Budapest, Hungary Day #3

Looking for somewhere to go on your next vacation? Maybe even spring break? Budapest’s natural beauty, exquisite architecture and relaxing thermal spas are definitely calling your name. Get ready to pack your bags, because the final post of the Budapest travel series is here!

To recap from my first two days in Budapest (which you can refresh yourself on here and here) I pretty much instantly fell in love with the city. The romantically detailed architecture, gorgeous river and landscapes, friendly people and *warm weather* automatically won over my heart. The overall affect reminded me of Italy (hint, hint that’s where I ended up next!) and for this reason, almost felt familiar.

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The morning of my third and final day in Budapest was spent recovering from the Hungarian ruin pub bar crawl that I went on the night prior. Part of the bar crawl was that there would be a drink (or shot) waiting for you at each pub you went to, and the night finished at a huge and incredible ruin club filled with maze like rooms with fully stocked bars (part of the room shown above). It was a night filled with so much fun which made the morning a bit of a drag. 😉

When Ben and I had taken a walking tour around Budapest, our tour guide had suggested the Lukacs Baths as one of the thermal baths and spas to visit. Because we had already been to the Széchenyi Baths on our first night in Budapest – though it was for a Sparty (yes, exactly what you think it means) not relaxation – we decided to try out another spa that was deeper in the city.

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The grounds of the Lukacs Baths were simply gorgeous. Not a branch was out of place, not a chip on the brightly colored paint on any of the buildings. The aura was entirely relaxed, people were patient and kind as they waited on “the Americans,” us, to change into our swim suits and put our belongings in a locker.

We first went to the indoor rooms which reminded me of the Roman bath houses one sees when walking through Pompeii. The intricate tile details and mosaics and the relaxed steam coming from the warm and hotter pools made for the perfect atmosphere to simply just sit and be. However upon sitting down in the first pool, we realized that we may have chosen the wrong place to relax. It seems that what our inevitably sardonic tour guide had failed to mention was that the Lukacs Baths were a popular favorite of exclusively men and women aged 60+. We were in the company of mostly men in very small swim trunks, which can make the experience much less relaxing and incredibly awkward.

We switched from one pool to another – the traditional way to do it is gradually increase the pool temperatures as you go, first sitting in the freezing cold bath and gradually making your way to the hottest bath and virtually sauna. The company did not change. We were greeted with grumpy and unpleasant looks, as well as inappropriate looks, and decided it was time to go outside. The outdoor pools were large and beautiful. We sat and tanned (sunshine! a luxury coming from a drab weather winter in London) before heading out in search of lunch.

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Our second touristy stop for the day was St. Stephan’s Basilica. The large domineering Roman Catholic church located in the center of the city. Adventurous as always, once a bit of convincing had taken place of course, we chose to take the 364 narrow and winding staircase up to the dome of the Basilica… instead of the fully functioning elevator.

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The climb was certainly worth it. We arrived at the top and were embraced by the gorgeous 360 degree view of Budapest. We also had the entire dome to ourselves, which make the experience really special and reflective.

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One of the most beautiful parts of the city, to me, was the blend of what remained from a great and antiquated society and the majestic mountains and landscape that it was built upon, and is still surrounded by. This can be seen from any angle of the city, but especially from above. I am always in awe of the detail that was put into such structures.

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The day would not have been complete without snacking on ice cream in front of St. Stephan’s, on our way back to the hostel. If you haven’t yet noticed how passionate of an ice cream lover I am… just you wait. The next travel series takes place in Italy (next stop, Roma!) and I believe the motto is “a gelato a day keeps the doctor away.” 😉

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The day would also not be complete without getting happily lost down a few adorable side streets. From even the simplest snaps of my camera you can get a sense of what the life is like in the heart of Hungary. It makes me want to go back ASAP!
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We ended our final day in Hungary by watching the orange cream sunset go down over Buda. The end of this trip reflected the swiftly approaching end to our semester in London and the five months we had spent going on weekend getaways all over Europe. It was bittersweet and beautiful, as most wonderful things in life tend to be.

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Stay Classy! xx

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Budapest, Hungary Day #2

The morning after the Sparty I woke up in a daze. The night prior had been so surreal, swimming and drinking in one of the oldest thermal baths and spas in the country to strobe lights and a DJ had been one of the most extraordinary nights of my life. This being said, it wasn’t a surprise that the only thing I felt like doing the next morning was munch on some breakfast and float around in another thermal bath and spa.

These plans were met with opposition by my boyfriend, who kept reminding me that it was our last full day in the city and we still had so much to see. Agreeing to go out to breakfast and join a walking tour (which was close to four hours long!) I downed a few Advil and we were on our way.

