A Day in Luzern

The famous lion

Well, I think my internal alarm has officially cracked. It only took a backpacking trip through Europe to do it.

9:30 a.m. (I know what most of you are thinking…9:30? How could she sleep in so late!) Time for Luzern full force.

For breakfast I had this granola yogurt parfait, like the kind you can buy at Starbucks. But, this parfait, it was the most divine yogurt parfait I’ve ever had in my life. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Conquering the final tower

It was so light and fluffy, it tasted like delicious clouds just melting in my mouth and the berries were so fresh. It was extraordinary.

Our next stop was to see the lion with the thorn in his side. Located on the east side of Luzern, there is a beautifully carved stone lion, dedicated to the guards massacred during the French revolution.

After taking in the Lion of Luzern sculpture, we decided to hike the Musseg wall. Built in 1386, part of it still stands protecting the city.

View from the top

There was construction (go figure) and so we had to detour and zig zag through the different towers.

Hot, sweaty and disgusting after finally climbing the last tower, we couldn’t think of anything that sounded more enjoyable than paddle boating on Swan Lake.

A quick side trip for some Bulmers and Kopparberg for ‘take away’ and then time to cool off.

Paddle boats = best decision. It was so relaxing, refreshing and fun. Catie and I even jumped in the lake and swam for a bit!

Words of advice- Make sure when bringing beverages on board that you purchase bottles with twist-off caps. We banged the heck out of the Bulmers trying to open it, but in the end we split the can of Kopparberg and saved the two Bulmers for later.

Starving after hiking, paddle boating and swimming, we decided to check out ‘the cheapest fondue restaurant in town, with a Heidi-like atmosphere.’

Ordering two cheese fondues and one chocolate fondue for dessert we scraped the pots clean. Literally. The waitress brought us spoons because we were probably about to destroy the pots with the tiny pitchforks.

The cheese fondue was delicious, the chocolate, a little strange given that the fruit was apples, grapes and pineapples, but the chocolate itself was good none-the-less.

This is where we fell for our first ‘tourist trap’ of our trip.

Edelwiess

Pulling out our money to split the bill, we did a double take when we saw the price: 80 Francs for three fondues and water?! What!??

Looking closer we realized they had charged us 4.50 for each water, including refills. Water that came in a tiny glass straight from the sink!! Well, Heidi’s might be the cheapest fondue restaurant in town…if you want to dehydrate yourself! Word of advice- never go to Heidi’s in Luzern!

Fondue at Heidi's

We reluctantly put the money on the table and got out of there as quick as possible, before they tried to charge us for anything else.

Since we had seen most of the town and it was getting pretty late, we decided we should take some time to relax and just go see a movie. Sex and the City 2? Perfect, especially given the numerous references made about the movie during our trip.

Once we got our fill of Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha and Miranda we walked back to Etap and packed our things for Italia!

Doe a Deer...

I loved Luzern, but I’m ready for some fine Italian cuisine, affordable meals, knowing what language I should be trying to speak and the oh-so-convienent euro!

The swans have arrived in Luzern

We’re about to embark on the ‘never-stop-moving’ half of our trip (not that we’ve really taken a moment to rest yet). From here on out, we’re only staying in each city for two days. It’s going to be fast-paced, but we can manage; we’ve got this whole ‘see as much as possible’ thing, down pat.

Feeding my Haribo obsession

Before we left Munich we did some early morning shopping. We also finally got to see the great Glockenspiel in action. Well, we watched about two minutes of it, then got bored and went back to shopping. It really is pretty overrated.

Best purchase of the trip so far? Our Germany T-shirts, jersey’s and hats. Now we’re legit. Now we can support Deutschland during their next match, no matter what country we happen to be in. (Oh, I also bought like 8 packs of Haribo gummies too…such great childhood memories).

Two trains later, we were in Luzern. After walking what felt like miles to our overly modernized Etap Hotel …Pause here. Strangest hotel of the trip. It was like they were trying to be modern, but they didn’t quite pull it off. The bathroom and shower were in the middle of the room and you could see right into both. Fine if you’re staying with friends, not so much if you’re staying with your dad… we set out to explore the town.

