Saturday, July 31, 2010

It's a FAMILY AFFAIR


I love being Mrs. International. I had the chance to travel back to Chicago 4 days after being crowned to attend the Miss Teen & Miss International Pageants. I was welcomed with open arms by the Richardson family! Mel & Mary are just amazing people! Not only do they absolutely love the International system and what it stands for, but they “LIVE” the motto, “It’s a Family Affair”. They made me feel right at home the moment I arrived and I was honored to sit with the entire Richardson family during preliminaries and finals.

With Mary & Mel Richardson

The night of Teen Miss preliminaries, I immediately realized as I sat in the Richardson’s theatre box that my “fan club” sat very close to the Richardson’s theatre box during the Mrs. Pageant. If you were not able to attend the Mrs. Pageant, you missed Halle-Grace reminding everyone that I was HER mommy each and every time I hit the stage! YES, she was adorable! Jason was seated with the 50+ husbands and was able to witness her cheering, “that’s my mommy, that’ my mommy…hey mommy” a section over. During the evening gown portion, he escorted me on stage, and although I didn’t hear him, he assured me he cheered, “that’s my wife, that’s my wife”. Haha! Halle-Grace was so excited! She loved every minute of the show! This was my first time competing as a “mom” and I know I was beaming with pride and absolute JOY! Smiling was the EASIEST thing for me to do! I will save our mommy/daughter “preparation for the pageant” story for a future post…it’s just too cute!

My Fan Club! My Mom, Halle-Grace and My Awesome Friends, Julie & Wendy

As I mentioned, I had the best seat in the house and I was blown away at the caliber of young ladies competing for the titles of Miss Teen International and Miss International! On finals night, I was moved to tears during the on-stage interview portion. Seriously, these young ladies touched my heart! To give you an example, Miss Teen California was asked to share with the audience more about her platform, “Luggage of Love”. She spoke so eloquently about a young girl in foster care who would carry her belongings from place to place. That young girl was Miss Teen California!

Since being adopted, she has collected over 2000 pieces of luggage to share with foster children so they have an actual piece of luggage vs. a paper bag to carry their personal belongings when they move from foster home to foster home. She is now with her forever family and helping children across the country! I wanted to adopt her myself! Talk about a precious young lady! Each of the top 10 finalists in both the Teen & Miss pageants touched my heart. Each and every one of them incredibly accomplished! At the end of the evening, the judges selected Juliana McKee, Miss Teen East Coast as the 2010 Miss Teen International and Ashley Smith, Miss Texas as the 2010 Miss International. Both ladies are SO beautiful and they work very hard for the causes they champion. It was truly a great night! Congratulations ladies, I look forward to an amazing year together.

Adorable Halle-Grace During Finals Night of Mrs. International 2010

Until next post, God Bless,


Shannon

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I'm Famous!


HOW EXCITING!!! My crowning moment was featured on the Reuters Board in Las Vegas and Times Square...in Time Square 15 times and 5 times in Las Vegas! What an exciting way to begin my reign as Mrs. International.

The International system is so unique and special. It is truly a "family affair". Winning the title is beyond words and having Jason crown me made the moment so much sweeter! I thank God for this blessing and opportunity to help others build their own families through the miracle of adoption. I hope you will follow my blog this year and keep up with all of my appearances.

Follow me on twitter @mrsintl2010
http://www.shannondevine.com/

Until next post, God Bless!


Shannon Devine


Mrs. International 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010

National Council for Adoption


I am incredibly honored and blessed to have this opportunity of a lifetime! Being crowned Mrs. International 2010 will enable me to shine a brighter spotlight on Adoption through my platform, "Building Families Through The Miracle of Adoption".

It is my goal as Mrs. International to share my message of hope and inspire others to NEVER give up on their dreams of building a family. Through my partnership with the National Council For Adoption, I will continue raising awareness, financial support, and continue establishing a network of support groups because I believe every child deserves a loving, permanent family!

http://www.adoptioncouncil.org/ - Mrs. International featured on NCFA homepage!!!




