Thursday, March 14. Missing the extensive Michigan weather (ha, not) I wanted to see snow again while abroad. A recommendation from a friend sparked the idea of visiting Chamonix for a weekend, and thus I… More
February 14, 2019.
Having my best friend from home (hi, Maria) studying abroad one country over gave me the perfect opportunity to take a weekend trip to Italy.
Julia, Allison, and I landed in Florence at 8 am on Thursday, sleep deprived, shivering (who knew Italy was so cold?), and over ecstatic to be back in one of our favorite cities.
A brilliant blue sky greeted us as we departed the Santa Maria Novella railway station, wandering the narrow streets to find Maria’s apartment.
The walk itself reminded me of why I love Italy in the first place; Florence has a certain charm hidden among its tiny streets that you can’t find anywhere else.
Maria popped her head out from behind a massive wooden door as we approached and I’ve never been so happy to see a friendly face. Although I haven’t had that feeling of homesickness yet, it’s always good to see your best friend after some time apart.
We settled into her little bedroom, a pullout couch and twin size bed the free lodgings for the weekend, and then set off for some much needed breakfast.
After waking up at 3:30 am (not a joke) we ordered the most American thing we could find: a complete breakfast with bacon, eggs, toast, and almost-normal coffee.
We caught up, laughed, gossiped, and enjoyed being around each other before Maria had to dash off for school, which thankfully wasn’t too early.
Julia, Allison, and I continued on towards the Duomo and central Florence, not really requiring the service of Google maps, but instead navigating by following the cathedral that peaked above the buildings.
We strolled around the square enjoying the warming sun and then joined the crowd forming a line to enter the church. As anyone who’s been to Florence can attest to, the inside of the Duomo falls flat in comparison to the extravagant outside, but it was definitely a sight still worth seeing.
Having no real plan or sense of stress, we found ourselves drawn to the music floating from the Piazza della Repubblica. The carousel sparkled under the brilliant sun, and somehow my friends found themselves paying for a ride. We’re all still kids at heart.
Piazza della Signoria, the statue garden, was our second stop during our slow journey towards the Arno River. Street artist cupids lined the arched walkways, winking and blowing kisses at people passing-by.
We scooped (ha!) up some gelato and explored alongside the river’s edge and the Ponte Vecchio bridge.
Gusto’s Pizza- world famous, was our chosen spot for lunch, specifically because of the heart shaped pizzas (did I mention it was Valentine’s day?). We decided to take our pizza to-go and found a perfect piazza for an informal picnic.
Side note: this was the same piazza of my hotel back a few years ago when Cameron and I stayed in Florence. The sun, fountain, to-die-for pizza, and familiar atmosphere made this spot perfect to relax and soak up the warmth.
After pizza we walked back over the bridge and found ourselves back at Maria’s apartment before dinner. Waking up at 3 am required us to nap before our night out- and we all woke up just in time for Maria to get home from class.
Dinner was at an authentic Italian bistro where Maria and her friends are on a first name basis with the waiters. We had a group of six girls, splitting endless pita bread and white wine. Our main dish, only described as “pillow pasta” by Allison, had was quite possibly the best gnocchi I’ve ever had (and I used to eat a lot of carbs).
After a delicious meal, we went back to Maria’s friend Rachel’s apartment to drink some wine before going out to some of their favorite bars. We all split bottles of wine and bonded over the difference between life abroad and life at our separate colleges.
We bar hopped, danced, and laughed more than thought possible, living for the copious amounts of American music blasted in the bars. Come on Eileen played in my head the whole walk home.
With slight headaches the next morning, we all recovered and composed ourselves enough to venture out for coffee. Maria showed us the cutest cafe overlooking the Duomo where we all ingested caffeine and croissants.
The shinning sun quickly chased away the morning chill and we explored the side streets around the Duomo.
Next we tackled the intense hike up the bell tower next to the Duomo. The narrow and winding polished stone hallways caused some claustrophobia to flare up, but the views were entirely worth it. We popped out into the sunshine with incredible views of the top of the Duomo and the rest of Florence.
Wanting even more claustrophobia, we headed straight towards the 463 steps up the Duomo. The spiral staircase to the top meant dizziness and heavy breathing (and weirdly some karaoke to Nial Horan’s Slow Hands to keep our minds busy).
Obviously, the extra exercise and American pop music were worth the panoramic views.
Jumping to the other side of the river, we began (another?!?!) climb towards the Piaza de Michelangelo. We took in the brilliant blue sky and amazing vantage point to enjoy the classic landmarks and rolling hills surrounding the city’s valley.
We wanted to watch sunset from our spot but 4 pm meant it was a few hours off, and several hours since we’d last eaten. Hanger struck all of us with a vengeance and we furiously Yelp’d the area for lunch. Unfortunately like the Spanish, the Italian take a siesta and close shop between the hours of 2-5 pm, leaving us with few options.
Thoughts of pillow pasta being the only thing propelling us forward, we slowly crawled back to our dinner place from the previous night.
We were the only ones in the restaurant but our same waiter brought us endless bread as we stuffed our faces with the best carbs in the city.
Taking a lesson from Snickers (you’re not you when you’re hungry), we all left lunch in much better moods than when arriving. We retraced our steps back to the Michelangelo lookout for sunset.
The quiet crowds, drifting street music, and golden hour made the whole environment really calming. Perfect to unwind after walking around 12 miles exploring the city that day.
We sleepily made our way back to Maria’s apartment, seeing the tale end of the sunset light up the river on our walk home.
