come on, I hadn’t skipped any all semester) to go with my family to the aquarium. After the aquarium, we took Elena to see Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and Trafalgar Square. We had some time to kill before our play that night so I suggested we go through the National Gallery since they have a lot of famous paintings (Van Gogh’s, Monet’s, Cerat’s, Da Vinci’s, Michelangelo’s)  and my parents really enjoyed that. That night we went to see Jersey Boys! In case you haven’t heard of it, Jersey Boys is a music that tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The play was so good and the music was of course amazing! We all really loved it and couldn’t get the songs out of our heads for the next few days.

Elena, Dad and I on the lions in Trafalgar

The next morning we decided to go to the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Alright, I know it’s famous and everyone wants to see it, but let me tell you, it was quite possibly the most boring thing I’ve ever watched. It’s not that exciting to watch a bunch of guards just stand there and stomp every few minutes. After about 20 minutes, none of us could handle any more of it so we left. We took the tube to St. Paul’s where we viewed the cathedral and had the most delicious burgers at Gourmet Burger Kitchen. Who would have thought I’d have to go to England to eat the best burger of my life? We briefly went into the Tate Modern so I could show my parents a display of 1o0 million hand made, hand painted, porcelain sunflower seeds in the Turbine Hall. Sarah and I attempted to steal one from the display but got yelled at  by the guard for going under the barrier. Woops. After that, we decided to go to Harrod’s since I hadn’t been yet. Oh. My. Gosh. Harrod’s = Heaven for a shopper, Hell for a bank account. Sarah, Elena and I headed to the shoe section first of course. After falling in love with every single designer shoe, and crying at the price tags, we had to move on before we made any irrational decisions. We next went to Christmas world (the 365 days a year Christmas section) and saw the most gorgeous themed Christmas trees and Christmas decorations. After browsing through housewares, designer clothes, and furniture, we stumbled upon my future home. The Fendi Casa. The Fendi Casa is a display apartment furnished by the designer, Fendi. There were the coolest circle chairs, chandeliers, bedazzled pillows, mod tables and chairs and princessy beds. We weren’t allowed to take pictures but I managed to sneak one. We spent around 20 minutes in there pretending we lived there. I will be rich and I will own everything in the Fendi Casa. After we finally managed to tear ourselves away, we headed downstairs to the food section. And by food section, I mean food section of the gods. There was the most amazing smelling food at the restaurants, fresh baked bread from the bakery, gelato in 20 flavors, amazing meats and cheeses and the most perfect looking fruits and vegetables. So Mom and Dad if you see a large Harrod’s charge on the credit card it’s because I’ve started doing my grocery shopping there…. There is also an amazing candy section with chocolate shoes, huge cakes and even £2000 gold tea. We finally made it out of Harrod’s without becoming bankrupt, my purchase being an adorable ’50’s style apron. After Harrod’s we went to back home and ordered Thai food for dinner.

Harrods!

Saturday morning we went to the world famous Portobello Market. We made some amazing Ghanian food, delicious apple cream puff pastries, quiches, and brownies. We browsed the antique vendors and bought some authentic souvenirs. After the market we went to Abbey Road since Elena loves the Beatles. Then I took my parents to Oxford Street to see the christmas lights and then go to Primark, where I got a fur vest and Elena got some clothes too.

