A Travellerspoint blog

Study Abroad: A Retrospective


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And so the time has come. After four months of eating pasta, hopping flights and gallivanting across Europe, I must return to America. My emotions are mixed to say the least. While I can’t wait to go home and see my family, something tells me one month in Pequannock will have me missing this unique, beautiful city where I’ve spent the semester. Sure at times we’ve complained about the flooding, and the lack or nightlife, and living on this Godforsaken “Shutter Island”, but that’s because we were taking other things for granted. Like that by the time America was a country, the Venetian republic had already been around for 1000 years. Or the hundreds of beautiful churches built by world-renowned architects. Or the works of art hung in those churches and various other galleries around the city. Yes Venice might be decaying, but it’s the beauty of the decay that makes Venice the glorious city it is. Once you learn to appreciate the small waterways and stone bridges along with the cracks in the pavement and the weeds growing up the sides of buildings, you really see the true Venice. Venice is not about the gondolas or the masquerades; Venice is about the old women walking down the side alley or the men selling vegetables from their boat. It’s about the glass blowers on Murano and the waiters at small cichetti bars in San Polo. Most of all, Venice is what you make of it and it may have taken me four months to figure that out, but I’m sure glad I did.

When I look back on my time abroad and I think about all of the places I’ve been, I’m amazed and I feel incredibly lucky. In the course of four months I have been to 8 countries, 15 cities, and 20 airports. I’ve traveled 16, 124 miles and I’m grateful for each and every one of them. Sure there were times when I was sick and tired, fed up with European nonchalance, but now I chalk it all up to experience. I’ve had flights delayed, airports moved, moist hostel rooms, and even attempted to pee in a hole. But I survived it all and I’ll return home a changed person.

It hasn’t only been experiences that have shaped my time here. I arrived in Italy all alone, one girl with far too much luggage. However, I’ll be leaving here on a flight to London, with 6 friends and even more luggage then when we started. I was lucky enough to meet some amazing people during my time abroad. Fellow BC students that I never knew until now, and even some really great kids from Duke, together we took Venice and Europe by storm. Last night as we were sitting around at dinner, joking about the absolutely disgusting food they serve in the cafeteria, I was amazed by the fact only four months ago all of us were strangers. But in this short span of time, we went through an amazing experience together and it’s something that we’ll take back to the real world. In the next few weeks, when people ask, “So, how was your time abroad?!” We can spend hours attempting to explain, but in reality it’s only this small group of people, our quirky little family, that will truly understand what we’ve been through here. And every time people ask me that question, I’ll just smile and remember my friends here.

I would like to thank everyone who has taken time out of their days to read this blog. When I first started writing it I figured my mom would read it religiously, but I also figured that’s where my readership would end. It means a lot that people cared enough to read about what’s been going on in my life. I know at times the entries were lengthy, but I’m glad people read them anyway. Finally I would like to thank my parents for allowing me to ship off to Europe for these months. They’ve been there when I called missing home and they’ve been there when I begged for just a bit more money. No matter what I knew what they would be there for me. If it wasn’t for them I don’t know where I would be and although I had an absolutely phenomenal time here, I can’t wait to just get home and be with my family once more.

Posted by laurenp319 06:48 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Tina, Harry, and London =)

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Let me begin by saying I remember exactly where I was when I realized I wouldn’t be in America for the Harry Potter 7 premiere. We were sitting in the boy’s room in 90, watching Saw (terrifying movie btw), and I saw on Yahoo that the date of the 7th movie had been released. November 18th…during my time abroad. I began to panic, how was I going to see it at midnight, let alone in ENGLISH if I was in Italy?! But then I remembered Tina, my darling roommate, who was conveniently studying in Bath, England. What better place to see HP7 than England where the books were written and take place? Having come to this realization I calmed down and continued to “watch” (cover my eyes and only listen) to Saw.

