Spring Break 2018 in NYC

Top Reasons To

Spring break, for many, is a time for travel. Its a chance to get away from the madness of school, relax and take a break–for most at least.

This was not the case for me.

While I did take a step back from school work, my week in NYC was not your typical “lay out on the beach, soak up the sun and relax” trip. Instead, it was a jam-packed week filled with sightseeing, delicious food and endless miles of walking and riding the subway.

My boyfriend, Ethan, and I arrived on Friday, March 23 in the evening and took a taxi from LaGuardia to his aunt and uncle’s apartment we were staying at on the Upper West Side. On Saturday morning, we hit the ground running and it was non-stop until we headed back to the airport on Friday, March 30. The week was a whirlwind and we somehow managed to fit in everything we wanted to see, do and eat, in a cost-effective manner nonetheless!

The following is an itinerary of all of the incredible things we packed into each day. We combined our trusty sneakers with an unlimited ride metro pass for $34 for the entire week, making transportation incredible cheap, easy and efficient. After studying abroad in London, I am a huge fan of the CityMapper app, which provides transportation suggestions and maps routes for major cities in the world, and I used this app to figure out how we got from place to place on the subway.

Saturday

  • 9/11 Memorial and Museum
    • We bought our City Passes here. The City Pass was a great option for us as it included all of the major things we wanted to do and for a much cheaper price. Not only that, but we were able to skip many of the ticket lines at locations such as the Empire State Building (had to wait in line but not the ticket line) and we simply had to exchange our City Pass voucher for a ticket at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island ticket booth.
    • I had been to Ground Zero before, but did not have the chance to go in the museum. The museum was moving and filled with people there to remember what happened. If you haven’t been, I highly suggest it.
  • Lower Manhattan
    • For the majority of the afternoon, we walked through Lower Manhattan just looking at different sights. The first few things we saw were Charging Bull in the Wall Street area, then we walked through China Town and Little Italy. It always amazes me how quickly the neighborhoods change in New York City. We then walked through the shopping district in SoHo. We stopped in Stance, where Ethan bought a ton of socks. We then bounced back and forth between other stores and then took the subway back to the apartment we were staying at.
  • Dinner at El Centro
    • We went to dinner at El Centro in Hell’s Kitchen area. El Centro was incredibly busy and dim lit. We almost had to pull out our phones to use as light to read the menus. While it was loud and difficult to hear each other, it was a great place to people watch and had delicious food!

Sunday

  • Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
    • We got up early to beat the crowds at the pier for the trip to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Our City Pass covered the excursion which was great since it was on our must see list. While it was a rather cold and windy day, we were lucky to avoid the rain while out on the water. We did not spend much time at the Statue of Liberty, but both of us truly enjoyed Ellis Island and learning about the history of the gateway to the U.S. for many immigrants. It was incredible to read personal anecdotes from individuals who came to the island.
  • Times Square
    • In the afternoon, we went to Times Square. We first stopped at the TKTS booth to check to see if there were any shows we wanted to see later that evening that had discounted tickets. There weren’t, so we explored Times Square for a bit stopping in at different shops. The longer we stayed in Times Square, the busier it got so we headed out to get dinner.
  • John’s Pizzeria NYC
    • We went to John’s Pizzeria NYC for dinner. The restaurant is located in an old church, so it is an awesome environment. The stained glass ceiling is my favorite part. The restaurant is always extremely busy, and we waited nearly 45 minutes to be seated. The pizza was delicious though and I would highly suggest going!

Monday

  • Brooklyn Bridge Park
    • We took the subway almost an hour from the Upper West Side to Brooklyn. Our first stop was the Brooklyn Bridge Park. The park consists of six piers that offer different facilities. Pier 2 was really fun to explore as it had a roller rink, covered basketball and tennis courts and what looked to be a turf soccer field. I had never seen such an innovative athletic complex before situated on a pier overlooking Manhattan.
  • Dumbo
    • Next, we headed to Dumbo, a trendy warehouse district of Brooklyn. The area was filled with upscale clothing stores and restaurants as well as cute little cafes. I found the perfect street (Washington Street) to take a photo that framed the Manhattan Bridge between two buildings. Ethan stopped for a slice of pizza at Front Street Pizza, which he said was delicious!29694630_1877943042224718_5762089606043719519_n
  • Islanders Hockey Game
    • Monday night, we headed to the Barclays Center to watch the Islanders play the Florida Panthers. It was an entertaining game, but most of all, it was great to see Ethan so happy watching the sport he loves. He was very excited to watch some player named Barzal… We also ran into a friend from school at the game, so overall it was a great time!

Tuesday

  • TKTS (Round Two)
    • Tuesday morning we got up and headed to the TKTS booth in Lincoln Center. I read that it is much easier to get tickets at the TKTS booths not in Times Square, plus the TKTS location at Lincoln Center opened at noon which allowed us to get an earlier start on our day rather than waiting around later in the afternoon. We were able to purchase discounted tickets to the showing of Kinky Boots that evening, which we had heard great things about!
  • Empire State Building
    • We then walked from Lincoln Center to the Empire State Building. It was a long walk. But we made it and luckily it was early in the day and the line was not too long to go up in the Empire State Building. We also did not have to stand in the line to get tickets as the Empire State Building was including in our City Pass. That saved us a lot of time. It was still incredibly crowded, which helped to add to my distaste for the Empire State Building (my parents decided to take my brother and I years ago around midnight right after we had gotten off a plane from Milwaukee and it was not the most enjoyable experience).