We spent the night relaxing and watching Disney movies in Maria’s twin sized bed. Normally it would just be Maria and I in my basement in Michigan, but watching Tangled in Italy works too.
After a much needed good nights rest, we woke up bright and early and made the 45 minute journey to the train station to meet up with our group for our day in Tuscany.
Our bus meandered through the gorgeous rolling hills as we pulled up to our first vineyard. Perched on top of a hill overlooking the valleys, our backdrop for the first wine tasting had everything you could possibly imagine Tuscany possessing: the grape vines, iconic trees, and fairtytale-like landscape.
Brilliant blue sky, warm sun, and six tastings of locally-grown red wine later, we were in heaven. We couldn’t have asked for better weather or setting for our first stop.
From there our group went on to explore the quaint medieval village of San Gimignano to try “Italy’s best gelato.” The town and gelato lived up to the talk and we strolled the stone streets enjoying the shade and downtime.
We hopped back on the bus and headed to the second winery of the day, located in a valley between the rolling hills.
A private tasting room was set up for our group, fully equipped with beautiful hanging vines, tasting plates, and plenty of wine. We enjoyed a four course meal (Italian soup and classic lasagna being the highlights) with plenty of bread along the way to cushion the tasting.
We wandered through the hedge-maze garden and through the stables on the way back to the bus. The sun was just beginning to set and the lighting (and wine) gave everything a warm glow.
We arrived back in Florence with just enough energy left to enjoy the bustling streets and night life on the trail to Maria’s apartment.
Another 6:55 am flight (why do we keep doing this to ourselves?) had our alarms going off at 3:55.
I said goodbye to Maria in the early morning, excited for our next international adventure.
Did someone say Nice?
Feb 7th, 2019.
London fog is real, and it’s not just what you order at tea.
For our third weekend trip we chose to visit the iconic (and rainy) city of London, looking forward to a culture more closely resembling home (but hopefully with more corgis and scones).
Julia, Allison, Nicole, and myself headed to the airport Thursday after classes, planning to meet up with another group of girls later in the evening.
We left Barcelona sunny, 65, and fully unprepared for the climate change as we traveled north.
We landed in a cold and misty London, desperately in need of our airbnb for warmth and rest before the busy weekend ahead.
We woke up eager to start exploring and headed towards the infamous Regency Cafe for some classic English-style breakfast. The cozy cafe had the traditional diner charm, and we quite literally wolfed down the food and coffee.
After a bit of warmth, we hurried towards Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guards. The rain kept coming as we squished through the crowds towards the gates for a closer view.
Contrary to popular belief, you can not, I repeat can NOT, touch or mess with the guards outside the Buckingham Palace gates. This was easily the largest let down of London.
To make matters worse, the guards are INSIDE the gates at all times (except for the changing ceremony). I pictured corgis, the Queen, and a lot of mocking the stone faced guards and received nothing but a far off vantage point.
I blame movies for this.
After Buckingham we wandered through Hyde Park and jumped on the Tube towards Knotting Hill and the Portabella market.
Adorable stalls and food trucks crowded the intersection of Portabella road, a combination of boutique shops and second-hand stores laid their items out on tables and racks throughout the sidewalks and streets. We maneuvered the maze with umbrellas in hand.
We continued past Portabella into the classic Knotting Hill-style townhouses. Wandering the colorful and quaint streets in the rain was the epitome of London: some wind, some rain, and a whole lot of cafe breaks for tea.
Wanting to checkout another London staple before our reserved tea time, we tubed towards Kensington Palace. I, for one, was really hoping to catch a glimpse of Megan Markle (1 of 4 people I know of in the Royal family), but to no avail.
The ‘Palace’ itself was a little underwhelming, but the huge green lawns and golden gates made up for the somewhat tiny house.
Rain soaked and wind blown, we scrambled inside the Woolsey for our 3 o’clock tea reservation. Crystal chandeliers, marble floors, and waiters in coattails all greeted us upon entry, and the latter showed us to our table.
Safe to say, tea was a little extravagant but completely worth it.
We each had our own pot of loose-leaf tea, endless amounts of scones with clotted cream, and delicious pastries and finger sandwiches. I chose earl grey (a classic) for my tea of choice.
Refills were always brought, and we stayed for as long as we could, enjoying the endless cups and bites.
Full, happy, and warm, we explored the streets at night. In between downpours, we darted into stores and made our way towards Harrods, the famous and outrageously expensive mall.
After browsing clothes that cost more than our college educations, which is sadly not an exaggeration, we took the tube to King’s Cross Station to see the Harry Potter 9 & 3/4rs sign.
Breakfast with our large group was planned to be at The Breakfast Club, but a long wait time and hunger turned us to a close neighboring pub. My eggs Benedict and latte were to die for, and to top off breakfast the SUN started peaking out as we left.
All shocked and amazed at the lack of rain, we practically skipped towards the London Eye and Big Ben area from breakfast. London is a new city lit up by the sun, and spirits were high as we started to explore.
The Thames was beautiful in the light, which almost made up for the fact that Big Ben was completely covered in scaffolding. Honestly seeing the clock’s face was enough, not letting one ruined attraction overshadow the sun (get it? ha, ha).
Westminster Abbey was breathtaking and by far my favorite part of London. The iconic buildings stood out from the skyscraper skyline and the architecture was classic. We strolled around the area and lawns, faces turned towards the sun for as long as possible.
Julia, Allison, and I bought tickets to see the inside of the Abbot of Westminster. My expectations weren’t too high for the church, but they would’ve been blown away no matter what. Photography was prohibited within the grounds, but the tombs of the Kings & Queens of England’s past were intricate and ornate. The ceilings, tiles, and throne were all a must see.
