A Travellerspoint blog

Happy 22nd Birthday to Me!

First stop: Budapest, Hungary

sunny 80 °F

“Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.” -Joseph Pulitzer

What better place to spend your 22nd birthday than in Budapest? Just a second.. that's not even the best part.. we'll get to that eventually.

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It sure was nice to finally stretch my legs and get out of Prague. We've been slaving away over lesson plans and silly interviews for over a month now and my backpack was gathering a nice film of dust from lack of use. So on August 7th, we moseyed on over to Florec bus station and Student Agency dropped Michelle, Libby and myself off at a dark metro stop in Budapest. The first adventure of a trip is always the frantic search for the hostel, especially when 30 lbs is weighing down on your back in the middle of the night! After a few metro stops and a couple helpful Hungarians later, we found the All-Central Hostel, made friends with some friendly Brits and started off to Szimpla bar. Old ruin pubs, widely popular in Hungary, are formerly abandoned buildings, usually from the communist era. Thank goodness for old drunkards turning these nearly condemned joints into bars because good lord are they interesting! If you think of the most random assortment of things, I'd be willing to bet money that it is posted up on the wall somewhere. I went to two during my stay in Budapest and each one was weirdly unique to its own potential. This first bar must have been well-known, given that Michelle had already been there two years ago during her last visit to Budapest! No matter, we still made some interesting friends and.. well, as for me, I never fail to magnetize the creepers. Lucky me gets snagged by a youngyin Australian by the name of Shannon, a nice boy from the city of Melbourne, who apparently lacks the ability to take a hint! Too soon, I show a great sign of relief when he finally detaches from my hip to go back to his own hostel, but instead he stumbles back in about 30 minutes later claiming he doesn't remember what his hostel is called. Long story short, he follows us back to ours and finds himself standing by my bunk in our room of 10 beds (I'm on the top bunk, mind you). This incredulously dense fellow finds it to be a good idea to crash on our floor.. poor roommates, having to deal with my incredulous misfortunes. But never mind him, he sleeps (passes out) on the floor like a baby and continues to be a nuisance well into the morning even after we've left the room to go be good tourists. As we are waiting for our failure of a hop-on/hop-off bus tour arrives, who do we see none other than the stud himself!.. walking down the road like a champ, still in his clothes from the night before, making his "wish this was a walk of shame" walk of shame right past us. All I can do is laugh.. laugh at the smallness of the world that is Courtney O'Sullivan. But it wouldn’t be half as exciting if I didn’t have these frequent awkward encounters with people so I’d have to conclude my first night in Budapest as a success.

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Budapest is massive, much more so than my little Prague. We'll describe it as a more sophisticated, older sister of Praha. I'd certainly call Budapest more cosmopolitan than Prague, but that's still not saying much. The architectural history of Budapest is mind blowing, about half mirroring that of its darker years in the communist era, whilst the other half is a more modern, vibrant 21st century feel. We woke up on day two with every intention to be good tourists. We invested an unnecessary amount of money to do a hop-on/hop-off bus tour, that we no sooner discovered that is was going to be an ultimate fail. After two stops, we hopped off for good and decided to roam the city on our own. After a frantic search for a public bathroom and non-carbonated water, we found ourselves at the Central Market Hall. It was a gigantic market, the bottom floor filled with so many colors from the ample varieties of produce, meats, spices, meats, pastries and so much more. The top floor was standard Hungarian souvenirs like purses, lock boxes, apparel.. it truly a tourist's playground! We snagged a few Christmas gifts and postcards and bee-lined for the riverfront. Along the Danube we walked. After a while of some aimless wandering, a brewski seemed to be in order, so we found ourselves a docked restaurant for some quick R&R. It was the perfect setting.. there was a beautiful view of the palace and the chain bridge in the distance. We walked halfway across the bridge to, naturally, takes hundreds of pictures. We were very lucky, the weather was absolutely perfect.

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The one thing we did benefit from with the hop on/hop off was the included boat tour along the river. It pretty much made the entire package worth it. Budapest by night is probably even more beautiful than by day. We cruised down the Danube in a filled up pedestrian ferry-type boat. The guide explained everything along the river on our right, until we turned to go in the opposite direction, when it continued to speak of our current right. It was a magnificent sight to see, especially since we caught the 8pm tour, just as the sun was beginning to set. Budapest is lit by yellow lights around every building on the waterfront. Afterwards, we moseyed back to the hostel to prepare for birthday shenanigans. The Brits were still there, so we had a little bit of company before our night out.. too bad the night out didn't begin until around 1:30am! Whoops.. But if it weren't such a late start, Libby would not have met the love of her life! Naturally, some gorgeous, 6'3, blonde hair, blue eyed Norweigen fellas would also be out wandering in the middle of the morning. No matter, they helped us find some nightlife on a Thursday night.

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YAY BIRTHDAY! With such a late night/early morning, its safe to say that our original plans to get up early and keep playing tourist was a complete and utter failure. So naturally, we agreed to do the most relaxing option that Budapest had to offer.. and the best part of spending your birthday in Budapest in general.. thermal bathhouses! And not just any bathhouse, we went all out to the largest in Budapest, the Széchenyi thermal bathhouse. It was like a fantasy. The buildings surrounding the pools were GORGEOUS. I could spend every day of my life there. Every pool was exceptionally warm. There were several pools and Jacuzzis inside as well. We stuck around outside to try to catch some rays and took full advantage of the whirl pool, which was very cool! Another instance where my world is incredibly small, I met a family from Durham, North Carolina! It was so awesome to interact with someone from so close to home.. most Americans I have met overseas are from the western side of the country or in the New England area.. no Southern folk to speak of. So naturally, I showed my unveiled excitement! Overall, this was the best experience from my Budapest adventure. This must be at the top of people's bucket lists who are traveling there. However, if old men is shriveled up speedos make you queezy, you might want to reconsider your visit!

