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Hungary was not a place I ever saw myself going to; I never thought anything of it and didn’t know much about it. However, when I got to Rome my friends and people I met in some of my classes were all talking about going to Budapest. So I did some research and asked around and came to find that it was actually a cool place and kind of underrated. I then turned to my new favorite hobby, looking up flights on Kayak, and found that flights there were a little out of my price range; still my friends and I would check in every once in a while to see if anything had changed.
Then, one fateful Friday morning while I was sleeping at my friends’ apartment in Barcelona, Rachel called me and asked me to make a game time decision: roundtrip flights to Budapest, $152 dollars, leaves Thursday night, March 27 and comes home Sunday morning, March 30. Being a little tired and still feeling the effects of my late night, I spontaneously said yes. We booked it immediately and I was heading back to bed when I received yet another phone call from Rachel asking if I wanted to stay in a Retox, a party hostel in Budapest. We read articles and reviews and although it sounded a little crazy, we figured, you only Budapest once so why not?
When March 27 came around I couldn’t believe that our spur-of-the-moment trip was actually here. After stuffing my book bag full of a weekend’s worth of clothing (I am now a pro packer) we headed to the airport. Coincidentally, this weekend was a very popular weekend for Budapest and we ran into several people from my study abroad program on the plane and in the city. After the chaos that is WizzAir we finally boarded the flight and headed to Budapest! We knew that from the way we booked this trip, we would definitely be coming home with quite a few interesting stories.
We arrived later than expected and headed to the parking lot to meet the transfer bus to take us to Wombats, the hostel (or should I say palace compared to other places we have stayed) where we stayed the first night. Deliriously tired, we saw our bus come speeding around the corner blasting house music and we immediately turned to one another slightly confused and a little nervous. We got in the bus and while we were waiting for two other people from our flight to get there we bonded with our driver, with whom we became instant friends.
He showed us pictures of his motorcycles and cars and his outfits that he races them in. We learned that he speaks about seven languages, has a sister that drives a BMW (or a BMV as he called it) and hates his job. He laughed at us as we tried to pronounce funny Hungarian words and taught us some of the basics we needed. Never judge a book by its cover because you never know who you could become instant friends with, even for a short period of time. He dropped us off at our hostel and we immediately went to bed.
We woke up early for yet another walking tour of another new city. First we went to the ATM and felt extremely rich as we took out 20,000 Forints- about 100 USD. We then did our ritualistic grocery store stop for some breakfast and realized that Budapest is extremely inexpensive compared to every other place we had visited; we got a big breakfast for about $1.50 USD. Heading over to our walking tour we ran into some fellow study abroad students from our program and we embarked on our three hour tour of a city I knew nothing about.
After our very informative tour we followed our guide to get some traditional Hungarian food and I quickly found out that it was going to be very hard being a vegetarian in a place that has an extremely heavy meat-based diet. As our guide was explaining the menu to us Rachel and I noticed a rather large, rather sweaty Hungarian man sticking his fingers in the food, eating it and then sticking his fingers back into the food. We told our friends and we all quickly decided to go else where.
We found the Hungarian version of Chipotle and decided we were in desperate need of a Mexican food fix and had burrito bowls. I then of course sniffed out, with my extremely accurate talent to find anything sweet, a bakery where I got my mandatory chocolate chip cookie and an unbelievable vanilla macaroon.
Satisfied with our lunch and dessert, we headed over to Retox, the party hostel, to check in. Walking over Rachel and I were a little nervous about what to expect because it seemed like a pretty crazy place from all of the reviews full of tales of drinking, partying, hooking up and no sleeping. So we walked up to the front of the building and braced ourselves as we entered. Upon first entering we saw a bar downstairs and I quickly noticed all of the interesting murals on the walls, however, I immediately felt welcomed by both the staff and the other guests we quickly met in the common room. They were all very friendly and the staff was very helpful with things to see and do. We also got a disclaimer that Retox is a party hostel in every sense of the word so we should be prepared for just about anything. A staff member gave us our electronic bracelets used to get into the hostel and into our room and told us they were “waterproof, drunk proof and sex proof” so we wouldn’t lose them. We were then led to our room, nicknamed the hunting lodge (perfect for a vegetarian, right?), which had walls covered with interesting drawings of all different animals.
We wanted to continue to explore so we made our way over to Hero’s Square. While we were making the long trek back to our Hostel from the square we saw several beer bike tours happening with loud music and a lot of people that looked like they were having a blast. Someone from the beer bike tour waved at me and as I waved back he hopped off of the bike while it was still in motion and handed me a beer. We then recognized each other and realized we were both guests at Retox and I quickly realized how much I would come to love Retox and its guests. As we sipped on our beer, we searched for a restaurant with mojitos and hummus- two things we had been craving all day. We enjoyed our dinner at a table for two outside and then headed back to Retox. We arrived just in time to leave on a pub crawl with everyone in our hostel. We also ran into two Canadian tourists that we had previously met on our walking tour and they joined us on our adventure.
