Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Still finding me

You know how you think you know yourself?! Yeah I though I knew myself pretty well too...and I did/do, but I have been learning new things about myself non stop on this trip! I started making a list of them on my phone the other day as I realized them. Some of them are just funny little things and others are bigger, more meaningful things. So here's the list that I've come up with so far of new things I've learned about myself in this last month that I've been in France:

     - Hard times create discipline.
     - Nervous habits of mine include: chewing the inside of my bottom lip until it's raw and cracking my knuckles literally non stop. (I've always cracked my knuckles but it gets out. of. control. when I get stressed or nervous apparently...)
     - I am braver/stronger than I give myself credit for and more of a chicken than I thought... (sounds contradictory, but trust me, it's the truth.)
     - I am actually a HUGE soccer fan! I went into this World Cup "liking" soccer and excited, but have become a little bit obsessed...
     - I am not a very good piano and bass player when compared to those around me....but oh wait! I'm not doing that whole comparison thing anymore... I am who I am, and my abilities are what they are, and if that is not good enough for someone else, then that's their loss. And that comparison is mostly based on the fact that I don't really play by ear and everyone over here does....therefore that makes Abby feel like a failure, when the truth is: I can play the bass by ear, the piano is harder for me and I couldn't necessarily do it on the spot in a service, but when I'm at home I can pick chord progressions out to songs and figure them out when I have the patience and time to do so. AND it's an ability that you either have or don't have and you can't beat yourself up about something that you weren't born with.
     - While I enjoy change, and sometimes welcome it, I am not the biggest fan of CONSTANT change.
     - I know more French than I thought I would but am most comfortable speaking it with people I actually know.
     - I over think/analyze everything... oh yeah, I've been doing that for years. And it makes me angry.
     - I am a confusing person....I have the confidence to up and leave my family, home, job, friends, etc and travel half way around the world by myself to someplace where I hardly know anyone and am perfectly fine with that...then I get there and don't have the confidence to just go out and speak the language. I don't get it. Anybody have any great insight on this?! Lol!
     - I am a very self-conscious person.
     - I am slowly, but surely, becoming okay with not knowing what's coming next, where I'm going next, or what I'm doing tomorrow.
     - I can't do anything, but God can do everything.
     - I found out what it means to "miss" someone.... as weird as this may sound, I had never once in my life felt homesick or missed my family. Talking/skyping has always been enough for me. But those first couple weeks here that were really rough for me...yeah I found out what it meant to miss home and your family. And while I may not be "homesick" anymore I can now say that I know what it feels like and it was probably something that I needed to experience/learn.
     - This whole traveling the world by yourself thing gets lonely. I've always been a loner and been ok with that but this trip has been different in SO many ways. While I may have friends here, there is no one here who REALLY knows me, no one who understands me, knows my quirks, no one who I feel like I can fully open up to (yes, I have trust issues....and good reasons for it too....you learn not to touch fire after getting burned a few too many times right?! Just apply that to friendships and there you have it.), no one to vent to when I'm having a bad day or frustrated, no one to talk to about what I'm going through in that moment, etc. For whatever reason that didn't really matter last time, but this time it's been a much bigger deal...I guess 3 years can change a person more than you think! Thank goodness for Skype and apps that let you text people for free but it's still not the same as having someone there to experience everything with you and talk to in person. I guess that means all of my friends need to move to France for the next 2 months ;)
     - I MISS MY DOGS!!!! Ok, that's nothing new, I've missed them all along and knew that I would when I left... I just had to throw it out there though.
I am sure that this list will keep growing as the trip continues...but that's already quite the list for only being here a month! So there you have it....you never stop learning about yourself...but then again, we're humans and we never stop changing and growing. Cue "The Circle of Life" from the Lion King... :) Still one of my all time favorite movies and I am not ashamed to admit that...or to admit to loving the soundtrack. And if all of the flies died I would be totally ok with that because I am SO sick of them landing on me right now!!!!!!!!!!! ARGH! Have a wonderful Tuesday everyone!!! :D

Monday, June 23, 2014

Under Threat of "Man Up"

