May 10th: A Look into Uncertainty
Traveling to another country is always an experience. What do you pack? Do you have enough bottoms that are going to match tops? Does that blue really bring out the blue specs in my eyes? Or would they make them too green? Decisions, decisions, decisions, right? Talk about nerves.
After finding five business outfits that can be paired with casual clothes as well as fitting in toiletries, I was packed and ready to embark on my adventure. Well that’s after I go to the bank, get my hair done, see the doctor, and call Verizon. I have never traveled across seas before. Granted, I’ve traveled all over the east coast and even lived in New England. Funnily enough, we used to joke and say it was an Americanized England. I guess I finally get to see if that is true or not. It hasn’t completely hit me that this was happening. All week people have asking me if I was excited yet. To be honest, I wasn’t excited. I was indifferent. The idea and opportunities have always been present- traveling overseas that is. But this is the first time, I am actually doing it. I was doing my research like crazy. I have no idea what to expect. Thus naturally I need to become as absolutely prepared as possible. I spent most of the time I wasn’t working to see what I wanted to do during my free time. As a result, I discovered that I wanted to see Camden Town, Wembley Stadium (where Arsenal plays!), and Warner Bros Studios for the Harry Potter exhibit. Then for Paris, I am dead-set on seeing Versailles and the Maria Antoinette apartment. There is so much I want to do but so little time… In reality, I am not sure what to expect from this trip. I have ideas of what I would like to do but I’m not sure if I will have enough time to do them. I feel like my time is very limited in London, which means I have to make the most of what time I do have. I am nervous that I won’t end up getting to all that I want or have a real place among the group. I have so much that I would like to see like all the landmarks, then break out into the parts of the city that aren’t all built up to fixate on the American culture. Then there is Paris… I have no real expectations except gorgeous architecture. I feel like that will be the best way to enjoy myself in the city, of there is some uncertainty among Paris. I am definitely concerned about the emanate language barrier or not understanding how to get around except by memory. I have only so much space in that brain of mine! I guess this is where my adventure starts off. Here on a plane, completely and utterly sleep deprived becoming more and more excited as we get closer.
May 11th: Hello, London!
What. A. Day. I can say that we have successfully made it to London. The last two days have been a complete and utter blur with taking a quick bus tour of the entirety of London, moving into our hotel, and taking the city by storm. The city was what I expected layout wise. It was completely and utterly confusing. There were old, gorgeous Colonial-style buildings next to brand spanking new ones. Obviously, not all of London could survive the bombing of the World Wars but still! That completely shocked me.
However, the city is ever gorgeous. The buildings, the food, and the people. It’s easy to figure out where I want to check out while we are here. Oddly enough, it isn’t the shopping district for once. I want to see the adorable neighborhoods, the old buildings, and where people go to hang out. They all can’t hang out at Harrod’s, right? Harrod’s is a historical department store, such as our Nordstrom’s. Our tour through London came to an end at the London Bridge. We stopped there for an hour… Only an hour. And we walked through the royal family’s jewels as well as all the old armor from back in the day. It was gorgeous walking through these respective areas and getting the opportunity to see them first hand. The family jewels were beyond gorgeous. They had purple crowns! If anyone doesn’t know, my favorite color is purple and I am a sucker for those darling crowns. I wished we could have seen more but there was much more to do that day and our plane had delayed tour. Once we departed from the bridge, we went to our hotel, took care of some administrative, and business. After our dinner, we come to my favorite part of the day.
I love walking cities and learning how to get places on foot. It truly helps learning and understanding how a city is laid out. We wandered for three hours at least and covered almost the entire city! We saw London Eye, Waterloo bridge, the Time Square of London, the Michigan Avenue of London (I.e, the shopping area) as well as little nooks and crannies that probably shouldn’t be located without a guide. Rest easy, we didn’t get completely lost our first time out. My navigation skills were totally in full function until we deviated off the path looking for a bathroom. Let me tell you about this bathroom business. You know in America when you can just sneak and use a bathroom? Nope, you have to pay or buy something in order to use it. It’s totally murder when you are dying for a place to pee. I’ll keep you posted on how Paris will turn out but rest easy that the McDonald’s late at night are more than happy to supply wandering Americans with a toilet.
