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EuroTrip

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La Sagrada Familia

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The past month has been a fast paced blur but I’m still in shock of how much has happened in such a short time. Lauren came to visit and we toured La Sagrada Familia (hands-down one of the best things I’ve done in Barcelona)! Seeing it is something that should be at the top of everyone’s to-do list if traveling here.

My trip to France with API the next weekend was more than I could have ever hoped for! Paris is probably my favorite city in Europe after Barcelona. It had such a strong culture and vibe to it that was so incredible. Eating crepes everyday wasn’t so bad either (nutella+bananas+whipped cream+brownies… Life is tough). We packed so much into one weekend: Eiffel Tower EVERYDAY (daytime, nightime, elevator to the top!), Arc de Triumph, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, Louvre, and VERSAILLES! I was so happy to make it to the palace and the gardens, it was well worth the train ride. Fun fact: despite the extravagance of Versailles, there are no bathrooms! Although I loved everything I saw, I would have liked one more day to get even more out of the city. You see the Eiffel Tower in movies, but seeing it in real life was breathtaking. Basically, everyone go to Paris if you have the chance!!

Possibly the best weekend of being abroad was Thanksgiving weekend. I was fortunate enough to have my family come to visit me to see the way I’ve been living for the past few months. We did all the top attractions including Gaudi’s houses La Pedrera and Casa Batllo, but also ventured outside of Barcelona to Montserrat, a very famous monestary in the mountains near Barcelona. It was so cold! But very pretty with amazing views. As if having my family wasn’t enough, Laura flew in from Dublin and Jess from Florence to spend the holiday with Michelle and I. Little did we know we were up for the biggest surprise of our lives when Katie and Caitlin flew in from Boston and shocked us all to the point of mental breakdowns on La Rambla (well, lots of tears, but really only I had a complete breakdown). I could not process their faces being in this alternate universe that I live in here. It was like Christmas, my birthday, and every other holiday rolled into one moment having everyone here. Big thanks to Andrea and my family for pulling the whole thing off. It made me realize how truly grateful I am to have so many amazing people in my life. Even though I was in a country that doesn’t even celebrate Thanksgiving, and didn’t celebrate with turkey and cranberry sauce, it was certainly my most memorable Thanksgiving and one I truly felt blessed on. Being across the world makes you value home so much more, maybe even idealize it a little with nostalgia, but definitely appreciate things more. Now that I’m heading home in a few days, I have such a different perspective and such an increased love for Ashland and Stonehill, despite the cold… and the less exciting routine… and “the bubble.”

This past week we had our pre-finals break, and I ventured to Amsterdam, Prague, Vienna and Salzburg. Amsterdam was seriously a different world, where rules don’t really apply to anyone as long as you’re not stupid and take advantage of their “tolerant” ways. Marijuana is technically illegal there, but you would never know it considering the ridiculous amount of “coffeeshops” that are set up essentially for the sole purpose of providing weed to tourists. It’s such an important part of the economy that they completely let it slide. A new law is supposed to go into effect banning the selling of weed to tourists, but no one thinks it will be taken seriously. Walking through the Red Light District was a moment of complete culture shock for me- sex show venues left and right, right next to windows filled with prostitutes on display. I would say it earns the title of Sin City for sure in Europe. The cool thing is there is a whole other world to Amsterdam filled with museums and more cultural activities. We went to the Anne Frank house, the Heinekin museum, the van Gogh Museum, the iamsterdam sign, and the House of Bols (a cocktail museum- so cool! And a little less known). I really enjoyed my time there in a city totally different than Barcelona despite the fact that they both have party reputations.

Next stop was Prague which was like everyone says, a fairytale. But a very cold fairytale (I am truly a BCN weather baby these days!), especially on our four hour walking tour. The Czech Republic uses the Krown which was a huge plus for us because our hostel was no more expensive than the one in Amsterdam but was absolutely the nicest place I’ve stayed abroad. The one place the tour didn’t visit on the walking tour was the John Lennon Wall, which we did the next day. We spent probably two hours at this grafitti-filled wall in pure amazement, and even added to it with multiple Beatles quotes. It is such a cool demonstration of peoples’ thoughts and opinions and a true example of real life art that anyone can participate in. One of my favorite pieces of art that I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and it wasn’t even in a museum!

