Category Archives: Blogger – Spring 2017

Ireland

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Ireland

That Wednesday after Easter, Caitlin, Anna, and I took a midday flight to Dublin. We all booked our flights at different times and sat separate from each other. I fell asleep immediately before we even took off. The flight was less than an hour and I woke up just before we landed. The mist was so thick I couldn’t see the Irish Sea or see any parts of Ireland, and then all of a sudden we ended up on the runway. Just waking up, this was very confusing. After we got all of our stuff together, we went straight to our hostel near the Abby Theatre. We stayed there for a while to rest and prepare for our day. Caitlin had been to Ireland many times before, so she was our tour guide again. She took us to Trinity College, where we saw the Book of Kells and the Library of Trinity College. From there we took a short walk to Saint Stephen’s Green, where beautiful red and yellow flowers were in bloom. We got a traditional Irish dinner and on our walk to the Temple Bar, we saw an Irish dancer dancing on the street. I was overjoyed to see this. I have been Irish dancing for 15 years now and to see this in Dublin just made me overjoyed.

The next morning we got up early. Cait and I went to Dublin Castle, as Anna would be back in Dublin less than two weeks later. We bought our tickets and had about half an hour, so we decided to have a quick look at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. It costs money to enter and we only had about five minutes, so we asked the guards if we could just have a quick look. It was a large cathedral built in the 1100s, with beautiful ornate floors and wooden roofs. After less than five minutes we ran right back to Dublin Castle for our tour. We saw the fortifications of the Castle and its original cornerstone, and traveled through history to the the chapel, and the State Apartments modeled after Versailles. The most inspiring part of the tour was when we went to the hall where Ireland was granted its independence from the United Kingdom in 1919. I felt very proud to be of Irish heritage standing there.

We then went to the hostel and checked out, heading to the car rental place by the airport. I was suppose to drive, but it turned out that I needed to have my license for at least five years, while I only had mine for three and a half. Anna needed to drive since she was almost at five years. I felt really bad, but what were we going to do at that point. It took us about two hours to drive to Galway. We arrived in the early evening and checked into our hostel. We then got a traditional Irish meal and went to a bar for some drinks. We met some local residents there and talked to them about their work in academia. They invited us to go to another bar, where there were three stories each offering different kinds of music. We particularly liked the jazz level on top and decided to stay there.

The next morning, we got up early because we had a lot to do in one day. We first made our way to the Cliffs of Moher and on the way saw Dunguaire Castle on the ocean. It took about an hour and a half to get there. The views were absolutely breathtaking. I was in amazement. It was definitely my favorite part of being in Ireland. A man was playing Irish music there and I decided to start dancing. Some people starting taking videos and pictures. I thought it was hilarious! I’m no professional. After taking in the view, we left in the late afternoon to go to Swinford in County Mayo north of Galway where my family is originally from. We got dinner on the way. When we got to Swinford, I saw a sign that had my family’s last name on it “Groarke”. I got some pictures of it. We then decided to go into Campbell’s bar to ask about my family. When I asked if there were any Groarke’s in the town, they asked which one. Apparently there were over a dozen of my family members still living in the town. I wish we had more time, but it was late at night at that point. We said our goodbyes and headed back to Galway late that night.

That next morning, we woke up early to head back to Dublin. When we returned to Dublin, we saw the statue of their former mayor and walked around a little bit more. That night we went to “The Church” which was an old church where Jonathan Swift worshiped, Georges Frederick Handel played the organ, and where Arthur Guinness was married. I loved the ambiance here. We ate amazing food and had some Irish coffee at the end. After taking a little walk along the river Leffey, we decided to Uber back to our hostel. It was the perfect ending to our trip in Ireland and our spring break.