Sunday morning, I had to do an independent art walk for my art class, but I didn’t want to do it alone since it was through East London, so I brought my Dad along. We were given ipods and headphones and had to follow the artists instructions on this walk down Jack the Ripper alleyways, past markets and even into a church. It was a bit creepy, especially because it was hard to tell what sounds were real and which were coming from the audio. We’d had a bit of a problem with the tubes earlier because some were closed for repairs (they’re trying to get everything ready for the Olympics) and there was a signal failure on another line, causing severe delays, so we got a later start then planned. We had to meet Mom and Elena for our river cruise/London Eye Flight at 2:45 and we didn’t finish the walk until 2, and we were in a totally different part of town. We didn’t want to risk the tubes again and the bus would take too long, so we hailed a cab and instructed him to get us to the London Eye as quick as he could. We had quite the nice cabby who made sure he went as fast as he safely could. He dropped us off right in front of the Eye at 2:40 and we sprinted into the ticket office only to find out the 2:45 cruise was cancelled because of high tide so we had to wait until 3:45 anyway. It actually worked out better anyway, since we were on the cruise at sunset (yes, the sun sets at like 4:30 now). The cruise went all the way down the Thames, from the Houses of Parliament to Southwark. We then went on our London Eye flight. The London Eye is the giant ferris wheel that offers incredible 360 degree views of the city. It was night time, which made the view all the more gorgeous with the twinkling lights of the city spread out below us. That night we went to a Mediterranean restaurant for my belated birthday dinner.

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament at sunset (if you look closely you can see Westminster behind Big Ben)

For our last day, we went to Eastbourne to see the chalk cliffs at Beachy Head. I had been wanting to see the cliffs for a while since I’d heard they were gorgeous. The highest cliff in England is at Beachy Head. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a very good day weather wise. It was freezing cold, windy and rainy. Mom wasn’t sure she wanted to go up to the cliffs once we got there, but after much convincing we finally got a cab to drive us there. We got out at the cliffs, which had stunning views but unfortunately we couldn’t go very close to the edge because it was too windy. I’ve never felt wind so strong. I was walking with my umbrella when suddenly my umbrella flipped inside out, breaking half the stokes and then the wind spun me around so fast, I couldn’t even walk in a straight line. If we had gotten any closer to the edge, we wouldn’t have been strong enough to resist the wind and probably would have been blown off. It was definitely worth it to see though. We went back into town where we had the most delicious lunch at a pub. Mom and I split a honey roasted pumpkin sandwich with goat cheese and red onion marmalade, and a broccoli/cauliflower/potato casserole in a white wine sauce. So yummy. We walked around the town for a little while and then returned to London. That night we went out for Chinese food and then had frozen yogurt at a place called Frog, that was a bit like Pinkberry. I then had to say goodbye to my parents 😦 But I get to see them in less than 3 weeks and I’m so glad they were able to come!

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We stayed with pirates in Venice.

And the saga continues…

Sarah and I arrived by train in Venice around 3pm to a beautiful sunny day. As soon as we walked out the door of the train station I was greeted by the sparkling blue Grand Canal lined with brightly colored pink, orange and yellow buildings.

First view of Venice

For the first two nights of our stay in Venice, we had to stay at a hotel off the island (in a town called Marghera) since the only good hostel we could find was booked for those nights, so we had to take a bus from the main island to where we were staying. Once we checked into our hotel, we decided to explore Marghera a little while waiting for the next bus (they only came once an hour). We discovered that Marghera has 1 restaurant, 1 grocery store and 1 gelateria. Quite the thrilling town.  The bus finally came and once we got back onto the island we decided to go to the Piazza San Marco. On the way we crossed the Rialto, one of the famous bridges that crosses the Grand Canal. We saw the Basilica of San Marco and walked around the Piazza where we went insome shops and saw amazing Murano glass chandeliers. Begin obsession with these chandeliers. I would probably give up my first born child for one of them. Kidding, but that’s how much I want one. After walking around for a while, we decided to get dinner. We found this cute little restaurant with the most friendly waiters and had amazing quattro formaggio pasta. We were pretty tired after dinner so we just went back to the hotel and watched James Bond in Italian (and understood probably 10 words).

View from the Rialto of the Grand Canal at night

The next morning we woke up bright and early to catch the bus into Venice. We had read in a guidebook that if you take the Vaporetto Route 1 then you get a tour of the Grand Canal. Vaporettos are essentially large water taxis. They are Venice’s form of public transportation. Best public transportation ever. We decided to take this from the Piazzelle Rome to Piazza San Marco. We saw numerous gondolas, churches and historical landmarks on our boat ride. We were really able to marvel at the architecture. What I think is so cool is that in most places the water literally goes up to the door. There is no land between the buildings and the canal. It’s such a crazy/cool thing to see. We then went in the Basilica of San Marco which was absolutely gorgeous. Inside, the whole ceiling is made of gold mosaic. The outside of the church is covered with intricate carvings and exquisite paintings.