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  • Dinner at Barilla
    • Who knew that Barilla, the mass producer of boxed noodles, had a small chain of “upscale Noodles & Co.” restaurants in New York City? I found them online and we went before going to Kinky Boots as it was close to the theatre. The food was actually delicious and reasonably priced. If you’re looking for some good pasta (that reminds you of home but is still fancy) I would highly suggest Barilla.
  • Kinky Boots
    • After dinner, we walked to the Al Hirschfeld Theatre for Kinky Boots. Both Ethan and I did not know much about the show coming in, the most I knew was that it was funny, heart-warming and had great music. Needless to say, we couldn’t stop laughing and the show portrayed a message everyone needs to hear, to accept people for who they are. It was truly a fantastic show. Ethan thoroughly enjoyed it as well as Wayne Brady (who has appeared on How I Met Your Mother) starred as Lola and he had an incredible voice.
  • Black Tap Midtown
    • Post Kinky Boots it was time for dessert! We made our way to Black Tap, a restaurant known for its burgers and its “Crazy Shakes” (aka milkshakes). We went for the milkshakes and wow, they are good! After waiting in line for about 30 minutes, New Yorkers love their lines, we made our way into the funky milkshake hotspot. We ordered “The Cookie Shake” to share, but substituted the vanilla shake for a cake batter shake. Greatest decision ever. It was delicious. Highly, highly recommend.29594478_1877955428890146_7309439998022462890_n

Wednesday

  • Central Park Bike Ride
    • Despite Ethan’s grumbles about hating biking, I ensured him that the best and fastest way to see all of Central Park was by bike. So Wednesday morning we went to Bike Rental Central Park to pick up our bikes. I had already rented the bikes online where they are not only discounted, but also found a coupon for 15 percent off, which made our two hour rental incredibly cheap. We walked our bikes from the rental facility to Central Park and then we were off! We managed to see most of the big sights, such as the Alice in Wonderland statue, the Great Lawn, Kerbs Boathouse, Bethesda Fountain and Terrace, the Loeb Boathouse, the Reservoir, Strawberry Fields, Cherry Hill and finally I danced in the Cherry Hill Fountain (aka the Friends Fountain). We did it in under two hours and had our bikes back before time was up!

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  • Lunch at Burrito Box
    • Directly across from our bike rental was a small, hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Burrito Box. I had read reviews online that raved about the food, and when we walked across the street to grab lunch, the tiny space was already packed with locals and tourists alike. Ethan got a steak and ground beef burrito while I got a quesadilla. The food was delicious and cheap!
  • NBC Studio Tour
    • The last time I was in NYC, I had done the NBC Studio Tour, and as Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show was on a break that week for Easter, the only way into Studio 6B was via the tour. Apart from loving The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, I also really enjoyed the tour the last time I went and wanted to experience the magic of NBC again. The Pages lead the tour and give a behind the scenes look at the making of various NBC programs such as Saturday Night Live, Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. They also show you what it looks like in the sound, audio and lighting studios and basically how they put television together and get it to viewers around the country. If you are ever in NYC and have any interest in the shows I mentioned or simply the television industry, this is a great experience!29594599_1877964708889218_1748460956714507432_n
  • Top of the Rock
    • After the NBC Tour, we stayed in the Rockefeller Building and headed to the Top of the Rock, which was also included in the price of our City Passes. Unlike the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock was much less crowded and we made it to the 67 floor in no time. From the 67 floor we could head up to the 69 and 70 floors and by stair. From the top of the Rockefeller Building, we had a great view of the Empire State Building, Central Park and the entirety of Manhattan. Personally, the view and experience of the Top of the Rock was much better than the Empire State Building.
  • American Museum of Natural History
    • Later that afternoon we walked from the apartment to the American Museum of Natural History. It was only about an eight minute walk, and while the museum admission is pay what you like, our City Passes covered our admission and we had the choice of one special exhibit. I was most excited to see the Easter Island head that says “dum dum give me gum gum” from Night at the Museum. Meanwhile, Ethan enjoyed looking at all of the animals from around the world. 29573365_1877954885556867_3230761022699380232_n

Thursday

  • The “Today” show
    • On Thursday morning we got up at 5 a.m. You read that right, 5 a.m. From there, we took the subway a majority of the way to Rockefeller Plaza so we could get in line for the “Today” show. We were near the start of the line and got a great spot behind one of  the clothing displays for a style portion of the show. While there, we saw John Cena, I got a photo with Al Roker and we got a photo and had a conversation with Hoda Kotb. All in all, it was a great experience and I would get up at 5 a.m. to do it all over again tomorrow if I could!

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  • Cookie Do NYC
    • We headed down to Greenwich Village to go to Cookie Do NYC, where they make cookie dough that you are able to eat raw without worrying about getting sick. We got there before noon and there was literally no line, allowing us to walk right in and look at all the flavors they had to offer. The cookie dough shop is a cute venue with pretty lights and decorations. While the cookie dough was delicious, I got a scoop of Brookie Dough and Cake Batter in a cake batter cone, there was so much dough and there was no way I cold finish it. I didn’t even finish one scoop! It was oh so good though!

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  • Exploring Gramercy Park
    • After Cookie Do NYC, we walked around the Gramercy Park area. We popped into The Strand to look at the monstrous book store, Flight Club where I saw the most expensive pair of sneakers I have ever seen and NYU. 29684076_1877967182222304_3941625900558741695_n
  • The High Line
    • Post Gramercy Park, we walked to the north entrance of the High Line and walked south towards Chelsea. The High Line was really cool and very nature-y compared to the rest of NYC. We walked through the art district and could see so many art galleries from the High Line. We ended our walk on the High Line at Chelsea Market. The market was filled with people shopping and grabbing lunch and we found lunch for ourselves there. It was a super cute market that I would go back to in a heart beat!

