Crown Jewels Vs. Enormous Castles

You may be asking yourself, “Self, why wasn’t the Link Year blog updated from Wednesday – Saturday last week?” Well, you are in luck because I have an answer.  Last Wednesday started our “Free Weekend” here in Ireland. Some of our students took excursions to London or Edinburgh Scotland, while many others stayed behind at the Manor for some R&R. Those that stayed in Belfast did a lot of reading, resting, shopping, movie watching, and some serious fellowship. One night all of the girls went to see the new movie “The Vow,” and then to a highly recommended Italian restaurant called Villa Italia…the guys met us there. We had a great time!

3 of the guys went to Scotland! Here is what Ethan has to say about their adventures!

We left for Scotland at three in the morning on Wednesday February 15th. Our cab driver sped through downtown Belfast, past sheep farms and old churches. Since we arrived at the airport three hours early, we sat down at a little cafe and had a traditional English Breakfast served with eggs, sausage, pork, and haggis. It was delicious! Upon landing we got a cab, but Chris directed them go to the wrong hotel so we had to walk two miles across town, Tim and I made him carry our bag.  Honest mistake. We passed through St. Andrews Square on the way there. After getting settled in we went across the street to St. Marry’s Cathedral, it is the largest church in Edinburg, and has three of the tallest towers I have ever seen.

There is a shopping strip on Princes Avenue, so we got a rugby ball and played catch. We climbed up the side of the castle on the rock/cliff face to get a view of the city. Later that same day we went in to the Tartan Weaving Museum where they make kilts and have hand forged swords and armor. This was on the Royal Mile which is the road leading from the Castle to the palace. The Castle in the largest I have ever seen, the battlements stretch around the entire mesa. On the Royal mile is the Episcopal Church of Scotland. But more interesting is the Church in the Castle which has the meeting place of the Knights of the Thistle. Also in the castle are the honors of Scotland, being the Stone of Destiny, the Crown Jewels and a huge claymor. About a quarter mile from the royal mile is the National Scottish Museum. Home to a large collection of coins and ancient artifacts of Scotland.The fish there is amazing! All of it was caught the day we ate it. Overall it was a great trip and I am thankful I had the opportunity to go!



large group of 9 went to London with our Assistant Director Adam Martin and his wife Katlyn! Mallory and Michael have recapped this incredible trip below…

Our magical London trip started at 5AM on the 15th of February. All eleven of us shuffled out to the front of the Manor and met up with our cab drivers. We got in and were off to the airport! Our flight was went well, and not to mention it was cool to walk down the steps of the plane like you see on movies. We awaited our bus into the city with pretty positive attitudes for being up that early! It was a fantastic group: Adam & Katlyn Martin, Chase, Michael, Christian, Connor, Sam, Morgan, Mollie, Mack, and Mallory. We got on the bus with smiles knowing that wifi was available, and we were all able to check in on Facebook to alert the families we arrived safely. For our first excursion, we were headed to Buckingham Palace to see the traditional changing of the guards. We all purchased a day ticket for the tubes, or subways, and climbed aboard. It was a first time on one of these for some of the group so it was a fun time. It was rather odd to see all the locals had their heads down and headphones in their ears. It isn’t really normal to make conversation with random strangers I would guess. We got off and began roaming the streets on our way to Buckingham. A couple of guys decided subconsciously to play frogger and almost got hit by some bikers, buses, and cars. It was crazy, but on a nice weathered day how could you be upset? We found Buckingham and fought through the crowds of people to barely see some of the changing of the guards. It was very crowded which I suppose was normal, but just a long experience, and our exhaustion was kicking in at this time. We wandered aimlessly looking for the restaurant that Katlyn had suggested for all of us to experience. We arrived at Wagamama’s and took a seat. We enjoyed our delicious noodle experience, but we were so pleased that it was around two and we could go check into the hotel. The boys split off with Adam after we arrived at The Holiday Inn Express and checked in safely. Unfortunately, the wifi was not free, but we remained excited to the fact that we were in London!