The day had finally arrived. I was going to fly the luxurious Ryan Air (sarcasm) to Bristol, England where I would catch a bus and then a train to Bath where I would finally see Tina! It was going to be a long journey but I felt it was more than worth it. We were flying through fog when I began to get nervous. We had begun our decent and I still couldn’t see the ground. But suddenly I saw the lights of the runway right outside my window, the plane jolted, and we were ascending again. Everyone on the plane began to converse. Why weren’t we landing? Why had we taken off again? A voice came over the loudspeaker, “This is your captain speaking. The fog was too thick and the wind too strong for us to land. We are going to fly over to Cardiff where the conditions are better and we will land there.” Cardiff? Where the hell was Cardiff? Would I be able to watch my bus there? “Cardiff is in Wales,” the man next to me explained. Wales. As in, not England. I quickly realized I wouldn’t be catching my bus or my train. The plane landed in Cardiff and after a 45-minute wait, all of the passengers were loaded onto Coach buses and driven to Bristol. At this point there were no more buses or trains running so I took a taxi to Tina’s flat. Even though it was late at night, I spent the taxi ride staring out the window taking in the British landscape. I felt like I was driving through the set of The Holiday (great movie btw). Rolling hills were spotted with quaint cottages. I was in love. Although I was exhausted, when I finally reached Bath, I was so happy to see Tina. We stayed up and talked for hours, catching up on one another’s lives.

The next morning we woke up, bundled up, and headed into Bath. Bath was wonderful. It looked exactly like I imagined a British town would. There were pubs and teahouses in between small shops that all had their own unique facades. British school children skipped through the streets. It was beyond picturesque. Our first stop was the Roman Baths from which the city got its name. During the Roman Empire, Romans built a spa on the sight of heated aquifers that were spouting up from the center of the earth. There were hot tubs, whirlpools, and even a room with a heated floor where massages were given. The ruins are surprisingly in excellent condition and the city of Bath built quite a great museum around them. Next Tina showed me her school and we went to a nearby sandwich shop where she often gets lunch. We had a big cup of tea and delicious ham sandwiches. It was the closest to home I’ve felt in months. Following lunch we headed towards the Fashion Museum, which currently had a display of Princess Diana’s dresses. Unfortunately the museum had since entered winter hours and was closed by the time we arrived. Instead we did a bit of window-shopping as we headed back to her flat. Once at her flat it was time to get ready for the main event…HARRY POTTER!

We got dressed and drew lightening bolt scars on our foreheads (granted the were the wrong shape and side of our heads…woops). Once ready we headed to a pub for some dinner. I had a Guinness and nachos (it’s amazing how much I missed Mexican food lol) and enjoyed every minute of it. Finally after over an hour of waiting, it was time for the movie. We arrived at the theater, bought delicious snacks (popcorn woohoo!), and sat down for the show. After two and half hours of bliss we emerged from the theater all smiles. The movie was amazing and worth the plane, bus, and taxi I took to get there. Exhausted form our fun filled day we headed back to her flat and went to sleep happy. The next morning we rose bright and early and headed to the train station where we would hop a train to London. Our first stop was Starbucks (because it was damn early and there are no Starbucks in Italy so I suffer frequent withdrawal). To our surprise, a movie was being filmed on the street Starbucks was on. It was a period piece and everyone was dressed in 1940’s clothing. A sign for the London underground had been posted on one of the old building and sandbags were piled nearby. Clearly the setting was London during WWII. I had flashbacks to Atonement, which was possibly the most depressing movie I have ever seen. We stood around and took a few pictures and then with our Holiday lattes went on our way. After sleeping on the train we finally arrived in London (the actual city, not just Bath dressed up).

