Category Archives: Travel

You either Windsor you lose

A long time ago, a beautiful American girl got very frustrated with flat hunting and decided to leave the city behind… so she went to Windsor, drank a little too much beer, and walked around a castle slightly inebriated.

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Ticket prices to visit Windsor vary widely depending on a variety of factors (age, student status, whether you’re the Queen) but they all include an audio tour that’s incredibly detailed.  You can also book an evening tour.

I was disappointed to discover they don’t allow pictures inside the actual castle, but that’s par for the course from what I’ve seen so far.  I guess you’ll just have to go see it yourself…

Check out the rest of the pictures on Flickr.

PS: I think I need to lay off the puns… my post titles are starting to sound like ModCloth dresses.

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Tray Frawnch

Last week I had the misfortune of taking a mandatory trip to Paris.  I know, what a bore.

Thanks to some slight miscommunication about travel times, my visa wasn’t valid until 23 August.  But, by the time I’d gotten my visa, I had a plane ticket leaving 20 August.  Therefore, I HAD to leave the country and come back in, in order to “activate” my visa.

My life is really hard, you guys.

Here are just a few of the amazing pictures I got!

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Check out Flickr to see which photos didn’t make the cut.

Eileen

Here I am!

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Well, the last few days have been exciting and hectic over here in jolly ol’ England.  The weather has been gorgeous – one day uncharacteristically hot, the other drizzly and cool, but I loved them both.  I kind of feel like I might be getting the hang of this place – knock on wood!  But it’s not all been easy sailing and I don’t expect that to change.  Despite all of my preparations, I made a few mistakes and I’ve also learned some valuable lessons.

  1. If you’re so jetlagged that you find it difficult to function, go to sleep!  I tried to power through it and made some avoidable mistakes along the way.  The fact is, there’s really no rush to adjust your sleep patterns, so don’t pressure yourself.  It’s more important to feel up to the task than to defeat jetlag.
  2. Despite all of my checking and hoping and praying that, since my phone was unlocked, I would be able to use it, none of the UK sim cards worked.  I tried 3 different carriers and it was always the same: texting worked, calling worked, but I couldn’t get it to access the network to use data.  Which is kind of important since the only way I can contact friends and family in the US is with Skype or another messaging service.  If I had a UK credit card I could have paid monthly for a phone (like the Verizon Edge program) but since I haven’t been here long enough to get one I had to buy one.  It cost about £200, which seemed to be a median price in their selection.  I would also recommend going to one of the shops specifically for whichever company you choose, versus buying from one of the smaller shops that stock all of them.
  3. Exchange any currency on you as soon as you get there.
  4. If you decide to ride a hop on, hop off tour that takes you all around central London like I did (especially on a summer weekend) start early.  Before 10 am.
  5. On that same note, don’t go to the Natural History Museum on a drizzly Sunday unless you love crowds and heat.
  6. Have an umbrella, hat, or hooded jacket (or all three) on you at all times, even if it’s sunny.  But especially if it’s overcast.
  7. Buses run less frequently at night.  Okay, okay, I know, I’m showing my suburban stripes with this one.  Yes, it was stupid to assume they run as frequently after 11pm.  Just don’t assume that and you won’t end up standing at a bus stop by yourself for half an hour.

Eileen

Livin’ La Visa Loca

Oh my God, I did it.  I finally got my visa.  That was the last official thing I needed to do before I left and now – it’s done.  I’m in the home stretch.  This is my last week at work, then two weeks later I LEAVE.  On a PLANE.  To live in ENGLAND.

Lest you think applying for a visa is lollipops and raindrops, allow me to take you through some of the high points of my application process.

  • After months of being reassured that my CAS would arrive in time and I had nothing to worry about, I only received my CAS after hounding all interested parties for over a week.  Yes, I have turned into that woman.  I’m sure a few memos have already been sent around the school warning administrators about me.
  • The online visa form turned out to be a lot harder than it looked, especially if you get anally pedantic when under stress like *ahem* some people I know.  Also, I tried to submit it five times before I realized I had forgotten to put the school’s phone number in one field.  You can only imagine the panic that ensued until I worked that out.
  • I went to my biometric screening under the impression that I would be submitting my application then and there.  So of course I took every single piece of paperwork I had associated with the application.  I only ended up showing my passport and the first few pages of the application.  Then they took my picture, got my fingerprints, stamped my application, and I was done.  It turns out you have to submit the actual application by mail yourself. (I would recommend taking all of your paperwork, anyway, just in case.)
  • Call me ignorant (please don’t, I’m very fragile) but it never occurred to me that I would have to send in my actual passport as well as originals of all of my paperwork.  I made multiple copies of everything I sent in so they had a copy to keep and I had a copy in case something happened to the originals.
  • I genuinely doubted my application would be approved.  Not because of the sordid past I’ve hid from all 3 readers of this blog, but because I was afraid I filled in the form wrong.

At least the parade of frustrating online paperwork has subsided (momentarily).

Leavin’ on a Jet Plane

I messed up.