Yesterday, Sunday, was somewhat of a stressful day for Abby. I had decided that if I had to give a testimony/word of encouragement at church that I would write it out in advance, have Mikki edit it and then do it in French. Didn't sound scary when I decided it was a good idea. But then as Sunday rolled around and the reality that I had to read what I had written out loud, in French, hit and it wasn't such a happy idea after all lol! But I had earlier in the week told my brother that I was planning on doing this and he said "You better! If you don't I'm going to make you go on a Man Up Adventure and learn about facing your fears!!" So under threat of having to hang out with a bunch of stinky guys for 5 days and eat gross food like brats (not that they would actually probably let me come on a trip....) I decided to face my fear and do it. It was a little awkward since I had to just read it off of my iPad so I couldn't really make eye contact with people and since I was nervous I was somewhat speed reading....buuutttt I survived and now that I made it past that milestone hopefully next time won't be as bad and then eventually, someday I won't even need the iPad. I sang and played "Because of Who You Are" in French as well (it was the only song that I could remember ALL of the lyrics to in French off the top of my head). Singing and playing isn't that scary for me...I would MUCH rather do that any day than speak. So not only was it scary that I was speaking in front of people, it was scary because it was in French and I am extremely self conscious about my "American" accent when speaking French. I have struggled with comparing myself to others my whole life and feeling incompetent and thought I had gotten over most of that but on Sunday it definitely reared it's ugly head. I always second guess myself. Me and Jesus had a little talk about it and by the time church started I was feeling a little bit better... it was like the closer it got, the less stressed I got. Regardless I survived, even after Mikki so kindly told me right before church that she was going to video it on her phone lol :P (I haven't seen the video and don't know if I want to....) I did say that I would do whatever was asked of me, whether that meant speaking, singing, etc sooooo I guess God's already putting that to the test lol! He thinks He's funny..... We had church at the house because there was going to be a party afterwards, so here's a couple pics from Sunday! It was great because even though it was a HOT day and we were having church in a house one of the visitors had tears running down her face as we sang "Your Presence Is Heaven To Me"!

After church there was a joint birthday party for Mikki and one of the guys in the church so while everything was getting set up the guys started up a round of karaoke...they finally convinced me to do it, but I made Mikki join with me. We sang "He Wants It All" by Forever Jones. It was my first karaoke experience lol! Look at me just breaking out of my shell/comfort zone...first I spoke in French, then I sang karaoke...what is this world coming to?!

Saturday Toky and Mikki took me into Toulouse to see a few of the sights and walk around. We started the day out at the market and I wandered around there for a while and Toky bought some delicious, fresh cherries that we ate in the car. From there we grabbed lunch at a Chinese buffet and then headed to the city center!

Toulouse is a very pretty city! They call it The Pink City because of the reddish/pink bricks that they used to build with. It was a really hot day (I mean it's Southern France after all....I'm not far from Spain so summer = HOT here!) so we didn't wander far from the center of the city. We stopped into a couple of souvenir stores so I could pick some stuff up and then headed back home.

The update on the World Cup is that we now have our nightly tradition of turning the 6pm (our time) game on via Internet and having that on while we get dinner ready. That game ends right around 8 pm, which is perfect because that is Zoe's bedtime, so she gets put to bed, we grab a snack, get changed, etc and then are ready for the 9 pm game...which is usually the game that we actually care about lol! We happily and loudly (although not TOO loudly since Zoe was sleeping) cheered France on to another victory!!!! I stayed up last night to watch the USA vs Portugal game, which started at midnight here. That was a pretty intense game. Sadly it ended tied 2 - 2, since Portugal got a freak goal with 30 seconds left in the game. Disappointing I must say, but that's ok, we're still in it and next we play Germany...that's gonna be a tough game! And that is the latest and greatest news in the life of Abby! Nothing TOO crazy, but that's probably a good thing...lol!

Monday, June 16, 2014

A girl and her suitcase

I am now writing to you from the city of Toulouse in Southern France. Good thing I never actually unpacked my suitcases at the last place because it looks like I am going to be a traveling girl! I found out last Tuesday that I would be coming to Toulouse for a couple of weeks and alas here I am! There is a small, home missions style church here that I will be helping out at for the next 2 or 3 weeks. But first to catch you all up on my last week in Melun.

First of all I can't believe that I forget to say that at least 5 people got the Holy Ghost at the Pentecostal Convention! So Tuesday I went to the church to work and spent the whole day there working away on the text books for IBF and was able to get them all finished by Thursday! In total I put together 300 text books....so I think they're set for a while! Hahaha! So I spent Tuesday through Thursday all day at the church working to try to accomplish as much as possible before I left on Saturday. I had Friday morning off to pack and get ready to leave, worked at the church Friday afternoon and then went out to eat with a bunch of the young people Friday night as a last hurrah before I left. We ate at Buffalo Grill and talked a LOT of soccer with another good theological discussion on women in ministry. It was great to get to spend time with them before I left! The Melun church is my "home church" here in France so being away from it makes me a little sad! But I am excited about what God has in store for me through these times of travel.