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The walking tour began in the main city center of Pest (“Pesht”), which was where we were staying. We walked away from the city center, where there was a children’s puppet musical going on in the square and marketplace, and headed down the East bank to admire the view across the Danube that stretched out in front of us.

The walk around the main streets of Pest were gorgeously eerie. The architecture of the buildings could be compared to those in Rome. Full of meticulous detail, marble and magnificent statues, the streets home to the opera house and parliament buildings were adorned with the majesty of the past, yet glazed over with the emptiness of the present. It is clear, just by a quick stroll, that Pest was once a prosperous and bustling city, which has now been reduced to a low-populated yet beautiful tourist attraction.

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This emptiness became a cause for reflection, however, and added another layer of mystery to the unsung natural and man-made beauty surrounding us. The tour continued along the Danube until we came to the incredible bridge that connects Pest and Buda. The walking tour guide spent the entire bridge walk spinning a story about the famous architect and his tragic death only to end with the possibility that none of it was true – strange.

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It wasn’t long before we had reached the hill-filled and mountainous side of the city. While Pest had the opportunity to build upwards through architecture, Buda had the natural advantage of higher ground. We took a quick break for lunch and then took the Budapest version of the Italian “funiculare” up to the top of the hill.

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This had been where the royalty had resided years and years ago, and it was still the center of government on that side. Embellished with beautiful flowers, statues and a breathtaking view of Pest, the main center of Buda left little to want for. The main church and cathedral were at the top of this hill as well.

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The roofs had been adorned with yellow and caramel-colored mosaics, stationed on a teal base. The overall impact of this architectural surprise was delightful and we took in the beauty from all angles of the cathedral.

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Our last visit on Buda was an abandoned monastery close to the cathedral, that overlooked the Danube and Pest side of the city. Everything in Budapest is simply gorgeous.

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This side of the city was more expensive than Pest by far. It seemed as if the Buda residents felt their higher ground gave them justification for higher prices. After the tour had ended we splurged on $15 ice cream cones and decided that it was time to head back to other side.

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After making it across the bridge two things became indelibly clear. The first was that we were starving and needed food right then – if you know me, this is a frequent occurrence, especially after I started doing HIIT workouts… #alwayshungry. The second thing that was clear was that in the time we had been exploring Buda, Pest had been overcome by a triathlon, and many of the main streets had been closed to both cars and pedestrians. Hungrily, we ended up following along with the marathon in search of an open side street that wasn’t guarded with police. After another 40 minutes of walking we found our opening… across the street and across the marathon. Waiting until the quicker runners and bikers had passed, Ben and I sprinted through the marathon onto the other side of the road.

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We began walking in that direction, happy to be able to follow our own route instead of one marked by blockades and marathon tape. It was not long before we came across an authentic Hungarian restaurant, where we gobbled down some very heavy goulash, gnocchi dumplings and beer.

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As is customary after eating a heavy Hungarian meal, a nap was penciled into the agenda. A few hours later we made our way back to the main square on Pest, which had been transformed from puppet show hub to nightlife center. We joined in on a Hungarian pub crawl, which brought us to many incredible ruin bars and pubs in the Jewish quarter. It is truly a shame that I had not been able to snap better photos of the atmosphere, but the lighting was dim and the images were unable to come out clearer.

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However, the ruin bars were one of the amazing additions to the mysteries of Budapest. The buildings had taken a hit during WWII, yet had never been demolished. Instead of tearing them down and building up brand new exclusive bars and clubs, the Hungarians had taken to redesigning the homes and spaces into gorgeous yet ghostly nightlife havens. Ruin pub after ruin pub, I wondered what the building had been like a hundred years ago. Who had lived there? What had it been used for? And of course, what had happened there?

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The sheer magnitude of the semblance of the past connected with the attitudes of the present gave the ruin pubs a special quality that I haven’t come across before or since. The night ended at a ruin night club, deep in the Jewish quarter yet surprisingly close to our hostel. Just before going in, we realized we needed a snack and snuck away from the group and into a “halal” restaurant. Ordering Ben’s favorite, “chicken over rice” we sat down and waited for our food. A few minutes later the waiter came over with chicken over fries, apparently mishearing us. We didn’t complain, it was actually pretty good and tourists and Hungarians alike came over to our table to ask what we had ordered… heehee.

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The ruin club was truly incredible. There were at least five different floors, whose walls were covered in colorful graffiti and vintage art work and décor. Each floor had a different atmosphere and the entire club was a maze. It was nearly impossible to find a room again after leaving it, because there were so many others to explore.