Until next post, God Bless!


Shannon Devine


Mrs. International 2010

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Europe Continued...

So many countries, so little time...... Since it's almost time to crown the next Miss Teen International, I suppose I need to speed things up a bit. I'm going to post one photo from each of the additional countries that I visited this year with some brief information. I regret not being able to elaborate more given the fact that I had such memorable experiences in each country, however, for the sake of time I'll keep it to a minimum.

First up is Lisbon, Portugal. I'm standing in front of the Commerce Square, which is the main square in the city, in this photo.


Lisbon is the capital of Portugal and it also happens to be both the largest and richest city. As you can see from this photo, the climate is absolutely fabulous. In fact, Lisbon has a very mild and pleasant climate, and they have sunshine all throughout the year! I think it's true what they say about sunshine- it must make you happier because everyone we met was soooo friendly! While there I got the chance to spend time lounging on the most spectacular white sand beach, ate lunch in a delectable little open air cafe along the Tagus River, and I even got to do some shopping at Casa das Velas do Loreto which was great fun!!!

In this photograph, I am standing in front of the infamous Eiffel Tower in Paris, France! I had such a fabulous time here.

As you can see, there was a vintage carousel near the Eiffel tower and it was playing the cutest French music as it went round and round! The vibe was so French it made me smile. After visiting the tower we headed to the Louvre- I just had to see a certain little lady and her legendary smile......the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, of course! I was surprised to see that this famous work of art is not very large. In fact, the painting is actually quite small. It is very beautiful, however, and it was interesting to witness how Da Vinci's painting technique made her eyes appear to follow yours no matter where you moved in the room. Wow!

After taking in the sights here, it was time to move on to the Paris Opera House. This has to be the most beautiful building in the entire world. Andrew Lloyd Weber created a famous musical based on this opera house- it was none other than the Phantom of the Opera! This was a great place to visit and is a must see if you're ever in Paris!

Then, last but not least, I had to visit the prestigious Avenue des Champs-Elysees. Okay girls, if you only remember one thing that I've told you about Paris, remember that this is the spot for the best shopping in the entire world! You name it, you can get it here- that's why it is considered one of the most famous streets on the planet! Rent goes as high as $1.5 million dollars per year for every 1,100 square feet of space making the Champs-Elysees the most expensive strip of real estate in all of Europe! And if the world class shopping weren't enough, there are to die for French cafes and bistros lining the streets, as well as French pastry and chocolate shops that are like none I've ever had before! It's like heaven on earth- really!

Once you walk all the way down the chestnut tree lined Champs-Elysees, you run into one of the most famous monuments in all of Paris- The Arc de Triomphe. This monument stands in the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle, was commissioned to be built by Napolean, and is located on the right bank of the Seine River. It is the second largest triumphal arch in the world- so large in fact, that a small plane was actually flown through it when the French were celebrating the ending of World War I! Believe it or not, this daredevil flight was even captured on film! I took an early evening boat cruise along the River Seine and the view of the Arc de Triomphe was great! I highly recommend taking one of these cruise because it's a great way to gain a different perspective on the city. One of my favorite things about taking this water cruise was seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up with hundreds of tiny white twinkle lights just after dusk. It was stunning!

Now its time to shift gears because I'm taking you from the busy city center of Paris to the chic and sophisticated Cannes, France on the French Riviera! Cannes is one of the best known cities on the French coast and is always busy with visitors coming to enjoy its beautiful beaches, luxurious shopping, or attend the legendary annual Cannes Film Festival. It was an amazing experience to stroll down La Croisette (the main avenue that runs along the waterfront). The street was lined with the most elegant palm trees and to my right there was ocean for as far as one could see. As we made our way down this picturesque street we kept finding one little gem after the other. We discovered pristine beaches, al fresco cafes, fabulous boutiques, and restaurants with unparalleled ocean views. At one point we looked across the water and could see the Ile Sainte- Marguerite which is the small French island where the Man in the Iron Mask was imprisoned. It's hard to believe that it took this poor man eleven years to leave this teenie tiny wooded island! Despite the fact that this man's identity was never proven, his memory still lives on and his cell can still be visited at the Musee de la Mer (Museum of the Sea). I didn't have time to actually visit St. Marguerite Island but I did get a really nice view of it!

