Lebanon Valley College Study Abroad

Au revoir, Paris

Two weeks ago, Rachel, Alisha, and I headed for Paris after classes on Thursday. Even though I had already visited the city on a trip with my high school a few years ago, I was excited for a weekend there. I guess I should begin by saying, this weekend wasn’t what I expected. With high expectations, we arrived in Paris late Thursday evening around 11:30pm. We were instantly faced with a steep language barrier. Far from the city center, and unsure where exactly to go, we headed outside the ORLY airport to find a taxi to take us to our hotel. Luckily, I knew the metro stop near our hotel and somehow our taxi driver understood where we wanted to go. We arrived quickly at our hotel, checked in, and climbed over 6 flights of stairs to our room (the elevator did not appear trustworthy). We threw our things down, desperate for supper and headed to McDonalds around the corner (the only place open at this time around our hotel). We each ordered and paid. When I looked at the change I had received, I realized I was missing a few Euros. I asked the cashier for the rest of my change and he refused to give it to me. As I tried to explain, he just gave me a blank unwavering stare. Although he knew English, he refused to use it and in turn got a few extra Euros from me. Frustrated and losing my patience, I walked away and knew from that point this was not going to be the trip I had imagined.

After our greasy dinner, we headed back to the hotel and found ourselves in a long conversation with the man working at reception. At first, it was really nice talking to him, getting suggestions about the city and learning a bit about French culture. However, about an hour into the conversation, things started to get weird. Although generous and meaning no harm, (well, at least I think so) he offered us a “rare”  Egyptian alcoholic beverage. We politely turned him down unsure of what was really in the drinks. Then, somehow,  mysteriously female porn came on the TV in the lounge (of course the reception guy had no idea how…) and we all knew it was time to go to bed. We quickly escaped, got showers in our moldy bathroom and tried to remain optimistic for our first full day in Paris the following day.

Friday was a new day! We slept in, organized our maps, and headed on the metro to our first sightseeing stop, Père Lachaise Cemetary. The largest of Paris’s cemeteries, here lay many famous philosophers, writers, and artists. We checked out the map and searched for all the tombs we hoped to see: Comte, Pissarro, Gay Lussac, and Seurat. We began walking, excited to find a grave we recognized until we realized how difficult of a task this really was. Not realizing the cemetery was 110 acres, we blindly searched for these tombs.

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After about an hour of wandering (which isn’t so bad) we finally found the burial spot of Oscar Wilde. Feeling accomplished after finding one recognizable name, we decided to cut our losses and hop back on the metro to République, a famous square.


After the Paris Terrorist Attacks, République held the largest demonstration of people in modern French history with over 1.6 million people in attendance. Here, people came together to express solidarity and rally against the attacks.


After quietly admiring the statue, the memorials, and the artwork, we wandered around République and the surrounding streets to find a good place for lunch. We wandered into a quaint French café and relaxed over a good lunch as we planned where we would go next. We hopped back on the Metro (I think we spent half of the entire day just on there) to Montmartre, a famous neighborhood on the outskirts of Paris City center. We began at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, an iconic and beautiful church on top of a large hill.

IMG_5863We ascended until we finally reached the top and got a great view of the city skyline. We took enough pictures and followed the crowd inside to admire the massive basilica. We fought the crowds and finally made our way back down the steps as we headed to Moulin Rouge, the most famous cabaret in the world (also home to the can-can dance). We wandered around until we spotted the infamous giant red windmill and the long street of sex shops. Feeling adventurous we bravely made our way down the street, glancing curiously in shops here and there. Then, of course, we got nervous when a few guys standing outside on the shops, tried to pick us up. We quickly crossed the street only to find another guy making odd noises at us. It was settled, it was time to head elsewhere.

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Back on the metro to the Arc de Triomph- the highlight of our day! Realizing we would rather climb the Arc than the Eiffel, we got in line until finally it was our turn to head to the top! Here, we got another bird’s eye view of the city and our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower!


Next, we walked down Champs-Élysses, the most famous shopping street in Paris before hopping back on the metro (yes, once again) to the Luxembourg garden, a nice park where we took a rest before heading for dinner. We found pizza for dinner, conveniently located next to a highly rated crêperie. Of course, we got delicious dessert crêpes (banana and Nutella) and made our way back to the hotel for the night.

Exhausted from our first day in Paris, we woke up late once again and began our day with lunch: an ice cream cone from a small place called Berthillon. We savored our delicious cones as we walked to Notre Dame, the most famous church in Paris and also one of the best examples of the French Gothic architectural style. We got into line and waited our turn to enter the home of Quasi Moto (somehow Rachel didn’t realize this church was the setting for Walt Disney’s movie, The HunchBack of Notre Dame).

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Much more beautiful than the cartoon, we spent awhile admiring this impressive church. Next, we continued to walk along the Seine until we were approaching the Louvre.

We came around the corner off one of the many bridges crossing the wide river, when we spotted a few women holding clipboards and asking for donations. While Rachel and I avoided the ladies, Alisha walked right through them with one woman naturally coming right up to her side, asking for a donation. As Rachel and I looked back to see if Alisha was coming or not we saw a second woman approach her on the other side. Then, suddenly, for no obvious reason to us, they backed off. Alisha continued walking to where Rachel and I stood, waiting for her. Instantly, Alisha said frantically searching her purse, “I don’t have my phone. They took my phone.” In a bit of a panic I asked her if she was sure they could’ve taken it. She said yes and hurried back to confront one of the women. I watched from a few yards away as the woman laughed in Alisha’s face but then finally revealed under her clipboard Alisha’s phone. We were lucky Alisha realized and lucky the woman was willing to give it back to her. We heard that pickpockets were bad in Paris, but, of course, we didn’t think it would happen to us, especially with how careful we always are with our purses, money, and phones.

