This was part of a collection of blog posts written in the spring of 2015 during my semester abroad in Seville, Spain.
I traveled to Barcelona with my friend Katie for 36 hours. We wanted to explore the famed city but also wanted to take advantage of an invitation by our sevillano friends to attend a barbeque on Saturday night. So, we committed to a whirlwind tour of one of Spain’s largest cities.
We left Sevilla on Thursday afternoon and arrived to Barcelona around 7 p.m. We quickly noted the signs in Catalán, the language used in Barcelona. While the language sounds slightly similar to Spanish, it is very different and was difficult to understand. The airport in Barcelona is ginormous, especially in comparison to the one in Sevilla, and we were in awe of all of our favorite Spanish stores (Mango, Zara, etc.) in such close proximity to one another. We resisted our desires to shop and headed toward our hostel/hotel, which was located near La Sagrada Familia, a church designed by Gaudi and where he is now buried. It is one of the most famous and popular attractions in Barcelona.
Once we got settled in, we walked over to La Sagrada Familia and went into a side chapel. It was March 19th, the feast day of St. Joseph, so there were many people praying in front of the statue of St. Joseph. I gave a donation in honor of Nana, my paternal grandmother, whose birthday falls on the feast day and all my favorite Josephs.
After that, we were starving so we went to a nearby (very touristy) pizza restaurant to have a quick bite. After bad service and small portions, we hungrily went exploring and happened upon a Mexican restaurant, about which I was ecstatic. I had shrimp ceviche, which was very good, and we shared chips, guacamole and salsa. We also got free tequila shots, which had become sort of a joke with my friends abroad because every time we would go out to dinner, we were offered (and usually would accept so as not to be rude) free tequila shots at the end of our meals. The restaurant also had place-mats with funny Spanish sayings on them that I thoroughly enjoyed. All in all, the ideal find.
After dinner, we returned to our hotel and were exhausted but knowing we only had two nights in Barcelona, we rallied, changed and headed out around 2 a.m. to experience the highly-reviewed Barcelona nightlife. When we arrived to the club, there was a giant group of people trying to enter. We got in line, proceeded to be squashed to the point of high incommode and finally, decided to leave. We jumped in a cab and went to the beach clubs. It was nearing 5 a.m. and after entering three different establishments, one of which was entirely empty and the other two full of older and very unique humans, we decided to return back to the hostel.
The next day we arose around 10 a.m., a bit later than desired but we were out the door by 11 a.m. We were once again on a quest for brunch, which we found at this quaint restaurant called Brunch & Cake. It was obviously created for students studying abroad who were craving the brunch atmosphere and cuisine but we didn’t care because the ambience was delicate and the food was delicious. I had a mixed greens salad with poached eggs and a panini with brie, savory strawberry jam and caramelized onions (light on the onion). I also had a mimosa because…brunch.
After the fabulous meal, we walked around the central part of the city. It actually reminded me a bit of Chicago but with wider streets – others compared it to Los Angeles. We wanted to encapsulate all the city had to offer, so we pulled the tourist card and did the hop on/hop off city tour bus. The city is so large and has so many interesting sites that there were two different routes we could take. We hopped on the first one we saw and started going. About halfway through, we realized we should have investigated a bit more and taken the other route, merely because it had more locations where we would have liked to hop off. However, we saw some very neat attractions such as the FC Barcelona Fútbol (soccer) Stadium, the 1992 Olympic torch and stadium and Casa Batlló, another one of Gaudi’s masterpieces.
After our bus tour, we walked down Las Ramblas, a lively street with lots of shops and restaurants. Along the popular street we found our by far most favorite part of the city, the Mercado de La Boquería / Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria (in Catalán) – a fresh food market. We adventured through trying everything from fresh fruit juice to giant gummy candies to (more) Mexican food to fresh seafood and raw oysters to cheese to nuts and goji berries…the list could go on!