First things first, we had to switch our money over to Francs. Currently, the exchange rate is less than the dollar, but everything here is so pricey it doesn’t even matter.

With money to spend, it was time to find something to eat.

Dinner Time!

We crossed the bridge over Swan Lake (hundreds of hundreds of swans live here; it couldn’t be more perfect given our swan history) and set off through the town.

First we tried a swan restaurant (it seemed perfect), but after walking through the deserted building, we finally realized it was closed. We walked all over the city and finally settled on a place that looked like Halloween Horror Nights on the outside.

'Halloween Horror Nights'

Turns out, it was awesome.

We split a cheese fondue with basil and herbs and a cheese fondue for potatoes. The potatoes came out on a plate with a clear liquid in the middle. We didn’t know what the liquid was for, so we pretty much avoided it.

Once we finished, our waitress came out and asked why we hadn’t dipped our bread in the vodka. Oh, so that’s what it’s for? Silly Americans.

Kapellbrücke

After our meal, we decided to explore a little more, walking back towards the lake which is in the center of the town. The mountains surround Luzern on all sides and the air is so pure and perfect; it’s like a hidden slice of heaven.

Although it looked like a nasty storm was approaching, we were so caught up in exploring that we just kept walking the opposite direction of our hotel. We walked down to the casino, sat with some swans (before they got up and looked like they were about to attach us) and then got some hot chocolate for our walk back to the hotel. Catie and I were hoping it would taste like rich Swiss hot chocolate, but it tasted more like SwissMiss.

Maybe we’ll just get chocolate fondue tomorrow instead.

Paragliding in the Alps

Who would have thought I’d be paragliding in the Alps when I decided to backpack through Europe?

When we arrived in Schwangau with Mike’s Bike Tours this morning, our tour guide Brad, asked if any of us would like to go paragliding (for an extra price). The day was beautiful and Brad said the thermal was perfect; of any day to go, this was the day. Go paragliding in the alps over Neuschwanstein on a beautiful sunny day? I had to do it.

I said bye to the girls, who left with the rest of the group to ride bikes and go swimming, while I went over to the Flugschule where I met my guide Ernesto from Venezula.

He didn’t speak much english, which made me a little nervous that I’d miss a very important direction, given I was trusting him with my life and all. We grabbed these huge packs, which held the parachute and boarded the gondola with the rest of the group. The only other three that came with us from Mike’s Bike Tour, was a dad and his two little girls (they looked about 8 and 9).

Great, two girls, half my age, I can’t even act scared! I was so nervous, my hand was even shaking a bit, but I thought if those little girls are brave enough to do this, so can I!

The view at the top of the mountain takes your breath away. There are hang gliders all lined up and beautifully colored parachutes spread out waiting to take off. The colors just radiate off of one another.

Ernesto gave me a flight suit to put on and then we practiced our take off.

‘Slow..slow..Now! RUN, RUN, RUN!’

Geez, I felt like I could barely move. He was acting like the parachute and pulling me back. Oh man, I’m going to fall of a mountain. But we practiced one more run and this time he said, I was good to go.

Ernesto spread out the parachute and then called me over. I walked over to the edge of the tarmac which acted as a runway right off the edge of the mountain. I was literally about to run off the edge of a cliff in the alps, thousands and thousands of feet up. Looking over, I noticed a viewing post where hikers could stand and watch everyone take off. Great, now I have an audience too.

Ernesto hooked me in and with barely a warning, he hoisted the strings up and yelled ‘1, 2, 3, RUN, RUN, RUN!’

I ran as hard as I could, but he urged me to go faster and then, before you knew it, we were in the sky. I was concentrating so much on running and pulling the parachute, it completely took my mind off the fact that I was about to run off of a mountain!

There we were, just floating.