Edinburgh

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Edinburgh

On Easter Monday, Anna and I left our hostel in Paris early in the morning. We had to take two metros to get to Charles de Gaulle airport. We were going to Edinburgh to meet my friend Caitlin McGrory who studied a whole year at the University of Edinburgh. We had a 7:10AM flight and made it on time. The flight was smooth and fast, though surprisingly I slept for almost the entire flight. My mistake, I did not tell Cait when we were to arrive until boarding and then she realized how little time she had until we came. She arrived to meet us at the airport, taking a double decker bus to the airport. I thought it was so cool that the city uses these buses throughout the whole city. We took one of these buses and of course I had to sit on the top floor. She took us for a walk and brunch in Old City. We saw Old College, made of beautiful and dark limestone in Georgian style. She took us to the Royal Museum of Scotland, which is free to all visitors. I particularly liked the fashion section that chronologized haute couture fashion of the time from the 18th century to the present. We walked through an old cemetery  and heard bagpipes – it felt so Scottish! I had to go and see the bagpipers up close. I really enjoyed seeing the joy these people had playing the bagpipes and the immense effort and skill needed. After that, we saw the Edinburgh Castle, where we saw panoramic views of the city, including the bay of the North Sea called the Firth of Forth. On our way back, Cait saw a woman with an owl and she told me how much she loved owls. I agreed to take pictures of her with a small female owl. She was in heaven holding and petting this owl. She then took us to Saint Giles’ Cathedral, which was a former Anglican church turned Presbyterian during the time of John Calvin. It reminded me of Anglican churches I saw in the past, but also resembled la Cathedrale Saint-Pierre in Geneva, Switzerland. Inside the cathedral is the meeting space for the Order of the Thistle, a Scottish order of chivalry whose members include the queen, other members of the royal family, and descendants of nobility. In the late afternoon, we took a walk in the Meadows, a large open park comprised of a large green with paths and benches. That night we had dinner and went to a bar to hear live Celtic music.

Our second day in Edinburgh was focused on conquering Arthur’s Seat, the peak of the mountains overlooking Edinburgh. We walked by Hollyrood Palace on the way where the queen stays on our trips to Scotland. The hike was very exhausting, but the views from the top of Arthur’s Seat were stunning. We could see the entire city and surrounding areas, including the Firth of Forth and the seaside towns like Portobello which we would visit later that afternoon. On our descent we stopped by Duddingston Loch where birds of all kinds dominated the area: geese, ducks, swans, and seagulls. We then took a quick stop at Scotland’s Parliament building. The parliament was in session so we weren’t able to see the chamber where they meet, but nonetheless it was neat to see where Nicola Sturgeon and other MPs meet day in and day out. For lunch, we ate at the Canon’s Gate Restaurant, where I ate fish and chips and Elderflower Liquer, which is particular to Scotland. From there, my goal was fulfilled when we took a bus to Portobello. I told my friend Caitlin that my special request for this trip was to see a beach in Scotland. As I fulfilled her request to see the French Alps when she visited me in Lyon just two weeks before. Portobello is just a twenty minute bus ride. It is a small Victorian seaside town. Seeing the ocean had such a calming effect on me and put me in a joyous mood. We took a walk near the water and down the beach, until we found a restaurant where we wanted to get some drinks and appetizers. It was such a great experience to sit there and see the beach while eating nachos and talking about our experiences. We took the bus back to Edinburgh and saw the city at night from Calton Hill. Our trip to Scotland was almost over and I commend Caitlin for being such a great host. The next day would be our flight to Dublin.

Reflections on Study Abroad

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It’s hard to reflect on studying abroad in a concise, understandable way–there’s just too much to say, too many of them things that you won’t understand until you do it yourself.

I’ll start with the most important and obvious part: this has been the best experience of my life. I didn’t have any expectations going in because I knew that I couldn’t possibly have a concept for what it was going to be like until I did, but if I would have had expectations, they would have been surpassed. I can see the differences in myself so much more clearly now that I’m home; I am more direct and confident and optimistic, my priorities are aligned and clear, and the world feels so much smaller.

