Favorite Memories from a Semester Abroad

I am finally done writing about my semester abroad.  It’s a bittersweet moment because I know I will never be able to explore and travel the way I did when I was a student in Europe for five months.  However, I am happy to be back home with my family and friends.  I made the most incredible friends abroad, changed the way I think, and now am more determined to see the world.  A big thank you to my wonderful roommates and friends who made it so fun to travel, the strangers who helped me when I was lost, the people who accommodated me, and my family for making this possible.

I thought it would be fitting to go back and recount some of my favorite memories from those five months.  So without further ado, here is my Top Five Favorite Memories from my Semester Abroad.

5. My First Fùtbol Game

Valencia vs Sevilla Game

The Valencia vs Sevilla game was first fùtbol game I had ever been to, and I was not prepared for the excitement and rowdiness of it.  We had terrible seats (but it did allow me to get this cool picture), but almost all of us from our program had gone together and we all really got into the game.  Some Spanish guys next us were nice enough to teach us the chants, and we all had a blast yelling and cheering.  It was the most fun I’ve ever had at a sporting event.  Nothing can compare to an entire stadium of (mostly drunk) Spaniards cheering at a fùtbol match.

4. Hidden Trail in Guimaraes, Portugal

Hidden Trail in Guimaraes

After my cousin and I had to cancel our Camino de Santiago, we made other travel plans.  We had been in Porto for a few days, and my cousin had left to go back to LA.  I was still in Porto for another day, so I decided to take a day trip.  I picked the first placed I saw on Google that looked interesting and ended up in Guimaraes.  I had spent the day exploring the tiny town, and was honestly a little bit disappointed.  I was going to take an early train home, however, I saw a sign for a trolly that went up one of the mountains and decided to check it out.   When I got to the top, I found an amazing hiking trail that led you through hidden crevices, dense forests, and to beautiful religious artifacts.  Not to mention, the view of the Guimaraes below was stunning.  I spent the rest of the day exploring the area and ended up having to take the very last train of the night.

3. Las Fallas Festival in Valencia, Spain

Fireworks in Plaza Ayuntamiento before La Crema

For those of you who have never heard of Las Fallas, it is a week long festival that happens in our very own Valencia, Spain.  I was lucky enough to live in Valencia, because I know that hostels and hotels can get extremely overpriced during this time.  I loved not only experiencing the festival but experiencing it as a local.  We spent a whole week eating churros, watching light shows, seeing huge monuments slowly get built, learning about the history of the festival, watching amazing fireworks displays, and partying.

Las Fallas began a long time ago when carpenters tossed their old/unused materials into a huge pile and then burned them.  This tradition eventually evolved into what we have today.  Each neighborhood in Valencia works together to create their own monument made out of wood, paper, and other flammable materials.  Some of the monuments were pretty small, but some of the neighborhoods had seven or eight story monuments. All of the monuments are burned at the end of the week in a ceremonial burning.  Throughout the week, there are tons of firework shows.  These were seriously some of the most intricate and loud shows I have ever seen.  For the last few days, they have a show in the main park that lasts a whole thirty minutes.  Imagine thirty whole minutes of explosions, increasingly getting louder and more intense until it ends in your ears exploding and everybody cheering.  The whole week of festivities is something I recommend to everyone if you get the chance.

2. Bars and Blarney Castle in Ireland

Blarney Castle Grounds

When I first started traveling, I would research obsessively about the places I was going to.  I would spend hours looking at pictures, creating a detailed itinerary, and reading other people’s reviews.  I’ve realized that this influenced the way I personally experienced places and attractions.  When I did this, I was going into things with a certain set of expectations, and sometimes I would be disappointed.  Nowadays, I simply look up places to get a rough idea where to go, and then I do no further research.  Then I talk to the locals to hear about their recommendations.

