Las Vacaciones de la Semana Santa Parte 2: Londres – Spring Break Part 2: London

FLondon Eye - 3/31/15rom Barcelona I headed to London to visit my friend, Ellie. She sent me exact directions on how to get from Heathrow to Queen Mary University (QMU), her university for the semester. Feeling quite experienced in navigating public transportation systems, I was quite comfortable taking the Tube (London’s metro) for more than an hour to get to her.

I emerged from the train and walked to the university gates where she and another friend from USC, Scott, greeted me. They were both living on campus in dorms (flats). It has been quite some time since I’d been in a dorm, so it was fun being back in that environment. I stayed in Ellie’s room where she had an air mattress and sleepClassic British phone booth - 3/31/15ing bag for me. Scott lent me a pillow and Dodgers snuggie. I felt so at home!

I knew that the following day Ellie would be unavailable till the evening because she had an exam, but afterward she’d be totally free for the the rest of my stay. I was perfectly okay with the idea of entertaining myself, but when Scott heard this, he graciously volunteered to be my tour guide until Ellie was free from school! The next morning Scott even cooked me breakfast in his flat before we went on a great walking tour of the city.

We hopped on the Tube and took it to London Bridge Station. From there we passed through Borough Market and then walked along the River Thames toward the London Eye. In a city of 8 million people, I was surprised when I literally ran into my friend, Olivia, another Theta studying there. We then passed by the London Eye and cScott and me at Buckingham Palace - 3/31/15rossed the bridge toward Parliament and Big Ben. From there we took the obligatory red phone booth photos before strolling through St. James’s Park. From the park we headed to Buckingham Palace where I was (not so) surprisingly denied entrance to see my gal Princess Kate. Our final destination was Trafalgar Square.  In just two hours, I really felt I got a sense of the city. It was the perfect overview of London.

Scott then headed to class so after I thanked him for showing me around, I took myself to the National Gallery. It was incredible! I saw so many of myScotch eggs from Borough Market - 4/1/15 favorite paintings including Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait and Bronzino’s Venus, Cupid, Folly and TimeAfter seeing works by many of the masters, I headed back to QMU to meet up with Ellie before heading to dinner. We had dinner plans with a group of Thetas at a “Mexican” restaurant called Wahaca. It has been so fun seeing my friends around the world!

On my second full day, Ellie was free as a bird and took the reigns as my tour guide. She was fabulous at navigating, scheduling and deciding what to do. We began our day back at Borough Market for breakfast. She had falafel and I had ScotchEllie and me at the Tower Bridge - 4/1/15 eggs. After filling up on yummy market food, we walked across the Tower Bridge and passed by the Tower of London. It was very windy, but the skies were clear and sunny for the most part. Ellie said I got quite lucky with the weather.

We indulged in a classic British practice and headed to tea, but since we are young and hip college gals, we went to a trendy and modern tea parlour called Sketch. We enjSketch tea house - 4/1/15oyed our tea and scones like the charming young socialites that we are (kidding). After tea we made our way back to Big Ben and stopped outside Westminster Abbey before strolling over to Harrod’s. The only thing we could afford there (and it was still a splurge) was a decadent ice cream sundae with brownies, three different ice cream flavors, hot fudge, caramel and whipped cream. YES.

Ice cream sundae from Harrod's - 4/1/15As if we hadn’t eaten enough that day, we had to scurry from our indulgence at Harrod’s Ice Cream Parlour to get back to QMU and get ready for dinner. Ellie, Scott and their friends had coordinated a big group dinner at Bunga Bunga, an Italian karaoke bar and restaurant. What could be better! Friends, pizza and karaoke.

For breakfast the following morning, we headed to Cereal Killer Cafe in the upcoming and urban neighborhood of Brick Lane. As a girl who loves cereal, this place was my heaven! I enjoyed a custom creation of a variety of cinnamon flavored cereals. Ellie opted for a peanut butter concoction complete with peanut buttery milk.