Ernesto told me to sit back in my seat and we glided. The thermal took us up higher than the mountain and Ernesto steered the parachute so that we could just float and fly.

It was simply amazing. By far the most incredible thing I’ve ever done.

At some points we would just hang, suspended in the air and it felt like the whole world just stopped.

Ernesto pointed out the Australian Alps to our left, Neuschwanstein castle down below us and the town he lived in. He said he only lived in Germany during the summer and when it got too cold he’d go back to Venezuela.

It actually ended up being really fun trying to figure out what he was saying. Especially since I was so blown away by what we were doing the only words I said were ‘Cool’ and ‘Awesome.’ (Glad the ‘gift of gab’ really worked, thanks Blarney stone.) Being so high up with the wind blowing by, it felt so genuinely freeing to at us trying to overcome our communication barrier.

As we began to near the ground, Ernesto asked if I wanted to do some aerobatics. Of course! I want the full experience.

So he told me to lean right, then he’d tug on one side of the parachute and we’d lean completely sideways to the right. Then he’d bring it back up for a few seconds and it literally felt like we were just hanging in the air, not moving at all. Then he’d say lean left and we’d tilt to the opposite side.

After we see-sawed for a bit, we did complete spirals the rest of the way to the ground. (This made me a little dizzy after cheering for Deutschland the night before!)

We were still going pretty fast as we neared the ground and when Ernesto told me I’d have to start running, I thought to myself, there’s no way I can run that fast! But soon enough, he slowed down to a reasonable speed and before you knew it, my feet were running on hard ground again.

Even though we were up there for 30 minutes, it seemed all too short. I could have stayed up there for hours! Ernesto said that he does about 4 runs a day and then practices 5 more hours for competitions. They have aerobatic competitions and speed competitions- who can get from this town to Munich and back, the quickest.

After we packed up the parachute, we walked back to flugschule where I received my ‘sky certificate’ and thanked Ernesto for such a great flight.

I’m so happy I decided to go paragliding. It was one of the highlights of my trip and an experience I’ll never forget.

Mike’s Bike Tours

Castle this way

Mike’s Bike Tours! We have been waiting for this day since we first started planning our trip; it was actually the first thing we booked, even before our plane tickets!

For only 39 euro, a bus takes you to Neuschwanstein where you are given the opportunity to hike up to Neuschwanstein castle, ride bikes around the countryside and even going swimming and it’s all hosted by Brad a South African Magician.

We gathered in front of the bike shop early to meet Mike (who was very intense- we were glad he wasn’t Brad) and the rest of the group and then we all boarded the bus for Schwangau (where Neuschwanstein is located).

The hike begins

Along the ride we learned about King Ludwig II. His story is so sad. He had a very neglected childhood growing up, and as a result, he was very much of a dreamer. After he came into power he was deemed mad because of his ‘fantasy-like thinking’, locked away and was soon mysteriously killed. There are many interesting and debatable conspiracy theories following his death.

Upon arriving, we met up with Brad who asked if anyone would like to go paragliding. Um…YES! [Read about my paragliding experience here].

Once I returned from soaring through the clouds, I met back up with the group for lunch. The girls and I shared our activities (they’d gone bike riding and swimming while I was flying). They told me the water was so cold that only 5 people swam, while everyone else just watched them! At least they had fun!

After lunch, they gave us time to go down the luge, but we found some zip lines we tried to ride instead. Brad also showed us some close-up magic (he went to German magic school for two years) before we left for Neuschwanstein.

Mary's bridge

Before starting the hike Brad told us about a guy named Alex who took 374 pictures on the hike alone. Catie decided she would beat his challenge and started snapping pictures like it was her day job.

The hike up was gorgeous and although tiring, well worth it. The castle itself, is simply picture-perfect. It truly looks like something out of Disney World.

