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Category: #England

Fall Break 2018 Recap- A Beginners Guide To Country Hopping (& Spontaneous Finds)

Fall Break 2018 Recap- A Beginners Guide To Country Hopping (& Spontaneous Finds)

Ciao, Hello, Hallo, Ahoj!

Fall break was an overwhelmingly amazing 10 day spread of European travel– and I’m here to dive into ALL of it (or as much of it as I can):

1st Stop- 4 days in London

London, London, London! What to say about London! One of the gloomiest autumn cities, but also one of the most gorgeous autumn cities I’ve ever seen in my LIFE. My first day in London was dedicated to no other than the classics: London Eye, Big Ben (although my view of Big Ben was his clock peering through construction pipes, but I saw him nonetheless), palaces, parks, oh my! I recommend skipping entry fees and just observing the feeling of the areas (unless your a Royal family fanatic, then by all means)– the London eye/bridge was hustling and bustling and, in my opinion, drinking mulled wine from a food truck and walking around was almost better than waiting in insanely long lines to get on the eye.

While all of the touristy stuff is good fun, London is GIANT, and there’s so many things to do all over the city.

What to definitely NOT miss in London is the markets. They’re phenomenal. And while I didn’t get a chance to visit all of them, the one’s I did visit were instantly some of my favorite spots. Here’s my top 2:

  1. Camden Market (CAMDEN LOCK PLACE, LONDON NW1 8AF)

Camden Market has over 1,000 shops ranging from dried fruit earrings to killer Chinese food. My venture to Camden Market was on a rainy morning- and I think it made my experience better. The market is both indoors and outdoors, with the best handmade goods, thrift shops, and food vendors. The market surrounds a canal that gives boat rides which makes it unbelievably picturesque, and regardless what spot you reside in Camden Market, you’re going to have an amazing time.

*Tip– If you walk to Camden Market, theres a block of touristy shops that say “Camden Market’ above them- but that is NOT the market. You will see the canal and the black sign saying “CAMDEN MARKET COME IN WE’RE OPEN.” It clearly looks like a structured building and it’s hard to miss!

2.   Borough Market (8 Southwark St, London SE1 1TL)

Borough Market- oh my god. If you’re not hungry when you walk in here, you instantly will be. This is a food market with both hot, prepared food and packaged food to take home (I came for lunch and was not disappointed). An amazing part about Borough is that almost every vendor wants you to try their product- It’s like, fancy London Costco. I was handed seafood paella, a steamed mussel, copious amounts of cheese, truffle honey, etc. It was a dream. My lunch was toast topped with sautéed mushrooms (simmering in a giant vat of butter) with herbs and parmesan cheese and a piece of roasted cheese- I’m drooling thinking about it.

My motto for London, and every other place I visit, is to walk EVERYWHERE and honestly, not plan a dang thing. Of course, if you have spots you can’t miss, make a note to visit (reference to touristy London spots/markets- because it’s almost necessary to go), but not having a crazy scheduled day leaves you with the best gift you can have while traveling: the opportunity to stumble upon amazing things.

AMAZING THINGS I STUMBLED UPON IN LONDON-

  1. Steve Carell and Timothy Chalamet (you heard me)

Upon the realization that I was in London the same as the BFI London Film Festival (contact jbenkelman@luc.edu if you ever need research on a city), I made loose plans to be in the same area and possibly see a film. Long story short- I was standing about 2 feet from the Beautiful Boy red carpet and got stand by tickets to the premier. Truly didn’t feel like real life. Truly proved my motto to be true.

