Lebanon Valley College Study Abroad

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

Versailles, France

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Our second to last day in Europe, we took a tour of Versailles. We spent time in the palace of Versailles and then in the gardens. The palace was absolutely stunning but very crowded with tourists. The garden was big and would be beautiful as well, but none of the flowers were planted and the grass was not green. I really wish I could go back in the spring.

Next stop:  Normandy, France!

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The court of Versailles was the center of political power in France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in October 1789 after the beginning of the French Revolution.

Begun by Louis XIII in 1623, the château began as a hunting lodge in brick and stone. It was enlarged into a royal palace by Louis XIV.

In the 19th century the “Museum of the History of France” was founded in Versailles, at the behest of Louis-Philippe I, who ascended to the throne in 1830. Many of the palace’s rooms were taken over to house the new collections and the large Galerie des Batailles (Hall of the Battles) was created to display paintings and sculptures depicting milestones battles of French history. The collections display painted, sculpted, drawn and engraved images illustrating events or personalities of the history of France since its inception.

Two of the three treaties of the Peace of Paris (1783), in which the United Kingdom recognized the independence of the United States, were signed at Versailles.

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Amsterdam, Netherlands

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Saturday we arrived in Amsterdam, Netherlands. I love this city so much! I would definitely live here if I could. I wish there was a way to transport this city to the US. It is similar to Venice in that the city lies within many canals (it actually has more canals than Venice!). All the colors of the buildings have a combination of: black, ivory, deep purple, and maroon. If I were to describe it, I would say it is a very hipster-looking city. Bicycles are a big thing here in Amsterdam, and you have to be careful not to get run over by bikers while crossing the streets or walking on the sidewalks. Be sure to stay OFF the bike lane! On every canal (as seen in some of my pictures), bikes are parked along the fence, making it a very characteristic feature of Amsterdam.

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There were many differences from other European/American cities that we noticed right away when we were walking the streets. One was the public urinals that were right on the sidewalk! Some were covered, but others were not! When we talked to our driver leaving the city, he said that public urination is a problem here, so they built these urinals. If urination is truly a problem on the streets, I think the urinals are definitely a great idea!

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As I’m sure many of you know, Amsterdam is known for weed and prostitution! We saw through store windows clerks rolling weed. We also saw sex and prostitution museums! We didn’t go in them, although I’m sure they would’ve been very interesting. The driver also told us that smoking weed is just a normal thing like smoking a cigarette would be in the US. No one looks twice here. And if you are smoking a joint, and a police officer approaches, not to be afraid and throw it away, because they don’t care! I asked if he thought it was a problem that weed is legalized here and he said, “no, it’s a great thing. Every city should make it legal. More people want to do something that is illegal; the appeal is bigger.” He even stated that the majority of people who smoke in the city are tourists and not locals! He recalled one family who skipped their flight back to California so they could stay and smoke two more days!


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We had two great meals while here. We ate at a restaurant that supposedly had the best burgers.  I got a burger with: egg, bacon, cheese, onions, and a special sauce on it. For dinner on our last night, we ate at a restaurant called Jackets. They only serve salads, and baked potatoes (jackets are baked potatoes with the skin still on them). I got a baked potato with: chicken salad, herbs, cheese, bacon, and honey mustard. Definitely the best potato I have ever had. The road to obesity is definitely real on this European trip.

Next stop: Paris, France!

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Amsterdam is the capital city and most populous of the Netherlands

The city region has an approximate population of 2,431,000 people

Originating as a small fishing village in the late 12th century, it become one of the most important ports in the world during the Dutch Golden Age (17th century). During that time, the city was the leading center for finance and diamonds.

The Amsterdam Stock Exchange is the oldest stock exchange in the world.

Home to the Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank House

Home to more than 60 miles of canals.

De Wallen is a designated area for legalized prostitution and is Amsterdam’s largest and most well known red light district. It consist of a network of roads and alleys containing several hundred small, one room apartments rented by sex workers who offer their services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights.

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Moving onto Berlin

Arriving in Berlin, Rachel and I had no idea what to expect, but we hit the ground running when we arrived Tuesday morning. We did a quick check in at our hostel, which was much nicer and probably more legitimate than our first, checked our maps, and headed to the city center on the S-Bahn.