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Each room played different music to a different crowd. There were people dancing in groups of bachelor and bachelorette parties, old people, young people, tourists, locals, DJs… There were different game rooms where you could play “escape room” where you had to find your way out of the pitch black room in small groups, foosball, pool, ping pong… People dancing, people engrossed in intellectual conversations, people sitting at the bars, on the couches, standing in the middle of the dance floor. It was the type of place that could make time stop for hours, that could merge past with present in one fluid motion, that could connect one person to another though they had absolutely nothing in common. This was one of the most diversely European experiences I had come across in the last few months.

Stay Classy! xx

Budapest, Hungary Day #1

Before jumping right into Budapest and the 7-hour journey to get there, I feel like we need to rewind a little bit back to Prague. In my last European travel post I left off with my last night in Prague, spent at a few casual bars and ending at Anonymous Bar. Ben and I trekked through the gorgeous Jewish quarter back to our hostel to get ready for the long journey ahead of us the next day.

We woke up a little before seven a.m. to get to the bus station. The hostel was amazing and scheduled a cab to pick us up the day before, warning us that the drivers sometimes try to charge exorbitant fees to tourists. As we were sleepy and out of Kroners, we got lucky that our driver not only accepted card payment but also was more interested in what we were doing in the Czech Republic and why we would ever leave New York City, instead of charging us extra. We made it to the station with time to spare, unlike in Amsterdam where we almost missed our bus because we had somehow skipped passport control. This ride would be shorter, but only by a few hours.

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Like any lengthy trip taken on public transport, little room is left for belongings and the space that is left is reserved for frustration. There were about 15 stops before we arrived in Budapest and contrary to popular belief, the driver did not permit passengers to exit the bus unless they were getting off for good. This led to 7 hours sans a bathroom break (the bathroom on the bus was so gross it was not worth it) and sans lunch – or in our case, breakfast and lunch. By the time we arrived in Budapest, our body’s hated us for rationing three Belvita bars and two apples over the course of the 7 hour ride, plus the time it took for us to wake up and arrive at the bus station… It goes without saying that I ALWAYS carry a snack with me now, even if I’m just going out for a few hours.

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Despite all of this, the 7 hours also went by quickly at times, while we were napping or taking in incredible landscapes as we drove through the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Windmills and lush green terrain swept across the outer areas of Bratislava, Slovakia and through the hill and mountain towns outside the main city. As I have ancestry in Slovakia, this is a trip that I hope to come back and do fully; spending more time soaking in the country’s beauty, food and culture.

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Unloading the bus we listed our priorities and set out for the nearby metro station. We tackled the bathroom and ATM before figuring out that there was zero chance of us figuring out how to reach our hostel by train sans an Internet connection, so we defeated (and hungrily) took a cab.

We stayed in the Essential hostel, a converted apartment building with a spiral staircase, marble floors and a gorgeous exterior. The staff was incredibly helpful and when we asked where to go for lunch they directed us to a traditional Hungarian buffet a few blocks away…

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Already used to the heavy potato-based dishes of the Czech Republic I was hoping to find something on the lighter side in Hungary. Yet it seemed that the further south in Europe you go, the heavier the food is made. The buffet offered simple and traditional Hungarian dishes such as Goulash and blood sausages – something I ate without realizing what it was for the first few bites, as the labeling signs were in Hungarian and I was unable to decipher them. I had a sampling of these foods as well as pasta that looked something like mac and cheese but tasted nothing like it, and a selection of yummy deserts and beer. In total, for two people to eat all of this food and alcohol was a grand total of about 5,620.00 Forint – which though seemingly exorbitant, when converted into USD was about $21. What a nice break from the crazy Pound to USD conversion rates!

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Tummies full (and starting to hurt) we walked around a small downtown area before heading back to the hostel for a nap. Our room – a four bed dorm – was the largest hostel room we had stayed in and it had a lovely view of the street below. After a quick nap we changed and decided to go out for some nighttime exploring in a nearby part of the city by the Danube River. It was this short hour of casual sightseeing where I fell in love with Budapest and it became the favorite trip I took outside of London.

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Along the waterfront, Budapest at night is simply incomparable. Each side of the river represents half of the country. Across from where we were walking on the West Bank was “Buda” and the side on which we were walking on the East Bank was “Pest” – pronounced “pesht”.

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Originally a Celtic settlement, the two cities, along with “Obuda” or “Old Buda” fought between one another to see who could build the tallest, most relevant and most beautiful city. Each side of the river tried to outdo the other, eventually becoming one united country in November 1873 and the result is an unfathomably splendid sight to see.

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The deep gold lights on Pest’s Parliament buildings reflected into the Danube and connecting with Buda is something so beautiful that it made me wonder how I had been so blessed to see it for myself in person. Budapest is truly a place of surreal beauty.

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After our stroll Ben and I stopped at an outdoor beer garden for appetizers and a pint or two – the Hungarian version of a pint is the equivalent of a huge German beer mug… a lot of beer! We had just another half hour before hopping on the Metro and going to the event we had decided to splurge on… the Sparty.

