Friday, December 30, 2005

Thoughts on India in General

  • Roads and Traffic- absolutely insane! This is something they never show in Indian movies. There are no lanes or traffic lights that are taken seriously. Cars just go anywhere and everywhere! With traffic or against it—no difference. Speed limits are non-existent. And you have bikes, rickshaws, cars and everything in between all on the road at once. They honk so incessantly and unnecessarily and there is a sort of rudeness in the honking, too. I’ve never seen anything like this. And I fear for my life every time I’m in a car… And apparently, there isn’t any penalty for getting in accidents or even killing someone on the road! They just pay people off and move on. Surprisingly, I haven’t seen any accidents yet, so maybe this system works…
  • So much inequality! Distinctions between people are so prominent here! Just in terms of weight, it’s clear that the poorest people are skin and bones, while wealthier people are much more meaty.
    On the road, you notice it even more. You have bikes, scooters, motorbikes, rickshaws (really cheap versions of taxis), and cars all on the road together. The cars seem to dominate the road. Everyone has to move out of their way. The bikes get pushed to the edges of the road—it’s really a sight to be seen. I haven’t noticed any sort of public transportation, at least in Nagpur. In the U.S., we have different classes of cars, but I feel like they all are equal on the road. This is definitely not the case in India.
  • Smell- there are definitely some distinct (unattractive) smells that pervade the region. You acclimate to them in minutes, but that almost scares me. I have a fear that the smell will never go away.
  • Electricity and plumbing- definitely problems with both, especially electricity. The power goes out city-wide for three hours a day, which can be a huge drag. And the absence of toilet paper is a little disturbing.
  • Poverty- so much of it. people line the streets begging for money or asking you to buy dumb stuff. People showcase their deformities to earn money- you see tons of twisted limbs, burnt arms, and weirdly shaped people. My uncle says that some of them do these things to themselves to earn some cash. I really wish the Indian government would just employ all of these people to fix up the country! There is so much that needs to be done: roads fixed and expanded, fences fixed, cleaning, etc.
    But there also seems to be a sense that people have given up on the poor. My sister was giving my uncle a hard time about the really young servants that are employed in the house, and he was saying that there aren’t any other options for these sorts of people. They don’t care about education or improving themselves. I have no idea how true that is. But the number of kids employed and on the streets instead of in school is definitely sad. And people really don’t seem to care that much. I was giving my cousin a hard time about the trash he was throwing on the floor and he said that everyone did it and that it didn’t matter- him picking up after himself wouldn’t make a difference. And he defended himself by saying that he didn’t litter when he went to Japan…
  • Animals- so many random animals all over the place! There are stray cows and dogs and goats! I have no idea why they are there, but they are literally everywhere and they just eat trash and each other (when they die are are lying on the streets).
  • Servants- Everyone has them! And they’re so young! And they’re treated with such little respect. These people hire cooks and then criticize the food they prepare so openly…I feel so guilty and bad, but I guess this is just the culture…
  • Language- I feel like a total poser speaking in Hindi. I can understand most of what's being said and I can get by pretty well in speaking, I think, but it just doesn't sound natural. And my family teases me about how I sound, so it's a no-win situation. But I really wish I could speak the language with more ease and comfort...
  • Family- lots of emphasis on it. Joint families are pretty common, with multiple siblings and their families all living together. I really liked seeing all the family togetherness and warmth. I also felt like kids are being brought up really well-- they listen to their parents and seem to be focused on the right things.
  • Food and shopping- I actually haven’t gotten a chance to do much shopping, but I am hoping that our time in Bombay at the end of the trip will make up for that. And things are actually more expensive than I imagined them to be. I thought I’d be paying like $.50 or a $1 for everything, which is unfortunately not the case. Although I may just be getting really ripped off. People talk to me in English before I even open my mouth. They can tell I'm American from the way I dress and carry myself, apparently. Food, on the other hand, is amazing and ridiculously cheap. I really have yet to try bad food. And I haven’t gotten sick from anything, which is awesome!
  • General Hospitality- People are A LOT nicer and friendlier here. There is a certain sense of community that I don't think can be replicated in the U.S.