Some things are specific to my experience, and don’t necessarily apply to everyone who studies abroad. I had a language barrier, with a language that I literally knew one (useless) word in. I cannot emphasize how incredibly strange this feels, how alienating it can be, and how much of an idiot it can make you feel like. You learn to avoid the need to speak to people, you pick up on the cultural mannerisms and behavior, you learn the necessary phrases: what people are going to ask you and where, how to answer, how not to appear lost and confused and stupid. Another important, specific factor: cultural attitude. Czech people, at least in public situations, are not conversational or friendly or welcoming. I have met some of the best individuals, who are warm and kind and talkative, but as a whole, in public, the cultural attitude is individualistic and independent, pessimistic, and very quiet. I learned this quickly, and adjusted my behavior without even realizing it (making eye contact with people in public feels foreign to me now, let alone having conversations with strangers). This actually made it easier for me as someone who didn’t understand Czech–I didn’t need to speak nearly as much as I would have had to in America. The point is: you learn. When you are completely immersed, you learn quickly. And, even though it can be difficult, this is an invaluable experience. I emphatically believe that if everyone experienced this first hand, the world would be a kinder, more tolerant, and more empathetic place. It is without a doubt one of the most fundamentally important and formative things I’ve experienced.

Another amazing aspect of studying abroad is the ability to travel. Personally, I traveled a lot–you could travel less than I did (or more!), or just explore your home country; whatever approach you take, traveling is not just really, really, fun, but makes you better at dealing with problems in life by expanding your perspective. Some problems are urgent, and when they are, you deal with them. Some aren’t. And you still deal with them. But learning how to deal with high stress situations not only equips you to deal with other high stress situations–it gives you the perspective to determine what actually is a high stress situation and what isn’t. Plus, the more sights you see and people you meet and languages you hear and food you eat and ambiances you absorb, the better off you’ll be for the rest of your life.

To sign off what has the potential to be a much longer reflection, I’ll just say this: if you are considering studying abroad, do it. If you are not considering studying abroad, do it. If you’re nervous or scared or hesitant, do it (do not ever make a decision based on fear, especially the decision not to do something). You are stunting your own growth and preventing indescribable amounts of future happiness by staying in the safe lane. I’ve spoken about how much living across an ocean helps you grow and learn, but the most important thing, to me, is how much happiness it brought to my life. If your experience is anything like mine or the dozens of people I’ve spoken to who’ve done the same, you will feel more happiness than you even knew you could feel. It will enrich your life with so much joy that  you won’t even be able to put it into words. So please, please just do it.

(Me, at the beginning)

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(& the end)

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Paris (encore une fois)

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Paris (encore une fois)

To begin my spring break, I decided to spend the first weekend in Paris. My dad and youngest brother came to visit Lyon that week. They left very early on the Thursday before break, but I had to stay until my classes were finished. I dropped them off at the train station when I knew they were settled with their correct platform. I then went to my morning class, Sociologie historique de l’Etat (Historical sociology of the State), and then got sandwiches with friends and we ate on the berges du Rhone right at the river. It was a beautiful day and I was so glad to be with great friends just in the beginning of our week long break. My afternoon course was cancelled, so I had some time to go home and pack for my trip and clean my room. I took a 6:05 TGV from Lyon-Gare Part-Dieu. I was so late to arrive that I had to get onto whatever car was available. I ended up in the wrong car and had to stand until we got to the next stop to find my car and correct seat. I spoke to two women about the election, because in a little over a week the results would be announced. At the next stop I got off, found my car, and then found my seat. The TGV (train a grande vitesse) is a blessing, getting me to Paris in two hours. The TGV from Lyon goes to Paris-Gare de Lyon (which gets a little confusing). From there I took two metros to meet my dad and my brother Shea at our hotel. The metros go so fast I fell with all my luggage on top of Parisian teenagers (embarrassing to say the least). When I got there, I was exhausted from my travels so we stayed for a little. We ate at the Cafe de Paris, located in the Saint-Germain quartier (the best for nightlife). There were people playing music and bands everywhere. I of course got duck, my new found favorite food. I wanted to show them more of Paris, but they had conquered a lot of it and also I was really tired. Shea was really disappointed he didn’t get to see the Arc de Triomphe, which I was really sad about, but I didn’t have any energy left. We went in for an early night.

