3 Days in the City of Love: PARIS

So I’m extremely behind on all my blog posts, but now that I’ve made it safely back to America I have some downtime to catch up on everything I haven’t written about towards the end of the term. I’ll start with my amazing weekend in PARIS, FRANCE.

I went for a three day weekend to Paris with my friend Raleigh, Nov. 30-Dec. 2, and looking back now I want to say it may have been my favorite place I visited. We started the weekend with another insanely early morning by getting to the bus stop at 4:30 AM to start our travels to the airport. After another bus, a plane, and two trains, Raleigh and I made it to our hostel and checked in around 12:30 PM. The hostel (Young and Happy Hostel) had a great location, Rue Mouffetard, but it wasn’t the best hostel I’ve stayed in through my travelling experience. Our first day there wasn’t the most perfect day for weather… we had dreary skies and it was pretty cold, but I’m glad we didn’t have to trudge through the rain or snow on the first day. For lunch, I stopped at a crepe vendor on our street and got my very first authentic French crepe with ham, cheese, and lettuce. It was delicious!

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We speed-walked our way through the city to the meeting point of a free walking tour of Paris. Our guide, Onno, took us through the main parts of the city and told us tons of interesting facts about main tourist attractions, as well as tips for what to do and when. The walking tours are always great to do on the first day because it gave us a good idea of what to go see (major landmarks like the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame) and we got our bearings of the city. I also was very lucky because Raleigh had visited Paris over the summer and knew a lot about how their metro works and where everything is. The tour ended right around 4:00 and dropped us off right by one of the most popular shopping/touristy streets called Champs de Elysee. Before we went on our way, our tour guide offered us tickets to go up the Eiffel Tower and cut the lines for that night, so we bought them and made the plan to go later. Raleigh and I then explored the main shopping street, which was filled with tons of Christmas booths at the beginning and reminded me a lot of Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park with the holiday items they sold. We looked around for just a bit, but then had to hop on the metro to make our way to the Eiffel Tour at 5:30 to go up!

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Let me tell you, the Eiffel Tower at night is one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen. It has a golden glow to it and the first time I saw it up close I was in awe. It was definitely a lot bigger than I had imagined it. We used our tickets to cut the line and made our way up in an elevator (placed in one of the legs of the tower) that took us half way up, but not completely at the top yet. Raleigh and I took in the view; from just the mid-way point of the tower we could still see so much. By this time, the sky was dark but the city was shining in beautiful lights. We took a few pictures, and then got back on another elevator to go to the very top. I can’t really describe the view from the top of the tower without using the word incredible. We could see for miles out in the distance, and the entire city was just lit up from the darkness. It was really beautiful. There were obviously tons of other tourists up there taking pictures, but one young teenage couple decided that making out for a half hour was a better way to spend the time. Ew, too much.

One other interesting thing about my experience on the Eiffel Tower has to do with the pickpocket signs that are posted everywhere in there. Inside the tower, they warn you to be mindful of people who pickpocket. I saw the signs and didn’t think much of it because it just seemed like everyone there were just normal tourists like Raleigh and I who wanted to take in the view from the top. However, the view is not all that some people wanted to take. Raleigh and I were in line to take the elevator back down the tour when she noticed a large family standing together in a little circle kind of discreetly pointing at people and mumbling things in French (I think). These people are known as gypsies and they were literally pointing out places for the group to move to so that one of them could slip their hands into a woman’s purse. I quickly held on to my bag tighter (after being pickpocketed in Israel this summer, I’m pretty careful). Raleigh turned around to the line and told everyone to watch their bags, basically calling out the group of people being super shady. They immediately walked away from the line to another part of the tower. So we actually saw a group of pickpocketers in action! So crazy. It was kind of sad though, because their group consisted of a few little kids too which unfortunately have to learn from their parents how to properly steal from people. Hopefully the Eiffel Tour workers really look out for them, because I didn’t believe it until I really saw it.

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Raleigh and I had dinner at a really snazzy place she’s been dying to go back to since her trip in the summer. It was called the Burning Bush and was pretty expensive but we wanted to treat ourselves on the first night in the city. The restaurant was pretty full so they gave us a table where we had to sit next to each other in a booth area. Pretty funny/awkward, but the food was so delicious and we were starving so we didn’t care! Haha. We ordered a big pot of beef stew with veggies and devoured the entire thing. After dinner, both of us pretty much sleepwalked back to the hostel and passed out in bed.

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Day 2Since we got a good night’s sleep, Raleigh and I woke up around 8:30 and had the complimentary breakfast at our hostel, which consisted of croissants, tea/coffee, and cereal… along with nutella, jam, and butter of course. We made a day plan to spend the first half in Versailles and took the train there, which was only maybe 30 minutes outside of the city. We ended up buying a two day museum pass that would let us tour pretty much all the museums in Paris, so that really came in handy for the next two days. Versailles was the enormous mansion inhabited by Louis XIV and his wife Marie Antoinette during the French revolution. We walked around inside the castle and got to see tons of rooms decorated by Marie herself. There were so many entertainment halls with gorgeous paintings all over the walls and ceilings. We also got to walk through the king and queen’s separate bedrooms, which were pretty incredible to see since a lot of the things are still the originals from the 1680s (such as bedding and wallpaper). My favorite part of the chateau was the Hall of Mirrors. It is one of the most famous parts of the estate and is the biggest room in the palace. The hall has 17 big mirrors that face opposite large windows overlooking the amazing gardens outside. It is actually known as one of the most famous rooms in the world because of its elegance and decoration. It was a really big deal at the time that Louis XIV lived there because mirrors were one of the most expensive items to possess at the time. I walked up and down the hall a few times, taking in all the detail of the room. It really was incredible to see how elegant they made it, and the view out the windows was amazing.