Once we had all calmed down a bit, we made our way to the Louvre, took some cliché tourist pictures and got in line where we waited about 45 minutes to enter. It was our own fault we didn’t purchase tickets ahead of time, but we were unsure of our plans and didn’t know if we wanted to enter or not. We spent over 3 hours in the Louvre (glad we had decided to enter), wandering and admiring so many famous artworks, like the Mona Lisa, La Liberté, and the Venus de Milo. We walked through  the Egyptian art section studying a mummy and the rooms full of sarcophaguses. We saw Napoleon’s apartments and some amazing marble sculptures. Only seeing a small portion of the Louvre, we were starving and unfortunately it was closing time.

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We found a normal looking restaurant nearby where we decided to get dinner. We couldn’t believe how expensive this place was, 5 euros for a bottle of Coke! We let feeling guilty for spending so much on such an average meal. However, after looking around, we realized all the restaurants around were that expensive. Even McDonald’s was expensive, over 3 euros for a McFlurry!



Moving on, we made our way to the Eiffel Tower. As we walked, it started to rain, we just couldn’t win. Regardless, we were determined to see the Eiffel Tower and the beautiful light show. Ok, I will admit, seeing this did make our day a bit better. After walking around the Eiffel and souvenir shopping we made our way back to our hotel, since it was getting late and we had to get up early for our morning flight.


We got up early, giving ourselves ample time to reach the airport. We planned to take the tram to the airport, the cheapest method. We reached the tram station. It wasn’t running today. Ok, plan B: metro and bus. We walked down into the metro stop and studied the map. Thankfully, a kind man approached us and explained the best way to get to the airport, was it possible that our luck was finally changing?

Well, the minute we walked into the airport we knew that couldn’t be true. Our flight was delayed an indeterminate amount time, so all we could do is wait at our gate for our signal to board. After over an hour delay we finally boarded, nervous because we knew we would really be in a time crunch to catch our train from Madrid back to Valladolid. Naturally, we got held up in the airport and ended up missing our train by 15 minutes. We headed to the service desk and were politely told we would have to buy new tickets since our delay had nothing to due with the train company. 30 euros later, we were finally on a train back to Valladolid, quite happy to be heading home after such bad luck all weekend.

Although we faced some obstacles in Paris, ultimately it has made me a smarter traveller, even if it did cost me a lot of money to learn this. I can say while I won’t be heading back to Paris anytime soon, it is a place worth visiting at least once in a lifetime!

Au revoir!



Bopping Around Barcelona

Eager for a long weekend trip, two weeks ago Abby, Alisha, and I headed to the eastern coast of Spain to visit Spain’s economic powerhouse and second largest city: Barcelona. We arrived late Thursday afternoon, checked into our hostel, and immediately headed to Montjuïc, unwilling to waste any sunshine. Montjuïc is Barcelona’s largest public park with numerous scenic hiking trails and lookouts over the vast city.

There is an impressive 16th century castle at the peak of Montjuïc, and more famously the olympic stadium from the 1992 Summer Olympics lies in the confines of this expansive park. As it turns out, the Olympic Games held here completely redefined the city of Barcelona.

IMG_5276The 1992 Summer Games transformed this once industrial city into a tourist hotspot, revving up the economy and making it the richest region in Spain today. Egyptian sand was pumped onto the coastlines and palm trees were shipped from California to attract tourists and create some of the most famous beaches in Spain.

After all our walking, we made our way to an Italian restaurant for dinner where we treated ourselves to a bottle of wine and some of the best pizza I’ve ever eaten (please note: I haven’t been to Italy yet). Exhausted from our hiking and travel, we headed to bed.

To begin our sightseeing Friday, we booked another Sandeman free walking tour. In two and a half hours we made our way through the city and learned about the interesting figures that helped shape the city into what it is today. Of course, we learned about Barcelona’s persistent resistance during the Spanish Civil War and through the decades of Franquismo. During Franco’s dictatorship from 1939 to 1975, citizens of Barcelona, and all of Cataluña (the province Barcelona is located in), were prohibited to speak their regional language. Censorship was a part of daily life across all forms of media and women lost many of the rights they held previously. Despite such cultural and political repression nationwide, Barcelona has blossomed into a culturally rich destination.

After our tour, we headed straight for the beach. Although a beautifully sunny day, the Mediterranean breeze was chilly, so we opted out of sun bathing and decided a walk along the beach would be better. Emptying our shoes of sand, we then headed to Parc de la Ciutadella, another of the city’s famous parks, known for its beautiful fountain. On such a nice day the park was packed, so we saw the sights and next headed to see Barcelona’s Arc de Triomph and grab lunch.

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After a relaxing lunch, we walked to Plaza de Cataluyna, one of the most famous squares in the city. We walked around and looked in the shops until it was time to head to the Barcelona Cathedral, which is free to enter after 5:45 pm.

IMG_5394We admired the Gothic architecture and saw the tomb of Saint Eulalia, a patron saint of the city and a martyr. It is said that when the Romans came to Barcelona centuries ago, they put Eulalia in a public square naked in order to punish her. Miraculously, snow fell despite the warm climate and covered her body. Angry that their first punishment failed, the Romans placed her in a barrel with knives in it and sent her rolling down a hill. They repeated this punishment over and over again, and each time she emerged unscratched.