Birthday dinner was equally a success. If travelling to Budapest, make sure you go to the restaurant district, right past the central market.. just a few blocks down. It is literally a long strip of a variety of different cuisines, as well as some authentic Hungarian dishes, which we ended up settling for. You can never go wrong with a bowl of goulash to start, grilled duck and some red wine! Because, little did I know, Hungary very well known for its wineries around the country. Apparently they do a poor job of exporting, so everything is relatively local. Relatively local = cheap. GO BUY HUNGARIAN WINE AND GIVE IT AWAY AS GIFTS. These wines should not be $3 (600 Forints) as they are sold there.. they are worth (judging by the taste) much more than that.

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“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” — Martin Buber

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August 10th.. my lonesome adventures begin! Michelle made her way to Bangkok and Libby headed back to Praha.. and I still had one more day in Budapest to burn before the next leg of my trip. I figured, with it being day three, I could finally be a good tourist. Free tours are always the way to go ya'll, especially if you are travelling alone. You will ALWAYS meet people, most of them lonesome travelers just as yourselves, looking for new friends all the same! So I did just that. The only fail with my new friend was that he was 1. American and 2. from California. Luckily, he was a conservative Californian, so at least we could come to some agreements throughout our conversations! But really, he was a really awesome guy. Name was Kenny and we shared a large bottle of that previously discussed cheap wine in a nearby park in the city center. That's the beauty of me and new friends. I've always seemed to be able to carry on conversation better with people I've just met as opposed to people I've known for a long period of time. Regardless, we talked about everything under the sun over that bottle of wine. I was supposed to meet my couch surfing host at a certain time, so we all opted to meet at a club called Instant. Referring back to my discussion of ruin pubs, this one took the cake for absolute weirdness. All I can remember is rabbits floating in the air and pictures of people with animal heads on them all over the walls. Very strange, check it out. So, Kenny, myself, my host Gabor, new friends Sofiya and others hung out around a table til about 4:30am (I had to catch a bus to Krakow at 6:30am.. that I eventually never even made.. whoops.. you'll have to read my next post to find out how that actually turned out to be a GOOD thing). This is the beauty of travelling alone. Your options and adventures are endless. You never know how one misfortune or event can alter the next. Whether its good or bad, you have no one else to blame or rely on for direction. Individuality outshines itself in regards to travel and that's how you learn so much about yourself and your place in the world. Challenges come in all shapes and sizes and how you tackle them represents your strengths and weaknesses as a person. So deep, but I love it. Always rise to the occasion.

Stay tuned for the rest of my eastern European trip! There are some good reads coming ya'll way..

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Posted by Courtster 13:00 Archived in Hungary Tagged budapest_bathhouse_instant_hung Comments (0)

An Unforgettable Trip to the Big Apple

"Don't be afraid to see what you see." - Ronald Reagan

sunny 75 °F

As soon as I got back from NYC last week, I was completely giddy about my once in a lifetime experience. My boyfriend, being the absolute gem that he is, likes to joke on me about my blog.. but ya know what, this trip certainly deserves to be documented.

We can rekindle the spirit of America, because God intended this land to be free;
because we are free to dream, to plan, and to make our dreams come true.

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As some of you might know, my dad works for the Department of State at the U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan. So, needless to say, I don't get to see him too often. After spending a week or so at home with my sisters, he moseyed his way up the east coast, eventually making it to New York to reunite with some old work buddies. Luckily, since I'm such a big ball of fun, I got invited for a very unique opportunity... an adventure not open to the public, an experience so close to the heart as an American, it doesn't seem real.

But we'll get to that soon.

No surprise here, I spent most of a Monday in an airport. Bouncing from OAJ to CLT to DCA to LGA.. that last leg though.. Jet Blue pilots, I got to see firsthand their obvious neglect of social acceptable behavior on airplanes. In my case, he luckily did not go bat crazy on me, but rather blatantly laid on some thick flirtation. Its improper status has a bit to do with his being 50+ and me being 21.. but no matter. I was just cornered in the exit row, criticized for not believing in going green and wanting to live in South Korea someday, but I still managed to weasel out a business card and a personal tour of D.C., starting with his residence! ..VOM. I only share this little tidbit of my travels because it seemed to be the joke of the trip, that I know how to pick up the older men.. the old, wrinkly, smelly, gray-haired ones. Craig said it right.. a man could never live in a chick's shoes. We deal with too many weirdos.

So anyways, hooray! I eventually make it to LaGuardia. Luckily I had a quick getaway.. hopped in a NYC yellow cab and off I was to Times Square. But this wasn't just any hotel. This was the Marriott Marquis in Times Square.. 28 stories up. I can honestly say that I have never stayed in such an amazing hotel, I mean, any hotel that has their check-in desk on the 8th floor has got to be somewhat ridiculous. When I arrive, there is no time to take the bags up to the room. Conveniently on the 8th floor is also the bar, so naturally we must have an appropriate cheers of Sam Adams before taking on the evening.

