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It officially feels like winter in Washington, D.C. For all of us in the city, days spent out are coming to an end and days spent in are just beginning.
With a nine-to-five in public relations supporting a top travel account, cabin fever can set in quickly. Inspired by my client’s worldwide work, I’ve returned to my blog to relive my own international adventures and share them with you! I will be resuming my writing at my trip to Dublin, Ireland, for St. Patrick’s Day 2017, when I was spending the spring studying abroad in Nice, France.
WordPress tells me that I’ve run out of free storage space for my photos, and my intern hourly wage tells me that I don’t have the money to buy the solution. Getting creative, each post from now on will link out to the rest of the entry. Simply click here or the image above to read.
Sunday Morning Markets
Whether its flowers, food, fancy goods or flea market finds in Madrid, luxury shopping or international eats in London, Easter treats in Prague, creative crafts in Budapest, or crazy cuisine in Barcelona, exploring the concentration of cultural curio found in a market is one of my favorite things to do when traveling. Though sometimes a tourist trap, most markets still have roots in the heart of the culture and provide an insider’s look into the lives of the people. In Paris, Sunday morning sees hundreds of vendors set up in the city for the marchés aux puces (flea markets), so I chose one of the area’s many markets and set out to explore.
I had planned to visit Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, one of the biggest flea markets in Europe, but did not have time to travel far from the city center. Instead, I went to the Les Puces de Vanves, a smaller market south of the Seine.
I arrived at the market around 9 a.m., which was still a little too early for the French. After about an hour, all of the displays were organized, and a steady stream of visitors scanned diverse collections of items for potential purchases.
This flea market was not unlike many others that I have visited, with many similar novelties for sale. Nonetheless it was a nice way to spend the morning.
Hot Chocolate Heaven
For a filling brunch before my flight, I made reservations at Angelina, a special, Parisian café recommendation from a friend. Angelina is known for its hot chocolate, so I set out to discover if the praise met my high expectations.
The meal was expensive, as I had anticipated, but offered plenty to eat. The hot chocolate was very good, thick and sweet, though I still think Madrid’s chocolate con churros does the warm, rich drink the best. The food probably could have been split between two people, but as solo adventures were the theme of this trip, breakfast was no different! I enjoyed my fancy, French-inspired brunch, down to the very last drop of Angelina hot chocolate, and made my way back to Nice.
Overall, I had a great week! It provided just the right amount of time with traveling friends as it did time alone. I navigated transportation, ate in restaurants, and explored cities by myself. Though I never doubted my travel knowledge and abilities, I did learn to enjoy my own company and be okay with spending time with me.
- Tune in to Podcasts. My mom has recommended that I start following podcasts for a few years now. It took my hour-long walk home from school in Nice to truly become interested in listening to dialogue instead of music, but I have finally started to explore the podcast world. One of the programs I enjoy is Condé Nast Traveler’s “Travelogue,” which discusses the evolving travel industry from a traveler’s point of view. While listening to the March 17 episode, “How Women Are Changing the Travel Industry,” I really identified with some of their comments and stories through the experiences and feelings I had on my Break 1 trip. The section from 3:53 to 5:47, specifically, captures my solo travel observations, but I recommend giving the entire episode a listen and checking out the rest of their conversations!
- Les Puces de Saint-Ouen
- 93400 Saint-Ouen
- Les Puces de Vanves
- 18 Avenue Georges Lafenestre, 75014 Paris
- 226 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris
Paix, Amour, Paris,
Language of Love
The next morning I found myself in a crowd of travelers from all over the world. Though this isn’t a strange occurrence in Paris, it was a special one, because we were all appreciating Le mur des je t’aime, or the Wall of Love. This mural, tucked away in a small park in the neighborhood of Montemarte, features written “I love you”s in more than 250 languages. It took me a few minutes to locate the English inscription, as I was more interested in the findings of the other visitors. While I could understand the Spanish “te amo” (upper right-hand corner) and the French “je t’aime” (left center), people were posing next to phrases so foreign to me that I could not even identify their region of origins. There is still so much of the world to experience!
Passages of Paris
Breaking away from the gathering, I navigated towards the River Seine via a few of Paris’s passages, from Passage Verdeau, to Passage Jouffroy, eventually reaching the most well-known, Passage des Panoramas. These “hidden” hallways house restaurants, boutique shops, and everything in between. I enjoyed the afternoon in quirky antique stores and sophisticated photo galleries.
I followed the walkways down to my next location, “Les Deux Plateaux,” an art installation in the courtyard of the Royal Palace. Though Daniel Buren’s work has been present here for more than 30 years, I had only recently discovered these funky fixtures.
Exiting the courtyard, I ended up just in front of La Comédie – a cafe that I had visited with my family on my last trip to Paris – and realized just how hungry I was! Torn between wanting to try a new restaurant and returning to this reliable café, I ultimately decided to stay. Compromising, I ordered a different meal, this time, the three-cheese quiche. A self-proclaimed quiche connoisseur, I eat a lot of this dish. My mom’s quiche is creamy, smooth, and moist, while my dad’s is dense and cheesy. I enjoy both of my parents’ signature quiches, but La Comedies’ version was one of the best I’ve ever had. Seriously, amazing. Granted, I hadn’t yet eaten that day, and was (and still am) slightly appalled at the 14€-a-serving price tag, but this slice of heaven was worth it.