Because we only had a day to see the sights, we decided to take a “hop-on, hop-off” bus around the city. It was a great idea. The plump woman who served as our guide filled us in on tons of information; both historical and sensational in nature, about the various sights we were seeing. We even met a couple from Boston who called us “smaht girls” when we told them we went to BC. Our first “hop-off” was Buckingham Palace. We were lucky enough to catch the tail end of the changing of the guards, a ceremony that takes place every other day at 11:30am sharp. When it was over, we saw a family exiting the palace. Then we saw a guard escorting three twenty-something girls, into the palace. We’re convinced both groups of people were in some way related to Kate Middleton. Although we never found news to confirm our belief, we also never found news disputing haha. After the palace we hopped back on the bus and rode to Westminster Abbey. At that stop we were able to see the church, Parliament, Big Ben, London Bridge, and the London eye. Needless to say it was a great stop. After tons of touristy pictures in front of Ben, we hopped back on. The rest of the ride brought us past the “Jack the Ripper” museum, the London Tower Bridge, the London Tower, the cathedral where Prince Charles and Princess Diana got married, and straight through the West End. It was bitterly cold and rained on and off but we stuck it out and took pictures from the top of the bus. At the end of the tour, we went to the Sherlock Holmes Pub where we had beer and fish and chips. Freezing and tired, we boarded our train back to Bath.

When we got home I rested while Tina did schoolwork (some things never change lol). For dinner we made soup and tea and enjoyed it while watching Friends on VHS. It was such a wonderful way to end our weekend. Sitting on the couch laughing at Friends felt reminiscent of last year in Vandy 204. It really made me miss home a bit but made me grateful that I got to spend some time with Tina. Eventually it was time for bed. The next morning we woke up and I gathered all my stuff while Tina packed her bag for school. We headed out together for one last trip to Starbucks before we went our separate ways. Tina headed to school and I headed to the train station. This time Ryan Air got it right and I boarded my plane, which successfully landed precisely where it was supposed to. Although my weekend in England was short I had an amazing time. I got to spend time with one of my best friends while exploring a beautiful city. PLUS I got to see Harry Potter and that alone was pretty fantastic. I may not have been able to see it at midnight, but how any people can say th

Posted by laurenp319 06:15 Archived in England Comments (0)

Restoring Faith in Humanity

My best weekend abroad

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This weekend was my favorite weekend abroad thus far. I didn’t travel to a far off place, and I didn’t do anything extraordinary, but I was able to share Venice with the lovely Kristen Estrella. Kristen, who is studying in London this semester, arrived on Thursday afternoon for the tail end of her fall break. I was so excited for her to get here but a little nervous about what I was going to do with her for three days. For weeks before her arrival poured over guidebooks and websites trying to make the perfect itinerary. Finally I pieced together a plan complete with vaparetto rides, churches, museums, and gelato. But as soon as Kristen arrived it became apparent that it didn’t matter what we did, I was just happy that she was here. You see studying abroad is quite different from simply being away from home while at school. At school you are surrounded by friends, some who have become as close as family, and your parents and hometown are only a $15 bus ride away. Studying abroad, you are with people you’ve only known since you arrived and home is an 8 hour/$800 plane ride away. In this situation you get close with the other students right away, but they still only know what they’ve learned about you in the 3 months you’ve been here. No one knows the awkward you from middle school or the college-obsessed you from high school. They don’t know your favorite history teacher or what you did prom weekend. They have no idea what your small New Jersey town is like. While most of the time this is for the best (because let’s be frank it’s for the best that no one knows how I dressed in middle school), sometimes I want to talk about the Pompton Queen or crazy Doc Hett and no one would know what I was talking about. With Kristen here I could go on and on about our batty English teacher…not that I did because that would be creepy hahaha. Another reason why it was wonderful to have someone from home was because I got the opportunity to share Venice with someone. When I first got to Venice, I was awed by the beautiful, delicate, decaying city. But as time wore on I began to focus more on the flooding and the huge crowds of tourists and less on the sunlit calles and canals. Having Kristen here reminded me how lucky I was to live in such a unique city. Every time she would pause to capture a gondola going down a canal or laundry hanging from a window I remembered my awe those first few weeks of September. Kristen helped me to not take Venice for granted (because back in Pequannock there might be bagels and Pumpkin Spice lattes but there won’t be decaying buildings alone a canal or old Italian men blowing glass).