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After touring the palace, we took a walk out by the enormous Versailles gardens. I can’t really begin to describe how massive that backyard was… and how beautiful it all looked. Raleigh said it was greener and even prettier in the summertime (which I can just imagine), but it still was so pretty to walk around that day because the sun was shining and it was nice outside. The gardens take up 1,976 acres… just to give you an idea of how massive the place actually is. There were fountains, lanes of trees, pretty trimmed bushes… everything all perfectly kept to look beautiful for the public. Raleigh and I stopped for lunch at a little restaurant back in the gardens. I ordered one of the most popular dishes served in Paris (from what I’ve seen on all the menus)… it was called croque-madame. This consists of warm ham in between two slices of bread, with melted cheese on the top of the bread, and a fried egg on top of the cheese (a croque-monsieur is all that without the egg). I loved it!

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After our morning in Versailles, Raleigh and I ventured back to central Paris to walk around more there. We went back to Champs de Elysee and looked around a bit more at the Christmas booth. I got a crepe with banana and nutella… YUM. That main street leads straight up to the Arc de Triomphe, where Raleigh and I used our museum pass to walk up. The Arc de Triomphe is one of Paris’s most famous monuments. It was built to honor those who fought and died for France during its revolution, and has the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its surface. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. There is no elevator to the top of the arc, so we walked up a big spiral staircase of 284 steps! I can’t tell you what perfect timing we had when we got to the top. We got up right at sunset and had the most amazing view of the city. The pictures speak for themselves. The Eiffel Tour stood overlooking the city with a beautiful pink/orange sky, and we got to see the whole city light up as all the buildings and Christmas lights started turning on. The arc is located in the middle of the world’s largest intersection (and most hazardous I assume), with 12 streets all leading up to it. From the top, you could walk around and see each street leading up to the large circle which the arc was located in the middle of. It was just simply awesome. We took a bunch of pictures from the top, watched the sun go down, and made our way back down the arc, but not before buying a few things from the gift shop inside it!

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On our walk back to our hostel, I stopped to buy a delicious chocolate macaroon and ate that for a late dessert after dinner. I was told that the macaroons are the most delicious in Paris! For dinner, Raleigh and I ate at a restaurant on the street of our hostel and I got traditional French onion soup. It was the best I’ve ever had! Our street, Rue Mouffetard, was so pretty with the lights on at night! It also had a really cool, young scene to it which I really liked. After dinner we went back to the hostel, got some wifi, and went to bed.

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Day 3

On our last full day in Paris, Raleigh and I woke up pretty early again, ate breakfast at the hostel, then made our way to the Louvre! Again, I can’t even begin to describe how massive this museum was. It’s one of the world’s biggest museums. If you wanted to, you honestly could spend an entire week in there looking at everything in there. There are three wings to explore, with multiple floors for each wing. We weren’t too interested in spending the entire day there, but we obviously made our way to the biggest attractions… first up: the Mona Lisa!

Seeing the Mona Lisa in real life was pretty darn cool. I was surprised to see how little the painting actually is though. They have it hung on a little wall in the middle of a big room, encased in glass. But the funny thing is that opposite of the Mona Lisa was this MASSIVE painting on the other wall, which makes the Mona Lisa look even smaller. It was pretty funny how they set it up. It’s true that her eyes follow you no matter where you walk in the room. There were tons of people surrounding the painting taking their own tourist pictures of it.

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We also went to a few other main attractions in the Louvre, such as the sphinx, the Winged Victory statue, and the Venus de Milo statue. It really was a cool place, but a little overwhelming. Our next stop was to Musee d’Orsay with tons of other French paintings, mostly impressionist and post-impressionist works. We got to see paintings by Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, and Van Gogh! This museum didn’t let its visitors take pictures, but I snuck a few from my iPhone! It was cool to see the self-portrait by Van Gogh.

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After that, we walked over to the Notre Dame Cathedral. It had beautiful French Gothic architecture and was really big inside. There were tons of windows with gorgeous stained glass and we walked around inside and took some pictures. You have to be quiet inside and there was some kind of service going on in there when we walked in. The city is currently prepping for its 850 year anniversary by touching up some things on the inside and out of the cathedral. It looked really cool! We visited one last chapel with more beautiful stained glass windows, and started our walk back to the hostel to grab our stuff and head towards the airport.

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However, on our walk back there we ran into a spot I was looking for the whole time in Paris. We found ourselves in the front of the steps/street from the movie Midnight in Paris with Owen Wilson. The steps appear in the scene where he gets picked up by the magical carriage that takes him back in time. It was so cool to realize we were at that exact spot from the movie… which we completely stumbled upon. Obviously, I freaked out a little bit and took some pictures by the steps (which were actually steps up to a church). Pretty cool stuff.

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My last meal in Paris consisted of waffles and ice cream as one last treat in the city of love!

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Raleigh and I had such a great weekend in Paris, and I’m so glad we had pretty much three full days to explore and see the city. It was probably my favorite place I’ve visited because there was just SO much to do and see. We were on our feet the entire time, and the food there was just delicious. I’d LOVE the opportunity to go back there some day… especially with a boyfriend or husband! It really was a romantic place.

So that’s all about my Paris excursion. More to come soon about how the end of my semester ended in London!

 

 

 

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Reading Week Part 3: Dublin, Ireland!

I landed in Dublin, Ireland at night (11/7) and easily met up with Raleigh at baggage claim since our flights arrived at the same time (perfect planning!). We took a bus to the center of Dublin where our hostel was only a few blocks away. We stayed at the Ashfield House hostel, which was probably my favorite of the three I stayed in over the reading week trip. It had a large common area on the ground floor and offered a free breakfast every morning (toast, jam, hard boiled eggs, cereal, coffee, tea…) which we took advantage of for the first morning. So when Raleigh and I checked in, we didn’t realize how late it really was (a little past midnight) and the guy at the desk gave us our room key telling us we were the last ones to check in for the night and to look for the two open free beds in the 18 person co-ed room… we didn’t realize that he was basically saying “good luck with that,” but when we opened the door to the room we got the hint. The room was pitch black and filled with people sleeping in the bunk beds. Raleigh and I didn’t want to turn on the light, knowing that we’d have 16 angry sleepers hating us for waking them up, so I pulled out my iPhone to use the flashlight (really handy in this situation)! All of a sudden we heard a whispering voice saying our names, and realized it was Eliza who had a bed in the corner of the room! She helped us settle in and make our beds (which happened to be an empty bunk bed right next to hers, I got the top). Let me just say this: if you’re going to check into a hostel, try to plan on arriving during a time in the afternoon where you can actually make noise and have light to put your stuff somewhere. It was a nightmare trying to not only do all of this in the dark, but we had to be silent in fear of getting shushed by those angry sleepers.