Obviously we couldn’t leave London before a photo-booth picture, and we were lucky enough to find the perfect one in the Westminster Abbey area (and in the sun no less!).
Our London Eye time slot was at 1:30 p.m. so we headed across the bridge again and waited in line (or how the English say, “queued”) for the attraction around 1 p.m. and then jumped on the moving wheel.
The views were incredible both ways, London really is a sprawl of city in every direction.
Getting used to the buckets of tea in the afternoons, we were craving some after waiting for the unreliable bus in the cold after the Eye. After hopping off at the Tower Bridge stop, we searched for a cafe in the little side streets, and without difficulty, finally got our tea.
Warming our hands on the tea somewhat more than our stomachs, we finally felt thawed enough to venture back towards the Tower Bridge.
Seeing the classical blue arches in person was like walking in a postcard. The sun started to dip behind the clouds as we crossed (it couldn’t last forever) and we entered the Tower of London grounds to find refuge from the impending rain.
The Tower held a historical exhibit on the torture chambers and the Crown Jewels, two very different but equally as interesting things.
Julia had been feeling sick all day and really needed to rest so after the tower we retreated to the apartment for a little nap. Flash forward three hours, all three of us had the chills, the aches, and were horribly ill.
We ordered some mediocre chinese food to the airbnb and tried to sleep off the colds.
Sever high-grade fevers and a growing need to escape the apartment for a while later, we ventured out to grab a well-known waffle from a little stand down the street.
Asleep by 10 p.m., full of chocolate.
A 3:50 wake up call (*screams*) started our third day in London, all frantically packing for the airport.
We left with runny noses, wet coats, and a false sense comfort from hearing the English language.
All and all, I’m glad I had the opportunity to see the famous city, but it will never be written down as one of my favorites. Sunny Spain, here we come.
Jan 31st, 2019.
Never having visited Portugal before, I was ecstatic to see Lisbon first-hand.
Safe to say, I fell in love. The multicolored buildings, gorgeous tiles, and bluer than blue sky made Lisbon an aesthetic dream.
The weather cooperated just as well as I do when i’m hungry: which is saying it didn’t. Torrential downpours, tornado winds, and brilliant sun rotated about every three minutes as we roamed the city.
The people and overall atmosphere were welcoming and calm. There was a type of calm rush on every street corner and railway route that made this place the perfect blend between city and town.
A delayed flight after school put us in Lisbon around 9 pm. We were greeted with a down pouring of rain and some intense wind, but the warmer temperatures put us in high hopes.
We climbed into the back of an Uber and headed towards our lodging: the highly reviewed Brother’s Rooms Hostel in central Lisbon.
We pushed open the suspicious door of the building and stepped over the towels that were keeping the cracking floor dry. To put it positively: the hostel didn’t live up to the expectations. Our “private triple room” turned out to be a public four-bed room with a broken lock about a foot from the main door to the building. I won’t even mention the communal bathroom.
I’m really not one to be bothered by ‘roughing it,’ I can deal with gross, but with the safety concerns of three girls, there wasn’t a chance we were spending the night here. A quick Airbnb iPhone search later and we abandoned Brother’s Rooms about 20 ish minutes after checking in.
Moral of the story: Hostels can catfish too.
We got settled into our beautiful airbnb after a night full of emotional highs and lows (and some shameful McDonald’s).
We woke up to a brilliant blue Lisbon sky, a color you won’t be able to comprehend from just pictures.
Feeling hopeful after stepping outside our light-yellow colored building, we hopped on the city bus towards Praça do Comércio.
Dead-ending into the ocean, the historical plaza area is framed by pale yellow buildings with the Arco da Rua August leading into the main shopping street.
We tried to take in the whole scene (and often ended up spinning in circles). The sky, the architecture, and the sea all demand attention. We were quick to learn that all of Lisbon has this characteristic.
We wandered down to the water (directly across from the plaza) and enjoyed the sea breeze and sun before heading off to breakfast.
Brunch Café (yes, that IS the name) offered a delicious first meal in Lisbon with its cozy interior.
Unsuspectingly, we glanced outside to see rain coming down in buckets. The blue sky had vanished, and a cold wind blew in. Having been completely unprepared, we ran to buy umbrellas for the rest of our day. En route to a shop, literally five minutes later, the clouds disappeared completely and the sun came blaring back.
Confused but happy, we bought our umbrellas just in case (a SMART move looking back) and wandered up the hilly streets to Castillo de Sant Jordi d’Alfama, needing breaks to take in the views.
The fortress, dating back to the Roman municipality in 48 BC, sits on top of Lisbon offering stunning views of the colored roofs.
We wandered the stone walls and gardens before the rain came rumbling back in with lightening speed. We took shelter for about two minutes as it subsided.
Although I didn’t get any pictures of the erratic weather changes, the sun, intense wind, and rain drop remains can all be seen here:
Among the other sites, we met some other friends while wandering the castle grounds, stirring the age old question: Are peacocks native to Portugal?
After about ten sun/rain cycles, we walked down the narrow streets to the Alfama district (a must see) to check out the famous Portas Do Sol lookout. From here we had breathtaking views of the vivid blue sky and the classic red roofs of Lisbon.
Being completely exposed at the lookout, rain scared us off a little to quickly and we settled for exploring more around Alfama.
With the sun beginning to peak out again, we ran (quite literally) back up to Portas Do Sol to catch a quick glass of wine with a view before the weather turned.
