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A Bittersweet Goodbye

I can’t believe this semester abroad is coming to an end. These four months have flown by, I feel like I was just moving into my apartment here in Barcelona yesterday. This week is filled with finals, packing, no sleep, and enjoying every last second of Barcelona. This week is not a time for solo time because at the end of this week all the people I have met this semester will all be heading off in different directions. My goal is to embrace every single moment I have left.

I cannot put into words how much I have learned and changed as a person over the last four months. Living in a completely new place with a completely new culture brings such an important perspective to life. One of my favorite parts of my experience here has been travelling, I have been blessed with the opportunity to see so much of Europe. These experiences are parallel to none and will truly be lifelong memories.

Although I am going to miss this place like crazy I am ready to go home. First and foremost I miss all my family and friends back home. I wish that all of them could be here with me but now I just get to have some great reunions. Secondly, I am looking forward to the small comforts of home: my own bed, a car to get in whenever I want to go somewhere, a dryer, my favorite restaurants…the list goes on and on. All these things are going to seem amazing when I get home and I can’t wait. Lastly, I am excited to go home and bring back everything I have learned and experienced here to share with others.

Barcelona, thank you for the greatest experience anyone could ever ask for. You are the best city in the world and even though I am leaving you now I promise I will be back for you one day!

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2011 in Travel

 

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Solo Time Italian Style

A long break from school meant travelling time so my roommates and I decided on a week in Italy. I travelled to Italy this past summer with my family for three weeks so I was excited to go back and experience these places with my friends. We spent time in Rome, Florence, and Venice. Traveling with a big group of girls is great but there were a few times when I needed a little time to myself. Two of my favorite solo times were in Florence and Venice.

We spent several days in Florence and I was surprised at how much I remembered from my time there this summer, I knew where everything was and felt very confident finding things. One afternoon we were all at the big central market where all kinds of booths were selling things, leather goods in particular. We decided on a meeting time and place and set off to shop. I didn’t really feel much need for shopping so I set off to walk through Florence a little and to my favorite place; the Ponte Vecchio. This is an amazing bridge overlooking the  Arno River. It is lined with shops and in the center offers beautiful views of the city and river. I found a little spot on the wall of the bridge to sit down and people watch. All sorts of people were coming up and taking pictures on the bridge. It was a breath of fresh air from the craziness of our trip and the bridge was even more beautiful than I remember.

We only planned 24 hours in Venice, mostly because that city can be done in a day. We had a very productive afternoon, visiting St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge. Before dinner I decided to do something I loved when I was here this summer: get lost in Venice. I left the group to walk through the streets of Venice for a while before pulling out my map and finding my way back to the hostel. Venice was my favorite place this summer and I only loved it more the second time. I love the idea of the city being on water, with no cars but instead small streets and bridges. It was beautiful and different in the winter. I knew that I would be saying goodbye to Italy the next day so I spent a few extra minutes taking it all in. Italian is such a beautiful language and I loved listening to the almost musical noise as I walked passed people. Italy was a great trip with friends but I definitely loved my moments of solo time.

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2011 in Solo Time, Travel

 

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Escaping the city…Montserrat

I love a big city, I have spent the last three months living in one of the biggest cities in Spain and visiting some of the biggest cities in Europe. But every once and a while it’s nice to get a little break from all the craziness. My solo time this week was a little trip to a place called Montserrat, a mountain a little ways outside Barcelona. There are several options on how to get there and I decided on the cable car. First I took a train from Espanya to the bottom of the mountain, about an hour journey. From there I took a small yellow cable car up to Montserrat. It was a breathtaking ride with beautiful views and thankfully I have no fear of heights so I was able to enjoy the short trip to the top. Once at the top I just stood there for a moment looking around at all the mountains and the views surrounding me.

To me it seemed like Montserrat was a sort of mini town on top of this mountain. It was built around the monastery but there was quite a lot going on in this place. I first made my way to the lookout points. Along the way I came across a cute little market. Booths were lining the streets selling jam, honey, cheese, and a few other things. I spent some time taste testing and in the end picked up a jar of some delicious honey. The atmosphere of this market was so happy and peaceful that I took my time walking around both times I passed through it. Once I got to the lookout points I could see so much of the surrounding area; the mountains, some with snow on their peaks, and the small towns below. It was pretty cold up at the top and I wasn’t exactly prepared for that so I headed to go inside the monastery. The outside was beautiful but the inside was what really blew me away. It was completely decorated everywhere and very ornate. It was surprisingly crowded but I enjoyed sitting inside for a few minutes and relaxing. I spent the next hour walking through the shops and grabbing a bite to eat before heading down the mountain and back to Barcelona. Montserrat was such a great day trip and the perfect solo time escape.

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2011 in Solo Time, Travel

 

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Why should you come to Barcelona?