Day 8 (11/8)

We woke up the next morning and ate the free breakfast at the hostel, which was actually really good! After that, Raleigh, Eliza, and I ventured out to into the city to roam around a little and see the main streets of Dublin. We walked down a main street, called O’Connell Street and did a little browsing in shops before grabbing lunch at a really good restaurant called Salamanca (thinking of my roommate Taylor who is studying abroad there in Spain!). We had to rush through lunch, which was delicious, to make it on time to a free walking tour of the city. We learned about the Dublin castle, history of how the city had developed through the years, walked through the Temple Bar area (which was my favorite), Trinity College, saw the street where U2 got started and where Bono owns a hotel (Clarence Hotel), and ended the tour at St. Stephen’s Green park. Our guide also told us some amusing stories of Irish mistakes in war and monument construction. For example: they built a large pointy monument in the middle of the street on O’Connell which looks absolutely out of place in the city, which some like to call “the erection at the intersection,” but it’s actually called the millennium statue. Our tour group was really amused by that. The only good thing that the big pointy structure is good for is finding a central spot of the city when you’re lost (most helpful when you’re drunk, says our guide). Too funny!

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After the tour we walked around a bit more to revisit some places on the tour, then headed back to the hostel to get ready for a pub crawl that night. We bought a pub crawl ticket for 10 euro each and it included a free pint of beer/cider at the first bar and then lots of discounts/offers for drinks at the other four bars, then free entrance to the club as the last stop of the night. The pub crawl is hosted by the same company who does the free walking tours of the city, and our guide had told us that over 200 people were signed up for that night. We were so excited because it was Raleigh’s 20th birthday at midnight that night and we wanted to go a little crazy to celebrate! We met a guy named Mike on our tour (also studying in London and visiting Dublin for the weekend) and another two girls from Canada (Molly and Mika, doing a big Europe trip this semester) who all agreed to do the pub crawl as well.

Eliza, Raleigh and I got to the first bar where we got our free pint of Bulmers (alcoholic cider, really popular in Ireland) and hung out until our new tour friends got there. We then learned that the 200 people who “signed up” were doing their own separate pub crawl so it was a lot smaller than they had told us. Nevertheless, we still had a decent sized group of maybe 30 people, mostly adults in their later 20s, but it was still so much fun. I won’t go into every single detail about each bar we visited, but it was one of my favorite nights going out through this entire abroad experience. I ended up spending a decent amount of money on drinks but it was definitely worth it. Because it was Raleigh’s birthday, she got a free ticket for the pub crawl all together. However, the leader of our pub crawl made Raleigh get 20 birthday kisses and document each with a picture (which ended up being mainly my job!) by the end of the night, or else she had to buy the pub crawl leader a drink. Throughout the night we were shoving random guys to kiss her on the cheek which was so funny. She was a little hesitant about it at first but the guys were harmless and it was too funny to watch. At the third pub of the night, my personal favorite, we got on a microphone there and made everyone sing happy birthday to her. That pub happened to be a traditional Irish pub and they had a band playing Irish jig music and we learned some drinking/cheering songs from the staff. It was awesome. The night ended at a night club with music and dancing once we hit all five bars. We ended up staying at the club for maybe a half hour until we decided it was time to call it a night. By the way, Raleigh really did get all 20 kisses! I wish I could go back and relive that night again… it was insanely fun!

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Eliza, Raleigh and I had a little creepy encounter after leaving the pub crawl that night when we went to get some food before going back to our hostel. We were sitting in a SuperMac’s (pretty much a knockoff McDonald’s) and were eating some food when an older homeless guy came in and stopped at our table grunting and pointing at our food (he didn’t really speak words, it was weird). Raleigh tried to wave him off but he kept standing there with a scowl on his face and then reached for some of our food! Raleigh and I deflected his hands, saying “no” repeatedly and asking for him to go away. Finally I stood up and got the attention of the cashier guy working, who finally kicked the old (probably drunk) homeless guy outside. It was definitely a moment I will remember from Dublin.

Day 9 (11/9)

The next day, we definitely needed to sleep in a little from a crazy night out. We woke up around 10:30 and decided to go to a pub for lunch to get Irish beef and Guinness stew, something Eliza and Raleigh were really craving since we saw it being served the day before. I also ordered the traditional Irish dish, and it was really good!

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After lunch we walked around some more, saw the Molly Malone statue (one of the most famous in Dublin), and went back to the hostel. Raleigh had to register for next semester at UNCW that day, so she got wifi in the hostel and signed up for classes. Eliza had a flight out later that afternoon so she ended up leaving just a little after that. The rest of the afternoon Raleigh and I walked around and revisited Trinity College and St. Stephen’s park. Trinity College is just an absolutely beautiful little campus in the middle of Dublin. It is very prestigious, modeled after Cambridge and Oxford in England, and is the oldest university in Ireland. There was something about being on campus that just seemed really proper and high class (I guess kind of like Harvard, Princeton or Yale in comparison). I loved people-watching on campus. We even saw a graduation going on in the main square of campus.