Luckily with the next weather switch, we were able to hop on one of the famous yellow cable cars and ride out the rain back towards Comércio plaza.
This time we explored past the arch into the shopping district, stopping at a cafe for coffee and traditional Portuguese pastry (and to let our rain-soaked clothes dry).
The Barrio Alta district was our next stop. With some new found warmth we kept our eyes open for the tiled buildings that this area of Lisbon is famous for. It didn’t disappoint.
Dinner was at the Time Out Market, a classy ‘food court’ style eatery with delicious Portuguese food at every vendor (think octopus, salted cod, and pork). It was so fun to explore the different options at every stall, I would highly recommend for a more laid-back dinner atmosphere with amazing food.
From there we headed to an organized pub crawl with some other friends in the IES program in Barcelona, a very fun way to quickly catch a glimpse of Lisbon’s night-life.
Feira da Ladra, or better known as the ‘market of thieves,’ was our first stop bright and early on Saturday morning. Best known for random knick-knacks, hand made tiles, and vintage jewelry, the market was truly a hodge-podge of junk and great finds (and sometimes a little bit of both). We had fun wandering the tents and seeing the interesting collections.
We had made plans for today to visit the Pena Palace in Sintra (a quick town away) so we quickly finalized our purchases and moved on.
Coffee and chocolate rolls from a near-by cafe fueled us up before our journey, we sat in the sun and people watched as the market buzzed around us.
After disembarking the 45 minute train we were met with the first views of Sintra, a landscape we all agreed that belonged in Shrek (or another Disney fairytale). Sweeping hills surround the town with a dramatic cliff side looking towards Cabo Da Roca- the Westernmost point of Europe.
Somehow starving, we scoured yelp and discovered a cliff side lunch place with just about the best burger I’ve ever eaten. Granted, I never eat burgers, but the mushrooms and brie cheese on this one made it 5 star worthy.
We were recommended by a friend to take a Tuk Tuk up to the castle rather than the bus. I was a bit skeptical, as I don’t love the major turist-y stuff, but I can honestly say it was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
Our driver was enthusiastic, kind, and a little crazy. His driving was comparable to mine, which is a nicer way of saying that it was terrifying. We sped along narrow roads winding up the mountain, barely missing pedestrians, bikers, and cars as we weaved past the sparse traffic.
We all laughed and held on for dear life as the open aired car whizzed around corners and made some suspicious sounds as we changed gears.
The views from the mountain itself would’ve been worth it, but the Pena Palace was a gorgeous addition. The two different colors used (yellow and red) symbolize the dominant religions in the time period it was build. The architecture, grounds, and ornate details were amazing.
This is an absolute must-see for anyone spending more than a day in Lisbon, the castle was like something I had never seen before. Sappy to say, but pictures don’t do it justice (they can try, of course).
After exploring to our hearts’ content we bussed back down the mountain just in time for some rain to hit.
Dinner back in Lisbon was at Needle in a Haystack (Agulha No Palheiro), a top-secret restaurant boasting some of Lisbon’s best food. The building is unmarked, dark, and you have to be let inside by a server since the door is hidden. Such a fun and local experience.
A little embarrassing to say, but we actually returned to our beloved brunch place again on Sunday morning, being unable to get the cravings to go away. Brunch Café didn’t disappoint, we were all grossly fun and satisfied as we left.
For the last remaining hour in town, we went back down to the docks across from Praça do Comércio to soak up some warm sun.
Here we walked the beach, listened to the calming guitar music being played by locals, and dreaded going home.
Lisbon will be one of those places that I won’t ever forget.
Jan 24th, 2019.
The city of love doesn’t fail to amaze (even the third time around).
This past weekend I traveled with two close friends from school (Julia & Allison) and some new found friends to Paris, France.
The cheapest flights money can buy (€60) + a quick airbnb booking and we were off. The trip from Barcelona was the shortest flight to Paris i’ve ever been on (and easily the most inexpensive).
We strolled, explored, shopped, and ate our way through the city. Although i’ve been twice before, each visit to Paris uncovers new experiences and appreciation. This time around I felt myself in awe of more than the just the classic tourist attractions (still amazing, however), and paying more attention to the dazzling aura (no wonder it’s called the city of lights).
Arriving late Thursday night (flying out following my last class in Barcelona) put us in Paris around 9 p.m. Our airbnb was a quaint loft-style flat in the second arrondissement that it was well worth the five flights of stone stairs every morning to get to.
Excitement and exhaustion mixed as we headed out for a last minute dinner once we arrived. A local pub on the same block as our airbnb offered refuge in the form of baguettes, goat cheese, and risotto. Full and happy, we retreated for a full nights rest before the busy day ahead of us.
We woke up semi-early (after falling asleep to the lullaby of Julia’s snoring) and boarded the metro towards the Eiffel. Grabbing french coffee and the softest croissants possible, we navigated through the fog to the Champs de Mars (a nice park in front of the tower).
I can’t keep track of how many times i’ve seen the Eiffel tower in person but it still amazes no matter the season. Half covered by fog on a freezing day in winter almost made the structure more impressive.
From there we walked along the Seine towards Musée d’Orsay, taking our time to explore the quaint streets and neighborhoods to the right of the river. Stumbling upon a rustic bar, we escaped the slight chill for a charcuterie & cheese board (and a bottle of Rosé).
After full stomachs and alcohol-warmed hands we continued on to Musée d’Orsay to see artists like Van Gogh, Monet, and Degas.
A quick walk away was the more famous museum; the Louvre. We wandered the outsides of the impressive building, took our fair share of Pyramid pictures, and then strolled the Tuileries Garden.