So Thursday afternoon Kristen arrived and we headed back to San Servolo. I had class and she had traveled all day so while I counted down the minutes in Venice and the Ottomans, she napped. That evening, along with two other friends, I brought her to Ae Oche, our favorite restaurant with the best pizza in town. Then we made our first gelato trip before heading to Santa Margherita. I quickly apologized for the lack of nightlife in Venice as we walked into Madigan’s. Once again Kristen helped to remind me that I once enjoyed what I now take for granted. Why was I apologizing for the lack of clubs when I don’t like going to clubs? Did I suddenly become some crazier partyer that I never was at home? No. I am perfectly fine with enjoying a few drinks at Madigan’s with my friends and catching the 1:30 vaparetto home. I mean it’s 1:30 for goodness sake, I’m tired, I’ve been out all day, being able to go home and go to sleep is a blessing in disguise. (Yes, I am in fact an old lady). The next morning we were well rested and ready to go. We grabbed a brioche and cappuccino and boarded the vaparetto to San Marco. Our first stop was Basilica San Marco. The extravagant, gold gilded basilica was erected to house the relics of St. Mark (which had been stolen from Alexandria by two Venetian merchants). Upon first viewing the church may seem quite over-the-top but soon you learn to appreciate the opulence and see the real beauty of the mosaics and pilfered marble columns. After the Basilica we made a quick stop and purchased the most beautiful ____________ for our mothers’ Christmas gifts. Unfortunately I can’t fill in the blank because my mom reads this blog and the gift is meant to be a surprise (sorry mom). Next we walked from San Marco to Accademia (my favorite part of Venice), stopping to see the Fenice Opera House. From the Accademia we continued to Santa Margherita where we had fuzzy navels with our sandwiches of bacon, Brie, and arugula…quite a delicious lunch. Then we made our second gelato trip. After gelato, we boarded the vaparetto to San Toma where we got off and visited Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari aka my favorite church in Venice. Inside the Frari is Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin, a beautiful painting from 1516 depicting the assumption and coronation of Mary. After the Frari we took the vaparetto further up the Grand Canal to Rialto where we wandered around the area taking pictures and buying more souvenirs. We stopped at the post office to buy stamps for our postcards. Unfortunately the post office was close…without explanation…which is just so Italian.

Hungry and without stamps we began our journey to find dinner. I was given the name of a great place by an Italian friend of mine “finding it is half the fun” she quipped. And boy was she right. Having been in Venice for almost 3 months I’m used to not having street signs, but when it comes to finding places “off the beaten path”, it’s nearly impossible. After wandering down three random, dark alleyways, we came upon a lamp lit campo right along the Grand Canal and alas there was our restaurant. The unique thing about Trattoria di Campiello Remer is that from 5:30 to 7:30 they double the price of the drinks at their bar. Once you buy a drink, you’re welcome to enjoy the buffet of delicious foods they put out. For 5€ you can get a cocktail and unlimited access to pasta, risotto, and appetizers. The table is frequently replenished, often with new items then were previously put out. Nothing on the table is labeled; they expect that if you’re there, you’ll know what’s on the table. I can easily say we were the only native English speakers. Everyone else were students, couples, and groups of friends, all obviously Venetian. When guidebooks talk about wandering down calles in search of local favorites, this is what they’re talking about. The buffet table was filled with local favorites as well. A note on Italian food…it’s prettier, healthier, and tastier than anything they serve at Olive Garden. It amazes me time and again how simple and yet how delicious Italian food is. The food at Remer was a perfect example of this. The pasta was adorned with fresh tomatoes and grated Parmesan cheese (no creamy sauces here). There was also couscous with tomatoes and anchovies. Then there was an array of toasts with different spreads such as tuna, cheese, and once again anchovies (they love fish here). We devoured the food as we listened to the beauty of the Italian language and watched little nonnas dance to the live piano music (I’m serious, there was a grandma dancing). Stuffed we headed home (not before getting crepes…the girl is tiny but a beast). We ended the night in a food coma, watching a movie off of Netflix in my room.