Trip to Agra and Rajasthan

So we took a very cool, one-week, private tour of Northern India, which included Agra, Jaipur, Bikaner, Jaiselmer, and Jodhpur. We started off in a 15-hour train from Nagpur to Agra. Indian trains are a lot less nice and a lot slower than European ones, but I guess you get what you pay for. We had a private van for the duration of our tour, which took us to the different sights in each city and between cities. There were eight of us total: me, my mom and sister, aunt and uncle, another aunt, a 22-year-old cousin, and a 17-year-old German exchange student (the white guy you’ll see in pictures).
Agra was probably my favorite city of the tour, mainly because of the Taj Mahal, which really is something spectacular. It was really foggy in the morning when we went, so it probably wasn’t the best, but I was still very impressed. The rest of the tour was very historical, with visits to a bunch of Indian forts and palaces. They were really pretty and interesting, but they definitely blurred together by the end of the trip. Another highlight of the trip was Jaiselmer, where we got to go on camel rides through the desert up to a valley area and watch the sunset. It was very cool and really beautiful and relaxing.
The trip ended with a 27-hour train ride back to Nagpur, which was less than stellar, to say the least...


It certainly pays to have wealthy relatives. I get to stay in mansions in both Nagpur and Bombay. Nagpur is the city my mom grew up in, located in the Maharastra region of India (sort of in the middle, on the Western part). Nagpur's population is three million, but it's a sleepy sort of town with not much going on. The “Rana House” (Rana is my mom's maiden name) has three floors and there is basically a separate house on each floor. Lots of servants. And full air conditioning. And nice cars. And pretty balconies and swings. So I’m definitely going to be a getting a privileged view of India. In Bombay, we’re staying at my dad’s uncle’s house, which has seven stories, 25 servants, an elevator, and a personal driver… the guy is in the oil business. No complaints.

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Final Post

Sorry it's been SO long since I've posted, but it has been a crazy last couple of weeks! Now I'm back in the U.S. and at my first day on the job, i.e. downtime...
A postscript on Paris: People are actually not that rude at all. They were totally cool about speaking in English and I thought they were friendlier than the Italians!
Vancouver was awesome-- really nice to see my family and religious leader.
I came back on Monday night and had to write one last paper. I have found that writing papers actually got way harder as the quarter progressed because I was just so sick of it! I had slowly lost all motivation.
But I finished that on Thursday and did one last night of Oxford clubbing on Thursday night, which was quite fun.
Friday and Saturday were, I think, my two favorite days in U.K., probably because classes were done, it was sad to be going back, and the weather was FINALLY good! On Friday I spent the whole day in London, doing all the touristy stuff that I hadn't done yet. I went to Hyde Park (I think Central Park is way better), saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, went on the London Eye, saw Westminster Abbey, took a tour of the Parliament (coolest place ever and I think it was my favorite place in London), and went to Harrod's and Trafalgar Square. Awesome awesome day! I came home at night to our big year-end house party. People from Oxford actually showed up, which kinda surprised me, although I think 95 percent of the Oxford guests were male. Hmmmm...
On Saturday, I went punting for the first time. I really wish I'd tried it sooner because it was SO fun!!! Punting is a big thing at Oxford and Cambridge and it's like rowing, but without the paddles. There is one person at the back who is steering and moving the boat with a long pole. Everyone takes turns with the pole, which isn't as hard as I thought it was. And when you're not steering, you just get to sit on the boat and relax. It was sooo fun! I'll have pictures up soon.
On Saturday night, we went had a group dinner at a very yummy Indian restaurant and then we went to a boat party thrown by one of the colleges. The party was cute and pretty fun, and it was a nice, chill way to spend the last night.
I spent all of Saturday night packing until my flight on Sunday morning. I thought I could sleep as soon as I got on the plane. Unfortunately, my flight was delayed like two hours without airconditioning, so I was pretty miserable. And right now, my luggage is lost somewhere and the United service is awful, so I'm wearing borrowed clothes on first day of work. The only nice thing about yesterday was Whitney picking me up from the airport and having an excellent dinner with her family. And the shoes she gave me for work are also awesome (Thanks Whitney!).
The office seems really neat-- everyone is nice and friendly and young and there is tons of free food and drinks. Yummy. I don't really have any work yet, but I'm assuming (hoping?) that changes.
Thanks for reading this blog the last couple of months. I cannot wait to finally catch up with you guys and hear your voices. We should be talking soon...!!!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


(Link to pictures:

Paris was AWESOME. It is such a beautiful city with so much pretty stuff to see. I loved just walked around aimlessly and the food was great! Lots of yummy crepes and pastries!
Stuff we saw: the Eiffel Tower (of course), Louvre (a little over-rated), Palace of Versailles (beautiful), Museum d'Orsay (the first art museum I've ever liked), a night cruise on the river Seine (sooooo amazing), Moulin Rouge, Palace of Concorde, Concergerie (a little boring), Bastille, Saint Chapelle church (best stained glass I've ever seen), Notre Dame (way cool and big), Sacre C'oure church (great view of the city), the cafe from Amelie (very cute), and just a lot of walking around.
This turned out to be a great weekend to go because Paris was having a ton of festivities for their Olympic bid. On Sunday, the closed down the entire main street of Champs d'Lysee and there was a huge parade and just thousands of people doing sports demonstrations. Paris has put tons of effort into their bid and there are signs and brochures everywhere. I would predict them getting the bid, especially after this weekend. London isn't doing too much, Madrid seemed okay, as did NYC before their stadium thing.
In any case, I loved Paris, but I am kind of exhausted right now because I had so much work to do when I got back and I'm leaving for VANCOUVER tomorrow really early in the morning (I was supposed to go to Vienna, but there was a slight change of plans because of a big religious thing I'm going to with my family, in Canada). This is short, so I may add stuff later...

Monday, May 30, 2005

My awesome roommate welcoming me back with balloons and a sign... I love Veronica!

The Reichstag!

The awesome dome of the Reichstag

Corie and me in Potsdamer Platz-- the center of the city.


New Belin and Oxford pics here:

I got back from Berlin on Saturday in a very tired state. But it was a very good trip! There were like 60 Stanford people there from six different overseas centers, plus German interns from Siemens and Lufthansa, who were the corporate sponsors of the shindig. The conference itself was pretty decent. Speakers were good and the activities were passable. I totally felt privileged knowing that I was attending a school that could afford to organize and pay for this conference that seriously brought students from all over the world together.

The best part was definitely hanging out in Berlin with new Stanford people for free. I really liked the city. It was different from the other European cities I've been to so far-- a lot more modern and interesting in its architecture. The history of the city itself is so new, with the Berlin wall coming down in 1989. It was also neat seeing the divide between East and West Berlin, although the sides are more similar than different now. We didn't have time for much exploring, but we did get to do a bus tour of the city. We saw the new Holocaust Memorial, Blandenburg Gate, and I got to go to the Reichstag, which I'd really wanted to see. The Reichstag had an awesome dome that you could climb through and get a 360-degree view of the city, which was amazing. We also went to the Hackescher Market area in East Berlin (thanks Lauren!). We also had really yummy gelato, but no German food (I was a little relieved). It was really hot all weekend in Berlin (90 degrees!), but I was greeted with rain today in wonderful Oxford.

On Friday night, we went to the Stanford in Berlin program's VILLA! They actually have a villa! It is three stories and really really cool. The President of Germany actually has a house on their street, where he receives visitors. Pretty cool stuff. We also went to a gigantic club on Friday night-- the biggest I've ever seen. It was only one story, but it had four dance floors and 20 bars. Insanity. It also had people of all ages-- like old 40 yr olds and teenagers, all under the same roof. There were also strippers, which was kinda gross. BTW, German guys are way better dancers than British dancers. But I was soooo exhausted after the weekend because of the total lack of sleep. I crashed big time when I got back. Now I'm leaving for Paris on Friday morning and coming back on Monday, so you can expect the next entry to be about that!

Saturday, May 21, 2005

A cool picture of a bunch of us at a club!


