Hello everyone! Today, I thought I’d share about some trips around Europe I took while I studied abroad back in 2012.
I studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain for the spring semester of 2012. I was a junior in college and so excited to go abroad! I literally almost missed the opportunity to do so though, as I was going to go during the fall semester of my senior year originally. But then I realized that I could graduate a semester early so my fall semester would be the last one for me. My college didn’t let students study away during our last semesters so I quickly pushed up my trip, somehow managed to get some weird classes approved as substitutes for mandatory courses in my major, and off I went!
These stories are from the trips I took while I was abroad, outside of Barcelona. Since travel around Europe is quite affordable compared to traveling within the US, many American students try to take advantage of this and go to a few places during the semester. I actually didn’t go on nearly as many trips as my friends did, as I had a smaller budget and usually travelled on my own. But I had a good time overall!
Oh! If you’re new here (newer than May 2020) you might be wondering, what’s BirthMay? Well, every year I blog every day in May because it is my birth month. I just figured it was something fun to do, and it has proven to be really enjoyable for me. This will be the fifth BirthMay on my blog! No matter how many BirthMays you’ve been through with me, thank you for being here this BirthMay and thank you for your support!
Study Abroad Program Trip – Valencia and Tarragona
The first trip I took was almost immediately upon arriving. I think I was in Barcelona about a week before my program (IES Abroad – I had a good experience with them!) whisked away all the students to go on a weekend trip away to the nearby city of Valencia. I think there were about 100 students so they split us onto two buses. I ended up on a bus with my four roommates, who had several friends in their classes already so we all hung out together!
On the way to Valencia our bus stopped at a vineyard while the other bus went onto Tarragona. On the way to the vineyard, one of my roommate’s new friends was telling us horror stories of people who had gone abroad. In hindsight, this was a terrible idea but we got onto the topic because the “big trip” of the semester was to Morocco and one of my roommates was going on that trip. The new friend mentioned that her uncle went to Morocco years prior with his new wife, only to lose her in a market when he turned around for a second to look at some stall. The new wife was apparently never found and it was suspected she was a victim of human trafficking. You might be thinking, why are you telling us this??? It’ll make sense in a little bit.
Anyway, after a few stories like that, we finally arrive at the vineyard, suddenly more wary of the world around us. But we were determined to have fun! The vineyard stuck us on a sort of weird golf cart train thing to cart us around for the tour. We were having a blast! That is… until they drove the train into a giant warehouse and closed the doors behind us so it was completely dark. Well, we all immediately started panicking, convinced this was the moment we were about to be kidnapped like the wife in the story from earlier. The lights came on after a few seconds and we all felt a little foolish at freaking out so easily but legit, we were all on edge after that.
Until we got to the wine tasting and everything was fine after that!
Once we went through the gift shop, we hopped back onto the bus and headed towards Valencia.
Once we arrived we were placed into rooms and off we all went to explore the city. I think they took us to a few monuments or something and then set us free in the city, telling us to make it back to the hotel by dinner. I joined my roommates and our new friends for a really late lunch and then we walked around a bit more, and even got a bit lost, before we went back to the hotel.
The next day, the program took us to the aquarium in Valencia. I don’t recall a ton from this aquarium specifically, because I went to so many aquariums during my time in Spain (I took a marine biology class too for my science credit, which also took us to aquariums). I’m pretty sure this one was the one that had a marine animal show though and it was really cool as it is one of the better known museums in Valencia. In case you’re curious, it’s the L’Oceanografic.
Okay, I got embarrassed that I couldn’t remember much from the aquarium so I looked it up online to jog my memory and omg I remember how awesome it was now! The aquarium was huge, with many different buildings featuring different exhibits. We were set loose in the aquarium so our little group all collectively picked from the buildings to decide what to see. From what I remember, it was pretty big and I think we did see most of the buildings, maybe skipping one or two. I have the Shedd in Chicago which is an amazing aquarium and one girl was from California so she’d been to the big one out there, but everyone else hadn’t really been to a big aquarium like this one so they were thrilled. We did have a great time and loved the show too. After that we explored the area around the museums and had a great time doing so. Valencia is such a beautiful city so we took a ton of photos around the area.