Saturday I spent the day working in the kitchen for the Bible School. It was just like old times :) (aka 2011 when I worked in the kitchen for 3 weeks) After the last class was over we loaded my suitcase into the car and headed off for Toulouse...which is a 7 hr drive, so I got a couple little naps in! We left Melun around 6:30/7 pm and arrived at the house at 2 am! Thankfully they have church at 4:30 on Sunday so I was able to sleep in and take it slow the next morning! As I mentioned previously the church here is a small, newer work, which is what I grew up in, so nothing new to me! They are currently looking for a permanent place to hold services so we were in a hotel meeting room. I am so thankful that God isn't limited by OUR circumstances. Regardless of the number of people or the location He still shows up and allows us to feel His presence and speaks to us. They didn't make me do anything yesterday since I had just gotten in the night before but this next Sunday they asked if I would sing a special and give a testimony. If I can sit down and prepare something beforehand I might actually attempt it in French (the testimony that is, the song I'll for sure do in French)! Pray saints!!!! Hahaha! 

I had previously met the pastor and his wife, Toky and Mikki, when I was here in 2011. I absolutely love them. It's so great and refreshing to see a young couple out "in the trenches" so to speak, digging out a new work. I know from growing up in a home missions church that it is far from an easy task and I have so much respect for them! They have 2 adorable children, Zoe and Enzo, who I am more than happy to help out with during the day because (wait for it, it's a shocker I know...) I love kids! :) Zoe and I are already best of buds. 

I am finding that this will be a traveling trip for me, so I guess it's a good thing that I never really did unpack those suitcases.... In July I will be going to Because of the Times in Copenhagen, Denmark (which I am SUPER stoked for!!!!) It's kind of funny to me that I've never been to BOTT in the States, but I come to Europe and end up going! And after that I will be going back up to Arras, where the convention was held, to help at that church for a little bit and there is a chance that I will be spending a week in Monaco as well. While this is somewhat bittersweet, because as I mentioned I LOVE my Melun family, I feel like this is a growing time for me. God is trying to stretch me. After Skyping with my parents today, who said the same exact thing to me, I am feeling ready to face the challenges before me. Whatever God is trying to work out of me, into me or through me during this season of "floating", as my mother called it (where I don't really know what is going to happen next, where I am going next, what's in store for me, etc), I am ready for it to happen and while I know the whole process may not always be entirely enjoyable I am excited to see what will be waiting for me when I come out on the other side of it! I know that this trip is completely ordained of God and that everything is happening for a reason and working out the way it should even though it is far from what I had originally planned on/envisioned. My parents mentioned how me being able to travel in France to the different churches was good exposure and I instantly remembered the words of Bro. Jim Sleeva from IBC, "Exposure breeds burden" and I think I am legitimately experiencing that for the first time. Let's just say that I'm already dreading leaving in August....which means that I have been contemplating extending my trip here, but that will all depend on God's will (which I am earnestly seeking!) My mother, who seems to always be one step ahead of me, said she has already been praying that if it's God's will for me to stay that I will get the money and visa needed and if not that the money won't be there. Such a simple, yet concise prayer, and one that I am joining her in. 

People may not think of France as a missions field because it's not a 3rd world country, but there are not nearly enough churches here. We think of Minnesota as a "small" district because there are only 30-some churches in our state, but France, a whole country, has maybe 20 churches spread out across it. I call that a missions field, ripe and ready for harvest. 