We crossed the Seine again towards Hôtel de Ville. Notre-Dame was even more intimidating in the rain (if possible). The overcast and mist made the stain glass windows and candles glow.
After almost 25,000 steps, we retreated from the rain to our airbnb, stopping to pickup champagne and two baguettes from a local bakery on the way home. We snacked, drank, and unwound from our day under numerous blankets.
Dinner was in a hip area that boasted an hour wait. We threw our names in and found a cute bar to wait it out. Dinner at Le Comptoir De La Gastronomie meant endless escargot, amazing duck breast, and foie gras ravioli. One of the best meals I’ve ever had (and surprisingly not grossly expensive).
Getting lost once (or maybe twice) on the metro finally put us at the Trocadero stop to see the Eiffel at night. One of the best views to fully comprehend the tower, Palais de Chaillot, is one of my favorite semi-hidden gems in Paris. Here we saw the tower glitter at midnight after splitting a chocolate crepe to warm up. We headed home sleepy and fulfilled.
Rising early to beat the crowds at The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, we started day 3 with high hopes. Popping out of the metro stop we were greeted with a not-so-friendly sight. Armored policemen (think bullet vests, machine guns, and gas masks) surrounded the arc with giant barricades and armored trucks.
We had researched the political protests before coming of course, but believed them to have subsided in violence. Granted it was 9 am so there wasn’t a massive crowd, but news crews were standing by and the police shifted their guns every so often in anticipation.
Safe to say we quickly removed ourselves from that situation: four blatantly obvious tourists in berets don’t mix well with political rebellion (and tear gas).
We retreated to a cozy brunch nearby spot, a little shaken but hunger refused us to halt our plans. Breakfast was a soft boiled egg, several pain au chocolats, and a grapefruit mimosa.
We wandered the Champs-Élysée feeling a bit safer and as the sun started peaking through the clouds.
No trip to Paris is complete without a stop in Ladurée, the famous macaroon shop and restaurant. The assortment of pastel colors each had their own unique flavor, ranging from rosé to vanilla pecan. We enjoyed our bite size snacks on a bench outside, people watching and gushing about which flavor was the best.
Full stomachs, we walked through windy creme colored streets until we found ourselves back at Trocadero to see the view of the Eiffel in daylight.
and yes, we do know how touristy we look.
We walked along the Seine on the way to Musée de l’Orangerie but were met with more armored policemen and barricades. Every entrance off the bridges of the river were blocked for a mile, people were being herded along the banks in steady streams. Confused and started by the second appearance of gas masks today, we rushed towards the Louvre.
Giant fences, machine guns, and blacked out armored trucks guarded every entrance off the river bank as people tried to clear the vicinity. All the close metro stops were shut down, public transportation was redirected around the area, and we were stranded way out of our comfort zone.
I appreciate people being able to protest injustices openly, but the potential of danger of the situation is something I’ve never experienced in the United States. Never having been that close to a protest I was a little shaken, and although the scheduled riot was still an hour off, the tension and fear felt thick in the air as we kept our heads down and hurried on.
We finally made it to Musée de l’Orangerie and enjoyed the 360 degree Monet paintings.
Walking towards a cute district (since the metros were still shut down) we came across the famous Angelina’s cafe, known for their hot chocolates and éclairs. Fyi, when I say hot chocolate, I truly mean just melted chocolate. Throw expectations of Swiss Miss out the window; there’s not even liquid added to this. Pure (and thick) chocolatey goodness.
Le Marais, a popular local shopping district, was filled to the brim with hip boutiques and local art stores. We darted in and out of shops while avoiding the slight drizzle.
Another charcuterie & cheese board later (who’s surprised), we window shopped and nibbled on traditional caramels as we wandered home for a quick rest.
The famous artist district, Montmartre, was our chosen place for dinner as Nicole, Julia, Allison, and I headed out on the metro.
The last time I was in Paris, Cameron and I stumbled upon the most amazing hole in-the-wall restaurant near Montmartre and for months we tried to remember the name. With extensive Yelp searching, a refusal to give up, and a vague cow logo, Sacrée Fleur was discovered once again.
Two years later the food, waitstaff, and ambiance was entirely unchanged. We enjoyed more duck (confit this time), more escargot (becoming a fan favorite), and each other’s company.
After dinner, we took a bottle of champagne and hiked the steep steps up to Sacrée Coeur for a panoramic view of Paris at night. A bit less romantic than summertime (as it was freezing and pelting rain), but we laughed even harder because of this. Torrential winds threatened to steal our coats and downpour on us, but we couldn’t care less. Amid our (probably annoying) chatting and laughing, we noticed a man dropping down on one knee to propose to a women.
Being the only ones to witness, we of course cheered loudly, offered many congratulations, and took a picture of the married couple to-be. Not a bad spot to get engaged (if you can look past the terrifying weather).
We climbed down the hill after the bottle was empty and proceeded to explore some bars around Paris. We retreated to the airbnb around 2:30 (an early night for Barcelona standards). Full off of great food and cheap wine, we fell asleep easily (despite the loud snores from Julia’s side of the bed).
A 4 a.m. wakeup call sounded very similar to a joke as we peeled our eyes open on Sunday morning. Packing was slow and painful: desperately wanting 1. more sleep & 2. to ignore the fact that we had to leave.
We returned home (funny thinking of Barcelona as home) and unpacked nothing before falling asleep again. Dreaming of macaroons and rainy proposals.
Until next time, Paris.
The largest shock? Un Cafe ≠ Regular Coffee
Having had the opportunity to travel Europe before, I believed myself to be somewhat adjusted to the changes in culture that are experienced when crossing borders.