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I will go more into detail about the history behind Hungary’s thermal bath culture in my next post, but the country’s thermal spas are a huge draw for people from around the globe.

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The “Sparty” is a huge party that happens just a few times a month on Saturday in Budapest’s largest thermal bathhouse – Szechenyi. It is an experience that is truly once in a lifetime. There was a DJ in the pool and people from all over the world stripped down to their bathing suits and swim trunks and swarmed the bar and the pools.

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I feel like this was the epitome of a crazy European college kid experience and had so much fun that for the first time I forgot to get a picture of myself in front of the craziness. However just before heading out I did take a few photos of the Sparty but not even a picture can capture how cool the experience was.

Stay Classy! xx

Take Me Out To The Ballgame

Let’s Go Mets! Let’s Go Mets! Let’s Go Mets!

There’s a lot going on with last year’s World Series Champion runner-up team and I had the opportunity to see everything first-hand last week. With strong pitching, solid fielding and a batting lineup that left room for improvement on that particular Friday night, the Mets are still looking good – yet have much room for growth.

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Anyone who knows me will understand that there is no way I can write about the Mets without mentioning David Wright. Especially during a game at Citi Field, the presence of the captain is missed by both the people sitting on the bleachers and those sitting in the dugout. Even while playing through the pain of his back injury he gave the team a boost in morale during the games that showed a difference in their abilities on the field. He believed in himself and in the team and there is not much more you can ask of a captain than that.

The stadium reacts differently without him – there’s something empty about third base although the position has been filled. What the team really needs is #5 to come back healthy and ready to play.

There’s some big news in Wright’s life as of yesterday. He and his wife Molly welcomed a baby girl into the world at 8 pounds 11 ounces. Olivia Shea is an adorable and perfectly fitting name for the daughter of the man who helped his team get where it is today and do as well as it did last year. I hope that David (and his family!) will make an appearance before the end of the season.

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At the Friday night game I still sat on the third base line out of habit. Although the Mets did not play their best and the game went downhill by the fourth inning, the fans still brought themselves to their feet to cheer on the new favorites.

Reyes is back after a short stint in Miami and the fans welcomed him with the old chant “JoseJoseJoseJose.” The Mets star pitcher Syndergaard or “Thor” always receives unwavering support while he towers over the mound. People have begun to say that Nimmo may slowly become the new team favorite. And Bartolo Colon, who made the All Star Team this year, is able to accomplish so much with an air of ease, putting him in that category as well because of his ability to awe the fans.

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Although the team was unable to pull through for the win on this rainy night, I found some solace in the good-hearted nature of the Mets fans and the new and much improved selection of food and drinks at the snack stands throughout the stadium. Citi Field now offers an incredible selection of drinks including frozen margaritas and a variety of craft beers. It is home to a bright new Shake Shack and offers your standard baseball game food; hot dogs, hamburgers, fries… and also a wider new selection that includes tacos and sandwiches.

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The Citi Field experience is certainly changing, but one thing that is certain is that the fans bring the energy to Mets home games and they make the franchise proud. I can only pray that Wright will make a healthy recovery and be back on the field sooner than later and in the meantime hope that the Mets continue to play their best ball against St. Louis the next few days.

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Stay Classy & LGM! xx

Prague, Czech Republic Day #2

It had never occurred to me that zoos in different parts of the world would hold varying animals. In the United States I had been to zoos in New York and Washington D.C. and the animals they housed did not differ too much. Only when I walked into the Prague Zoo did I realize how eclectic the animal collections were in zoos throughout the world – as well as how different the set up was too!

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The Prague Zoo is one of the top 10 zoos in the world. At this point in my study abroad experience, I knew there would only be a few more museums that I could muster the desire to go into. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely a museum person, but going to multiple exhibits every week can definitely be exhausting and draining – especially when there are so many cool things to explore outdoors!

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I was especially ecstatic to go to the Prague Zoo because it was home to a baby elephant who had just been born a few weeks prior and anyone who knows me knows how much I adore these trumpeting creatures.

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The weather managed to clear up by the time we reached the zoo, on the outskirts of the main city where we were staying, and we walked around looking for the elephants and giraffes. The elephant family was kept inside for some unknown reason, while another elephant roamed the grounds on its own. The baby elephant was so adorable, picking up sticks with its trunk and trying to talk to its parents. It was such perfect timing that we had been able to go see it as an infant.

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Later in the day I tried my first “goulash,” a traditional Czech dish full of meat and potatoes. It was absolutely delicious, but super heavy, especially when combined with another mug of beer. It was certainly a carb overload but it was worth it. Dinner was followed by a trdelnik – a typical Czech dessert food made from a cinnamon sugar-coated freshly made donut filled with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. So delicious!

