A Year in London

My time living and working in London in 2012

The parks of London

I’ve been savouring the last bits of warm weather we’ve been getting here in London. It’s been very cold this month, but fortunately the last two weekends have both been very nice! Alex and I took a day trip out to Richmond last Saturday. It’s still technically a part of London, but it’s further outside the city center. Richmond is next to the earlier parts of the Thames and we took a beautiful walk along the river.

Richmond Park is one of the biggest parks in London, and it’s where we spent the afternoon. It used to be a hunting ground, so there are still lots of deer and wildlife wandering around the park. During our two hour walk, I saw more deer than I’ve ever seen before! We passed several herds, one of which easily had a least 50 deer. We were also lucky enough (maybe lucky isn’t the right word, I was kind of nervous) to come across a few stags that were fighting each other and rutting their antlers!

Hanging out in Richmond Park

Unfortunately, I didn’t really do much for Thanksgiving and I had to work on Monday, but Lisa and I spent Thanksgiving Sunday doing a bit of shopping before having a nice chicken dinner at a pub. Sadly no turkey, but it was still really yummy! This past Friday, I went to another football match with Kiran. This time it was England vs. San Marino and I really got into the spirit and bought my very own England scarf. I didn’t think England vs. San Marino would really be a huge match, but Wembley sold out and there were 85,000 people at the game! San Marino wasn’t really much of a match for England though and they won 5-0. It also happened to be a FIFA qualifying game!

On Saturday, we went on a walk out to Greenwich! I’ve been out to Greenwich before, but this time we decided to enjoy the weather and walk the 7 miles out there. It took us about 2 hours to get there and I think Tavao was seriously rethinking her choice of coming out with us for the afternoon! Alex took us to the Greenwich market, where we all enjoyed some tasty treats, and then Lisa and I walked through Greenwich Park, up to the Observatory, which has an amazing view of the Docklands and London. We finished the evening off with some fantastic Indian food on Brick Lane!

On the way to Greenwich

It’s been an eventful last 2 weeks in terms of travel plans as well. Lisa and I are heading up to Edinburgh on Thursday to meet my classmate, Helena, who is living in Amsterdam. We’re going to spend the weekend exploring Edinburgh, doing a bit of hiking, and we’ll hopefully make it out to Loch Lomond and the National Park! Then, in November, I’m flying over to the Netherlands to visit Helena for a few days. Finally, I’m heading off to Austria in December! I must be the luckiest girl because my Dad is going to fly over after I finish work to come ski the Austrian Alps with me! I booked our flights and accommodations this week.

I’m off to Edinburgh on Thursday, so my next update will have to be about that. Hope everything is well back home! Missing you all very much!

Love Maria

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Through field and forest: Exploring England

I can’t believe I’ve been in Europe for a month already! Time has been going by so quickly and I have been having a blast! I can’t get over how different this semester feels then when I was here in the winter. I spent much of January feeling very lonely and my biggest priorities were to meet new people and to experience as many London sights as I could. This semester, I’m less concerned with doing touristy things in London and I really just want to experience living here. I’ve been getting on really well with my flatmates and I’ve really been enjoying catching up with all my friends. I feel very comfortable and at home in London and I really couldn’t be any more excited to be back!

Last weekend Rocky came to visit and I spent a nice night out with him, Alex, and J. We went to a Belgian restaurant and I had the biggest serving of mussels and fries ever! It was ‘beat the clock’, so for £6.15 (we ordered at 6:15), I got a half kilo of mussels! We met up with a few of Alex’s friends after that and Rocky introduced us all to the crazy world of bubble tea. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a fruity drink with little tapioca balls in it. Rocky loves it, but I think it is the strangest thing ever!

Enjoying moules frites at Belgo

Last Saturday I got up early to go on a mini-trip with 3 of my flatmates. We took the train west for an hour until we came to a small village called Cirencester (pronounced Siren-cester). It was a beautiful day, so we spent some time exploring the village, which was comprised mostly of old stone buildings. We spent some time walking through the park and we visited both the cathedral and the farmer’s market, where we had some delicious cake and fudge! We also stopped at an old Roman amphitheater just outside the city. It was pretty ancient and you could no longer see any of the stone, just oddly shaped hills that had grown up around the amphitheater.

We spent the rest of the day hiking through the countryside. It was exactly how I pictured hiking rural England and it was incredibly nice. We walked for about 5 miles through Cirencester Park, which is all fields and trees, until we came to a small village. From there we hiked another 5 miles along the river, which took us through lots of small towns. There was lots of wildlife around and we managed to see a wild deer and a rabbit (along with lots of sheep and cattle). All in all, we hiked about 15km and finished off with a nice meal in a local pub before heading back to London.

Cirencester Town

Hanging out by the river

On Sunday, Melanie came out to visit me from Harlow, where she is doing her teaching internship. She came to church with me at Regent Hall (known as the Rink from here on in), where I made my singing debut! I joined the worship team for the semester, which I am excited about, and I had my first performance this past weekend. We spent the afternoon at my favourite market, Spitalfields. Unfortunately it rained on us, but we made the best of it!