We were completely stuffed to the brim with delightful goodies from the market and made our way back to our hostel on the metro (we even had to change trains) to take a siesta. We woke up around 10:45 p.m., got dressed for the night and, on a recommendation from my fabulous quasi-Spanish friend Livi, made it to a fantastic restaurant, called Tapas 24, at 11:30 p.m. for dinner, just before the kitchen closed. We had sangria and shared a variety of tapas. All were small in size – it may seem like we ate our weight in two days but remember, the portions are different. We enjoyed patatas bravas (potatoes with tomato sauce and aioli), a roasted beef dish with mushrooms, a bomba (like a rice ball minus the rice and plus a mashed potato type puree), pasta with various types of meat and mini pork tacos. We also got a dessert, which is a rare occurrence for us. It consisted of three softly-rounded chocolates with olive oil and sea salt. It was very decadent.
After dinner, we went to a bar famous for its crazy chupitos (shots). The walls are lined with over 500 different shots to choose from, each with a unique twist – fire, gummies, pringles, etc. We did one called “the boyscout.” The bartender made a shot and then proceeded to light the bar top on fire and hand us each a stick with a marshmallow on it. We roasted the marshmallow over the open flame, dunked it in the shot, then swung it back. While it seemed like a bit of a fire hazard, it was an interesting and oh so fun experience.
From there we went to one of the most popular beach clubs in Barcelona called Opium. It was down pouring rain and there was a long line but we still had entrance stamps (from the night before) so we flashed our wrists and they let us right in. It was a completely different atmosphere than the previous night. The place was jammed, the music was blasting, and the chandeliers were rocking. Mist from the sea could be felt on the patio. It was an insane and extreme discoteca. The night was especially fun because both Katie and I ran into friends school, further proving how small the world is in which we live.
We left the club around 5 a.m., returned to our hostel around 5:45 a.m. and had to be at the airport for our flight at 7:30 a.m. Suffice it to say, the journey back to Sevilla was more than bit trying.
We arrived back in Sevilla around 10 a.m. and proceeded to sleep until about 5 p.m. Then, we rallied and left to attend a barbeque with our Spanish friends. We jumped in a taxi because we were dazed and confused from our Barcelona bender. It dropped us off at the abandoned Olympic stadium and drove away. After many calls to various Spaniards, we ended up finding the party...under a highway overpass. The ambiance was a bit to be desired but all in all, a very fun, very Spanish afternoon and evening. It included grilled meat sandwiches cooked using incredibly unsanitary methods and lots and lots of dancing. It was the chocolate on the churro of a fast-paced Spanish weekend.
This was part of a collection of blog posts written in the spring of 2015 during my semester abroad in Seville, Spain.
I traveled with my two friends (Katie and Erin) to Brussels, Belgium. Truthfully, it had never crossed my mind to visit Belgium but there was a cheap flight so we booked it. Our plane leaving Sevilla was a bit delayed so we decided to share a bottle of white wine (because it is Europe, and we were studying abroad, and we could) as we were waiting in the airport. We bought a bottle called “Tio Pepe,” and all agreed it had a very interesting taste that none of us especially enjoyed. After a few more sips we finally looked at the bottle to learn it was sherry, something for which Spain is famous. We didn’t finish the bottle, and the trip was off to a strong start.
We finally boarded the RyanAir plane and to our surprise, all of our backpacks were the correct size for carry-ons. The flight was packed, and I quickly fell asleep because I had an exam earlier in the day and was exhausted. We arrived in Brussels at about midnight and went straight to the taxi line. This was where we learned that we were 65 kilometers (about 40 miles) away from the city center – a classic RyanAir situation. If it had been earlier in the day, we would have searched for alternative routes to our hotel but because we understood approximately nothing about the language, the culture or the country, we decided to bite the 120 euro bullet and take a taxi to our hotel in the city center.
We arrived at Hotel Mozart safe and sound and were given room #104. The entire time, we could not figure out the theme of the hotel; however, the last day I met the owner. He was Moroccan, which made sense considering the Arabian Nights theme to the place. Our room had two stories, three beds and one bathroom. It was not the cleanest place. Luckily, I brought a hooded sweatshirt and sweatpants for pajamas. I also used a sweater as my pillow because there was not one provided, and even if there was, I’m not sure I’d trust it. Additionally, there was a pretty consistent smell of soil and mold but as they say, “This is study abroad,” or at least that is what I had to tell myself.