That next morning they left very early in the morning for their flight at Aeroport Charles de Gaulle. They said goodbye while I was half asleep. I woke up a couple hours after they left and slowly got my things ready for my day. I had to check out by 11AM, but left my bags in the luggage room. I got breakfast right outside the Sorbonne in the square right in front of it. Afterwards I realized there was security near another cafe right next to the fountain at the Sorbonne for a movie shooting. I snuck in security and sat near the fountain, hoping to get in their movie shot. From there I made my way to Saint-Chapelle, but then I saw another museum on the way, the Museum of the Middle Ages. It was free for students in the EU under 26, and since I have my Universite de Lyon student card, I could get in for free. This is common for most French museums. As I was walking through the museum, I was overcome with emotion when I thought about my first trip to Paris 8 years ago in 2009 when I was just 13 years old. I imagined all the changes that happened in my life and how much better my life turned out to be. I was mostly pleased that I returned to France and was studying abroad. In the museum, I saw the ‘Woman with the unicorn’ tapestries, which I was always fascinated by. I didn’t even realize that this museum existed, let alone that this work of art was located there. I would recommend this museum to anyone going to Paris. It is less touristy, less known, and has some of the best works of arts from the Middle Ages. I continued to walk to Saint-Chapelle, as I walked past the fountain Saint-Michel in the Latin Quarter. The line for Saint-Chapelle was long, but I waited and got in for free as a student. I met a group of Canadians and a Portuguese guy who were interning in Brussels. There were two floors and on the top floor there were over 16,000 pieces of stain glass to make beautiful and fascinating blue-violet color throughout the room. I couldn’t stay long, as I had much more to see for the day. I walked through Ile de la Cite (the island in the center of Paris where Notre-Dame-de-Paris is located) and then along the Seine to le Musee d’Orsay. The line was surprisingly not too long. When I got in, I went straight to the top floor to see the Impressionist paintings and I also saw the original work of ‘The Thinker’ by Rodin on my way out. After this, I wanted to see an area of Paris I never really visited before. I went to Le Marais, an artsy area popular with young people. I ate outside the Centre Georges Pompidou, which I thought was kind of ugly, but nonetheless finally got to see it. After that I took the metro to our hostel and met up with Anna. We walked to Sacre-Coeur and down to a restaurant. We talked to a group of French and Americans in their late 20s and it got me thinking about how much I want to be an Expat in France. As the evening turned to night, we went back to our hostel because that next day we would travel to Versailles.

That next morning we took a morning train to Versailles. After seeing if we should go into the Chateau right away, we decided the line was too long so we went straight to the gardens. I finally got to see the gardens, in all its beauty with fountains and music playing. We had a snack near a water channel in the gardens and then went into the chateau during the mid-afternoon. We had dinner in the town and had to miss the night fountain show which I was really disappointed about. We took the last train to Paris, and beforehand we worried that we missed the last one to Paris. After that we went right to bed after a long day in Louis XIV’s paradise.

Sunday, our last day in Paris, we decided to split up since I’ve been to Paris before and Anna did not see all the major attractions yet. I went to mass at Sacre-Coeur. There was a long line to get in and then a separate entrance if you wanted to stay for mass. The music and the ceremony of Easter mass was a beautiful experience and it was something I will treasure. After mass I went to the top of the basilica to get a stunning view of Paris. I went back and took a nap at the hostel, and then in the afternoon I spent mostly in the 1st arrondissement near the Louvre. I went by the Opera Garnier, le Grand Palais which the exterior is entirely made of glass, and I saw the Galleries Lafayette along the way. Le Grand Palais was having an exhibition of Rodin’s sculptures, but after waiting in line for a half hour I realized that I would have to wait another half hour. I decided it wasn’t worth it, so I went next door to le Petit Palais to see a free exhibition. I was only there for half an hour and then took my time getting back, buying some clothes at the Galleries Lafayette (because of course its from the best place in France!) and having some pizza at a restaurant. I came home late and decided to pack, because the next day it was time to leave ‘the Continent’ to go to Scotland.