An appropriate way to spend an evening in Paris, I went department store hopping, appreciating French fashion in the capital of all things chic. The Galeries Lafayette (Haussman), as I’ve previously praised, is always worth a visit, at the very least for the free, panoramic views. Expanding my retail tourism, however, I also explored Le Bon Marché, another popular Parisian shopping destination. Though much less architecturally impressive than the Galeries Lafayette, this mini mall did have a funky, concept store section and a cool, vinyl record cafe.
Only have time for one? Galeries Lafayette. Not only is it’s location is more convenient, near the center of Paris, its glass dome and rooftop views rival the beauty of any other attraction in the city.
- Time of day matters. When visiting the passages of Paris, consider when you choose to go. If you arrive too early, or on a Sunday, many of the shops will be closed and the entire effect of the attraction will be missed. You may skip crowds going at off-peak times, but I think that the skinny passages are in their full glory at mealtimes, when people are packed into cafés and window shopping, walking off the fantastic French fare.
- Souvenir fail. One of my favorite shops in the passages was Paris est une Photo. Though I appreciated his photography, I was more inspired by the old postcards mingling with the photos. DO NOT BUY 12€ MOUNTED POST CARDS FROM THIS SHOP. Five minutes down the hallway, I came across multiple shops selling vintage postcards for 1€ each, or less, and not just one or two shoeboxes full, but at least 10. I’m usually a smart shopper, scanning all my options before going back to get the item I liked best, but of course I lost on this sole, spontaneous purchase.
- Wall of Love
- Square Jean Rictus, Place des Abesses, 75018 Paris
- Passage Verdeau
- Passage Jouffroy
- Passage des Panoramas
- Paris est une Photo
- 55 Passage Jouffroy, Paris, 75009 Paris
- Les Deux Plateaux
- La Comédie
- 157 Rue Saint Honoré, 75001 Paris
- Galeries Lafayette (Haussman)
- 40 Boulevard Haussmann, 75009 Paris
- Le Bon Marché
- 24 Rue de Sèvres, 75007 Paris
Paix, Amour, Paris,
After my visit in London, I set off on my most foreign trip yet: Vilnius, Lithuania. My research assured me that I would have no problem navigating the land of my ancestors, but I was still apprehensive about the language barrier and my physical and mental distance from anything familiar.
Though the flight to Vilnius was (unsurprisingly) empty, I shared the row with a chatty fellow traveler. He pointed out the window and spoke to me in what I assumed was Lithuanian. When I told him no, I did not understand, in English, he said “Français?” and I replied with a hesitant “Oui…” He explained that he was pointing at the blanket of snow that covered the land below. Coming from a city of the seaside and sunshine, I was not thrilled with this observation. We continued the conversation as well as two people speaking a second language could, and I discovered that Mikhail Yurkov was a Russian pianist giving a private concert in Vilnius that night. He lived in Paris, which is why he had learned French, but his Russian accent was very strong. When I told him that I was going to explore Lithuania because I was Lithuanian, he shook and kissed my hand. He repeated the gesture when I mentioned that I would love to visit Russia after reading the Russian novel War and Peace. With this expression of friendship, I felt good about my upcoming time in Lithuania.
It wasn’t difficult to show the taxi driver my hostel address, so I made my way into town with ease. I stayed at the Litinterp Guesthouse Vilnius in a large, single room with an ensuite bathroom for the same price as I paid for my room in London, a shared bedroom of 14 with a communal hall bathroom.
I noticed the poverty of the area between the airport and the city center, evident from the extensive graffiti and overall disrepair of some of the buildings. Vilnius’s Old Town, however, found on the south side of the Neris River that divides the city, contrasted the capital’s suburbs as quaint and clean little village within an Eastern European metropolis. I ate dinner at Forto Dvaras, a Lithuanian chain restaurant that makes authentic Lithuanian food certified by Lithuanian’s Culinary Heritage Fund. I ordered potato pancakes, a dish that I am familiar with from meals with the Lithuanian half of my family. The pancakes tasted delicious and reminded me exactly of the ones I enjoy at home.
Churches of Vilnius
Vilnius awoke sluggish yet sunny the next morning, and I boarded the hop-on-hop-off tour bus from a rather deserted town square. Accompanied by only two other couples, I rode the bus around Vilnius, gathering an idea of the city’s layout, as well as historic information about the country as a whole.
The first thing I realized of Old Town Vilnius were the churches. Acting like the blue-light system on a college campus, if standing in front of one church, one can turn 360 degrees and find another place of worship within sight and walking distance. I’m convinced you could do so all day.