The following morning as part 2 of Kristen’s Venice tour we hopped on the boat and headed to Santa Maria delle Salute. This enormous church is almost as recognizable as Basilica San Marco, as sits on Punto della Dogana, the point where the Giudecca and Grand Canal meet. Built in thanks for the end of horrible plague year (which killed nearly half the population of Venice), the Salute is yet another beautiful church in Venice. After the Salute we made our way to Accademia, walking through the artsy neighborhood of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. We passed numerous art galleries and came upon an amazing paper store where I’ll be purchasing numerous souvenirs and gifts. Our next stop was the Accademia museum where we viewed works by numerous Venetian painters such as Titian, Bellini, Tintoretto, and the like. For lunch we went back to Madigan’s, trading the fuzzy naval in for a Bellini, one of Venice’s signature drinks. Our last stop (after yet another gelato stop) was San Gorgio Maggiore, a church on the tip Giudecca, complete with a lovely bell tower. We took the elevator (no judgments, there aren’t stairs) to the top and had a wonderful view of Venice and the surrounding islands. When we got back to San Servolo we got ready for dinner and headed to the guys room for some good old-fashioned American football. You see on Saturday BC played Duke, so we gathered around a laptop, put on ESPN3.com, and drank some beer while watching the game. BC won, which was only the beginning of a wonderful night. Earlier in the day we had made reservations at Casin dei Nobili (meaning the nobles’ brothel…because once upon a time it was indeed a brothel), a restaurant recommended by Frommer that I had been dying to go to. It was lucky that we made reservations because when we arrived at 8:45 there were hordes of people waiting outside in the small calle.

At 9pm sharp we were seated in the tiny dining room next to an American couple. We first ordered red wine and bruschetta to share. Never in my life have I tasted toast as perfectly made as the toast for our bruschetta. It was toasted on the outside, and hot and chewy on the inside…alas I digress. For our main courses Kristen chose spaghetti with clams (a heaping pile) and I opted for the special, pasta with pumpkin, basil, and cheese. Finally for dessert we each ordered the chocolate soufflé, a dish the restaurant is famous for. As we sat there after our meal, smiling from the delicious food, the couple next to us asked for their check. When the waitress brought it over, the husband turned to us and asked, “Do you girls want a drink?” Shocked we said thank you but no. With that he turned to the waitress and said, “Can we have their check as well?” We were stunned, smiling and stuttering I almost cried as I thanked them. The couple explained that they remembered what it was like to be “poor college kids abroad” and they wanted us to “just enjoy our time here”. I couldn’t believe this was happening to us. The couple turned out to be from Manhattan; she wife grew up in Wyckoff. They traveled a lot and he often worked in London. They want on to explain that they had tried to pay for our meal without us knowing, but apparently there is some “privacy” law that forbids handing over someone else’s check to strangers. We laughed and quipped that in America they could care less who pays the check, so long as they get their money. When the waitress arrived with our check, the couple told us to hurry along and enjoy the Venetian night, I of course mentioned there was no such thing. We thanked them profusely and left the restaurant, walking on clouds every step of the way. Afterwards Kristen and I went over how much our meal must have cost. With the wine, appetizer, two main courses, and dessert it was at least 75€. The couple had shared a salad and pizza, meaning their meal was nowhere near as expensive as ours. I still can’t believe how lucky we were, or how nice they were. As Kristen perfectly explained it, the experience had restored her faith in humanity. We are so easy to assume the worst in people, and when he first asked if we wanted a drink I would be lying if I said I wasn’t suspicious. But alas they were simply doing a good deed, being generous to a couple of college girls (who continuously talked about how poor they were going to be throughout dinner). I wondered if this was something they did often, anonymously paying people’s checks. Anonymously! They didn’t even want recognition for it! I figured they must just be a well off couple that does generous, kind things whenever the opportunity arises. Kristen and I both decided that some day when we were rich and traveling we would pay the check for some “poor college kids”. Until then we would have to pay it forward in any way we could. The entire way home we talked continuously about the generosity of the couple, and my heart still warms whenever I think about what happened.

That night will go down as my best night abroad, not because I didn’t have to pay for dinner, but because I encountered such wonderful people, proving to me that such kindness still exists in this world. All in all this weekend was unforgettable. I was able to spend time with someone from home and share wonderful experiences with her. Throughout the weekend I couldn’t help but tell Kristen again and again how happy I was she was visiting. Years from now as I look back on my time abroad I will have hundreds of amazing experiences to remember, but when I remember this weekend, good times shared with a great friend, my heart and my soul will smile.