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Later that night, with the possibility of missing our 7 a.m. bus to Budapest the next morning, Ben and I decided to make our last night in Prague a relaxed one and explored the bars in the Jewish Quarter of the city.

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It wasn’t long before we stumbled across “Anonymous Bar,” a venue inspired by the “Anonymous” organization and the book V for Vendetta. The vibe of the bar was especially cool because of the quirky antique furniture as well as the dark musty lighting, accented with portraits of the “Anonymous” mask in frames on the walls throughout the room.

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It reminded me of a 1920’s Gatsby party full of intellectuals and interesting characters drinking creatively mixed, lit on fire and plated cocktails. It was a really cool way to end our way-too-short few days in Prague.

Stay Classy! xx

Prague, Czech Republic Day #1

While making a list of tentative places I would travel while abroad in Europe, Prague was always at the top of my list. I had been drawn to visit Prague for a variety of reasons. It was the capital of the Czech Republic, a beautiful country whose name featured the awfully inhibiting “Cz” spelling that no one ever knows how to pronounce. My family on my grandma’s side came from Czechoslovakia and although after the country’s split they associated with Slovakia, I’ve always wanted to visit both sides. Prague seemed like a great option because everyone I know who had gone there had fallen in love with it. It looked beautiful, everything was within walking distance or a short tram ride of each other and the exchange rate was awesome.

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One of the most iconic views of Prague is of the Charles Bridge. It stretches across the river in the center of the city and is the walking pathway to the opposite side of the water where the castle is. The bridge is constantly full of tourists, locals and vendors and is known as a hangout for pickpockets.

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It is guarded by a series of statues, stationed above the bridge and created of religious figures, saints and important thinkers from years ago. The statues are now covered by a tarnished teal green, which creates an old-city atmosphere that could stand for the decline of the Czech Republic.

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Ben and I started the hike – OK maybe not a hike, but definitely a very steep uphill climb that took almost half an hour – up to the entrance of the castle. I was immediately drawn to the lookout point that provided an impressive view of what we had just walked and the beauty of the city. It was here where we met a few more friends from Fordham and went into the exhibits of the main castle.

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The castle was gorgeous and even bigger than it looked from a distance. What particularly left an impression on me was how intricately designed and detailed the outside of the cathedral was. Part of the castle was still in use by the Czech parliament, which portrayed a great contrast of the old world and the new world. It was off the balcony of one of the castle rooms where we were able to catch a glimpse of the “Mini Eiffel Tower” in the distance. As it turns out, Prague really is like a smaller version of Paris.

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It wasn’t long before the hunger pangs set in and we decided it was time to find a place to eat our first Czech lunch. We came across an adorable restaurant/pub and I ordered gnocchi, beer cheese toast and a beer. These were three things on the menu that I thought I knew what I would be getting… but I was definitely wrong! I am still not sure what happened with the beer cheese toast (below), I don’t know if the bread was soaked in beer or if the cheese was, but my friend and I were unable to eat it for the most part due to a surprisingly bitter and moldy flavor.

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The gnocchi, on the other hand, was amazing. It reminded me a lot of my grandma’s pirogues and was served as a plateful of potato dumplings surrounded by onions, garlic and spinach. This in addition to the giant mug of beer I was served was a lot like I had hoped the Czech food would be!

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Bellies full, we continued to walk around the Old Town area and passed the famous Prague Astronomical Clock Tower, a medieval astronomical clock that is truly incredible to see. It started to drizzle and my friends decided to go back and nap, so Ben and I continued exploring on our own. As the weather cleared up it seemed like an opportune time to visit the John Lennon Wall.

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The Wall looked just as cool in person as it does in pictures. The ambience of the area through which it stretched was so peaceful. A man played old Beatles songs on his guitar in front of the wall and the area was otherwise silent.

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Reading all of the inspirational quotes, sayings and words was such a nice end to the afternoon. Much of what was written on the wall are things that we should be reminded of everyday. What is important in life is love and peace and getting along the best we can with what we have and who we have around us. Just reading the layers of inspiration on the Lennon Wall reminds us how simple living a good life can be.

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For dinner, we found ourselves at “Dancing House,” one of the coolest and nicest restaurants in Prague. Up at the top of a building famous for its creative architecture, we enjoyed a delicious meal with a 360* panoramic view of the beautiful city surrounding us. It was a great way to wrap up our first night in Prague before going out again to a bar a few hours later.