Next stop is the lost city of Pompeii, Italy. For those of you who may not know, Pompeii is a small town in between Rome and Naples and it was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius (a volcano) in 79 AD. This city and its inhabitants was lost for almost 1,600 years before it was accidentally rediscovered. Excavations have been going on for decades to unearth this long lost city and while a great deal has been uncovered there is still much to be salvaged. I was amazed as I walked through the cobblestone streets and literally stood in the deep creases that were once created by chariot wheels almost 2,000 years ago!



It was unbelievable to see how sophisticated the Romans were long before there was electricity, running water, or equipment to move and build these amazing buildings! There are still beautiful fresco paintings in many of the houses depicting the faces of the people who once lived there and scenes of their daily life. Archaeologists have even used a very special plaster technique to resurrect the dead. They dug down into the petrified ash and filled the hollow spaces with plaster. These empty spaces down deep in the volcanic ash ended up being bodies in the exact position during their precise moment of death. I stood in awe as I viewed a very detailed cast of a small woman, several months pregnant, covering her face as she took her last breath. There was even a dog that had been chained on the day of the eruption. His plaster cast clearly shows him writhing on his back and you can vividly see the collar around his neck. It was so sad, and yet, I couldn't help but feel that this tragic loss of life was not in vain. Scientists and researchers have learned so much about the Roman Empire from studying their plaster casted bodies, town, tools, paintings, homes, stores, amphitheaters, and their forums. I'll never forget standing on one of the two thousand year old streets in Pompeii, with a piece of pumice stone in my hand (volcanic rock with lots of holes in it so it's super light weight), staring at this elaborate city, with Mt. Vesuvius looming in the background. Today, Mt. Vesuvius is missing its top (since the volcano exploded). I could easily see why they decided to build their city right there at its base- they thought it was just a peaceful mountain. How could they have known? For me, this visit was like bringing history alive, right off the pages of my history book!

This is me standing in front of the renowned bronze water fountain located in the heart of Genoa, Italy, at the Piazza De Ferrari. This town has quite a bit to offer and my time here was really relaxing and enjoyable. Visiting the Genoa Cathedral was well worth the trip just to see the beautiful Baroque fresco paintings, life like sculptures, art work, and stained glass windows.


I also got a chance to sample the traditional Genoa dish of pasta with pesto. Genoa is best known for its fabulously fresh pesto. For those who are unfamiliar, pesto is a sauce that is often mixed in with fresh pasta, and is made from combining fresh basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil. It was really, really yummy!

Now its time to rock it out at the next stop.....the Rock of Gibraltar at the southernmost tip of Spain! Most people don't realize that the rock is actually British territory but it is nowhere near the United Kingdom. The rock of Gibraltar lies at the very tip of Southern Spain and is a hop, skip, and a boat ride across the straight of Gibraltar (ocean) to northern Africa! I was thrilled to stand next to this massive monolith and look across the ocean to see Africa on the horizon!


Now, here's the fun part...there are monkeys EVERYWHERE! They are called Barbary apes, also known as the rock apes. They are tail-less monkeys and they are the only free roaming monkeys in all of Europe! They were originally from northern Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, Marrakesh) and most believe that they were brought over by the British for pets or possibly for food (yuck!). The monkeys made this rock their home and they are one of the coolest things about the entire spot! I actually got to sit right next to one monkey and feed him peanuts! He was so cute but was also pretty big which made me a little bit afraid. There were tiny little baby monkeys all over the place, too! They were absolutely adorable!!! This was a really fun place to stop for the day.