So David, in a very professor-like comment, asked that I write more "substantive" stuff about the people I am living with. I will attempt to do this, but it's a little weird, especially cuz they're just normal Stanford students and they might be reading this (not that I'd write anything mean, I promise). But everyone is really nice and friendly. I don't think we had any like best friends coming into the program so we all hang out together. There seem to be two big groups. One group that goes out and one that doesn't, which is probably about normal. But that means there is a whole half of the house that I don't know very well at all. But I like how at least half the house likes to have fun. We went to "The Bridge" club last week and we had a group of 19 people!!! I was really impressed. More generally, we seem to have three academically-focused groups: the English majors, Social Science people (poli sci, econ) and Hum Bio people. So we're all interested in pretty different things, I think. Something I wonder about is how many of these people I'll continue to be friends with next year. I really like them, but at the same time, it's a little funny because we don't have each others phone numbers! We dont have cell phones here, so if I like wanted to call someone next year, I'd have to look them up on facebook, which is mildly sketchy. That's just a really random thought...
I can't think of more to write. But you can email me or comment me with any other questions. (I like getting comments, so leave me more!)
I'm leaving for Berlin on Wednesday, where I'll be till Saturday, so I'm super excited about that! It's a Stanford overseas conference on globalization, with people from all the other Stanford abroad programs, including Corie from Chile, so that will be lots of fun. This is actually my last whole weekend in Oxford because after Berlin, I'll be in Paris and Vienna for the last two whole weekends here. Kinda crazy. But I have no idea when I'll be in Europe again, so I wanna see EVERYTHING!
Oh, and some interesting things about Britain:
Their movie ratings are divided between 12 yr olds, 15, and 18. But unlike our system where you can get into an R-rated movie with your parents even if you're underage, they dont let you do that here! I heard this story about a mom who tried to buy movie tickets for herself and her son for some random 15-level movie and they wouldn't let her!!! I always thought Britain was more liberal than the U.S., so that was weird to hear.
Also, Oxford has a really strange practice where they'll turn your bachelor's degree into a master's degree five years after you graduate if you pay them a given sum of money. Sketchy, sketchy!!!

That's it for now. But next post will be in a week or so about BERLIN!!!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Pros and Peeves about the U.K. experience

The stupid faucets that have separate spouts for hot and cold water
I can't check out books from the library so I spend WAY more time there than I ever have before
Looking on the wrong side of the street before I cross- I will be getting myself killed very soon
The fact that British guys are really bad at approaching girls
Abundance of potatoes, butter, and mayonaise in food
Having to write a paper every week
Being relieved to only spend 10 pounds on dinner in a restaurant-- $20 USD!!!

The 6-pack of raspberry tarts I get from the grocerry store for only 22 pence!
British accents
Having only five hours of class a week
The antiquity of Oxford
Being close to the awesome city life of London
Amazing frozen and fresh Indian food
Proximity to fun bars and clubs and having the time to go to them
Being in Europe
My amazingly big room

I'll add to this list as I think of more things, but I thought I'd let you know how I'm evaluating things here...

I haven't really done anything too cool this week. We had a Bing day trip to Statford upon Avon yesterday, which was a very cute little city/town. We saw A Midsummer Night's Dream there, which was very well done, but I have decided that I am not really a big Shakespeare person.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Beautiful London (that's Big Ben behind me!)

British Election, London, Stuff

I've put some Oxford/London pics up! Link is on the side and here:

(skip if you don't care)
So the British election was on Thursday and as you probably know, Tony Blair got a third term. This is a big deal only because his party, the Labour Party, has never served for more than two terms. The big outcome of the election was that his party kept their majority in the Parliament (as expected). The only questionable thing was the margin of victory. Blair ended up losing 45 seats, which is kinda a big deal. Most people think that he lost the seats because of the Iraq war and that his party didn't do enough with their huge majority. He now has a 67-seat majority. That's definitely big enough for most stuff. The problem could come with the "rebels" in the Parliament. These are a pretty big group of reps in the Labour Party that don't always vote with their party. If they team up with the other parties, Blair could have probs with getting legislation through. So here are some things I found interesting about the British election and politics in general:
  • The Labour Party is the more liberal party of the big two. But they are the ones associated with the war in Iraq (opposite from U.S.). This was weird for me in the beginning because I thought Blair was a total Bush lachey, but he's actually liberal on most stuff. And he's closer to Clinton than Bush personally, I think. I guess before Iraq, Democrats were associated with war, so maybe it makes sense...
  • I read an article somewhere that Iraq was actually the #11 issue on people's minds, way behind healthcare, education, gas prices, etc... also very different from the U.S...
  • People thought that a lotta people might be mad at Blair and cast protest votes for the third party, the Liberal Democrats. This didn't really happen-- the Lib Dems only gained 3 seats. People don't really like the leader of the Lib Dems and he just won't step down.
  • The leader of the Tories (Conservative party) stepped down yesterday cuz his party didn't get the 200-seat goal that he had. But they still gained 35 seats. I think it's kinda silly that he stepped down especially when his party is technically on the rise! Instead of the election being like a celebration, it seems like defeat for his party.
  • I think the election in general has no one really claiming a victory. Everyone is kinda blah... the biggest question post-election is when Tony Blair will step down. It's pretty funny because apparently, in 1994, he made a deal with his buddy Gordon Brown over who'd take over the party. Gordon Brown agreed to let Blair do it as long as he'd step down after some time for Brown to do it. But Blair is said to have overspent his time at the top and he and Brown are supposed to be rivals now. Brown was still campaigning with Blair (he's like the VP) and he's still waiting for his turn to be Prime Minister. This is SO different from how things are in the U.S.!
So that's my little summary and analysis of the election. It's awesome to be learning about this in class during the election time.