2. Crazy good breakfast spots-

Staying in Bloomsbury gifted me with some stellar spots to start my day (easily accessible if you aren’t in Bloomsbury!)-

  • Ginger Jules (Gordon Square Garden Kiosk, London WC1H 0PD, England) $

Ginger Jules reminds me of a little woodland fairy house with the best gingerbread coconut chai i’ve ever tasted in my life.  It’s a little garden kiosk in Gordon Sqaure, an old spot for famous writers, and when you walk up to the counter early in the morning you get smells of baked goods and sights of pre-lunch homemade soup preparation. It is vegetarian and vegan friendly and has a large supply of alt. milks (being a coconut milk enthusiast, I was over the moon). Due to the feeling of sipping a coffee and eating carrot cake in a leafy, earthy area, I became a short-lived regular. Let’s just say I will be dreaming of Ginger Jules.

  • Half Cup (100-102 Judd st, London WC1H 9NT, United Kingdom) $$

Half Cup is nestled on a side street near Tavistock Square, and usually has a line out the door. However, have no fear, because while you wait for breakfast you can sip something warm from the coffee bar (charcoal latte, maple chai, or caffe americano anyone?). Both the indoor and outdoor seating is unbelievably cozy, and the food matches the mood. You can feast on traditional english breakfast or, my new favorite, parma ham pancakes (a short-stack of ham, pancake, and gooey cheese topped with a sunny side up egg). A little pricey, but worth it.

3. Primark

Primark is just, simply, the place to be.

Overall, London was jam-packed with good food, long walks, and amazing finds. I cannot wait to return.

2nd Stop- 2 days in Amsterdam 

*Tip- to save money, book overnight busses to different countries (one less night in a hotel/hostel, no plane costs). It may result in a sore back, but hey, it gets you there.

After 14 hours on bus, I arrived to sunny, smiling Amsterdam. Amsterdam is probably the most crazy beautiful place I’ve ever been. Even the best pictures of Amsterdam don’t do it justice. It was a tucked away haven of bikes, bridges, and leafy plants all rolled into one breathtaking city.

My time in Amsterdam was very museum-heavy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I visited the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh museum, and the museum of prostitution in the red light light district. If you can only squeeze in one of the three, I recommend the Van Gogh museum, due to the fact that it’s so big, so worth the entrance fee, and located in a museum campus (the museum lives right next to the modern art museum, so if you have a free moment and are in the area, you can check that out too!). It’s all around a wonderful area to walk around in after you visit. Also, the Van Gogh museum cafe provided me with zucchini, pea, and leek soup, and it most definitely changed the game of soup for me.

WHAT I RECOMMEND YOU TRY IF YOU STUMBLE ACROSS IT IN AMSTERDAM- 

  1. Boat cruise! Boat cruise! Boat cruise!

20 euros for over an hour drinking wine and cruising around Amsterdam- you truly can’t beat it. Amazing for architecture, amazing for meeting people, amazing for feeling like you are the royalty of Amsterdam.

2. Mini dutch pancakes w/ nutella

I don’t care where you get them. Find them. Devour them. They’re delicious.

3. Omelegg (Ferdinand Bolstraat 143, 1072 LH Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

The perfect breakfast spot. It’s nestled on a cobblestone street minutes from the city center and has the coziest feel inside. Build your own omelets are the thing to get; they’re soft and fluffy and come with salad and a huge piece of toast.

4. Try some sort of lemonade or iced tea

It looks like water, it’s weirdly clear, but it’s so good? How do they do it?

My biggest tip for Amsterdam is to explore outside the city center. Dam Square and it’s surroundings are sights to see for sure, but the outskirts are easily just as charming and are laced with beautiful parks and cutely curated shops. Don’t limit yourself just to the main part of the city!

3rd stop- 2 days in Prague

13 hours in a bus go by and I arrive in Prague, or should I call it, Christmas town. Prague was seriously a magical wonderland. You could look out from any point on St. Charles bridge an see the most breathtaking landscape of warm orange trees. It was a pleasure just to look around in Prague– the air was crisp, there was an old, charming man playing accordion basically everywhere you went, and little street vendors with homemade art and jewelry decorated the town. It was the coziest place in the world without even trying; it was naturally warm and fuzzy. If you stay in the city center you are bound to find a plethora of things to do: boat rides that give you gingerbread and hot chocolate (I told you, Christmas town), gorgeous chapels that give organ concerts, market places galore (market place = chimney donuts = the place to be), weird museums (there is both a torture museum AND a medical torture museum, in case ‘torture museum’ wasn’t specific enough) and tucked away coffee shops. It’s just, a dream. I’m almost convinced Prague isn’t even real and I created it in my mind.