I was wrong.
Culture shock hit me hard and fast that first day, excitement melted into something I almost refused myself to feel: regret.
Of course that feeling was the product of jet lag, exhaustion, frustration, and an overwhelming yo-yo-ing of emotions, but moving into a tiny Barcelona apartment with an ~abuela~ who doesn’t know a lick of English definitely brought an uncomfortable mix of experiences.
Conchita, my host mom, lives alone in an eclectic ‘L’ shapes flat with her two cats she calls her “hijos.” Having a motherly bond with my own cat, Pippin, I was excited to have the company of animals while in a foreign country. Her two cats talk and affectionately invade personal space just as much as she does (which I’ve come to learn is part of the Spanish culture).
Arriving on that first day, Allison and I were greeted with loud meows and a flurry of Spanish as Conchita wrapped us both in a hug. It was 10 am local time, we had been traveling since 8 am the previous day. The bags under my eyes were as heavy as the two suitcases I struggled to drag through the narrow, European hall to my shared room.
My brain wasn’t capable of forming English words let alone the Spanish ones that I poorly remembered. Conchita was vibrant, kind, engaging, and completely incapable of understanding any English. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting for the language barrier in Spain, but the first day it was more of an isolating wall than a crossable obstruction.
I’m a large communicator, I don’t display a lot of physical affection or emotion, and having my one mode of expression robbed was disarming. I slept most of the day on and off, tiptoeing around the cluttered flat feeling like an intruder into someone else’s life.
I woke up the next morning for orientation with puffy eyes (from crying or lack of sleep-unknown) and soundlessly slipped from the dead bolted apartment door. The sleepy neighborhood of Passeig de Sant Joan was starting to wake up with the early sun and it had a kind of charm to it that I didn’t notice though my previous jet-lag lenses.
I caught the bus and headed towards the IES center located in Plata de Catalunya (near the center of the city). With 900+ kids in my same program, It was easy to find the building crowded with a hoard of college age students standing outside, all looking as lost as I felt. I tightened my backpack straps and pushed through, feeling somewhat (and guiltily) relieved hearing the chit chat of English as I passed.
After the initial orientation, Allison, Julia, and myself all needed some literal breathing room from the foreign atmosphere of the city, so we decided to visit the famous Park Güell. We caught the bus as it winded up the surprisingly hilly streets of western Barcelona: breathing easier as the sky opened up infront of us.
The park (often featured in Instagram photos) highlights the architecture efforts of Gaudi & Güell – colorful tiling and interesting buildings. It’s a beautiful walk through the woods and the panoramic views of the city really made this a must see for our first day. After taking the time we needed to explore on our own schedule, we all felt calmer heading back to town after dusk.
The first official dinner with Conchita went better than the previous interaction, my very little Spanish coming back faster than I imagined. She understood we were making an effort and tailored the conversation to simple topics. I tried to explain how grateful I was for her to have us, and she just responded by serving Allison and I our third helping of Spanish tortilla (delicious, by the way). Food is truly the language of love in her case, and every chance she gets she stuffs us full.
From the second night on I began to appreciate more: the way Conchita plays 1990 American classic radio at all hours of the day (although mostly static), the sun warming up every chilly morning without fail, the independence I feel maneuvering the public transportation by myself, and (of course) my gorgeous surroundings.
After classes that first week I went on to visit the Arc de Triumph, La Boqueria, multiple Plajtos, local bars, and stumbled upon countless hidden gems. Barcelona’s location on the Mediterranean is nicknamed the golden coast (Costa Dorada) for a reason: the whole city seems to glow.
I ate tapas like a local (my favorite being of course the potatoes- patatas bravas), drank more than my fair share of cava (it’s cheaper than water!), and aimlessly walked more than I ever have in my life trying to explore the city.
An average of 23,000 steps a day later, I finally feel somewhat comfortable with Barcelona. The buildings are a mix between Paris and the winding streets of Florence, and the gothic streets empty into the Mediterranean with no warning, as if the sea and city are fighting for the land.
This past weekend I took trip with my Spanish class to the town of Tarragona, the first Roman city in Spain. Lacking the modernism of Barcelona, Tarragona possesses the classic historical feel that I assume ancient European cities to have, like being teleported back in time. On the trip I saw the more traditional side of Spain; the wine, architecture, and mountainous countryside.
On my return to the apartment, Conchita gave me large Besos (kisses) on both cheeks, the proper goodbye and hello in Spain, and wrapped me in a hug. She asked if I was tired from the journey and said she was happy to have her “Hija” back.
And although I’m still in a foreign country, after the long weekend away, it did, indeed feel a little like coming home.
Here’s the the next four months.
I sit here writing this in the O’Hare airport waiting to board that (seemingly) one-way flight to Barcelona, Spain.
Mothers drag their sleep deprived and stumbling children towards their early morning flight, charging stations are crammed with power hungry smartphones and owners alike, and my neighbor, the moving walkway, continues its incessant script of caution as sleepy travelers exit.
I slouch over my computer screen (my posture has always been horrendous) and take in the scene unfolding before me. Enjoying the slight chaos of other people’s lives, airports have always been my favorite place to people watch, but I can’t help but wonder what backstory strangers assign myself at first glance.
I probably scream American: piled with the layers that wouldn’t fit in my carryon luggage, feet propped up on the suitcase in front of me, typing absentmindedly on a laptop with an open bag of pretzel crisps in my lap, but maybe that label will soon change (or at least be harder to identify).