Next priority.. more booze and some grub. More specifically, Italian grub, family style. If ya'll have ever been to Italy or have eaten at a family style Italian restaurant, you'll understand the ungodly amount of food that was on our table. We walked a couple blocks down to Carmine's to meet up with three of my dad's good friends, Dennis, Vince and James. Over some Brooklyn Summer Ale, I listened to the boys cut up about the good ol' days when they reined the Marine Corps or chased overgrown drunk men through the streets of NYC. Its always so funny to me to hear men reuniting and catching up. It usually starts with a "you look good man!" or "this is how I have been a baller badass since you last saw me" ..in a much more eloquent bromance manner, of course. This reunion was no different, but I loved it. All four of them had gone in different directions.. James owning ATM machines, Vince becoming an FBI agent, Dennis a part-time bartender and part-time iron worker and my dad in the DOS. But after some scotch on the rocks, I figured I'd take my estrogen elsewhere and take up some shopping throughout Times Square. Naturally, as poor as I am, what better place to escape to than a four-story Forever 21?

Six a.m.. Never have I seen Times Square so empty. Perfect time for a grande Starbucks cup and a stroll down the strip. We had a 7am date with Mr. Dennis Byrnes outside of the Freedom Towers gate, not really expecting what our tour was about to unfold. We were met with a couple orange vests and some hard hats, not too different from my usual work attire! Needless to say, we looked sexy. After some exchanges of IDs and a couple day passes, we passed through to gates leading to complete constructive chaos. From the outside, as a tourist, all you can see is the progress of the actual towers.. high and reflective.. but being on the inside, on the ground.. in the dirt, its a entirely different world. Thousands of workers were drilling, digging, wiring from ground level all the way up to hundreds of feet in midair. First, Dennis took us through the museum. Again, a beautiful building from the outside. If you've seen the site, its the triangular-looking structure right in the midst of the towers. But on the inside.. when I go back to NYC to see the finished product, I am convinced I will not look at anything like the average person will. We touched GIANT, twisted, dusted pieces of steel from the original World Trade Centers, many of which had been preserved to be on display in the museum. I walked along the columns bases where the actual towers stood and among all the dusted ground, the last remaining piece of the tower continued to stand. Apparently the iron workers were able to sign it but sadly it was covered up to be preserved for museum purposes. As seen belong, in some of the steel, workers over the years had carved out crosses and Stars of David, many of which were given to families that had lost loved ones in the tragedy. Dennis, such a kind hearted man, had one made for my dad.. seriously one of the most touching gifts I have ever seen.

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Time to make our way up the Freedom Tower! Apparently we were going out of Dennis's Local 40 zone, so we had to be on our best behavior. I feel like I stuck out like a sore thumb, my bombshell blonde hair and rainbow colored shirt among these burly men. Amazing enough, that was another inspiring aspect about the Freedom Towers. So many different people were contributing to this amazing project. From young to old, retired to working, white to black, military to white collar to blue collar.. it didn't matter the background, because every man and woman working on these towers had one single thing in common in my eyes.. faithful, giving and undoubtedly heroic Americans.

We started on the 39th floor. This was the only floor we made a stop at that actually had windows stopping me from falling to undoubtedly fatal death. I had a pretty solid view between the buildings. Lucky for us, it was absolutely GORGEOUS day in NYC! There were a ton of boats on the river, the reflections were clear as day on every window of every surrounding building. But apparently, it only got better from there. Up the elevator we went. The elevator, side note, was another interesting aspect of the tower. There were no buttons, besides up and down. One man stands inside the elevator to make it go, and they either go up or down until they were someone yell "STOP!" so he knows that someone needs to go in that direction. I guess it makes sense.. he can't stop at every floor, it would take forever to get anywhere. It was just funny, don't yell to loud at the poor elevator guy. He might get a little angry! Anyways, going up. Up, up, up.. to the 73rd floor. Nothing but net.. nothing but net keeping me from going splat on the ground level. Not only was my own uncoordinated self putting the fear in me, but the 35mph winds weren't exactly helping. Then, seeing a man take down the majority of the nets got me a little nervous.. and excited. Naturally, I started snapping away. We seemed to be eye level with the Empire State Building on the one side, and high above the State of Liberty and Ellis Island on the other. And still.. there's more! Up, up, up.. to the 89th floor! There were all sorts of workers up here! We had to walk around, over, under bars of steel to get to the picturesque views. They led me to stairs.. ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE TOWER. Literally, we were climbing four flights of stairs along the side of the building. My feet seemed to get a little numb by this point. But, they must have known I was coming up, because there were holes all along the nets. As freaky as that was, my inner photographer was very grateful. I wrapped my camera strap around my wrist, stuck my entire arm outside of the net (reminder: ~93 stories above ground) and started snapping away. What a perfect New York day. I had been to the top of the Empire State Building before, but nothing could beat the views I witnessed that day. Just the concept of being that high up, in the Freedom Tower, seeing NYC as some of those that died in the WTC tragedy on 9/11 might have seen daily.. it was just heart-stopping and unreal. At that point, it had really hit me that this was seriously a once in a lifetime experience that not many people will be able to do. I literally stood over New York City, completely inspired and whole, feeling more patriotic than ever.

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Also, everyone, GO SEE THE MEMORIAL. They are magnificent fountains, giant squares that are exactly where the towers stood. Surrounding the waterfalls are the names of those individuals and groups that passed away in the 9/11 attacks. It makes it so much more real, especially if you're just a tourist like me and had no direct experience to the tragedy. Seeing people's names engraved in the stone proved that they were there, that is where many were laid to rest. My goodness, its beautiful.

