I realize that some geographical terms I use (Great Britain, England, United Kingdom, etc.) may be confusing for some of you, or you live in ignorant bliss thinking that they’re all the same thing.

However, they are not. Here’s a great video to explain some terms and British geopolitics. Enjoy!

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Although it flew by, I had a great two weeks at home. The first week was filled with seeing friends and catching up, Christmas gatherings, and a hockey game, where the Arizona Coyotes beat the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Colin arrived a week after myself and he spent the holidays with my family… my whole family (well, almost). My mom’s family came to Arizona where Colin met everyone on that side of the family. The day after Christmas, we drove to southern California where he got to meet a lot of my dad’s side. While we were there, we also went to Santa Monica Pier and Six Flags Magic Mountain. Our last few days back in Arizona were spent relaxing before I dropped him off at the airport this morning. Our time together went by quickly, but I’m glad he go to come out and I’m most likely going to make it over to Canada this July.

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At first (this may come as a surprise), I didn’t consider Paris a priority destination. But with nothing but amazing reviews from my family (especially my brother, Ryan, who went there in June), I decided to make it a reality for myself. I originally planned to go with Emily, but with the recent terrorist attacks, she didn’t feel comfortable going. I coaxed Ben into going with me instead and with that, we set off.

Saturday, 12 December: After getting in fairly late on Friday night, Saturday was our first real day in Paris. First, we went to the Arc de Triumph. We admired its vastness, then went to the top, which had amazing views of the city. From the top of the Arc, we saw a climate demonstration starting. For those who don’t know, major legislation regarding climate change action has been being reviewed in Paris over the last couple of weeks, with awareness marches all over the world. In fact, Ben and I (and another friend of ours) were at the one in London. However, due to the terrorist acts from the other month, the march in Paris was banned, but an alternate protest was held. After that, we went to the D’Orsay Museum. There were several interesting pieces and an intriguing temporary exhibit.

Sunday, 13 December: We started our day by visiting the Lourve, first taking a walk around the nearby park before going into the museum. The museum itself was really impressive. Like The Met in New York, you could spend days in that museum and still not see everything. With that in mind, we chose a few exhibits we were interested in and saw those, including the Mona Lisa. After that, we walked to the Notre Dame Cathedral and admired both the inside of the church and the view from the top some 400 odd steps up.

Monday, 14 December: Monday was Ben’s birthday, so I treated him to a trip up the Eiffel Tower. While the view from the lower levels were amazing, the view from the very top of the tower was clouded by fog, which was a bit of a disappointment. However, right after we exited the Tower, the sun came out. It was the first time I’ve experienced a sunny day since who knows when. We sat along the river and enjoyed the weather for a while. To end our time in Paris, we went to a wine tasting. I was just getting over being sick, so I wasn’t in any mood to drink, but Ben enjoyed it.

I loved Paris more than I anticipated and it has been one of the only cities I feel like I still have a lot to see and do.

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I am heading back to Arizona tomorrow morning for Christmas break. I can’t wait to be reunited with my friends, family (including Bailey) and American delicacies like Chipotle and Target.

I have updated my Great Britain traveling post here with my time in London for the climate march and other various tourist attractions.

Photo by Hernan Lucio.

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My grandparents (my dad’s parents) have gone to Prague many times and if they happened to be there the same time I was in Europe, I would gladly visit them. With that, Emily and I hopped on a plane to do so this last weekend.

Saturday, 21 November: We got in late Friday night and went to bed after a quick dinner. We started off our trip by visiting the Prague Castle. It actually isn’t a traditional castle per say, but rather a gathering of government buildings with an impressive cathedral (the St. Vitus Cathedral) in the center of the complex. After that, we took the long way back to the flat and walked across the Charles Bridge for the first time (little did I know we would be crossing it several more times during our time in Prague). Once we got back on the other side of the river, we had what was my favorite meal in Prague: an appetizer of baked goat cheese with fig jam and an entree of tortellini. We then visited the Lennon Wall. The area was incredible: with an area of candles presumably in solidarity for the events in Paris, as well as related paintings on the wall. I even made my own addition: “We are one,” a lyric from a song about international unity I felt appropriate. To end our day, all four of us went to the opera. The opera was Carmen and I’m glad I had the experience to see such a popular opera with such great seats.