Today marks the start of a just-shy of six month journey abroad. I’ll be attending a business school in Barcelona, Spain for this upcoming spring semester, venturing far beyond the cornfields of my traditional institution’s campus. The fiesta and siesta lifestyle awaits once my 5:45 pm flight from JFK begins boarding, and perhaps it’s just what my life needs.
I plan (and hope) to record my journeys daily in a pen & paper sort of way, and to gather those ramblings/pictures/epiphanies and hopefully post them on this site. More for myself than anything, I hope to create a scrapbook of some sorts that houses my experiences better than a 16 GB camera roll could. Wherever my travels take me (internally and ex) I’ll try and record. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
The thing i’ll miss most? Tied between athleisure (darn you well-dressed Europeans) and my cat. Of course family, friends, and Cameron all tie for third, but none of them provide the lazy comfort that leggings do.
These are the only deep philosophical thoughts I can possibly produce before I have coffee. Today, a sub-par Starbucks. Tomorrow, a Spanish Cafe.
¡Adios for now!
Early morning light streams through the cheap blinds shielding my boyfriend’s room from the reality of day. My phone buzzes softly and I squeeze my eyes shut, fingers crossed it hasn’t woken him up. His sleepy hand stretches over me to unplug my phone from the charger and lets it fall softly next to my head.
I see what’s on the screen, quickly slipping the email notification and my increasing anxiety under the cotton-clad pillow.
Cameron’s slight snore returns to signal his sleep, and I breathe easier.
Out of sight out of mind, except I’ve never been good at bull shitting myself. It’s an unavoidable and ever-looming conversation: the long distance becoming even longer.
Four weeks is what we’re used to: sometimes more, sometimes less. Four weeks is the time it takes to grow out a horrific haircut. Four weeks is the Michigan difference between mid-summer and a foot of snow. Four weeks is optimistic. Four weeks is manageable.
Except those four weeks are turning into six months soon.
I won’t ever be ready.
Come January 7, I’ll be making the trans-continental move to Barcelona, Spain. I’ll be saying bon voyage to many of the comforts of home, and even though Delta has increased the amount of baggage I’m allowed to bring, I’m not confident that my long-term relationship will fit. Although I’ve seen the power of Facetime calls and improved communication keep a couple together across far distances, I’m nervous that my relationship may get lost on the way over the Atlantic.
Under the weight of suppression (and the pillow case) that I hid the truth under: reality is creeping out. Studying abroad is the opportunity of a lifetime, and yet the only thing I’ve managed to pack is this mixed bag of emotions I’ve been dragging around with me for the past couple of weeks. The online course catalogue for Spain sits blinking at me; offering endless global perspectives studies, boundless travel journalism opportunities, countless international business courses, and one, broken hearted, college student.
Gallivanting across boundaries and along the coastlines of Europe seems like a far-off dream, but terror accompanies any thoughts of boarding that looming one-way flight: leaving my comfort zone behind on the tarmac.
Fear of judgement and expectations abandoned: I’m completely unsure if I actually want to go. I’ve never been a home-body, but being away from everyone and everything I’ve ever known for six months seems too daunting to be real. Long distance relationship and any other possible fears aside, I know I have to go.
I’m sure as my take-off date draws nearer, those nerves will melt into something less teary-eyed: the possibilities of exploration becoming limitless as the airport fades from view, but for now I’m reserving seat 23B for my insecurities.
Even after all the Edgar Allen Poe level-darkness that some hours bring, I don’t doubt that my long term relationship will survive this new journey. The future we talk about so often has wiggle room for this six months that we’ll be in opposite time zones. Growing with each other sometimes means moving apart, only to let the distance pull us back together again. As the great and powerful Winnie the Pooh would say; “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
And on that note, I’ll go back to pulling my hair and heartstrings out as I complete my Visa application.
Alexa, play River and Roads by the Head and the Heart.
We’ve all been there. The spoon in shaking hand, pint of ice cream slowly pooling out onto the floor, swollen eyes swiping through pictures of the two of you standing cheek-to-cheek. Breakups bring the pain of a phantom limb: hurting instead of healing after the attachment is gone. Eventually, we stop binge eating dairy and the obsession eases, healing slowly and licking our wounds. Despite how long it can take, time and trash talking heals all.
Except when it doesn’t.
Except when there aren’t sides to take or romantic feelings to urge away. Except when the loss you feel isn’t from a love interest, but something else.
No matter the suffering we endure at the end of a relationship, a friend break-up is inarguably worse.
I’m taking a page right out of Netflix’s original movie for this post, except Noah Centineo can’t make this heartbreak any easier.
Transitioning from one stage of life to another is sure to cause some casualties: from preschool hand-holding to middle school boy-band crazed, best friends are sometimes left behind in the era they originated from. Some friendships can’t sustain through the cattiness or drama high school introduces, falling prey to cruel rumors and hallway whispers. Some friendships were never meant to endure the long distance status that college forces upon them, slowly thinning from the space between. Some friends change so drastically neither side can relate to the other. Sometimes it’s our own actions that drive people away, refusing to admit it to ourselves because of pride.
Whether the friendship fizzled, faded, or fell out, both sides of the party feel the loss. People change and relationships do too, but it doesn’t mean it hurts less.
So this is to all the girls I’ve loved before: the friends that were lost in translation. We all need some humility from time to time, and I’m about to take an un-ladylike mouthful of this humble pie.
No matter what caused our matching bracelets to fray, or our car karaoke to become un-synced, that same thing caused those hard feelings towards one another to fade too. As apart of self-reflection and maturing, I admit that I will forever, and always, miss you in my life.
