Milan Calling!

Spending a semester in the fashion capital of the world was one of the best decisions I have ever made. If you haven’t been to Milan, it’s time for you to book a trip there. Right now.

Milan is a magical city. The first time I laid eyes on the Duomo, I could not believe my eyes. There is not enough time in the world to study each individual detail of this immaculate cathedral. Taking a walk inside–or to the top, if you’re willing to wait–is even better. You suddenly feel small and overwhelmed as the Duomo swallows you up in all of its Milanese glory. Throughout my three and a half months in Italy, gazing upon the Duomo was just as exciting each time I saw it.

To the left of the Duomo, you will find the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which is filled with stores that most of us cannot afford, but walking through this mall is simply a treat. If you’re like me, you’ll dress up in your finest clothes and wander through the Prada store imagining you have an endless supply of money to feed into your shopaholic tendencies. But in all seriousness, this gallery is absolutely beautiful for a leisurely walk or window shopping.

Just outside the Galleria you will find my favorite gelateria, Cioccolati Italiani. I honestly could have eaten here every day if I didn’t have a fear of doubling my body weight. Anything you order here will not disappoint you, but I highly recommend getting the hot chocolate. It is nothing like your typical Swiss Miss instant hot cocoa; Italy has surpassed this by a landslide. Instead of a watery cup of hot chocolate, you will be served a steaming cup of thick, creamy chocolate that almost seems as if it were a candy bar before you received it in liquid form. I would do anything to have a cup of it right now, but I’m hoping you will get it in my honor.

If you’re looking for the world’s best cappuccino, I know a place. I’m proud to say I was a regular at  Cremeria Buonarroti. My order was identical each day: “un cappuccio con cacao e un brioche con crema,” or “a cappuccino with cocoa powder and a brioche with cream inside.” Absolute heaven. To this day, I have never had a better cappuccino or better service at any of the cafés in Italy. I happened to walk in one day since it is right in front of the Wagner metro stop, and ever since that first day, the cutest Italian barista would start making my coffee as soon as he saw me walk through the door. I would do anything to go back and sip on a cappuccino while people watching at my usual window seat.

I hope this isn’t news to you, but the food you eat in Italy will be the best food you ever consume in your lifetime. I still fantasize about the many (too many?) meals I enjoyed during my time in Milan. One place in particular is Don Raffaele Trattoria Pizzeria. This may have been my favorite pizza spot in Milan. They have varieties of pizzas that are so fresh and wholesome–nothing like the artificially cheesy and greasy pizza we are so used to eating. The waiters also bring out baskets of fried dough and zucchini just in case you need a few more carbs, which you always do. Be sure to check it out!

So, what are you waiting for? Get moving and book your trip!

FOOD! Isn’t it the best?

If there is one thing to know about me, it’s that I absolutely love to eat. I am a picky eater, but in the last year I have become a cook and decided to grow up and try foods that normally I would say no to. Well, to no surprise, Prague has a lot of amazing, quality food. Most of my money probably goes to the food here. If you travel anywhere, I would say that it is a rule to have to signature dish of the country in a local restaurant. The first night here I tried goulash with bread dumplings, a classic Czech dish. It was really good, but extremely heavy. The breakfast here is very different; in America we have a mixture of carbs, sweets, and meats. In Europe, it’s meat, meat, vegetables and yogurt. Breakfast here hasn’t been my favorite since all I tend to have are the pastries, but wow are they good. Other than breakfast, I find the meals here to be amazing and Prague has amazing variety in all honesty. My favorite cafe, U Zavesenyho Kafe (where I am currently writing this) has casted a spell on me. From the sausages, chocolate tarts, and classic pivos, I think about visiting almost every day. The staff gives this charm where you want to become a regular, I hope I do.

Kolej Komenskeho is a great dorm! From the pictures that I saw and the descriptions I read, I wasn’t really excited to live in a communist style building. But when I first arrived, I felt this charm I couldn’t kick. My room is huge, I am in a double bedroom dorm where there are two single rooms with a little outside/kitchen area. It isn’t a full apartment, but for some reason it feels like an apartment that is yours. My windows are huge and fully open to reveal the cutest view. My room mate is sweet and it doesn’t feel uncomfortable. The staff in the building is also interesting, they are helpful and nice, but if you treat them badly, don’t expect any kindness in return. The weekly breakfast we get in the dorm is different, but it makes it feel more like home. And one, if not the best part about living in this dorm is the dorm mother, Zuzana. This woman is so amazing, influential, so full of spunk that I feel it is impossible to write about her. She goes out of her way every day to make our experience the best it can be. Because of her I have signed up for volunteer work, I’ve gone to the Opera, I have gotten to meet Czech people, discovered amazing places, and learned wisdom that could only come from someone who has lived through enough. The building might not be modern in the slightest, but it does have it’s charm.