The castle was never finished because Ludwig ran out of money and then died before it’s completion. Irregardless, there is not one flaw in anything that has been built- it’s absolutely fantastic. Some highlights:

-The bed took 14 men and 4 years to make.
-The paintings, which have never been retouched, are just as bright and brilliant as I imagine they were the day they were first built.
-All the paintings were modeled after plays from the Opera House, like Tristan and Isolde.
-There was even a fake cave built inside the palace!
-And of course, everything was decorated in Swans. (There was even a swan sink that had running water, which was very advanced for it’s time).

We learned the reason for all the swans is because of the swan nights that protected the region of Neuschwanstein.

Catie said Ludwig is now her favorite person in history after visiting the castle and seeing his love of stories and fairytales.

After the tour (it only takes 25 minutes once you’re inside), we hiked to Mary’s bridge, a suspended bridge which offers the ‘best view of Neuschwanstein.’ A few more photos and then it was back down the mountainside and on our way back to Munich.

What a great fairy-tale filled, head-in-the-clouds kind of day.

Danke Deutschland, Viva Deutschland!

Worlds 2nd Overrated Tourist Attraction

7:20 a.m.

Even with an hour delay, we still managed to make it to Munich ahead of schedule. What are we possibly going to do at 7:20 in the morning on a Sunday?

After being sternly told to get off the train (we were literally the last ones onboard) we went to drop our luggage off at Euro Youth Hostel. Yohan from Avalon House told us that if we told Euro Youth Hostel we had stayed at Avalon House (they’re both chains of Europe’s Famous Hostels) we would receive 10% off or a free gift. The guy at the desk didn’t know what we were talking about, but he gave us a coupon for free drinks anyway.

Making our way into the city, we were quickly surrounded by bright neon orange shirts. There was a huge race going on! The crowd made it hard to find the start of our free walking tour, but eventually we found the group.

Bretzels at Hofbrauhaus

I don’t know if it’s because I used to live in Germany and going on this tour brought back a lot of history that I’d been taught, but I found the tour really interesting.

Our Irish turrr guide Michael (we snuck into his group) told us all about Hitlers reign, showed us the streets he marched down, where the first shots were fired, the first house that was bombed during the war and also through in little fun facts, like the Glockenspiel was the world’s second most overrated tourist attraction.

He also told us that the answer to 90% of the questions he asked is Beer, with an arm thrust. Gotta love that arm thrust.

Beer is the answer

After he told us about how the opera house caught on fire and the Germans tried to put it out with beer, but ended up drinking the beer while the building burned down, we walked down the most expensive street in Munich.

Michael told us he usually lost the ladies on the tour here, and the men at the next stop: The Hofbrauhaus .

Well, that’s where he lost us.

We thanked Michael and headed inside the infamous Hofbrauhaus to grab some lunch and some liters.

Crazy Mustache Man

Once we finished our meal of pretzels, putenragout and beer (arm thrust) it was time to check back into the hotel.

While walking back, Stephanie (insert British accent) “Triple doggy dared me” to run through a fountain in support of Germany. Not one to pass up a bet, I marched right in, waving my German flag. I even tried to coax others to support Germany with me, but no one was brave enough.

Supporting Germany

Now completely drenched, we went back to Euro Youth Hostel to check-in, grab some Germany face paint and change into red, black and yellow (Germany colors). We were going to watch the England/Germany World Cup match at none other than The Augustiner.

We enjoyed another liter and German fries as we cheered on Germany to a victory over England. The game was so exciting and I love how Catie and Stephanie got so into soccer; it makes me proud.

Once it was over, we wandered back into the streets cheering with other fans, making up our own German National Anthem and then, putting on a performance for anyone who cared to watch.

If we had flipped a hat over, there’s no doubt we could have collected for our ‘Bulmers’ fund.

The Augustiner!

Someone was playing classical music on a huge grand piano in the middle of the street and so, using our flags as ribbon-dancers, Catie (who actually is a dancer) and me (my dancing career ended at age 2) began to dance. At first there was only several people gathering to watch, but by the next song at least 30 people were gathered around, sitting, video-taping and just watching our performance.