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That evening Raleigh and I went to see a movie, For A Good Time Call, which ended up not being the best but we definitely needed a relaxing night. We then had dinner at a really good burger place that served massive sized burgers and sandwiches. We went back to the hostel after dinner to have a chill night before waking up really early the next morning for another tour…

Day 10 (11/10)

We had to wake up at 6:00 AM the next morning to be at the start of a bus tour through other parts of Ireland. The main attraction of the tour was the Cliffs of Moher, but we also stopped and visited some other cool sites in the Irish countryside. Although a large portion of our day consisted of sitting on a bus, the views from the window were incredible, and the bus driver was really entertaining to listen to. They played some Irish music as we journeyed into the countryside, which was funny too. Our first stop was at Dunguaire Castle, which overlooked a beautiful bay area. We also travelled to a Burren geosite, Poulbrone portal tomb, with some old limestone. We stopped for lunch at another Irish pub where I got a caesar salad and an Irish coffee (which is another Ireland staple beverage). Irish coffee is basically hot coffee, but with Irish whiskey, sugar, and topped with thick cream! It was strong, but still pretty good.

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We made our way up to the Cliffs of Moher (the main attraction of the tour) after lunch and a two more hours of driving. The Irish countryside really was breathtaking as we got higher up the mountains. It was so green and bright, and the animals on the fields were cool to look at (we saw alpacas, cows, and tons of sheep… so cute)!

The Cliffs of Moher were absolutely incredible. They are located on the middle of the west coast of the country and are presently Ireland’s most visited tourist attraction. A few popular movies were also filmed at the cliffs: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Runaway Bride, and Leap Year all had scenes there! It was amazing to stand right on the edge of the cliffs and look down into the ocean. It was insanely windy up there and I really felt like I almost got blown away! At one point Raleigh and I had to hide behind the big castle at the top (O’Brien’s Tower) to shield our bodies from the wind. However, we did get some beautiful pictures and it was worth enduring the freezing cold wind for a little to see it all!

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We had a nice long bus ride back to Dublin, arriving at around 9:00 PM in the city center. Needless to say, Raleigh and I were exhausted when we got back to the hostel, so we went to sleep at a decent hour once again. We had to wake up super early once again to catch a flight back to London the next morning so a little sleep was much needed!

So that’s what I did during my 3(ish) days in Dublin!

Things I LOVED about Dublin:

The accent, nightlife (and cider), the busy city, Trinity College, variety of food options, & Irish pubs, and the pub crawl, of course.

Other things I noted about Dublin:

–          The stereotypical drunk Irish people really do exist… everywhere. I really felt like there were plenty of crazy drunk people walking around at all times of day/night in the city. We encountered a girl in her 20s in McDonald’s who sat near us and actually asked us to take a moment and do a cheers with our French fries. Hilarious.

–          While the city isn’t the most beautiful one I’ve visited, there were some really pretty monuments and buildings scattered around, such as City Hall, Dublin Castle, and a few pretty cathedrals

–          The night life was the best of all the cities I’ve visited… especially the Temple Bar area with tons of pubs all in a few blocks!

–          Overall, I’d say the Irish can be sometimes “blissfully oblivious” (a term Raleigh and I came up with after listening to some funny stories from our tour guide) because of the foolish way they go about things.

–          Guinness was the most popular drink (probably because the Guinness Factory is stationed in Dublin, which we didn’t get to) and people LOVE it. I tried it too, it wasn’t that bad actually!

–          Ireland has the best souvenir shops to buy gifts for people. They really play up the luck of the Irish things, with leprechauns, sheep, and beer items. I loved it! I also found my mom’s family crest on some things… Higgins is an Irish last name! I loved being part Irish in this city.

–          There really were more gingers in this city than anywhere else I’ve been! Haha.

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Reading Week Part 2: When in Rome…

Continuing my trip from when we flew out of the Barcelona airport at 5 AM…

Day 1 (11/4)

I think I may have slept for an hour on the plane, and we when touched down in Rome exhaustion was setting in for all three of us. We took a bus to the center of Rome, which dropped us off a few minutes away from our hostel apparently. But we ended up walking up and down the same two streets in the spitting rain for about an hour, asking guys who only spoke Italian where the Legends Hostel was. After receiving wrong directions about three times, we FINALLY finished our scavenger hunt to the hidden door of this mysterious hostel. It turned out not to be that bad inside, but the time it took to find the place was super frustrating. We dropped off our bags and worked up some energy at breakfast to explore some of the city.

 

 

Using a big map as our guide that we received from the hostel, we basically headed towards the areas with the prettiest looking buildings drawn out. We ended up wandering around a lot of the city so we covered some cool places that we didn’t even expect to walk to on the map. We planned a walking route to get to Trevi Fountain, walking past Plaza de Rebublica, the President’s House (which has something going on inside because there were people crowding around the front, we just couldn’t really understand what was happening). We made it to Trevi Fountain right in the middle of the day and it was definitely one of my favorite touristy places I’ve been to in Europe so far. The fountain really had a magical quality to it. The backdrop to the fountain had gorgeous architecture with statues of the gods creating a magnificent scene. The area was so packed with people, but we made our way down to the water at the fountain and threw in our coins over our shoulders after making a wish (I hope mine comes true)! Legend has it that if you throw in a coin at the Trevi Fountain you are guaranteed to return to Rome one day.

 

 

 

After we took our pictures at Trevi Fountain, we continued our walk around the city with the map as our guide. We wandered towards some ruins in the middle of the city (not the Roman Forum, but just some other land that they randomly blocked off by random roads and buildings. It’s crazy to me all the history that this city has. Every corner you turn there is another beautiful building towering over the street that leaves you wondering its significance and what it used to be. We went to a beautiful museum called the museum of Italian Reunification, paired with a monument called Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II (National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II, who was the first king of a unified Italy). The entire structure of the place was incredible!

 

 

We stopped for a late lunch at a really fun area called Campo de Fiori, which is an outdoor marketplace and square with some really good Italian restaurants. I got authentic Italian gnoocci with a cream sauce for lunch and it was delicious… and I was completely stuffed. Our feet were getting so tired from all the walking around that day, along with exhaustion setting in from barely a few hours of sleep, so we made it an early night and went back to the hostel to get some rest for a busy day two…

 

Day 2 (11/5)

We bought a metro pass for the day to travel around Rome a bit quicker (yet the train system in the city only has two lines… SO small compared to London). We woke up early and made it to the Vatican area to explore the famous site. A woman approached us about taking a Vatican tour which enabled us to skip the lines and also get some interesting information which we wouldn’t get on our own, so we signed up and toured with a group. The Vatican area was very unique and was nothing like I’ve seen before at a museum. We walked through a bunch of rooms with lots of crazy colorful paintings and sculptures, and other works of art. It was awesome to see the Sistine Chapel but they unfortunately wouldn’t let us take pictures of it… thanks Michelangelo (probably not your fault, but whatever)!