After spending four months in Barcelona I have fallen in love with this city. My roommates and I always find ourselves sitting around and talking about what we have and have not seen. We have been recommended places, stumbled across places on our own, and of course seen all the must see places in Barcelona. I would never ever trade this experience for anything and we wanted to take a few moments to share some of our favorite places in this amazing city.

Casa Mila is just one of Gaudi’s amazing works in Barcelona, some other must sees are Parc Guell and the Sagrada Familia. Bo de B is definitely one of the best restaurants we have found…literally we go there multiple times a week. Other must try restaurants are Pim Pam (a burger place), Rosa Negra (a mexican place), Tapas 24 (a tapas places), and Da Greco (an italian place). Go to the beach and the mountains, it’s not an option. One of my favorite things is just walking around the city. You never know what you will discover and there is without a doubt truly so much to discover in Barcelona.

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2011 in Journalism 2.0, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Student Travel

A few generations back it was a rare moment to hear that a student was traveling abroad, but today there are a record number of students traveling abroad all the time. These students travel to places all over the world spending a few months or years at a time in the country they choose. I have learned many things during my time abroad but something that has been very important to me along the way is traveling to places other than the country I am studying in. Most of us have come to the realization that we want to try and experience as many places as we can, who knows if or when we will ever have the opportunity to be abroad like this again. However, traveling is not exactly the cheapest thing to do with your time, especially all of us college students who aren’t rolling in the dough yet. That is where budget travel comes in. It is through budget travel that students are able to spend weekends traveling to as many places as they can, and in certain cases having once in a lifetime experiences, creating memories that will last forever.

The two main parts of budget travel are transportation and accommodation. These take up the majority of the cost for trips and that is why it is essential to find sources of budget travel that offer a realistic price for students.

Transportation is necessary to get anywhere when traveling and there are many modes of transportation to get from place to place. When traveling in a city public transportation is always a beautiful thing for students. Cabs and car services cost a ridiculous amount of money, and although they may be faster it usually is just not worth it. Most cities have a public transportation system consisting of metros, trams, buses, and/or trains. Depending on the type of ticket you buy you can get around a city for a weekend for about $10-15. One cab ride alone can often cost that amount. This public transportation is important but the big transportation issue comes when traveling from place to place.

The main way to travel is by airplane. Flights in the states usually cost a ridiculous amount of money so budget airlines around the world are essential for students. When students can get flights for $50 round trip, it greatly cuts down on the cost of traveling. Finding flights for $50 has its ups and downs though. These are budget airlines so you can expect to get budget services. There are always rules about baggage but on budget airlines these rules are very important. Each person is allowed one carry on; this is including any laptop, purse, or jacket they want to bring with them as well. This may seem normal for many airlines however budget airlines are very strict about it, measuring and weighing each bag before allowing it onboard. If a piece of luggage is oversized then one can expect to pay an exorbitant extra charge to have it checked and put under the plane. Another catch to these budget airlines is the boarding passes. After booking a flight it is essential to print out the boarding pass on your own because arriving to the airport without one means another $50 to have it printed on the spot. Without caution a student could end up paying over $150 for a flight they thought would only cost them $50. Two of the most popular budget airlines are EasyJet and RyanAir. Both of these airlines provide great budget flights throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia, making the student travel experience a happy one…who can say they don’t like saving that extra money? Other options are trains and buses. These are usually relatively cheap but can also take up lots of travel time, and in some cases it will take an overnight trip to get someone to their desired destination.

Now to my favorite part of student travel: accommodations. In a few cases one has the luck to know a friend or family member in the place that they are traveling to and can stay with that person, making accommodation free for the entire trip. In most cases this is not an option so some sort of place to stay needs to be found. In rare cases camping is an option but campgrounds are usually on the outskirts of the city and not that much cheaper than a warm, soft bed somewhere else. This is where the incredible world of hostels comes in. Every once and a while there are options for a cheap hotel or a group can try to squeeze five people into a hotel room for two. However, hostels are the true student travel accommodation. They provide so much more than just a place to sleep and can sometimes be the reason a trip is such a great experience. There a countless hostels all over the world, each with their own distinct atmosphere. Hostels are a place for students and travelers to come together. In most hostels one can stay from anywhere between $20-50 a night, such an important price when traveling. A normal hostel experience consists of staying in a dorm style room with 4-10 bunk beds. Each room is equipped with personal storage spaces and each floor has bathrooms and showers for everyone to use. The best part about hostels is their home like feel. A kitchen is available to make your food and there are always living areas for people to just hang out. Hostels provide great amenities for students, whether it is towel rentals or free tours, it is always something useful for someone on a budget. Although these places may not always be the cleanest or most private places to stay, they are essential for students on a budget and provide an unparalleled opportunity to meet and travel with other students from around the world.