After some nice relaxation time, the boys met back up with the group a little later then we were off to find some excitement. We went to an art museum, but we decided we were too hungry to be creative minded at the time. It was off to Piccadilly Circus! It is a huge square of just shops, food and shows. It reminded some of the group of New York. We found a nice italian place and sat down for a nice dinner and had a good time. We walked around and became familiar with Piccadilly afterwards, but quickly remembered how tired we all were and found our way home! The second day, we all met up at the hotel around ten o’ clock. We were all rested and excited for the plans Adam and Katlyn had ready for us that day. We headed off to St. Paul’s cathedral, this was huge. Not only is this cathedral world famous, but it was a beautiful place of worship. As we approached it, we saw a huge amount of protesters. What they were protesting I am unsure, but they were wearing V for Vendetta masks and it was very unsettling. We were captivated by them though, because they had maybe forty tents just lined up and they seemed pretty radical. We were not able to go in to tour unless we paid, and most of us did not want to do such things. So, we went off to entertain ourselves. The boys went to a candy store, and the girls went to Starbucks for some coffee. We all met up around twelve thirty to go to Earl’s, a delicious sandwich shop! After lunch, we hustled back to the church and we were able to go in and see a service take place. It was a traditional Catholic service, but it was slightly awkward, because people were just walking around the cathedral going on with their lives during the service. The cathedral was just breathtaking. We were able to walk around some after the service and get just a glimpse of the incredible beauty and art of it all. After the cathedral, it was off to the Tower of London! We took the tubes and made it in great time as usual. When we arrived we took some pictures of the outside from a distance and then played out our options. Not everyone wanted to go inside and do the rest of the days plans as a group! Mallory (myself), Morgan and Mollie decided to take a girls day for themselves. Everyone else saw the Tower of London, London Bridge, and I am unsure of what else! I do know that Michael, Mack, Sam and the Martins saw Wicked that evening and I heard it was just outstanding! I am not surprised! Morgan, Mollie and I went to knights bridge to start our adventure. We were there our very first day and saw a lot of shops, but we were not able to go inside of them and shop. We walked around and shopped, but nothing caught our eyes. We were tired and decided to sit in a coffee shop a bit, but as usual Starbucks was packed! We went back to the hotel, relaxed a bit, then when it was dinner time it was off to Piccadilly Circus for the night!

We found a nice diner and had some delicious burgers. The diner was so cute, and we had a lot of fun laughs and good talks there that night. When we were done, we attempted to find some shopping, after watching some street performers of course, and finally found some good stores. Unfortunately, it was already late that evening and everywhere was closed! We acknowledged that it was probably bed time for us tired travelers anyway so we headed for the tubes.We had mastered them at this point and enjoyed the rides. It was a nice rest for our tired feet. When we returned and got comfy and just snuggled our way to sleep.

When Mack returned from Wicked she had sparkles in her emerald eyes, and while starstruck she told us how much she enjoyed the magnificent play. We all fell into the nice hotel bed’s, and passed out. The final full day in London was a relaxing one! Sadly, our fearless leader Adam had gotten food poisoning so his progress was slowed, but we all met up at ten, then split off again. Michael and Christian went off together and saw a soccer field and other things. Connor, Sam, and Chase did their own thing that day. Mack, Mollie, Morgan and I decided to hit up Camden Market earlier than the others. They were going to all meet there at two, but we went early and left around one. We saw some of Camden and an awesome vintage shop, but didn’t realize that we didn’t see the actual Camden Market… embarrassing. We’d been had! We headed to Piccadilly Circus around one for some lunch. We decided to let Mack experience the lovely diner we enjoyed so much the night before so we headed there. We were weirdly more tired than the day before. That being said, the diner’s loudness was not a warm welcome, and also our waitress didn’t speak very good English. It was just the beginning, our burgers were raw. There was literally blood coming out of all of them. I didn’t really notice it until I had eaton all of my burger so I was automatically freaking out about the situation. We were all pretty sickened out and just wanted to escaped immediately.We did enjoy our time to rest our feet while we were there though! We went off and found the shops we discovered the night before and just went up and down the streets. There was a ton of stores, but even more people. It was insanely crowded and I just know that none of us liked it. Mollie was able to find a ring she loved and some bracelets for her mother and sister, but the rest of us didn’t really find anything we loved. A couple of us bought some things at the “Camden Market” we went to earlier that day, but everything at these stores was just over priced! We headed to the huge statue in the middle of Piccadilly and plopped down. We were just exhausted from going non-stop since we’d gotten to London. We people watched, and jumped in a couple of random pictures, but ultimately we were just chilling. There was a guy beat boxing for some of the time we were sitting there. So, that was cool! We enjoyed each others company though. We really did have a great time together us girls! We found our way to a coffee shop that provided wifi and relaxed in the warmth there until it was time to meet up with the group at the statue around six.

When we all met up, we told our stories of our days adventures and everyone seemed to be well! We decided on the Texas Embassy for dinner. It was perfect. We all felt so comfortable and just welcome there. Katlyn found her name on the wall that she had signed many years prior before she was married and that was exciting. We had a great dinner full of laughs, jokes, and stories. I couldn’t have picked a better group to go with to London. When dinner was finished, we headed to find a bus to take us to our new hotel next to our airport. The bus finding was quite the struggle, but we eventually made it work! We were all exhausted when arrive to the Easy something hotel, but we were just glad to be together. The rooms where a lot like a hostel, but it was nice to have somewhere to stay at all.