After the cathedral, we headed to another beautiful church called Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar and stumbled upon the Born Cultural Center, which houses archeological remains of the first market that stood there during the 1700’s. Exhausted and getting hungry, we made our way back to our hostel to find a dinner place and hit the sack before another action-packed day in Barcelona.

We began our Saturday ready to get rowdy with Gaudí, considering we planned an entire day just to see this famous artist’s works around the city. We hopped on the Metro to begin our day at the infamous minor basilica, La Sagrada Familia. Designed by Antoni Gaudí in 1882, this massive and amazing edifice is still under construction today. Although not expected to be completed until 2026, La Sagrada Familia is nonetheless a breathtaking structure both inside and out. I can honestly say it is the most beautiful and peaceful place I have ever encountered.

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Adorned with vibrant stained glass windows, the white stone is transformed into a rainbow.  The architecture is nearly  indescribable, the perfect combination of structure and fluidity (please note: I know practically nothing about architecture). The detail put into this single architectural masterpiece is astounding; every where I looked I was able to something new, something I hadn’t noticed before. Gaudí was no doubt a genius, and although we didn’t want to leave such a beautiful place, we knew we needed to get moving in order to see the rest of his works spread out across the city.

Continuing our day dedicated to Gaudí, we next walked to La Pedrera and Casa Battló, relatively close to La Sagrada Familia considering the massive size of Barcelona.

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Unable to enter either building due to our strict time schedule, we headed to Parc Güell located on the outskirts of the city atop a huge hill (maybe even a mountain). Constructed between 1900 and 1914, Parc Güell is a massive garden complex which was once home to Gaudí. We climbed stairs upon stairs (thank goodness there were some outdoor escalators too) until finally we reached the summit. Admiring the views of the city, we explored the park until we finally found what we had come to see: the incredible stone columns, the colorful mosaic art, and the houses all constructed by Gaudí.

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Unfortunately, we arrived about two and a half hours before we could enter to explore the section that contained the impressive lookout and mosaic art (tickets we sold out). So, we took cover from the rain wherever we could and impatiently walked around the park as we waited. We finally entered in a massive wave of sightseers. It was worth the wait! Stricken with hunger and exhaustion, we made our way back to our hostel to find dinner and call it a night, since we had to get up early Sunday morning to catch our flight back to Valladolid. Barcelona was truly a unique and beautiful city. With its impressive architecture, sunny beaches, and unique history and culture, I understand why so many venture to Barcelona each year: just to capture a glimpse of what living in Spain is all about.



Las Fallas: A Celebration Like None Other

On March 19th, the city of Valencia burns.

The fires overshadow the buildings with flames felt from blocks away, roaring monstrosities that light the city streets and burn a purifying blaze, destroying the negative memories of the past in the form of carefully constructed artistic monuments, called fallas, and their ninots. The satirical ninot figures and their staging takes an entire neighborhood’s funds and several artisans a year to build and are gone in mere minutes, destroyed by the fireworks lit around their base. Liberated, the city celebrates their massacre, dancing in the ruins and drinking to their destruction. As further pyrotechnics illuminate the sky, smaller versions of the fireworks spark in the streets, flying from every hand in all directions, regardless of the passing crowds and parked cars. In the manic spirit of the festival, they bounce off the sides of buildings within the confines of the narrow streets.
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Before the city burns, it must explode.

Five days before the burning, each day dawns at 8 a.m. with an outbreak of traditional music from parading bands and explosions thrown by the following crowd. The sounds of La Despertá do not stop until the grey hours of the morning, and begin again with each new day. The closer the explosions, the sharper their crisp pops—the farther, the deeper the rumbling booms that echo off the buildings, reverberating in overwhelming waves beyond the initial point of impact into the neighboring barrios of the city. Regardless of proximity to the city center it is unescapable: this unpredictable series of sounds, with mere seconds of rest followed by minutes of uproarious noise. That brief pause is just enough time to wait for peace with baited breath before cringing at the next rapport, a stinging assault that vanquishes any hope of returning to sleep. Falling asleep after exhausting days of walking the city and dodging the explosions underfoot is easy, but staying asleep once the morning begins is almost impossible.

For Valencians, this is a beautifully cacophonous symphony of staccato tones and rolling bass notes, a perfect orchestral arrangement designed by the collective minds of the millions of participating citizens. Every faller chooses his own melody, joyously providing time and talent to christen the day’s celebration, with each note a launched noisemaker or propelled firecracker. Their instruments are the festival’s constant companion throughout the week, a rotation of musicians that never stop and never tire.

La Mascletá is their crowning performance, conducted by the city’s pyrotechnical masters in a four day battle for the honor of hosting the fifth and final municipal exposition in the city center. Hours before the millions begin to gather, forming an immobile mass that dwarfs Times Square on New Year’s Eve by over a million. Revelers, pressed elbow to elbow, occupy the minutes leading up to the afternoon event with cheap beer and good friends in an atmosphere of eager anticipation. The crowd stretches for blocks, but even those at the farthest points easily hear and see the effects of the detonation enclosed in the center of the masses.

Strung between the gated fences that form the central cage hang thousands of firecrackers whose ignition cloaks the crowd in smoke and a deafening roar of noise, shaking the body to the soul. The assault comes in waves; the pure force of the final rapport transcending the realm of sound to become a physical being, assailing the spectators from all directions. Everything is sound—staggering, paralyzing sound.

