Break 1 – 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.

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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.

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With many places to visit and only a few days to do so, I set out to explore the city.

House Hunting

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.

Covent Garden

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.

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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.

Travel Tips

  • 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!

 

Destination Locations

Peace, Love, London

A.J.H.

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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.