We then continued back towards Spain, stopping in Austria for a quick visit to Vienna and Salzburg. Ironically we started and ended our international trips in German speaking places- started off in Munich at the end of September and ended in beautiful Salzburg! We were lucky enough to have a free place to stay in Vienna because Meghan studies there, so we stayed at her apartment and even were invited to a party her boyfriend was DJ-ing at. It was probably the least touristy thing I’ve done here since she lives as a local after being in Austria for a year and a half, so it was a unique experience that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. We also had friends in Salzburg, Emily and Julie, who took us to an authentic Austrian restaurant and out to an Irish pub. Salzburg’s big claim to fame is the setting of the Sound of Music, so of course we had to do that tour and  and were able to see the setting of multiple scenes, with amazing views in general of Austria.

As this experience is coming to a close, I’m getting really nostalgic and sad even though I’m excited to go home. I don’t feel like the same person that I was when I came here, but I think these changes are mostly for the better. I think going abroad is one of the best things someone can do for themselves in college, whether it be for two weeks or two months or two years. There is so much to get out of immersing yourself in a different part of the world and pushing your comfort zone. I realized that so far in my life I haven’t really done that enough. But traveling all over Europe and being an outsider in general really impacted me and made me realize a lot of things about myself that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’m really grateful for this experience and wouldn’t change much of anything. There were good days and bad days but they all came together to form an indescribable semester. Really trying to take everything in these past few days and make the most of it.

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It’s been a while since I last posted but I’ve been having a lot of fun and experiencing a lot of different things. I am currently sitting in Laura’s apartment in Dublin, and we just had a great weekend. I flew in on Thursday and we went to dinner at a Chipotle knock-off and then to an Irish pub with live music (including a fiddle player!). The people here are so happy and friendly, and overall this city is SO different from Barcelona. First of all, I had to pack my winter coat which was the weirdest thing. The city is on the Liffey River rather than the ocean and gives off a whole different vibe. Saturday Andrea and Baylee got here and we did a ton of sightseeing- St. Stephen’s Green, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Castle, The Millenium Spike, and ending at the Guiness Factory with the Gravity Bar, which gives a 360 degree view of the city. Not even a tour of the way they make Guiness could break me, I still can’t really enjoy it because it’s such a heavy drink. But it was definitely worth it to see such a huge part of Ireland’s economy and how it’s made. Then we went to the Porterhouse and I had one of the best meals I’ve had in Europe (and berry cider). The next day we went shopping (Ireland has great shopping!) and back to the Chipotle place so Andrea and Baylee could try it. It was the most interesting combination of experiencing Ireland but also relishing in the Americanized ways… Never in my life have I been more happy to see English signs and hear people speaking in English. I’ve eaten bagels everyday I’ve been here. Yesterday I had a milkshake with Hershey’s Cookies and Cream bars in it. It’s been such a relief in a sense to finally feel more at home. Even though I don’t like cold weather, seeing the green touching down on the plane, the leaves changing, the cooler air… it all reminds me of what’s going on at home right now.