 

Final Consensus on Being Vegan in Prague

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As I’ve spoken about before several times, I’m vegan, and therefore have a different perspective on cities and their food. When I was planning to come to Prague and when I first arrived, I was nervous that I would have an extremely hard time maintaining my veganism with ease. However, after living in Prague for about half a year and traveling to various other cities in Europe, I can make a pleasantly surprising verdict: Prague is a very vegan-friendly city. From the incredible number of fully vegan restaurants (many even have entirely raw menus, or sections that are completely raw, including soups, appetizers, deserts, and main courses, NOT just salads), to vegetarian/vegan restaurants, to restaurants of ethnicities that lend themselves to being vegan friendly, to vegan grocery stores and markets–Here are just a very few of my very favorite places to grab a vegan meal or snack:

Vegan’s:

This is a great, cute vegan restaurant on the hilly side of the river–it has a full restaurant upstairs, and a cute cafe on the ground floor. If you can make it all the way up the hill and then up about 10 narrow flights of spiral stairs, you’ll be rewarded with delish vegan food, everything from Indonesian inspired bowls with rice and tempeh, to amazing veggie burgers, to vegan lasagna, to several veganized traditional Czech foods like svičkova and gulaš. At the cafe downstairs, you can find coffees and teas made with plant-based milk, deserts, sandwiches and salads, and vegan snacks like date bars and chocolate.

Herbivore

Herbivore is an adorable vegan restaurant/grocery store, without a traditional menu (aside from the smoothies, acai bowls, and beverages), instead offering a range of buffet style dishes that change daily. I can’t recommend this little place enough–the people are lovely and the food is AMAZING.

Maitrea

Maitrea is a slightly more upscale vegetarian/vegan restaurant, right off of Old Town Square. The interior is breathtaking, especially when you go downstairs (another Prague spiral staircase); it looks like you’re stepping into Alice and Wonderland. It’s cavernous, and has pink walls and enormous lighting fixtures that look like real flowers hanging from the ceiling–seriously just go for the aesthetic. The menu is large and varied, and I’ve never been disappointed.

Lemon Leaf

Thai is my absolute favorite food in the world, and I’ve actually struggled to find a Thai restaurant in Prague that rivals my favorite from home. Lemon Leaf, a beautiful, open Thai restaurant, is a great option. As is common with Thai, it’s incredibly easy to find vegan dishes, and their food tastes amazing and is obviously fresh and high quality.

Lovin’ Hut

Lovin’ Hut is another vegan restaurant and grocery store. Their selection is great, and you can always count on a fresh bottle of Nemleko–a local Czech brand of almond and poppyseed milk with the purest ingredients list you’ll ever find. It’s a great place to stock up on your vegan essentials, if you like to branch from normal whole foods into fancy specialized stuff, or treat-yo-self snacks.

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Spring in Prague

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IMG_8213.JPGIMG_8212.JPGAfter an extremely long, freezing, and draining but beautiful winter, spring is finally upon us in Prague. Because I’d only known Prague in the winter, I didn’t realize how beautiful it could be (and how much easier life could be when you don’t have to worry about freezing to death!). Although it is a very winter-ey city, Prague really shines in the warm weather, and there are so many great things to do and see that are even more fun in the sunshine. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Petrin Hill

Petrin Hill is a beautiful hillside on the castle-side of the Vltava River, which runs through the center of Prague. The hill is covered in meadows and flowering trees, and has many winding paths to lead you to the top. It’s a popular place to lounge in the sun or picnic, and you’ll often find couples or groups of friends with wine and snacks dotting the hillside. It also has spectacular views of the entire city, so it’s a great place to rest after a hike to soak up the orange roofs.

2.  Charles Bridge at Sunrise

Although Charles Bridge is beautiful, and a definite must-see when visiting Prague, it is absolutely packed with tourists almost all hours of the day; most locals and people who live here know to avoid it when possible. However, I highly recommend walking the bridge when it’s empty, as it really allows you to appreciate the views and the bridge itself. A great time to do so is early in the morning, not just because it’s empty, but because Charles Bridge is one of the best locations in Prague to watch the sunrise. The sunrise in the winter is great (bonus points because it isn’t until 8 am…), but the springtime beauty more than makes up for the earlier call time. You’ll really feel like you’ve stepped back in time if you’re able to experience an empty city.