 

 

 

Our tour ended at St. Peter’s Basilica which was my favorite part of the Vatican tour. It was the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen and the inside was just enormous. The paintings, sculptures, and entire atmosphere of the place were incredible. It’s where the pope hangs out so I can see why it’s so nice! Overall, the Vatican in general was pretty cool to see, definitely a must-visit while in Rome, but I don’t see myself spending that money to go again anytime soon.

 

 

 

 

 

After this extensive tour, we stopped for lunch and I got some good ravioli. We then headed to St. Angelo’s castle which looked really cool on our map. It didn’t lie, this place was massive and one of my favorite castles I’ve seen so far in Europe!

 

 

 

 

My friend Calvin who studied in Rome last year told us that we needed to visit Piazza de Popolo and we got there right at the perfect time of the sunset, which made for some great pictures of the city. We walked around the area called Villa Borghese (which is like the Italian Central Park) but it was getting really dark so we couldn’t see much of the park.

 

Our last stop of the day was to the Spanish Steps, which were really crowded no matter what time of day you go to see them, and then for some evening gelato (YUM). After getting back to the hostel, Megan decided to stay in and Kelly and I went back our for a three course dinner at a ma and pop little Italian restaurant owned by the sweetest old couple who served us. The meal was delicious! I had salad, spaghetti carbonara, chicken, bread, wine, AND a tiramisu-like dessert! Kelly and I had such a good time just talking and relaxing at dinner… and we left really full and happy.

 

DAY 3 (11/6)

We dedicated this day to see and tour the COLOSSEUM and Roman Forum (the ruins)! A nice guy approached us and convinced us to spend a little extra money for another tour which enabled us to once again skip the lines and have a knowledgeable tour guide. I absolutely LOVED the tour of the Colosseum. Did you know that the main reason for its destructed outer part is from an earthquake!? I learned so much about how they entertained the people at the Colosseum (Flavian Amphitheater) during the Roman Empire with fights between gladiators and animals. There were tons of visible passageways where they used to transport and keep the fighting animals under the arena before fights. It was so cool! Seeing this iconic site was by far the highlight of Rome.

  

 

 

   

We also toured through the Roman Forum after the Colosseum and learned even more about the Roman Empire and how the ruins were not really destroyed by the earthquake, but by their own people who needed materials to build newer churches, homes, and communities elsewhere in Rome. It was so fascinating to see what the people decided to leave (things that weren’t important enough to take and recreate). It was such a beautiful day and Megan, Kelly and I really enjoyed walking around and exploring some ancient history.

 

 

   

For lunch we stopped at yet another Italian place (shocker) and we split a few things: Cheese tortellini and a four cheese pizza, then we got gelato yet again (duh, so good). During the nighttime we had planned on going out to a popular tourist bar called the Drunken Ship but it was a far walk from the hostel and we ended up just hanging out in our hostel’s kitchen area and talking to some other foreign travelers, mainly two guys from New Zealand and Canada. It was a good night to just hang out and meet some people.

Day 4 (11/7)

This was our last day in Rome, sadly. We woke up early and actually got two, yes two, breakfasts. The traditional Italian breakfast is just a small croissant and cup of cappuccino so we decided that we needed to try that before we leave. However, this breakfast is absolutely not filling enough for us Americans, so we found another nice place that offered bigger American-style breakfasts and the three of us ordered ham and cheese omlettes. They were so good and we were properly full after that. The waiter at that restaurant was really funny but creepily flirty with me… typical Italian behavior I think. After breakfast(s), it was time to part ways with Megan and Kelly because they had an earlier flight to Prague while my flight was later in the afternoon to Dublin. So I had a few hours to wander around Rome myself and visit some places we didn’t hit in the other days. I did enjoy walking around myself… I went back to the Spanish Steps, then Villa Borghese during the day and explored a lot more than we saw in the dark. It really was a beautiful central park-like area with green grass fields, fountains, and playgrounds. After that, I went back to Trevi Fountain and just people watched tourists taking pictures by the site as I devoured my last snack in Rome: a Nutella croissant. It was a perfect last moment to my Rome visit.

 

 

 

 

 

I made it to the airport late afternoon, and finally took off to my last destination: Dublin with Raleigh and Eliza!

Things I LOVED about Rome:

THE FOOD (both the meals and desserts), the historic atmosphere feel, beautiful architecture, sunny days, the Colosseum, listening to people speak Italian.

Other things I noticed about Rome:

-you can basically cross the street with your eyes closed as long as you’re at a crosswalk. Cars will stop for the pedestrians at any time! It was awesome.

-There were the most amount of smokers in a city that I have ever seen. Everywhere we walked on the streets, there were people basically blowing smoke in our faces left and right, it was hard to avoid sometimes. Super frustrating.

-The city itself was pretty clean, which was refreshing to walk around nice streets

-There were soooooo many annoying street vendor guys who tried to get us to buy their crappy tourist items ALL THE TIME. NO, I do not want to buy a cheap scarf, Colosseum figurine, or another magnet. Thanks, go away.

-I’ve never seen so many homeless people in a city. I felt like they were on every street corner, sitting with dogs, with other homeless people, always grumbling at people walking by asking for money in Italian. The worst thing I saw in Rome was a woman lying on the sidewalk in her own urine. That moment really stands out in my head, unfortunately.

-I feel like sirens of ambulances were constantly going of all the time. Ever seen James Bond? Yeah, the sound was like that.

-The majority of the toilets didn’t have seats on them… for women’s too.