The vibrations fade into muted cheering, inaudible at full volume through the veneer of sound that coats the ears. The city is shrouded in a haze; gleaming buildings once unmistakable in the brilliant midday sun have vanished under the smothering, post-production pollution. The last few flakes of ash fall gently on motionless bystanders, still unable to move. Regardless of their restlessness, it is only after the eventual dissipation of the observers at the undulating edges of the beast that the center can begin to shift. The merriment moves to the city’s outdoor terraces and they quickly fill—at just before three in the afternoon, it is the perfect time to relax for a lunch of the Mediterranean region’s famous paella and sangria before the night’s festivities.
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Once Las Fallas is over, the city has celebrated with heart and soul.

The attitude of revelry pervades all aspects of each day; however, it holds a varying significance for the distinctive groups of participants. For visitors, these days are an explosion of visual and auditory stimulation unlike any other. Each new day is yet another opportunity to bask in the joy of living and in life.

For many native Valencians, the days serve as a reaffirmation of the province’s culture. Throughout the celebration, impromptu processions parade the streets, comprised of each district’s falleras and falleros in traditional dress as well as volunteer instrumentalists blaring long-established marches on historic instruments. On the designated days all make the journey to the Plaza de la Virgin and place an offering bouquet of flowers to Our Lady of the Forsaken, the Patron Saint of Valencia.

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Having fulfilled the requirements of their positions, the members of the suburban fallas committees breathe a sigh of relief and proceed to cheer and snap pictures of their loved ones, friends, and acquaintances from the sidewalks as they journey to the Plaza. Committee members are the unsung heroes of the event, responsible for the preparation of their constituency for the annual event. All organizational decisions come from this body, which in turn reports to the democratically-selected, citywide fallas council. For months its members work to perform a vast number of tasks, including choosing the artists for their community and pardoning the most popular ninot, which is determined with a popular vote by the public.

As hordes of individuals stream by eager to begin the night’s celebration, Valencia’s families come together and block off the streets and alleyways to erect massive tents and organize the necessary number of tables and chairs for the local parties. Children dart in and out of open doorways, cheering and chasing one another with their seemingly-endless supply of poppers, as adults converse over cervezas and steaming pans of paella big enough to feed twenty. Music blends with laughter as they prepare to gather around the nearby fallas and join together to watch the city burn.

M. Gorman

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10 Tips for Future Travelers

10 Tips for Future Travelers:

1) Don’t Stress

Traveling can be stressful. There is so much involved: purchasing tickets, packing, catching flights, language barriers etc. But these things are all part of the journey, and stressing will only make things worse. Relax! Embrace the chaos; it can be fun. Everything will work out the way it is supposed to. Missed a train? Find the next one. Forgot to pack something? Buy it at a local store. Lost? Ask a local for directions. Sometimes mistakes can lead you to something new and exciting, and that is what traveling is all about!

PS: I also lost a lot of my souvenirs from Italy. I was really upset at first, until I was reminded that they are only material things. I am blessed to have the amazing memories, thousands of pictures, and new friends that will last forever.

2) Blog!

Ten, twenty, thirty years down the road, you will wish you had kept a record of your travels-so start a blog/journal! Write about the people you met, food you ate, and places you’ve seen. Don’t forget to add the best pictures you’ve taken, and be sure to share the entries with your family and friends. It might inspire them to take a trip of their own one day. You can even print the blog out when you’re done and create a book for you and your future children/grandchildren to look through. That’s my plan!

3) Become a pack rat

Keep everything! Every place I’ve been, I have kept receipts, train tickets, brochures, etc. to make a scrapbook when I return. These things are free souvenirs that will last a lifetime. I even kept some newspaper clippings written in Italian and German. I also bought postcards and stamps to make a board about all my travels.

4) Eat anything and everything

If you’re worried about gaining weight on your trip abroad, you’re going to the wrong place! European food is the best food you will ever try. When will you ever live in another country for 3 months again? Never, so take advantage of the great food and drink. Try all the courses and have a dessert or three. I had dessert with almost every meal. Do I regret it? Absolutely not! The pounds will eventually come off, but the opportunity to eat those great dishes again only comes once in a lifetime.

5) Be open-minded

Europe is very different from the United States. The list of differences goes on and on, so it is important to be open-minded! You might not agree with something, but try to see the other side of things. It’s fun to embrace new ideas; it broadens your thinking and makes you a well-rounded individual. I have learned a lot throughout this journey, a lot of new things that I plan to incorporate into my future.

6) Travel outside your comfort zone

Do things you normally wouldn’t think of doing. Be adventurous.   Don’t be afraid to try new things. Don’t walk, run outside your comfort zone. You don’t want to look back and have regrets-that you coulda-woulda-shoulda done that. Instead, look back and say, “yeah, I did that”.

7) Talk to strangers

I have met so many people who I will stay in touch with forever. I have made connections in Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany all offering places for me to stay when I travel abroad again. Strike up a conversation on the train/plane, in line, in a restaurant, on a tour, wherever! Ask them about their culture, places to visit, and recommendations. These connections can be a great help, especially if you ever need help while traveling. I had many queries that people at home would not be able to help with, so I utilized my European connections.

8) Please turn off all cellphones

I was upset when I found out that the Internet capabilities would only be in my apartment/hotels and in restaurants. How would I connect with the rest of the world at every second of every day?? This once horrible situation, turned out to be a true blessing. I was not able to post or send pictures constantly, or update my friends every second about my whereabouts, which was a great thing! I was able to focus on the amazing places/views/experiences around me instead of my phone. I wouldn’t want to look back and regret being on my phone 24/7 instead of enjoying what was around me. So turn off the phone during the day and then update your friends to let them know you’re safe, and to brag about what you’ve done at the end of the day.