Okay, now take a walk through the bible with me! I'm taking you to Ephesus, Turkey..... In case you didn't know, I know that I sure didn't, Ephesus has the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean and only about 15% of it has been excavated. In this photo I'm standing in front of the Library of Celsus which was built in 125 AD and it used to hold 12,000 scrolls- that's some library for those days!

Ephesus is famous throughout the world for its Temple of Artemis which is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It is also known as being an important center for early Christianity. Apostle Paul is said to have lived and done mission work right here. He reportedly got into an argument with artists whose livelihood depended on selling the statuettes of Artemis in the Temple and was thrown in jail. He went on to write Acts 19:23-41, the letter 1 Corinthians from Ephesus, and also the Epistle to Ephesisans while he was in prison in Rome. It is also believed that John, one of the main apostles, may have even written the Gospel of John right here from Ephesus! I was even more amazed to learn that the house of the Virgin Mary was only about 4-5 miles from where I stood. Many believe that this was the last home of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Wow! It was really moving to be standing on the same soil, looking at the remains of the same buildings, and breathing in the same air as folks from the bible. At that very moment, all of the teachings that I'd heard for so many years while attending Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, came to life! It was the best history lesson ever and I loved it!

Where does one go if they want to enjoy vast mountains ranges, expansive oceanviews, the largest amount of Gothic architecture, avant-garde dining, and non-stop night life? You guessed it, none other than the capital of Catolonia, Barcelona, Spain! In this photo I am standing in front of the infamous Sagrada Familia church built by Antoni Gaudi which was indescribable! This church is considered Gaudi's masterpeice and he spent the last fifteen years of his life working to finish it. Unfortunately, he did not finish it. However, he did complete a large portion of it. It has been under construction since 1882 and and should be completed by the year 2026. In the meantime, an area inside the church is finishing with plans to open it for public worship by September 2010 and Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to consecrate the church on November 7 of this year during his visit to Santiago de Compostela!

The most distinctive part of this church are its tall, intricately carved spindle shaped spires. There are a total of eighteen tall spires that exist and each one represents the Twelve Apostles, the four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary, and the tallest spire represents Jesus Christ. There are also three unbelievable carved facades on the outside of this church. The first one, and the only one fully completed by Gaudi himself, if the Nativity Facade. This stone carved section on the outside of the church was dedicated to the birth of Jesus and is absolutely breathtaking to see in person. People are permitted to go inside the church to see the nave, museum, and crypt. It is even possible to go up into the towers by elevator which is fun to do! I enjoyed seeing the inside of the church, but to be honest, it was the exterior of this church that interested me the most. I could have just stood for hours looking at this masterpiece from every angle- it's impossible to take in all the detail!

We made some time to shop in the city and I got a great deal on a watch which made me happy! We then stopped to eat at the Rain Forest Cafe which was delicious. We checked out Casa Mila which is another Gaudi work of art as well as Parque Guell which is a beautiful garden complex also built by Gaudi. If you're ever in Barcelona, make sure you check out all of his works because they are the most bizarre, creative, and unique in all the world.

Dubrovnik, Croatia was a delightful surprise! The brilliant white marble of the city’s white walls contrasts the sapphire blue ocean waters of the Adriatic Sea. I enjoyed spending time at the beach here- Croatia has some of the best beaches in the world! I was amazed as I explored the uneven medieval streets and browsed through a market full of local artists and craftsmen. We ran into a quirky old pirate and his 8 various parrots. We gave him 2 euro and he tossed the beautiful, brightly colored exotic birds onto our shoulders for a few fun photos! If you look closely, you'll see that the red Macaw parrot had his eye on my headband, or rather his BEAK on my headband! He Luckily for me, he was kind and gave it back to me!


While in Croatia, I also got a chance to a walk through the Dominican Monastery which is famous for it’s vast collection of Renaissance art. Croatia is an absolutely beautiful country and I would visit again in a second!

