300 Steps

Any bad impressions I had of Paris were completely wiped away after my second day there! Day two consisted of a trip to Montmartre, the location of the Moulin Rouge and the amazing Sacre Coeur cathedral. The streets of Montmartre are lined with artists selling their art while they painted. It was amazing to just stand and watch some of them as they worked. And of course I bought a painting to take home with me!

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I could have roamed the streets of Montmartre forever, but I think I was most impressed by Sacre Coeur. After walking up 300 steps, I entered the cathedral underneath vaulting arches, and it just took my breath away. (Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures inside the cathedral.) I have to admit that I started crying. It was just overwhelming being surrounded by so much grandeur, and the solemn, spiritual atmosphere is palpable.


Sacre Coeur from a little ways down the hill. Yes, we walked up and down ALL those steps!

I think the experience at Montmartre was one of the most lasting impressions from my trip. We all think our world revolves around us and our little corner of the world, but traveling forces you to realize you are only one person in a million, and there is so much else out there: things you could never even imagine until you finally step outside your boundaries. Sometimes I think we set these boundaries for ourselves and refuse to step out of our comfort zone. But let me tell you, it is one hundred percent worth it! Was I in my comfort zone during most of my trip? Absolutely not! I was surrounded by people who spoke a different language; I don’t speak French at all. I was unfamiliar with the customs, language, streets, money, everything. But I learned and grew as a person so much through the experience. I don’t want to imagine a world where I don’t continue to step out of my comfort zone and force myself to expand my boundaries. Because once we cease to learn, we cease to live.


View of Paris from the top of the hill in Montmartre.



The City of Love and Graffiti

Next up on the European tour was the City of Love: Paris. To get there, we had to take a ferry across the English Channel. Thankfully, I don’t get seasick, so the experience was wonderful for me! We got to watch the White Cliffs of Dover fade into the distance as the ferry shuttled us towards France.


The White Cliffs of Dover.


The ferry was massive!

We even had dinner while on the ferry. It had an entire food court! I spent most of my time up on deck taking in all the scenery.

Once we set foot in France, we boarded another coach that would transport us to Paris. Much of the trip was spent on the bus, traveling from country to country. However, I did not mind the long drives. It gave me time to sit back, relax, and just take in everything around me. It gave me time to gather my thoughts and prepare for everything to come. Also, during the long road trips was when I really got to know my fellow students and form some wonderful friendships!


The French countryside looks a lot like Illinois really…

My initial response to Paris was, “Wow! It is really dirty!” Everything was covered in graffiti, and I remember being slightly disappointed. I had such an idealized version of Paris I’d spent my whole life constructing that I forgot Paris is an actual city with actual people. Of course it has its dirty parts. I also remember the Paris hotel being the worst one we stayed in over the fourteen days. To get to our room, you had to use a stairwell that I swear was designed and built to star in a horror film. Plus, we had to turn on the light switches! So you could be halfway up the stairs and someone behind or above you would turn off the light! Every time we went to our room we ran up the stairs as fast as we could, so we could out of that stairwell. It was the creepiest hotel I have ever seen. Me and my roommate’s room had only one full-sized bed, and the hotel had brought in a cot for the other person. Neither my roommate or I were going to spend the night on that cot, so we ended up sharing the bed and felt much safer.


The view from our hotel room in Paris.

Next up was a visit to Montmartre which I will cover in my next post. Au Revoir!

Goodbye, London

During our stay in London, I had the opportunity to drink my first glass of wine. I was not twenty-one, but the drinking laws in Europe are different. (They say as long as you can reach the counter, you’re good!) I had a red wine at a restaurant called Nando’s. The red wine was a horrible choice: way too strong and bitter for me! I forced myself to drink it down, however. It was too expensive not to! I had to hold my nose while drinking it because even just the smell was too overwhelming for my inexperienced palate.


That was way too much wine for someone as small as me!

Needless to say, I returned to our hotel that night with a slight buzz. But I wasn’t about to not take advantage of being able to drink!

We also saw a live performance of The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre while in London. Phantom has been my favorite musical from the time I was old enough to know what a musical was! The actress who played Christine was absolutely phenomenal! Her voice was amazing! I have yet to hear anyone sing the part as well as she.


Me and a fellow trumpet player in front of the theater after the performance.

We performed our first concert of the trip at Victoria Embankment Gardens. It was a truly unique experience playing in another country. The crowd was much more involved and excited to be there. Many people look forward to the groups from America each and every summer (each state has its own group of students it sends to Europe every summer). Many of the audience members had small American flags they would wave, especially during John Phillip Sousa marches! And let me tell you, Europeans absolutely love Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.” One gentleman also had a state of Illinois flag!