We woke up early the next morning, got some taxis (after waking up Christian, Michael, and Chase late I might add!), and headed to the airport. Overall the trip was a success. We got to see the sights, do our own thing, and just have fun and experience together. We were all glad to get back to our cozy Manor, and just cute Link Year family. I loved every minute of it, and I am so glad I had the opportunity to go with these awesome people!




Hey everyone, my name is Michael Williams and I was blessed enough to go on the trip that our group took to London, England. I had heard so many amazing things from friends and family about the city and was so excited to visit. We arrived in London on the morning of Wednesday, February 15. The first place we went was to Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guard. Changing the Guard was definitely a very neat event to watch and it was so cool to hear all of the different languages around me that showed just how much of a world-wide known event has become.

After we visited Buckingham Palace we went to check in at the hotels and hostels we were staying in (only guys stayed at hostels, don’t worry parents) we visited the Tate Museum of Art which I’m sure would be very interesting if I was more interested in art or if we had a tour guide to explain to me what exactly what was going on. After visiting the art museum we went to Piccadilly Circus to tour a little bit of the area and to grab dinner. Overall, the first day was pretty cool but the next couple days definitely made the trip more than worth it.

We started off the second day by going to see St. Paul’s Cathedral which was absolutely gorgeous. Many people chose not to pay to go in but for those of us that did I know it was so worth it. The Cathedral has such a rich history and I was given my very own audio tour guide from an Ipod that helped me understand everything I was looking at. The audio guide took me through step by step and was such an awesome thing to have as I saw one of the most beautiful and historic Cathedrals in the entire world. Another interesting fact about the Cathedral were the Occupy London protesters outside in apparently the biggest Occupy movement in the entire world.

After getting lunch and going to see an afternoon service in the Cathedral we went to the Tower of London. The Tower of London was the massive castle that the Kings and Queens used to live in and currently holds the two largest diamonds in the entire world. The Tower was absolutely spectacular to see and the jewel collection was one of the most amazing, and definitely the most expensive thing I have ever seen. Apparently Bill Gates went into the collection one day and shook his head because he didn’t have enough money to buy anything in the entire collection. We talked to one of the people working there and he said that the collection was the British version of Fort Knox because of the worth of the jewels and the security that protects the area. Two other really cool things about the Tower was the armory that it had on site and the views it had from just outside the castle of London.

Directly after visiting the Tower of London we visited probably the most popular tourist attraction in all of London, Big Ben. Big Ben was a spectacular site to behold and I had no idea how big all of the clocks were on the tower. The Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey were also very cool places to visit because of all the history that goes with those two places and just the beauty of it all is incredible. From the Abbey we walked to dinner at a Spanish restaurant that was delicious and from there a few of us went to go see the play Wicked. I had never seen Wicked before but I had heard fantastic things about the show from my parents and especially my sister as well as a few songs from the show, so I was very excited for it. The show definitely did not disappoint in any way, shape, or form and I could not have been happier with the way my Thursday went.

Friday turned out really cool as well because we were all allowed to do our own thing in London as long as we were in a group of people. One thing that I thought would be really cool to do being a huge sports fan would be to visit some of the major sports arenas in the London area. We started off our journey all over London by visiting Wembley Stadium which is the home for the English National Soccer team, FA Cup competition, last year’s UEFA Champions League Final, the American football game that takes place in London every year, and this summer’s Olympic soccer final. The grounds are also very famous because they took the place of the Old Wembley Stadium that was the main building for the 1948 Olympics, and the 1966 World Cup finals as well as numerous other events. The second-largest stadium in Europe was for sure a fantastic site to see.

After visiting Wembley Stadium we decided to go to the Olympic Grounds to see where the Olympics were going to be held this upcoming summer and see some of the coolest things it will have. The Olympic Village was sweet and there were so many shops and places to eat around the area as well as a couple sweet venues. The main stadium for the Olympics including the opening and closing ceremonies looked incredible as did a place that looks like the official torch for the London games but we could not get close enough to see everything because of all the construction that was going on.
Immediately after seeing the Olympic Village we went to Emirates Stadium where Arsenal plays its soccer and then took the tube (subway) all the way across town to go see Wimbledon, and Stamford Bridge where Chelsea plays their soccer. Both places, especially Wimbledon were remarkable to see. I am particularly biased towards Wimbledon because I have played tennis all of my life and Wimbledon has always been my favorite tournament so it was so cool to see that. After seeing those two places we went back to meet up with the rest of the group to grab dinner and then go to the hotel we were staying at that night because of its distance to the airport. Even though the trip was finally coming to an end, I was ok because I knew the memories it had created will stay with me for the rest of my life.