9) Look back

You often hear not to look back but instead look forward to what lies ahead. But I would highly recommend physically looking back while you are traveling. Some of the best pictures of amazing views have been taken because I looked back. You don’t want to miss a single thing…

10) Live in the moment

Like most fast paced people, I am always looking forward to the next upcoming thing in my life. Whether it was going to high school, college, or graduate school, or even studying abroad, I couldn’t wait for the next step in my life. But as the years went on, and the people around me were wishing/wanting the years ahead, I began to slow down and live in the moment. You only get the moment for a moment, and then it’s gone. It was just a little over a year ago that I applied for this Italian internship, and over 2 years since I first heard about Eduglobal and the Italy opportunity-now it’s over. I can honestly say that I lived in the moment during my entire 3 months abroad. This opportunity comes once in a lifetime, and I wanted to remember every second.

Final thoughts:

It’s one thing to travel to another country, but it’s completely different to live and work in one. Not many people have the opportunity to embrace and speak another language while building relationships with the native people. I advise everyone to travel the world and experience life outside of the US, because it’s a beautiful thing. Remember, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough”












Feeling the Fire at Las Fallas

Mid-March marks the annual festival of Las Fallas in Valencia, so on March 17th, Rachel, Olivia, Alisha, Marie and I hopped on the train to check out one of the most impressive festivals in Spain. Dating back to the 16th century, this festival started with the wooden posts used for lighting the city, called parots. As spring approached, the parots were no longer needed since the days were longer, and workers and shopkeepers piled their wooden scraps around the parots, creating different figures. To clear the streets, these piles were then burned ceremoniously around the city, giving birth to one spectacular festival. Today, the fallas are anything but piles of scrap wood to be burnt. Instead, they are meticulously constructed satirical sculptures made of wood and plaster found in every neighborhood around the city.


Each neighborhood, no matter how small, sponsors a commission to fundraise, design, and construct a falla each year. Hundreds of these amazing structures can be seen across the city. Each falla is judged and eventually a winner is selected which will be the last to burn on the final night of the festival, called La Cremá. From the winning falla, one character, called a ninot, is selected, saved from the burning, and placed in the fallero museum.

Valencia, located on the Mediterranean Sea on the east coast of Spain, is normally a city of 1 million people; however, during the week of Las Fallas, the city grows to 3 times its size housing over 3 million people! Needless to say this festival was crazy. Although a festival entirely its own, I would best describe it as a mix of the New Year’s Eve and the 4th of July. In addition to the artistic fallas, this festival boasts its fireworks and firecracker displays. Every afternoon at 2 pm, La Mascletá commences. It is a 10-15 minute firecracker explosion in the center of the city.

IMG_5069To get a taste for what las Fallas was all about, we grabbed a few liters of Bulmer’s (our favorite Irish cider) and packed into the crowd to hear the insanity of La Mascletá on Friday afternoon. No matter where you are in the city, you can’t miss La Mascletá it is that loud! The firecrackers don’t stop here, though. Around six or seven each morning rounds of firecrackers are set off around the city as a wake up call to begin the celebration. Additionally, it seems every child has a small wooden box of crackers under their arm, just waiting to be thrown.

On top of the firecrackers, are (of course) fireworks! Each night a fireworks show takes place somewhere in the city leading up to the largest firework show on Friday evening called La Nit de Foc. We wandered around the city, finding a comfortable spot on one of the bridges to view the show, beginning at 2 am.

While certainly a fiesta like no other, Las Fallas also has more symbolic and serious aspects to it. Each day, a series of parades wind their way through the city. The people in these parades proudly wear traditional Valencian garb. The women and girls, called falleras, wear elaborate silk patterned gowns and sport even more elaborate hairstyles with a labyrinth of tight braids and decorative pins. The men and boys accompanying them wear knickers and coordinating shirts and handkerchiefs under their jackets. Carrying flowers for their offering, and followed by a  musical band, these parades make their way to La Ofrenda. La Ofrenda is a giant wooden frame of the Virgin Mary which is eventually covered entirely in offered flowers. The plaza where La Ofrenda stands is pleasantly aromatic, with the combination of floral orange trees found across the city and all the flowers on the statue.

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La Cremá is the largest and most famous event of the festival, which concludes the week of celebration in Valencia on Saturday night. On this night, each falla is packed with firecrackers and explosives in order to spark a massive fire to destroy the falla. Although a bit dangerous and quite toasty, the city of Valencia has this down to a science, with firefighters managing each fire carefully. To see this spectacular event, we headed to the heart of the city where we knew some of the largest and most impressive fallas were located. We bought a few snacks and packed into the excited and jittery crowd patiently waiting for la Cremá to commence at midnight. We watched in awe as we saw the first falla go up in flames: a massive bonfire in the middle of the city, nestled between buildings. After about 15 minutes, the fire died down and we attempted to make our way to another falla. Key word: attempted. We were stuck ina  gigantic crowd and it took us nearly half an hour to reach next falla, not even a block away from were we started. We continued crawling through crowds until we had our fill of smoke and sangría and began our journey back to our hostel over a mile away.