That about wraps up our London adventure! Writing about it has made me want to go back even more than I already did! I hope someday soon I will get the chance to return and explore London to my heart’s content.


One last cheesy tourist photo from London!

Next up on the itinerary: Paris!

London 101

As Nigel narrated our London sightseeing day, we had the chance to finally witness all the famous landmarks in person. Our first stop was Buckingham Palace where we thankfully made it in time to watch the changing of the guard. The marching band was fantastic! I hated marching band in high school, but they made it look so easy. Their hats were a little comical, though. How they kept their heads up under all that weight I’ll never know!


I am a trumpet player and was planning on a career in music at that time, so witnessing the stellar marching band was truly a unique and fascinating experience. Next, we took our time enjoying the views of Buckingham Palace (and taking 1,001 pictures!).


Me and my dad in front of Buckingham Palace.

Next up was the Tower of London! We all know the stories: beheadings, torture, dungeons, secrets, spies, and the list goes on! I loved walking up the winding tower stairs; it truly felt like I had gone back in time. The Tower of London also offered a great view of the famous Tower Bridge.


If you look really closely, you can see the Olympic rings hanging underneath the Tower Bridge! London was preparing to host the Olympics during our stay.


The Tower of London.


They made a dragon out of armor, swords, knives, etc. How cool is that??

One of our last stops of the day was the London Eye: a truly massive ferris wheel located directly next to the Thames River. It provided the most spectacular views of London! From inside the little bubble-like cars, we could see almost all of the major landmarks.


Each car on the ferris wheel is huge!! You could even pay to have a whole meal served during your ferris wheel ride.

During our sightseeing in London we also had the chance to tour Westminster Abbey. For some reason, ancient cathedrals always make me want to cry. The arches, awnings, and intricate stonework are so awe-inspiring. It truly does make you feel like such a small person in a huge world. I wondered the halls alone for a time, just taking it all in. I most definitely got lost a couple of times, and I was worried I would be left alone wondering the empty, echoing halls forever. I eventually managed to find my way out and rejoin my group.The sheer magnitude of the building and the labyrinth of hallways and courtyards really do seem to mess with your mind and will you to get lost in the maze.


Westminster Abbey.

These were the highlights of our London stay, but I will highlight a few other London stories in my next post, including our first concert and a live performance of The Phantom of the Opera.


Our Hero Nigel

The morning after our legendary London Trek, we embarked on a guided tour of London. Stops included Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, and the London Eye. Our transportation from location to location was by tour bus, captained by the esteemed former cop: Nigel. He weaved his way through the narrow London streets like someone superhuman, avoiding near collisions and cramped passageways, as well as pedestrians.

His passengers were in awe; we had never witnessed such incredible driving dexterity in our lives. Cars and pedestrians would be closing in on all sides, but we had a timeline to stick to! The entire bus would hold its breath in silence as we watched the master at work. Many times we thought we were staring death in the face, only to be rescued at the last minute by the incredible Nigel. He would complete his maneuver and be praised with cheers and clapping from all the passengers.

All the while, he kept up a constant stream of conversation, informing his passengers of every famous building or statue we passed. His favorite words were “rubbish” and “how the hell.” Nigel made our first full day in London a wonderful and unforgettable experience! And really, his driving was out of this world! I wish I had gotten a picture with him, but unfortunately I was too busy taking pictures out the bus window!

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Next week, I will be sure to post some pictures of Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, and the London Eye!

The London Trek

During our very first day in London, instead of letting us go to sleep after dinner, our chaperones decided we must go on a walk across London to Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. While I was completely and utterly exhausted, I could not wait to get my first “real” glimpse of London: to be in the streets surrounded by London itself!

London, and almost all European cities, are so different from American cities. While London has its share of skyscrapers, many of the buildings and architecture are so much older. The designs are so ornate and intricate and brimming with history. I absolutely loved it! I felt like I was walking back in time; I was immersed in an ancient culture. At one point, we walked past what remained of an old Roman wall. I reached out my hand to touch the bricks and felt like I was touching time itself. We also stood on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is almost impossible to convey the splendor of that cathedral without actually being there yourself. We reached St. Paul’s Cathedral just as the sun was going down, creating some fantastic photo opportunities.


St. Paul’s Cathedral in the fading sunlight.


The entire IAM tour group on the steps of St. Paul’s.


My dad was also a chaperone, so we were able to create some wonderful memories together during our time touring Europe.