3. Jogging

Running in Prague can be tricky if you’re not used to cobblestones (correction: walking in Prague can be tricky if you’re not used to cobblestones), but if your foot and ankle muscles have gone through a strength and balance bootcamp like mine have, Prague is a great place to enjoy a morning run. I definitely recommend jogging in the morning or late evening, when the crowds have thinned, but there are also some great parks that are run-able whenever’s convenient for you. Running also gives you a great appreciation for the accessibility of the city; Prague is a very manageable, walkable city, and going for a jog is a great way to get your bearings for sight seeing later in the day. I love to run from my apartment to old town square, across the Vltava, along the river to the lesser town, back across the river and back again. You can also take advantage of the massive, Budapest-esque hills, and get some extra leg action by incorporating them into your route.

4. Picnics

In the warm weather, a great lunch or dinner option is grabbing some fruit and hummus and picnicing in one of Prague’s beautiful parks. Petrin Hill, that I mentioned before, is a great option (you can also work up an appetite on your way up), but there are also several other parks dotted around the city. A favorite of mine is right across the Charles Bridge on the Vltava; it’s also where you’ll find the giant-faceless-baby sculptures. There’s also a beautiful one on an island in the river, easily accessible from the center of the Legion Bridge.

5. Markets

On Easter weekend, Prague explodes with markets in every square and park, and many stay throughout the spring season; grab a trdelník, beer, or sausage, and experience the festival culture in Prague.

Deutschland und Österreich

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Deutschland und Österreich

This past weekend I went to Munich to visit my aunt who finished a business trip. I arrived very late on Friday night to her hotel. We had a couple drinks and chatted. It was so nice to see someone from my family again. We got to sleep early, because the next morning we were going to Salzburg, Austria for the day.

We had to be at the train station by 9AM. We made it on time, surprisingly. My aunt and I are known to be late all the time. But we made it! The train ride lasted about an hour and twenty minutes. We didn’t get to see the Alps because it was so cloudy and raining.

Most of the day it rained, but that didn’t stop us! We followed our tour-guide through the city and saw Mozart’s house, some scenes from the Sound of Music, and later ate Kraze-Kramer’s! They’re frankfurter’s with cheese on the inside in a sandwich with mustard. It was soooooo good! I bit into it, and it splattered all over my aunt’s jacket. I pretended I didn’t notice for a couple minutes until I pointed it out.

We saw cathedrals, walked around beautiful open-air markets, and stores. My favorite part was taking a lift to the mountain overlooking the city. We could see the entire city from there. Here is a picture:

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We walked around up there for a while and saw that there were even more views to be seen. That night I went to the Staatliches Hofbräuhaus (The Royal Brewery) a pint of beer and some frankfurters with potato salad. They played traditional Bavarian music and saw some people dancing in the central hall.

The next day we went to the Schloss Nymphenburg (The Palace of the Nymphs), which is modeled partially after Versailles. I am a sucker for Rococo architecture, so I was in heaven when I saw nymphs flying on the paintings on the ceiling. My aunt and I took a tour of the palace and then walked outside in the gardens. There were ducks and wild animals around, and it was very nice to catch up with my aunt.

After that, we decided to go back to the city center to see the Rathaus-Glockenspiel, which is a big clock on a cathedral in the center square (Marienplatz) at 5pm, when it rings and marionettes dance. After this finished, we walked to the English gardens and saw the sunset. We walked to the beer gardens, despite my aunt’s hesitations, and in fact the beer gardens were opened! We each had a beer, bread, and an artichoke heart. On on walk back home I got a McFlurry and we went back early because my flight Monday morning was very early the next morning. I caught a train at 4:40AM and got to my 7AM flight on time.

When I got on the plane I had a smile on my face with memories to remember for the rest of my life, as a turned my thoughts to my life back in Lyon.

Birthday Surprise!

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Birthday Surprise!

I’m so sorry I have not posted in a while, but so much has happened that I must share!