Friday

  • The MET and Central Park
    • Friday was our last day in NYC. We were planning on going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art as it was the last thing on our City Pass that we had not used. We walked through Central Park to the MET, but due to the longest lines I had seen in New York City ever, we decided against going inside the museum. Instead, we spent the next hour or so walking through Central Park and exploring the park by foot, as we had only biked it before.
  • Levain
    • After our walk through Central Park, we headed back towards the apartment to finish cleaning and packing, we made a second stop at Levain Bakery. Levain was highly suggested by Ethan and his mom as they make some of NYC’s most sought after cookies. We went to not only buy one each for ourselves, but also got a few to bring back as a “souvenir” for our parents. Ethan’s favorite are the oatmeal raisin cookies, while my favorite is the dark chocolate peanut butter chip cookies.

All in all, it was an amazing trip and not much went wrong (until we were at LaGuardia waiting to go home and our flight got delayed nearly four hours!). While I saw some things I had seen already, I saw so many other things and got to explore New York City at a relaxed speed because we were there nearly a week. These were some of my favorite places, restaurants and things that we did while there. It was no doubt a spring break I will never forget!

Top reasons you should travel solo

Top Reasons To

While traveling abroad in a group has its advantages – safety, someone to take photos for you and it helps your parents to relax a bit – traveling alone can be one of the best decisions you can make. Here are the top seven reasons to travel abroad alone.

1. You can do what you want to do

When traveling alone, it’s completely up to you to make your agenda for the day. Wake up early to head out to explore or take a morning to sleep in, it’s up to you. Rather than collaborating with friends to determine a plan, all the decision making is in your hands. Not only that, but if you don’t want to spend money on an excursion your friend wanted to go on, you don’t have to!

2. You will meet so many new people

It’s a misconception that if you travel alone, you will always be on your own. When traveling with a big group, it would be unusual that you would go off on your own and end up meeting new people. Traveling alone forces you to go out of your comfort zone and talk to people you normally would have no reason to.

3. You can wander aimlessly

Sometimes, it’s fun to just go out in a new city and walk, taking in the sights with no set destination in mind. Traveling alone allows you to truly connect with the city and take your time while doing so. Wandering in to quaint little stores or inviting coffee shops, there are limitless possibilities when wandering alone in a new city.

4. Only one spot left? No problem

Whether it’s the last bed in a hostel, the last spot on the excursion you wanted to go on, or the last seat on a train, bus or plane, you can say yes and take it. There’s absolutely nothing, or anyone, holding you back from doing so.

5. Independence is the best

There is absolutely no more freeing feeling than hopping on a train and traveling to a new city alone. If you’ve been looking for independence and autonomy, traveling alone is the single-best way to feel free and independent.

6. You can eat when and where you want to.

Whether you’re a picky eater or adventurous eater, traveling alone is the best decision you can make. If you prefer to play it safe and stick to pizza and pasta or if you are all about trying the most out-there local cuisine that you can find, that decision is completely up to you when traveling solo.

7. Quality photography, of you!

Traveling alone does not mean that all your photos will consist of selfies. Instead, you’re forced to talk to strangers and ask if they can take a photo for you. Pro-tip: scope out a fellow sightseer with a fancy camera as they will most likely take a quality photo for you.

Week-Long Whirlwind of Travel in Italy, Switzerland & Liechtenstein

On Saturday morning I arrived back in London after traveling for ten days in Italy, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. I have been in London for four days and I still feel exhausted from my travels.

I visited five major cities over break which include (in order): Rome, Italy, Florence, Italy, Pisa, Italy, Venice, Italy and Zurich, Switzerland. I traveled by plane, train, car and bus and needless to say, it was a whirlwind of a trip.

The trip itself had taken a few weeks to plan and I was constantly adding places to it. It wasn’t until I was actually in Rome and leaving for Florence that I decided to book a train to take a day trip to Pisa while staying in Florence. So some things I did were spontaneous and others were planned well in advance. One thing I learned through this trip, was how easy it really is to travel once you are on the mainland of Europe. My preferred means of travel is easily by train. Trains are usually really cheap and stations are easy to get through and are in basically any city you could ever want to go to.

My first destination was Rome. For this leg of my trip, I traveled with five girls and two guys from my flat. I stayed at an AirBNB with the five girls and it was really nice and big as well as in a good location in Rome. We arrived at about 2:30 a.m from the airport and our host, Luca, greeted us as soon as we got out of the taxi. He showed us up to the apartment and provided us with a map and suggestions about what we should see, do and eat while in Rome. This was my first time staying at an AirBNB and I was surprised at how easy it was.

On our first full day in Rome I set off with my friends Abby, Sophia and Kendall to do many of the touristy things of Rome. We went to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum (ruins), Palatine Hill, the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. It was a full day of walking but I was incredibly happy with how much we had seen. I will add that we walked everythwere, which seems like a lot, but walking at least 8-13 miles in a day became a regular occurrence for me over the next nine days.

The next morning, Sophia, Abby and I got up and made the trek over to Vatican City. While the city is historic and grand, I was disappointed with it because as soon as we hit the main square outside of St. Peter’s Basilica, we were bombarded with panhandlers attempting to sell us selfie sticks and phone chargers. Not only that, but in both Rome and Vatican City, it is extremely difficult to know who to trust. Everyone acts as if they are an official guide with a discounted tour to sell you that has a fast pass to the front of the line. WARNING: THEY ARE ALL FAKE. Literally every person is just trying to rip you off and make money and sell tours that are about $10-20 over the  actual price.

We were heading for the line for the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel and were accosted by numerous fake tour guides and panhandlers both on the way to the line and even while we were in line for an hour. They don’t give up and its quite obnoxious.