MY FAVORITE MOMENTS IN PRAGUE-

  1. Swans

SWANS. ALL OVER THE PLACE. There’s a spot on the water where swans and other birds just flock to greet you (or eat your food). It’s absolutely wild- bring some bread or veggies if you go.

*Quick info on the Czech swans- they are so comfortable with humans due to their displacement and the destruction of their homes. They now rely on humans to sustain them, they don’t have natural resources for food or living space. While this is an exciting attraction, it also brings light to the anthropogenic impact we have on wildlife. If you go, bring food for them because they now rely on it (no processed goods, please) and remain conscious that these birds no longer have permanent homes because of us.

2. Gingerbread houses

There are little huts of baked goods hiding all over Prague– they have mulled wine, hot chocolate, and gingerbread and coconut and chocolate treats! Quite possibly the best snack to have in Christmas town.

3. “Fun Explosive”

This is a brand that is sold in many stores in Prague. It has the cutest, funkiest prints. If you are looking for souvenirs or something cool to remember your trip, I highly recommend. Buy a t-shirt, tote bag, stickers, or all of the above!

4. Look around you!

I cannot stress this enough. Stick your head around, snoop a little, find breathtaking spots to take in for a moment. There is a boat dock near St. Charles bridge that you can’t get to, but there’s a lookout perched above it, and it looks like a painting. There is so much architectural and natural peace in Prague. I highly suggest you find it.

 

Fall break, London, Amsterdam, Prague,  you will be missed. Beans for breakfast and 14 hour bus rides, you will not be missed.

Borough Market in the fall, London
St. Charles bridge, Prague
Bikes&boats, Amsterdam
Boat cruise (aka living the height of luxury), Amsterdam
Ginger Jules, London!
Hidden gingerbread hut in Prague!
Timothee Chalamet, London
Amsterdam, looking stunning as always.
Sweet swans, Prague
To bring or not to bring? That is the question.

To bring or not to bring? That is the question.

There is something satisfactory about finally finishing packing for a trip. The feeling that you can check something off your list and it’s done. For some, they try to put it off as long as they can because they truly hate packing (me) or their packing is done a week before their trip. The one thing I have learned while studying abroad is packing efficiently. My family and friends are shocked that I have learned to not over pack, but when European dimensions are very constricting and very expensive to check a bag, the college student in you decides it’s time to pack a carry-on. It’s all fun and games until you have to haul your bag over your shoulder through the airport at an unamusing time in the morning or night. That is why I opted for a backpacking backpack and have 10 tips to help you pack.

  1. If you are HESITATING to pack something, don’t do it. Hesitation is reason enough that you do not need to bring it.
  2. Keep your outfits as INTERCHANGEABLE as possible. When traveling to a colder place it’s harder to pack light because sweaters can take up so much room, but if you can mix one or two pieces of your outfit, you’re golden.
  3. ROLL, don’t fold. I cannot stress enough how much room this saves you, especially when it comes to jeans.
  4. Cut the FOOTWEAR. Try to wear your heaviest shoes to avoid putting them in your bag, giving your bag extra weight.
  5. LAY OUT all the clothes you want to take before packing. Seeing everything laid out before you will keep you from over packing.
  6. Leave SPACE in your bag for souvenirs. You’ll buy things, it’ll happen so leave space in your bag so you won’t overstuff it.
  7. Pack a few granola bars or SNACKS just in case. When you’re flying at odd times of the day it’s hard to get food right when you’re hungry, so pack some snacks just in case! They don’t take up much room and you’ll thank me later.
  8. Travel size EVERYTHING. You don’t need a week’s worth of shampoo for a 3-day trip so consolidate your toiletries to smaller sizes, thus giving more room in your bag.
  9. Convert your cash BEFORE traveling. The airport charges horrible rates for converting currency at the airport so to save the hassle do it before.
  10. When in doubt SHOP. Don’t worry if you forget something because chances are you’ll be able to find it where you are going.
My week in Spain