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While our main reason for visiting Valencia was to experience Las Fallas, we also took some time to explore the landmarks of the city and, of course, the beach. We made sure to visit Torres de Serranos, the gothic gates marking the entrance to the city. We also saw Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències (the City of Arts and Sciences) a $1.5 billion cultural center which houses a museum, aquarium, an opera house and more and is the most iconic view of Valencia.

IMG_4996 IMG_5150With all the sightseeing, walking, and excitement of Las Fallas, we were ready to escape the hectic city and head back to Valladolid Sunday afternoon. The magic of Las Fallas in Valencia is difficult to capture in a few words or pictures. Las Fallas is a festival best experienced using all the senses, so I must recommend an adventure to Valencia during Las Fallas!



Paris, France

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Paris is quite the city! Kristin and I made our way to the Eiffel Tower, Moulin Rouge, Sacre-Coeur, Notre Dame, Louvre, Arch of Triumph, and much more in our short time in the city. The surrounding area below the Eiffel Tower is much different than I was expecting. My favorite angle of the tower was by the beautiful colored trees, grass, and water. Our first night there, we were walking back across the bridge. When we turned back across the bridge we saw the tower all lit up! The best part is that every hour on the hour the tower sparkles for 5 minutes! One of my favorite sights I have seen throughout my 3 months. It was hard to believe that I would be looking at the Eiffel tower on Wednesday night and back in Pennsylvania the next.

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The Paris metro system was very confusing and quite expensive comparatively. In other countries, we could buy a full day pass for 4 euros but here, in Paris we would have to spend 14 euros. Instead, we bought 5 one-way tickets for 9 euros that we had to ration. We had to plan our routes strategically in order to make it back home with just 5 tickets. We were able to switch railways within the stations with one ticket, but if we left the station and came back in, we would have had to use another.

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Paris is the capital and most populous city of France

Paris is often referred to as, “The City of Light”, both because of its leading role during the Age of Enlightenment, and more literally because Paris was one of the first European cities to adopt gas street lighting.

Paris is the fifth most expensive city in the world for luxury housing in 2014.

Eiffel Tower: Named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel

Constructed in 1889 as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair.

Tallest structure in Paris

Moulin Rouge: Cabaret in Paris

Best known as the spiritual birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance.

Notre Dame: Among the largest and most well-known church buildings in the world

Sacrre-Coeur: A Roman Catholic church and minor basilica, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, A popular landmark, the basilica is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city

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Valladolid Portraits III

One of Valladolid’s many main streets, Calle Mantería, is a bustling, cobblestoned hub of commerce and discourse where a vast collection of shoe and clothing stores compete with an equally large number of cafés, cafeterías, and pastelerías for the attention of teeming swarms of pedestrians.

The café is slim, with contorted shoulder pressed to its ears under the pressure of the looming giants that surround it on all sides, boasting vast facades of darkened brick and spotless windows. It sits sullen, surrounded by an air of dutiful resignation that comes from immutable age. A sporadic grove of beige umbrellas propagate the stones preceding the entrance, fenced by plexiglass and denoting the sunken doorway. Framed by oaken beams stained a polished forest green, the entrance is shadowed but its internal light radiates a calming warmth, an ataractic atmosphere that entices afternoon shoppers to step inside.

It’s a slender space, with a high ceiling that promotes comfortable intimacy without prompting claustrophobia. The immediate left is the domain of the barista, enclosed by a marble countertop and a pastry display to rival that of the nearby bakeries. Their picturesque appearance alone is enticing; the addition of the smell of fresh dough and sugary glazes makes each torte and pastel irresistible.

Backed by espresso machines and deep wooden shelves lined with ornate tins of tea, the man behind the counter methodically tidies the impeccable space, resilient to the mouthwatering scent of molten chocolate, kept boiling in anticipation for upcoming orders of chocolate con churros. The dish is a mid-afternoon must; sharing, optional.

The typical location for a menu board is occupied by faded photographs, a not uncommon practice for smaller, more traditional locations. Ask for a menú and you’ll receive a confused ¿qué? in response; una carta, a polite smile and a laminated menu. For the timid soul afraid to inquire, café sólo or café con leche provides a guaranteed (albeit miniscule) fallback at any establishment. American visitors seeking a portion size and flavor similar to the States should ask for a café americano, and anyone interested in a bit of something extra to jumpstart their day, a café irlandés.

In the back half of the building, iron-wrought chairs scrape against the oaken floors and knock against marble tabletops as infrequent guests take the time to read the day’s paper or converse in small groups of two or three. The European coffee break is an elongated, social affair where patrons take the time to converse in quiet voices away from technological distractions and work-related activities. A muffled mixture of American and Spanish songs completes the cosmopolitan ambiance, dissipating into the surrounding walls boasting local art and a continuation of photographs from the café’s entrance.

An easy afternoon passes, insulated from the external insanity of the frantic agenda of frenzied passersby. Regular customers come and go, exchanging pleasant conversation at the bar as the barista pauses to engage the occasional familiar visitor. Outside the sun dips below the horizon, lengthening the doorway’s shadows and signifying the approaching dinner hour and the time to begin the trek home.

Copenhagen: the perfect end to spring break

To finish our spring break travels, Rachel and I arrived at our Airbnb in Copenhagen late Thursday evening. Our Airbnb host was so accommodating and helpful, we were excited to start our next day in this unique city with another Sandeman walking tour. We met our tour group along with our energetic tour guide at Rådhuspladsen, or city hall square. Not knowing what to expect for this new city, we were eager to learn more about Copenhagen! About 10 minutes into our tour, we realized that maybe the Danish really were the happiest people on earth, like many studies claim. Our guide was genuinely happy and even proud to be sharing all he knew about Copenhagen. From our meeting place, we toured the historic streets, (well, what was left of them since Copenhagen has a horrible history of fires). Many buildings here actually only date back to the 1700’s. We stopped near Paleis Christianborg where the Danish parliament is seated and from there we moved onto Nyhavn, a famous neighborhood which is also the most photographed part of the city.