Sunday, 22 November: The four of us walked through Old Town. A lot like Nice, it was a series of narrow streets with unique shops and equally unique eateries. Emily and I even got a famous Czech pastry: the trdelník, a hollow treat with your choice of goodies inside. We walked through the streets and across Old Town Square to the Municipal House, where we had lunch. After that, we went our separate ways, where Emily and I got fish pedicures; a treatment where fish eat the dead skin off your feet. It tickled at first, but I soon learned how to relax and not think about it. My feet turned out surprisingly smooth!

We left early this morning and now it’s back to real life, and by real life I mean my mountain of coursework. I really enjoyed this weekend and it was nice to get a taste of my home life by seeing my grandparents.

I have combined all my Great Britain adventures into one post here and have updated it with my London daytrip last week to see The Book of Mormon and Kinky Boots.

My next adventure: Paris, France!

Photo by Wiktor Karkocha.

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A piece of advice that really resonated with me before I left was “explore a lot of your home country.” With that in mind, I made time to do so. I took time to explore Southampton, Bath, Eastbourne, Kingston, Lewes, Lancaster, Manchester, Glasgow and, of course, London.

Wednesday, 15 October: I went to Southampton for a Senses Fail show. I arrived at Southampton Central and walked through town (including a quick pop into a Lord of the Rings themed pub, The Hobbit) to meet up with my long-time friend, Alex. We are both huge Senses Fail fans and it was surreal to see them together after years of half-joking, half-fantasizing about it for so long. The show itself wasn’t the best; they were an opening band so the crowd was really low energy, but they sounded great and I got a drumstick! I wasn’t overwhelmed with Southampton, but it was nice to spend time with Alex.

Saturday, 17 October: My friend, Chris, goes to university in Bath and was always on about how beautiful it is. When I made my way up there, he showed me around the city. The architecture was really unique and the rolling hills and the fall foliage were beautiful. After that, we hung out with his roommates by playing board games, watching movies and taking random online quizzes. It’s awesome having friends all around England, it makes the experience much more personal when they know all the worthwhile places to see and you can retire to a comforting place rather than a noisy hostel.

Tuesday, 27 October: I had a “reading week,” I use the quotations because like a lot like other students, only one of my classes observed it so I ended up getting only two days off, but I made the most of it by spending one of them in Eastbourne, about half an hour away from my university by train. I’ve been wanting to visit ever since I found out a famous hiking landmark, Beachy Head, was nearby. The park in which it lies (South Downs) was about half an hour away from the centrally located train station and the rest of the hike through the park was beautiful, with views of the sea and city surrounded by hills. This beautiful park extends through a lot of the south of England, in fact, the University of Sussex lies within it, as well, and it’s stunning. There were about half a dozen buses full of tourists, which really took me by surprise. I knew it was popular, but not this popular! The city itself was underwhelming, but I’d definitely like to visit Beachy Head again in the spring.

Thursday, 29 October: The same week, I also went to Kingston for a band signing. I have been there before with Tom before our day trip to London, but we didn’t get much time there and now I understand why: there isn’t much to do. I walked along the river and enjoyed the fall colors, but didn’t know what to do with myself after that. Before I knew it, the signing came. The band is called Enter Shikari and it was at the record store I visited in September and bought their second album. Coincidentally, I also bought their most recent album in Philadelphia and when I found out about the signing, I ordered one additional album, showing up with three items for them to sign. They were really great guys and seemed genuinely grateful of their fans. I didn’t think it was possible, but now I’m even more excited to see them in February!

Thursday, 5 November: Bonfire Night signifies the events of 5 November 1605, when Guy Fawkes arrested while guarding explosives the plotters had placed beneath the House of Lords. To celebrate the fact that King James I had survived the attempt on his life, people lit bonfires around London. It is now celebrated all around the nation, with one of the most critically acclaimed ones in the small town of Lewes, which is mere miles away from my university. My friends Ben, Andy, Dan and I planned to walk there with the Walking Society as the trains and buses from Brighton were going to be packed. It started raining (of course), but we were still determined to go, The Walking Society, however, not so much. They cancelled the guided walk so we were left to our own devices and we decided to take a gamble on the train. It was still pretty early in the evening (although you never would have known as the sun sets well before 16:30 here), so there wasn’t many people on the train. We got into Lewes and the festivities had already begun; with several bonfire societies parading the streets. We walked around and miraculously stumbled upon the infamous David Cameron pig effigy. The topic had made Facebook trends earlier the day because of its controversial nature. I’ll give a brief crash course for those who may not know about what has come it call itself Piggate: a while ago, a rumor arose that the United Kingdom prime minister, David Cameron, stuck his penis inside of a dead pig’s mouth for a university initiation. Unsurprisingly, the public got carried away and started saying he has sex with pigs. This effigy has David Cameron holding a pig and wearing nothing but a thong with the United Kingdom flag on it and reads, “Dave + Piggy” on the back. After grabbing a few drinks and observing the real parade (all while it’s still raining), we headed over to one of the many bonfires that night. Naturally, we chose the one with the David Cameron effigy. It was in a field and although we got there early, they had already started the large bonfire. We chose a spot to watch the bonfire and fireworks, but we were pretty far away from the bonfire, so we got none of its warmth. A woman beside us insisted it’s the best spot for fireworks, so we persisted. Through the rain, mud and smoke, it’s safe to say my trainers are facing permanent damage and my clothes will never smell the same again. However, the view really was worth it. I imagined they would set off fireworks from a distance, but right there in the field from the Guy Fawkes and David Cameron effigies, they set of nearly full-sized fireworks right in front of my eyes.