So here's a topic that normal people might be interested in...
I went to London yesterday (Friday) to do some sightseeing. It was actually a very unsuccessful trip. We wanted to see Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and the Tower of London. So Westminster is closed till May 18, Buckingham Palace is closed to tourists until September, and Tower of London had closed five minutes before we got there. The trip was still pretty cool. We saw the places from the outside and walked along a lot of bridges and the Thames River, all of which were very pretty. I also just love being in cities and London is an awesome one.

I don't know if this has been made clear, but I am definitely having a GREAT time at Oxford this quarter. It isn't OMG-my-life-wouldn't-be-complete-if-I-wasn't-here great, but it is amazing to be in a total different continent and culture and just taking a break from Stanford. I love exploring new places, so I'm actually becoming a little concerned about spending a full nine months at Stanford next year. But yeah Oxford is cute, quaint, wonderful, fun, chill, and super cool!

Monday, May 02, 2005

Tons of people all over the place

Choir sings atop this tower (part of my college!)

People about to jump off bridge.

May Day!

So yesterday was May Day, which is a huge deal here in the lovely U.K. It's basically New Year's, Spring style. People stay up all night on May Eve and party like crazy. The highlight of the day is at 6 am when everyone is gathered on the bridge and the choir sings from on top of a tower. This si when all the families and people come out. Part of the attraction that I heard about was college students jumping off the bridge in the morning. I got to see a few guys and girls jump off into about 3 feet of water. I was actually amazed that I didn't see any ambulances or anything because that sounded kind of dangerous. But this morning I read an article in the newspaper that said there were about 100 students who jumped off the bridge this year compared to like 12 last year and tons of people got injured this year. So they might actually close off the bridge next year. Kinda crazy and it reminds me of Full Moon on the Quad at Stanford.
But the whole event was pretty neat. I definitely couldn't stay up all night, so I went to bed at 2:30 and then woke up again at 5 am to get a spot near the tower and bridge outside. The streets were loud and crazy all night.
We started off our night at a college "bop"--the second one we've been to this quarter. I expected bops to be like Stanford frat parties and they're definitely... not. They're just very... interesting. I remember a friend of mine from Cal who came to visit Stanford called our parties really "wholesome" and he should take a look at these parties. The kids are so good! The girls are way more covered at the parties than American girls are. Guys don't come up to you and just start dancing-- they actually don't really approach girls at all. And there is very little hooking up/ sketchy business on the dance floor. I was very surprised. They also play a lot more techno music, but I think that's Europe in general. So that's the Oxford college party scene. I think bars and clubs are probably the way to go, but I think it's cool that they still offer on-campus options.
Next topic: British election on May 5! Stay tuned...

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

So... about that Oxford place...

I know that I haven't written much about Oxford itself, but to be honest, we like just finished our first week of classes. The first week here was Orientation stuff and then we had our Bing trip and classes started last Tuesday. I really like Oxford so far. The town is very quaint and small and antique-looking. Much more historic than Stanford. Architecture is very gothic and they use stone a lot.
Oxford has 30-odd colleges, which is where the students take classes, live, eat, etc. The Stanford kids are affiliated with three of the colleges. I belong to Magdalen, which has a reputation for being a harder college to get into, but it's also very proper and snotty. I've only eaten in the dining hall twice so far, but the food hasn't been great. But we just leave trays at our table, and people come pick them up-- a little different from Stanford. The student culture is also really different. For one thing, people don't smile as much. They're not as approachable, so you feel awkward talking to or sitting with strangers. This means that I haven't really met many of the students. I've had some random conversations, but it's just really hard to approach people you don't know.
The people in the Stanford program are all really friendly. There are 47 of us total-- 32 girls and 15 guys, so... yeah... Unfortunately, there aren't that many opportunities for us to get to know each other. We all eat in different colleges and classes are kinda grouped my majors, so the only time we all interact is when we go out. But only half the group goes out, so that's also a mixed bag. But everyone that I have hung out with is cool, so that's good...
Yesterday, I dragged Veronica to a meeting of the "Oxford Scout and Guide Group"-- basically a college-version of Girl and Boy Scouts. They meet every week to do random activities. Yesterday, we did this quiz event in teams with puzzles, and flags, and drink identifying. It was pretty fun and everyone was really nice, but these were definitely some of the geekiest kids I'd met. In a cute way, of course.
I also tried out a ballroom dance class yesterday. I suck! I didn't realize how complicated it was. I'll probably give it another shot next week, along with Latin dance. Tonight I'm trying out Steet Jazz.
Classes are good so far. We take classes with other Stanford students. Oxford kids don't really have formal classes because they work on a tutorial system, in which they are one-on-one with a professor. We also take a tutorial while we're here. Mine is on American Presidents. I know that's a little weird to be taking in Britain, but this is what I think my thesis will be about, so I'll be getting a head start. And my tutor is awesome-- I talked to him about my concern and he doesn't think it's weird to be studying American stuff here. I'll be getting a new perspective. He's also going to give me a crash course on the British election, which is on May 5. I think it's cool that I was in DC for the American election and now I'm in Britain for the UK one! So political! Anyway, my tutor seems very nice and knowledgeable, so I'm excited and relieved about that.
I am also going to be taking a class on globalization to go to the big Stanford conference in Berlin. I'm also taking a class on comparative British and American constitutions. That professor is awesome. He has a great sense of humor and is super-engaging.