We met even more people staying at Retox and instantly became somewhat like a dysfunctional family, full of different characters and a lot of love. There was a person from every walk of life and it was so fun meeting new people from all over the world. A lot of the guys from our hostel were convinced that Rachel and I would not make it to the last bar because things like this get a little crazy sometimes and after all we’re just little sorority girls. However, they underestimated us and we made it to the end. It wasn’t until the way home that we found out why it’s called a Pub Crawl. Along the way to each pub we continued to meet new people and decided that this was one of the most fun nights we have had since being abroad and that our decision to stay at Retox was the best one yet.
We slept in Saturday and finally struggled to get up as we were hurting just a little bit from the night before. Unfortunately, we had to check out of Retox because we had a seven a.m. bus to catch the next day and our other hostel was closer to the bus stop. However, that was not the last time we would see our Retox family. Once we got back to Wombats we took a much needed nap and then went to explore the markets of Budapest. It was especially sunny that day, which was very much welcomed coming from the rainy weather of Rome, so we threw on our tank tops and maxi skirts and walked towards the water. I enjoyed an amazing seafood falafel, some sour candy and finally a much-desired Pina colada overlooking the water as the sun went down at an outdoor restaurant. Although we didn’t want to move from our temporary paradise, we needed to walk home to take another nap in order to prepare for an amazing night at a Sparty.
After our nap we slipped into our bikinis for a Sparty. Budapest is known for their large heated public baths, something influenced by the Turkish, and on certain Saturday nights these baths become a giant party with dozens of people, drinks and music. Wasn’t it fate that one of these Saturday nights was when we were there? We were going to go with all of our friends from Retox, but were a tad late so we made our way over to the Lukacs baths to meet them.
The events that occurred over the next seven hours were absurd and the most fun I have ever experienced. Being reunited with our Retox friends made the sparty that much more amazing, reassuring us yet again that Retox was the right decision.
In what seemed like the blink of an eye, it was all over and we sadly said our goodbyes to our new best friends and were sad to leave them and this amazing city. We got back to our hostel around 4:30-5 a.m., slept for about an hour and then attempted to find the bus stop where we were being picked up for the airport. I say attempted because we got lost several times and wound up missing it. Struggling extremely hard, we freaked out and went into a hotel where they thankfully called us a van service to take us to the airport.
After more struggles through security we just about crawled up to a counter at KFC and ordered a big bucket of french fries as the man working there laughed at us. I thoroughly enjoyed the said huge bucket of french fries and then proceeded to fall asleep on a couch in the terminal.
There was more chaos with WizzAir and I could not wait to get on the plane, take a quick cat nap and get home to my bed for some much-needed sleep. Multiple forms of transportation later I finally plopped down on my bed and slept for the next six hours. My fatigue and long-lasting headache were completely worth it.
This weekend was by far the best one I have had in Europe. Not only were the bars and the city amazing, but the people were what made this trip what it was. The best thing about traveling is meeting new people and learning about their lives. There are so many interesting people out there with their own stories and tales to tell and when you take a minute to realize that and open your heart to them, they can change you and your perspective and opinions. This weekend taught me not to judge a book by its cover, a hostel by its murals or a person by their tattoos. It is the people we meet, even if it is for such a short amount of time, that make things fun, interesting and even a little crazy. The worst thing about traveling is having to say goodbye, especially after only being able to know these people for such short periods of time. They come in and out of your life and impact you in different ways. You are the best of friends for a weekend and then, most likely, you will never see them again. My mind wanders sometimes as I think of what all of the people I have met are doing at this exact moment. Traveling opens your eyes and your heart to the best things in this world, and the best things in this world are the people that make it go round.
I hope to make it back to Budapest one day and stay in my favorite hostel again and meet a new batch of people. I never thought a city or a little hostel could make such an impression on me, but Budapest and Retox have left footprints on my heart- thank you.
“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” -Anais Nin
After a busy couple of days in Paris, we were off to London to see some friends and do some more exploring. The flight seemed to go by in the blink of an eye and when we arrived we were ecstatic to be in a place where we could finally understand everyone and everything. We thought the trip was off to a good start. However… when I went to baggage claim to pick up my bag I noticed that there was only one lone red bag circling the belt, but it wasn’t my red bag. I immediately started to freak out and ran to the customer service desk. Thank goodness I was greeted by the nicest older English woman. She immediately went about fixing my problem and personally called Jonathan, the bag thief, and told him I was flying home to JFK in a little and desperately needed my bag and that he could not leave the airport yet. She apologized to me for lying but said it was necessary so he didn’t leave the airport and go into the city before he returned my bag to me. I told her it was of course okay and thanked her many times over. It is people like this that make a bad situation into something to laugh at. Instead of this ruining my vacation it made it better because I was lucky enough to meet, even if only for a brief period of time, someone so sweet and genuine.
