Though I am on the London Global Business Institute Program, England is not the only place in Europe I have been able to visit this semester. Many people in my Program made London their home base while traveling across the continent almost every weekend. I chose to stay in London a lot more than I originally thought; there was so much to do and see and by the end of the trip I wanted to have mastered this city. For this reason, the places I visited were really thought out and spots I considered an ‘absolute’ to visit.
Taking French in high school, I was dying to try out some of my retained conversational knowledge in the city of love. While in Europe, the iconic Eiffel Tower was a ‘must see’ for me. This landmark is synonymous with Paris and is recognizable to everyone and their mother. France, though in the middle of many other influential countries, has its own very distinct culture and attitude. The scenery exceeded expectations, and so did the food (as highlighted in my later post).
Though my mom is South African and my dad is Swiss, my roots can be traced back a few hundred years to Scotland. Edinburgh (pronouned Ed-in-BORO) is still in the UK, only a few hours away by train, and is the smaller of the two major Scottish cities. The castle sets this historical city apart from others by far. The highlight of our trip would have to be our hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat, the mountain atop which, legend has it, Arthur pulled the sword from stone and became king. Despite being caught in a snowstorm at the top, the view in the few minutes of clarity made the trek well worth it (and this is coming from a girl who is afraid of heights).
This was my first experience in a country were I did not speak a lick of the language. Portuguese is often associated with Spanish, but many basic words are different so the Spanish we learned in grade school was no help. One of the best pieces of advice I can give to any aspiring travelers is to get lost in the new city you’re exploring – not lost past the point of return, but finding yourself off the beaten path, often having to pass spots tourists miss to get back home. I was often asking for directions and found myself learning the language, as well as discovering side streets where only locals trod. I found myself submerged in miles Portuguese tiled streets, making the journey even more astounding than the determined destination.
This is the city I would go back to in a heartbeat. With both skyscrapers and sea, it has everything you could want in a vacation spot. It was a little chilly for the beach while we were there, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the beautiful outdoors, plants, and parks. Famous Barcelonian Antoni Gaudí had much influence on the architecture and history of the city; we seemed to find pieces of him everywhere we went. His most famous works include the Sagrada Familia Basilica (which is expected to be finished this year), and Park Güell. Pablo Picasso was also a Barcelona native for a period of his life, and is where his largest collection of works is held.
When embarking on my semester abroad, I was given some unexpected advice from a student who had this experience just before me who said traveling alone was the best decision she made while outside the US. Ibiza was my way of putting this advice to the test. My friend and roommate Dani was set to run the Paris Marathon in early April, and while many of my other roommates were going to cheer her on, I had already done Paris and wanted to step outside of my comfort zone. She inspired me to do a run myself so I signed up for a 12K in Ibiza. In the off season, I saw much of the island most tourists don’t see. The run was probably my best decision of the trip as I got to see all the different parts of this beautiful place. We ran through three towns, along the coastline, and through local villages, all while being cheered to the finish line by locals. I met great girls in my hostel who were also running the race, who I still keep in touch with. This experience has solidified my support for traveling alone at least once and definitely sparked a new confidence in what I was capable of.