That's all for now... like always, keep those emails coming!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Bing Trip to Lake District, Liverpool, and Chester

So those cities do not sound very glamorous. But Bing trips are supposed to be all amazing and stuff, right? Not this one...
First, I guess I didn't have the best attitude because of my low expectations.
Then, the weather was awful- cold, grey, and rainy the entire weekend.
The trip was also really focused on art, museums, and outdoorsy stuff-- none of which I am really interested in.
What I was most looking forward to for the trip was a chance to bond with the whole group, but that didn't really happen because 47 people is a lot and most of the trip was free time, so groups just kinda went off on their own.
On Friday, we went the poet William Wordsworth's old house. This meant nothing to me. We then took a hike along the lake, which was pretty and scenic. Then we checked into our pretty nice hotel. There were two people to a room, which was pretty sweet. We got a very nice three-course dinner. No one wanted to go out because it was pouring outside, so we stayed in and just did random stuff.
On Saturday, we went on a boat ride and a real hike. The boat ride was pleasant and the hike was pretty long and strenous. The views were great, but the trail was really wet and muddy and there was sheep poo everywhere. We then went back to our hotel. My group went out for Indian food and then just crashed early.
On Sunday, we went to Liverpool, took a ferry ride there, and then went to the Tate Liverpool art gallery and the Maritime Museum. We then drove to Chester and checked in to another hotel there.
On Monday, we took a tour of Chester and walked around for awhile. That was a really cute city-- probably my favorite one.
Overall, the trip was okay, but just not very student friendly. I could think of a gazillion other places I'd like to go to or things I would have rather had Mrs. Bing pay for. We also had to contribute $80 for the trip, and I'm not sure that was worth it.
But now I can say I've been to the Lake District, Liverpool, and Chester... Yay!...???

Classes started this week... I'll write more about Oxford stuff in my next post.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The all-famous Roman Colliseum.

The leaning tower of Pisa!

View from the Duomo in Florence.

At the El Retiro Park in Madrid.


So the day after we bought our plane tickets, we found out that the Oxford house would be closed on Monday, the day that we were arriving. So we decided that we could spend our first night in London. What we forgot about was all of our luggage...
Me, being the great packer that I am, had two massive suitcases of 62 and 70 pounds (right at the weight limit). So you can imagine my glee when we had to take the underground subway to get to our hostel. Getting to the subway involved crazy, fast escalators and TONS of stairs with NO elevators. I was SO sore by the time we got to the hostel (like three hours later). My back ached, my arms hurt, and I could not walk. We had a similar routine getting to Oxford the next morning, but it was a little better because we took a taxi to the bus station and took a direct bus...
We met up with Angela in London that night and explored the London and Europe night scene. We didn't really want to spend money, given that we were a group of six girls and everything in London was already SO expensive. We weren't having much luck in the beginning-- people were charging 4-5 pounds to get into anything, which is $8-10 per person! We finally found this cool-looking place called the Zoo Bar and we told the bouncer that we'd only pay 2 pounds per person to get in. The guy clearly didn't do math very well because he said he'd let all six of us in for 10 pounds, which is cheaper than we were willing to pay! The bar was awesome-- it had really good music and a good-sized dance floor. European guys are definitely more forward than American guys and this was a pretty international crowd. It was a lot of fun and I was glad that the semi-random girls I was travelling were up for having a good time...