So then it was time to wait for Jonathan, for what seemed like forever. We searched the area around the decided meeting point and found nothing. Once again, I was lucky enough to meet the funniest English man who worked at the airport. He kept asking where Jonathan was and if I wanted him to beat Jonathan up for me. I quickly learned that people in London are some of the friendliest around. We then started harassing strangers with red bags and finally Jonathan arrived. Unfortunately he wasn’t the extremely attractive future husband my friends and I conjured up in our minds that I was going to meet in a romantic, it-must-have-been fate scenario but he came with my bag so it wasn’t terrible after all. He apologized and said he was picking up a friend’s bag and didn’t look at the tag when he took it. A short while later while we were driving to our friends’ apartment, we saw Jonathan fighting with his rental car on the side of the road and it was clear that today was just not his day.
When we finally arrived at Dani and Megan’s apartment, my friend and roommate from freshman year, we dropped our stuff off and immediately went to Sainsbury’s, a place we would soon become obsessed with. This is the general grocery store in London and seeing as how London is one of the most expensive cities in the world we were trying to eat on a budget, AKA eat grocery store sandwiches, which were actually the most amazing things I have ever tasted. For the next four mornings I woke up looking forward to my cheese and red onion sandwich, salt and vinegar chips and chocolate milk or a Naked Juice. I love Naked Juices and drink them all the time at home so it was a welcoming sight to see them in the store. After consuming a lot of things we can’t find in Rome it was off to Oxford Circus, an area in London with tons of shops, to find something green for our St. Patty’s day celebrations later. After striking out in every store, I finally gave up and decided to wear a black shirt because I was too tired to keep searching. It seemed as if London completely banned everything Green in an effort to stop the drunken celebrations that accompany this holiday. I was not too tired however, to have one of London’s famous and actually to-die-for Ben’s cookies. Because of the intense sweet tooth I have (thanks Dad) I can never resist anything sugary and especially love my chocolate chip cookies. I was overwhelmed by the choices but finally settled on a triple chocolate cookie- a chocolate cookie with chocolate chips and chunks of soft white chocolate in the middle. I am actually drooling just typing that.
We went home got ready and met up with a lot of people from the University of Maryland and it was especially nice seeing Dani and Megan again. We celebrated St. Patty’s day like any other Americans: we drank, went to an Irish pub and did some version of an Irish Jig all night. It was a blast. Then it was off to bed to prepare for another jam packed day of sightseeing.
First thing on our to-do list was of course platform 9 3/4. We all chose our houses and took silly pictures then went to do some souvenir shopping in the Harry Potter store.
We then made our way over to the area where we were meeting our Sandeman’s tour guide for another one of Sandeman’s free walking tours. On our way we stopped for traditional fish and chips, which I surprisingly really liked.
After that it was three hours of walking and history and sights. I learned a lot of the history of London and England as whole and of course saw some amazing things. We took lots of pictures with the guards in funny hats in front of St. James’ Palace and took the iconic pictures of us in phone booths with Big Ben in the background. Fun fact: Big Ben isn’t actually the name of the entire building, it is just the name of the bell.
After the tour we followed our guide to a traditional English pub where we had an authentic English beer. Being in a place that has more than pasta and pizza, we desperately wanted Indian food. So we wandered around until we found a street filled with international cuisine and enjoyed some delicious Thai food; we were sure to steer very clear of anything resembling Italian food all Spring break. Later we went out to a club where I ran into a friend from high school while waiting in line. Just another example of how small the world is. It was in this club that my assumption from the night before was correct.
Let me explain- At O’Neil’s, the place we went to for St. Patty’s day the night before, there was the most beautiful security guard I had ever seen. Then at Whiskey Mist, the club we went to the second night, there was the most beautiful security guard I had ever seen, leading me to the conclusion that they only hire extremely attractive security guards in London. After I came to my very insightful and wise conclusion we partied the night away and I had so much fun just dancing with my friends.
Wednesday brought more sightseeing, this time with my friend Laura from high school who had just visited me in Rome the weekend before. It was funny seeing her in all of these foreign places because we don’t even see each other this much during the semester when we are in the same country. First stop was Abbey Road, made famous by the Beatles and used by hundreds of angry people trying to drive in London. All this road has is a stop sign in an effort to stop cars from running over the dozens of tourists that visit it on a daily basis. Needless to say we almost died about 100 times but it was worth it to get that perfect picture.