The hotel location was ideal – right near the Grand Place (or Grote Markt), and our street was lined with bars, restaurants, clubs and kebab dives. It was about 1:30 a.m. but we decided to go have a beer at a place right down the street from us…because we were in Belgium. After a blonde brew, some bar nuts and colored lasers intersecting clouds of cigarette smoke, we called it a night. Day one – complete.
On Saturday, we woke up around 9 a.m. just in time to attend the provided hotel breakfast. We made our way through the maze-like hotel to the breakfast room, which was a heavily mosaic-tiled cellar – it was pretty cool. Breakfast consisted of a large hunk of a multigrain baguette, a delicious croissant, orange juice and coffee, which tasted a bit like dirt. They also provided us with strawberry jam and butter, which was appreciated.
Then, our day began, and we took the city by storm, walking non-stop until 5 p.m. Here are twelve tidbits we learned throughout the day:
1. The city is stereotypically spot on – lot of fabulous chocolate, frites (fries), beer and waffles
2. The culture (or lack thereof) is difficult to understand, and there is a lot of unexpected African, Middle Eastern and Asian influences
3. Their churches are very Gothic
4. It is an expensive city
5. Flemish (their language) is simply another word for Dutch
6. It is the birthplace of Haagen-Dazs ice cream and Godiva chocolate
7. Macarons are magical
8. You cannot take pictures of military men with large machine guns
9. There is not necessarily a quote-on-quote typical Belgian cuisine
10. Men’s fashion is more dominant than women’s, and it was difficult to find little boutiques for women
11. Comics are very popular and famous in Brussels
12. Brussels is the headquarters for the European Union
Our long day brought us to a big restaurant (about three or four stories) that seemed very popular. It was seat yourself, and we luckily were able to snag a table. I had a chicken kebab (skewer-style) with frites and various dipping sauces, my friend Katie had something similar to goulash or beef stew, and my friend Erin had a sauerkraut dish with meat and mashed potatoes.
During dinner, I kept noticing a nice-looking boy glancing at me. It was happening so frequently that I told my friends and eventually stopped looking over in his direction – not because it was creepy but because it was just an abnormal amount of eye contact. When it came time for his table to leave, he came up to me, handed me a menu and said in broken English, “If you would like, take a moment and look at the last page.” We waited for him and his friends to leave and turned to the last page where we found a note asking, “Would you like to visit Brussels with me?” accompanied by his name and phone number. We were confused and giddy.
After much discussion about how we should proceed with the evening, we decided to go back to the hotel and text the number to see what would happen. There was some back and forth on WhatsApp, then we decided to meet at one of the most famous, most crowded bars in the city, Delirium Cafe. It was a very safe and smart decision because there were hundreds of people around and there were three of us going to meet one of him.
We arrived and went to the lower level of the bar to order house-brand beers. We told him we were studying in Spain, and he told us he was from the Netherlands. The night followed with absinthe, a club and kebabs. All in all a good time and an even better story for those who dare to ask for full details. Around 3:30 a.m., which would be the beginning of a night out in Spain, we safely returned to our Arabian palace hotel.
We awoke to a rainy Sunday. We searched for, and enjoyed, the closest thing to brunch since coming to Europe. We bought some souvenirs (read: chocolate) and jumped in a cab to journey back to the faraway airport. Katie and Erin passed out on the ride but I made sure to stay awake to ensure we would not be kidnapped, though I would really have had no idea if the driver was taking us in the right direction. In the end, we arrived in time to catch out RyanAir flight back to Sevilla.
We had zero expectations for this trip because we knew absolutely nothing about the destination. We all agreed that while we had a lot of fun and returned to Sevilla with wonderful stories, none of us would be rushing back to the land of chocolate, frites, beer and waffles.
This was part of a collection of blog posts written in the spring of 2015 during my semester abroad in Seville, Spain.