The food in Prague can also be bad, in a sense. There are these famous desserts called “trdelnik” and boy is it a CON. A good con at that so my advise is yes have ONE, and don’t pay over 60 crowns for one either. It isn’t Czech in the slightest and it is just a capitalist scheme that someone came up with the idea of and has become rich off of it. If you do any research, you will find that this treat has only become popular within the last couple of years and that it has no ties to Czech culture at all. I tried one because hey it’s food and I’m curious, $2 is worth my curiosity. I personally enjoyed it the first two bites and then it became “too much”; it had way too much of well everything. Try it once, but don’t try it again. Instead try the honey cake, a original Czech dessert that will honestly be 200% better than any trdelink.

One more note, everything in Prague seems CHEAP. And it is to Americans, but ask the Czech questions. When you do, you will begin to realize that truly amazing food can be even cheaper. Czech people live differently than Americans do. Where $5 to Americans is nothing, especially if you are from NYC, it can mean the world to a Czech. This isn’t bad, if you ask around you will find places where you can get a spectacular Czech meal for $3 (like the cafe I am currently in). A great pivo can only cost you a single dollar if you go to the right place. If you stay in the tourist areas and where there aren’t any Czech people, expect to pay A LOT more than you should for anything.

Have the beer, it’s the culture and a given, have the goulash it’s also a given. There are many other Czech traditional dishes like fried cheese and hot wine, but my advice is give everything a try at least once. Coming from a picky, cheap eater; I must say that food is one of the only cultural doors that are always open.

Getting Familiar With The Unknown

It’s now been three weeks, almost four since I moved to Prague. Researching culture shock and reading all the charts can’t really prepare you for it. Writing this is weird and I don’t mean that in a bad way; it’s just that I’m trying to reflect on things that just happened but feel like a lifetime ago. Getting used to Prague isn’t hard or bad, it’s absolutely beautiful here. The amazement hasn’t really passed either, I continue to be amazed at the history and beauty that I discover every day. The hard part is home: thinking about how it is back home, what your friends are doing without you, what your family is doing, what your significant other might be feeling and not telling you. It has been hard. I try to not to sit in my room because when I do I just scroll on social media waiting for it to update. Thinking about my parents at home working for me to be able to do this makes me sitting in my room even worse. I’m not sure if there is a way to break the shock or not feel it, but whenever I find myself sitting at home sad, I just put my jacket on and walk out the door and go anywhere. Sometimes, i’s better to be alone in public than at home.

I feel like the first two weeks, everything felt magical and unreal. I had no actual concerns and then reality set in. I’m surviving in Prague alone. I have to be smart, I can’t spend crazy amounts of money because everything is cheap, it adds up. I can’t be alone nor can I be surrounded by people all the time. I haven’t been able to find a middle ground. I’m constantly thinking about when I get home how life will be so odd and there’s this thought that maybe I don’t have to go back home. Maybe I can find happiness here even though “it’s not a destination”. And as sad as it sounds now, almost all of the times where I have felt so lucky to be here is when learning about the tragic history this country has. Last night I saw the film Anthropoid, it was so moving and it’s hard for me to believe all those events happened where I walk by every day. It really puts things into perspective.

Adjustment is hard, I would be lying to you if I told you I haven’t spent nights lying in bed unhappy and being unhappy because I am unhappy in such a beautiful city. It’s a paradox I hope to break soon.

Bergamo: An Italian Treasure

When you think Italy, what cities come to mind? I already know the answer: Rome, Florence, Venice…the usual go-to cities when your destination is the fabulous Italy. While these are all great cities and are popular for a reason, I was lucky enough to discover a hidden gem of a city that should be at the top of your list when traveling to Italy. Bergamo is by far my favorite city in Italy. If someone told me I could live there, I would have my bags packed in ten minutes (okay, maybe more like three hours, but I have a serious overpacking problem). One of the coolest things to note about this magnificent city is that it has two parts: La Città Alta and La Città Bassa. La Città Bassa, or “low city,” is the part of the city that is at ground level, while La Città Alta, or “tall city,” is that part that is raised above the rest and gives you the most breathtaking views.

So, how exactly do you get from Bassa to Alta? There are buses that take you up, but why do that when you can take the funicolare? The funicolare is an adorable little cable car run by one man throughout the entire day and is honestly one of my favorite parts of Bergamo. As you ascend, the view becomes better and better and if you’re a quick photographer you can snag a few photos on your way up!