San Marco Basilica

We next decided to go to the Accademia Gallery which had some cool Renaissance and religious art but felt a little repetitive after a while. Then going for a completely different type of art we went to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. We lucked out because it just happened to be “pay what you like” day and we had arrived in the 2 hour window for it. So we paid 2 euros to get in instead of the regular 12. I liked this museum better than the Accademia because I prefer modern art. After getting our fair share of Picasso, Ernst and Kandinsky, we finished the museum right in time for dinner. We decided to go back to our hotel, freshen up, get dressed up and go out for dinner and then to one of the famous bars after. Well, this plan failed. We get back to our hotel without a problem, however when we went to catch the bus back, it left us! We had been at the stop and the bus pulled up, stopped, opened the doors and then slammed them right as we were halfway in. At which point we banged on the doors but accomplished nothing, as the bus driver drove off, almost with us hanging out the doors. We realized that if we waited for the next bus we wouldn’t have enough time in the city to make it back for the last bus of the night. After standing in shock at the bust stop for a good 5 minutes we decided (well, we had no choice) to go the 1 restaurant in the town of Marghera. We walked in and saw some Americans that we’d briefly talked to the previous night in our hotel. Begin friendship. Two of the boys decide to come sit with us and explain that they’re from Pennsylvania but are studying abroad in Croatia and visiting Italy on a weekend trip. As the night went on, more and more people on their trip began to join us. We all split a bottle of wine and were at the restaurant for a good 3 hours just hanging out and having fun. We also befriended the one waiter who spoke English and used him as our translator. After we finally got the hint the restaurant was closing, we went back to the hotel and hung out on the balcony off our room. Before calling it a night, we exchanged contact info and some of them are even coming to visit us this weekend in London!

The next morning we checked out of our hotel and moved into our hostel on the actual island of Venice, which was much more convenient. Now here’s where the real experience begins. We followed directions to our hostel, which had a private bridge straight to the door of it. We buzzed in and while waiting for a reply, a guy suddenly sticks his head out the window above us and says “Ello! Do you have a reservation?” After the dumbfounded looks on our face finally left we said yes and he buzzed us in. We go upstairs to be greeted by the same guy, who introduces himself as James and we immediately realize looks just like Orlando Bloom from Pirates of the Caribbean. And, to add to his pirate looks, he talks to us and we realize he speaks just like a pirate too. He looks to be about our age and explains to us that him and four other guys own the hostel. After exchanging “what have we gotten ourselves into” looks, me and Sarah pay the rest of our deposit and move in with the pirates. We meet them all, realize they are all college age guys, and they explain to us they are from Australia.

This is what James looked like

After dropping our luggage in a 10 bed room, Sarah and I hopped on a vaporetto to Murano, the glass blowing island. We walked around the island, visited the Museum of Glass Blowing, had a guy show us how to make glass hearts and butterflies and did lots of shopping! I bought some of the most beautiful glass souvenirs there. Oh and let’s not forget how I lusted over the hundreds of glass chandeliers. That night we decided to go out with the guys who owned the hostel. They took us to Frulala, a smoothie and fruity drink hut/outdoor bar, which was really cool.

Glass Star on Murano

We reserved our last day in Venice as a shopping day. We also rode a gondola across the canal because we couldn’t afford to pay 80 euros for a fancy one. We went to a few little outdoor markets and shops all over Venice where I bought even more souvenirs for my family. That night we just stayed in and hung out with people in the hostel since we had an early flight back to London the next morning.

So there you have it…the three part account of my fall break! I wish I could write about everything but I tried to condense it! I loved Italy. It’s such a beautiful country with such an amazing culture full of love and food (and love of food). I hope to one day go back and explore even more of it!

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