Finally, we made it into the Vatican Museum and made our way through the “museum” which was only a long hallway filled with old relics and no information that eventually led to the Sistine Chapel. There, the crowds of people were herded in and only allowed to stand in the middle to look at the beautiful ceiling. While the ceiling and Chapel itself was stunning and so intricate, it was difficult to concentrate on how pretty it was as the security was constantly yelling at people for “SILENCE” and “NO PHOTOS.”It really took away from the overall experience. While I am happy to say that I’ve been to Vatican City and seen the Sistine Chapel, it was not a great experience in my opinion.

On Sunday morning, I left for the next leg of my trip. I was off to Florence by train and was traveling on my own for the next two days. While for some this might be nerve-wracking, it was a part of the trip that I was most excited for. In London, I share a room with three girls and a flat with with 11 other people. It is incredibly difficult to get any alone time, so two days to myself was a very exciting idea to me.

On my first day in Florence, I was able to check into my hostel and then go out and explore for the afternoon and evening. I first went to get lunch at el Mercado Centrale, an indoor food market in Florence that is really more like a nice cafeteria with authentic Italian cuisine. I found a pasta place and asked for “spaghetti with marina sauce” and was quickly corrected by the man over the counter. He pointed across to the pizza stall and said “Pizza uses marinara sauce. Pasta? No marinara sauce. We use a rich tomato sauce with special herbs and spices from Tuscany. Got it?” Oh, yes. I got it. Mistake made,  never calling red sauce for pasta “marinara sauce” when in Italy ever again.

After el Mercato Centrale, I walked to the Piazza del Duomo where I climbed Giotto’s Campanile, a free standing bell tower. To reach the top, one must climb 414 steps up an incredibly narrow spriraling cement staircase. That wasn’t great, but I made it to the top and the views of Florence were phenomenal. Definitely worth the climb. I also went into the Florence Cathedral that was right next to the bell tower.

I walked across the oldest bridge in Florence, Ponte Vecchio, that houses many shops. Sadly many of the shops were closed by the time I was crossing it, but there were still huge crowds of people crossing over the river via the bridge. It was getting close to sunset so I made my way to one of the highest places in Florence to watch the sunset. I walked up to Piazzale Michelangelo, where an outdoor replica of Michaelangelo’s David overlooks the city. The sunset and views of Florence were amazing from here. I sat on the crowded steps enjoying the sights and did some people watching.

A friend who had studied abroad in Florence last semester had suggested some of her favorite restaurants in Florence to me before I had left. I was off to Gusta Pizza after watching the sunset. Well-known and loved by locals and tourists alike, the pizza place did not open until 7 p.m. and there was a line outside with people waiting for the doors to open. I got a pizza from there that was AMAZING and made my way back to the hostel.

On my way back, I got a few texts from my mom, but didn’t respond right away as I was using my phone’s maps to get back. I then got a call from her. She simply said, “I’m not telling you why I’m calling, look at what I texted you,” then hung up on me. Okay? So I looked and OH MY GOODNESS. She had been going through the online version of People Magazine and came across a photo of ED SHEERAN AND I from the BBC Radio 1 studios from a few days before. Needless to say I freaked out then called her back and continued to freak out for the rest of the night. Still can’t believe that happened.

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Anyways, the next day, I woke up and took the train to Pisa. The main sights of Pisa, including the Leaning Tower, Pisa Baptistery, the Orto Botanco di Pisa and Pisa Cathedral are all located in the Piazza Demi Miracoli. I spent a couple of hours wandering around the square, taking photos for strangers and asking them to do the same for me until I got my perfect Leaning Tower shot. No shame. It started to rain right as I was leaving, perfect.

The next morning, I left early in the morning to take a train to Venice. There, I met up with my friend Allie who I did the rest of my traveling over break with. We spent the first couple hours carrying our luggage around the narrow streets and over the tiny bridges of Venice because our AirBNB lady wasn’t responding so we couldn’t check in yet. That was quite the experience… We were finally able to drop our stuff off later and did some shopping. We were searching for deals in the leather stores as both of us were looking to get an Italian leather purse. We were eventually able to decide on a purse and do some bartering to get the price down.

We met up with two other girls from our program to do one thing that Venice is most famous for, its gondola rides through the canals. Each gondola ride costs approximately 80 euros for “about” a thirty minute ride. TripAdvisor suggests doing the ride with a group to help cut down on the costs. Luckily we were able to meet up with the two other girls so it was only 20 euro a person because the gondolier conned us out of our time on the gondola and to me, was nowhere near worth the 80 euros we had to pay for it. Despite my arguing and displaying the stopwatch I had that showed how long we had been in the gondola, the gondolier ended the ride after about 20 minutes. We refused to get out of the boat and sat in it while it was docked for our final ten minutes. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy. The experience itself was cool, but not for the amount of time we were in the boat and the price we had to pay for it.

The next day, Wednesday, was a full travel day for Allie and I. We took a bus from Venice to Milan and then transferred to another bus that took us to our final destination of Zurich, Switzerland. While the bus took the whole day, I treated it as a tour of Italy and Switzerland as the views as we drove through the mountains were stunning. It was also a good rest day for us as we were about halfway through the trip and already exhausted from our traveling.

The next morning (Thursday), we met up with our friend Kendall again and did a free walking tour of Zurich. The guide was really informative and we saw a lot of Zurich during the trip. I was surprised at how clean and small Zurich is. It is known as one of the banking capitals of the world, so is very modern, but it’s Old Town is very rustic looking and is home to some great shopping. Kendall left later that afternoon to go back to Italy, but Allie and I were staying for another full day. We spent the rest of our afternoon hiking.