One aspect of London that I thought was fascinating was that they had pianos set up all across London. We saw men, women, and children sit down and begin to play music at random. I would like to see that while walking through the streets of Chicago or St. Louis! In particular, I noticed one man in a suit who sat down and began to play a beautiful intricate melody. He had his briefcase next to him; he obviously was on his way home from work. I think it is wonderful that this way of relaxing, letting music soothe away the cares of your day or allow you to escape for just a few minutes, is available to London citizens.


The final stop on our walk was of course, Shakespeare’s Globe. To reach The Globe, however, we had to cross Millennium Bridge, a pedestrian-only bridge across the Thames river. The Globe greets you right on the other side. The bridge offered wonderful views of London and held a few secrets itself.


Lovers write their names on lockets and attach them to Millennium Bridge.


Our destination: The Globe Theater.


One of my favorite pictures I took on the trip. This is the view looking back the way we came.

Once we reached The Globe, we rested a while and took pictures. Then began the long trek all the way back through London to our hotel. No cabs for us! The return trip was by far the most grueling; it was dark, our feet hurt, we were exhausted, jet lag was taking over. Somehow, we all made it back to the hotel and collapsed in bed. The next day we were to embark on a guided tour of London and visit all its famous sites!

London at Last!

After getting off the plane at Heathrow airport in London, I felt absolutely disgusting. I had not showered or brushed my teeth in over 24 hours due to long layovers. Everyone glamorizes traveling, but unless you are rich and famous and have your own private jet, you will feel disgusting (and look disgusting and possibly smell disgusting) after a long flight. I recently came across some tips for surviving long flights that I wish I had known four years ago!

We had very little time to freshen up before we were whisked off to Windsor. And so began the European tour! Windsor Palace was the first castle I had ever seen. I was in awe! Unfortunately, we did not get to tour the castle, but just being there was enough for me!


The only thing keeping me on my feet and awake at this point was adrenaline and excitement! I had slept for maybe two hours in the past 24 hours. And my hair. Let’s just not talk about my hair…


One of my first glimpses of Windsor Castle!

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle


While hard to see, the flag flying above Windsor Castle the day we were there signified that the queen was in residence at that time.

While in Windsor, some friends and I decided to have tea at the Crooked House. The name is everything. The house literally was crooked!

The Crooked Tea House where I had my first cup of English tea.

The Crooked Tea House where I had my first cup of English tea.

The tea was delicious, but I had unknowingly made a grievous error. We still had an hour-long bus ride (at the least) to get to our hotel in London. I have a notoriously small bladder, and only about fifteen minutes into the ride, I had realized my mistake. I spent the rest of the bus trip in silent agony, while still trying to take in all the scenery. I was conflicted to say the least. As soon as we reached the hotel, I bolted for the door, chaperones and luggage be damned!

Once the luggage and room situations were sorted out, I finally got to take a shower! I have to admit, that was THE best shower I have ever taken in my life. Period. Almost four years later, it still stands as the best shower ever.

All I wanted to do after dinner was crawl in bed and sleep, but our evil chaperones wanted us to adjust to the time change as quickly as possible, so we were forced to partake in a march across London. I will cover that grueling (yet fascinating!) trek in next week’s post!






Why Travel?

Many people have told me: “You need to learn to be content where you.” However, I disagree. While I believe there is definitely virtue in contentment, a thin line stands between contentment and complacency. As Malcolm Forbes states, “When you cease to dream you cease to live.” To me, complete contentment means one has lost or given up their dreams. I believe we should always be striving to learn more and do more with the time we have on earth. While everyone’s dream is different, mine is to travel, to see and learn as much about the world around me as possible. I believe the day I cease to yearn for new places will be the day I cease to dream and truly live.

My passion for traveling began in high school. The summer after my high school graduation I participated in the Illinois Ambassadors of Music European Tour, coordinated by the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville music department. I spent sixteen magical days touring Europe while playing concerts at each major city we toured. It was a truly mind-opening experience. As a girl who grew up surrounded by cornfields, I always knew the world was out there, but never really believed it until the moment I stepped off the plane at Heathrow Airport in London. After those sixteen days, the world became real and palpable to me. I had reached out and touched the Eiffel Tower, I had stood in front of the Mona Lisa, been surrounded by the beauty and majesty of the Alps. I had seen and experienced a whole new world, and I have been yearning to return ever since.

Through this blog, I plan to revisit and reminiscence my trip to Europe almost four years ago, recounting what I learned and how it has helped shape me into the person I am today. I also hope that through my blog, I will inspire others to travel as well. Once I have reached the last day of the trip, we shall see where the blog takes us next!


Packed and ready to go! It was hard to pack for sixteen days in one suitcase.


This picture was taken right before we boarded the plane for the long 9-hour overnight flight to London.