Here I am in front of the imposing structure of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece! The Acropolis is the most poignant symbol of ancient Greece. I literally felt like my history lessons were coming to life as stood beneath this ancient masterpiece. In the wonderful country of Greece I also visited Rhodes, Corfu, Mykonos and Santorini. They were all beautiful and possessed unique qualities that made them all standout individually. In Rhodes I explored the medieval streets of this fortress walled city and in Corfu I enjoyed a variety of Asian art in the Palace of St. Michael and St. George. Mykonos stood out due to it’s iconic white washed buildings and crystal blue waters. I really enjoyed seeing the famous Mykonos Windmills, which were once used to fullfill the need of refining and compacting grain. One of my favorite experiences was walking on the black sand beach in Santorini. This beach was set against the vast volcanic mountains and was a true thing of beauty.

Dublin, Ireland is rich with history and overflowing with culture! The Dublin Castle is located directly in the heart of the city! On a tour of the city I learned that the name “Dublin” comes from the Gaelic words that mean “Black Pool” because of the dark and muddy springs found in the area. I visited the area known as Temple Bar and this is where the band U2 got their start as starving artists! It was really cool to see Irish musicians gathered in this area playing acoustic guitar and singing for the passersby. Later on my trip to Dublin, I had the opportunity to cross the famous Ha’Penny bridge and shop on Grafton Street which was lots of fun. Ireland is a beautiful country filled with friendly people. It was hard to say goodbye to Dublin- this is one country that I plan to visit again!

While the city of Edinburgh, Scotland was absolutely stunning, it was also absolutely freezing cold during the time that I was there! I may not have been prepared for the chilly climate, but I still greatly appreciated all of the enchanting culture that Scotland had to offer! I toured Edinburgh Castle which dominates the landscape as it sits high above the city and dates back to the 12th century!


The castle sits atop an enormous volcanic crag at the end of the Royal Mile. At a local Scottish cafe, I had the chance to sample some traditional Scottish delicacies called Drop Scones, which are basically Scottish pancakes! They were absolutely delicious! The scenery here was also really interesting because there was a man playing the bagpipe and wearing a kilt right outside the door. And yes, there were lots of men walking the streets and wearing the traditional Scottish kilts! It was definitely a different sight than we see in America!


Now I'd like to take a moment to share a little bit about the next country that I visited. It is a tiny, less known country, called Slovakia.


I visited the capital which is called Bratislava. There are about 450,000 people who live here and it is the countries largest city. It is located on the banks of the Danube River and is bordered by Hungary and Austria and is a delightful place to see. While there I took some time to visit the Grassalkovich Palace which like our White House. This is where the President of Slovakia resides and rules from. I also visited the Bratislava Castle which sits high atop the highest hill in Bratislava.


It has a spectacular view of the the most famous landmark which is the Novy Most Bridge.


At the top of this bridge is a fine dining restaurant which has the most fantastic views of the Danube River and the city! Amazing!


The last country that I'd like to include in this blog is Vienna, Austria. I visited Vienna to speak at a conference about educational reform and dyslexia. I stayed at the Marriott Hotel in the heart of the city which was in the perfect location.....just outside the tram stop!


This made traveling throughout the city a breeze. Vienna is soooo clean that you could almost eat off the streets- seriously! It is so beautiful, well maintained, and sophisticated. One of the favorite things that I did while here was go to the Volksprater fun fair. This is the oldest amusement park in the world and it was soooo much fun!


There is the neatest old ferris wheel that I loved riding.


There were tons of games to play, great rides to enjoy, and they even had pony rides! I'm a little bit too old and big to ride the ponies which was a bummer but I did get to pet them! I bought authentic Austrian made snow globes to bring back as souvenirs and was surprised to learn that these were the only "authentic" and "made in Austria" items in the city.


I wish I could have spent more time going into detail about all of these travels, but, as you can see, there just simply isn't enough time. If anyone ever wants any tips or advice when planning a trip to any of these spots please don't hesitate to get in touch with me. If you've got the travel bug, like me, we'll have lots and lots to talk about. Again, none of these opportunities would have been possible without the International family and my title as Miss Teen International. Thanks again Mary and Mel for making all of this possible. I've had the experiences of a lifetime!!!