The hostel we stayed in in Madrid was my favorite one from the trip-- it was clean, with good breakfasts, and nice people. The city was also pretty cool-- it had really clean and efficient subways, pretty cheap food (although I am not a fan of Spanish food overall), and just very pleasant. Attractions we saw: Palacio Real (very cool and beautiful and big palace), Plaza Mayor, El Retiro park, and some other pretty plazas. I met up with a friend that I made in DC in the fall who was doing an abroad program in Madrid through Georgetown and she took us out to dinner and hung out with us for an afternoon, which was very cool. Meeting up with people you know in random places is always fun.

This was the crazy part of our trip where we managed to be in 4 cities within 36 hours. We took a train to Granada and went to see the Alhambra Palace. It was kind of random for us since we were mainly sticking to the really touristy cities. But a girl in the group really wanted to see the palace and I was glad that she did. Granada and the Alhambra palace are part of Spain Moorish legacy and its Muslim influences, so the sights were really different from everything else we saw in Europe. The Palace was gigantic and just really gorgeous in every room. We were there for over four hours.
The train we were supposed to take from Granada to Barcelona was full so we had to take a detour to Seville, and we hung out there for just a few hours. We got to see the famous cathedral there and just walked around for a bit. We then caught an overnight train from Sevilla to Barcelona.

This was definitely the highlight of Spain. It was just gorgeous! We saw the works of the famous architect Gaudi, including La Pedrera and the highlight of Barcelona: La Segrada Familia, which is this amazing unfinished church. We climbed almost 200 feet to the top and got gorgeous view of the city, albeit with some sore legs. We also saw Barcelona's famous cathedral and monastery. We also went to the Barcelona waterfront and marina and took a skycab/ ski lift thing to the Olympic Stadium from 1994 and then to the Barcelona beaches and Olympic villa/ boardwalk area. It was a great city with lots of fun stuff to do...

The one funny story from Barcelona was at our hostel. We were staying in a really cheap hostel and the service there was just really bad. They charged us extra for sheets! We were really annoyed with them all around. But the last straw was when they tried to charge us for keeping our bags there later than 3 pm the day we checked out. They never told us about this rule and then tried to charge us 3 euros each for six people even though are bags just sat in an empty room together. We were trying to argue with them and then one of the two ladies got up to take a phone call. I had been eyeing the key for the luggage room the entire time because I had seen where they'd set it down. So when the one lady got up for the phone, I discretely took the key off the desk and slipped to one of the girls behind me. Me and another girl kept arguing and distracting the woman while the other girls used the key to get into the room and get their stuff. Unfortunately, my luggage was on the other side of the room from the rest of theirs and the girls' hands were full so they weren't able to get mine. I saw them come out so I went in to get my luggage, but by then we'd been found out and the women were really mad. They trapped me in the room with my luggage and wouldn't give me back my suitcase until we paid up. By this point, it wasn't about the money anymore. I was just so mad at these stupid extortionary women. First the woman was asking me for three euros just for my bag. I should have probably just paid up at this point, but I pretended not to have any money on me. My plan was to exchange the key that I thought we still had for my bag. Unfortunately, the other woman had scared one of the girls into giving the key back to her. She actually grabbed Veronica [Sudekum-- my current roommate, very cool!] and made her give back the key. So my plan was lost and then the stupid woman started saying that we had to pay 9 euros to get my bag back. So I had three euros that someone had given me originally. We were starting to get late for our train, so one of the girls just coughed up 6 euros to supplement my 3. But I told the woman that I wouldn't give her my 3 euros until she gave me my bag back. So she gave me bag and I proceeded to run out with my 3 euros (of course) and the women were screaming behind us. But we got out just fine. I am still mad that we had to pay the 6 euros, but it was quite the adventure and it certainly makes for a good story. I hope I told it okay... =)


Italy was probably the most awaited destination for us, especially since we wouldn't let ourselves eat any ice cream before we got there, in anticipation of the gelato.