We then went to the underwhelming London Bridge. I am confused as to why this bridge is so famous but it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. It was just a plain old bridge where tourists felt the need to take pictures because of its famous name. After the bridge it was time for the best part of any new city- exploring the local markets. First was Borough market where we had some amazing paella, fresh fruit juices and of course I had a giant chocolate chip cookie. Second stop was the Camden Lock market, which has food, clothes and other items. We walked around and went into every store with a t-shirt in it so Rachel could find one of Abbey Road. After many hours and failed attempts we finally called it quits and headed over to Harrods where we looked at stuff we couldn’t afford, got very very lost and indulged in “high tea.”
Rachel and I split an amazing rose tea (rose is apparently a flavor I fell in love with during Spring break following my rose macaroon in Paris) and we all felt very English-Posh as we sipped on our teas and attempted to discuss things of importance. However, when it comes to four college women sitting around a table the conversation always steers away from serious and towards more entertaining topics, but hey, we tried.
Rachel and I left a little early so we could head over to Buckingham Palace to be super touristy and try and make the guards laugh. We showed up as the sun was setting and were disappointed to find that there were no guards. We figured it was because it was getting late out so we walked around the building and saw them behind it having what looked like a very stern meeting with their superior. We then found a nice police officer, went up to him and said “I have a question.” He replied with an adorable answer- “Only one? But you’re so young.” Truer words have never been spoken but in this instance we really did have only one question- where are the guards in the red jackets and fluffy hats? He informed us that because the guards often get harassed, sometimes they stand within the large gate of the palace, closer to the building and out of the pesky tourists’ reaches. He also told us the guards we saw in front of St. James’ Palace were the same iconic ones everyone comes to see just in different jackets. So we left to go to Picadilly Circus, which my friend Laura described as the Times Square of London.
Indeed it was a less-crowded version of Times Square, which of course made me miss my favorite city, Manhattan. We decided that we had done enough walking for the day and headed home for some dinner. The dinner Kate, Rachel and I had was good but it was a good thing we didn’t come hungry because the portions were miniscule. So we ate quickly and of course went to Sainsbury’s one last time to get our signature breakfasts for the morning before our flight. It was early to bed because the next day was the last leg of our trip. It came all too soon but I was excited to get to Dublin!
“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels.”- Maya Angelou
It all started at 7 am on March 14th. After a week of mid term exams and the lack of sleep that goes with them, Rachel, Jasmine, Kate and I were all ready to embark on our 10-day journey across Europe for our well-deserved spring break.
First stop was Paris- a place I had been to almost six years ago with my step mom and sister. I fell in love with Paris when I was 15 and I was excited to revisit my love as a mature (almost) adult to take everything in again and appreciate it even more.
After a short flight (I will never get over the fact that you can be in such amazing places in a little over an hour) it was off on the adventure to find our hostel, which took several hours, multiple metro lines, this tiny woman carrying her huge suitcase up and down flights of stairs and a very nice man who offered to help said tiny woman with said huge suitcase. At the end of this very long tunnel, was the very very dim light that was our hostel. I’m all for roughing it and was expecting it pretty rough on my college student budget, but this hostel was a bit more than that. Let’s just say thank God I brought my own pillow case and flip flops for the shower. The silver lining to this was the fact that on our way to the hostel, suitcase and all, I stopped for a Parisian crepe. I was the perfect display of the art of multi-tasking- being lost, fighting with a large suitcase and eating a Nutella and banana crepe all at once.
We freshened up a bit then headed out to the thing we were the most excited for. The thing we had been counting down the days to, what we talked about and dreamed about and now finally, couldn’t believe we were within reach of. Chipotle. Yes, you read that right. The thing I miss the most from America. I actually did dream about eating a burrito the night before Paris so you can imagine how excited I was to be standing in line, almost literally crying of happiness. After getting strange looks from the staff I sat down and in record timing consumed a child-sized burrito. It was, hands down, the most amazing burrito I have ever eaten.
After indulging ourselves with a little taste of America we decided to take in the culture that Paris has to offer and of course went to the Lourve. Being the huge art nerd that I am, last time I was in Paris I spent about two days in this museum, which does it no justice. You could spend weeks in this place just taking in all of the masterpieces it holds. Needless to say I was ecstatic to be back and once again, bring out my inner nerd. We strolled around and saw all the big pieces, Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and a personal favorite, Cupid and Psyche.
Being extremely tired from traveling and getting very lost within the walls of the museum, we decided it was time to stroll over to the Eiffel Tower and grab some dinner. We took about a million pictures of the Eiffel Tower as it lit up the Paris sky with its twinkle and majesty and I once again took in the magic that Paris has to offer. I can never quite explain what it is about this city. I’m not French and the only words I know how to say were taught to me by Nicole Kidman in a very risqué movie, but it is something about this place. I like to call it the Manhattan of Europe. It’s magical, breathtaking, sometimes a little too much, but you just can’t help but love every bit of it.
We called it a night after a very over priced dinner, where, of course, I got my chocolate milkshake fix, and finally headed to bed.