Halfway through we couldn’t handle it and started cracking up laughing and walking away. Everyone started booing and yelling at us to “Continue, continue” so being the crowd pleasers we are, we finished our number.

Afterwards, some people came up to take photographs with us. We basically became overnight sensations in Munich.

Our Fans

Walking further down, we ran into our waiters from The Augustiner. They invited us with them to a local beer garden to watch the next match. Hanging with the locals. Check.

Along the way we befriended another girl, Elyse from Paris, and thus our random group of friends (not one of us from Germany) was formed.

More beer, chicken, singing, soccer and laughter and by 9:00 some of us were asleep on the table. At this point we decided it was time to head back to our hostel for bed (plus, we had Mike’s Bike Tours in the morning).

Our new friends

Saying good bye to our new friends, we walked back through the streets of Munich. What a great, first introduction to this fun-filled city.

Danke Deutschland, Viva Deutschland, Gesundheit Deutschland! We love Germany!

The Jumper!

“You must grab all your things and leave the train immediately. You need to evacuate the train!”

The day started out like any normal travel day should.

The girls' dessert

We checked out of our hotel early, but stored our luggage there for the rest of the day. We had plenty of time to shop around Paris before boarding our overnight train to Munich.

Grabbing a quick pastry from Mi Diore (our local patisserie), we then walked the fifteen minutes to some of the most famous department stores in Paris: Printemps and Galeries Lafayette.

My lunch crepe

We spent several hours (mostly just looking) at the clothes, before taking a late lunch. I finally got my french crepe (which also happened to be one of my most favorite meals on the trip so far). It had two types of cheese, spinach and ham and practically dissolved in my mouth. It was so thin, light and deliciously fresh!

The Parisian 'Saint Augustine Cathedral'

Once we were done we made our way back to the park adjacent to our hotel and Saint Augustine cathedral. We were so worn down from traveling, that at this point the only thing that sounded enjoyable was a nap in the park.

The clock chimed 6 p.m., letting us know it was time to grab our suitcases and taxi to Gare l’est.

Whoa! Sleeper train.

There were three bunks on each side of the wall of the compartment, which we would be sharing with three strangers. Only one other person was leaving with us from Paris, Thomas, but he seemed very polite and normal and we weren’t the least bit concerned about sharing our compartment with him.

Catie and I called top bunk!

About 30 minutes after we were supposed to have left, we were beginning to wonder what the hold up was. All of a sudden, one of the station workers came in and told us to evacuate the train with all of our belongings.

We were cattled, along with everyone else in the entire train station, to the outside of the building, where we waited next to a man who looked like Jafar, who was only one of many numerous characters.

Finally, we learned that the reason for the evacuation was due to: The Jumper! (Must be spoken with a TV drama-like, British accented voice). A man was threatening to jump off of Gare L’est and none of the trains could leave until they coaxed him down.

No space. Must drink.

An hour later, the jumper was off (and alive) and we were allowed to re-board the train.

Back on board, we climbed onto our bunks, ready to get to Munich. A little while later, the ticket-checker lady came around to make sure our tickets were validated.

With a thick german accent, she warned us to, ‘lock our door at night because people will come in, reach their arm around and snatch your things.’

Catie's train necessities: Wine, shortbread cookies and dirty socks

Great…if we weren’t worried before….

“Thomas, you are our protector!” I told him.

Time for our next adventure. Opening up mini-wine coolers and packets of gummies, us girls all clambered into the top bunks, ready to make the most of our new sleeping quarters.

A bientôt Paris!

Riding bikes through the gardens of Versaille

Versailles.

A palace built by king louis the 14th. The sun king who threw the most elaborate balls and just loved surrounding himself with the most elegant things.

Welcome to Versaille

Today we took a day trip to see this elegant palace.

Stephanie took the steering wheel on this trip. There are two Versailles stops on the metro- one which leads you to the palace, located at rive gauche, the other named Versailles, but will lead you to the middle of no where. Stephanie had taken the other train on accident once before so she made sure we grabbed the right one this time.