The Vilnius Cathedral Basilica can be found in Cathedral Square, the center of Vilnius’s Old Town. This Roman Catholic church is one of the most celebrated sites in Vilnius, hosting religious services, the remains of St. Casimir, Lithuania’s patron saint, and even, one time, Pope John Paul II. The cathedral shares the square with the Bell Tower of Vilnius Cathedral that overlooks the old city.
“The shrine in which the heart of the Lithuanian nation beats.” ~John Paul II, on the Vilnius Cathedral Basilica
Apart from Vilnius itself, (the Republic of) Užupis, comparable to the artist-filled Montmartre district of Paris, is an alternative section of the city allegedly independent from Lithuania. The entity, created by those who create, recognizes its independence day as April 1st (April Fool’s Day), and strongly supports its 41-point constitution, which guards some of the citizen’s most important rights:
- Everyone has the right to die, but it is not his duty.
- Everyone has the right to make mistakes.
- Everyone has the right to love.
- Everyone has the right to take care of their dog until one of them dies.
- Every dog has the right to be a dog.
- Everyone has the right to have no rights.
Though the official status of this neighborhood remains, intentionally, vague, it was entertaining, and somewhat humbling, to discover a place where art, emotion, and truth reign.
The Gates of Dawn
Continuing the tour, we traveled along the outskirts of the Old Town near what used to be Vilnius’s defensive wall. Built in the 1500s, the Lithuanians constructed the wall for protection from Russian invasion. Today, the Gates of Dawn is the last surviving passage of the original wall, and is a shrine to the Virgin Mary, housing a world-renowned painting of the “Vilnius Madonna.”
As I approached the gate, I realized that each person passing through stopped and prayed, gesturing the sign of the cross. Everyone, from the mother with her toddler to the group of older church ladies, halted in the middle of the street to recognize the religious significance of this sanctuary. I found the religious dedication of the Lithuanians incredibly moving.
Did You Know?
Did you know that the Lithuanian language is one of the nearest spoken forms of Sanskrit? Though the Lithuanians are proud of their special language, I found that many people in Vilnius has some knowledge of English. In an attempt to fit in, however, I learned the Lithuanian word for thank you: ačiū (pronounced like a sneeze). My one-word knowledge of Lithuanian could not get me very far, but each time I said”thank you” to a Lithuanian, they gave a small smirk of approval.
Conservative Country, Plenty of Pride
Lithuania may be a country that is easily overlooked from a North American perspective, but the people’s passion for their history and traditions rivals that of any great nation. I was disappointed to be missing Lithuanian Independence Day on February 16th, so close to my visit, but I understood the depth and intensity of Lithuanian pride from my short time in the country’s capital. Lithuania’s history recounts repeated episodes of political and religious intrusion, but despite these difficult events, the Lithuanians never gave up defending their freedom. A symbol of this political liberty stands in front of the Presidential Palace in Vilnius as a reminder of this fruitful fight. Though I appreciated this object of political pride, it does not compare to my encounter with the Lithuanians’ physical manifestation of religious independence that I experienced later that afternoon.
- If interested in the Vilnius City Tour bus, note that preordering tickets online only allows for the purchase of an all-day ticket. If bought from the bus driver, tickets for a one-time trip can be obtained for nearly half of the price of the unlimited option.
- I didn’t have time to see all of Vilnius, but the Vilnius Tourist Information Centre provides a great list of other places to see in Lithuania’s capital city.
- Vilnius, Lithuania
- Gediminas Tower
- Arsenalo g. 5, Vilnius 01143, Lithuania
- Litinterp Guesthouse Vilnius
- Bernardinu str. 7, Bernardinų g., Vilnius 01124, Lithuania
- Forto Dvaras
- Pilies g. 16, Vilnius 01123, Lithuania
- Cathedral Square
- St. Francis & St. Anne’s churches
- Maironio g. 8-1, Vilnius 01124, Lithuania
- Church of the Holy Spirit
- Aušros Vartų g. 10, Vilnius 01302, Lithuania
- Church of St. Casimir
- Didžioji g. 34, Vilnius 01128, Lithuania
- Vilnius Cathedral Basilica
- Šventaragio g., Vilnius 01143, Lithuania
- Bell Tower of Vilnius Cathedral
- Katedros varpinė, a. 2, Vilnius 01143, Lithuania
- Town Hall Square
- Gates of Dawn
- Aušros Vartų g. 12
- S. Daukanto a. 3, Vilnius 01122, Lithuania
Taika, Mielė, Vilnius,
Not Your Average Bowl of Cereal
I enjoy a serving of cereal every now and then, and I love milk, but I do not like my cereal in my milk. Where some may find the two a perfect pair, the solid and liquid complementing each other to create a both filling and hydrating breakfast in a bowl, I much rather grab a handful of cereal and wash it down with an ice cold glass of 1%. All cereal preferences considered, I was still curious to try the Cereal Killer Cafe.