Struggling to wake up at an early hour, we headed out for some crepes for breakfast and then it was off to take a three hour walking tour of the city, provided to us for free by Sandeman’s New European Tours. I highly recommend these to anyone traveling to a new city. They are very informative and the guides are so knowledgable and helpful! Our guide took us to all the major sights and some of the lesser known ones as well. I took in all of the scenery and the wealth of unknown facts the guide was telling us and definitely had more appreciation for the city knowing all of its history and stories.
Two of my favorite things on the tour were the Love Lock Bridge and the Cathédrale Notre Dame. I had never heard of the Love Lock Bridge before but learned that couples come here with a lock and put it on the bridge as a symbol of their unbreakable love and then throw the key into the river. It was very romantic as we watched couples carry out this tradition. I also learned that this is the bridge where Carrie Bradshaw chose Big in the final episode of Sex and the City. Being an over the top fan of everything Sex and the City, this was definitely the most exciting part for me.
My second favorite part of the tour was Notre Dame. A masterpiece and amazing work of art, this cathedral embodies everything I love about historical art and architecture. I love the style of the building, the arches and most of all the beautiful stained glass windows. It is definitely a spiritual experience being in such a beautiful place of faith.
Midway through our tour we were given a break and we took the opportunity to hunt down some traditional French macaroons. The bakery we went to had many different choices and I settled on rose and vanilla. Rose seems to be a common macaroon flavor and though it may sound funny at first it definitely became my favorite flavor.
After our three hour tour we headed over to the iconic Champs-Élysées. Of course as college students we could barely afford to even look at most of the stores, which include Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton and Chanel. However, we did pop into my homeland-Sephora- and did a little shopping in H&M. Then we visited the famous Arc de Triomphe and took a lot of photos in the tiny circle in the middle of the street, deemed the most dangerous intersection in Paris. All tourists have is a little circle in the middle of this extremely busy intersection and when you pack about a dozen of us into this area all waiting to take pictures you definitely see your life flash before your eyes. The adrenaline rush was worth it though because we got some amazing pictures.
Then it was off for some dinner and a night out on the town. There were some early St. Patty’s Day celebrations going on so we joined in the fun and danced the night away. The next morning it was off to Versailles. A great thing about this weekend was that all public transportation was completely free because of the smog and pollution problem in Paris. But hey, a couple extra puffs on the inhaler are worth it to travel for free!
It also pays off to be a student in Paris because every museum we went to was free, including the pricey Palace of Versailles. We wandered around the palace and took in the history and obviously took selfies in the hall of mirrors. Seeing as how it was a gorgeous day we took full advantage of the sun and explored the beautiful gardens. We sat in the sunshine and made jewelry out of daisies. After quite some time we decided it was time to make the journey home, grab some dinner and get to bed early so we were well rested for the second leg of our journey: London!
The dinner we had that last night in Paris was unbelievable. I know I say this about a lot of the food I eat in Europe but I officially have a new obsession with goat cheese. Next stop London!
“Paris is always a good idea.”- Audrey Hepburn
This past weekend I visited two of my best friends, Anh and Jen, in Barcelona where they are studying abroad. The good thing about not having classes on Thursdays and having a four day weekend is that I can get the most out of my weekend trips. So my adventure began early Thursday morning with a train ride to the airport and a very quick and painless flight (about 1.5 hours). Once in Spain I attempted to follow the directions my friends had given me in an effort to make it to their apartment where someone may or may not be home because I had gotten in very early and was not expected yet.
I somehow managed to find the bus I was supposed to take and hopped on hoping that I could decipher some of the things being said and get off at the right stop. Once off the bus it was a short walk to their apartment where, luckily the building door was open and Jen was too hungover to go to class and was there to let me in.
While waiting for Anh to come home from class we laid in bed and chatted and caught up and told each other numerous times how shocked we were that we were together in Barcelona and how it felt like we were back at the University of Maryland just hanging out in her apartment. After a lot of laughs Anh returned home and after typical girlish screams of excitement it was off to explore.
After a stroll down Las Ramblas, a very cute little street lined with vendors and stores and restaurants, we stopped for a quick lunch and then Jen was off to class. Leaving Anh and I on our own to do more exploring and of course, shopping. The first place we stopped was La Boqueria, a very large public market with dozens and dozens of vendors selling anything from seafood to chocolate and very creative cupcakes and candies.
My personal favorite was the freshly squeezed fruit juices that came in dozens of flavors and combinations. I could taste how fresh the juice was as the flavor exploded onto my taste buds.
After enjoying the healthy snacks the market had to offer, Anh and I made our way over to the dozens of chocolate vendors to take advantage of free samples and decide what to get so we could munch on them later. We decided to get a variety of chocolate covered almonds and bought a few ranging from milk and dark chocolate and yogurt covered to tiramisu and dolcelatte flavored. Needless to say, they didn’t last very long.