Hall of Mirrors

Arriving at the palace we walked to the pre-purchased ticket line. If anyone goes to visit the palace, I highly recommend buying your tickets beforehand. It’s cheaper and the line is much shorter.

The walk through the palace is very quick. We admired the intricate designs And go to see the hall of mirrors, but it was so crowded you could barely enjoy it. We didn’t even learn all that much about the palace, because we couldn’t read too many signs. I could bore you with details from what i did learn, but to be honest you could learn much more by just going to their website or reading about the history of king Louis.

Napping after our picnic

The most enjoyable part for all of us was just sitting in the gardens and enjoying the wonderful weather. Ive been to versaille once before but it was during thr winter and although i could enjoy the palace more, the gardens were closed. I recommend to anyone visiting the palace, go when the gardens are open- its muh more of an experience.

We grabbed panini’s, found some shade and just watched everyone around us. A group throwing frisbees, people trying to knock one another out of rowboats and swans swimming by.

Voyager un velo

Relaxing in the most beautiful park in Paris was just the type of day we needed after spending our previous day going nonstop at Disney.

Around 5:00 we rented bicycles ( only and 5 euro each, paying .50 more each half hour).
We rode and explored the vast property. Riding our bikes all the way to Marie Antoinettes chateau. It was so quaint- it even had it’s own garden.

We rode a little bit more afterwards, enjoying the breeze, the scenery and just being outdoors. It was just so nice to be away from the busyness of Paris for the day.

If I ever get the opportunity to return to the city one day, versailles (when the gardens are open) will definitely be on my list of places to revisit. Preferably in July, as i saw advertisements for fireworks in the park. Now that would be a true one-of-a-kind experience.

Disneyland Paris: Through the eyes of a Disney World cast member

Cast members take on Paris

We’re going to Disneyland!

As cast members, Catie and I are entitled to get into any Disney theme park for free with our Disney ID. Since, we’re not 100% sure if I’m still employed at Disney, Catie used her ID (you can bring up to three guests) to get us into the french version of the mouse house.

Aurora's Castle

After spending millions and millions of hours in our beloved Florida version, it was fun to compare and contrast the two theme parks. Here’s my take on ‘Euro’ Disney.

-There isn’t a monorail. Instead, you take the metro (it was a double decker with an accordion player) all the way to the last stop: Marne-la-Vallee Chessy. Then walk right out of the station and there it is, Disney! As if the metro was built just for the theme park. (Although, do make sure to buy the right metro tickets, we had to sneak in (and out) of the metro.)

The path from Adventureland to Frontierland


-Aurora resides here. Her castle is pink and sits on a grassy hill, that has water running through it! You can walk through the castle and ready the story of Sleeping Beauty in french or go into caves underneath the castle where dragons are hiding.
-All the rides are, well to put frankly, basically better at Disneyland Paris. Space Mountain goes upside-down, Pirates of the Carribean is huge and they already have Captain EO (a Michael Jackson 3D dance tribute).

Ammmmerrrica

-In ‘It’s A Small World’ America is represented as cactus’, football players and hamburgers.
-The layout of the park is a lot nicer compared to Disney World. However, we didn’t like that we could never find a cast member to talk to and one could smoke anywhere in the park.
-We did like that you could sit on the grass to watch the parade and when going from Adventureland to Frontierland you get to crawl through different caves and walk on suspended bridges.

Alice in Wonderland maze

-In Fantasyland, each princess has their own house and there’s even an Alice in Wonderland maze!
-Instead of Mickey Ice Cream Bars, they serve Mickey beignets and crepes. No turkey legs though.
-The shows were phenomenal. The dancers were SO good and there were so many different characters represented.

Now what, Queen of Hearts?

-The parade was even better. The floats were so ornate and they had a lot of floats we don’t have in Disneyworld. We do however, like the Disneyworld parade music better.
-We were sad to learn there are no fireworks, as the park closes at 8 p.m.

Bonjour Mickey!