We landed around 7:30 p.m. in London, England, coming a bit late from Berlin because of some slight winds in our destination city but arrived with an extra hour because we crossed a time zone. We connected to the airport wifi to let our families know we had arrived. During this process, we learned our hostel somehow lost our reservation, and there was no more vacancy for that night. We also learned there had been a bar fight outside our hostel the night before, and ten people had been stabbed during the squabble. So, we exited the main terminal and sat at a cafe in the airport, emailing back and forth with the hostel. We expressed our safety concerns and sent a copy of our original reservation. Finally, after about an hour of sending, receiving and waiting for messages, the hostel ensured us the violence was extremely abnormal for the area and did not involve anyone at the hostel, and they somehow were able to give us the original room we reserved. We bought an Oyster card for the Underground (metro/subway system), which allowed us many trips on the tube and sped off on a train under London to find our hostel.
After one transfer, walking a few blocks and asking for directions in a Subway sandwich shop, we arrived at our hostel at about 10:30 p.m. It was a stereotypical hostel experience – lots of young people, music playing and lively. The rooms in the hostel ranged from private two-person dorms to public, 25-person, co-ed dorms. Obviously, we opted for the private two-person dorm. We checked-in and received our keys. Then the receptionist started to explain the bathroom situation, which is when we learned private bathrooms did not exist in this residence. It came as quite a shock but rather than dwelling on this catastrophe we decided to go find our room. It was in the back corner of the first floor. We had to twist and turn down hallways and go up and down mini flights of stairs. Along our way we got a lot of hellos and were invited to join people to go out to bars. Finally, after passing the 25-person room, we went through a door to a little area with three single bathrooms with showers and our room. We opened the door to find a bunk bed and not much else. Both Katie and I just started laughing, gagging and tearing up. We plopped our belongings and headed out to grab dinner because we were famished.
After entering about three establishments to learn they had already stopped serving food, we ended up eating the meal that is always guaranteed to be available in Europe – a kebab. We ate quite quickly and returned to the hostel to one, discuss if we wanted to stay in the establishment and two, create a plan for our short time in London. We decided to buck up and embrace the hostel experience, organized a jam-packed day and went to sleep in our bunk beds. I was on the top bunk wearing socks, a sweatshirt and leggings in attempt to touch as little as possible. I didn’t shower the whole time, albeit was only two nights, but if you hear of a baby wipe shortage in London anytime soon, you know the proprietor.
We woke up at 9 a.m. the next morning, a little later than desired, but were out and exploring by 9:45 a.m. We started with breakfast right by our hostel at the Borough Street Market. We walked around and enjoyed samples from the vendors who were open. Then, we grabbed coffees and shared a meat pie with mash and gravy for breakfast (super British). It was delicious!
After breakfast, we jumped on the tube and headed for Westminster. We exited the Underground to be greeted by Big Ben, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square. We explored that area, took all of the important, cliché London photos and walked towards Buckingham Palace. Along our way we stopped at some street vendors and shops.
We arrived at Buckingham Palace and spent way too much time looking around the gift shop and special themed tea patterns of the Queen. Unfortunately, the guards didn’t recognize me because I wasn’t wearing my usual princess crown (tried to downplay it to show some respect to Q. Elizabeth) so they didn’t invite me into the Palace for tea – maybe next time. After spending some time around Buckingham Palace, we walked to Hyde Park, and then hopped on the Underground again to explore Piccadilly Circus, an area we found super fun. We shared a lunch of fish and chips and bought tickets to the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical (the London theatre scene is known for being one of the best in the world). We then got back on the tube to go meet Katie’s friend for high tea near St. Paul’s Cathedral.
We sat down for tea at 4 p.m. and the experience was splendid. I had jasmine tea. We were served three different types of sandwiches (ham and cheese, goat cheese and arugula, and mozzarella and caramelized onions), cupcakes, scones, meringues, homemade marshmallows and brownie bites. Suffice it to say, it was delectable, and we were stuffed to the brim.
After tea, we tubed back to the hostel, dropped our shopping bags, changed clothes and ran out towards Covent Garden to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We had to make a transfer on the Underground, and then got off at Piccadilly Circus because the person at the ticket booth told us the theatre was very near to the stop. It was quite the contrary, and we walked for about 30 minutes, asking directions three times, before reaching the theatre. Unfortunately, we spent the first half of the musical watching it on a television in the theatre’s bar because they wouldn’t let us enter late. However, the second half of the musical was very good and we are really happy we chose to see a show.
After Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, we went to a Japanese restaurant near London’s Chinatown for a late dinner. We had pot stickers, ramen and steamed bun sandwiches – all of which were very good and filled with refreshing Asian flavor, which we hadn’t tasted for a long while. After dinner we met up with some of Katie’s friends at a bar called the Roxy, which was really neat and hip. We were I.D.’d (drinking age is 18), and they took our photos before we entered for a facial recognition machine to ensure it matched our I.D. photo. It was a short night out, especially compared to Spanish nights, and we were back at the hostel by 2 a.m.
We woke up on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., packed our bags, put them in a locker at the hostel, grabbed a quick breakfast and headed out for our last few hours in London. We walked across the London Bridge to the Tower Bridge and Tower of London. After walking around that area a bit, we jumped on the tube to go to Harrod’s, an incredible shopping institution.
Harrod’s was like nothing I have ever experienced. It was pure luxury – every single designer brand consolidated in one place, high-end food, beverage, grocery, trendy restaurants and cafes – it was fabulous. We walked around for over two hours and didn’t even make it to the third and fourth floors before we had to leave to catch our train to Paris. We said goodbye to Harrod’s, knowing one day we would have to return.
We took the Underground back to the hostel, grabbed some snacks and our bags, then jumped back on the tube to the international terminal to Chunnel (high-speed train) to Paris.
We arrived at the station, went through French customs and went to board the train when we realized we failed to book our seats together. I was on coach five while Katie was on coach 16. So, we went to ask the train manager if there was any possibility of rearranging. He told me to ask the person sitting next to me if they would trade seats with Katie. We did this and the man was very willing to change seats but when we learned he was moving away from sitting with his family. The train manager said it was alright, we would move onto “plan b” and told Katie and me to wait in the dining car. The train started moving and about five minutes into the trip, the manager told us his iPad was broken so he couldn’t see the empty seats that were available. He proceeded to tell us to hang tight. Five minutes later, he returned and told us, “You know how sometimes the concierge of a hotel will tell you that you’ve been upgraded to a suite? Well, that’s kind of this situation – follow me.” We followed him about three cars down. He led us to a private train suite with two chairs facing each other, a table in between and magazines displayed on a bench. He told us to enjoy and closed the door. We spent the train ride eating a cheese plate, sleeping and discussing how ridiculously cool our lives were at that moment.
We arrived safely from London, England, to Paris, France, and we did so in style.
Tangier, Tétouan & Chefchaouen, Morocco
This past weekend, I traveled to a new continent, Africa, to explore Morocco. We boarded a bus at 9 a.m. on Friday morning. I left my apartment at 8:56 a.m. but luckily my athletic ability allowed me to make it / I sprinted. Then, we headed south – who knew you could take a bus to Africa? JOKE. The trip included buses, boats and lots of walking.
Our first stop was at the Rock of Gibraltar. It is located just south of Spain but is actually on British territory so we had to go through customs upon arriving.
Gibraltar was incredible and has such a rich history making its influences very diverse. We visited La Punta de Europa (Europa Point) and St. Michael’s Caves to make some new friends, in the form of monkeys. Gibraltar is known for having monkeys that interact with the tourists. Sometimes they are a big problem in the city as they’ll climb down the rock and break into people’s homes or stores to steal food. It has been said that when the monkeys leave Gibraltar, the British will be gone too. One time, Ernest Hemingway visited the Rock and saw there were only about four monkeys left, so he shipped out for more to ensure the British would keep the land. Today, there are around 200 monkeys occupying Gibraltar.
After Gibraltar we drove to Algeciras, Spain, to board the ferry, which would take us to Africa. The ferry was so big that it hardly felt like I was on a boat unless I stood up. After about one hour, we arrived in Ceuta, which is a Spanish territory in northern Africa.