With our sweet tooth satisfied it was time for some shopping. We made quick stops into H&M and Zara and I emerged from both with a cute outfit. I bought the most gorgeous vest from Zara and a cute sweater from H&M to go with it. To paraphrase Anh and Jen- “you look like a horseback rider gone chic european” (which is appropriate seeing as how I ride horses).
Now with my retail therapy out of the way we returned home for what I found out was their ritualistic daily nap. I later learned that this nap was required after a night out in Barcelona. Refreshed and renewed we hit the town to find Rosa Negra, an amazing restaurant where I had one of the most amazing mojitos and burritos ever. The combination of the sweet and refreshing passionfruit of the mojito and the combination of spices and flavors in the burrito left me completely full and very satisfied and of course, ready for a night out on the town.
We didn’t return home from dinner until around 11 pm, which I found out was very common in Spain. We got ready and began to pre game our night around 1-1:30 a.m. (usually the peak time of our nights out in Italy). We casually strolled up to the club around 2:30 a.m., which is when the real party began.
A lot of my sorority sisters and friends from the University of Maryland are studying in Barcelona so it was one giant mob of hugs and kisses and screams as we reunited and caught up with each other. After that it was dancing the night away (my favorite thing to do) with my best friends until around 6 a.m.. However, we didn’t stop then. I convinced Anh to go on the beach with me (most of the clubs in Barcelona are situated a few feet from the water) and dip our toes into the Mediterranean Sea. That turned into Anh doing cartwheels in the sand and obviously a photo shoot.
We strolled into the apartment anywhere between 6-7 a.m. (I find it unnecessary to keep track of time when you’re out that late-or early as some people may call it) and slept until about 1 p.m.. Then it was time to go explore again and they took me to an all-you-can-eat sushi place where they served Japanese and Chinese foods- the things I have truly been missing. We consumed our body weight in food and were in the most intense of food comas, however, we persevered and continued to sight see.
We strolled for a while, taking in the beautiful sights of the water and boats and even the streets, which seem to be more adorable here than anywhere else. And then we stumbled upon a tattoo and piercings parlor. Anh had been saying for quite some time that she wanted to get her nose pierced so we ventured on in and were there for her for emotional support and a hand to squeeze (my hand in particular).
I wish I could say it was painless but it didn’t look it so I won’t lie. I will say however, that it looks amazing now and Anh rocks it well! My experience was less fun because all I did was get an old hole in my ear re-pierced, big whoop! On our way home we passed The Erotic Museum and obviously could not pass up this opportunity. This museum was a little bit of history, strange and disturbing images and facts and a little bit of the Guinnesss book of world sex records. We left a little scarred and much more informed.
Then, of course it was time to return home for our daily nap. But not before riding the metro and being very very disturbed. My ears are forever scarred from hearing a song that could only be described as vulgar and violating and absolutely hilarious. I could not help but laugh hysterically- as everyone else did as well- at the lyrics these men were singing. It went from something in Spanish, which my friend translated into something about a banana and potassium, to wanting female parts in their faces. I was relieved to get off the metro because I laughing so hard I was crying. Not even on the NYC subways have I seen or heard anything like this before, and I’ve seen some pretty interesting things.
After a much needed and very long nap, it was the usual shower, dress, makeup, hair, snack time and pre game part of the night. Tonight was different though because we were going to see Borgore. Someone I had to Google because the whole EDM, house music, festival type stuff, or whatever else you want to classify it as, is very much not my scene, but everyone was going so I figured it would be fun and I would get to brag to people who are actually into that stuff that I saw him (even though I only know one song- Decisions- in case any of you are interested).
Not like any of the above stated mattered because the club we went to was so big that we were actually in the wrong room where another DJ was so we missed Borgore’s entire set. I actually had no idea, nor did I really care because we were given a free drink and didn’t have to wait on line in the cold to get into the club. And of course, I danced, a lot, which means it was a successful night in my eyes. We called it an early night and left at 5:30 a.m..
We woke up Saturday afternoon and decided it was time to actually do some real sightseeing and see some of the more noteworthy things in Barcelona. We couldn’t do this on an empty stomach though so we headed over to the much talked about Milk for some brunch, which we ate at 3:30 in the afternoon. All things considered, with the way these people party, that is an appropriate time for brunch. We had what they call, The Recovery Brunch, which is true to its name and offers all the greasy and comfort foods one could want when hungover.
We were refueled and ready to take on Barcelona and all its amazing sights! First stop was a gorgeous church that unfortunately was a little pricey to enter so we enjoyed the views from the outside. Then we stumbled upon Happy Pills, apparently a big thing in Barcelona and rightly so. This tiny little candy shop has the cutest concept and lets you fill up pill bottles of many sizes with all different types of candies and then choose what the candy is a remedy for.