Initially, creating cereal concoctions with a crazy collection of cereal, an assortment of sugary treats, and a multitude of milk seems like a fun snack. The nostalgic décor and literal beds for a seating option created a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. Unfortunately, on a Monday afternoon, the Camden location was out of many menu options and lacked cleanliness in their establishment. I could not enjoy half of the toppings that I had hoped for, and sticky tables and unwashed silverware was unsettlingly obvious. As a result, I only ordered Lucky Charms with Oreos (a “magically delicious” combination), but, for sanitation reasons, I was too apprehensive to drink the milk out of the bottle. Perhaps there is better luck at the Brick Lane cafe.
With a few hours in between my cereal snack and my evening plans, I decided to take a trip to Harrod’s, an only-in-London shopping locale that I had imagined was England’s equivalent of Macy’s department store. Though the establishment was technically a department store, it was nothing like Macy’s. A cross between a gorgeous galleria and a merchandiser’s museum, Harrod’s endless emporium made my initial plan to browse the store in an hour futile. One could spend an entire day marveling at the beautiful products and décor! I didn’t even take photographs because they wouldn’t due the store justice. If you’re visiting London, move Harrod’s from your “place to visit if I have time” list to your “must-see” traveler’s agenda.
I left the retail paradise for a true museum, the Tate Modern. This attraction, granting free entry to all, presented interesting exhibits typical of a modern art museum. It also, however, offered a rooftop view of London. Though foggy (like my other sky-high sightseeing attempts), the panorama offered a different experience of London.
To end my time in this city, I went to Poppies Fish & Chips, a popular restaurant serving a popular English dish. However, I dined at the chain’s Soho location and enjoyed an entertaining meal. At Poppies’ quirky Chinatown restaurant, the dominantly male wait staff, though slightly uncomfortable, was goofy and fun. They interacted with the Asian guests in native language attempts and were extremely attentive to all diners. The food, too, impressed, rivaling my grandma’s own breaded Haddock fish. I even appreciated the 50s throwback soundtrack while sipping my fresh lemonade. In London, fish and chips is a must, Poppies is a go-to, and the Soho location is recommended!
“Only in London”
My motto for this trip accurately describes my English capital exploration. London is truly home to the stylish and the strange. Rather than investigate the history of the city, as I usually do when traveling, I decided that London just had too much “now” to see and do. I would speculate that I could learn about London’s past on a return trip, but I suspect that the eccentric metropolis will have new quirks to discover.
- Cereal Killer Cafe – Camden location
- Stables Market, Mezz 2, Chalk Farm Rd, London NW1 8AH, UK
- Brick Lane location
- 87-135 Brompton Rd, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7XL, UK
- Tate Modern
- Bankside, London SE1 9TG, UK
- 55-59 Old Compton St, Soho, London W1D 6HW, UK
- various other locations
Peace, Love, London
London with a Local
Taking on the city with a 10-year resident, I met up with the brother of one of my mother’s international friends. We began with the tourist leading the Londoner to God’s Own Junkyard, a garage gallery on the outskirts of the city center home to hundreds of neon signs; if you arrive near the dumpsters of a questionable property, you’re in the right place! The establishment was small, but impressive. More than just a lot of light, many of the installments were composed works, a combination of individual, glowing pieces, to create inspiring, innovative, and eyebrow-raising art.
Though there is a café area in the gallery, my new friend and I did not stay, opting instead for a greater foodie experience closer to town.
Camden: the Cosmic Culinary Capital of London
My guide led me to the neighborhood of Camden Town, a funky, alternative area of food and flea market vendors. Our destination was, specifically, the Camden Market, an international smorgasbord bordering Regent’s Canal. Hosting stalls of every type of cuisine, we settled on splitting a Venezuelan shredded beef and corn bread sandwich and a Greek chicken wrap. The sandwich, from Arepa: Venezuelan Street Kitchen, was one of the best dishes I ate in London.
Next, we ventured into a store that I feel embodies the environment of Camden. Cyberdog‘s storefront was preceded by a line to get in the door, which was flanked by two, futuristic, human-dog hybrids. Neon lights, techno music, and cage dancers greet customers, along with the store’s least offensive merchandise. Floors below reveal risqué stock, justifying the “no photography” policy.
After visiting God’s Own Junkyard and this inexplicably bizarre but must-see store, I began to feel that the phrase “only in London” would be an appropriate label for many of my experiences on this trip.
Walking after our lunch, we took the Regent’s Canal Towpath from Camden Town to Primrose Hill in Regent’s Park. On a clear day, one finds a panoramic look of London, but as typical of viewing experiences of my journey, the city fog took over and obscured the overlook.
Lights of London
While visiting a new city, I like to explore the same place during the day and during the night for a different perspective. Each experience is beautiful in its own way. I was able to end my third day in London with a return to Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye to enjoy these London landmarks illuminated along the River Thames.