Posted by laurenp319 05:00 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Pequannock lovin' in Spain

Plus the #1 airport in the world!

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Uno, due…I mean dos, tres, quattro, chinco no cinco, sei…ah seis, sette…ugh siete, ocho, nove…nuove…nueve…diez. That’s how I sounded attempting to count to 10 in Spanish. Am I Spanish? You bet. Did I take Spanish for 7 years in school? Absolutely! Can I still speak it? Not a chance. Hear is the problem, Italian has taken over my brain. The two languages are so close that I simply get confused. Some words are the same in both languages but are pronounced differently, while some words are in both languages but mean completely different things. Needless to say, being in Madrid was real interesting. We landed in Madrid around 6 on Thursday night and boarded a bus to the city. On the bus we attempted to remember various words and phrases like excuse me or I’m sorry. We probably sounded retarded to the other people on the bus. By the time we took the bus and the metro to our part of the city we had only remember “lo siento” and “que lastima”…helpful for getting around? No. Regardless we made our way to 2 Calle di Lemos, the small street where the apartment we rented was. When my friend first mentioned renting an apartment instead of booking a hostel I was excited. I’m really not a hostel person but I’m poor and beggars can’t be choosers. So the opportunity to stay in a place all our own complete with bathroom and kitchen was exciting. The cobblestone street near the city center was adorable. The apartment with built-ins and balconies was even cuter. But I didn’t have time to dwell in the cuteness because I had to meet GILLIAN ACCA so I dropped by bags and left again. Seeing Gillian was wonderful. You think that after going to college I could handle a few months away from home. But being abroad has been tough because I really miss my family and friends. So when I saw Gillian big smile I was reminded of home and it made me really happy. Gillian brought me to a tapas restaurant where I had eggplant and bacon on toast and rice and beans wrapped in a tortilla served with an egg on top. Both were delicious. Then we went to Mercato San Miguel, an indoor market with tons of stalls selling wines, tapas, and even sushi. We chowed down on croquettas (MY FAVORITE) of spinach and ham. I could’ve stayed with her forever but she was off to Dublin in the AM and so we parted ways and I headed home. Exhausted form a day of traveling (and eating) I went to bed.
The next day we explored the city visiting Puerto Sol, walking down famous streets, and made our way to the Prado. The Prado, Spain’s national museum was amazing and a change from all of the Italian artists I’ve seen in museums during my other visits. The museum had paintings by Vasquez, Goya, and luckily for me a special exhibit on Renoir. After the museum we headed back towards our part of the city when we passed a crowd of tweens standing in front of a hotel. Sunday was the European MTV Music Awards and so I jokingly said oh maybe they’re waiting for Miley Cyrus. Well funny enough, they were. Some of my friends mentioned throwing something at her if they ever saw her so we decided it was probably best to leave before she came out haha. (But later on in the week a couple of my friends saw Russell Brand walking down the street! They didn’t throw anything at him). For dinner we took the recommendation of a travel guide and went to a small restaurant off of Puerto Sol. We ordered tapas and paella for 5 and were given sangria for free. The paella was out of this world and was almost too much for us to finish…but somehow we managed lol. Following our late evening dinner we were all full and exhausted so we decided to go back to the apartment and nap…yes nap. You see in Madrid the world “nightlife” is an understatement. Most clubs don’t open until 1am and don’t get jumpin’ until 2am. So when we got back to the apartment at 10pm it was perfect timing for a nice nap before getting ready and heading out. Two and a half hours later we were in a cab to Teatro Kapital, a theatre turned 7-floor dance club. Each floor offered a different kind of music from hip-hop to techno to karaoke. Needless to say it was a late, but fun night.