We all determined what we needed fixed and went our way to see some of the Gaudi Houses. Gaudi was a famous architect in Spain known for his new and creatively designed architecture throughout Barcelona. Also costing a small fortune to go inside, we reveled at the beauty and uniqueness of the design from the outside and then headed over to Park Guell, where I was told we could see some of the most beautiful views of the city, and thankfully for free.
After climbing about a million stairs, walking up steep hills and taking a few escalators (thank God) we arrived at a beautiful park where the views were indeed stunning. We explored and wandered and inevitably got lost, but we managed to see the most amazing sights and see Barcelona from a whole new perspective. We had a mini photo shoot all over the park, bothering natives and tourists alike to snap pictures of us. We stood and marveled as the sun set and painted a hue over the city and admired the way the city looked as the sky darkened and the lights lit it back up. Few things in this world have taken my breath away and this was one of them. Feeling thankful and having been truly amazed we attempted to find our way out before the sun set and we were lost forever.
We decided on a dinner of paella on the beach and an early night to bed because we were worn out from the weekend and I had to get up early for a flight the next day. Our paella, sangria and patatas bravas (potatoes with some kind of heavenly sauce and spices on them) were by far the best of all three I had ever had. After a walk home by the beach Anh and I decided, spur of the moment, to go out. Who knows the next time I’ll be in my twenties in Barcelona with my best friends. I figured we go out, be home by 6 a.m., I’d change, repack and head to airport and fall fast asleep on my flight home.
My plan worked out perfectly. After another amazingly fun night and many dips in the Sea, I returned to the apartment, with much of the beach still in my jeans, and quickly got my stuff together and headed to the bus to take me to the airport. I didn’t really feel tired until I was on the 20-30 minute bus ride and feel right to sleep, thankfully waking up as soon as we got to the airport. I then proceeded to fall asleep in the airport and woke up, again thankfully, right as my plane was starting to board. I then, again, passed right out on the plane and then again on the train home and then again on the tram to my apartment.
My fatigue for the entire next two days was definitely worth it to have one of the most amazing weekends of my life with my two very best friends.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”- Augustine of Hippo
After my dream-like day in Tuscany it was early to bed so we could leave for a seven hour bus ride at 6 a.m. the following day. Still groggy and half asleep we boarded the bus and proceeded to sleep until we arrived, then it was off to the water taxis to take us to beautiful Venice for a fun-filled day of Carnevale.
This is a festival that takes place annually in Venice and is named for its elaborate masks and outfits that people work months on and are truly beautiful creations. It takes place leading up to Lent and ends the day before Ash Wednesday.
Immediately upon arrival we all outfitted ourselves with our favorite masks, each surprisingly perfectly fitting our personalities. Afterwards it was time to roam around for some lunch and vino.
After drinking wine and doing shots with our waiter at lunch it was exploring and making our way over the famous St. Mark’s Square- known for the breathtaking basilica and an absurd amount of birds. However, because of the festival, people and DJs, we were lucky enough that there was not nearly as many birds as there usually are. We admired the church and all of the costumes we saw and I truly appreciated the amount of work that goes into creating these amazing works of art.
We continued on our way and stumbled upon the Ponte dei Sospiri. I was completely overcome with excitement because I have a poster of this bridge on my wall in my bedroom at school and was in disbelief that I was now standing in front of it! It is even more gorgeous in person and this surprising discovery made my day!
After yelling to all of my friends that “I HAVE THIS POSTER IN MY ROOM” and truly looking like an American we continued on to the Ponte di Rialto but not before stopping off at bakery and arming ourselves with personal bottles of wine and donuts. Looking even more American as we drank from our bottles on the streets of Venice we stopped for some shopping and then had a photo shoot on the beauty that is Ponte di Rialto.
After that our group was separated as some of us wanted to walk around and keep sight seeing and others (who shall remain nameless) went searching for absinthe. Having no interest, some of my friends and I walked a little bit and bumped into a smaller square filled with people dancing and a DJ blasting some really good music. This was exactly my scene as I love to dance around and we spent the rest of our evening dancing and laughing with each other.
We were having a blast until we realized that we had 45 minutes to find our friends and somehow make it back to the buses. Needless to say this did not happen. We ran into our friends out of pure fate and then proceeded to lose them again. Myself, my sorority sister Kate, her boyfriend Erik and his friend Matt were left completely lost and I was officially freaking out.
Having multiple panic attacks and spending a fortune of money in attempts to call my step mom and sister in New Jersey I was not in the least bit helpful as Erik called the tour guides and begged them to wait for us and attempted to follow the directions they were giving us. I’m pretty sure I blocked out most of this traumatic experience but apparently I was telling everyone to find me a water taxi and have it take me to the nearest five-star hotel. Apparently when I’m in a crisis the remedy is to sleep in a hotel with a high thread count. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately- that bed wold have been more comfortable than sleeping on a bus for seven hours) we got to the buses an hour late and everyone probably hated us.