Now I am going to leave you on the toilet situation.
Good night and good luck.
May 13th: Wembley – the best venue in London
Today, we had the opportunity to tour Wembley Stadium. We used to Tube to get over to Wembley Park, which is home of Wembley Arena, Wembley Stadium, and some locations of the Olympics. It took us about an hour to arrive on sight, however the Tube was a bit empty, which I was not really surprising. Wembley Stadium is a gorgeous venue for starters. Wembley is a sport and music stadium. Mainly soccer is played there, occasionally American football when they are playing overseas, and musicians. It was surprising on how many people were on our tour considering I thought it would be just us four. However, we were soon to find out that the FA Cup was being held that weekend. On top of it, Wembley is the biggest venue in London with a 90,000-capacity. For you, Pittsburghers, that’s definitely bigger than Heinz Field. The building had been recently tore down and rebuilt. They built bigger and badder than ever. It has the ability to be an open top, however they have panels that slide over the seated area to cover the customers attending the event. That is amazing considering the facility has absolutely no pillars. They also built 22,600 bathrooms, which broke the world record for the most bathrooms in a venue. Weird works record to break, yes? It has huge restaurants that can hold large crowds. 14,000-capacity people for the Bobby Moore restaurant and 900-capacity people for the Wembley Club restaurant. This may be a lot of numbers right now, however, I was really interested to learn how much goes into this stadium. We had the opportunity to sit in the royal box with the FA Cup as well as see the locker rooms. The locker rooms were actually a lot smaller and less glamorous then I thought. I was expecting Wembley to treat there guests really well, however the dressing room wasn’t really dressed up for the public. I was really interested to hear that the locker room is what they use for concerts as well. Wembley holds 38 events a year! HOW?! I do not understand how a multi-million dollar facility can stay open with only 38 events. It could possibly be help from special events and stadium tours as well as merchandise. At the end of the tour, there was an exhibit with all previous players and items they have acquired over the years. The exhibit expires in June when all the items are returned to the owners. We saw David Beckham’s jersey, which when that is one of the only soccer players you know- that’s neat! Overall, I was super excited to see what a venue looks like and how it runs across seas. I didn’t expect a major difference in operations and there really wasn’t at the end of the day. I just loved seeing them being so enthusiastic over the architecture and sport that is played there.
That was our day at Wembley!
May 14: The Battle of Food in London
Food. No matter where you go or what you want to see you must eat. The food in London is absolutely spectacular, so long as you can find the right places to go in order to enjoy the perfect dish. I am a huge advocate for food. A foodie, if you will. As a result, that means I don’t like to be disappointed. London has amazing food, you just need to find the right place at the right time.
Let me tell you about breakfast. Breakfast is the thing to have in London. I was very happy with the variety of food my hotel had to offer. The hotel had a full food bar and that wasn’t something I was expecting from London. I expected that they would not have a buffet style but a sit down and order style. Regardless, this was my favorite meal of the day! Just take a look to the photo on the right.
The first night that we had to find food for ourselves, the group of people I was with and myself made the mistake of wandering around till 10:30. We stopped at O’Niels and they were nice enough to let us eat. We barely made the deadline since they were turning people away after we entered the area. They closed the kitchen at 10:30, then the bar at 11:00. It was madness in all reality. Why on Earth did they close so early? They were located in a college area and a had a decent crowd coming in and out. It really did not make sense to me what so ever. However, I guess that I did get to eat, so I shouldn’t be complaining too much. I had a steak and Guinness pie while was pretty much amazing. Score one for authentic London dishes!
Then there was the second night…we must have walked for hours trying to locate a good meal. So it all starts with me helping my friend Bethany out on her project for cinema. Naturally, we were running all over God’s Green Earth in London to shoot it. After we went to Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, and King’s Crossing, Bethany and I were pretty hungry. We spent at least an hour hunting down authentic food of this country. We arrived in Liestier Square and there was nothing to be seen in any direction. After doing a little walking, we found Americanized food such a California cuisine, McDonald’s, and Italian-American dishes. That was really disappointing considering we both wanted to continue to eat good food while we were abroad. I could not fathom that this exciting country was really passing up the opportunity to have authentic cuisine in a high traffic area. I consider London to be full of pride and want to flaunt that. However, that was not the impression I received. We did eventually to find a Pret a Manager, which was pretty good. Pret a Manager is a English… potentially French version of Panera. However, please note that they have one-size coffee and it’s a little over priced. I do recommend the food when you are in the go or out late like we are.