After returning near sunrise I needed some serious rest because at 1pm I met up with VALERIE CETRULO (clearly this trip was all about getting back to my Pequannock roots lol). Val, who is essentially a citizen of Madrid (she studied their last summer and this semester), took me to one of her favorite tapas places where you order “tinto di verano” (which is essentially red wine mixed with sprite) and get a whole plate of tapas for free. Everything they gave us was delicious. Our next stop was for churros con chocolate, which were essentially fried dough sticks dipped in melted chocolate. Again, it was mouthwateringly delicious. After stuffing ourselves we wandered the city taking in the sights such as the Royal Palace and the nearby gardens. After parting ways with Val I met up with my friends and we did a bit of shopping. That night, instead of going to a restaurant, we decided to take advantage of the kitchen in our apartment. The lovely Lynne Esposti cooked a wonderful meal of salad with cranberries, walnuts, and goat cheese along with oregano and lemon chicken. All of the ingredients for the meal along with 2 baguettes and 2 bottles of wine cost a total of 5€ each. It was fantastic. After dinner I took my friends to the churro place Val had showed me, this time it was so packed we barely had room to stand. But nonetheless we waited it out and got our churros that were nothing short of perfection. Our flight left at 9am the next morning, which meant we needed to get a taxi at 6am. So after our churros we ventured back to our apartment, packed up our things, and tried to get a bit of sleep.
The next day we had a 5-hour layover in Zurich. Unfortunately it was cold and raining and so we decided not to leave the airport (although the city looked absolutely beautiful from the air!) But let me tell you about the Zurich airport, which is rated #1 in the world (versus Newark which is apparently the worst airport in the world…although I beg to differ with that one). The facilities were amazing. There were spas to get your nails done or a massage, caviar bars, Swiss chocolate stands, store after store of Swiss watches, and lovely stores to shop in. Plus the whole airport was decorated for Christmas and there was someone playing the piano! It was right after someone handed me a freshly made chocolate truffle that I realized okay…maybe Newark isn’t such a great airport haha. When it was time to board the many helpful information screens let us know to make our way to the gate where we boarded a bus to our small plane. This was the first time we boarded at the exact time we were promised we would, which after the horrific experience in Palermo was greatly appreciated.
When our plane landed in Marco Polo I was exhausted but grateful. After a week of gallivanting across Europe I couldn’t believe how lucky I had been. In one week I had been to 3 different countries, by the end of the semester I’ll have been to 8. I was always skeptical that I would go abroad, and there have been times when I wish I hadn’t. I miss home and I miss my family and friends, but I know that had I not gone on this trip I would have missed out on some amazing opportunities. In 6 weeks I’ll board a British Airways flight and head back to the US. I have a whole list of food I have to eat, places I have to go, and things I have to do upon my arrival in America. I won’t be sad to leave here, but as I look back over all the food I’ve eaten, places I’ve gone, and things I’ve done here, I’ll sure be happy that I came.