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I knew we were hiking, but at the time, I was not aware that we were hiking up the side of Uetliberg, Zurich’s local mountain at almost 900 meters high. We literally went from the city center of Zurich where our AirBNB was, to the top. We didn’t pass on anyone on the path we took, which was muddy and filled with sketchy stairs, and it wasn’t until we reached the top that we discovered that there was a paved path that went all the way up. Go us. The hike was worth it though and I felt fully deserving of the awesome view that rewarded us at the top. Needless to say, we didn’t walk back down and instead opted to take the train that goes up and down the mountain back to the city center.

The final full day of our trip was Friday, and Allie and I decided to take different day trips. She went to Jungfraujoch, one of the highest points in the Swiss Alps, and I decided to take the warmer route and travel to Raperswil, Switzerland, Vaduz, Liechtenstein and Heidiland. I really enjoyed my day trip and the cute little villages that we stopped at on our way to Liechtenstein, one of the smallest countries in the world. There wasn’t much to do in the capital city of Liechtenstein, and much of it was under construction. I was able to see the castle where the Prince of Liechtenstein lives with his family, but sadly no flags were out so they weren’t in the country. After leaving Vaduz, we went to Heidiland where the book written about Heidi takes place. It was a quick stop, but we were able to get out and enjoy the mountain views for a bit.

The next morning, Allie and I flew out of Zurich and into London Luton Airport. It felt so good to be back in London. While traveling and seeing so much of Europe is incredibly fun, it is also extremely exhausting. But I’m not complaining! I’m just happy to be back in London, walking less and sleeping more!

Fui a Barcelona!

Over the past weekend I went to Barcelona, Spain, and it was absolutely beautiful!

In high school, I took a semester long course on Spain, the culture, geography, food and history, and since then it had always been a dream of mine to go see and experience the unique country.

Our flight got in very late on Thursday night, and we took a taxi to our hostel. When I say very late, I mean that we got to the hostel by two in the morning. But it didn’t feel like it was that late at the hostel. Literally everyone was awake and the hostel was incredibly busy with people in the lobby, bar and lounge area.

When we got to our room, we were surprised to see a couple from Mexico also just getting to the room and unpacking. There was one girl asleep in a bunk bed and then two empty beds. We went to sleep rather quickly, only to be woken up at five in the morning to two Italian guys coming back rather loudly after having been out all night.

Bienvenido a España!

We were up and out the door by 8:30 a.m. the next morning and it was like a ghost town. In high school, I learned how unique the daily schedule was in Spain (waking up late, lunch at two, siesta around four, dinner at nine, sleep by two a.m.), but being in a big city like Barcelona, I thought things would be somewhat regular. They weren’t.

As we made our way to La Boqueria Mercat, one of Barcelona’s largest markets, barely any of the coffee shops or stores were open. Once we arrived at the market (a good hour and a half after it had already opened) almost half the shops were still closed. Spain takes their sleep and later schedule very seriously-clearly.

La Boqueria was (for the most part) very colorful and pretty. There were stalls everywhere filled with the most colorful fruit and juices I had ever seen. Many of the juice colors looked like they had to be artificial, but I highly doubt that they were. There were also shops selling baked goods, traditional Spanish croquetas and empanadas, and finally the ever disgusting meat stalls. The meat stalls showcased animal legs with the hooves still on as well as chickens with their heads or feathers still in tact. It was not very pleasant to look at, so we would quickly move away from those stalls and on to the prettier, more colorful fruit stalls.

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After La Boqueria, we made our way onto one of Barcelona’s most famous streets, Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas is a street in the heart of Barcelona that is quite busy each days as it fills with both tourists and locals. It has many little shops on it that feature tourist gifts as well as gelato and other food. It connects Plaça de Catalunya in the center with the Christopher Columbus Monument all the way near the water at Port Vell.

We walked along Las Ramblas until we reached the Christopher Columbus Monument and then we began to walk through the bay area. While doing so, we looked up and saw a sky gondola that stretched from the water near us, up into a small mountain in the distance. After looking up the sky gondola, we decided to do it.

The Teleferico del Puerto Cable Car offered amazing views of the city of Barcelona. We could see all the way up into the mountains and across the city to La Sagrada Familia Cathedral. There were also great views of the ocean! I am so happy that we did because the view of the city was stunning. The ride is only seven minutes long from the port to Miramar which sits on Montjuic Mountain, but is well worth it for the view and price.

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We walked around on Montjuic Mountain for a while and talked with two locals. It was so interesting to hear about how badly Catalan wants its independence from Spain and how long they have been fighting for it. I began speaking Spanish with them, only for the woman to correct me and say “We speak Catalan here, not Spanish.” She continued on to tell us how Catalan is the first language they learn, then Spanish. She also told us that she then learned English and then French and Italian. Incredible. The woman was an older woman who had retired from her job as a teacher and has now published one book and is about to publish another. Both were very pleasant and offered us ideas on what else we should see while in Barcelona.

After talking with the locals, we took the cable car back to the port and then walked around the beach for a while (yes, I know, I can’t believe it either. I went on a beach and touched sand. It was awful.) And then we found lunch. After lunch we made our way back into town and explored the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona.

The Gothic Quarter in Barcelona is known for it architecture, narrow winding alleyways and numerous little shops. We walked through the area for a while and stopped in a few shops. We then headed out of the area and toward the Arc de Triomf. Along the way, I made a pit-stop at the famous El Corte Ingles. In my Spanish class in high school, my teacher raved about El Corte Ingles, the largest department/supermarket chain of stores in Spain. She wasn’t wrong in doing so. The store was monstrous, super busy and had basically everything. It was crazy.