- God’s Own Junkyard
- Unit 12, Ravenswood Industrial Estate, Shernhall St, Walthamstow, London E17 9HQ, UK
- Camden Town
- Camden Market
- 32 Camden Lock Pl, London NW1 8AL, UK
- Camden Market, Stables Market, Chalk Farm Rd, London NW1 8AH, UK
- Regent’s Canal Towpath (from Camden Market)
- Primrose Hill/Regent’s Park
- Big Ben and Houses of Parliament
- Westminster, London SW1A 0AA, UK
- London Eye
Lambeth, London SE1 7PB, UK
Peace, Love, London
10 Days, 3 Countries, 1 Backpack and Me
Reaching a traveler milestone, I am taking my first solo trip! We have a week-long break from school this month, which means time to travel. First stop: London.
I traded sunny Nice for snowy London, which I discovered was unseasonably cold even for the characteristically dreary city. With inspiration to tour London from a friend who studied abroad there last semester, I approached the city with a insider list of things to see and do.
I took the tube from London’s Heathrow airport to the city center, which took longer than I expected. Nonetheless, I was very happy with my hostel location, as well as with my overall experience. Because of my solo status, I stayed at St. Christopher’s Inn London Bridge at the Oasis, an all-female section of the hostel.
With many places to visit and only a few days to do so, I set out to explore the city.
For reasons I can’t quite explain – maybe it’s the soundtrack, maybe it’s Dennis Quaid, maybe it’s because my sister and I bond over every line – The Parent Trap (1998 version) is one of my favorite movies. Because of my love for the film, I had to visit the James’ residence, or the home of the London-living Lindsay Lohan. Though under construction, the home still transported me back to movie memories. At 23 Egerton Terrace, it sits in one of the most wealthy neighborhoods of the city. The James’ were living large in London.
I spent my first evening in London in Covent Garden, a district near the center of the city. Getting to the area, the Covent Garden underground stop only offered options for the “lift” and for the stairs. Rather than wait in the large crowd for the elevator, I decided to walk, and soon realized why there was a crowd for the lift. With 193 spiral stairs, equivalent to 15 stories, I felt like I was climbing up a lighthouse! Fortunately, Covent Garden was worth the effort. A mixture of luxury stores and artisan shops, the neighborhood was the perfect place to wander after a morning of travel. There were multiple indoor/outdoor buildings, including the central Covent Garden Market, of stalls of pricey perfumes, homemade crafts, and food vendors scattered in between.
Nestled within the criss-crossing streets, Homeslice Pizza‘s golden-lit glow invited me in for some Friday night pizza. I got there at 5:30 p.m. and snuck in at a table alone, but by the time I finished, there was a crowd at the door. As for the food, the paper-thin crust was dusted with a salty pizza flour that added a punch to the incredibly fresh ingredients. One could taste the quality of the basil leaves, tomato sauce, and mounds of mozzarella, a filling end to a full day.
- Two words: Oyster Card. The Oyster Card is the tourist payment card for those who plan on utilizing public transportation while in London. This card was a life saver! I put about 30€ on it at the airport when I arrived and it lasted all trip. The highlight of this system, though, is the daily charge cap. While the capping calculations themselves are a bit complicated, depending on where and how you travel, the idea is simple— travel more, spend less. I reached my spending cap each day I was in London, and was always thrilled to realize when I was no longer being charged for my travel. Tourism done right!
- St. Christopher’s Inn London Bridge
- 165 Borough High St, London SE1 1HR, UK
- The Parent Trap house
- 23 Egerton Terrace, Chelsea, London, SW3 2BU, UK
- Covent Garden
- Homeslice Pizza
- Seven Dials London, 13 Neal’s Yard, London WC2H 9DP, UK
Peace, Love, London
Paris, Day 2, was even better than the first, combining typical tourist attractions with some special sights.
After passing countless closed cafés on our apparently early, 9 a.m. start, we came across Le Parvis. Though it was just one of the many eateries on the Rue d’Arcole, it was the only one we found to be open. Thankful that the restaurant was even going to serve us, we did not expect much from the meal, only craving morning nutrition. Our breakfast, however, was delicious. With outstanding omelettes, crispy croissants, and fresh juice, it was one of the best meals of the week. Fueled with fantastic French food, we began our second day of exploration.
Of the many things I learned in my first years of French instruction, I have inexplicably distinct memories of discussing one of Paris’s grand shopping centers. Based on my faint ideas and images of a beautiful building housing posh, Parisian products, my family and I set out to investigate my hazy remembrances.
Combine the luxury of Saks Fifth Avenue with the mesmerizing appeal of stained glass to get the stunning Galeries Lafayette. Cosmetics counters below and a glass dome above, the 9-story shopper’s paradise is worth a visit, if not for its fancy products or indoor aesthetic, then for its free, rooftop views. With only a few sets of chairs but ample AstroTurf on which to sit, the terrace of the Galeries Lafayette was littered with lunchtime visitors soaking up the springtime sun and taking in the sights of the Eiffel Tower. For my family and I, it served as the setting for our Parisian Macaron Matchup.
Macarons, often mistakenly identified as macaroons, have become associated with the French almost as strongly as the croissant has. When I researched the best macaron shop in Paris, however, I found conflicting opinions. Fellow travelers narrowed the options down to two pastry houses: Pierre Hermé and Ladurée. With a Pierre Hermé kiosk in the Galeries Lafayette, my mom, aunts, and I thought it a perfect time to try one of the best.