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Nicknamed “The Doghouse” for a very good reason, we went to a local nightlife hot spot to check out the atmosphere and the reason behind the name. The bar was nothing like I expected, it was rustic and filled to almost maximum capacity on its three floors. Before long live music started playing and a fire eater and dancer came out and started to perform. Where we were sitting on the second floor we heard a chorus of “awww’s” and looked over to see the actual biggest dog I’ve ever encountered in my life. It was scruffy and dirty but we found out that it belonged to the owner and loves being around people.

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It was certainly an unexpected end to my first night in Prague!

Stay Classy! xx

Barcelona, Spain Day #3

It was not until my trip to Barcelona that I realized the incredible beauty and influence that Antoni Gaudi brought to the city. It is because of him that Barcelona is more than just a lovely Spanish beach town, his contributions to the city – La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi House and Parque Guell – give Barca a different and contemporary character that I had not seen anywhere else in Europe. The city’s essence glows with Gaudi’s personality, from the color choices of the apartments to the quirky trees and shops. To see how much influence one man’s vision brought to this city is impressive and reminds us how one person really can make a difference in the world.

Everyone was ready for an early start on our last day in Barcelona. We walked back to Brunch and Cake with a friend we had made at the hostel. The line this time was much longer but the greeter told us our wait would only be forty five minutes max. It was not long before I started to realize that she was seating people who had come after us and kept tacking on minutes to our wait time. I spoke with her twice about this before understanding that she was seating the locals first – I told her that I wanted my pineapple acai bowl, but not if she was going to discriminate against American tourists. It goes without saying that we were seated in the next five minutes. Out of the nine countries that I visited these past 6 months, this was the rudest instance of tourist discrimination that I encountered.

Although the service left much to be desired, the Pineapple Acai Smoothie Bowl was to die for.

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Bellies full and much less grumpy, my group walked to the Metro Station and passed the Gaudi House along the way. If it wasn’t for the herd of tourists snapping photos in from of it, there was a good chance that we would have missed it by not looking up. It was in a busy area of the city and was set up like a regular apartment. Of course, when you actually looked, it had so much detail and typical eccentric Gaudi personality in the shapes of the windows and balcony and the colors of the designs painted all over the structure. It was an art and architectural masterpiece.

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Getting into the Metro was a bit more exciting than usual. In every other country you either tap or swipe your Metro or Oyster card on the right hand side and enter on the left. Out of habit, this is what I did getting on the Metro in Barcelona, only to realize that it was the opposite. I had inserted my ticket on the right side and the turnstile to my right had opened. I darted over and got my right leg over just in time, unfortunately meaning that only my right leg had gotten through and my left leg was still on the other side of the barrier. I managed to get out of the trap, but had a horrible and painful black and blue bruise on the inside of my leg for the next few weeks as a souvenir!

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As a lover of nature, mosaics and architecture, Parque Guell was a dream come true to visit. We first went into the woods area of the park and did the short hike up to the top of the hill, which brought us to a panoramic view of the city. The main area of the park full of incredible architectural art and mosaics was absolutely stunning and looked like something out of a futuristic society. The main building was eccentrically shaped incorporating curves and colors where you would least expect them. It was also incredibly grand and majestic – looking like a main palatial building straight out of the Hunger Games movies.

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The mosaics were by far my favorite part of the park and incorporated so many tiny details that they were intricately beautiful and unique. The main bench of mosaics overlooked the beautiful city of Barcelona and the rest of the gingerbread looking Gaudi buildings in other parts of the park. It looked like an adorable candy land and really celebrates the culture and personality of the city.

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My night ended with a typically delicious outing for our last paella and sangria in Spain, tapas and then later out to a Karaoke pub – something my friends and I fallen in love with since the beginning of college. My friend and I managed to get on the list to sing and closed down the pub with a “beautiful” rendition of Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.” Shout out to NJ! We didn’t get back to the hostel until around 2am and we had to leave by 5am for our red eye flight back to London. After a quick nap we were on our way… Hasta luego Barcelona!

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P.S. Don’t forget to enter “The Positivity Kit” Giveaway below! The winner will get a free “Positivity Kit” – part coloring book and part diary geared towards stress relief and positive thinking! – delivered to their doorstep. Be sure to enter before this upcoming Friday, June 17th! Good luck!! 🙂

Stay Classy! xx

Barcelona, Spain Day #2

Choosing hostels to stay in while traveling abroad can become a hassle. Hostelworld.com ended up being my go-to website during the past five months and that is how I came across The Black Swan. The rating was great – understandably – as was the staff and location. In addition to offering paella and sangria making classes, they offered free dinner on certain days and free breakfast everyday. Not to mention it was a clean and friendly atmosphere. Of course, not all hostels and Airbnbs are up to par with their online reviews, but fortunately The Black Swan was much more than what I had expected.