Here is my tip for any London travelers. Eat early, properly and you will receive all the foodie benefits needed.
The Underground has to be one of my favorite things here in London. It is so user friendly that they couldn’t have made it simpler. It is comparable to how I expect the New York subway to be if it was less crowded or even the Chicago metra if they allowed easy transfers from train-to-train. While I recommend walking to learn the landscape, I love being able to connect from all the stations to get to the proper zone or platform that I need be in. It is very quick during all hours. You just have to be able to deal with crowds during rush hour. The Underground may be a top area for pick pocketing, however it was very comfortable to travel back and forth. When I was traveling from the hotel to Hyde Park by myself, I was paying attention to the crowd but felt really comfortable traveling by myself. I never felt unsafe or uncomfortable because of it. On top of it, if you need directions the people are really good about helping navigate. Ask and you shall receive. We were told that Americans were not well liked… At least that is the perception of it. Apparently they were the people that were just really rude thus the locals were rude back. I’ve learned if I approach them with a smile and being genuinely pleasant they will be sweet to me. Go figure!
A really worrisome situation was when we were navigating back from Camden Town and had locate our way back to King’s Cross. The Tube closes before 1:00am and we had absolutely no idea where we were going. I anticipated that the stop near our hotel would be closed and I was able to make sure we took the line to King’s Cross so we could walk back from there. I was really concerned that last train would never come and we would have to walk.
The only thing that concerns me now about the Underground is those giant escalators! I’m terrified to fall backwards into my emminate death.
Now we are in Paris and I have taken the Metro a handful of times. It is very intimidating and very squished. I made the joke that it was like being in the center of a mosh pit at a rock concert. A few times I have felt a hand pushing me into the Metro since there is a very limited time gap. On top of it, we have to be very quick before the doors shut because there will be no waiting around. Perhaps once I try the Metro on my own it will be a little less daunting then it seems right now. Apart from the daunting smell of sewer and the sketchy people, there are no long escalators in Paris. Currently, I am not really sure I feel 100% safe. The Metro is another one of those high area pick pocketing. It seems the comfortable feelings I was having in London is now gone. Everyone is suspicious to me again… Wish me luck on future adventures.
Mind the Gap, Viewers!
May 17th: Beauty and the Beast
It’s not every day you get to see a French musical. I like to call this the impromptu Sports, Arts, and Entertainment Management academic trip to see Le Bella et le Bête at the Mogador. The musical was completely in French, which if you don’t know French can be an experience in itself. For starters, the Mogador was a pretty decent sized venue. It has more lobby space and multiple areas for bars and bathrooms, if you can find them. It is definitely an older building with gorgeous edged details. There are three different tiers of seating with no bad seating in the theatre. The first thing I noticed was that the theatre did not have service fees on the ticket. It was €42 for tickets on the day of show. It was really bizarre to me that it did not have service charges like Ticketmaster does or any other ticketing services. I asked Vincent about the no service fees bit and he explained that France didn’t have taxes for the most part. Wouldn’t that make concerts become inexpensive? That opens a whole new door on ticketing that I would like to know more information about.
Anyway, we went for dinner at a grab-and-go place, which I totally recommend when you don’t want to spent large amounts of time waiting. I’ll talk about the dining experience in another post, don’t you worry. When we arrived at the theatre, security was a lot more relaxed than I expected. They just scanned our ticket and let us walk in. I expected them to go through our purses before entering the premise. We were handed back our ticket and directed to our seats. We we were pretty lucky since there was three tiers and we were on the back of thesecond. Our usher was really sweet and moved us up so we ended up middle of the second. Instead of being ushered, she pointed a laser pointer at our seats, so she didn’t have to leave her post. I thought that was completely other worldly. I was so used to being escorted to our seats even if the theatre was much bigger.