We then continued on to the Arc de Triomf, took some photos and explored the square area. Then FINALLY we started the walk back to the hostel. By the time we got there, I checked my Fitbit and we had walked just over 13 miles. CRAZY. But well worth it as we had seen a ton in only one day!

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On our second day in Barcelona (Saturday), we once again woke up “early” in local time and left the hostel by 8:3o a.m. to start our walk up to Park Guell. It was a primarily uphill walk to Park Guell, but luckily when it began to get incredibly steep, something amazing happened. We spotted OUTDOOR ESCALATORS ahead of us. And not just one, not two, but three escalators that took us up even higher. It was insane but really, thank goodness!

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At the top of the third escalator we turned around to look at the view and it was beautiful! Only thing was, we still had some climbing up to do still to get to the Park. We entered the park and wandered around a bit before going to the ticketed area.

For 7€ you can buy a ticket to enter the Monumental Zone of Park Guell that has the great views of Barcelona, the tiled mosaic seating area, the Casa Del Guarda, the gift shop and restaurant. The park was designed by Gaudí  between 1900 and 1914 and was officially opened as a public park in 1926. It was packed when we were there with countless tourists looking to see the park and the views of Barcelona.

We then left the park and made our way back down towards the heart of Barcelona to another Gaudí piece, La  Basilica de la Sagrada Familia. The basilica has been under construction since 1882, which sounds crazy but makes perfect sense once you actually see the basilica. One side is the original part while the rest of the basilica looks as though it was all made out of different stone colors, different designs, color schemes and pieces of history. Personally, I didn’t like how it looked (not the most visually appealing as it doesn’t match), but it is one of the most well-known tourists spots in Spain and the Spaniards are quite proud of it. I guess you can make your own opinions about it, but it was still cool to see and look at!

We walked to the beach again after and just sat around watching the waves crash for a while as it was a beautiful day in the mid 60’s. After a couple hours, we headed back to the hostel and I was able to watch the FC Barcelona game in the bar which was cool!

I had to pack as we had to be out the door to the airport by four in the morning the next day, so I headed back up to my room. The two Italian guys were also in the room packing. I didn’t say anything to them at first, but then I noticed while they were talking that they were speaking Spanish so I decided to attempt to speak to them in Spanish. They looked really surprised when I asked them a question, but understood me and responded. I understood them to and so we talked for a while. It was so cool to actually be able to carry on a conversation with people from a different country (Italy) in a different language (Spanish) and understand the other people and be understood as well. Thankful for all the Spanish classes I’ve had up until this point!

Overall, Barcelona was amazing and everything I had hoped it would be! Being immersed in the daily culture, seeing the sights and learning more about the history was amazing! My only regret is that I didn’t buy some of the delicious looking strawberries while at La Boqueria. Next time!

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A Stroll through Notting Hill & Camden

30 January 2017

Day 24 in London

As we had to stay in London this weekend for our day trip to Oxford on Saturday, I had my Friday off and decided to do some more exploring in London. The next borough to explore was Notting Hill and I went with a bunch of girls from my flat.

We took the tube to Notting Hill and decided to walk to Portobello Road which also just so happens to be where the Portobello Market is. I’m not usually one for markets as they tend to be way too crowded, but Portobello Market was quite cute and not too busy!

We came from Notting Hill Gate tube station, so we worked our way north up Portobello Road. There were both little permanent shops on the street with tables set up in front of them, as well as pop-up carts set up on the streets. There were little shops with books, jewelry, antiques, fruit, crepes, basically anything you could want.

We stopped in a little bakery where everything smelled amazing and then continued on our walk. It was so cool to stop and look at everything.

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I was so surprised at how bright and colorful Notting Hill was. Very different from the pristine white buildings I’m used to in Kensington.

We walked up almost the entire street and then decided to go back to the tube station and make our way to Camden for the last few hours of daylight we had.

Camden was…very very different and not quite what I had expected it to be. It was mainly full of young people with tattoos, piercings and individuals who looked pretty goth. There were open shops lining the main street, and once we crossed over a bridge, we entered a covered market area.

The one thing we had planned on doing in Camden was going to Chin Chin Lab. Prior to coming to London, someone had posted in our UW Facebook group page about Chin Chin Lab. They are known for their hot chocolate that has marshmallow fluff on the top.

The shop was packed, but we waited in line and made our way to the front. I’m not the biggest fan of marshmallow as it tends to give me sugar headaches, so I decided to go with their warm brownie-cookie with ice cream on it. It was amazing.

After Chin Chin Lab, we continued to walk through the covered market and wandered through different shops. I had read about the Cereal Killer Cafe online, and we stopped in just to take a couple cool pics of the cereal box lined walls. Its about 2.75 for one small bowl of cereal, so we weren’t interested in buying a bowl as you could get almost a whole box for the same amount.

We were exhausted at this point as it had been a long day of walking and exploring so we decided to head home. We didn’t spend much time in Camden, so I will definitely have to go back in the future and explore some more!

Harry Potter & Football

27 January 2017

Day 18 in London

I woke up and went for a run in Hyde Park and then came back to pay for and join the Women’s Football Club at Imperial College! The organization through which my program is organized by, FIE (Foundation for International Education), has an affiliation with Imperial College. Because of this, we are able to join any clubs or organizations at Imperial. I joined the football club team not only to play some “footy” but also to get out of my American bubble and meet some students that are actually from the UK.

I then took the tube to Soho to meet Sophia at the House of Minalima. The House of Minalima is a pop-up Harry Potter shop featuring graphic art from the Harry Potter films and other works by Minalima. Minalima is an artist duo of Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima. There were four floors, some featuring works from Harry Potter and other floors featured work from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The store is only open until mid February so we knew it was a place we had to check out before it was gone!