All my love,

Jessica Byington

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Luxembourg


First and foremost, I would like to say, " Moien, Bon Jour, and Guten Tag", which all mean good day in Luxembourgish, French, and German, respectively. A unique greeting such as this one seems in order since Luxembourg, a most interesting and unique destination, was my next stop! This country is one of the smallest in all of Europe and is landlocked between Belgium, France, and Germany. Because of its close proximity to these other countries, Luxembourg is a melting pot of sorts, borrowing customs, sharing traditions, and becoming a trilingual country where German, French and Luxembourgish are all official languages! Over a half million people live in an area of approximately 999 square miles. Most people think of Luxembourg as a small country, but I prefer to think of it as a big country in a small space!!!

I was fortunate enough to be invited by both President Hodge and Dr. Theirrey Letterre from Miami University to guest lecture about dyslexia and supportive technology at the Miami University Dolibois European Center (MUDEC) in Differdange, Luxembourg!

Dr. Theirry Leterre

Here's a little history about MUDEC: This university center was named after John Dolibois, a native Luxembourger, a Miami University graduate and Vice President, and the United States Ambassador to Luxembourg from 1981 to 1985. This international school was founded in 1968 and the heart of the institution lies within Differdange Castle. Students who attend here live with local host families in the town and attend their classes inside the castle by day. By night, no students are permitted to sleep in the castle, therefore, it was a supreme honor for me to stay the week as an overnight guest inside the castle walls! It was surreal and I felt like a real life princess!

Miami University Dolibois European Center of Luxembourg

When I first arrived at the castle, my mom and I were escorted up the stairs of the winding castle turret, and shown to our guest rooms. The amount of space was unbelievable! We both had huge rooms complete with a stocked kitchen, en suite deluxe bath, and we even had our own family room area with a comfy sofa, television, and computer station.

Luxembourg Castle

We quickly unpacked out suitcases and set off for a tour of our temporary home! Directly across from my room were two French style windows that opened up to a gorgeous view of the castle courtyard. Every morning I could hear the sounds of church bells beckoning through these very windows and I would migrate to this spot to drink my coffee and enjoy the view. Amazing!

View from the Castle

Later that morning, we set off to explore Differdange. Despite its small size, Luxembourg has such a wide range of beauty. The quaint and charming town was peppered with medieval churches, picturesque castles, and beautiful rolling hills. Everyone we met as we journeyed through the town was so genuinely welcoming and inviting. One local Luxembourger even took time to explain the fact that most of their citizens love Americans because they remember how American troops liberated their country during World Wars I and II. Hearing this made me so proud to be an American and so honored to network with other countries in a way that only the Miss Teen International title would allow. What an honor!
Statue of Guillaume II on Horseback in Luxembourg City

We visited the Notre Dame Cathedral in the heart of the capital and enjoyed the beautiful stained glass windows, intricate mosaics, and centuries old statues.

Notre Dame Cathedral in Luxembourg City

Again, I took time to light a candle in memory of my Grandpa Mike at the Mother Theresa Memorial which was set up within the church. We strolled down the ancient streets, shopped until we dropped, and soaked in the vibrant culture that is unique only to Luxembourg. What a memorable experience!

Lighting a Candle for My Grandpa Mike

After a quick lunch, it was time to head back to the Differdange Castle to give my lecture on dyslexia and supportive technology. The conference hall where I spoke was an enormous space standing two stories tall with a grand double door entry. The room was filled with beautiful woodworking, fabulous velvet drapes, and was adorned with flags of countries from all around the world. Positioned just behind the podium were both the Luxembourg flag and the American flag, side by side in perfect harmony. I was a beautiful sight to behold and I felt so proud to represent Miami University, the title of Miss Teen International, the International Dyslexia Association, and the United States itself!