The musical itself was astounding. The costumes were very detailed and connected with the character perfectly. The make-up of the Beast was unbelievable and left me pondering how he managed to transform into the prince so perfectly. The singing was gorgeous and very clear that even the French lyrics did not throw me off. Belle had a clear voice with the appearances of Alison Brie; Anne from Community for those of you that don’t know who she is. The Clock, Tea Pot, and Wardrobe was played perfectly by the actors with amazing costumes that portrayed who they were supposed to be. I do have to admit that the first act was very dull since it was building the story and hard to understand the actors when they were speaking French. The musicial numbers were very engaging, however long monologues were very dull. However, the second act was very engaging and I was very happy with the ending. I thought they did a beautiful job with the presentation of it. I was very surprised to see that the characters seemed to be more sexual by there motions or jokes. I thought since that this culture was much more reserved that they would have not had that characters been so ballsy in there actions. However, that seems to be a patter in France. Everyone is very… Sexual in there talking and motions. I guess that is where Americans can be a bit prude. Overall, I was very excited I had the opportunity to see it. If you have the chance to catch a €25 musical or show, I definitely recommend the experience. It is a true treat to see how operations are done and the differences between American musicals.
May 21st: Disneyland Paris – tips and tricks of the trade
Where dreams come true! At least that is the message that Disney likes to broadcast to there customers. To start off this post, I have to explain our reason for going to Disneyland Paris. While we were abroad, we scheduled several meetings with professionals in the chosen industry.
For the morning of the 21st, we gathered at Disney University and sat down with the public relations team for Disney. They went through and explained every aspect of how they market to the unique Paris market. They also addressed how the French was not a fan of the theme park or the idea of Disney since it was very American. They also expressed there enthuasim for the company and how it definitely was the happiest place on Earth. For the Sports, Arts and Entertainment Management kids, they had a man briefly talk about park management. That was pretty interesting as well as the other lectures. I do think that the information on the 20th Anniversary Press Event was my favorite portion if the lecture. They talked about all the effort and the budget tied with creating the event as well as how they communicate with the press with or without a language barrier.
After we listened to there presentation, we were set loose on the parks. Here are my top five tips while spending time at Disneyland Paris.
While Disney has the elaborate restaurants, check out the quick in and out stands. They are a cheap eat and you can usually get three items for €11. Not a bad idea at all. We are over in Discoveryland, however, I have to say that was not my favorite place to eat. The food was very American but you can find some fish and chips in some other areas.
2. Go to Walt Disney Studios.
We ran into the situation where we could not enter Walt Disney Studios past 6:00pm since that was when it was closing. Unfortunately, that was when were about to enter the park. So my recommendation is to attend Studios for the “big kid” rides, then change over to Disneyland, which has a parade and night light show. You won’t need to whole day to get through the park.
3. Go in the beginning of week when no one is on vacation.
You may run into the occasional tour group but otherwise you will have the park to yourself. This is called low season for businesses. If this is completely unavoidable, try to run around and pick up the Fast Passes for the rides you are most excited for first.
4. Every gift shop is literally the same.
We ran into the problem where we couldn’t find what we were looking for. I obviously wanted a sweatshirt and I couldn’t find one that I liked. We went into a few different shops and found the same exact thing. Don’t waste the time going into little shops. Go into the giant ones or the gift shop before you enter either park.
5. Be prepared for anything.
We ran into a few situations while visiting the park. Some kid puked onto the Star Tours ride, it was raining, or the rides would just stop for no good reason. It’s best to just go with the flow and have fun. Be prepared since you never know how the weather is going to react.
Ta-Ta for now!
May 23rd: Food in France – The New Challenge
As I have already stated, I am a huge foodie. It would be cruel and unusual not to speak about the good food in France. There are two ways to eat in France. Dine in or take away. Yes, take away. This concept is compared to the American take out idea.
If you are dining in a cafe or a bistro, be prepared to spend at least two hours for your entire meal.If you don’t order an appetizer or dessert, you can potentially shave thirty minutes off of that time. I was told that the French believed in taking there time during their meal and socializing. While Americans can take their time socializing, could you imagine sitting down for that long for dinner? That’s like a family reunion every day that you go out for dinner! You also get charged on whether you sit inside or outside. It’s more expensive to sit outside and people watch. We did this once and it was quite an experience. I had cigarette smoke blown in my face while we were waiting for our meal. However, we did get to see street performers, which was a cool experience until they started jingling a hat in front of our faces asking for us to pay them for their services of entertaining us during our meal. However, it was a neat experience and I recommend doing this at least once while spending time in Paris.