The ground floor was the dedicated gift shop containing prints, books, postcards and posters all things Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts. The first floor then contained the graphic art from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Sadly, I hadn’t seen that movie yet, so the floor didn’t mean as much to me as the Harry Potter floors did (don’t worry though, we went back and watched Fantastic Beasts with the flat later that night). Floors two and three were my favorite floors as they held all the graphic art from Harry Potter. From prints of the Daily Prophet newspaper to wanted posters of Bellatrix Lestrange to Sirius Black, I was in Harry Potter heaven!

The house even had some props from the actually Harry Potter movies on loan from the Warner Brothers Studios. Some of these props included original spell books used in the films.

On one floor, there was a fireplace that replicated the scene where Harry receives his acceptance letters form Hogwarts. The fireplace was filled with letters addressed to “Harry Potter 4 Privet Drive Little Whinging, Surrey” on them. AMAZING.

Before we left, I ended up buying a “Harry Potter, Undesirable No. 1” poster. I cannot wait to hang it up once I go home. I was between that or a Sirius Black poster, but I think I’d prefer to wake up everyday and see Harry’s face rather than the photo they chose of Sirius…

Day 19 in London

On Sunday morning, I woke up and walked to Beit Quad at Imperial College to meet the Women’s Football Club. Today was the first day of games that I could make and I was also very excited to meet some non-Americans!

While I hadn’t brought any of my soccer stuff with me, one girl who couldn’t play loaned me her cleats and I was able to borrow shin guards.

We drove in a van to the game which was a 35 minute drive away to north-east London. Not only was it interesting to finally see London from above ground and maneuver in the traffic, but it was also really fun to talk with the girls. They were all very talkative and welcoming.

We only had eight girls from Imperial to play in the 11v11 sided game…Luckily, they don’t have a regular goalkeeper so they were extremely happy when I told them that was my normal position. It was so cool to be playing on a pitch in England (despite it being on turf that ripped up my legs). Because the game was still in the city, the complex we were at had lots of little fields in what they called “cages,” and then also two larger fields with a bit more space around them. It was a very different setting than what I was used to but still a really cool place for some “football.”

We ended up losing the game, but for only having eight players, I think we did pretty well and it just felt so good to be out playing again!

Other Updates!

  1. I finally received my placement for my internship for later this semester! I will be working at a music magazine in Brixton called “Songlines.” The music they cover there is less well-known, but it looks like a quality magazine and is also connected to the music world in London so I am very very VERY excited about this placement! I have a confirmation interview with Songlines in mid-February and hopefully I will learn more about what my day-to-day tasks will be then. In the email I received, it mentioned maintaining their online presence (yay for social media), music research, editing and possibly writing articles, as well as other day-to-day tasks. I’m so excited to start the internship now! It should be a very unique experience and I cannot wait to dive deeper into the music world of London!
  2. My parents sent me a package a while ago and I have anxiously been awaiting its arrival until yesterday! It actually made it to the UK a few days ago, but they hold all packages at customs until the recipient pays a tax on it (price is dependent upon the worth of the contents ugh) and then they release it and ship it to you. The box was basically a Mary Poppins bag as I still have no idea how my mom fit everything that she did into it. She shipped my soccer gear (cleats, shin guards, socks, keeper gloves), a warmer jacket (I’ve been freezing over here in London in just my rain jacket), my beloved Skippy Natural Creamy Peanut Butter, ranch dressing (so I can finally make some spinach salads here), Dove Chocolate (FAV), and of course, I’ve been missing out on my Baked Cheetos and Quakes, which were also somehow squeezed into the box. It was amazing and the greatest early birthday present. Thanks mom and dad!!!

 

The Craic was 90 in Ireland

16 January, 2016

Day 9 in London/Dublin, Ireland

My last class of the day ended at 5 p.m. and as soon as it was over, I ran to the tube with my packed backpack, ready to start my journey to Dublin, Ireland.

I took the tube to Victoria Station and from there sped walked my way to where the trains to the airports and surrounding cities left from. I boarded the Gatwick Express at 5:30 p.m. bound for the Gatwick Airport. On the way I was stressing out about making my flight, it was scheduled to depart at 7 p.m. and the gates were supposed to close at 6:30. I would have to sprint through the unfamiliar airport in order to make my flight in time.

The Gatwick Express pulled into the airport at 6:05 and from there, I was off. I first had to get my boarding pass stamped and my visa checked at the baggage drop off, then I flew through security. Almost every other person around me got stopped.

I made it to my gate by 6:25 p.m. I still have no idea how I managed that.

Then, I sat. And sat.

7 p.m. came and went. Then 7:30 p.m. Finally, an announcement was made that due to the snow, (yes, it was snowing in London, very lightly, but there was snow), the plane we were scheduled to leave on still had not landed. Once it did finally land at 8 p.m., we were allowed to board but were told that the plane needed to be de-iced so we wouldn’t be leaving for another 20-25 minutes. Great.

Well, 25 minutes later, we were still sitting in the plane  and no one had come to de-ice yet. At 9 p.m., still no one was there to de-ice. The pilot came on to tell us they would be there soon. Soon did not come soon enough. We sat on the plane until 10:30 and then finally took off for Dublin.

I landed in Dublin, Ireland just before midnight. From there, I made my way to the taxi stand and soon was on my way to the hostel.

My taxi driver was a nice middle-aged Irish man and we had a great conversation about politics both in Ireland and the United States. He told me about his concerns over the state of the U.S., especially his fears of what is to come when Trump becomes president. Friends and family of his had immigrated to the U.S. a few years earlier and he, as well as other Irish citizens, are worried for those in the U.S.