My week in Spain

I spent my 10-day long fall break in Spain and I couldn’t have asked for a better week. I flew from London to Madrid to meet up with a few friends who are studying in Madrid, then flew to Barcelona, then back to London. So, in one week, I took 3 plane rides. I was excited to spend my fall break in Spain not only to see my friends but to experience Spain’s culture. Coming from a partially Hispanic background, I have grown up around Spanish (more specifically Puerto Rican culture) but I am by no means fluent. I can understand simple phrases, which after spending a week in Spain I am thankful for. Throughout the week I would message my mom asking what certain words were and how to say certain phrases (so shout out to my mom for being a lifesaver).

In Madrid, there were very few people who spoke English but the people were very nice. I enjoyed the feeling in Madrid- and I’m not talking about just the warm weather and sunshine. After studying in London, I could vaguely recall what the sun looked like which isn’t very different from when I live in Chicago. Barcelona was different. It was beautiful but even fewer people spoke English than in Madrid. Although it was difficult at times, it was a great way to fully immerse myself. Upon arriving in Barcelona, Ally and I had to figure out how to get to our Airbnb. While the Airbnb lady had left us directions to get from the airport to the place, we frantically searched the map and could not find the directions she had told us. After asking different people with what little Spanish I knew we finally found the metro and someone to help us buy the tickets to get to the place. We got on the metro and followed the directions, until maps took us to the wrong building. With Whatsapp not connecting to contact the Airbnb owner and us being sleep deprived, it was not a good mix. Three hours later we made it to our Airbnb and went to a restaurant where they spoke no English. With the help of Google translate, my limited (very limited) Spanish, and photos of their food they had we managed to order our dinner which turned out to be amazing.

My week in Spain was amazing and I gained a new respect for another culture and language. The language barrier at times was difficult but definitely added to the experience.  I will never forget visiting the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and the San Miguel Market in Madrid.

Living like a local?

Living like a local?

The leaves have started changing color here and you can find me drinking, no not tea, but instant coffee. Yes, the locals might be ashamed of me that I don’t drink tea but I don’t think anyone has caught on to me yet. Fun fact, the public transportation system is entirely different from the crazy L train in Chicago. The Tube is quiet, yes, I really mean quiet and if someone is having a conversation they’re talking in hushed tone. So, if you’re on the Tube and you’re talking extremely loudly expect to get some dirty looks thrown at you or at least a sideways glance. On the plus side, I’d like to think I’m blending in because I get asked for directions. I’ve also probably directed people the total opposite way, but hey that’s okay. Also, don’t forget to tap your oyster when leaving the Tube because that will get you some dirty looks for holding up the exit and a very embarrassing experience.

If you decide to take a walk through the beautiful Kensington Gardens, watch out for the birds. The swans and geese swimming in the pond are stunning, until they decide to attack. A flock of pigeons almost took me down after my run and I seemed to be the only person fazed. Kensington Gardens is beautiful in the fall with all the leaves changing color so it is definitely a must see, especially with Kensington Palace attached to it where William and Kate live (no sightings of them yet unfortunately). If you’re told to “queue up” they’re not talking about your Netflix queue they’re asking you to line up. As much as I’ve tried to blend in they definitely know the Americans from the locals and there is nothing wrong with that! Just remember to stay in hushed tones on the Tube and watch out for the birds and you’ll be okay.