This was the case with Blarney Castle.  Sarah and I decided to visit Blarney Castle because it was close to Cork, and we wanted to see a castle.  We had no idea what to expect, and I think that is what made our experience even better.  I have to say the castle grounds were one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to.  We stayed there for as long as we could, well past closing time, and explored as much as we could.  We felt like little kids loose on a playground.  After leaving the castle, we decided to get dinner at a restaurant in Blarney before heading back to Cork.  We also ended up staying at the restaurant longer than intended because we discovered that there were live bands playing at night.  We bought a couple of drinks and vibed with the music until the last bus came.

1. My First Solo Trip in Cinque Terre


My all time favorite memory from my time abroad has to be my first time traveling alone.  I had a few days between my Switzerland trip and my Berlin adventure, and I decided to visit Milan and Cinque Terre by myself.  It was such a different experience being able to do exactly what I wanted, whenever I wanted.  I had to cry my way out of a ticket, got extremely lost up in the hills of Cinque Terre, and waded through tons of thorns and brush, but I would not change a thing.  This experience gave me a real sense of confidence and independence, and it has changed the way I view traveling.

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The Eiffel Tower and Sacré-Cœur

For my last day in Paris, I decided to visit the Sacré-Cœur and the Eiffel Tower.  I took the metro to the Sacré-Cœur area and was unpleasantly surprised by what I saw.  The area looked like a flea market littered with street performers trying to con people out of their money.  After speaking to quite a few people later in the day, I learned that if you get pick pocketed, your possessions were probably being resold in that area.  Also, a future warning to anyone going to that area, do not participate in the street games.  Conmen host a game where they hide something under one of three cups, move the cups around, and then have you guess which cup has the item under it.  You pay however much you want to, and if you get the right answer, you can double your money.  If you get it wrong, they keep your money. They are extremely tricky, and it is better off that you just avoid playing.

After getting past the conmen and flea market-looking area, I got to the gate of the church grounds.   To get to the actual cathedral, you had to climb up a series of stairs.  However, as I was making my way up to the top, I was cornered by three street vendors.  They took my hand and started braiding a bracelet onto it.  They would not let me leave, and I knew they were going to charge me an insane amount of money for the bracelet.  I promptly yelled at them until they let me go.  After getting past them, I prayed that no one else would approach me.  I finally made it up to the front of the church, and it was beautiful.  The building had everything that a cathedral should have, and it was set on one of the highest parts of Paris, so you had a magnificent view of the city below.  Once inside, I did not realize that pictures were not allowed, so I managed to snap a couple before a guard yelled at me.

After exiting the church, I decided to walk around the area.  I found a sign for a park and decided to follow it.  Soon enough, a woman and a teenage girl approached me with a clipboard.  They were mouthing words and pointing to their ears.  They were trying to get me to pledge money to a “deaf and mute school”.  I was trying to get away from them, but they would not let me leave.  Thankfully, a stranger saw what was happening and started yelling at the woman.  She started yelling back at him when he attempted to kick her (I guess she wasn’t actually deaf and mute), and I made my quick escape.  I walked back down the stairs of the Sacre Couer, through the flea market area, and got onto the first metro I could.

In general, I try to avoid really touristy places because I know there will be a lot of street vendors and conmen, but these particular experiences made me angry.  It is bad enough that thousands of tourists get preyed on in these big cities, but the fact that they were doing it on church grounds just left a very bad taste in my mouth.  It is sad, but I probably won’t be returning to Paris (at least for a long time).

There was one redeeming experience of my day though.  In my opinion, the Eiffel Tower lived up to its reputation, and I really enjoyed my time there.  I decided to take the stairs all the way up to the top (both because it was cheaper and I needed a work out), and the view was unmatched.  It was still very crowded on the platforms, but it wasn’t the kind of crowd that would ruin the experience.

After climbing down, I got dinner in the area before heading back to my hostel.  I had to walk around for half an hour before I found a place that was serving dinner (it was pretty early in the evening).  Going through my pictures, I realized that this picture of my food was the very last picture I took in Europe.  It makes me extremely sad to be done with this series, but I am so thankful for all of the experiences.

Last Dinner in Paris!

But wait! This semester couldn’t end without one last mishap.