We ordered a cup of six, funky-flavored macarons to split, taste, and analyze. The first flavor we tried, Imagine, of Matcha green tea and black sesame crisp, was all wrong. Next was Infiniment Rose, which was much better, a very mild-tasting and pleasant treat. Third, we tried Mogador, a milk chocolate and passion fruit macaron. The tart wafers and rich center clashed, so we gave this one a thumbs down. Fortunately, the citrus wafers and creamy center of Velouté Infiniment Orange tasted like harmonious creamsicle. Following the orange macaron, we sampled Céleste, a passion fruit, rhubarb, and strawberry concoction, which wasn’t great. We finished with Infiniment Menthe Fraîche, or mint, which was underwhelming too. Overall, the sweets were made well, with soft-flavored wafers and tongue-shocking centers, but the flavors weren’t practical or enjoyable.
After our snack, we set out to see the west side of the city. On our way through the Place de la Concorde, we came across a Ferris wheel, which was erected to promote the 2016 UEFA European Championship, to be held in France this year. A ride to the top offered sky-high views of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe, our next destinations.
Walking down the Champs-Élysées, I was surprised at the luxury, scale, and commercial presence on the street. From what I had interpreted from my classes, this was a street of quaint, albeit inauthentic, cafés and small, overpriced boutiques, not stories-high chain shops. Nonetheless, the tree-lined route made for a pleasant journey to view the towering Arc de Triomphe.
Skipping the tourist cafés of the Champs-Élysées, my family and I searched for a snack around the Louvre Museum, the next stop on our Paris agenda. Settling on La Comédie, I enjoyed my croque madame outdoors, people watching, like a true Parisian.
The grounds of the Louvre were dotted with visitors playing photography games, “pricking” their fingers on the top of the iconic pyramids. This is where my family and I waited for our museum tour guide, Georgi, who my aunt discovered via Airbnb. A friendly and knowledgable host, Georgi led us to the highlights of the Louvre, because the museum is impossibly large to tackle without a plan.
We saw the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace (my favorite), and of course, the Mona Lisa. Georgi shared some of his art history expertise with us, explaining the story of the painting of the Mona Lisa. Many years ago, an Italian man stole the Mona Lisa from the Louvre, creating a hype around the missing painting. According to the story, once he was caught, investigators asked why he chose the Mona Lisa, and he replied that the work of Leonardo da Vinci deserved to be displayed in Italy, and because of its small size, the Mona Lisa was the easiest to steal. With the excitement of the theft, visitors rushed to see the Mona Lisa upon its return to the Louvre. The woman’s “mysterious smile” is a popular attribution to its acclaim, but Georgi pointed out that many of the other women in da Vinci’s numerous works portray a similar smirk. He continued to explain that the Mona Lisa is, essentially, the Kardashian of paintings: beautiful in its own right, but famous for nothing.
Across the room from the little Mona Lisa hangs The Wedding at Cana, a grand painting by Paolo Veronese. Georgi noted that the dimensions of this painting, about 22-by-32 feet, is generally the size of an average Parisian flat! On our way out of the museum, we passed by another fun-fact art feature, the “selfie statue.” Apollo Slaying the Python, the title of the work, clearly explains the act of the Greek god snapping a photo of himself to post on Instagram, #Louvre.
To end our spectacular second day in Paris, we made our way to the Trocadéro Gardens to see the Eiffel Tower illuminated in the Parisian night sky. Though I was unable to enjoy the park itself, it provided a fantastic and full view of the Eiffel Tower. Many others knew of the spot, with a street performer and local food trucks complementing the tourist crowds. Fortunately, we arrived just in time to catch the sparkling lights of the grand tower. Though there were hordes of people vying for the best angle of the monument, the location offered everyone an exceptional look at the eminent Eiffel Tower.
- Le Parvis
- Galeries Lafayette Haussmann
- 40 Boulevard Haussmann, 75009 Paris, France
- Pierre Hermé
- Galeries Lafayette – Espace Chaussures et Souliers (niveau -1) & Espace Créateurs (niveau 1); 40 boulevard Haussmann, 75009 Paris, France
- Place de la Concorde, UEFA Ferris wheel
- 75008 Paris, France
- Avenue des Champs-Élysées
- 75008 Paris, France
- Arc de Triomphe
- Place Charles de Gaulle, 75008 Paris, France
- La Comédie
- 157 Rue Saint Honoré, 75001 Paris, France
- Louvre Museum
- 75001 Paris, France
- Eiffel Tower
- Champ de Mars, 5 Avenue Anatole France, 75007 Paris, France
- Trocadéro Gardens
- Place du Trocadéro et du 11 Novembre, 75016 Paris, France
Paix, Amour, Paris
The most important fútbol game in Spain, El Clásico pits Spain’s two largest cities against each other for the ultimate rivalry. Each year, Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona fight for national bragging rights as the best Spanish fútbol team. Because Barcelona hosted this year’s match, 16 people in my program and I made the trip to the opposing team’s city to see its attractions and experience its liveliest weekend of the year.