Roughly a month ago was my 21st birthday, and I know I shouldn’t share too much, but I’ll let you in on some details. My actually birthday was the morning I arrived in Lyon from Lisbon. Our flight was delayed over three hours, and instead of arriving at 11:30 PM 26 February, we arrived at 2:45AM 27 February. Needless to say we were exhausted. We split an uber from the airport to the train station, because it was equal for us and some other Sciences Po students we knew. From there at 4AM, I decided to take a quick bike ride home. It was a bit scary that early in the morning, but I got home safe at 4:20AM and went right to bed. The next morning, my first thought waking up at noon was to take a run…maybe it’s best not to listen to intuition, but I did it anyway. And hey who needs a phone!? so I didn’t bring it with me and somehow ended up in Caluire-et-Cuire, a suburb roughly a 10 minute ride from Lyon. Well then my intuition kicked in and aided me and I came home about a half hour before my class. After a quick shower, I was only 10 minutes late to class. I was quite proud of myself.

Okay I know this sounds crazy, but my life works in strange ways and I like it better that way.

That night after class, a lot of my friends either weren’t in Lyon, or were too tired or ill to go out after a week of traveling. Just three friends and I went to one of our favorite places, Ho36, which is a hostel that has a bar and restaurant. We had some nice drinks and enjoyed each other’s company, while we told stories of our trip. They went to Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin, and Milan. I was quite jealous when I heard of their trips, but then again I had an amazing time in Paris, Barcelona, and Lisbon!

That night my host family decided we’d order Chinese food. We got it from my favorite Chinese restaurant in Lyon, which is just right by our apartment. Afterwards my host mom and sister went into the other room and I heard them start to sing happy birthday. They came in with cupcakes and sang happy birthday in French and English. I was overcome with emotion and got choked up. I feel as if I have another family in France. They gave me gifts as well – a Swiss army knife with my name inscribed on it, Spanish chocolates (they spent the week in Sevilla), and a keychain that read “I’m in the mood for a fiesta”.

That weekend I celebrated my birthday three nights in a row: the first two going out and the second, which I’ll describe, staying at a friend’s. So after two nights of celebrating, I just really wanted to stay at home but my friends were insistent that I go to my friend Staci’s house. I decided to go and when I knocked on the door, there was immediate silence and accidentally Staci stepped on a balloon. I walked in and everyone yelled…you guessed it:

surprise!

At that point I was so overwhelmed I teared up a bit. I have the best friends and the best adopted family anyone could ask for. Certainly a birthday to remember for a lifetime.

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Barcelona, la capital de la Cataluña

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Barcelona, la capital de la Cataluña

In continuing my previous blog post, I left the readers at a cliff hanger. Here’s the resolution. After my mom and Riley left, I packed my bags and took a shower. It was nice to have some serenity before traveling. Then I had to pick up a bus from the Eiffel Tower that drove me to Orly Airport. When I arrived, I was a bit nervous because this was my first international flight alone. As I passed through security, I worried my bags would be too heavy. After I passed through the metal detector and my bag went through the check, a security man asked to look through my bag. Suddenly a pang of uneasiness washed over me. He took out everything from my bag and put it back through the security check. He couldn’t find anything, but we talked for a while as he searched my items. It was relieving to know that even when you do international travel alone, there are still people so kind and helpful.

And my flight was great on the way there. I would highly recommend Vueling (Spanish budget airlines). They played some cool music on the flight, I got my first hearing of a language I wasn’t familiar with (and man could these Spanish speakers speak fast!).

I arrived in Barcelona on time and took a bus into the city. As I walked down the Rambla, there were cool restaurants and ice cream shops all around. I of course had to get an ice cream cone with mystery flavor electric blue coloring (I had no idea what I was ordering at that point). I met Anna down the Rambla near our hostel (Kabul Party Hostel) at the Placa Reial. We dropped our stuff off and then got dinner on the Rambla. It was so cool! The food was amazing, not to mention our massive Sangria glasses. We were so tired by the end, that we didn’t go out. But our hostel had other ideas. We were on the second floor and it was so loud and congested in our room (I would not recommend staying there).

The second day we went on a walking tour. There were two options, a Gaudi walking tour or a Gothic walking tour. Since we were staying in the Gothic quarter, we decided to venture out to see the works of the famous Catalonian artist Antoni Gaudi. What we saw was astounding. This man was absolutely crazy in his designs and artistic conceptions. A dark beauty, a colorful extraordinaire, a quirky design all in one.