And their soccer team won last night....which was really exciting :) This was my excited face after they won...oh yeah and the World Cup France jersey that I bought!!! 
I'm super into this World Cup! The USA plays tonight at midnight our time but I am going to try to stay up and watch it online or at least keep up with the score for as long as my eyeballs will stay open! I gotta cheer for my homeboys! Sadly I don't have a USA jersey and haven't seen one over here to buy (shocker...). I guess I'll just have to buy one when (if) I get back to the States ;)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Beauty from Ashes

Alright….where to begin…. ?! It’s been an interesting beginning to my trip to say the least. There were some last minute changes to my lodging situation, a moment of panic when no one knew where Abby was going to be sleeping when she arrived 2 Tuesdays ago, and a lot of crying on my part….which is an unusual occurrence. (I’m blaming it on lack of sleep….) No internet access my first week and no way to contact my family... The house that I'm at is not close to the church or anything that I am familiar with here... The people I live with don't speak a word of English (which is both good and bad...good because I HAVE to speak French to them...bad when neither of us can figure out what the other person is trying to say lol!!!) Either way it was a very rough start. But through that rough start (and my many threats to get on the next plane out) I have found peace and strength and had answers to prayer. Everything that went wrong was just another sign that I was indeed suppose to be here and there were spiritual battles being waged over the very fact that I was here. I don’t say that in a proud or haughty way, but in a very humble way. The thought that my mere existence, let alone where in the world my mere existence is occurring, has that much importance to God (and apparently the devil) and His plan for my life is positively astounding to me. Let’s just say there was lots of prayer going on both here in France (by me!!!) and in the States by my family and some blessed saints at our church there. The Psalms have positively become my best friend these past 2 weeks! I had bought a new, small KJV Bible before leaving instead of bringing my huge Thompson Chain with this time and the Psalms have already been thoroughly underlined lol! I will look back at those verses and remember the absolute darkness I was going through and remember the strength and peace they brought to me. Mornings have become my quiet time with Jesus and it’s become a very precious time for me. At home, mornings were too hard with me having to get up at 5:30 am to start getting ready for work to have any kind of decent prayer and Bible reading time right away in the morning. That’s the thing about life in France…you’re able to take things at such a slower pace, they’re not rushing around all the time like chickens with their heads cut off like we do in America! Anyways, me and Jesus have our morning meetings and have been working things out slowly but surely and taking this road one step at a time, hand in hand. 

I will say that things have gotten much better. This is not going to be a doom and gloom post don't worry! :) While where I am staying is not ideal, it is working for now and hopefully this month I will be able to move in with the girl that I stayed with last time. She is within walking distance of the church and right in the center of town so I will be super close to the grocery store, train station, etc and I know my way around there. But until then I am VERY grateful that someone was willing to open their house up to me with only 2 days notice!!! And to put up with the little American who speaks bad French lol!!!

I have been settling in and getting reaccustomed to life in France :) The young people at the church here in Melun are extremely welcoming and have helped me to feel right at home! They make sure that I'm never standing around by myself or sitting alone! I went to my first choir practice last Sunday (not yesterday, but the Sunday before). They have such an amazing choir and music department here! Seriously.... everyone sings (and has a good voice too!!) and they have an abundance of amazing piano players.... I'm pretty jealous of their over flowing piano skills actually. Anyways. 

I started working at the church last week and spent Monday - Thursday working at the church for 6-8 hours a day. I mainly work in the office with the church secretary. I'm doing some of the same things that I did the last time I was here, like putting together all of the text books for their Bible College here, helping pack up and do inventory on the church's bookstore to take to the convention we were at this past weekend, doing random odd jobs that need to be done, etc. I told them that I'm here to absolutely whatever they need me to do so that is what I do!!!

I think that this time I will be going out to some of the smaller churches to help out there as well. Bro and Sis Nowacki were talking to several of the pastors this past weekend at the conference to see if any of them wanted or needed me to come. So that will be fun to get to do a little bit of travelling and help out other churches (although I will miss the Melun church while I'm away from it....I love the church here! Don't worry GLT, you'll always be my absolute favorite...there's just not another church like GLT!). You can all pray for me though because I'm NOT a huge fan of speaking (majorly stresses me out!!!) and if I travel to different churches that means that I'm probably going to have to do a little bit of speaking/teaching of some kind... Lord help us all! It's definitely not my strong point. But I am here and told God that I'd do whatever He had planned for me and if that means speaking then I guess I will just have to suck it up and speak. I get this strange feeling that this trip is going to be quite the growing experience for me... scary.... The Melun church will also send out groups of young people to some of the smaller churches for a weekend to do street evangelism and help with their Sunday service(s) and one of the guys asked me if I would want to come with on some of those trips and I said yes, so it looks like as long as Bro and Sis Nowacki approve it I will be able to do some traveling and helping out the smaller, more home missions like churches with the young people of Melun as well!