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Later in the day, lunch with some pretty interesting people. More friends of papa bear from the DOS, one being a Harvard Law graduate.. whoa. Fabulous folks though, of course work obsessed people.. but with jobs like theirs, who could blame them! If you've never been to Hill Country restaurant, I highly recommend it. Best macaroni and cheese EVER. Rick Perry claimed it has the best barbecue sauce, behind Texas's. He would. But really, its amazing. After having to waddle out of the restaurant, I did a nice round about in the fashion district. Popped into Macy's for a bit, did some wishful thinking, then moved along Fifth Ave and took some pretty pictures. Spring time in the Big Apple is actually quite awe-inspiring, despite all the homeless and liberal crazies shoving "Stop Military spending" pamphlets in my face. Haha. Gotta love the upper class for their ignorance!

More drinks? Sure! Hells Kitchen for happy hour.. check. Also, another monumental moment in my life.. as a beach girl, this was surprisingly my first time eating mussels! Can't complain, I guess I'm still alive, but I'm slightly impartial to foods that resemble the look and texture of boogers, but hey, it was something new! A newly engaged couple that were a part of our dinner party invited us to their apartment near the Hudson on 35th and between 9th and 10th. We shared some good Russian vodka and cranberry and Heineken on the rooftop.. brace yourself for more amazing photography, courtesy of yours truly.

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I'll make my final adventure somewhat short and sweet, because if you're read this far, bless you, thank you. I get overly excited when talking about my journeys, especially if I'm writing about it, so you can't tell when I'm stumbling over my words.

The U.S. Olympics had come to Times Square! Their "Road to London" tour bus had gone to the Big Apple to start raising money for the Olympic potentials, hoping to make an appearance in July! We got to see the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Team.. as well as Olympic heroes like Carl Lewis, Greg Louganis and Stephanie Miller! They were promoting their $12 for a stitch in the American flag they will take with them to London.. such a brilliant idea! Sadly we couldn't stay too long.. LGA was pressing us for time.

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And that was my trip to New York City. In one word: Phenomenal.

Thanks for reading, ya'll!

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
- 2 Timothy 4:7

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...and I'll just throw this in there. Memory lane reminded me of this bucket list I made for 2011. Lets see what has been accomplished!

  • Run a marathon
  • Get back on the level of piano where I left off ..whilst dust covers my keyboard.
  • Get a big girl job during the summer
  • Volunteer more often
  • Take my sisters on a getaway ..sorry, guys!
  • Make Dean's List (we'll shoot for at least the Spring for now!) ..guess my last chance is coming up!
  • Go to a country I've never been before ..France, Portugal, St. Thomas, Scotland.. success.
  • Rekindle a lost friendship ..Kasey, you were never lost.. we'll call it revamped!
  • Make it a point to see and learn more about my family ..Texans, I've seen you more this year than the past 3!
  • Visit an old friend I haven't seen in a while ..Erika Rankin, my beautiful Aussie friend I visited in Paris.
  • Fall in love and give all my love ..Glad I found you, Craig Sherman.
  • Keep up going to church ..woops, I still love Jesus..
  • Find a new hobby that I can become passionate about ..since I made this list, it has become traveling. I must always just.. GO.
  • Read a classic book ..Hand of Providence isn't exactly a classic, but I'll cut the corners on this one!
  • Apply to grad school (or somethin' along those lines..) Applied.. accepted.. but I turned them down!

Posted by Courtster 11:31 Archived in USA Tagged nyc new_york_city 9/11 laguardia freedom_towers Comments (0)

The United Kingdom Holiday Takeover

London, Edinburgh, Manchester -- Oh, my!

all seasons in one day 45 °F

“Travel does what good novelists also do to the life of everyday, placing it like a picture in a frame or a gem in its setting, so that the intrinsic qualities are made more clear. Travel does this with the very stuff that everyday life is made of, giving to it the sharp contour and meaning of art.” – Freya Stark

London, England

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I couldn't pass up the opportunity to share my adventures from this trip. So here I am once again, struggling to find the words to explain my endless life shenanigans.

If you have followed my blog for a while now, you will have noticed a change in scenery.. in this case, being the words. It began as my study abroad blog for my adventures in and around Prague, and since I loved my blog so much, I can't seem to part with it just yet.. even making a new one breaks my heart a bit. So I've decided to just tweek this one up, so we can all relive the ridiculousness of my life the past year and a half.

Ya'll should know by now, my heart is not where I am. I get cabin fever so badly, it drives me to travel as often as I can. One one liner on Facebook, asking my dear friend Garth (note: Prague blogs) what he was doing for New Years sparked the flame to embark on another incredible journey. Naturally, I'm looking for any excuse possible to go abroad, so what better way to go than to meet up with an old pal? He and his brother Kyle were planning a trip, bouncing from country to country throughout the holidays and graciously invited me to tag along for the second half. After a wonderful Christmas morning with my beloved family, it was off to the airport I go!

ILM to CLT to PHL to LHR.. Wide-eyed and wondrous as I step into the third busiest airport in the world, my final destination, I come face to face with a tube strike on Boxing Day, the UK's craziest, Black Friday-esque shopping day of the year. The surrounding locals are bustling by the foreigners, recently landed from their holiday, anxiously awaiting the not-so-cheap Harrods sales that await. The foreigners, however, myself engulfed in the mix, get rolled about the crowd, pushed and shoved until I manage to find the only available working metro going out of Heathrow. Mind you, all international flights arrive nearly around the same hour, and apparently I was not the only one having the bright idea of traveling to London on Boxing Day but.. hey, what have you. I didn't get mulled and I made it onto the metro heading in at least the correct general direction I intended on going. With the best of luck, its reveal on my ride, with all bags in hand, that the metro will stop a whopping two stops prior to my destination. So whats a girl to do? Without a phone.. without internet. Wander about, of course! Thankfully there are gracious and wealthy people in the world, with nifty little devices called BlackBerrys that have Google Maps on them, who kindly pointed me in the right direction of a bus station and exact change for a one-way ticket. After a few round-abouts in a rainy square, I managed to find the boys' hotel! After a nice shower and a cold Guinness at a local pub, I was undoubtedly ready to take on the trip!