-And Disney Studios? (Our hollywood studios) Don’t waste your time. There’s not much to it.

Oh yah, and about that mouse we all know and love? In Disneyland Paris, Mickey Mouse speaks french. J’adore Mickey!
(Minnie still speaks english though).

How do you pose in front of the Eiffel Tower?

A quick change of hotels this morning (it was more centrally located) and we were ready for our touristy day in Paris.

I remember drinking the best hot chocolate in Paris, so before we started our day we stopped to enjoy the cafe du chocolat. Catie realized the reason I love it so much is because it’s made with dark chocolate, which she is not a fan of. From now on I know to only recommend Paris hot chocolate to dark chocolate connoisseurs.

Afterwards, we walked to the Paris Opera House. Ironically, we’d tried to walk to it last night, but the one we walked to ended up being just a regular, old opera house. Turns out the real Paris Opera House was located only 15 minutes from our new hotel!

The building (minus the scaffolding on the outside) was inspiringly beautiful. I honestly think it was more enchanting and more ornate than the palace of Versaille. This is one building I’m sure not many think to visit when in Paris, but it is so definitely worth paying the 5 euro to go inside.

Once we got our taste of the opera, it was off to the main event: Picnic of panini’s (I got a croque monsieur) and a photo shoot under the Eiffel Tower.

50 photos in front of the famous landmark (are you really surprised) and we started walking over to Moulin Rouge and, after a brief stop to snap another photo, we were off to Champs Elysees.

However, after walking down only one street we realized how tired and hungry we were. Instead of dealing with the obnoxious Brazilian fans lining the street (they’d just one their World Cup match) we metro’d back to our hotel. Before heading inside, we briefly stopped at Monoprix (best french grocery store) to pick up brie, baguettes and wine. Dinner in our hotel sounded much more appealing than sitting through a meal at a restaurant.

Bon appetite to a perfect Parisian dinner for a perfect Parisian day.

A Disney-lover’s European Vacation

It’s impossible to go one whole day without making some sort of Disney reference between the three of us. Or, I guess when you really think about it, referencing a story that Disney decided to recreate.

London’s ‘Disney theme’ was Peter Pan, so before we caught the Eurostar to Paris we decided to take a stroll through Kensington Park to find the Peter Pan statue.

We tubed to Lancaster Gate on the Central Line and then followed these point-by-point directions, taking us directly to Peter:

Once the photo shoot was complete, we walked through Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, stopped for a brief lunch (I tried Shepards Pie) and then headed back to grab our luggage for St. Pancras station.

Off to Hogwarts...or Paris

Although not Disney, we had to find platform 9 3/4 before leaving. Since there’s a lot of renovation going on at the station, platform 9 3/4 moves around (almost as if it really was magical) and we had to ask for it’s new location. The man we asked told us that we’d just missed Daniel Radcliffe and the team; apparently, they’d been filming there last week.

The hunchbacks are here!

A quick photo, a stop to buy some shortbread cookies and tea for the train and we were off to Paris!

That night, once we had disposed of our luggage at our hotel/hostel (still not really sure what it was), we walked around Paris, ending up at Notre Dame. I’m sure it won’t be hard to figure out what Disney movie we impersonated here!

Oxford: The real Hogwarts

Dining at 'Hogwarts'

London is one of my favorite cities. It’s big enough that you’re sure to find an area of town which caters to your interests, but it’s not so small that you feel as though you seen everything in one or two days. All three of us love this city: It’s fun, it’s familiar and there’s never a shortage of things to do.

With that being said, all three of us have been here before. So this time around, minus doing some pretty spectacular things inside the city, we decided to spend one day away from the infamous double decker buses and red phone booths. We decided to go on a day trip to Oxford.

A beautiful campus riddled with history, green pastures for leisurely picnics and of course, getting to see the dining hall used in all the Harry Potter movies were just some of the items on our Oxford checklist. But the number one thing I was looking forward to? Getting to see my best friend from Preschool Sophie, who just finished studying abroad at the school.