This past weekend was the Pentecostal Convention that they have every year over the Pentecost Sunday weekend. It was held in Arras this year, which is in northern France. Bro. Weber from Lafayette, Louisiana was the evangelist and he did a great job! It was a 2 hr drive there and I rode up with 2 of the young people from the church. There were 2 services on Saturday, one at 3 pm and one at 7 pm, so we really only had a little over an hour in between the 2 services to change and rest for a minute. After the evening service I went out to McDonald's with all of the young people from the Melun church and we had to sit outside because there wasn't enough room in the restaurant for all of us plus the other customers. So we ate outside and had us a good time! We had a good theological debate about Abraham sacrificing Isaac and whether or not he knew that God would provide another sacrifice (well as good of a theological debate as you can have at midnight...and then there was my bad French - that I finally refused to use after a few tries because it was too complicated and deep of a subject for me to use French)....we came down to the conclusion that a few of us had different interpretations/definitions of the word "faith" and just left it at that. But I couldn't stop thinking about it so the next morning before the first service I found one of the guys and explained my view in a more clear, concise way (funny how sleep can help with that...lol!) and we finally agreed with each other lol! 

Anyways, Saturday night I didn't get to bed until 1:30 am and then was up at 7:30 to get ready, eat breakfast, pack up and check out of the hotel before the first service started at 9:30. We had 2 services again on Sunday, the 9:30 am and then a 3 pm. And we had us some good church! By the 3 pm service we were all struggling to stay awake...we'd all eaten a big lunch, it was hot and no one had gotten enough sleep. But by the end of the service we were all jumping and dancing in the altar! (first time wearing heels in weeks...the feet were killing after that...) That last service Bro Weber preached about miracles and one of his points really stuck with me. He said that you have to pour out in order for the God to pour into you. Whether that is pouring out praise, pouring out in the sense of letting go of something, etc. Such a simple point, but it really stuck with me. SO many times we want God to perform the miracle, but we don't make room for it. We want it to happen without us giving anything first or without having to get rid of something in order to make room for it. He also talked about how you have to prepare for your miracle/vision and live like it's going to happen. He gave the example of how they only had 1 changing room for baptisms at their church and only 3 baptismal robes. God had given him a vision that their church was going to grow, so the saints went to him and asked to build more changing rooms down one of their church hallways and people brought clothes from their houses to be used as baptismal clothes and they had a week of evangelism and then that following Sunday they ended up baptizing over 60 people (he said they were baptizing 2 people at once lol!), with at least 30 of them receiving the Holy Ghost as well! The point being that your miracle can only be as big as you prepare for it to be....what if he had only had that 1 changing room and those 3 baptismal robes?! 

Here's a couple videos of the choirs singing:

All in all it was a great weekend! It was refreshing, there was great fellowship, not enough sleep and I earned the title DJ Abby after controlling the iPod on the way there. I was able to both minister and be ministered to in the altar. The music and choirs were incredible! And the power of God was very much present! It says something when you get home from a conference like that and can't wait for Tuesday night because that means church again! I would say that God is DEFINITELY on the move in France. I can feel the excitement and anticipation in the people and I must say, it's contagious :) Only thing that I can say that I'm sad about and/or regret is that I didn't take 1 picture the whole weekend and while I took a couple videos of the choirs I didn't get any video of our hoppin altar service...but then again I don't regret it because I was a part of it! It's hard for me to take pics and videos in church because I'm there to worship and hear the Word, but I do know that people back home that are supporting me both in prayer and finances want to see these things so I will try to be more concientous of that!

And now on a non-spiritual note.... I am super stoked that I'm going to be in Europe during the World Cup!!! I know I'm not like a huge soccer (yes, I know it's called football here in Europe but I feel like if I call it that then everyone will think I'm referring to American football...) fan but I do enjoy watching it and am going to try to keep up with the World Cup. I kinda want to go buy a soccer jersey just because :) I wish soccer was bigger in the States. It really is a fun sport to watch....and to play. I was a pretty good (and occasionally mean) little soccer player when I'd play at Jr Camp! (yes, I was sometimes a mean girl at church camp.... let's not talk about the time I got into a fight during a basketball game at Jr Camp....) 

So that is the latest update in the life of Abby in France! Things can only keep getting better in my opinion so here's to 2 1/2 more amazing, God-filled months in France! I will do my best to give frequent updates! Thank you to everyone who has and continues to lift me up in prayer (it means more than you will ever know!) Sometimes all I need is just that extra boost that comes from someone else's prayers! 