The taxi driver also went on to tell me about the presidents from the U.S. that the Irish people really appreciated. He mentioned John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and President Obama as three presidents that the people of Ireland truly appreciated. He said despite the “poor choices” Bill Clinton made concerning Monica Lewinsky, he made a lasting impact with the people of Ireland in 1995. He helped to bring peace and stop the fighting between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

I really enjoyed talking with him on the way from the airport to the Generator Hostel. I’ve been abroad for just over a week, but in that time I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a couple of individuals from both England and Ireland and see what an outsiders perspective of the state of the United States is.

In under 30 minutes, we made it to the hostel and I checked in, met Annie and Allie, (two girls from my flat that I would be traveling with), found our room and promptly went to bed.

Day 10 in Dublin

Woke up bright and early (not so bright but very early) at 5:45 a.m. We left but 6:20 to walk a mile to where we were getting picked up for our bus tour! We had a day trip planned to travel across the country to Galway, Ireland and then make our way through the countryside of Ireland to our final destination of the Cliffs of Moher.

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We were riding in a nice coach bus and made a pit-stop in Galway, which was about a two hour drive from Dublin, before heading through the narrow country roads through the hills to the Cliffs of Moher. Our tour guide Aman talked almost the entire time. He told us about the places we were passing, some of the history of Ireland and many old Irish stories. Many of these stories involved the Irish belief of fairies and magic.

He pointed out circles of trees that we passed called fairy Hawthorn trees that are illegal to dig up, move or build buildings or roads through in Ireland. They believe that anyone who chooses to disrupt the trees will have bad luck and so the circles of fairy Hawthorn trees, as well as any single fairy Hawthorn trees are protected in Ireland. It was so interesting to learn about these beliefs and how seriously the people of Ireland take these beliefs to this day.

The night before, it had both snowed and rained in Dublin, so every time we made a stop to get out, take photos and explore, Aman warned us to be careful and watch our step so we didn’t twist an ankle before making it to the cliffs.

Along the way to the cliffs, we stopped at a castle and were able to get out and walk around it to take photos. We also stopped at a small graveyard that had a really old church in it. It was cool to explore the old building associated with Ireland’s history.

We stopped in the small city of Doolin for lunch. There, we went to a small pub where the members of our tour bus greatly outnumbered the locals. It was evident that the locals were always at the pub though, as the two women working the bar area and taking orders served the locals first and called them by name.

After lunch, it was back to the bus and then we were headed for our final stop, the Cliffs of Moher!

As we were pulling in to the parking lot of the Cliffs of Moher, it was raining, but luckily it stopped just as we were getting off the bus. As we made our way up the path to the cliffs, it consistently got windier and windier. It was really a struggle to walk up the steep incline against the wind, but eventually we made it to the top. And it was absolutely beautiful.

If you ever happen to find yourself in Ireland, it is completely worth it to make the three hour drive from Dublin to the Cliffs. You will not regret it.

As soon as we left the cliffs, it started raining. What are the odds. The luck of the Irish was really with us that day.

It was another three hour drive back, and we took a different road back that allowed us drive along the coast. It was so cool to see the cows grazing in the fields right next to the ocean. We were even able to get out at one point and walk right to the edge of the cliffs and look down at the ocean. It was kinda freaky but amazing at the same time.

Then we began the drive back and luckily I was able to sleep most of the way back. We were getting up early again the next day to go explore downtown Dublin.

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Day 11 in Dublin

We left the hostel by 9 a.m., went across the street to a small cafe for breakfast, and then made our way across the river to Dublin’s City Hall. We were meeting in a square near the hall for a free walking tour of Dublin provided by Sandemans. For a free tour, the tour guides were so enthusiastic and provided really good information.

Sadly, it was freezing outside during our tour and our guide, while very nice, liked to talk A LOT and not move much. So after an hour and a half of being on the tour, we hadn’t move very far from City Hall and Dublin Castle so we decided to leave the tour and walked through the Temple Bar area by ourselves.

The Temple Bar area of Dublin has a pub every 50 ft. and is a great place to find shops for touristy gifts. We spent a while just walking through the streets and then we stopped into some stores to do some shopping. I ended up buying a Dublin sweatshirt mainly because I was freezing in my thin rain jacket and needed another layer. I put the sweatshirt on right away! I also ended up getting a cute purple scarf made of aran wool. I also put that on right away and started to warm up right away.

We wandered back across the river and found a cute little baking supply shop. It literally had every color fondant you could ever wanted and every baking supply ever created. Needless to say, it was heaven to me.

After lunch in a cute little restaurant, we walked through Trinity College. I used to think that UW-Madison had old buildings on its campus until I walked through Trinity. Each building looked so old yet beautiful. The grass of each quad was so perfectly green even though it was the middle of winter. It was such a cool campus.

We then walked through the streets of Dublin to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. By this time, it was dark out and the gates of the cathedral were locked. We were still able to see it though and it looked very pretty at night.

On our way back to the hostel, we stopped at a little shop for ice cream. The owners were very nice and their shop was the cutest!

 

In order to catch our flight the next morning, we needed to get to sleep early so we headed back to the hostel and had a quick dinner then went to sleep in order to be out the door by 5 a.m. the next morning.

The next morning, we made it out of bed, out the door and made it to the airport by 6 a.m. Our flight was on time so we left by 7:35 am and made it back to our flat in London by about 11 a.m. It was a great trip, but also incredibly exhausting. To say I slept well on Sunday night was an understatement!

While my two days in Ireland were great and I saw so much, there was so much more I could have seen and would love to go back some day in the future.