I was flying RyanAir, and if you know anything about this airline, they fly out of the most random airports, and they’re usually hard to get to.  So, I had to take an hour long bus ride to get to the airport from Paris.  The bus station was all the way across Paris, and I had planned to take the Metro there. Unfortunately because my flight was extremely early, I did not realize that the metro was still closed, and I had no way of getting to the bus station.  I was just going to splurge on a taxi to get to the bus station when I realized that I was short on cash and had stupidly left my ATM card back in Madrid (with my cousins).  I desperately looked for alternatives and I remembered Uber.  I tried calling an Uber, but of course technology decided to malfunction.  I could not get the app to work for the life of me.  I ended up missing my bus, and consequently my flight.  I had to buy another flight for later that day.  Thankfully, I found a flight from the airport closer to Paris, so I was able to just take the metro straight there (no bus ride needed).  After a few hundred dollars down the drain, I found my way back to Madrid.  From there, I boarded my flight back to California and said goodbye to Europe.

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Alone in Paris: Notre Dame, the Louvre, and Macarons

Sadly, Paris was the last place I visited before heading back to California.  However, I was excited to be traveling alone again.  For anybody that is nervous about traveling alone, don’t be.  There are definitely some things that you have to be extra careful about when you’re alone, but there is nothing like being completely and utterly independent.  You don’t have to accommodate for anyone except yourself. It’s a huge responsibility, but it also comes with an unmatched sense of freedom.

On my flight over from Dublin, I met a nice Australian stranger who told me about his decision to quit his job and spend as long as he can traveling the world.  I am writing this post almost a year after I met him and became his friend on Facebook, and he is still traveling.  He is currently traveling all over South America, and he has already been through Europe and Central America.  I just wanted to share his story because people like him remind me to always stay adventurous.

Anyways, I spent my first day in Paris strolling along the Seine and covering a couple of the sights near it.  I had always heard the stereotype that French people hate Americans, but I felt nothing but welcoming and kindness from the French people I talked to (not to mention I can listen to their accents for years).  I started the day off with brunch at a random restaurant and told the waiter to bring whatever he recommended.  This entailed in a culinary journey of a lifetime for my tastebuds.   I do not usually order chicken at restaurants, but this was seriously the best chicken I have ever had in my life.  It was juicy and flavorful, and I never wanted it to end.  To top it off, the meal came with a huge bowl of creme brulee (you bet I ate all of it). I can’t for the life of me remember what the name of the restaurant was, but it will forever hold a place in my heart.  After my delicious lunch, I headed out to one of the most famous cathedrals in the world, Notre Dame de Paris.

After that, I strolled along the Seine towards the Louvre only to stumble along the famous Pont des Arts (Love Lock Bridge).  If only the SO could have been there to put a lock on with me, but alas, he was at home in California, living vicariously through my Facebook pictures.   I watched a few couples put their lock on before I realized that Paris might not have been the best place to visit alone.  But, one day I will return.  After that, I headed over to the Louvre but decided not to go inside.  The past five months had been filled with museum after museum and, call me uncivilized, I was oversaturated on museums.  To be fair, I am more of an outdoor/nature person than a city person.  Even though I knew the Mona Lisa was inside, I could not justify the entrance fee and the long lines.  The outside of the building was equally as interesting though.

My boyfriend’s family loves baking and French culture, and I knew they loved Laduréeso of course I had to get them some macarons.  If you know me, you know that I am extremely frugal and thrifty.  I did not want to pay for a metro fare to get to Ladurée, and it looked like the bakery would not be that far of a walk.  Boy was I wrong.  By the time I got to the shop, I felt like a million years had passed.  I also accidentally got hit in the face by someone in the line (people go crazy for bakery treats).  To top it off, I did not realize how much the macarons at Ladurée were, and I ended up paying almost 40 euros for a mere 12 macarons.  (Another reason why I try to avoid super touristy cities).  Anyways, that concluded my first day in Paris, and I somehow managed to make it all the way back to my hostel (at the very last stop of the pink line) where I promptly passed out for the night.

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