Monday, December 26, 2011

we're home

We finally made it home right before Thanksgiving - so we've already been home a month now!  It's been nice to stop and relax for a little while because we were going non-stop every day while traveling and we needed a break from all that.

We've also gotten to hang out with friends and family : )  It's nice to see familiar faces. and spend the holidays at home.  Below are a few pics we've taken since being home!

My parents and brother picked us up at the air port :)
And we've reunited with our dogs!  I realllly missed them!
 They missed us too.

 I got to see my cousin Meaghan : )

Rachel + Jessica
Grandma + Grandpa

Saturday, December 24, 2011

watch this

I did my best to take some video footage of our trip and I combined as much of it as I could into this video!  I'm really excited about it because it kind of summarizes our experience in the Middle East.  Of course, there's a lot I couldn't fit in there, but it still gives you an idea of the journey we took.  Crank up the volume and enjoy : )

Have a blessed Christmas and happy new year!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

maddam tussads

While we were in London, I just couldn't resist going to Maddam Tussad's famous wax museum.  It's full of celebrities, athletes, and political figures.  It's a little pricey (especially since most of the other museums are free) but we really had a good time.

 JLo ain't got nothin on me lol!
 Morgan Freeman looked way too real.

Where else can you give Hitler a wet willy?!

 After being in Palestine, it was pretty cool to see Yasser Arafat!  And he looked very real.  Like Michael's matching scarf?

 This is Maddam Tussad.

You may wonder what would inspire someone to take this on as a hobby.  Maddam Tussad (born Marie Grosholtz) was a wax sculptor who got her start during the French Revolution where she was ordered to go find people's heads after being sliced off in the guillotine (she herself was nearly executed in the same way and narrowly escaped).  She was then commanded to make death masks of notable Royalist and Revolutionary victims of the guillotine - many of whom she had known.  She survived the revolution and brought her exhibit to London in 1802.  This section of the museum was pretty gruesome!

Much to my disappointment, there was no full BeyoncĂ© wax figure, but they did have her head and a whole station explaining the making of her statue.  We got a lot more pictures with tons of wax figures, but I'll spare you: )

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

big ben

On our first full day of sight seeing, we began by taking the tube to Waterloo Station.  If you've watched the Bourne trilogy, then you know this is a surveillance nightmare.  It's basically the busiest station in Britain.  As soon as you walk out of the station, you're in the heart of London where you can see the London Eye!  It's the tallest ferris wheel in Europe - giving you great views.  Sorry, we don't have any pics because we didn't go up! 

 Waterloo Station.

Right next to the eye is the River Thames and Parliament.  It's absolutely breathtaking.  The Houses of Parliament are also called the "Palace of Westminster".

Big Ben is Parliament's clock tower which was built in 1858.  It's the largest four faced chiming clock in the world.  It's also one of the most prominent symbols of London and England.

 Left side of the bridge.
 Right side of the bridge.

 Walkway along the river.
 Westminster Abbey! 

This was the location of this year's royal wedding ceremony for Prince William and Catherine Middleton - plus mannny other weddings in the past.  Construction of the present church was started in 1245 by Henry III.  It was Remembrance Day when we visited and the church bells rang all day long.  It was beautiful!

 Memorials for soldiers.

 Barclays bikes!

You can rent a bike here for a good price and ride anywhere on it.  There are "docks" all over the city where you can return them when you're done.  Great idea!  We didn't have time for a bike ride in the park, but next time - I'm definitely doing that.

 Of course, a red telephone booth.
Piccadilly Circus.

This isn't even the end of our first day, but I have to stop here (I'm so behind with my blogging).  It was so much fun just strolling though the city.  After walking for a while we stopped for lunch at an organic cafe and continued to a museum.  You'll have to wait for the next post to see which one!


After Paris, we traveled to our final destination in Europe: the United Kingdom!  After months of foreign places, London was the next best thing to home.  The sound of people speaking English was music to my ears.  It's so comforting to know that if you get lost or need to order food --- you can communicate with others easily.  Besides all that, it's London!  Woo hoo!

We decided to give Couch Surfers a try since we'd heard great things about it.  Couch Surfers is a website promoting hospitality exchange between travelers.  It encourages cultural exchange as well.  The idea is that you don't need a lot of money or a fancy hotel to travel the world.  Through the website's network, you can find people living in the city you want to visit who are willing to let you crash on whatever is available in their house (couch, pull out bed, spare bedroom...etc) for free.  You're not allowed to charge a dime.

This idea doesn't work if everyone takes but no one gives.  When you join this website, you're expected to host - not just surf.  You have a choice as to who you host and when you host.  It's all in your control.  There's also a verification process and your profile shows references from people who have hosted you explaining whether or not you were a nice guest, respectful, and safe.  I think the process is very trustworthy.

We didn't know anyone in London before, but we have a wonderful friend there now - his name is Jade and he allowed us to stay in his spare bedroom for five days.  He was so nice... meeting us at the subway station, taking us to his house, and he had a freshly cooked meal waiting for us when we walked in the door.  It was such a treat to stay with him!  We felt so comfortable and welcome the entire time.  Plus, whenever Jade wasn't working (he's a doctor), we hung out and had a great time getting to know each other.  I'm so glad we stayed with him.  He's one of the most genuinely kind and giving people I've ever met.

Traditional English breakfast we woke up to - compliments of Jade!
 It's a lot like Harry Potter with the matching homes ;-)

 Downtown Espom.

 Getting coffee at the subway platform.
My water was "boring" because it wasn't sparkling lol.

Jade's home is located in Surrey in a town called Epsom.  It's the place to live if you're going to be in the suburbs.  It's a very traditional English town, with easy subway access to London, and it's also one of the safest places to live.  We loved it there!  Everything is within walking distance from Jade's cozy little townhouse.  Most people don't ever drive.  You can walk or take the subway pretty much anywhere.

Jade took us to a pub one night - the "cultural center" as he called it.  According to him, everything in life revolves around the pub there.  We ordered drinks and Indian food (they had a special that night called Curry Club).  It was fun to get the pub experience.

Me with Jade.

This is just the start of posts on London... but I really would urge anyone wanting to travel and meet nice people to consider Couch Surfing.  We had a wonderful experience with it and have made a great friend in the process.