Picnic on the Oxford 'green'

After an hour and a half bus ride, we pulled up to the station and Sophie ran up to greet us. After introductions, she listed off the day’s itinerary. Man, can this girl plan a tour!

We grabbed sandwiches and walked over to the campus to have our own picnic on the green, then went for a walk around the river where we saw people punting (basically pushing a boat through water with a long pole).

Punting

While we walked Sophie told us about the college. She explained that Oxford has punting competitions and yacht races, sometimes within their different schools, sometimes against other colleges. They have a huge rivalry with Cambridge. The rivalry is so strong that the schools do everything opposite during their competitions- how they twist the pole, what side of the boat they punt from, etc.
Sophie also told us that the schools aren’t divided into different subjects, there isn’t a certain college of science or college of engineering. Students just apply to a certain building and do all their studying there. (It’s all very confusing). But basically, students in the same building could all be studying different subjects.

And they only have end of the year exams. They write papers every one to two weeks, but for their classes they do all their studying on their own and just meet with an advisor to talk. In Sophie’s words ‘this cuts out all the pointless bullshit.’

After our tour of the campus, we walked to Christ Church (Sophie’s hall) and the most famous building. Since she’s a student there, she put on her British accent and got us in for free.

Alice in Wonderland door

We saw the cathedral where you could see the door used in Alice and Wonderland (Lewis Carol was a mathematics student at Oxford and Alice was based off of one of the deans daughters), saw some of the most infamous buildings and later on got to actually walk through the dining hall used in the Harry Potter movies.

Once we finished our own personal tour, we walked around town. Sophie showed us some more sites- their library which houses a copy of every English book published and their union, where many famous people have come to speak. Photos line the wall with images of Gandhi, Ronald Reagan, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, the Queen. Just to name a few.

Oxford is so impressive and so overwhelming. It just blows me away some of the stories Sophie told us.

Ben's Cookies!

Along our tour we also stopped for a little treat- Ben’s Cookies. Wonderful, gigantic, cake-like cookies baked right out of the oven. A definite must if you ever come to the town.

Around 7 p.m. we had to head out to catch our bus. It was so wonderful to see Sophie and to get a personal tour from her. She is the most perfect tour guide. It’s too bad her semester abroad is over because I’d recommend her tour to anyone who visits Oxford.
What a great and highly educational day. For anyone visiting England who needs a break from the big city, Oxford is definitely a wonderful place to spend the day.

London on foot

Guards in training

In honor of Father’s Day, our first stop this morning was mass at Westminster Abbey. (Happy Father’s Day dad- aren’t you proud?)

After getting our church in, we took the Tube to the Tower of London. It was a lot different than I remember- when I was younger there used to be a scavenger hunt you could play, which would teach you so much about the history of the Tower. For example, many nursery rhymes originated at this infamous landmark.

There's London!

But now that I’m older and wiser, I had to go around and read all the signs, of which I probably absorbed .05% of it all.

We did learn about the tudors though, saw the crown jewels and one raven on the lawn(we all had a distinct memory that there used to be more ravens, as well.)

Once we finished touring the tower, we crossed the Tower Bridge, shooting our own music video as we walked. (To be released in the near future). We walked along the Thames to The Globe Theatre, crossed the Millennium Bridge to St. Pauls, rode the bus to Sloane Street and walked down to Harrods.

Then we headed over to Kensington area in search of Churchill Arms, a pub/Thai restaurant the girls aunt had told them about.

Churchill Arms

It wasn’t a fun walk on hungry tummies, but once we found it (almost giving up and going with KFC), it was well worth the trip. I enjoyed what I’m pretty sure was my best meal in London, a meal of shrimp, steamed rice and veggies with pineapple. The best part was, the inside of the restaurant looked basically like a butterfly museum.

Finally content, we headed back to our flat (right on the opposite bank of Big Ben) and decided to call it a night. Tomorrow we head off to Hogwarts, which in layman’s terms, is also known as Oxford.