Free breakfast came in handy when Ben and I dragged ourselves out of bed our second day in Barcelona. Adrianna and Kelly refused to wake up – we did have a crazy first night after all – and mumbled that they would meet us out in the city later in the day. We went downstairs to munch on pancakes and cereal before heading out into the city for brunch and a day of sightseeing. Prior to traveling to a new place, I usually look up at least one restaurant that I want to try out. For Barcelona, this was Brunch & Cake.

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Anyone on Instagram following food and travel feeds has most likely come across photos of these incredibly beautiful brunch plates and drinks. Not only did Brunch & Cake serve artistic dishes, they were also healthy and definitely what I was craving after a long night out. For such a popular brunch place the wait wasn’t too long. We were seated inside and I ordered brie and strawberry mini baguettes with a salad full of spinach, tomatoes, fried eggs and pears. It was incredible. I tasted Ben’s pretzel baguette with homemade guacamole, chicken and chips and it was delicious as well.

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The ingredients were inevitably fresh and the chefs knew what they were doing putting the different flavors together. We ordered a Nutella pancake as a starter, before realizing the size of our main dishes, but it was a yummy decision – they incorporated a whipped Nutella mousse onto the pancake and surrounded it with adorable edible flowers. Yum!

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Full and happy we started the forty-minute walk to La Sagrada Familia. From a distance the cathedral looks like a gingerbread palace, but when you are close enough to see the incredible detail adorning the outside you realize that what you are about to walk into is something that will make the trip to Barcelona special.

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Antoni Gaudi began the construction of the masterpiece in 1882. 133 years later, it is still under construction but looks absolutely out of this world. Rumor has it that there are only 11 years left until it is deemed complete, but I believe that this is one of those masterpieces where artists will continue to add to it infinitely.

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To me personally, what made visiting La Sagrada Familia such a surreal experience was the modern and quirky personality that Gaudi put into it and the mastery with which he used the light from the stained glass windows. Through the angle the sunlight hit the windows, the entire cathedral basked in the glory of the bright colored lights that hit the floor, pews, altar and architecture, which made the cathedral something more than just a church. I spent a good amount of time inside, sitting on a pew and wondering how someone could have created such an astonishing place, playing up natural light and beauty.

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After sitting in awe for a while, the four of us decided to head over to the playa and find a spot for dinner. Though most of our group had no recollection of this, we ended up eating dinner at the same place we had gone clubbing the night prior.

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Pacha Barcelona was located right on the beach, and we sat looking out at the palm trees and beautiful blue ocean. It was too chilly to go in the water, but it was lovely to eat next to. We had paella and sangria again, and it was of course delicious.

Stay Classy! xx

Barcelona, Spain Day #1

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When you study abroad in London, you’re spoiled with the number of airport options you can fly out of to visit another place. By the time my trip to Barcelona had come around, I had already flown out of two of England’s airports, Heathrow and Gatwick. On this trip my friends and I were scheduled to leave from Stansted, which required purchasing bus tickets in advance to make it to the airport from our apartments. The bus ride should have only taken about one hour from King’s Cross to Stansted, yet we ran into a lot of unexpected traffic, had to transfer buses and almost missed our flight.

This entailed some full-fledged sprinting through the airport post-security sans shoes and dying under the weight of heavy carry-ons. The four of us were focused, determined and though the walk to our gate was 20 minutes and we wanted to stop and rest, we knew it would mean losing our chance to go to Spain. In the end, we made it to our gate just in time. Lesson learned, never EVER take the bus to the airport.

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Hola Barca! My first morning here reminded me why people need to wear sunglasses and the incredible feeling of glowy warmth as the sun shone on my face. Yes, real sun! I was staying in an awesome hostel – The Black Swan – which I have recommended to many people since and would recommend to any student traveling abroad! It was just a ten minute walk from the Arc de Triumf and the rest of Cituadella Park, a gorgeous sprawling park full of palm trees and happy Barcelonians.

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We walked through the park enjoying the gorgeous weather and made our way down a series of cute narrow streets that reminded me of Naples, and into a random huge cathedral that was incredible inside. We were on our way to the Picasso Museum – one of my favorite museums that I visited in Europe and part of what made the trip to Barcelona so worth it. The museum was brilliantly curated. His work was shown chronologically and next to each wall was an explanation of where he was when he created those masterpieces and what was going on in his life at the time that could have been possible inspiration for them. I learned a lot from this museum because I had not realized that it was only towards the end of his life that his paintings changed so drastically and are what he is most famous for now.

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Hungry from exploring, we left the museum to go to lunch. This was the point where I realized that Spanish meat is incredible and decided to be sure to eat some each meal for the rest of my trip. These skewer kebabs were amazing!