I was amazed at how interested and attentive my peers were. There were over 150 people in attendance and they had lots of questions to ask about dyslexia. Several students even approached to share there stories about dyslexia- one had the reading disability herself and the other's mother suffered from it.

Guest Lecturing to 200 Students

As I've always said, this is my favorite part of my role as Miss Teen International- connecting with people and reminding them that they aren't alone! When I speak out about my struggles, share my strategies that helped me persevere and overcome, and talk about the technological advancements that will surely change the face of dyslexia, it never fails to forge a connection with people.

At the Podium During the Dyslexia & Technology Lecture

After the lecture concluded, Dr. Leterre held a cocktail party at his private residence in my honor! Faculty and students alike were invited, food and drinks were served, and I can honestly say that this esteemed honor left me speechless (and its rare that I'm without words)! I met so many wonderful new friends and gained so such insight and respect for the MUDEC staff and program. The professors who teach in this program are the most fascinating people with such cultural diversity. What a gift it would be for any student to attend here. In fact, by the time I left, I was already planning a summer semester in the MUDEC program. It is so terrific!

With Several Students After Lecture

On my last night, I was invited to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with the students! They took me to all the fun spots in town where I was able to sample local cuisine and mingle with the locals! What great times, amazing stories, lifelong friends, and spectacular memories I made during this trip!

Words alone cannot express the gratitude that I feel for the hospitality shown to me by Dr. Leterre, all the faculty and staff at MUDEC, my fellow classmates and friends, and the Luxembourg locals. The combination of all of these ingredients added up to a perfect recipe for one unforgettable experience. I was already thinking about when I'd go back to Luxembourg before I left it's city limits!

Au revoir, Auf Wiedersehen, and Addi (goodbye in French, German, and Luxembourgish)

Jessica Byington

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hungary


Let me begin by saying, "Szia", which means hello in Hungarian, since the next stop on my whirlwind tour as Miss Teen International is Budapest, Hungary! Budapest is a huge city that is home to over two million people. The Danube River is the central part of the city separating it into two distinct sides: Buda and Pest! Before my visit here, I didn't realize that Budapest is actually two distinct land areas divided by a river (the Danube) but joined together by a bridge (Chain Bridge)!

Entrance to the Chain Bridge

The Buda side is a quaint residential area with the Buda Castle built atop a high hill as its focal point. Pest is the commercial hub of the town where all the business is done. The Castle District, which is on Castle Hill on the Buda bank, is a huge destination for tourists and offers the most impressive views of Pest across the Danube River. Also interesting to note is the fact that Budapest is built over a network of hot and cold mineral springs making this town the community bathhouse, pool, and spa mecca of the world! Any town with pools and spas is always at the top of my list!!!

Enjoying the Sweet Scent of Flowers at Nagyret Virag in the Budapest Countryside

We arrived in Budapest after dark on our first evening which was not ideal. We had driven from Prague, which only takes a few hours, and were relying heavily on our international GPS to guide us in safely. All of the sudden our GPS chirped out, " you have reached your destination. Guidance is now complete". This should have been a good thing, however, when we looked around us there were no hotels or signs- we were in the middle of nowhere! There were very small make shift Hungarian houses, fences lining the streets with barbed wire, graffiti on buildings, and very little street lighting. We quickly realized that we were nowhere near the five star hotel we had booked in the heart of Budapest- we were on the outskirts of the city and in the Hungarian ghetto! We quickly reactivated our GPS and discovered that there were several streets with the same name in Budapest and the key was to know the correct zip code to get into the right part of town! After correcting our operator error we were quickly on our way to our hotel!

What a relief it was to finally find our way down Nagykorut (a.k.a. Grand Blvd) and reach the historical and world renowned New York Palace!

Executive Manager & Staff at the New York Palace

We were greeted by the friendliest doorman, swiftly ushered into the magnificent lobby, and checked into our guest suite.