-There were tons of vendors on the street selling roasted chestnuts for some reason… I thought that was really random, but Kelly and I split some after the Colosseum becuase we felt like we had to try them. Not bad!

-I can really understand the saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day” now. The buildings everywhere were too elaborate and beautiful to even be built in hundreds of years. It truly was something I’ve never seen before!

Reading Week Part 1: BARCELONA, SPAIN!

Hello blog readers! It’s been a while since my last post… but now I finally have some free time to write all about my reading week trip. This first post is dedicated to my two days/three nights in Barcelona, Spain!

First of all, let me just say that I was so incredibly stressed about trying to fit eleven days’ worth of clothes into a carry on backpack and had a mini break down the night before leaving (thanks for calming me down, mom). Ryannair (a great cheap airline to travel around Europe) unfortunately has extremely strict carry on restrictions when you fly with them, so even a regular rolling suitcase that everyone typically uses in America won’t work with them. I finally decided to just check a larger duffel bag (for an extra fee that turned out to be completely worth it) and a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. There was no way I could fit all those clothes into my backpack. No way!

Night 1: 11/1
So besides my mini freak out on packing everything, the rest of the trip went extremely smooth. I travelled with two girls from UNCW, Megan and Kelly, and we had such a good time. We landed in Barcelona on Nov. 1 at night, found our way to the hostel (Mediterranean Youth Hostel), checked in and grabbed a really late dinner at a restaurant down the street. My first meal in Barcelona was a tostada with ham and cheese. Tostadas are popular in Spain and were on almost every menu! After dinner we went back to the hostel, made a game plan for the next day, and went to bed.

Day 2: 11/2
We woke up early the next morning and wandered around two main streets of Barcelona before joining a free walking tour of the Gothic City section. Our hostel was just two blocks away from Passeig de Gracia, one of the most popular streets for some upscale shopping, eating and seeing pretty buildings. We then ventured to another really awesome street called La Rambla which is lined with pretty trees and lots of kiosks for tourist shopping. That street is always so crowded with people no matter what time of day/night it is… there is so much going on there that the street never dies down. There are tons of bars, shops, and restaurants on La Rambla too so it was definitely one of my favorite places to explore. Off of that street, there is a market called La Boqueria which we quickly walked through since we were trying to get to the starting point of the tour on time. However, we got a chance to really explore La Boqueria market the next day and it was honestly the coolest market I’ve ever seen. It was so insanely colorful and there were hundreds of booths selling all food imaginable… fish, fruit, juices, cheese, chocolate, bread, spices, grains… everything! It was SO crowded inside this marketplace but I loved walking through it to see everything inside the huge tented area. Our tour guide told us that the best stuff and cheapest prices could be found towards the back of the market, so that’s where we went to buy something. Kelly, Megan and I ended up buying some chocolate from one of the booths and spent way too much money on these little pieces of sweets without realizing how expensive it was (kind of disappointing, but you live and you learn). At least we had chocolate!

We made our way to the starting point of the Gothic City (also called the Gothic Quarter) walking tour and spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon learning about some old buildings, cathedrals, and architecture while walking through some long winding passageways in the city. It would have been really confusing to get around that area if I lived there… the streets were dark, narrow, and all looked the same. The tour was interesting and I learned some cool historical facts about the area. The area dates back to the Medieval times as the first Roman settlement of Barcelona. One thing that I found interesting is that the quarter used to be highly populated with Jews, a section called “El Call,” which was attacked and now occupied by the Spanish. It was really cool to see an old Jewish synagogue where I least expected it.

After the tour, we made our way towards the beach and stopped at a restaurant for the most traditional Spanish dish: paella! It’s a really good rice dish in a skillet with meat and/or fish and some spices. A must-eat while you’re in Spain. After devouring our paella, we took a relaxing walk on the beach and I was just so happy to be in the sunshine with the sand between my toes. It wasn’t warm enough to lay out in a bathing suit (though there were a few crazies doing it), but we spent a good half hour sitting in the sun thinking of the Wilmington beach, and missing being so close to the coast.

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On our long walk back to the hostel, we stopped at an ice cream place highly recommended by our tour guide which was called Gelaaati! Megan, Kelly, and I each got our own order of waffles and ice cream and it was honestly the most delicious thing I’ve had since I’ve been in Europe. You seriously can’t go wrong with waffles and ice cream! YUM. I’m still dreaming of that dessert now…

That night we decided to go out for drinks and a late dinner with three boys, Dan, Alex and Blake, who we met at our hostel that afternoon. They are also Americans studying in London for the semester (who go to Pitt in the states) and happened to be in Barcelona that weekend too. We used our T-10 metro pass to get to the beach where the club scene was, walked down the Barceloneta Beach boardwalk and made it into a club called Shoko, where we spent a total of maybe ten minutes inside (it really wasn’t that great). The end of the night consisted of grabbing some beer and sitting out on the rocks on the beach, talking and watching the waves crash on the shore. We had so much fun talking and getting to know the guys from Pitt!

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Day 3: 11/3
Megan, Kelly and I woke up early with the intention of getting a good spot in line to tour Sagrada Familia, the absolute biggest tourist attraction in Barcelona. Sagrada familia is a huge church designed by Antoni Gaudí who is famous for his brilliant architecture. Apparently the inside of this place is completely incredible, but we didn’t get a chance to go inside. The line was so freaking long (literally about five hours at least) and we didn’t want to waste almost an entire day waiting in line, so we grabbed breakfast and came up with another game plan.

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The Pitt boys told us that Park Guell was another really awesome spot to check out, so we took the metro there and made our way up a large hill (with outdoor escalators, thank goodness!) until we finally made it to the top of this amazing sight. Park Guell consists of two parts, the first with an incredible view of the entire city of Barcelona. We made it all the way to the top and got some awesome pictures… we could see out to the ocean, over to the mountains, and everything in between, including the city’s largest buildings. The view was something I could admire all day. The second part of Park Guell is an area with tons of Gaudi’s work… beautiful mosaics and buildings that look like gingerbread houses. This area was probably my favorite part of Barcelona. It was interesting to people of all ages, kids loved the atmosphere and adults were fascinated by the Gaudi’s creativity.

