Break 1 – Paris

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.

Porte de Vanves Flea Market | Alyssa's Abroad Perspective - alyssasabroadperspective.wordpress.com

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.

Angelina | Alyssa's Abroad Perspective - alyssasabroadperspective.wordpress.com

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.

 

Travel Tips

  • 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!

 

 

Destination Locations

 

Paix, Amour, Paris,

A.J.H.

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Salamanca

Students in Salamanca

The second of two day trips organized by my program, Salamanca was a pleasant surprise of enjoyable architecture and interesting history.  After the first, rather boring visit to Toledo, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Salamanca, a city with as equally as rich history, but a dominant student presence, both in the past and present day.  Stories of the mingling of academia and religion throughout Salamanca’s development kept me engaged the entire trip, and established a willingness to return to this city of students.

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New Cathedral/La Nueva

The first stop on our tour was the Catedral de Salamanca.  The twelfth century Catedral Vieja, or Old Cathedral, was soon outgrown by the expansion of the city, and construction of the Cathedral Nueva, or New Cathedral, began around the old building in the 1500s.  Restoration work in the 1900s brought about work on the facade of the New Cathedral.  As an artist’s signature, on the exterior of the building, the designers left two hidden figures in the detail of the decor, testaments to the century.  They chose to incorporate and astronaut, to represent the technological discoveries of the time period, and a monkey holding ice cream (no one seemed to be able to justify this one).

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Astronaut (left); monkey (right)

The inside of the cathedral was even more intriguing, with a clear aesthetic divisions between the sections of the old and new.  The grandeur of the Old Cathedral was impressive, considering its antiquity, but the New Cathedral was just as breathtaking, extravagantly executed with Baroque-style details.

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Altar in the New Cathedral

To complete our visit to the cathedral, we climbed its towers and enjoyed the view of Salamanca.

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View from the cathedral

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Bell tower in the cathedral

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View of Salamanca

Our second stop in Salamanca was the town square.  Like Madrid, Salamanca has a Plaza Mayor, but the one in Salamanca has stronger traditions and is, in my opinion, more beautiful.

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For lunch, many of us went to Mandala, a restaurant café recommended to us by our program advisor for its abundance of beverages: 18 flavors of hot chocolate, 45 combinations of milkshakes, 56 types of juice and too many teas to count.  With high expectations, I ordered raspberry white chocolate hot chocolate and a tapa, but neither were exceptional.  The hot chocolate tasted artificial and the tapa, a mini burger, was underwhelming  With so many options, however, I hesitate to give Mandala a bad review; there is so much more to try!

After lunch, the group visited the University of Salamanca, established in 1221.  With this year, it is the oldest university in Spain and the third oldest in the world.  As with the facade of the cathedral, the university’s exterior was beautifully intricate, with another hidden message: this time, a small frog.  Our guide explained that at the time, frogs symbolized lust, so the little amphibian was a warning to students to remain focused on studies and not get distracted by other students.  Though the original building is no longer used for classes, we were able to tour some of the preserved university classrooms and courtyards.

Not everyone in the program went on the trip, but we took a group photo of those in attendance, because my program director wanted an image for the program newsletter and I “had a nice camera” for him to borrow.

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About half of USAC Madrid Spring 2016

 

Travel Tips

  • Don’t take on more than you can handle.  With our choice of Spanish-speaking or English-speaking guides, on all of our tours, I had chosen the foreign language group in Toledo to test myself and practice Spanish.  I thought that touring with the Spanish speaking guide would be beneficial, but in reality, I do not know enough Spanish to understand the explanations and appreciate what I was seeing.  At first, I was a little disappointed in myself to select in the English-speaking group in Salamanca, but by the end of the day I was glad, because I got so much more out of the tour.  I’m all for challenging yourself, but sometimes it’s better to take a step back to be able to enjoy the moment.

 

Destination Locations

 

Paz, Amor, Salamanca

A.J.H.

Week 8/9 – Recap

I am academically halfway!  It’s crazy to consider that I’ve finished learning two entire semesters of Spanish in just eight weeks.  I’m excited to be completing my classes and improving my Spanish skills, but regretful to realize that my time abroad is truly flying by.  In my two months of residency in Spain, I’ve also developed conflicting feelings about the people, country, and culture.

Studying abroad has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life.  I have learned a lot about myself from both the triumphs and the challenges.  Without years of hard work, patience, focus, and support from family (thank you, Mema and PopPop, for your generosity, and help in making my travels possible), I would not have been able to pursue my passions of exploration and discovery.  I am infinitely grateful to have the opportunity to analyze foreign behaviors, and consequently, analyze myself.  For as easily as I have accepted Madrid as my new environment, however, there are some things, both theoretical and physical, that, as an American, I still value.  With the upmost acceptance and affection for Spain, I list some constructive complaints, followed by a few compliments, that I may have to learn to live with should I decide to make Europe my future home.

 

Complaints:

  • Smoking and then going to the gym seems dysfunctional to me.  I don’t care what you do to your body, but when it affects mine, as I smell a mix of sweat and smoke seeping out of your pores from the next treadmill over, we have a problem.
  • Best $9.99 I’ve ever spent.  My BRITA filter water bottle compensates for the disappointing and inconvenient absence of water fountains in this country.
  • Peanut butter alone requires a map and a good recommendation to obtain, so you can forget about finding Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups.
  • I drink it when I’m sick. I drink it when I’m tired.  I drink it want to be healthy on-the-go and I’m too lazy to cut up an apple. Though not always as nutritionally beneficial as they seem, tasty Naked Juice does not exist in Spain
  • Between Auntie Anne’s and Philly Pretzel Factory, I’ve never experienced soft-pretzel withdrawal.  I guess Spain is too far from Germany to have adopted the salty snack.
  • “If we had them, they’d be in the aisle with the Mexican food.” Jalepeños are universal, Spain!
  • So maybe Goldfish are a stretch, but can I at least have Cheeze-Its!?
  • It’s mid-March and I am no closer to getting a Shamrock Shake. I know I already complained about it, and I know it’s only for one month. But still.
  • I’m not going to blame Spain for neglecting cottage cheese.  It’s definitely not an international favorite, though it is one of my favorites.
  • Grapes?  You can find them in most grocery stores.  Seedless grapes?  Nothing in Spain is that easy.  Except the metro.

 

Compliments:

  • The Madrid metro is the closest thing to perfect in Spain.  Even though it closes at 1:30 a.m. every day of the week, the signage is clear and the fares are cheap.
  • Topping any street-style, best dressed list, Spanish fashion, or European fashion in general, is simply better.
  • You haven’t had hot chocolate until you’ve had San Ginés, but even Spain’s grocery store mix is good!
  • Tapas=snacking=my kind of eating.  Though I don’t like what is served, I like how it’s served.  I prefer small meals throughout the day to a large dinner, so tapas are perfect for my snacker’s appetite.  I do miss, however, being satisfyingly full after a good, home-cooked meal.

 

These observations are only the beginning!  With an entire second half of the semester to go, I am well-adjusted to my new life, prepared for new experiences, and eager to discover more about, Madrid, Spain, and counties beyond.

 

Paz, Amor, Madrid

A.J.H.