Posted by laurenp319 02:44 Archived in Spain Tagged madrid zurich Comments (0)

Meet Me in Lisbon

My love affair with the Portuguese city

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I’m going to learn Portuguese and move to Lisbon. That is the decision I have made after my 3 days in Portugal. Many of you might be wondering, why did she go to Portugal? That’s such a random country. And I thought the same thing when my friend Lynne suggested we include it as part of our fall break. Of course Lynne is Brazilian, and fluent in Portuguese, so for her Portugal isn’t so random. She seemed pretty excited about it and so I figured sure why not, we’re going in November and it will still be warm. Needless to say I didn’t have many expectations for this trip. Well boy was I surprised when I got there. First of all it should be mentioned that we flew TAP airlines, which is a member of the Star Alliance with British Airways, Lufthansa, and Swiss Air. These are real airlines. With assigned seats. And meals served on board. After our horrific experience with Meridiana in Palermo, this was a welcomed change that started the trip off right. Upon arrival the cab ride cost 4€. In Venice, the taxi costs 110€. That alone won me over haha. When we got to our hostel we were amazed. We had each paid 18€ a night and so our expectations were not high. Again we were mistaken. Lisbon Lounge has been rated the best hostel in for WORLD by Hostel Bookers for multiple years running. The décor was beautiful, the location was perfect, and our beds were comfy. Also the hostel has its own chef that cooks a 4-course meal you can enjoy for 8€. Being poor college students, we were hooked. After dropping our bags we wandered around the city oohing and aahing at the tile facades covering most of the city’s buildings. We strolled through the winding streets and hills in search of shopping and Starbucks. We were not disappointed. It should be noted that baring Rome, you cannot find a Starbucks in Italy. Sure there are numerous coffee shops and cafes throughout the Italian cities, but being Americans sometimes all we want is an ice coffee. After our icy caffeine fix we found heaven in the cheap prices of Zara and H&M, among other stores we had never heard of. At 8pm we headed back to our hostel to enjoy the delicious meal prepared by Pedro. The meal started with pumpkin soup, was followed by a salad with strawberries and cheese, and finished off with a seafood stew over rice. It was absolutely, mouthwateringly wonderful. Again, in Venice we never would have found a meal that was so good and so cheap.
The following day I had a lovely tapas lunch with pork chops and brie served on toast and a chorizo omelet. After lunch we took the trolley (just like the one Ali and Roberto ride in the Bachelorette!!!!!) to Belem, a waterfront neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. We visited a beautiful monastery that was covered in sculptures and inside was the tomb of Vasco da Gama. [A note on good ‘ol Vasco. He was Portuguese. And pride is an understatement when describing Portuguese feelings towards him. To them he is a god. Granted he was the first man to round the Cape of Good Hope and the first man to sail from Europe to India. But he also aided the success of the African slave trade. So bravo Vasco, bravo.] After the monastery we visited Pastéis de Belém, a bakery famous for their pastéis de nata a warm pastry filled with creamy custard and topped with cinnamon. When I tell you I could eat only those for the rest of my life and be okay with it, I’m not lying. If you ever see one in a bakery, you should order it, no questions asked. After the delicious desserts we walked to the waterfront where one of the many monuments dedicated to Vasco is found. From the waterfront you can also see the Ponto 25 de Abrile, or the April 25th Bridge. Citizens of Lisbon refer to it as the Portuguese Golden Gate because it is almost an exact replica of the bridge in San Francisco.
On our third and final day our flight left around 3 and so we only had to morning to explore. We woke up early, had a delicious breakfast of crepes and Portuguese rolls (provided free of charge by our heavenly hostel), and were on our way. We decided it would be best to visit the Castillo de San Jorge (the very castle where Ali and Roberto had their dinner date lol) and then walk around Almafa which is an old neighborhood built during the rule of the Moors. Visiting the castle was easier said then done. For those of you who don’t know Lisbon has 7 neighborhoods, for the 7 hills it was built on. Of course whoever decided to call them hills was a fool because they are mountains (I’m exaggerating, but seriously they’re not hills). For those of you who really know me, you know I don’t like to climb. Stairs, hills, mountains, I hate them all. So when we essentially scaled a mountain to get to this castle I was not pleased. But of course when we finally reached the top I was grateful because the view was amazing. The castle, which was built in Medieval times was added onto during the rule of various peoples both Moors and otherwise. After wandering around the castle we began our dissent down the “hill” and stopped at Sè, a cathedral reminiscent of a smaller Notre Dame in Paris. Before leaving for the airport we grabbed lunch at a small café on our street Rue San Nicolai. The café was filled with various Portuguese treats we essentially sampled them all. But at last it was time to leave for the airport and so we hopped in a cab and were on our way.
Our trip to Lisbon was short because we didn’t know what to expect. If I knew then what I knew now I would have stayed in Lisbon for much longer so I could have explored every little corner of the city before venturing to other Portuguese cities nearby. I loved everything about the place. The people were beautiful and kind, the architecture was amazing, the food was good, and nothing was too expensive. Walking around I knew it was a place I could live. Of course I don’t speak Portuguese (thank God we had Lynne with us) and I love American too much, but if I could pick up Lisbon and plop it down next to Jersey I would be happy. It has by far been the most amazing place I’ve visited while abroad and I fully intend on going back.

Posted by laurenp319 05:43 Archived in Portugal Tagged lisbon Comments (0)

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