New York Palace Lobby

This former palace was restored and made into a hotel in May of 2007. It sits on the Pest side of the Danube River on Erzsebet Korut (this is the name of the street!). My hotel room was absolutely huge with gorgeous furnishings, Murano glass chandeliers, imported velvet draperies, and stunning silk wall coverings.

My Guest Room

There was also a walk out balcony that overlooked the city of Budapest. All the views from the palace are lacking because they face a busy intersection with cars, people and the city tram. While this wasn't much of a view, it was really convenient to walk right outside the front door of the hotel and hop onto trams 4-6 and reach all the best attractions in Budapest. What a great location!

View of City from my Hotel Room

The next day, we jumped onto the tram and visited the Central Market Hall to do some early morning shopping! Located at the Pest end of the Liberty Bridge, this is the largest indoor market in the city and stands three stories tall. All types of goods ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh seafood, wild game, and meat, as well as tons of authentic Hungarian arts and crafts are sold here. And yes, of course, I did my part to support the Hungarian economy.......I bought lots of souvenirs!

Shopping at One of my Favorite Boutiques

After a few hours of shopping we headed back to the hotel, New York Palace, to get ready for a luncheon on the ground floor of the palace in The New York Cafe and Deep Water (Melyviz) Restaurant. This cafe and restaurant has been considered one of the most opulent and beautiful cafes in the world since the turn of the 19th century.

Ornate Detail within the Palace Restaurant

The interior is extremely glitzy with gold gilding everywhere, stucco, pillars, fancy chandeliers, marble staircases, and ornately carved wood works reflecting the grandeur of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.

Magnificent Ceiling Fresco

As Miss Teen International 2009 and the spokesperson for the International Dyslexia Association, I had the privilege of sharing information about Kurzweil products such as the Kreader PC, Kreader Mobile, and the newly launching (2010) Blio. These software products will help people all over the world to read, learn, and enjoy without limitation! Due to the fact that all of the Kurzweil products I represent translate into almost any language, I am able to offer quality support technology options in virtually any country that I network with!

Getting Ready to Discuss Supportive Reading Technology

I met so many wonderful people, learned so much, and to top it all off, I had the most delicious Hungarian lunch in the most fabulous restaurant in all of Hungary....... I'll never forget it!

Education & Technology Luncheon

After the luncheon was over, we set out to see the sites of Budapest, including the Jewish District, Andrassy Avenue, the Hungarian Opera House, Heroes Square, the Parliament House, and the Liberation Monument. Our first stop was to see the Chain Bridge (Szechenyi lanchid) up close and personal. This is a magnificent suspension bridge that spans the river Danube and connects Buda to Pest. In my opinion, you can see the best city views directly from this bridge.

The Parliament building stands proudly on the Pest bank while the Buda Castle dominates the Buda bank. I learned that this bridge is 375 meters long, 16 meters wide, and has two enormous carved stone lion statues guarding the entrance on both sides of the bridge. Legend has it that the sculptor of these lions, Marschalko Janos, forgot to carve out the their tongues while he was making his masterpiece. Upon completion of the project someone allegedly mentioned that they noticed his tongue less lions. Realizing his mistake upset him so badly that he allegedly committed suicide by jumping from the Chain Bridge into the Danube. I sincerely hope this story isn't true because the lions are still very beautiful, and I feel as though the fact that they don't have tongues makes them a bit more interesting- don't you think?

Hungarian Parliament

Although I did enjoy Hungarian cuisine, once again, I found myself seeking out familiar food. While walking in the city I stumbled upon a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant!

KFC Menu in Hungarian

It felt like I was seeing a mirage in the desert! Could this be real??? It was indeed real, and I have to admit, it was wonderful to eat fried chicken, coleslaw, and drink Coca Cola!

Enjoying KFC Hungarian Style

There are so many more amazing things that I'd love to share with you about my trip to Budapest but I think its best to wrap it up and move on to the next stop.........Bratislava, Slovakia and Vienna Austria. So, I'll write again soon!

Viszontlatasra (Until next time),

Jessica Byington