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I feel like I saw a majority of the tourist attractions in London within the first few hours I was in the UK. On our way to the city center, we nonchalantly passed by the Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and Parliament.. naturally leaving the London Eye shining beautifully blue from across the river. In most any romance movie or story, the plots are placed in either New York, Paris or London. Well kids, my dreams came true. Views were breathtaking, especially in the dark, each etch and turn of the Gothic architecture illuminating even from the greatest distances. We walked along the stretch of the river, crossing a bridge leaving us at the foot of St. Paul's Cathedral, where Kyle and Garth had spent their Christmas Eve mass. Oddly enough, St. Paul's looks strikingly similar to our very own Capitol building in D.C. Its majestic dome is certainly a building worth copying!

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Needless to say, I crashed that night HARD.. traveling is a joy, but dang it can take a lot out of you. It would come as a surprise, however, that we did not leave our hotel the next morning until near about 11am because the 23-year old and 26-year old BOYS [evidently] wanted to stay in bed and watch "Camp Rock" on Disney Channel. But.. since I was baggin' on them.. I had this coming.. definitely blew a fuse trying to blow dry my hair. Such an amateur, American girl act, right? Sadness, first full day and already no hair dryer. First world problems are quite the unnecessary inconvenient kick in the butt, aren't they? Moving along, we made our way down a similar path towards Westminster Abbey in hopes of making an audio tour. Thankfully I didn't play it cheap and went ahead and paid the 16 GBP. It was two hour walk through history, literally. Nearly every influential king and queen of England is buried in there. Among them are other insanely awesome Brits, like Lord Byron, Charles Darwin (eh on him, but still cool), Sir Isaac Newton..also in the poets corner, there are memorial plaques and statues for Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, William Wordsworth.. you can't help but be in awe with those names in your presence.

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Following, we grabbed a quick lunch and a nice brewski before scurrying off to the London Tower Bridge. Deciding to pass up the tower tour, we continued across the bridge. Although it has that old gothic look, I was surprised to see most of the wires and cables leading up the bridge were painted light blue. Aside from the soccer game (which you'll obviously hear about later) I'm pretty sure this bridge is the single most photographed scene on this trip. Its that awesome! The remainder of our evening was spent in a nearby pub, close to the hotel, to watch the Arsenal football game. We finished up London all cozy in our 4 by 4ft of a room. London is certainly going back on my "go-to" list.. I feel like I didn't get the entire experience one should. However, it is HUGE so two days would certainly not suffice. What I did get to see though was.. beautiful.

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“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quiestest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” – Pat Conroy

Edinburgh, Scotland

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On the 28th, we made our way to Heathrow to fly British Midland to Scotland. We landed into a rainy Edinburgh but naturally, that or the category five winds wouldn't stop us from being adventurous as soon as we settled in. The view from our hostel window was absolutely stunning, with St. Giles Cathedral and the Edinburgh Castle shining brightly in the distance. The weather must have been standard for Scotland because we certainly were not the only ones wandering about in the night. We piddled around town, in dyer need of finding some sort of pub so we could watch some good ol FUTBOL. We found a hoppin' hostel restaurant, full of some interesting kids around our age. Just to put this out there, Kyle and Garth have the typical big/little brother relationship. Those two bicker like an old married couple! So of course, Kyle is giving Garth a hard time about this petite girl sitting across the restaurant. The funny thing was was that the girl was indeed NOT even paying attention to him, but any opportunity to hackle with Garth, Kyle will jump at the chance. So since Garth is a woosey and can't start conversations with girls, I get talked into making the first move for him. So I go up to Anita (said, girl.. actually she ended up being 30 years old) and apologize for my random approach.. but my weeny of a friend in the salmon colored sweater thought she was cute. As I suspected she giggled and was flattered, but was quick to retreat after a brief conversation that actually included Garth. Haha. To our surprise, however, she apparently had sent a friend back downstairs to give us her Facebook information. Garth (and me!) must have made a better impression than we figured! We tried to meet up but unfortunately we didn't have time. Mad kudos to us though for spittin' some serious game!

The game plan was to make it to the 11am free walking tour with Sandeman's New Europe Tour. Never fails.. if ya'll ever travel, USE THIS COMPANY FOR YOUR TOURS! I have done it in Munich, Berlin, Paris and now Edinburgh.. all of my tour guides have been amazing! One of the zillion amazing things about Edinburgh is how easy it is to get around by foot. It seems like no matter what direction you're walking, you're always going UP hill.. its quite strange. Anyways, given the severity of rain, we decided to postpone the tour for the 1pm go around, so we just kinda wandered around on our own. Our tour guide's name was Troy, an original Aussie from Sydney. He took us around the heart of Edinburgh.. we learned about Greyfriars Bobby, the horror stories of Burke and Hare, the Stone of Destiny, etc. Scotland has such an endearing history regardless of their little brother effect under England. Throughout our tour, we made friends with another Aussie named Johno, one crazy, CRAZY Oz who was a friend well made because he made the remainder of the night nothing less than entertaining. We also befriended two girls from New Zealand who now lived in London. At a lovely dinner together, we decided to meet up later that night for the pub crawl.