Last weekend I went to Seville and Granada with Michelle which was another weekend filled with sightseeing in two beautiful cities in Southern Spain. I was so happy I was able to make it to Southern Spain because as a Spanish major I feel like I should see both the North and the South to better understand Spanish culture. And it certainly is different. I found the people in Granada and Seville to be much more friendly, but I also struggled more because I have become accustomed to speaking Spanish to people and many times they speak English back. I didn’t even realize how normal this felt until I was trying to understand directions in Spanish and getting so frustrated I could have cried. Figuring out European public transportation isn’t always an easy task, especially when it’s not in your language. But the pain was certainly worth it as a halfway point to gage where my Spanish is at and if I’ve improved. We did a ton of sightseeing in Seville- a bus tour and two walking tours (Barrio de Santa Cruz and Triana- so different but so interesting). Seville is on the Guadalquivir River and is such a pretty city with such a rich culture attached to it. Granada was a quick trip- just for the day to La Alhambra, but I loved everything I saw. La Alhambra was one of the most incredible pieces of architecture I’ve ever seen. It sees 8000 visitors everyday, and is the third most popular tourist attraction in Europe after the Eiffel Tower and the Vatican! I had no idea how famous it really was but I understood why. You study it in class but to really see it was amazing. I feel like that’s been the most important thing for me here, learning about things in a real life context rather than in a book. You take it much more to heart that way.

Finally taking a weekend off from traveling and Lauren is coming here from Italy! Next weekend I will head to Paris!

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"One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things."

- Henry Miller
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This past weekend, I went to Madrid with 100 Americans in my program (API). We had a fantastic weekend despite a delayed flight. Friday we did a bike tour of Madrid, stopping at various points including Plaza Mayor, which reminded me of my first trip to Spain in 2008. It was an interesting way to see the city, especially since I’ve done a bike tour of Barcelona as well and could compare the differences between the two main cities in Spain.

Friday night was one of the best nights I’ve had in Spain. My roommate Andrea is Venezuelan, and her stepsister Lorena lives in Madrid. Lorena and her boyfriend took Andrea and me to this non-touristy tapas bar where a lot of Madrid’s students hang out. You order a beer for 2 euro and get a TON of tapas for free, and as your order more beers they just keep giving you more food. It was crazy… and we went to two tapas bars- Bar Los Amigos and Bar Los Enemigos. I feasted on a mix of Spanish and American food- tuna empanada-type things, patatas bravas, green olives, chicken wings, chicken nuggets, onion rings, cheese, etc etc etc! THEN Lorena’s boyfriend was nice enough to ask us to join them at this party he was invited to through work connections (he works for a TV station). It ended up being the classiest party I’ve ever been to… like a b-list Spanish Hollywood party. I didn’t even feel comfortable taking pictures. It was at this house that was converted into a club, with gardens and terraces. There was a famous Spanish saxaphone player (Francis Sax) there who stood up in the middle of the party and just started playing Mr. Saxobeat. No one acknowledged him like it was the most casual thing. Also saw the Spanish equivalent of Ryan Seacrest, the Spanish equivalent of if Oprah had a daughter, Miss Granada, a Spanish telenovela star, and JULIO IGLESIAS, Enrique’s older brother! We were introduced to him which was really cool. Apparently he has a fairly decent career in Spain and Latin America. So I had my starstruck moment there. We then went to another club, Joy, which was a theater converted into a club, and called it a night after that.

Saturday we went to the Prado museum in the morning, and then at night went to Kapital which is a 7 floor club, probably the most famous one in Madrid. Every floor was a different theme with different music. There was a Bacardi Mojito Floor, a Latin floor, etc. There was no possible way to get bored there and it was a cool mix of locals and tourists. I ended up talking to locals for a while in Spanish which was reassuring that I am learning something here!

Before our flight on Sunday, we had some time to go to El Rastro, a HUGE flea market, hands down the biggest one I’ve ever been to. They had a ton of cool booths set up and you could buy anything you would ever need for very reasonable prices- scarves galore, watches, jewelery, coats, piggybanks, souvenirs… I would definitely recommend it.

This coming weekend I am heading to southern Spain with Michelle (Seville and Granada). I’m excited to see a different version of Spain because I’ve heard it’s unique with the Islamic influence. And in a week and two days I will be off to Dublin to stay with Laura! Couldn’t be happier about that. Right now I am heading to a Catalan Food & Culture workshop to try some Catalan food and learn a little more about the region where I live!

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Horseback riding in Mallorca

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Caves in Mallorca!