With an airline delay, we landed an hour behind schedule for our first evening in Barcelona. Though the flight was a disappointment, my friends and I took the quick and convenient 5,90€ Aerobus airport transfer to the city’s Gothic Quarter, arriving at the Sun and Moon Hostel, our residence for the weekend. With limited hostel experience, I was not prepared for the lodging’s atmosphere. We entered the building to loud music and were introduced to a bartender shortly after arrival. Unsure of what I had gotten myself into, I soon learned that there are two types of hostels: the quiet, keep to yourself establishments, or the community-oriented, party hostels. Though we were staying in the latter, it did not pose a problem, considering our exchange of quality for location and price, even with the many small, unexpected fees we came upon during our stay.
Friday night was the best night to go to Barcelona’s most popular club, Opium. Contrary to its severe name, the beach-access disco had a diverse customer base and relaxed atmosphere. With party-goes aged from early twenties to late forties, there was a place for everyone, be it on the dance floor, at the bar, or on the patio overlooking the sea. Though we ended the night early in preparation for our busy next day, I could have spent hours listening to the rumble of the waves mix with the beat of the music from the club.
Wanting to make the most of our weekend in Barcelona, a few friends and I had preordered tickets for the Sagrada Familia, one of the greatest religious structures of all time. I had heard about and seen images of the incredible work that architect Antoni Gaudí had done, but nothing could have prepared me for the first-hand experience. The church towers over you, so much so that the views of the entire facade are better seen off-site. The intricacy of the facade was impressive, but the interior blew me away. Tall, geometric columns glowed in all colors from the dream-like luminosity of the stained glass windows. Though the great number of visitors made the structure seem less like a place of worship and more like a circus, it made the religious house that much more of an dramatic offer to Catholicism. It’s partial completion adds to its grandeur, making me wonder what the experience will be like when it is finished. Plans anticipate that 2026 will be the end of major construction, so I hope to get the opportunity to one day return and see Gaudi’s vision complete.
Continuing with the morning’s Gaudí theme (not difficult to do when in Barcelona), my friends and I walked from the Sagrada Familia to two famous Gaudí-designed houses: Casa Batlló and Casa Milà. We did not have the time (or money) to enter the buildings, so we admired them from the outside. The colors of Casa Batlló radiated down the street, with gentle turquoise and bright green glass making the facade dance like crystal-clear water. Casa Milà was more understated, but equally as curious. Though at first it blended in with the surrounding structures, standing below the skeleton-like building revealed more geometric intricacy, similar to that in the Sagrada Familia.
On route back to our hostel for an afternoon rest, we traveled down Las Ramblas, one of the busiest streets in Barcelona, lined with souvenir shops, food vendors, as well as formal stores and restaurants. We had been warned of the excessive pickpocketing on this popular street, but I never once felt targeted or suspicious.
Located on Las Ramblas is another one of Barcelona’s must-see specialties, La Boqueria. This half outside/half inside marketplace is comparable to but bigger and better than the Mercado San Miguel in Madrid. La Boqueria boasts sweet snacks, fishy dishes, meaty meals, and fresh, fresh fruit, all available to eat in or take out. Over the course of our two hours wandering the market, we gnoshed on chocolate covered strawberries, samples of gourmet cheese, and, our favorite, fruit juice smoothies. Feeling adventurous, I first tried a dragonfruit, or pitahaya, juice, that went down sweet but left a terrible, sour aftertaste. My second try, a juice mix of strawberry and pineapple, was a success.
After a quick rest at the hostel, we were ready for the game! General public tickets for El Clásico went on sale at 11 a.m. on the day of the match. Thinking I had a chance, I logged on to the website hoping to secure admittance to the game. At 11:02 a.m., I was a customer in a queue of over 5,000 fútbol fans, or in other words, never getting a ticket. Accepting the inevitable of viewing the game from outside of the Camp Nou stadium, I wore my Real Madrid scarf with pride through the streets of Barcelona as our entire group took on the ambitious task of finding a bar in which all of us could watch. The size of the group ended up being a non-issue, because the pub that we waited in line for for over an hour reached full capacity before we even got to the door. Slightly panicked, with only a half hour until kickoff, we rushed to find another place to watch, leaving all hopes of comfort behind and sights set only on finding a screen.
Split between a small café and an even smaller bar, my group of friends slid in where we could and watched Barcelona dominate the first half. They started strong, had greater possession of the ball, and took more shots… but they didn’t score. The second half brought Barcelona luck with a goal in the 56th minute. Real Madrid, however, responded with an incredible scizzor-kick goal by Benzema in the 63rd minute, followed by a tag-team play by Bale and Ronaldo in the 85th minute to clench the lead. As the Barcelona fans (just about everyone besides my friends and I) grumbled in disgust, we cheered in victory to our final stop for the night.