I think we spent most of the day at the aquarium before heading back to the hotel or maybe we saw more sights but it was so long ago I’m not even fully sure that I’m remembering the itinerary right. But I do remember that after dinner that night my new friends and I went back to the area around the aquarium to just have fun and run around taking photos. We had a great time! I’m pretty sure this is also the night that some of the new friends broke their hotel room’s countertops trying to bash open their wine bottle from the vineyard (their wine bottle opener was already broken). What a wild night!
The next morning we left Valencia and got back on the bus. This time we headed to Tarragona while the other bus went to the vineyard we’d already been to. Tarragona is famous for being an ancient Roman city with a lot of ruins still in tact. We were taken on a tour around some ruins and we had a pretty good time! The highlight was, naturally, the beautiful amphitheater right next to the beach! I remember at some point we were set loose upon the ruins too and we got a bit separated from the rest of the students because we were just trying to get the best photos! I wish I had the originals but I lost those years ago when my computer crashed.
Here’s some I managed to save from Facebook though! Quality is terrible, sorry! I also didn’t have hardly any with just me, and I didn’t think it would be nice to post photos of others without their permission, so you just get that one of me by the aquarium and then one of the amphitheater!
Spring Break in Venice and Paris
Okay, so this post is already getting long… Whoops! I also downloaded a ton of photos for this part of the post. I took soooooo many!
So by spring break my host mom was so confused why I wasn’t traveling like my roommates. Again, I had a small budget! So when she was getting our spring break plans she assumed I wasn’t going anywhere but I surprised her by saying I did have plans. She freaked when she heard I was traveling alone, but that’s normal for a female traveling anywhere alone.
The first bit of my spring break I headed to Italy! Specifically, Venice. Why Venice? Well, the semester before I had met one of the study abroad students who came to my college from Italy. She lived a little outside of Venice so I flew into Venice, stayed a night in Lido (which is a nearby island) and then headed to see my friend. But first, a bit about Venice/Lido. I loved how cute this city is! It was very, very crowded of course though in actual Venice so I was happy I found an AirB&B in Lido, although at the time I was slightly annoyed. In Venice I mostly just walked around and enjoyed the views. I don’t think I stopped anywhere except a pizza place and an ice cream place honestly. I could have gone into a museum I’m sure, but I just wanted to walk around and explore.
On Lido, it was much of the same thing except there weren’t any real options for attractions. It’s very much a residential island from what I remember, and so I was literally walking around the island and just watching people go about their day-to-day lives. It was so peaceful and lovely.
The next day I got onto the train and headed out to my friend’s town. I think it was maybe an hour away by train but I don’t fully remember! Fun fact, this friend now lives in Chicago and prior to the pandemic we made it a point to hang out at least once a year and go to a museum or a musical together.
This was super fun too! Her town had a little carnival going on so we hung out at the carnival for the night and the next day we went exploring around her town. It was gorgeous! The day after that we headed out to her university and started the day by hiking around a literal castle’s ruins near her campus! From the top of the ruins we could see Croatia and she told me how she and her friends used to take their passports to school just in case they wanted to go to lunch in Croatia, before they joined the EU. So cool! I also attended a class with her (entirely in Italian), had lunch with her and her friends, and hung out with her family before I headed out the next day back to Venice to go to the airport.
This next part of the story is also wild. Due to strikes in the airports in Paris, my flight ended up delayed and I had to spend the night in a hotel near the airport. I finally flew out a day late but the flight was so late that by the time we got to actual Paris from the airport, we were almost about to miss the last metro trains. Some girl hogged the ticket machine, deciding that she was going to buy all the tickets she needed for her entire trip instead of just ONE so that we could all use the machine. By the time someone finally convinced her to get the rest of her tickets the next day so we could use it, it was too late and we’d missed the train. I was freaking out because I had carefully planned out the exact route to take from the station to my next AirB&B. Instead, we all had to navigate the night buses.