Similar to Amsterdam, Copenhagen boasts its many canals one used for transport of goods in and out of the city. Nyhavn was once the Red Light District of Copenhagen where sailors would come first after being out at sea.

On the right hand side of this canal, interestingly, a lighthouse boat was parked. Of course our guide provoked us, what in the world would a lighthouse boat ever be needed for if lighthouses are used to mark land? With the swift tides and water currents, the sandbars offshore are constantly changing, and therefore this odd boat was once used to mark the best docking place for sailors with the ever-changing sand bars. Also to the right of this picture, stands the house that Hans Christian Andersen lived in. Famed for writing many fairytales such as “The Little Mermaid,” “The Ugly Duckling,” and “Thumbelina,” we learned that Hans Christian Andersen actually lived in the heart of the Red Light District during his lifetime (odd for a writer of children’s books, huh?) At that time, writers didn’t receive much pay, and therefore relied on the goodwill of their landlords for a place to stay. Supposedly, Hans Christian Andersen had a crush on his landlord’s daughter, and therefore never wanted to move from this area. However, it is also rumored that he enjoyed living here for the unique mix of cultures found on the harbor.



Next, we walked along to the water to see the Opera House and Amalienborg Palace, home to the Danish Royal Family. We saw a flag waving meaning someone in the family was home! Additionally, we ended our tour here just in time to see the changing of the guard! Our tour was ended and Rachel and I headed into Frederik’s Church to warm up from the freezing weather.





From here, we walked to the iconic little Mermaid Statue. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, the statue appears quite sad. And well, of course she is, being stuck in limbo between two worlds, never able to be human but also never able to return to the sea.


Next, we headed back towards the city center to walk the longest walking street in the world, called Strøget. Lined with every shop imaginable, we enjoyed window shopping and people watching. We made our way to Rundetaarn, originally an astronomical observatory, this round tower was built in the 16th century. After admiring in the connected church, we headed back out into the cold weather to try one of Copenhagen’s famous hot dogsIMG_4539


Known for their organic hot dogs, DØP stands can be found across the city. We each ordered a Ristet hot dog, which was a roasted dog with ketchup, mustard, remoulade, onions and pickles.




Next, we ventured to Rosenberg castle, a Dutch Renaissance Castle, the former residence of the Dutch Royal family, until the 1700’s. We admired the iconic castle from afar through the wrought iron gates before heading to a nearby food market called Torvehallerne. To scratch one more neighborhood off our list, we crossed the bridge to Nørrebro. After some window shopping and walking over 12 miles for the day, we returned to our AirBnb exhausted but excited for day 2 in this unique city!

With an 8 pm flight back to Madrid later that evening, we woke up early Saturday to make the most of our day. We took the bus towards the city center and got off on Christianshavn, a small island separating the eastern lying neighborhoods of Copenhagen from the city center. We found some walking paths and enjoyed being in a less populated part of the city while we waited for the Church of Our Savior to open at 11. The Church of Our Savior was impressive, with an tall spire that dwarfed all other buildings in the area. We opted out of climbing to the top to save time and instead just enjoyed the interior of this neat church. Most notable was the massive wooden organ located at the back of the church.

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Finally, we headed to one of the most interesting places we had seen during our spring break trip: Christiania. This neighborhood is known for its hippie community and widely accepted drug use. They proudly have their own flag, currency, and laws. Well, this isn’t entirely true, they function under the same government and laws as the rest of Denmark, but for some reason this area seems an exception to many of them. We first entered the Green light District, where marijuana is “allowed” or accepted, and sold openly along the alleys. It was early and Christiania was definitely still asleep after a rambunctious Friday night. We continued walking slowly through the community, almost in awe at this completely separate and very unique society.

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Rachel and I continued walking all the way through Christiania. We admired the colorful artwork and inventive ways those living there had repurposed what would certainly be trash to others. Reaching the end of the island, we then headed to the National Museum to escape the oncoming rain and learn a bit about Denmark’s history. With our departure flight approaching, we grabbed a pizza for lunch, picked up our things from our Airbnb, and headed to the airport, which might I add was one of the nicest I have ever seen!

Finally, it was back to Valladolid! However, this proved quite a stressful task for us. Our flight arrived in Madrid around 11:30 pm, giving us approximately 30 minutes to get from Terminal 2, where our plane landed, to Terminal 4 (a 10 minute transfer) where our bus was parked ready to depart promptly at 11:59 pm for our return trip to Valladolid. Rachel and I ran through the airport and grabbed a taxi to terminal 4 where we arrived just in the knick of time to catch our bus! What a relief! After 10 exciting, eye-opening, and amazing days it finally was time to return to the city I have come to consider home this semester.

Hej hej,


Normandy, France

We spent our last day in Europe on a tour to Normandy! What a day it was. We experienced weather that I have NEVER experienced before. It was cold, rainy, and the winds were 100km/hour! I could literally lean back and the wind would hold me. I thought it would be a horrible day, but Kristin and I actually had a blast on the beaches “playing in the wind”. It was the perfect time to have bad weather because we got to experience Normandy like the soldiers experienced at the time when they landed during the war. Waves could reach as high as 1.5-2 meters high. As we were walking back to our bus after one of the beaches, we saw a plaque with a guy who was being remembered from Bethlehem Pa near my hometown!