Paris - It Never Gets Old

From London Amber and I took the EuroStar train to Paris...which means that we went under the English Channel! Which would have been way more exciting if we could have seen it, but alas it was basically like being in a really big, long tunnel....but hey it was fast and comfortable and I was able to catch a nap, so I'm not complaining! We got to Paris around 7 pm, caught a cab and went straight to our hotel. After we got checked in there we started walking in pursuit of dinner lol! There wasn't much around us for restaurants so we stopped into a pizza place and got a pizza to go, went back to the room and chilled for the remainder of the evening. The next day we were up early and ready to go!

First stop: the Eiffel Tower. We went there first because it opens at 9:30 and we knew there would already be a line, which there was but it wasn't terrible. You can't see the Eiffel Tower from the metro stop that I had us get off at because it's blocked by a building and I purposefully didn't tell Amber that it was basically around the corner. When we got past the building I was watching Amber and her reaction was priceless!!! She stopped dead in her tracks and squeaked super high pitched!!! I just started laughing and a couple that was standing near us were like "that was adorable!!" I was SO proud of Amber!! She does NOT like heights but she was a champ and went all the way to the top of the Eiffel Tower and even turned her back to the fence to take a picture (which is a big deal for most people that don't like heights). It was ridiculously windy, a little rainy and cold. I was shaking from the cold! But we didn't let that stop us from getting out there and getting pictures and enjoying the full experience! That was my 5th time being on the Eiffel Tower and the view still takes my breath away every time! Paris is soooooo beautiful and HUGE!!!

From the Eiffel Tower we went to the Champs Elysees, saw the Arc de Triomphe, and then walked all the way down it to Place de la Concorde. I love walking down the Champs Elysees! After that it was the Love Lock Bridge, and then Notre Dame. 

We ended the day by walking by Moulin Rouge, eating at Cafe des Deux Moulins (where the French film "Amelie" was filmed) and then we walked around my favorite neighborhood, Montmarte. Where we stopped at my favorite biscuit shop (they're like the most amazing, delicious, buttery cookies that just melt in your mouth....totally wishing I had some right now...) 

Day 2 in Paris was a Sunday, so we got up, caught the train and drug my luggage with us to Melun to go to church and leave my luggage here so that I wouldn't have to drag it all there by myself. (That was quite the adventure. I had planned on catching a cab from the train station to take us and my luggage to the church....well of course there were absolutely NO cabs to be found whatsoever....so we ended up walking for 45 minutes dragging my 50 lb suitcases behind us from the train station to the church...good thing I still remembered my way around after 3 years!) Anyways, after church we grabbed sandwiches from a cafe and ate them while sitting by the Seine River (where we saw a giant, dead rat floating in the water while eating our lunch...delicious, I know). Then we caught a bus out to Chateau Vaux le Vicomte. And spent a glorious, sunny day wandering the gardens and buildings of the beautiful chateau. And it just so happened to be some kind of special day that they have once a year where you can come in costume or rent a costume there if you don't have one. You can picnic on the lawns, there were fencing matches, baroque dancing, and people riding horses around....it was amazing!!!! 

Day 3 we spent at the Louvre Museum, seeing some of the world's oldest and best art and then going back to Montmarte to get some of our own art done :) I saw Mona Lisa for the 4th time, and got a portrait of Rue done to hang by the portrait of Sadie that I got done in 2011, and then got a portrait of myself done. It was a pretty chill day, which was nice after all of our hectic, none stop running around that we'd been doing. 

The next morning I dropped Amber off at the airport (*sniffle*) and headed out to Melun to start the 2nd part of my adventure here in France! Which will be recorded in the next blog post!

London - An Enchanted Place

Greetings from France!!! We are currently experiencing some technical difficulties with my family's missions site (I can't get to the log-in page to blog...) so I will blog on here (which I needed to do anyways) until then! Where to even begin?! I suppose I should start with the first week... I started the trip out with a little vacation time with one of my best friends, Amber. We flew into London, spent 2 1/2 days there, took the train to Paris and spent 3 1/2 days in Paris. That first week was wonderful and positively exhausting!! We were going non-stop!! Especially in London... we landed at 6:30 am (neither of us slept on the flight at all...) and hit the ground running! We had 2 tours booked for that first day and didn't get back to our hotel until 10:30 pm and then had to shower, wind down, let family know we arrived safely, etc before finally collapsing in bed around midnight. We had been awake for 34 hours straight at that point. But we did fully enjoy that first, exhausting day. 