But of course the creme de la creme was La Sagrada Familia, an imposing cathedral in its 135th year of construction. When completed it will be the largest and most elaborate cathedral in Europe, possibly the world. Here are some pictures:

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La Sangrada Familia

From there, Anna and I decided to walk all the way up to the top of Barcelona to get a better view of the city. We came upon the Park Guell, an expansive public park overlooking Barcelona. There are small houses there, massive and beautiful gardens, and also a large centerpiece of Gaudi’s Catalan modernism architecture style. We bought tickets to see his tile work, but were told by a friend who we randomly ran into that if we waited until 6:30 it was free. Anyway, it was going toward the city and for refurbishment of Gaudi’s architecture, so it was a good cause. The views from this park were simply breathtaking.

 

That night we had dinner at another restaurant and I ate seafood, which was quite good and very filling. We took a walk near the Mediterranean port area, which was beautiful at night. We couldn’t go out that night because the next morning we had a 7AM flight. We packed and went to sleep. We only had four hours of sleep when we woke up at 4AM. We checked out and then made our bus at 5AM when it began to rain. We made it on time and everything from there was smooth sailing (flying).

The flight was loud again (wow the Catalans can talk!), but I was too excited for what lied ahead…

Paris…and more

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Paris…and more

Hello, dear readers! I am sorry I have been incognito the past few weeks. Much has happened and now I can’t wait to share with you. I will be doing my blog this week in three posts, one for each city I visited last week.

Last week, my mom and brother Riley came to visit me in Lyon. They arrived Friday morning at the Part Dieu train station. They settled in their hotel and then we went straight to the Ferris Wheel to see the city. It was so cool to get to see the city from that vantage point, and to go on a structure I see everyday. From there we walked around Vieux Lyon, the “Old City” of Lyon. I was not very familiar of this part of the city, so it was informational for me as well. Then we went back to the area I lived in to have dinner — pizza! Okay, before you say anything, all other places were closed or full and we really needed to get something to eat.

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The next day, Riley and I biked to Parc de la Tete d’Or and ran in the park. Then we came back to my apartment, met with my host family, and then took a stroll back to the park. As it was the first day of the weather breaking, the park was packed! We walked through the zoo, the rose gardens, and we stopped for a rest at my favorite part of the park.

Sunday, I wan’t feeling too well, so we had to skip some other things. But we did go to the Basilisque Notre Dame de la Fouvriere for mass, afterwards seeing a beautiful view of the city. We then got dinner.

Monday morning we got up early for a 9am train to Paris. We got to Paris on time, but then had to take two metros to get to our hotel. It was a pretty nice hotel and we had two floors to our room! I thought that was the coolest thing. It was right by the Eiffel Tower, so we started our walk near there. Then we continued to the Louvre, where we saw the Mona Lisa. It was the second time I went to the Louvre and I wanted to see other sections of the museum, but for my mom and Riley, we had to see it. As Riley and my mom looked at souvenir shops, I sat outside in the Tuileries Garden posing as a crabby old man you find in many French gardens (I’ve seen them glare at me as I wear my tourist outfits). We finished the day walking to the Arc de Triumph and having dinner near our hotel.

Tuesday, we stayed on the Left Bank, Ile-de-la-Cite, and Ile-Saint-Louis. We walked past Hotel des Invalides (Napoleon’s final resting rotunda), Sciences Po Paris (not to be confused with Sciences Po Lyon), the Sorbonne, and finally the crown jewel—Notre Dame de Paris. We took pictures of us standing at the center mark of Paris, right in front of the Cathedrale. We walked inside and said a prayer, while marveling at the 854 year old architecture. The magic came when Riley and I took a trip to the top of the southern tower. The pictures of the view do not even give the full feeling of being in the presence of such a monumental structure, the pinnacle of French Gothic art and the setting of Victor Hugo’s famous Notre Dame de Paris. 1482, or the English version The Hunchback of Notre Dame. We then walked to the Luxembourg Gardens and next door Saint-Sulpice, where the prime meridian use to run.

We finished our time with a great dinner and even better conversations. The next morning as my mom and brother left, suddenly my Parisien romantic bubble burst as I realized my flight was later that afternoon. But not to worry, more adventure awaited…