We started at the Brandenburg Gate, an iconic and historic entrance to the city, and from there were walked through Tiergarten, Berlin’s largest public park once hunting lands for the royal family.  Near the entrance we found the Reichstag building, the former Parliment building which was nearly completely destroyed in WWII (like much of the city). Continuing through the park we admired the many monuments until finally we reached the most impressive: the Victory Column, built to commemorate a series of Prussian victories with Victoria, the Roman goddess of Victory atop.

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After walking nearly the entire length of Tiergarten (quite a feat, I might add!) we headed to Potsdamer Platz, a modern and iconic plaza in the city. Not far is the Topography of Terror, a museum describing the events of WWII through a detailed timeline beginning in the 1930’s. Interestingly, the museum is built on the grounds were the headquarters to the Gestapo and SS once stood. Additionally, it maintains one of the last 3 remaining segments of the Berlin Wall. Rachel and I spent over 3  hours in the Topography of Terror, absorbing as much as we could. By the time we left, it was nearly dinner time so we headed back to our hostel. It was located in a lively neighborhood of Berlin packed with restaurants and bars called Kreuzberg. We sampled a few German beers with our dinner and headed to bed exhausted from our first day in the new city. After our first full day in Berlin, it was evident this was a city unlike any other. Although a very historic, it is structurally a young city. After WWII a massive portion of the city needed to be restored and this work continues today. During the Cold War buildings (especially in East Germany) lay in ruin for decades. It wasn’t until after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that many structures began to be rebuilt.

Wednesday we scheduled another Sandeman walking tour, hopeful that our tour guide for Berlin would be better than ours in Amsterdam. We met our tour group at the Brandenburg Gate and were lucky to receive a lively and knowledgable guide who took us on the best tour of our entire spring break trip.


Early in the tour, we stopped at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in the heart of Berlin. Designed by Peter Eisenman, this impressive and thought-provoking grouping of cement slabs of varying sizes is completely open to the interpretation of the viewers. He left no explantation or reasoning behind its construction allowing visitors to interpret it as they feel suitable. Our energetic tour group grew quiet as we walked through the monument as we experienced mixed emotions.


Next, our guide led us to a small gravel parking lot. As it turns out, what is now an unassuming, ordinary car park was once the location of Hitler’s bunker where he spent the last 4 months of his life, hiding from the allied forces. While hiding here, Hitler and his wife married and then about a week later committed suicide together in April 1945.

We continued our city tour after a short break to warm up and grab a currywurst. Currywurst is one of the most famous foods served in Berlin, which I can best describe as a type of sausage served in a tomato sauce with yellow curry powder. A must have if you are going to Berlin!


After our intermission we headed to Checkpoint Charlie, the infamous crossing point of the Berlin Wall during the Cold War. As we neared the end of our tour we walked to Humboldt University. Einstein, Schrödinger, and Karl Marx along with many other notable figures have studied here!

IMG_4210After our guided tour, Rachel and I took the rest of the afternoon to explore more of Berlin on our own. We headed to The Berliner Dom, also known as the Berlin Cathedral. We climbed over 400 steps in order to reach the top of the dome and get a panoramic view of the expansive city.IMG_4264



The ongoing reconstruction of the city can be seen nearly everywhere throughout the city (note the crane in the distance).



After our long descent, we went to the Pergamon, Berlin’s most visited museum. Housing many fully reconstructed ancient structures, Middle East art, and the museum of Islamic art, we spent 3 hours admiring the vast collection. By the time we finished touring the museum, we were practically zombies, exhausted and starving.

Thursday, our last day in Berlin, Rachel and I headed to the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is the largest remaining portion of the Berlin Wall today, which has been turned into a memorial for freedom. We strolled along the entire gallery, enjoying the colorful artwork and thinking about this memorial’s significance.

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From here, we went to Alexanderplatz, a large, modern, and bustling square. As one of Berlin’s most popular tourist stops, we were happy to end our adventures in Berlin here. Next, it was off to the airport to catch our flight to Copenhagen!