As for the dining in food, I have had some amazing meals. One of my favorite meals was actually a hamburger with a fried egg on top. The French have perfected the American specialty- the hamburger. It was one of the best hamburgers I have ever had in my life. I don’t generally recommend meat in France. Go with a fish option. They are much better with how they prepare it and the fish is gorgeously prepared. While some of meats were good, sometimes they can be overcooked- which is why the French have so many sauces on their dishes. At least that is what I have been told by several different people. However, try everything. Especially the escargot. Yes, I’m telling to eat snails. They are delicious and prepared currently you will be glad you tried them.
Now that I have explained dining in, let’s briefly chat about take away! Take away was usually a little stand on the street with sandwiches, paninis, soup, quiches, etc that were available right there and then. You could order a baguette and just walk away with that for a meal. Several of the sandwiches had cheese galore on it. I am a huge fan of goat cheese. It was almost at every meal that I had in France, even the take away options. Needless to say, I was thrilled. I definitely recommend trying takeaway once or twice. It is a quick good meal for relatively inexpensive.
I’ve talked about entrees and now let me touch upon dessert and pastries! They cannot do dessert wrong. Pastries are to die for and the ice cream is simply superb! In the morning, we were served pastries to our hearts desires. That wasn’t something that normally floats my boat since I am really picky with breakfast food. However, the chocolate croissant was very good and small compared to what they sell in the States – shocker, right? My favorite dessert was chocolate moose. I’ve had it served several different ways, however I ordered it every time it was available. I had the apple tart a few times as well as a chocolate and white cake. I was very happy with it.
We also had gelato and ice cream available on every street. They are really big into mixing there flavors. If you know me, then you know I am not really into that whole mixing food business. However, I mixed raspberry sorbet and chocolate ice cream – it was to die for. I was so happy that I ended up doing it. Moral of the story: Any dessert you order in France is going to be amazing. That’s my two cents on food. Bon Appetit!
May 24nd: This is the End
I guess this is the end of the trip. What an experience this has been. I started out in London, which was my dream to go to for so long. I had always fantasized about London since I was at a young age and I got to see it. It was no longer what I saw in movies or read in books. I saw Buckingham Palace- where the queen so rudely wasn’t there, Camden Town, Abbey Road Studios, and rode the Eye of London. I tried to conquer my fear of riding up escalators from the Underground. I ate fish and chips, which I am still not incredibly fond of. I wandered the city jet lag with an amazing group of people.
Then we took the Chunnel to Paris, which was an experience in itself. I had no expectations for Paris what-so-ever and it turn to be so much better than I thought. While we had been freezing in London, we roasted in Paris as we walked to the Louvre. I saw a residential side of Paris, which I am quite fond of and would love to go back and visit. I went to church for the first time in years at Notre Dome and understood absolutely none of the ceremony. I didn’t necessarily feel safe in Paris with all the pickpockets and con-artists. However, that didn’t ruin my experience. I ate my way through Paris in baguettes, goat cheese, and ice cream.
We left Paris to head to Normandy. We saw the beaches that soldiers fought as well as the soil they lay in. It was a very heavy topic but such a breathtaking experience to walk along those beaches. I would love to go back to the country-side any day. We moved around the country-side to see Saint-Michel! Holy church. I suddenly felt like I was in Game of Thrones. Dun-Dun-Dun-Dunnnnn-Dun…. The church was gorgeous and so high up on flat land. It was so cool to see people walking on the sand beneath the risen church.
After Saint-Michel, we went to Saint-Malo, which is even more something out of Game of Thrones. The history of the area was gorgeous. All in all, this was such an amazing experience. Two weeks was not enough in Europe… I definitely felt like I needed more time.
I leave this experience of a lifetime to go back to my home to figure out what to do with myself for the summer. I leave this other reality with new perspectives and ways at looking at situations. I wouldn’t have changed a thing about this trip. I loved the experience of seeing everything even though at times I felt like we would never stop moving.
My only regret is I wish I had brought warmer clothes and an umbrella… Next time.
Where to next after this trip? Back to England to see the countryside, Ireland, and Italy.
Who’s with me?