Cereal Killer Cafe - 4/2/15

With our bellies content, we explored the graffiti-enhanced streets of Brick Lane and the vintage shops that lined them. We then made our way to Camden Lock Market where we encountered a variety of market treasures such as lamps, clothes, furniture, food and more. For lunch Ellie and I munched on cheesy treasures from a gourmet mac ‘n cheese stand, The Mac Factory.

Camden Lock Market - 4/2/15To burn off the day’s culinary delights, we walked through a darling neighborhood with streets lined with bright, white and clean looking English houses. I regret not taking a picture of the pretty homes, but my own memories will have to do. We walked to Primrose Hill, a park with a large hill (clever, I know), from which you can soak in a panorama of London. We plopped down on the large grassy knoll and took a breather from the busy day. Ellie and me at Primrose Hill - 4/2/15

Our rest wasn’t too long, however, because we still had one more stop before dinner. We made our way down the hill and over to none other than the Abbey Road. For being such an iconic location, you’d think there would be some manner to monitor the flow of traffic and facilitate the taking of pictures. But no. We had to dart across the street, avoiding regular cars, taxis and even police cars, in order to take a few good shots. Also, the fact that Londoners drive on the other side of the street made looking out for oncoming traffic a bit of a mind puzzle. Now, many have asked how Ellie and I got the following picture and I’m not going to reveal all of my secrets, but let’s just say it might start with “Photo” and end with “shop”.

Me and Ellie (and me and Ellie) at Abbey Road - 4/2/15

After a day of somewhat alternative tourism, Ellie and I met Margaret, another Theta, for dinner. This evening’s selection was Thai cuisine at Monkey and Me. For dessert, the three of us headed to Covent Garden for some simply smashing gelato.

My time in London had come to an end and it was time to grab a few hours of sleep before my very early departure the last day. Ellie had been a terrific host and tour guide. Spending time with her – just the two of us – made for easy and fun traveling. I loved seeing London for the first time and can’t wait to get back. So far, London might have been my favorite trip!

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Las Vacaciones de la Semana Santa Parte 1: Barcelona – Spring Break Part 1: Barcelona

Spring Break. Every college student’s favorite IMG_5588time of the semester.  Over the course of 10 days I visited three cities in three different countries and saw many great friends along the way. To kick off las vacaciones de la semana santa, I headed to Barcelona where I met up with Michael, un gran amigo from high school.

After the one hour flight, I hopped on a bus that took me from the airport to the city center, and from there I walked with 10 days’ worth of luggage to meet Michael and his friends – some from the University of Virginia and others from Valencia. We were all there to sightsee and celebrate his 21st cumpleaños. Not wasting much time, we headed out to grab a quick bite. We got (overpriced) open-faced toasted sandwiches that we ate on the exterior window sill of the Prada store on La Rambla while admiring this famous Gaudí edificio.

View of Barcelona from Park Güell - 3/27/15Park Güell - 3/27/15

From there we cruised over to Park Güell, a stunning public parque and another Gaudí development. Michael, my new Valencian friend Paula and I explored the park’s abstract constructions and gardens. From the top of a large stone structure, we could see almost all of Barcelona. We meandered through the grounds and ooh-ed and awed at the unique arquitectura of the one and only Gaudí.

My perfect room in our Airbnb - 3/27/15After Park Güell, we joined more of our travel group at our Airbnb. It was my first time staying in an Airbnb and I loved it! We had a one-story flat with one lofted room where I stayed. After a trip to the supermercado to buy food for the weekend, we headed to dinner at A Gianni and rounded out Day 1 with a copa at a nearby bar.

The next morning we enjoyed homemade panqueques con gotas de chocolatehuevosbacon on our patio. Our hearty breakfast prepared us for the day’s adventures, which began with a visit to the Museu Picasso. It fascinated me to see the progression of his works from his early years as a traditional painter, to his abstract and modern cubist period, completed by a partial return to more traditional painting. We were also fortunate to visit a special exhibition that featured the relationship, mutual influences and works of Salvador Dalí and Picasso.