Friday, 6 November: The next morning, I took a bus up to Lancaster University, about 300 miles north of Brighton, to visit Tom. Once I arrived, he gave me a small tour of the campus. It’s a lot larger and up-to-date than University of Sussex. We spent the evening chilling and catching up before I turned in early after a long day of traveling.

Saturday, 7 November: We spent Saturday in Manchester, which is about an hour away from Lancaster by train. There wasn’t much to do there but walk around, but I was perfectly content with that. We found some cool vintage shops and an amazing pizza place.

Sunday, 8 November: We were originally going to go to the Lake District, but due to the rainy weather all weekend, we decided a city would be better. We were between Liverpool and Glasgow and ended up settling for Glasgow. It was about two hours away by train from Lancaster and when we arrived it was raining, so we decided to eat first. Luckily, one of the best burger places in the city was only a few blocks away from the station. After that, we walked around and went to the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art. The exhibits were interesting, but the most interesting thing was the statue in front of the museum: an equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington that always has a traffic cone on its head. Even if the cone is removed, it’s always replaced. To end our day, we took a walk along the river before heading back to Lancaster. I loved Glasgow, it’s been one of my favorite British cities and I hope to return soon on better weather conditions.

Wednesday, 18 November: My roommates, James and Ben, and I went to London to see a play. James has always been a huge fan of Broadway musicals like myself and Ben has taken an interest after seeing the Les Misérables movie. The three of us saw The Book of Mormon together. We all liked it and had a good laugh (as it was a more comedy-inclined musical), but I felt it was a little overrated. Some critics were saying it’s “the best two hours of your life,” and I’m not sure if I agree with that. But the play was fantastic nonetheless and our seats were a great value. James and Ben went their separate ways after we ate and I proceeded to see Kinky Boots by myself. Ever since I saw the play when it was at Gammage over a year ago, I’ve been looking forward to seeing it again. It’s definitely one of my favorite plays and seeing it in London made it all the more special.

Sunday, 29 November: Ben, our friend Ryan and myself went to London for march demanding  the government take action against climate change. We went with a society from our university, where they provided us with affordable transportation by bus (I would have hated to see what the trains looked like). It started at Hyde Park corner, where several activists (including the recently elected Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn) spoke before the march began. It ended about a mile and a half away at Parliament, where there were several more speakers. This was one of the largest marches in history clocking about 50,000 heads and it was a great feeling to be a part of that.

Sunday, 6 December: I had tickets to see Marina and the Diamonds and London and since it was on a Sunday, I decided to make a day out of it. I started my day in London by visiting my friend Emily (a different Emily than the one who I have been traveling with). We’ve known each other since high school and both happen to be studying abroad in England this semester. She showed me parts of her campus at the University of Westminster in Harrow and we grabbed a bite to eat before I had to leave her so she could finish up some coursework. I made my way to central London to do a few tourist-y things I’ve missed before. First, I walked the Tower Bridge and explored the London Bridge Christmas Market. After that, I walked around Covent Garden and its many shops. My last stop of the day was in Camden, an area which I’m familiar with, for a bite to eat. I made my way to the venue in SoHo where I met another American in the queue. He has been following Marina around the United Kingdom and on her United States tour, as well. And I thought I was a big fan! The show was amazing. It had three acts, one for each of her albums. Although it was a seated show, the crowd was still lively and fun.

I had a great time from serene spots by the sea in Eastbourne to bustling cities like Manchester, but I’m glad I chose to live in Brighton. It’s hard to believe my first term is coming to a close so quickly, but I know second term will be even better and I’ll have more time to explore more of Great Britain.

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