I finally got to my AirB&B at about 2am… Yes, I was wandering around Paris in the middle of the night alone! So scary but I made it though. The next day I had to make up for lost time. I started the day at Sacre Cour and explored near that area pretty early in the day. After that I headed to the Eiffel Tower and it was such a surreal experience to actually see it! I didn’t go to the top though because, again, I was trying to fit all the activities I’d planned for two days in one. I then headed away to Notre Dame. I’m so, so grateful I prioritized this beautiful building as it was damaged after a fire in recent years. After Notre Dame, I headed across the river to go to the book store Shakespeare and Co. I loved walking around the shop, stopping to listen to a pianist in the store and then I think they had an author event in front of the store so I hung out there too. I met a college professor at the store who invited me to dinner but I was meeting my roommates so I had to decline. Also, I was still traumatized from the human trafficking stories from Valencia.
The next morning I left that AirB&B and headed out to a hostel. I was pretty early though, so instead I stopped by the Luxembourg Gardens on the way. It was such a lovely place! I sat there and had a snack while I just enjoyed the gardens. Then I continued onto the hostel. I booked this pretty late so I ended up in a room with all boys who were traveling together. I dropped my stuff off in the room and then turned around and headed out into the city again. I went to the Louvre that day! The museum was huge, so I spent hours walking around trying to see everything. I stayed until nighttime and then watched the Eiffel Tower light up from the gardens around the Louvre. Gorgeous!
I got back to the hostel in time for dinner, and met a group of two girls who were also studying abroad and a guy who was backpacking around Europe. I mentioned I was going to Versailles the next day and the guy mentioned he was going too so we decided to go together. The two girls had been planning to go the day after but decided to join us and change up their plans instead. Just like that, I had a little group again! Early the next day we headed out to the train. I checked out of my hostel that day as I was going to stay the night at a hotel near the airport due to an early flight the next day.
At Versailles I checked my suitcase, and off the group went to explore. Despite not knowing each other, we were all totally willing to spend the day together and take photos for each other. I loved the Hall of Mirrors and the gardens were gorgeous. We stayed for the water shows and saw several around the gardens. After a day of exploring I went and picked up my suitcase and headed back to Paris. I said good bye to my new friends, checked into my hotel a few hours later, and then headed back to Barcelona after a week of beautiful adventures.
Unfortunately I don’t have photos from this trip anymore! I never posted them after my semester ended because this was one of the final trips I took when abroad. I took this trip on my own after my finals because I had two weeks free after classes ended. I think I spent two or three days in Seville! I loved the Plaza de Espana the best I think. It was such a beautiful spot and the gardens around it were gorgeous! I also saw the Seville Cathedral, Torre del Oro, and just walked around the city. I really enjoyed how chill it was and how quiet this beautiful city was.
I stayed at an AirB&B again here, and the hosts gave me some great tips. I didn’t really have any specific plans though besides the places I mentioned above, so I really did just wander and explore. I remember I did go see a bookstore because the building used to be a theatre and it was really cool. But unfortunately those photos were lost too. The entire city was just so cute though and I had fun.
The last trip of my time abroad was a day trip to Sitges, a coastal town outside of Barcelona. I went for my birthday! I headed out early that day, and off I went to the train station. While on the platform I got confused and missed the train, so I just had to wait for the next one. During the wait, I noticed a family was also confused and they weren’t really fluent in Spanish. I asked them where they were going to try to help and it turns out they were heading to Sitges too! So I told them to stick with me and I’d get them on the right train. The group consisted of two women around my age, who turned out to be sisters, one of which had a baby with her, and a guy around our age too. I at first thought he was the dad but he was just a family friend actually.
On the train I learned that they were in Barcelona because the sisters’ dad was a competing in a golf tournament or something. They had chosen to take the day to go to Sitges though and that’s how come I ran into them. They told me they were from California and we ended up hanging out the entire day together. I totally hadn’t planned to, I really planned to hang out by myself on the beach but they didn’t seem to want to let me go, probably worried they’d get lost again. We literally did hang out on the beach together all day though and then we stopped at a restaurant for dinner. By that point they had learned it was my birthday and the sisters insisted on paying for my meal, which was so sweet of them!
After a day of fun, we headed back to Barcelona and parted ways, but it is such a lovely memory.
So that’s my stories from my trips when I studied abroad! I had a blast traveling around and I wish I’d gone to more places, but I did what I could. It was still a lot of fun and I met so many cool people along the way. That semester was super cool and I’m so grateful I was able to do it.
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