This week I’ve really been getting into the groove of things. I’ve started swimming again and I’ve been taking a course by distance that I’ve been working on. I also had a lovely dinner to catch up with my friend Camille. I spent Saturday at Thorpe Park with my colleague, Kiran. It’s an amusement park about 45 minutes outside of London. It was much better than I thought it would be and I had a great time going on rides and roller coasters! The best one was easily this roller coaster called The Swarm. The premise of the ride is that an alien swarm has attacked earth; I’ve got to give the park props for putting a lot of time into making the ride as realistic as possible. The roller coaster is surrounded by burnt-out vehicles, fire trucks, ambulances, and even a crashed plane!

Thorpe Park

To conclude this blog, I really have been having a wonderful time and I’m excited for all the things I’ve yet to experience while I’m here! As always, I still miss everyone at home and I would love to hear from you guys! Steph and Suyen, I promise you both skype calls very soon!!!

Much love,
Maria

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Soaking up the sun in Croatia

I’ve added another country to the list of amazing places I’ve visited – Croatia! Before moving to London I spent a week traveling the Croatian coast with my friend Lisa. I’m not really sure how we ended up deciding to go to Croatia, it’s not really the most visited tourist destination, but we’d both heard it was really nice and a quick google search confirmed that it was indeed very beautiful.

In case you don’t know anything about Croatia, let me bring you up to speed! It’s a small country in Eastern Europe that borders the beautiful Adriatic Sea, along with Slovakia, Serbia, and Bosnia. It was a former part of Yugoslavia and was at war in the early 90’s when it left Yugoslavia and became an independent country. This fact bothered my mother a little bit at first, but it is now a perfectly safe and lovely place to visit!

Plitvicka National Park

I met Lisa in Plitvicka National Park at the start of September. Unfortunately, it rained on us while we we’re in the park, but it could hardly take away from the natural beauty of the place. The park is a series of lakes flowing down from the mountains. The ground is all limestone and so over many years the water has slowly been forming caves, tunnels, and springs in the topography, resulting in beautiful rivers and waterfalls! We spent the day hiking through the park and enjoying nature. Fortunately, it didn’t really start pouring on us until the second half of the hike, so we managed to get some nice pictures. After that there was really no hope for us and by the time we arrived back at the hostel we were completely soaked through!

After leaving the park, we went to the town of Split. It’s located along the coastline and from there we went from island to island, enjoying the crystal waters of the Adriatic Sea! The first island we visited was Hvar. The town of Hvar is situated right at the foot of the mountains, as they rise up out of the sea. The town itself is completely made of stone; staircases and alleys seem to go on forever up the mountain. We watched quite an impressive lightning show one night from the waterfront. The storm hadn’t yet reached us, so we had a great view of the streaks of lightning as they lit up the sky all around us!

Hvar

The beaches in Croatia are not your typical sandy beaches – in fact, Croatia has very few sandy beaches at all! The shoreline is made up of large rocks that fall into the sea and small pebble beaches. I always used to think of sandy beaches as ideal, but the pebble beaches in Croatia were also amazing! The water is incredibly clean and clear no matter where you go, so you can just jump into the water from the rocks whenever you feel like swimming! Lisa and I took full advantage of this and spent much of our time lounging on the beaches whenever we felt like it!

The second island we visited was Korcula. By this point, we had developed a pretty solid schedule for our days. We hadn’t planned much for activities and wanted to spend our time relaxing, so we would generally head out exploring in the mornings to see what we could find. It was very hot and humid, so we would walk until we got tired and then we would find a nice place to go swimming and relax! Our lounging in the sun was usually split up with a search to find food and then we would go back to tanning and reading on the beach!

Korcula

Our last stop was Dubrovnik, the main tourist destination in Croatia. It’s located right at the very southern end of the country, so we had to travel down the rest of the mountainous coastline to get there. Arriving in Dubrovnik was one of the rainiest mornings I have ever experienced. The entire city is built on the side of a mountain and rain was running down the roads like rivers! We got a taxi to our hostel because it was so wet and the rainwater was up past the tires of the car! We arrived safe and sound though and it didn’t take long after for the rain to clear up.

We decided to try and actually learn a little bit about Croatia when we were in Dubrovnik. We went on two walking tours, one about the war in the 90’s and the second about the history of Dubrovnik. The center of the city is called the “Old Town” and it is completely surrounded by castle walls. The city has been around for centuries and for years it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, the city was besieged and attacked in the mid 90’s and due to all of the damage it lost its UNESCO title. Most of the city has been restored, but it’s a bit surreal to walk through the city and still see scars of war. It was a little hard to grasp that the war in Croatia had taken place during my lifetime and that I knew so little about it.

Overall, it was an incredible trip! Croatians are very friendly people; everyone we met went out of their way to help us out and make us feel at home. Part of the appeal of the country is that it’s not a huge tourist destination and so you can actually experience a little bit more of what Croatia is really like (except in Dubrovnik; the cruise ships stop there so it is tourist central). It’s also pretty cheap compared to the rest of Europe. Altogether, it was another fun and successful trip!

Old Town Dubrovnik

Categories: A Year in London, Travels in Europe | 2 Comments

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