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After a quick cat nap, we hightailed it back into town for Sandeman's Pub Crawl. I've done a few pub crawls in my time, but never have I ever seen 90 PEOPLE in one. It was INSANE. I probably would have been a little frightened if I had been a local seeing our giant group wander about the town.. cause let me tell ya, we were THOSE.. OBNOXIOUS.. TOURISTS. But needless to say, it was a blast! The five of us stuck together more or less, naturally Johno was making his rounds causing ruckus elsewhere. We went to five different pubs.. the first, we walked into a shot of whisky and a line up of jager bombs ready for a domino effect. And thanks to Troy, yours truly got to start one end! It was a tiny little place, but they had extremely loud live music and they played Sweet Home Alabama! Amazing! The second place we went to had karaoke.. Lord have mercy, there were some brutal singers. Two incredibly intoxicated girls completely tore up "Sweet Caroline" (if you're my friend on Facebook, there's a sneak peak video of it on there). The final two places were club type deals, just the standard, European techno playing joints. Great fun!

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Our train was to leave the station at 2pm, so we had a little time the next morning to finally make our way up to the castle. Sadly we didn't have time to go inside but the outside was just as beautiful to take in. We were all a little bummed we didn't get a chance to stay in Edinburgh for their Hogmanay, which is a big NYE festival. All the more reason to visit again! We passed several bagpipers on the way to the train station.. perfect way to end this Scottish adventure. Also, I've never seen so many sheep in all my life! The train ride from Edinburgh to Manchester was absolutely stunning. The first half was rolling, green hills and the other half (at least the other half of while I was awake) was beautiful snowy hills.. and all along the ride there were hundreds of sheeeeeep! SO MANY SHEEP! It was pretty cool. I wish I was able to get some pictures but.. it was nap time.

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“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

Manchester, England

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And now we have made it to the final leg of the UK trip.. MANCHESTER! I felt a little wonky about this place. I heard that there really wasn't much to do, and as soon as we got off the train, it was pouring outside. Definitely not a good start. Plus the boys had Manchester United tickets and all I was planning on doing was scalp for tickets. Eh, this whole trip was basically going to be played by ear. We got settled into our 8 bed hostel room, met our roommates.. the 3 Frenchmen, Mikael, Vincent, and Alex.. and the South Korean, Han. We snagged Han and moseyed around the city center in search for food. Han turned out to be a pretty cool cat and he happened to be going to the Manchester United game too! The first night at the hostel was an interesting one. Not only were the beds insanely thin and squeaky, we had a fabulous wake up call around 7am in the form of a fire alarm! Stupid drunk folk, ruining our sleep.

Groggy and sluggish in ol' rainy Manchester, we made our way via tram to Old Trafford, along with Han. We basically sprinted through the rain, calling up the fellow, named Henry, that was hooking the guys up with their tickets (mind you.. rain+Courtney's hair=no bueno). Apparently this Henry fella is head of security at Old Trafford.. pretty rad. He has an executive box that he was kindly opening up for Garth and Kyle. Han already had his ticket for the north end, and I was left to fend for myself.. UNTIL..Henry asked if I had a ticket, so when I said no, he went upstairs and came down with THREE tickets. I'm pretty sure this whole situation dubs me the luckiest person on the planet. The box was phenomenal. There was a long dining room table in the middle with a spread of fancy Manchester United plates and glasses. Passing by two touch screen TVs and fully stocked fridge, you came to a sliding glass door leading to eight seats with an awesome view of the entire stadium. The three of us were in awe. Seriously. This place was crazy awesome. It wasn't until I was around the fancy people with their free glasses of champagne that I realize that I looked like straight crap. Haha. A family also joined us in the exec box room so it was kinda neat to get the inside on a upper-middle class British family.. and boy were they the stereotype! They cracked me up though, because I think they were from Liverpool, so naturally they were rooting AGAINST ManU. We were offered endless drinks and basically a four-course lunch throughout the game, which was delightful. Sadly, we witnessed one of the biggest upsets in Manchester United history, but it was still an awesome experience. We hung around a little bit after the final whistle to visit over.. A SPOT OF TEA (and get this.. they use legit little cubes of sugar.. it was precious) The family friend mentioned that since Ryan Giggs wasn't playing in that game, he was probably posted up in an exec box down the hall. I thought Garth and Kyle were going to pass out! We couldn't stop ranting and raving about the whole shindig afterwards. Never will I ever be able to watch a sporting event the same way.. not just because we got pampered, but because the energy and intensity in that stadium was so unreal and inspiring. America needs to step up their game on team spirit! Some of those fans were not just screaming, but CUSSING and FREAKING out on the refs and other fans, and there were all sorts of children around! It was even more hilarious when the family simply stated that the kids were getting "educated".

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The night before, Garth spotted a Chipotle look-a-like that we of course had to revisit. After some good old fashioned American TexMex, we met up with the Frenchmen and threw back some brewskis in the hostel room. They taught us a new drinking game that is very similar to beer pong, just without the cups and table. [You sit with your legs spread and your bottle between them.. put the cap upside down on the mouth of your beer (or in my case, wine ;) ).. fold another bottle cap and throw it at the other person's bottle cap to try to knock it off] Sounds pretty simple but.. I sucked pretty bad. Anyways, it should come to no surprise that once again, I fell in love three times with those three boys. The seven of us made our way to downtown Manchester to attempt some free bar hopping. I get pushed to the front of the group, kudos to me being the only chick (as usual) pushing our way into an insanely packed club/bar joint. I got to wear my NYE dress, although I was a little self conscious of it being a little.. over the top.. NOPE. I was rest assured once we walked into the club that I was undoubtedly the most conservative dressed female there lol. Ah, it was a great time and a night of full out crazy dancing. They even had Budvar, which is a Czech beer, so it brought back some great memories of the Prague days. We brought in the new year with Rihanna "We Found Love" and although my crowd was a tad bit random, I couldn't have wished for a better way to start 2012. Whilst continuing our wandering around the town, we found a large group of people gathering in a square, arms around each other, dancing in circles. Naturally, we all feel the need to join. It was a nonstop, let loose tribal dancing and I honestly don't think I've ever had so much fun. I could not tell you where we were or what kind of people they were, but there we all were, drunkenly cuttin' up in the middle of the town around 2am just having an absolute ball.