For some, lost friendships may be ancient history, and although we’ve all (more or less) stopped being haunted by the ghosts of best friends past, they still linger in our old Facebook albums and plague memories with their presence. Once we can get over the feelings of resentment brooding over the past, we can admit that having those friends in our life truly changed it for the better, no matter how they ended.
So scoop one out to those we’ve loved but lost; raise those spoons high loaded with the flavor of your choice. Don’t apologize for growing up or growing old, but do thank those who influenced who you are today.
Maybe even send them a message of good will. That is, before Laura Jean’s little sister does it for you.
Ben & Jerry’s, anyone?
“Books are a habit-forming drug.” – Agatha Christie
I’m not sure what most college students are consuming for their drug of choice, but I always crave the same thing at the end of the day: a good mystery novel.
A repetitive daily routine with work and school can cause some mundanity, and to escape for a while, I find that getting to the end of a book (rather than a bottle) offers some refuge. However, no John Green novel will do.
Agatha Christie remains the author of my choice: offering up unexpected plots, twists in endings, and love-able characters all within a 20th century England setting. Try as I might to uncover the villain hiding in plain sight within her novels, I always draw the wrong conclusion. The anticipation and suspense of not knowing the next twist in plot is so aggravating that I can never seen to dog-ear the page or take a step back.
Mysteries and thriller books in general offer something that romance and teen angst stories lack: variation. Sappy love stories are too predictable, they’re certain to have an identifiable antagonist: the jealous ex or maniacal mean girl, but sometimes that hits too close to home. We crave a villain who doesn’t exist in our world, who’s crimes go beyond the daily horror we view on the news. For a novel to truly escape (and to sink your teeth into) I recommend mysteries.
Agatha Christie herself admitted: “Good advice is always certain to be ignored, but that’s no reason not to give it,” and with that being said, here are my top five recommendations:
Ten Little Indians – Agatha Christie
It’s only fair that we start with an a novel by my favorite author, and this is certainly a well-deserved classic. Possibly the most spine chilling tale concocted by Christie and an absolutely a long term favorite. Adapted by TV shows and movies, the original is an irreplaceable psychological mystery/thriller tale about strangers being stranded on a seemingly deserted estate. A must read for anyone. Also known as And Then There Were None.
Evil Under the Sun – Agatha Christie
Another Christie novel (as she is my favorite) that deserves recognition. Evil Under the Sun incorporates the most shocking twist ending (second only to Ten Little Indians) that will fool practically anyone, especially me. The pretense of a relaxing vacation lures the much-loved detective, Hercule Piorot, to a sea side resort full of mysteries. The inclusion of a false body within the story only furthers my love of this less-known novel.
The Monogram Murders– Sophie Hannah
Boasting Christie’s name on the cover, this novel can be a bit deceiving as it’s actually written by Sophie Hannah. I was a little skeptical that no one could write Hercule Piorot besides his creator, but Hannah surprises us all with a shocking, complex, and addictive story that rivals even the works of Christie. This includes multiple murders, hysterics, superstitions, scandal, and a twisted ending that even I had to read twice to comprehend. Simply amazing.
Closed Casket– Sophie Hannah
Again written as a tribute to Christie, this Hercule Piorot story by Hannah incorporates everything I love about Christie’s writing itself: a shocking ending, extravagant characters, our loved detective, and, of course, a bloody murder. This is Hannah’s second novel that continues some aspects and references to The Monogram Murders.
You, A Novel – Caroline Hepnes
This is my latest find recommended by a close friend (thank you, Erin), and a little out of the traditional mystery genre. You is a suspenseful thriller from a first person perspective of Joe, a serial stalker, as he finds his next victims. Not recommended for those who mind some shivers down their spine. Follow it up with Kepnes adjacent novels: Hidden Bodies and Providence.
I recommend most with tea, a comfy armchair, and a heavy blanket to hide underneath if need be.
After officially having (1) blog post published, I wanted to define my reasonings behind starting a blog in the first place. The largest motivating factor that comes to mind when I reflect (besides the opportunity of immense fame and fortune, of course) is honesty; something my life is lacking when it comes to the public eye.
It seems that almost every Instagram account I follow these days boasts pictures of luxurious vacations and romanticized relationships, all of which I fall prey to posting as well (although my occasional weekend visits to Cincinnati aren’t exactly five-star worthy). Hopping onto the bandwagon of a portraying a glorified persona on social media was easy: most everyone else I knew was doing it. I never really classified my public, VSCO-filtered, life to be dishonest, but it certainly wasn’t telling the whole story. Feed obsession and ‘aesthetic’ started deciding which photos I would share, and pictures that showed my life in less-than-ideal lighting were automatically discarded. It wasn’t just happening on social media either.
Often times, to anyone except the closest of friends, we try and portray our emotions, relationships, and experiences through a rose gold lens. I’ll admit that I, too, do this to the greatest extent, and have admitted it to myself many times. Social media and the version of ourselves that we chose to portray to society are often times untruthful. In some cases, like job interviews, you may not want to share mental health issues, relationship quarrels, or controversial opinions, but locking those things away from everyone only causes harm in the long run.
I’m here to translate what is seen through social media into something a little more honest. My Instagram and resume may stay blemish free, but I don’t want my entire self-image to be constricted by this idea of perfection. So here I am: scars, blemishes, and all, to reveal sides of myself not often expressed. Even if a picture is worth 1,000 words, I’m hoping that in writing this blog I can even the scale of how my life is viewed by an outsider: The good, the bad, and the ugly.