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One funny story from Park Guell is when we saw all the street vendor guys run away from the area. There were TONS of men all around selling tourist merchandise (magnets, key chains, figurines) laid out on large white cloths. All of a sudden, I heard a whistle and the entire group of vendor guys quickly grabbed their sheet stuffed with their products and bolted out of the area. It was so crazy to me… one whistle and everyone was gone. It didn’t take me long to figure out that what they were doing was illegal… two police officers came strolling through about a minute later to check out the scene. One guy had dropped his sheet of stuff in a hurry and half of his merchandise was left broken on the ground, which the police had to tend to. So crazy! When the police left after ten minutes, all of them were back in their designated places, re-setting up their stuff. It was definitely amusing to watch.

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After Park Guell, we took the metro to another stop (Espanya) and wandered our way to the coolest mall I’ve ever seen, called Arenas, which looked like a mini Colosseum and used to be a bullring! We ventured inside of the massive mall and it literally had everything you could imagine in one shopping center (grocery shopping, restaurants, department stores, a movie theater… EVERYTHING)! We ended up eating lunch at the very top level of the building at a cool diner-like restaurant. The view from up there was awesome too!
After lunch we made our way over to a beautiful looking building that we saw from the rooftop of the mall, which happened to be a really cool museum called MNAC (Museo Nacional d’Art de Catalunya). Lots of the exhibits inside were captioned in Catalan so I didn’t understand most of it, but it was really nice to walk and look around the place. The outside of the building was absolutely gorgeous though.

Our daytime exploration ended with watching the sunset at the NMAC building and outdoor garden area right near it (with a big, authentic amphitheater). The MNAC building overlooked a lot of the Barcelona city as well, and honestly that view at sunset topped off an amazing adventure-filled day. We went back to the hostel to shower and chill before our last night out in the city.

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Our last night in Barcelona was spent with the Pitt boys again, where we decided to go out for a late dinner at this restaurant/bar/club place called 7 Sins that Kelly found online. I got a burger and it was probably the best one I’ve had overseas so far. Us girls ordered a pitcher of sangria (which we should have been drinking long before our last night… it was SO good!) and we all just had a great time laughing, chatting, and eating some good food. Because we had a 5 AM flight the next morning, Megan Kelly and I decided not to go to sleep, and left out hostel around 2 AM to make our way to the airport en route to ROME! Check out my next post for adventures in Italy!

Things I loved about Barcelona:
THE BEACH, the warm beautiful weather, the upbeat atmosphere, La Rambla market, Park Guell, Gaudi architecture, sangria, pretty sunsets, amazing views of the city. I’d love the chance to get back there someday!

My Wee Trip To Scotland

This past weekend I took a short trip to Edinburgh, Scotland with my friends Raleigh and Kelly. We woke up at 3:30 AM to catch a bus from Roehampton to Baker Street in Central London, and then the easyBus from there to Stanstead London airport. It was quite an early morning, and we made it to the airport in time to see the sunrise. Since it was only a short weekend trip, we didn’t have to bring much at all and I squeezed all my stuff into only a backpack. Plus, easyJet and Ryannair flights only allow really small pieces of luggage to carry on, or else you have to pay like 40 pounds extra. I’m already nervous about having to pack for my 11 day reading week trip and squeezing everything into a tiny duffel bag! Anyway, our flight was a quick and simple hour in the air, and before we knew it the three of us were on the ground in Scotland. We took a short bus ride from the airport into the main part of the city, hopped off, and found an adorable café to eat breakfast because we were starving by then. Kelly ordered the traditional Scottish breakfast, which is almost exactly like an English breakfast, but with the addition of Haggis (I will explain that a little later on). I got a delicious ham and cheese sandwich with a fried on top! With full stomachs and droopy eyes, we found our hostel after a short five minute walk… keep in mind we did ALL of that travelling and managed to get to our hostel on Friday morning at 11:00 AM. Impressive stuff. Because our room wasn’t available at check in, our hope to lie down for an hour was quickly crushed, and we ventured back out into the city.

 

The hostel we stayed at was called Castle Rock Hostel and it was such a cool place. For some reason it seemed kind of hippie-ish to me, with weird paintings on the walls and all sorts of various strange decorations.  There was a range of all different kinds of people staying there, but we finally got put in a room later that day with ten beds, which were occupied with at least four other Americans which was really awesome. The hostel had a big “backpacker” kind of vibe and was just really chill, colorful, and fun. The hostel was also in a perfect location. It was literally RIGHT next to the breathtaking castle and also only a minute’s walk away from two main roads of restaurants and shops. Edinburgh itself isn’t the biggest city ever, although it is the capital of Scotland, but it was the perfect size to explore for just a weekend. I also liked that it wasn’t too big so we had the opportunity to walk everywhere we wanted.

    

So we continued to explore Edinburgh ourselves that morning, walking up to the castle (which is actually above a volcano) and taking pictures with the amazing view at the top. The road leading up to the castle is called “Royal Mile,” which we also walked down and stopped in many little shops with souvenirs and Scottish things. Almost all the shops sold different variations of the same things: postcards, Union Jack printed items, cashmere scarves & gloves, hats, earmuffs, knitted sweaters… that kind of stuff. They also really played up the Scottish phrase “wee,” meaning little/small, and so many stores had the sign “a wee gift from Scotland.” Scotland is also known for its whisky (spelled with no “e”), and the Royal Mile even had its own Scotch & Whisky Experience attraction. There were so many places selling items with the tartan print (or plaid-like design we know). We had a good time browsing through all the stores, especially since going inside gave us a little warmth. The two days we had in Scotland were beautiful and sunny, but REALLY COLD at the same time, especially with the wind blowing. Raleigh and I decided to buy matching hats because we didn’t want our ears to freeze off!