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Overall, I think its simple to conclude that once again, like always stated, I had the time of my life. I am so blessed to have such amazing new friends, new bonds, new relationships, and this chance to catch up with the old ones. My nerd status was shown when the first thing I did when I got home was put my new stickers on my computer and put white pins into these three amazing destinations on the map on my bedroom wall. I concern myself with how distasteful I feel about coming back to the states after these trips. I feel the most sincere happiness when I am on a plane going away and the most saddened when I am on a plane going back home. Don't get me wrong.. I love my friends and family and I love being close to them.. but I know where the heart is. Maybe someday I'll make one of these trips a little more permanent.. just accidentally book a one-way ticket instead. I'd check a few bags to stuff the important people in so they can go with me! I already can't wait for my next trip.. which I'll leave as a surprise for now until its finalized. But I feel like it might be one of the best ones yet!

So as always, thanks for reading/stalking my constant on-the-go life. My last first day of classes is tomorrow so my feet should be planted firmly on the ground for at least a couple of weeks. Stay tuned though, you never know when I'll just pick and up and go per usual (like I kind of did this weekend to DFW haha) Anywhoo, happy days to ya'll. I bid you adieu.. in the goofiest possible manner I can manage for right now (ie picture below) Standard, right?

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Posted by Courtster 20:07 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london edinburgh england united kingdom manchester nye bagpipes scottish boxing_day manchester_united blackburn us_airways caledonian Comments (0)

A cidade das sete colinas capturou meu coração.

Lisboa, Portugal

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Saying that landing a job with US Airways is a blessing can not be any more of an understatement. I'm failing miserably at this blogging shindig because I have been so fortunate to visit so many amazing places and haven't gotten on here to share the shenanigans with ya'll. My first big trip was back in June when I visited my lovely Australian friend Erica in Paris (If you recall a few entries back, I met her in Munich while I was studying abroad in Prague). It was a quick, two day trip, but it was absolutely worth it. Paris is a fabulous city.. good thing I have several people who are demanding I take them there, so another visit is definitely a go!

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Later, I made my way to Baltimore..

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and St. Thomas..

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and Washington, D.C...

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So then of course, as with all great things, the constant travel had to come to a screeching halt for a while. Back to the ol' standard school and sorority and yada yada yada. Things that I love but.. I just don't fit into. I spent two months studying for the LSAT and it literally consumed my life. Once it was finally over, I needed a break. I needed to go somewhere, anywhere, just to get out of Wilmington. So where to go?! Everyone asked why I would want to go to Portugal.. you don't really hear a lot of touristy things there. The most I really knew before I went was that it bordered Spain. I soon realized.. this is why..

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Lisbon is beautiful. Full of beautiful sites and food and MEN. Haha. I traveled by myself.. didn't know anyone there.. just had the bookbag on my back and a bus ticket to the hostel. And I wouldn't have had it any other way. I met some amazing people on my journey and it was so difficult for me to come back to my reality. I left on Thursday evening and arrived Friday morning, obviously lacking sufficient sleep but naturally just as gungho as if I'd had. Once I arrived at the Oasis Backpackers Hostel Lisboa, I dropped my bag off and headed straight out to do the tourist thing. I did a walking tour with an American girl named Kira, Alex from Cologne, Saloua from Paris, Marco from Brazil, alongside our tour guide Uwe from Austria.

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I must be more of a loner than I'd take myself for. In the two days I spent in Lisbon, I did the entire tourist portion on my own. Its almost questionable, my whole social skills thing, being able to just pick up and go off on my own. Honestly, its almost difficult to be among others, because I don't think I'd give well to the non-flexibility. My travel time is my selfish time.. I love the 'on the whim', I love the 'get up and go'. I was able to see two UNESCO sites, Belem and Jeronimos Monastery. Both are seemingly unfamiliar beyond the Lisbon tourists, which aren't very plentiful in itself. I see Lisbon as a diamond in the rough, a city not given its deserving beauty credentials.

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Jeronimos Monastery

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Belem Tower

Naturally, I had my fair share of a good times as well.. I actually fell in love three times ;] Being the obvious American girl that I am, the dudes in the bottom picture are making strange faces because they are saying "duuuude" because apparently I say 'dude' all the time.. dude, really?!

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Obviously I did not get a chance to write this blog immediately after I made my trip, otherwise I would have gone more into detail of my minute by minute shenanigans. But trust me.. this is only the beginning.

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Stay tuned!

Posted by Courtster 11:23 Archived in Portugal Tagged oasis world heritage unesco lisbon portugal tourist_sites sintra belem Comments (0)

Just Bouncing Through Life.. One Coastline at a Time.

March Madness.. Literally.

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View California! on Courtster's travel map.

A Runners World quote: "The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start." - John Bingham

Let me just start by stressing how incredibly blessed I am in life. I have wonderful friends, family in all parts of the world, and good health to keep me sane throughout the crazy episodes of life. In the overall scheme of things, life is sweet. So sweet.