From there, we boarded our same bus (it came with us on the ferry) and headed towards the border. Crossing the border took a lot longer than expected – about one and a half to two hours – but the process was pretty easy. Our program guide took our passports (no one was super enthused about abandoning our passports but there were about 50 students on the bus, and I guess it sped up the process) and brought them to customs to get them stamped. Our passports were returned as a customs guard came on-board to ensure we matched our photos and information. Then, we drove to the city of Tangier, ate dinner (soup, fish, vegetables, bread, a lemon crème tart and bottled water) and went to bed. The accommodations were nice, and I took one of the best showers I have had since being abroad.
We woke up at 6:20 a.m. Moroccan time (it is one hour behind Spain), got dressed, brushed our teeth with bottled water and ate breakfast at the hotel. The breakfast was very European style – lots of bread, meats and cheeses. There was also dried fruit, pistachio flavored yogurt and very good fruit juice.
The day started with a bus tour of Tangier. It is a beautiful city with many luxurious homes that looked like palaces. One truly was a palace: the King of Morocco has a vacation home there in which he spends a lot of his time. Then we went to Plage Achakar (Achakar Beach) to ride camels. In reality, we were on the camels for less than five minutes, and it was more of a photo opportunity than anything else but it was still a fun experience. The only negative aspect was that we could tell the camels were not as well taken care of as we are used to seeing with most animals in the States so it was difficult to justify the excursion as 100 percent worthwhile. In the end, my friends and I figured the program takes hundreds of students on this trip every weekend, and we probably would not have another opportunity in the near future to ride camels on a beach so we hopped on the hump.
After our camel adventure, we drove to Chefchaouen (about a 90 minute drive). It is a beautiful town with almost all of its buildings painted light neon blue to keep it cooler in the summer and to keep mosquitoes away. We had lunch, which consisted of different types of salad, chicken and mixed fruit with orange sauce. The food was good but not as flavorful as I was expecting. After lunch, we went on a walking tour. Our guide was a nomad originally from the Sahara. He and his family move from one town to the next, working for a bit in each place. After the tour we had free time in which my friends and I explored the town, took lots of pictures, tried Moroccan sweets (really good – lots of pastries with sesame, honey and nuts) and bought pashminas and sandals (I tried on about 10 pairs and bought two – they were being made right in front of us). Per usual, I excelled in the bartering game.
After our free time in Chefchaouen, we boarded the bus and drove to Tétouan (about a 45 minute drive). We arrived at the hotel, which was located more on the outskirts of the city but it was nice and had very comfortable beds. We had some free time to settle in and rest. My friends and I had some delicious Moroccan mint tea and attempted to connect to wifi, which was more or less unsuccessful.
Saturday night we had dinner in the city center of Tétouan. We were served soup and then the rest of the dishes were served family style and included a variety of salads, chicken, couscous, a powered sugar cookie and mint tea. Throughout dinner there were different entertainment acts – a belly dancer (who was dressed very differently than one would expect – she wore a long wool top and skirt and a woven straw hat), two different bands and a drum crew with a fire dancer. Dinner ended around 12:30 a.m., and we returned to the hotel and went to bed.
On Sunday morning we were up and out early to explore Tétouan. It was a much bigger city that the others we visited in Morocco. We had a walking tour through the main area and saw a bit of the marketplace, a tannery, a place where carpets are made and a pharmacy. The by far coolest part of the day was the pharmacy. It had jars of spices all over the walls and specialized in herbs and oils. We had the opportunity to try different products such as Moroccan argan oil for our hair and special oil for motion sickness/hangovers (many of the students invested in that product). They also sold special Moroccan-grown herbs and spices such as eucalyptus and saffron. The pharmacist gave us a presentation on what everything was and how it could be used. I bought a variety of different products and upon checking out, realized the cashier was trying to overcharge me about 70 dollars. I called him out on it, of course, and the tour guide was furious at the store. I received two or three free items and we left.
After the pharmacy, we reversed our trip and bussed/boated back to España (Spain). In the end, it was a very interesting experience and not what I was expecting at all. I was expecting to be completely shocked by cultural differences and the truth is, I wasn’t. Most people spoke Spanish and some spoke English, the food was not very different and actually not too flavorful, and I never felt threatened or unsafe. Overall, I am very happy I had the opportunity to explore Morocco and put a checkmark next to another continent.