      

   

After walking around a bit, Raleigh, Kelly and I found the meeting point down Royal Mile where they offer a free three hour walking tour of the city. We signed up quickly, got some hot chocolate from Starbucks to warm us up, and joined a group to see some more of the city. Our tour guide’s name was Julia and she was originally from Australia, but has been living in Scotland for about six years. She took us to different places all really close to each other in the central part of Edinburgh, and pointed out places with historic value. She also told some really entertaining stories about brutal consequences for law-breaking back in the old days. We had a 15 minute break in the middle of it, and she suggested to go buy the soft drink “Irn Bru.” It isan orange drinkk that I bought from a convenience store, and is Scotland’s number one soft drink… apparently selling more than Coke and Pepsi combined! I tried it with some pretty high expectations, but honestly it just tasted like cotton candy medicine and I ended up throwing it out after a few sips. I’m still glad I tried it though! My favorite part of the tour was when Julia took us to Greyfriars Kirkyard (a cemetery) and gave us some history about it. She told us a story about a dog named Bobby, who was owned by the graveyard’s night watchman (John Gray). They were inseperable for two years until the owner died, and left the dog all alone. For 14 more years, Bobby returned to sit on his owner’s grave each day until the end of his life, and is now referred to as “the most loyal dog in the world.” His grave is right outside the graveyard and has a statue in front of a restaurant in his name. Greyfriar Bobby’s statue is the number one most photographed statue in Scotland! You can now add me to the list of the tons of people who have taken a picture with the adorable dog statue. It was such a heartbreaking story!

The tour ended at one of the center areas of the city called Princess Street Gardens, where we took a few more pictures, and continued walking on the other side of the city called New Town (our tour mainly consisted of walking around Old Town). The main street in New Town is called Princess Street and was a lot more modernized compared to the streets by the castle in Old Town. There were tons of brand name stores, and we couldn’t help ourselves from taking a look in the massive Primark there (my favorite UK store, with cute and inexpensive clothes)! I ended up buying two scarves because it was getting even COLDER, and they were really cute.

We got dinner at a little pub in New Town called The Black Rose which was really good. Kelly ordered Scotland’s traditional dish: Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties. Yes, the name makes it sound so weird! We learned that haggis is actually chopped up sheep organs mixed together with suet (other animal fat), oatmeal, and seasoning. Honestly, it looked as gross as it sounds actually. However, when in Scotland…… I actually tried it. It didn’t taste horrible, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the spices and stuff. Neeps and tatties are just weird ways of saying turnips and mashed potatoes! After dinner, we made our way back to the hostel right around sundown. It snowed a little bit on our walk, and we got some really pretty pictures of the city with the sun setting.

After a long, cold, exhausting first day of exploring, Raleigh, Kelly and I decided to hang out in the hostel’s main common area (a large room with a huge long table, couches, and a pool table) where a pumpkin carving contest was going on that night. We hung out for a little, and then went into the movie room which plays a movie each night at 9:00, and watched American Psycho. Once the movie was over, I literally passed out in my bed and called it a night.

The next morning, we got up bright and early (8:30 AM!) in hopes of taking a bus tour around other parts of Scotland for the day. However, I made a call to the tour company and we quickly learned that there were no more openings for that day. Somewhat disappointed, we decided to find a place to eat breakfast and figure out an alternative plan for the day. We found a restaurant that served American style pancakes, so obviously I ordered them. That breakfast definitely made the start to the day a lot better! We walked around a bit more, took a short look into the National Portrait Museum, and then spontaneously went to the train station and bought a round trip ticket to the city of Stirling! The train ride to Stirling was only 40 minutes, and we got off ready to explore some more. Like Edinburgh, the city of Stirling was also somewhat small. Our first stop was the Stirling Castle (you really can’t get enough of them in Scotland)! While this castle wasn’t quite as big, it definitely had a better view from the top. You could look out and see the city and surrounding towns for miles! That view was definitely one of the highlights of the trip!

We walked around Stirling for the rest of the afternoon, taking pictures by a pretty cemetery, old buildings, and men in kilts. We also found the main street area with shops and a mini market place, where I sampled some delicious fudge. After a few hours, we were ready to get back to Edinburgh for the evening.

That night I convinced Raleigh and Kelly to do a pub crawl with me… we heard of a cheap one for only 12 pounds and it seemed like a lot of fun. So quickly grabbed dinner at Subway (I know, so American of us), and found the meeting point for the pub crawl. After being in line for five minutes, we found out that that particular night was a Halloween themed pub crawl and cost 24 pounds (that’s almost $40)! Being the broke college kids that we are, we had to back out of the pub crawl that night, and decided to get a nice dessert at a café since we had rushed dinner.

We ended up eating in The Elephant House, which was one of the places that Julia pointed out on our walking tour. The Elephant House is actually where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter! The restaurant/café actually looks over that cemetery I mentioned earlier, and JK Rowling would sit and look out at the beautiful view from the window. She even got some of the character’s names from gravestones (like Tom Riddell)! It was really cool to see the inside of the place and they definitely made sure people knew its significance… it had a big sign outside saying “The Birthplace of Harry Potter.” The three of us each ordered chocolate cake and hot chocolate/tea and had a lovely time sitting in the warmth of the cozy café. After dessert, we went back to the hostel to join in on movie night again, which happened to be Jackass 2, and finally went to sleep after another long day of adventure.

So that’s my trip to Scotland for you. I know it was super long, but like I said in other posts, I want to remember as much as I can about my experience studying abroad! I have decided that I think I like listening to the Scottish accent even more than the English accent, which is actually a pretty big deal considering how much I love the English one (or accents in general). I’d love to travel back to Scotland someday to see more of the beautiful countryside and other popular places like Loch Ness (where the Loch Ness Monster, AKA Nessi, is supposed to have lived)! And if I ever get back there, I’ll make sure it’s during the summer time so I don’t almost freeze to death like this time!

I’m now preparing for my reading week trip to Barcelona, Rome, and Dublin. Can’t wait for some more adventures!