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There comes a time each day while exploring different European cities where you wonder if the best move would be to succumb to the heat and exhaustion and take a siesta, or to power through it and continue doing as much as possible fueled by treats and caffeine. Though we were exhausted from the journey the previous night, we realized that we only had a few days in the city and were not a far walk away from Barcelonetta – the beach – which we all wanted to see. We did the trek, getting lost only once and getting harassed by street performers as a consequence, but made it to the beautiful dock where we sat under the palm trees for an hour, letting our legs dangle over the sparkling clear blue water. This was the life.

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We lingered on the dock soaking up the sunshine and beautiful Spanish accents chirping around us. I had missed the beach the past few months and felt so blessed to have had the chance to experience it in the land of the Cheetah Girls 2, Gaudi, Picasso and these wonderful people. On the walk back to the hostel we came across an outdoor market, similar to Borough Market in London, and got fresh fruit juices – mine was Kiwi – which were delicious and held us over until dinner.

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When we got back, Ben went to the hostel to nap for an hour and Adrianna, Kelly and I went back to see Cituadella Park at night. It was so nice to see the sunset behind the Arc and there were a handful of Spanish children blowing bubbles that would catch the reflection of the orange crème sky and palm trees.

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Back at the hostel we went to a paella and sangria making class, which was awesome! The sangria was so yummy and the food was delicious. Apparently the recipe can be cooked in a wok instead of the big paella pan they used, so it’s possible that you’ll see my own attempt at it up here at some point!

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We befriended some of our hostel roommates, a group of Irish guys and an American girl traveling Europe on her own for six months, and joined the hostel pub crawl. This took us to three pubs and two clubs on the beach. It was a super fun night and we met a lot of interesting people. This was what I had always thought staying in a hostel would be like!

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Stay Classy! xx

Amsterdam, Holland Day #3

You can capture the essence of the Dutch people in the movement of the canals and the nature of the parks on the weekend. We were shocked by the Red Light District the previous night, because it was such a huge contrast from what the city is like during the day. Overall, Amsterdam was one of the most laid back and naturally calming and beautiful European cities that I have visited. Not to mention the food is incredible.

Ben and I decided to go with the flow for this trip, which ended up working out really well for us as we were able to enjoy the city like a local for a few days. We mapped out the major sites and museums we wanted to get to but made it over to them in our own time, making sure to enjoy the beauty of the city while walking most places. It was this lackadaisical attitude that contributed a lot to our enjoyment of this trip, but it was also the reason that we never made it to the Anne Frank House – they switched up the rules where you had to wait in line for an hour to purchase a ticket, and then with your tickets wait in another line for another hour to get into the house. As we were only here for two and a half days we were able to walk by it plenty of times but unfortunately never got to make it inside.

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Our third and final day in Amsterdam was spent in a mix of coffee shops, cafés and parks. We took the tram to a nearby coffee shop close to Dieman, the town in which we were staying, and took our breakfast and goodies to nearby Ooster Park where we planned to spend the afternoon. The park was smaller than Vondel Park but just as beautiful. It was a beautiful day out and the park was full of blooming flowers and beautiful families. Just like in Vondel Park we came across a diverse assortment of wildlife, specifically birds. Above is one of the cuties that we spotted – birder friends can you name this bird?

We spent a luxurious few hours wandering and lounging in the park, admiring the nature and the seemingly happy lifestyle that the Dutch people we came across lived. Then we got hungry – as usual – and went over to a nearby café where I ordered an incredibly delicious goat cheese pizza with red onion and arugula… the goat cheese obsession continues! We soon learned that the cute café we were lunching at doubled as the Dutch equivalent of a British pub and it soon became so crowded there was no way to get around people to walk! The café became full of “football” fans and were loudly cheering on a Dutch team as they all strained to watch the small TV in the right hand corner of the bar. Not a bad way to end the afternoon!

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It was pretty difficult to get around the city on our last day as our Airbnb made us “check out” at 10am and bring all of our stuff because she had a party to go to and wasn’t sure of when she would be back – the understanding was that we could leave our stuff there until our bus at 8:30pm, but I guess we should have expected this based on the other issues we had with it! We ended up carrying our luggage around the city for the remainder of the day, which restricted what we were able to do. We ended up spending some time in another coffee shop close to the canal and then we sat outdoors enjoying the weather and zen atmosphere until sunset and we headed toward the bus station.

Amsterdam is such a lovely place to de-stress and relax! It is definitely somewhere that I hope I will be able to return to one day.

Stay Classy! xx

P.S. I got a lot of love from my Dutch followers while posting about my trip via Instagram – thank you guys so much! I’m sorry that we weren’t able to meet up this trip, as I was only there for a few days, but I fell in love with Amsterdam and hope you enjoyed seeing the city through a tourist’s eyes. xx