There are many different ways for students to find these budget travel options. Sometimes they come from recommendations from friends or fellow travelers that know a great accommodation option. Other times they come from travel companies that create website and books where this information is accessible. HostelWorld.com and Let’s Go are two examples of these types of companies. Easy access to booking transportation and accommodation makes student travel that much more enjoyable. A newer option is booking a whole trip through a student travel company, such as Bus2Alps. By doing this one can make one payment and know that they are set for their entire trip with accommodation, transportation, tours, and in most cases food. These prices may seem a little higher than other student travel options but the time saved planning and researching can sometimes make it worth it.

When students study abroad travel is a huge part of their experience and it is through student travel options such as budget airlines and hostels that turn these incomparable opportunities into reality.

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2011 in Journalism 2.0, Travel

 

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The Capital of Spain

I couldn’t justify coming to Spain and not going to Madrid so this weekend I spent a few days in Spain’s capital. In an effort to help my bank account I took the overnight bus from Barcelona to Madrid and in hindsight would probably have paid the extra 40 euros to fly. There was a group of us from Barcelona who went for the weekend and we spent all day Friday seeing all the “touristy” parts of Madrid. We hit Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, the Royal Palace, Cathedral de la Almudena, and the Prado Museum. It was quite the day and we enjoyed seeing all we could. After a short siesta we headed to find some food. A place called El Tigre was recommended to us and it ended up being the perfect place. It was packed when we walked in and it took a while but we finally elbowed our way to a space at the bar. With each drink you order a huge plate of tapas comes with it for free. So spending 6 euros on a mojito not only quenched my thirst but after the endless tapas I was stuffed. We spent the rest of the night enjoying the nightlife of Madrid, stopping in Dubliners for a while to watch some American sports.

The next morning was a little bit of a struggle to wake up but after a short trip to the Ventas bullfighting arena we decided to head to Retiro Park. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the park, just enjoying the day. I decided to go on a little solo walk and found myself loving the sense of fall. All the trees had orange, red, and yellow leaves and the crisp air made the season feel so real.

After a beautiful afternoon in the park, I decided to head back to the Royal Palace before dinner. I walked through the gardens behind the palace and remembered one of my mom’s favorite things. She loves to people watch, so I took a seat on a bench and just observed everyone walking through the gardens. It is amazing to me how much of the world I have not seen, each person that walked by was different. Of course there were a few Americans but there were also so many other cultures represented that it made for a great experience. Sometimes I would try to guess where a certain person or group was from but at some point I just stopped and enjoyed everything going on around me. This idea of solo time has really turned into something special for me. It is so easy to go take a few moments by yourself and my time alone has been some of the most rewarding time I have spent while abroad.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2011 in Solo Time, Travel

 

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The luck of the Irish!

If you have never been to Dublin please do yourself a favor and go there at some point in your life. And in case you can’t already tell from the previous sentence, I spent the last few days in Dublin and LOVED it!! Three of my roommates and I planned a last-minute trip to Dublin and it turned out to be on the best decisions we have made here. Unfortunately we were only there for 48 hours but we sure made the best of it. We spent the first night exploring Temple Bar and ate at a great pub called O’Neils where we had a traditional Irish feast, yum! We stayed in an amazing hostel, Barnacles, right in the Temple Bar area. We weren’t out too late because are alarms were set to go off at 6am the next morning, and when they did we struggled to get out of bed but were up to meet our tour at 7am. We spent the day traveling across Ireland, seeing the beautiful countryside and made it to the west coast. We stopped in Limerick on the way and everything we saw seemed to fit exactly into what I imagined Ireland to look like. However, even my greatest imaginations couldn’t match the Cliffs of Moher. It was somewhat foggy and very cold when we got to the cliffs but we all stood in awe of the beauty for a while before walking around everywhere.

At some point my roommates decided to go inside the shop/cafe/museum area to get away from the cold but I decided to stay out for a little while longer. Although this was a short solo time, I will remember the moment forever. I was sitting on the edge of the wall in front of the cliff just looking out at the ocean. The last few days I had started to miss home, especially my sisters. That might have had something to do with the fact that I was back in an English speaking country with many reminders of home. There was something so comforting about being on a west coast again, and looking out at the Atlantic Ocean knowing that home was on the other side of it. This may seem ridiculous to some people, especially because my home is actually very far away from where I was sitting, but it was a special time for me. It made me truly appreciate everything I am experiencing here and someday I want to bring my family back to all these wonderful places I am seeing.

We spent the rest of the day visiting the Burren, Galway, and Ireland’s other beautiful areas. We ended the night with a pub crawl and then went to bed to sleep for a short while to begin yet another day at the crack of dawn. We did all the typical touristy things in Dublin, seeing all the main sights…the Cathedral, Trinity College, and Grafton Street. However, my favorite part of the day was our trip to the Guinness Storehouse. I had never really been to any sort of beer factory before and I actually left well-educated on the Guinness brand and beer making. One of our last moments in Dublin was spent at the Gravity Bar, Guinness in hand, looking out over beautiful Dublin. Again and again I am blown away at how blessed I am to be experiencing all these things.

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2011 in Solo Time, Travel

 

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