It started out with a tour at the Warner Bros Studios where they filmed all of the Harry Potter movies (which I know absolutely NOTHING about but Amber is a huge fan so I went along anyways lol!). It was pretty cool to see the actual sets, props and costumes that they used in a movie though! 

From there we went straight to downtown London for our 2nd tour of the day. We took a 1 pm London in a Day tour. It was a 5 hour tour in a vintage, double decker red tour bus. We got to ride around London and see all of the biggest and best sites! I would have liked to get out and actually go in and see most of them but we just didn't have the time on this trip....so I'll have to do that next time ;) (yes there WILL be a next time! London was too amazing for there NOT to be a next time!) We got out and took a 20 minute boat ride down the Thames River and ended the tour with tea at the Orangery, which an extremely nice tea house in the gardens of Kensington Palace. The tea and food were AH-MAZING! Seriously. I was sooooo full when I left! 

Day 2: We were up bright and early to eat breakfast and catch the bus to get back downtown to get on our tour for that day. We did an England in a Day tour. That consisted of going to Stratford-upon-Avon to Shakespeare's birthplace, from there we drove through the Cotswolds (some of the prettiest country and cutest old little villages you will EVER see!) to get to Bath where we got to spend a couple of hours wandering around and getting lunch, and from there on to Stonehenge. 

So first, Shakespeare's birthplace: I have always been a huge Shakespeare fan. One of my all-time favorite classes that I took at the U of MN was my English Lit class "Intro to Shakespeare" where we delved into his plays and disected them. I know, I'm a nerd and it can't be helped, so embrace it like I have :) So this was a pretty big deal for me! Before we toured the house we had scones and orange juice (we had the option of champagne or orange juice...aren't you all proud of me for drinking the orange juice?! Lol jk jk) in the garden of the house, where there were actors in costume to recite sonnets and bits of his plays. Then we did a quick tour of the house. Sadly there was a big group of school kids (don't get me wrong, I love children but not in hoards and not in a tiny old house that I am trying to soak in and enjoy...) so we did a quick run through, but it was an amazing experience nonetheless! 
From there we headed to Bath via a drive through the Cotswolds (which I sadly didn't get any great pictures of because I didn't have a window seat on the bus...but it was a beautiful drive!!) I was SUPER excited about Bath because I've always been a huge Jane Austen fan as well (basically I REALLY like old English literature...) and in her stories the families always "go on holiday to Bath" so I can finally say that I "went to Bath on holiday"! (In a British accent of course). We didn't actually go into the Roman Baths because it was 30 pounds to get in and that's $50 and we were on a budget and couldn't spend THAT much just to look at the old Roman Baths. So instead we grabbed a sandwich and coffee (it was a chilly, somewhat drizzly day to begin with and we had both been falling asleep on the bus) and headed down to the Jane Austen Center. We didn't actually go through it because we only had an hour and a half total to spend in Bath but we stopped in the gift shop so I could pick a couple souvenirs and presents up and then headed out to see more of Bath and stop in some souvenir stores. I actually had to keep reminding myself to buy stuff for me because I was so engrossed with finding stuff for friends and family back home lol! We ended our time in Bath by walking down to look at one of the prettiest bridges spanning over the River Avon (a different river Avon from the one where Shakespeare lived....there's 3 different Avon rivers in England). 
We got back on the bus and headed to Stonehenge! Which actually ended up being my favorite part of my trip to England. I don't know if it's the whole mystery surrounding it, the sheer amazingness of it or what but I absolutely loved it! Not to mention that the weather had improved and it ended up being a super nice day to wander around in the English country side. I was simply in awe of it...and spent way to much money at the gift shop lol!!!

Day 3: Our last day in London was really only a half day. We had to be at the train station ready to go by 3 pm and check out at our hotel was 12 pm, so we really only had the morning free to explore. We went down to Baker Street and visited the infamous 221B Baker St! Another literary favorite of mine (I just have an obsession with British literature!) Sherlock Holmes! We did the tour and of course hit up the gift shop there as well. I thoroughly enjoyed that! That was how we spent our last day in London! Basking in the wonders of Sherlock's study :) 
And that concludes my time in London and England!!! I absolutely fell in love with the city, the people and of course the accents :) 2 1/2 days was not nearly enough time to see and experience everything so a trip back to London is definitely on the list for me!