“But Eileen,” I hear you saying, in that shocked voice you save for only the truly egregious things in life, “I thought you didn’t make mistakes!”

Well, I mean, I don’t, it’s just that this time-

Okay, I can hear you rolling your eyes.  Rude.

Anyway, there is a lesson to be learned from this mess-up, which is why I’m telling you in the first place.  It’s not like the time I broke my toe on a vacuum cleaner or tried to scalp Duran Duran tickets.  No, this one’s constructive.

So, it’s November 27th, right?  I just got my admission email from school.  I’m psyched.  I’m trying to figure out where to start.

I put the turkey in the oven (it was Thanksgiving Day).

Plane tickets!  I’m going to need a plane ticket.  Obviously.  So I check Google Flights, one way tickets, Orlando to London… $400?!  Seriously?  What a deal!  Can I buy ten?

But wait.  I don’t know exactly which day I’m going to leave.  Where I’ll be living.  When school starts.  So I don’t buy the ticket.

But I watch.  Every day I check Google Flights.  As my plans begin to take shape and solidify, I consider buying the tickets.  Then one day I check Google Flights and – BAM! – $700.

“They’ll go down,” I reassure myself, then force everyone else to as well.

But they don’t.  They go up to $890.  Then they dip back down.  Then they hover in between.  But they never go below that $700 mark again.

Eventually I scrape my jaw off the floor and recover enough brain power to remember I have some miles with Alaska Airlines.  On the vague chance they have a flight to get me from one point to the other for under $800, I check.  It turns out they do.  A direct flight*, in fact, which I never thought was possible in my wildest dreams.  And it only costs me $450 if I buy a few extra miles.  The only thing to consider is…

I’m just kidding.  I bought it.  How stupid do you think I am?  Wait, don’t answer that.

Moral (or tl;dr for you youngin’s): Don’t wait until your airfare doubles to consider purchasing.  Buy early and often (after checking to make sure they can accommodate your luggage).

*Side note: who would have guessed Alaska Air would have a partnership with British Air?  Not me.  Or anybody in Alaska.

St. Augustine: A Road Trip!

Part of knowing I’ll be living outside the country in less than a year is realizing how little of the US – even Florida – I’ve actually seen.  I’ve never been to the Keys, only spent a night in a hotel in Miami (without really seeing any of it), and, until Friday, had never been to St. Augustine, the oldest European settlement in the United States.  Sure, people from New England brag about how long their families have been there, and yes, I am one of those people.  But then you think about when the Spanish landed here – 1513 – and the landing at Jamestown seems modern by comparison.

Aside from being a tremendous historical landmark, St. Augustine is a bit of a tourist town.  The Fountain of Youth is a $12 park that would look tacky at Disney World and everything is slightly overpriced.  Still, it’s interesting to see how they’ve taken the older part of “downtown” St. Augustine with it’s Spanish-style buildings and spruced them up for tourists.  A lot of the stores are in old homes, with creaky wood floors and Persian rugs.  Despite being reminded at every turn that you’re a tourist, you can get a sense of what it might have been like for someone to walk the brick streets years ago.

St. Augustine would make a great stop on a longer trip, especially for a history buff.  Just be prepared to pay (the Castillo de San Marcos, for instance, is considered a national park) and be wary of fly-by-night pseudo-museums.  It’s a good place to walk around and take in the history.

And now, because I’m sure you’re anxious, I’ve selected a few pictures to share… prepare to be underwhelmed (by my lackluster photography skills).

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Failure to selfie

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View from Castillo de San Marco into Matanzas Bay

 

 

 

 

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Casa Monica, hotel

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Flagler College, once a hotel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eileen

 

 

Wanderlust

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Denali National Park

I’ve always wanted to travel.  When I was a kid we took an annual trip to Florida (yes, where I currently live) and the occasional trip to see relatives in Ohio.  Other than that, we stayed in Maine most of the time.  I guess that’s because most of my family lived in Maine, too.  In college, I had neither the money nor time to really go anywhere, although I took a few school-funded trips to Washington, D.C. that I really enjoyed (aside from the conferences, which were what we were ostensibly there to attend).

After college, my imagination ran wild.  I lived in Alaska, an experience in itself, but I never went anywhere else.  I daydreamed about all of the places I wanted to visit, although they seemed improbable.

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Central Park, New York City

Now I’m staring down a move to England.  I mean, if I just stay there for 2 years, I’ll be fulfilling about a quarter of all my travel lusts.  But just knowing I’ll be there, so close to the rest of Europe, I have to take full advantage of proximity and cheap transport.

I’ve gone a little crazy on my Travel Pinterest board recently.  It’s helped with waiting, although 2 weeks into a 9-month wait is hardly the definition of stir-crazy.  The hardest part isn’t just waiting, it’s waiting with nothing to do.  So I’ve given myself something to do: plan my trips.

Feel free to take a look at my board and give me suggestions!  I want to know about cool, little-known places to go and great ways to meet locals.

Eileen