The journey into Italy was definitely not the most desirable. We were taking an overnight train from Barcelona to Milan and then Milan to Florence. There were six of us and cabins have 4 people in them so we drew to see who'd be the 2 people on their own. I was one of the unlucky people who had to share the room with the two random people. The two random people were two Italian women who knew no English. They also started off not knowing each other, but were somehow best friends by the end of the journey. In any case, they were both smokers and even though we were in a non-smoking cabin, they started smoking as soon as me and Renata left the cabin. We just hung out in the other girls' cabin and the smell wasn't actually too bad so I fell asleep okay... UNTIL I was woken up by the stupid conductor who wakes people up like 45 mins before their stop. One of the women's stops was like 2 hours before ours so I got woken up in the process. This was like 6:30 am. This would have been okay if she'd have gotten up quietly and left. But the other woman was really stupid and decided she wanted to get off with her new friend. This caused a huge commotion because her ticket was for Milan and the conductor still had her passport. Then the two women went outside to smoke and got caught. So THEN, we had the Italian police and drug dogs come into our room at like 7 am. They made us all get out of bed and take out all of our suitcases while the dogs sniffed them. Needless to say, I could not go back to sleep and our stop wasn't until 10 am so I was one very unhappy camper.

Thankfully, Italy was uphill from there. In Florence, we saw: the very pretty Duomo cathedral church thing and climbed up to the top of the dome for a great view, Michelangelo's David sculpture (amazing!), the Medici Palace, Palazzo Vecchio, the Ponte Vecchio Bridge that has a really cute tradition of lovers going up there and guys locking padlocks to a certain sculpture thing and throwing the key away as a symbol of their undying love, and we saw the Pizzale Michelangelo, which has the most amazing and free view of the city. We also took a day trip to Pisa, which is an hour away, to see the leaning tower of Pisa. This was very cool, but I was also surprised by how short the tower is. It would be a really lame tower if it didn't lean.

We also met up with a bunch of the kids from the Stanford Florence program, who were really cool. We went out to some bars with them on a Monday night, which was awesome. My only complaint was the bad customer service in Florence. They have so many tourists that they really don't care about them and people can be very rude. But it was a great city, other than that...

We took an amazing, high-speed (one-hour) train to Rome, and I think this was my favorite city overall. It was SO beautiful. There was so much history and beauty at literally every block. There were big fountains and sculptures EVERYWHERE. We were there for the day before and day of the Pope's funeral (we hadn't planned it like that), so the city was packed with people, but they were pretty much concentrated around St. Peter's Basilica, so the other attractions weren't too bad. Unfortunately, the Sistine Chapel closed the day we got there to prepare for the enclave of Cardinals to pick the new pope, so that kinda stunk.
But we saw: the Colosseum, Roman Forum ruins, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Vatican Museums, Villa Borghese, the pretty plazas, and the monument of Vittorio Emmanuel (a beautiful building that you don't ever really read about). Angela and a friend of hers from Florence hung out with us in Rome on the last day, which was cool. We also found the most amazing gelato place call San Crispino that's been featured in the NY Times and Gourmet magazine and the fruit flavors there were just unbelievable. You actually felt like you were eating an orange or pear or apple. If you're ever in Rome, email so I can give you directions to this place.

Crazy story: I ran into my IHUM TF in a McDonald's in Rome!!! It was insane. She doesn't even teach at Stanford anymore because she's in New York with her new husband and baby (they were all just vacationing in Rome). But she saw me in McDonald's and called my name. I couldn't believe she remembered it, but she was my TF for winter and spring and I am a very memorable person ;-) But that was just totally crazy! FYI, McDonald's was totally our friend during this trip: cheap, reliable food, where you can always understand the menu!

We went down to the Amalfi Coast with Angela and her friend for a day, where we planned to spend our second to last day just relaxing and lying on the beach. Unfortunately, it rained the entire time. The coast was still beautiful and we had a blast with our newly expanded group, but getting wet wasn't so hot.

We went back to Rome on Sunday because we were flying out of there on Monday morning. We got to go back to the amazing gelato place and then we went to St. Peter's Basillica because we hadn't been able to go there before. We went to St. Peter's Square, which was awesome, but arrived just in time for Sunday mass, which was the first one since the Pope's death so the place was PACKED. It was gorgeous from what I could make of it, but I could barely see anything in the church, which was a little sad....

On Monday, we took a bus ride to the Rome airport, got on our flight, and then a two hour bus ride to Oxford. But I am finally here and it is SO nice to have a real bed and home and internet and just be in the same place for more than two days. I loved the whole traveling experience, but there is no way I could do it for more than two weeks. I am glad to be home (or the Oxford version of it)...