Recommended to us by other students studying abroad in Barcelona, the Dow Jones Bar was unlike any establishment I’d ever visited. Sure, it was dark, played bad music, and was outfitted in wooden decor like most other bars, but, as the name implies, the Dow Jones Bar had a schtick; it was a stock market bar. Screens hung above the bar sharing the how much a drink was currently worth with its corresponding percent increase or decrease— Fireball up 1.3%, Guinness down 3.8%. You paid based on the fluctuation of the worth of the drink, so you had to watch carefully when to buy. To add to the fun, there would be an occasional stock market crash (“crack”, in Barcelona), when all drinks were sold as originally priced, but just for a few seconds. Though the bar itself is a relatively quiet way to spend an evening, the concept is definitely worth checking out.
The next morning, following more suggestions from Barcelona study abroad students, my friends and I went to Brunch & Cake for brunch and cake. We chose to dine at their waterfront location, Brunch & Cake by the sea, to later visit the beach. Though the menu options were limited, I got scrambled eggs on a massive sunflower seed bagel and, paired with a strawberry smoothie, enjoyed every bite. Falling into the trap of the restaurant’s tempting name, I split a piece of red velvet cake with a friend. With just a hint of cream cheese flavor, the icing made the treat, and it was some of the best red velvet cake I’ve ever had.
We walked off our meal at the Platja de Sant Sebastià, a beach full of sunbathers and surfers enjoying the sunny day. This was also the base of the Port Cable Car, a gondola ride providing views of Barcelona and transportation to the Montjuïc hill.
A few friends and I had tickets to the monitored Monumental Zone of Park Güell (the park itself is free) two hours from the time we got in line for the cable car. We hoped that the process would be quick enough to do both. It wasn’t. After waiting way too long for what ended up being a tourist trap (seriously, it’s so bad, do not go on the ride and save the 11€), we were late for our Park Güell time slot. Because some of Gaudí’s work in the park has been granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status, a section of the park receives a limited amount of people at a time. My electronic ticket would not scan past our time slot, so being late was going to be a problem.
We took a taxi from Montjuïc to Park Güell and ran to the first worker we could find, my arm extended with the ticket. Over there, the worker directed. So we ran towards the area where she gestured and waited in a short line to speak with another worker. That window, the next attendant said, and we approached our third worker. Holding my breath in anticipation, I presented my ticket.
“What do you want me to do with this?” the park employee asked.
“Scan it?” I replied, confused.
“What time was your ticket for?” he requested.
“2 o’clock….” I reluctantly responded.
“40 minutes ago!?” he confirmed, as if I were crazy for even trying to enter. “This is the exit,” he finally clarified.
My friends and I explained to him that this is where we were directed, not knowing that our first direction of “over there” meant the overlooked entrance around the corner.
“So you were waiting in this line the whole time?” he half asked, half declared, developing his own understanding of what happened. “I apologize for the misdirection and will notify my colleagues at the entrance to let you in.”
Fortunately, they accepted us into the park, even though we were late and it wasn’t really their fault. I know that this was my one “Overly Ambitious (read: Stupid) Traveler Forgiveness” pass, so I will try to avoid the close calls from now on.
Park Güell was beautiful, and it was worth paying for access to the iconic Gaudí monuments and designs. Less intellectual than the Sagrada Familia, the park was simply pretty, serving to aesthetically please. Gaudí knew how to make things that people like to look at!
After rushing around that morning and pacing through the park all afternoon, my friends and I rewarded ourselves with Chök treats. Usually donuts aren’t my thing, but I was willing to make an exception for the Chök concoctions. Fortunately, I didn’t have to, for the little sweets shop served many options. Settling on a kronut, it wasn’t the best dessert I’ve ever had, but I didn’t run away from this member of the donut family.
We left Barcelona to return to Madrid with Vueling Airlines. Because we did not know the date and time of the soccer game before we booked our flight, we scheduled a 10:30 p.m. departure. With Vueling, we took off an hour later than planned and had the least pleasant flight accommodations that I’ve encountered so far. Though we did make it back to Madrid for the last metro train, I am extremely dissatisfied with my Vueling experience and will try to avoid flying with them in the future.
- Gothic Quarter, Barcelona
- Sun & Moon Hostel
- C/ Ferran, 17, 08002 Barcelona
- Passeig Marítim, 34, 08003 Barcelona
- Sagrada Familia
- Carrer de Mallorca, 401, 08013 Barcelona
- Casa Batlló
- Passeig de Gràcia, 43, 08007 Barcelona
- Casa Milá
- Las Ramblas
- La Boqueria
- Les Rambles, 91, 08001 Barcelona
- Dow Jones Bar
- Carrer del Bruc, 97, 08009 Barcelona
- Brunch & Cake by the sea
- Passeig de Joan de Borbó, 5, 08003 Barcelona
- Platja de Sant Sebastià
- Park Güell
- Carrer d’Olot, s/n, 08024 Barcelona
- Carrer del Carme, 3, 08001 Barcelona
Pau, Amor, Barcelona