The museum is located in El Barrio Gótico so we wandered the Michael and me at Barceloneta - 3/28/15quaint streets admiring the gothic architecture and cathedral. Hungry for lunch, we headed to Bo de B, a sandwich shop that was recommended to us. Think Subway on steroids and even more affordable. With our massive subs in hand, we headed to Barceloneta, the main playaof Barcelona. After munching on our sandwiches on benches by the marina, we walked along the sand and caught the beginning of the sunset.

IMG_5605Though the sun was setting, Day 2 was far from over. We headed back to the Airbnb to prepare for our dinner party that evening. A thorough grocery store run complete, it was time to start cooking for Michael’s birthday celebration. There were six of us staying in our Airbnb and Michael had other friends in Barcelona so they joined us for dinner. We made croquetas, chips, salsa and fajitas. Earlier, Paula and I snuck out from the grocery store early and bought balloons, cake and candles for another birthday sorpresa.

Day 3 got off to a late start as we all slept in after the previous night’s birthday festivities. Michael and his friends were leaving that day, though I was staying one more night in Barcelona. Before they left, we visited Montjuic, a famous hill in the city that provides other breathtaking vistas. Some of the hill’s DSCN0929noteworthy developments include Palau Nacional, the Estadi Olímpic (the Olympic stadium) and the Font Màgica fountains. I’ve heard there is a spectacular Magic Fountains show at night, but I was unable to see it. Next time!

I said goodbye to Michael and his friends and set off in search of my my hostel. I reserved a bed in a female only room and only had one roommate – a Korean girl who did not speak much English or Spanish and never left her bed! I was in and out several times, but she stayed there the whole time. However, she did leave around 6 in the morning the next day, so perhaps she was just resting before her early wakeup call.

That evening I asked the hostel for some dinner recommendations and grabbed some pintxos at a popular joint nearby. Though I was staying alone, I never felt lonely. I made friends at dinner and then went to see Austin, my friend who’s on my program in Madrid and happened to be in Barcelona with her family. Austin greeted me at her hotel and we headed to her room where she had the DSCN0949greatest surprise for me: milk and cookies! Her hotel was right on the beach so we dipped and dunked our galletas while admiring sparkling Barcelona and the beach by moonlight.

When morning came, I stomached the hostel breakfast of cornflakes and coffee and set out on my final Barcelona adventure: La Sagrada Familia. I pre-purchased my ticket online, which you have to do, and treated myself to the audio guía. I got chills when I first set foot inside the cathedral. It was unbelievable and unlike anything I had ever seen. In about two hours, I checked out every stop on the audio tour. The exterior is loose and haphazard – it looks like a sandcastle you make when you let wet sand dribble through your fingers. Yet the interior is sharDSCN0967p, deliberate and illuminated by colorful light. More than 100 years after the first stone was laid, Gaudí’s masterwork is not yet complete and construction is ongoing. What an incredible sight!

Having spent four days in Barcelona, I felt I had seen all I wanted to see (with the exception of the fountain show) and was ready for my next stop. After a quick trip back to the hostel, I caught the same bus that took me back to the airport where I boarded a flight to my second Spring Break destino: Londres.

Retrasada – Delayed

Hello Loyal Readers,

Much like my Ryan Air flights, I’m a bit retrasada, or delayed, in posting. I promise to soon publish entries about my Spring Break adventures in Barcelona, London and Berlin and my most recent intercontinental trip to Marrakech. In the meantime, please take a look at the Photo Gallery page to see some pictures of the trips. That page will likely before the blog posts go up.

With finals around the corner, highly anticipated visits from my family, and just one more trip outside of Madrid, it’ll be a busy next few weeks so a few more delays might be on the horizon. It’s hard to believe that I return to America in less than un mes, but it’s my goal to have everything up published and posted before my return to The States. I’ll do my best.

Thank you for reading, commenting and staying connected with me while I’m over here. I love hearing from all of you. With 13 weeks en los libros, here’s to the final stretch!

Un abrazo,

Kimberly