Obviously, its been quite a while since my last post, but if you had a 25 and 45 page paper to focus on, your priorities might be a bit scrambled too! The reason I felt the need to dedicate the opening line of this entry to those amazing people is because.. they help me keep my drive; I am beyond thankful for that. I can be a tough cookie to deal with!

I'd like to share some of my life lessons, learning experiences and those deep, deep insightful thoughts you all love to hear!

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First and foremost, my initial travel of 2011 got me fired up.. RILED up.. for AMERICA! Yes, my trip to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. I've become one of those conservative extremist radicals that liberals hate (: It should come to no surprise that me and my fellow UNCW College Republicans brought our A-game and had an absolute blast causing shenanigans in D.C. But all joking aside people, politics are important and effect our daily lives, whether we want to admit our future fate is in the hands of those crazy politicians or not. All voices are heard; I heard hundreds of them that weekend, ranting and raving about how to keep the beauty and foundations of our country alive. I got the honor of seeing some very inspiring people speak that weekend.. Newt Gingrich, Ilario Pantano, Alan West, Ron Paul, Herman Cain and all sorts of other amazing speakers. @FletchKlavik and I were fortunate enough to take a tour of the White House, which was a beyond phenomenal experience. Just to look into the Oval Office was such an honor, we were both speechless a majority of the time. In order to keep my eyes on the prize, especially with the upcoming 2012 elections, I'll especially make it a point to include my stance on domestic and international issues that might matter to you all.. maybe then I'll get more followers, both for and against are welcome (:

Click here to check out photos, blogs and videos from CPAC 2011!

"We are fed up, we are ready to take our country back!" -TX Governor Rick Perry @CPAC11
"The American Dream is under attack.. the good news is that we are fighting back. Patriots don't get tired, Patriots get energized!" -Herman Cain
"We are standing on the verge of a dawn of a new America." -FL Rep. Allen West [CPAC11 Keynote Speaker]

Running is a form of therapy, a time to sweat, breathe, and disconnect from the distractions of life.

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Well, maybe minus the sweating and breathing part, I'd have to substitute the running for friends. My best friends, at that.. in MYRTLE BEACH! Amazing fun. Plain and simple. Escaping through the company of friends is the best vacation a girl could ask for.. now throw a throw down at the beach in the mix and you've got pure perfection!
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SWEET HOME ALABAMA, LORD, I'M COMING HOME TO YOU.

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Mardi Gras. Me, oh my, Lordybe. What an.. adventure Mardi Gras can be. First-timer right here, just a Carolina girl wandering the streets of the birthplace of shenanigans, Mobile, Alabama. First of all, my family is insanely brilliant for getting all of us together, with or without Mardi Gras. People that have all their relatives nearby are incredibly lucky.. some I only get to visit twice a year ): So this was certainly a wonderful surprise. Now.. Mardi Gras.. never have I ever seen so many drag queens gathered in one general vicinity in all my life. The spirit, the music, the BEADS. The whole nine yards was everything I dreamed it would be! It is certainly a shindig everyone should witness before they die.
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Take me to my City by the Bay.

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HELLO SPRING BREAK. Where else to go but.. the West Coast?! Certainly took a new direction with this next adventure. If you back up a few posts, you'll recall my friend Madison that I met in Prague. She lives in Sacramento, so me and Ms. Abby Dunkin took a little hop, skip and a jump over yonder to explore the central California dreamland. I wish I could post every single picture we took on this trip. Basically, California is more than the stereotype and trust me, I still stand truly by the east side, but Lord have mercy, there are some breathtaking sights to be seen driving through the foothills of the Golden State. If you take a gander at my travel map, you'll see we hit quite a few major sightseeing joints, like Yosemite, Lake Tahoe and even rinky-dink towns like Columbia that still have "horse-drawn carriages only" streets! I got to meet some fantastic new friends, as well as see an old one, Mr. Ryan Mileur, another fellow Prague-er!

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Without a doubt, one of the best views I have ever witnessed is from the Golden Gate Bridge. Its phenomenal.. especially with BB Pandora playing in the background! Looking to the east, you see the entire city of San Francisco.. bold and beautiful as it is. Skyscrapers and hills flowing like the waves that brush against the bay side. Alcatraz was another amazing adventure. We took the ferry and went through the guided tour of the island. The tour had first-hand testimonies from some of the prisoners and jailers.. and the stories of escape attempts.. UNREAL.

But nothing beats Yosemite. This is a place that makes your heart race and stop at the same time. The hidden waterfalls between the monstrous mountains is enough to put the biggest smile on your face. Now I am the farther thing from a greenery praiser, but I've never been so appreciative of nature until I saw the beauty of Yosemite. We had a lovely little picnic on a log with a whole loaf of bread, some apples and a bag of Cheddar chips. Nom nom nom! I now understand why Yosemite is in the book of "1,000 Places to See Before You Die"..

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So I believe this 'bout sums up my most unique travels of the semester. The semester is winding down.. I bet ya'll are glad I didn't get into the nitty gritty details of my school shenanigans. Trust me, you're not missing out on much. BUT. If you actually do follow this blog, I think I'm going to start another one.. since this is a traveler's blogger site, I might have to shimmy over to another. I want to write about subjects that will enrich people.. things that people want to be entertained by and actually follow regularly. If you have any ideas, please share!

As always, thanks for reading. I hope to keep the traveling up!

Amore Endlessly,

Courtney

Posted by Courtster 19:28 Archived in USA Tagged california lake san francisco alabama mardi gras tahoe yosemite washington mobile sacramento Comments (0)

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