Exhausted from a long day and emotionally drained from the last hour and a half I passed out right away and the next thing I knew we were back in Rome and I was never happier to fall into my bed and sleep the day away.
Even though the day ended quite dramatically, it didn’t take away from the majesty of Venice and the fact that it is one of the prettiest and most interesting places I have ever been to. I was never able to take a gondola ride because they are extremely expensive, but hey, it’s a perfect excuse to return, maybe on my honeymoon when my new husband can pay for it 🙂
“Think of the magic of that foot, comparatively small, upon which your whole weight rests. It’s a miracle, and the dance is a celebration of that miracle.”- Martha Graham
The title says it all. I am in living in a dream; one that I conjured up in years past and am finally living out. Sometimes I stop, take a deep breath, look around and take in where I am and what I am doing. I think to myself this cannot be real. How did I get this lucky? How did I get this blessed? I can only thank my family for their support and pure love for letting me go out and experience these amazing things. Not only am I living a dream and traveling, I am educating myself and not in the sense of sitting in a classroom and learning how to conjugate Italian verbs. I am learning cultures and traditions that are different from my own and I truly believe that this type of education is far more important than anything that can be taught in a classroom. I am also discovering myself- my love for learning new things, meeting new people and exploring this great world that has so much more to offer us than we can imagine. When I say everyone should study abroad or at least take a month to travel the world- whatever part of the world you choose- I am saying it not only so you can bury your feet in the whitest of sands or stand underneath the Sistine Chapel, I am saying it because traveling erases ignorance and judgment and makes us all better people. And a world filled with better people is a better world.
With all of that being said, this weekend was my fantasy. Ever since watching Under the Tuscan Sun when I was younger (and rewatching 100 times since then) I have always wanted to go to Tuscany. Not only go to Tuscany but pull a full Diane Lane and buy a Tuscan villa on a whim and find pure happiness in the rolling hills of the Italian countryside. So when an opportunity to go wine tasting in Tuscan vineyards came up, I grabbed it with two hands and boarded a bus with my two friends, Rachel and Jasmine, to wine country, which was not far from Cortona, the town that Diane Lane buys her villa in. Coincidence? I don’t think so; I’m a strong believer in fate.
We started the day early and traveled to the first wine tasting. This wine company operated out of what used to be a jail where they tortured inmates. Now it is redone and boasts some amazing wines and cheeses. After seeing the barrels and learning about the wine making process we were lucky enough to sample some amazing wines and cheeses. I fell in love with one of the wines we tasted and obviously bought a bottle to bring home with me as a gift for my grandfather, a man who appreciates the simple things in life- a glass of fine wine and a cigar.
After the tasting we were free to roam around and eat some lunch, which we did in the cutest little restaurant, run by the most adorable old lady. I am always happy to eat in little “mom and pop” shops because I get to speak to the people in Italian, which I love because it really helps me hone my language skills that I have practiced in the classroom for so long.
After a fulfilling lunch we explored the surrounding area, which just so happens to be where part of the second Twilight was filmed (when Edward goes to the head vampires and wants to reveal himself and Bella is running to stop him). We enjoyed exquisite views of the endless hills of Montepulciano and pondered how quickly we could find a house and move there.
After enjoying the views, we were back on the bus to head to a smaller town, Montalcino, where we would visit another, more traditional vineyard. And if I thought I wanted to live in the first town, I knew this was where I was meant to be. When you think of Tuscany and vineyards and hundreds of acres of villas on top of hills overlooking rows and rows of grapes to make some of the best wine in Italy, Montalcino is the place you imagine. This place was the images of postcards and photographs that you stare at and admire and never imagine yourself standing there, feeling the wind coming over the hills and smelling the grapes laid out across the land.
It’s a funny thing. I am such a city girl, and if you were to ask anyone they would tell you I belong in Manhattan and I agree. I’m in love with that city, my heart belongs to it and right now it aches for that magical place. However, I have never truly felt more at peace than I did at that moment, looking out over the land and taking everything in.
I was immediately captivated and overcome with joy when I realized that this wasn’t a dream and I was actually standing there- in a place that won an award for having one of the top 100 wines in the world. Unfortunately this wine was out of my price range, but I did buy other bottles for myself and my family.
This was a more traditional vineyard that has been around since the 1400s and has definitely perfected the craft of making unbelievably delicious wine. We toured the grounds and saw the process that the grapes and then wine underwent. The guide explained to us how many years the wine ages in the barrels (most were 5-6 years) and how they were bottled. She also told us the many other products that they make from these materials including a fabulously smelling body lotion (a perfect grift for my grandmother) and brandy. After the tour we were lucky enough to taste three amazing wines while overlooking the landscape. Then it was time to buy the family, and ourselves, some gifts and head back home.
As we boarded the bus and pulled away from this gorgeous place, I couldn’t help but think, that la vita è bella.
“We travel, not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” -anonymous