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The tour included a few of the beaches, like Omaha and Juno, and then the cemetery. One of the coolest things I learned was when we were in the cemetery.  At the entrance, there is a wall with approximately 1,300 names of missing soldiers. There were special marks next to the names of those were found since the cemetery/wall was built. The latest soldier who was found, was found in 2009 when they were excavating the city hall building. He was found underneath city hall! He wasn’t identified until 2011.

Next and final stop:  Paris, France!

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Normandy’s name is derived from the settlement of the territory by mainly Norwegian and Danish Vikings (Northmen) from the 9th century, and confirmed by treaty in the 10th century between King Charles III of France and Earl Rollo of More, Norway.

During WWII, following the armistice of June 22, 1940, continental Normandy was part of the German occupied zone of France. The Channel Islands were occupied by German forces between June 30, 1940 and May 9, 1945.

The Allies (Britain, U.S, Free France, and Canada) coordinated a massive build-up of troops and supplies to support a large scale invasion of Normandy in the D-Day landings June 6, 1944 under the code name Operation Overlord.

Beaches of Normandy: Utah/Omaha/Sword/Gold/Juno

  • The Americans, assigned to land at Utah Beach and Omaha Beach were to attempt to capture Carenten at St. Lo the first day, then cut off the Cotentin Peninsula and eventually capture the port facilities at Cherbourg. The British at Sword Beach and Gold beach and the Canadians at Juno Beach would protect the American flank and attempt to establish airfields near Caen.


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Unexpected Pleasantries: Hostels



For a female student traveling alone in Spain’s capital, hostels are the opposite of the vast majority of safety tips and the epitome of one of Billy Joel’s iconic lyrics detailing the conundrum of travel security: they will tell you you can’t sleep alone in a strange place, then they’ll tell you you can’t sleep with somebody else.

While this version is more explicit than this particular situation necessitates, it remains an apt description of the juxtaposition of a hostel stay. Taught from a young age not to talk to strangers, travelers now pay cheap rates for the opportunity to stay in expansive rooms with entire groups of unfamiliar individuals. The rooms are mixed-gender and available to all ages, which further breaks more childhood prohibitions.

These factors, topped by the hostel’s physical location in a foreign city, are enough to make the most intrepid of parents suffer tinges of fear at the thought of their student’s stay. Even experienced travelers can find themselves in a state of uneasy anticipation about the conditions of their temporary dwellings.

Perhaps questionable on paper, a stay in a hostel can add a unique and enjoyable dynamic to any viaje or excursion. Akin to any hotel, the prices vary based on amenities and location—not always on quality.


Eager to save a dime and try my luck, a month before I had reserved a bed in the cheapest location available that included WiFi and a decent breakfast. From the safety of my computer screen I had felt confident in my twelve euro a night booking; wandering the streets of Madrid, mobile map in clammy hand, I felt less sure with each twist and turn of the narrow streets. The alleyway location and doorway that forced me to duck did little to assuage my trepidations (though it did reinforce my belief that this country was designed with short people in mind).


Immediately met by welcoming staff and an impeccable lobby, the aching weight of my backpack replaced the apprehension in my gut. Reaching my assigned room on the third floor, the associated view eliminated the aforementioned mental and physical irritations. A brief pause allowed a languid glance over nearby residential rooftops before they became dominated by their corporate and apartment-complex cousins. The hostel’s central courtyard facilitated the view and transformed the inward face of each floor into a continuous, rectangular balcony. Mentally I rescinded some of the harsher curses I had muttered at the constantly-increasing elevation on the thirty-minute trek from subway to hostel.


The lack of Thursday travelers afforded me my pick of spaces; by Sunday, each bed would be filled. For now the presence of only two other roommates offered peace, quiet, and ample space for all. The Argentinian and I discussed his undergraduate studies and plan to travel Europe before entering medical school; the Egyptian and I the joys of running a new city after spotting my sneakers tied to the outside of my backpack. Together we swapped travel stories and split the cost of dinner—pasta, spinach, and half a kilogram of oranges from the local Gadis.


Too cold to use the patio and too early for drinks at the bar, the kitchen served as the building’s primary common space and social center. As the extended weekend progressed, I met an increasingly interesting and entertaining cast of characters during my meals at one of the many slatted, wooden tables: the British teacher who could tell you the weekday you were born from your numerical date of birth, the American-Austrian who spoke four languages and worked at the Austrian embassy, the Indian marathon runner who had lived at the hostel for the past six months, the stereotypical American with a penchant for boisterous (albeit well-meaning) ignorance, and numerous other students and vacationers.


Similar to my first roommates, the American-Austrian student, an Austrian marketing professional and I met over a mutual need for dinner and spent the rest of the second evening frequenting the famous tapas bars in the La Latina district while enjoying one another’s company. Occasional parts of the remaining weekend were spent together: on Saturday, El Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia , and on Sunday El Rastro, Madrid’s infamous flea market. Fast friends, the temporal nature of our relationship meant our conversations came without obligation and with ease, an airy retreat from the long-term implications of real-word conversation.

Though only a temporary home away from my [temporary] home in Valladolid, the space served as a momentary sanctuary from the constant commotion of Madrid’s streets. While they will tell you you can’t sleep alone in a strange place, that’s  lie—you can, for about ten euros extra, though I am certainly glad I didn’t.

M. Gorman