Once you reach the top, you can explore this little slice of heaven. If you go on a weekday, preferably in the fall when there are mostly Italians and no tourists, you will find that you never want to leave Bergamo. You could spend hours going up and down the narrow little streets that somehow manage to fit cars, but not without grazing your body as they pass by of course! There is really no right or wrong way to go. I went down as many different streets and paths as I could, though some may have been a little off limits! Anything for the view though, am I right? Some key spots to hit definitely include Caffè del Tasso, Mimi la Casa dei Sapori, and Santa Maria Maggiore. Caffè del Tasso is easily one of my favorite places in Italy. As soon as you walk in, you feel like you’ve gone back in time. I don’t know how else to describe it, so you’ll just have to see for yourself! If you’ve never had European hot chocolate, you’re in for a real treat since it is basically a steaming cup of thick melted chocolate–my mouth is literally watering. If you’re not into that, a simple cappuccino will do. Mimi la Casa dei Sapori is a perfect dinner spot. It’s important to remember Italians like their down time and are firm believers in taking breaks here and there. So when you’re walking around aimlessly wondering why no restaurants are open for dinner until 6:00 p.m. or later, keep this restaurant in mind. This was one of the only places that served dinner a little on the earlier side, but it may have been one of my best meals in Italy. I had the most amazing homemade ravioli with a sage and butter sauce; please order it. Perhaps even order it twice. For one meal.

Santa Maria Maggiore is a gorgeous basilica in Bergamo and is absolutely worth taking a walk around inside. Hopefully you will stumble upon it and be as amazed as I was with the intricate architecture and detailing that is seen in many European countries.

If the pasta doesn’t fill you up, you might notice Bergamo is big on desserts made with polenta, specifically polenta cake. As you pass through the streets and look into store windows, you will see polenta balls of all shapes. They are super tasty so be sure to grab one.

Now for the main attraction: the view. Honestly, my best advice is to just keep walking and exploring until you find a spot with the best view. You’ll know it when you see it. If you are able to go when the sun is setting, I can promise you will not be disappointed with what you see.

The rest is up to you. No matter which stores you stop into or which restaurants you decide to eat at, I can assure you will be glad you put Bergamo on your list of Italian cities to visit.

Arrivederci ragazzi!

-Jennifer G. Galvin

Still Adjusting

Almost a month has passed by since I have returned from my study abroad trip and I am still struggling to come to terms with the fact that it is over. There are the nights where I don’t think about it at all and it’s almost like I was never there, but there are also those nights where I find myself staying up at night, reliving my experiences and wishing that I could be back. Finding the right balance between being appreciative of these amazing memories while at the same time not letting this nostalgia overcome me with sadness, has proven quite difficult.

They say that many people discover themselves when they study abroad. I believe they say this because it is the first time for many young adults in which the only person they have to worry about is… themselves. In Madrid, it wasn’t about stress, worry, and drama, but rather it was instead feelings of excitement, adventure, and freedom. There was something special about being so far removed from your life and all of the baggage that comes with it. As much as I miss the traveling, friends, culture, etc., it is this freedom that I miss the most.

Now back in New Paltz, with the semester well underway, the stress and responsibilities have come back with a vengeance. It has turned into an intense juggling act between catching up with everything I missed, keeping up with my 16-credit course load, and trying to find a summer internship for after I unofficially graduate in May. This, in addition to the absurd amount of snow since I have returned, has me dreaming about Spain more often than not.

 

First Week Anniversary!

Hello from the other side of the world!! I have been in Prague for a week and a half now and it has been such a trip already! I feel like this past week and a half has felt like forever and no time all at once. Leaving home was surprisingly easier than I imagined, yes some tears were shed but as I stepped on the plane and stayed awake for all five hours, I didn’t cry once. Arriving in Prague with some fellow friends, felt surreal. My dorm itself was much nicer than I expected, walking into my room I was pleased to find myself really happy. It is a single room, very spacious and has huge windows that overlook Praha 6 (aka has the Prague Castle in it’s view).

I’ve been non stop busy since I got here. The first couple days were purely dedicated to orientation. We took care of basic orientation stuff and were given time to walk around Old Town Square. There was also this nice trivia night at a café with the International Students Club.

Culture shock is real people! And it’s not necessarily bad either. Everything in Prague is so cheap compared to NYC. I can buy a nice dinner for $8. I feel rich here, and I don’t mean money wise. I feel rich in the opportunity to see and feel how it is to live another life. Getting a huge caramel latte for $25=59 crowns, sitting down in a cafe with the bustling life around me and amazing sights, I feel full of light. I thought I’d be a lot more sad than I am. Buying groceries for $35, going home and cooking dinner every night with some friends. I feel like a somewhat actual adult for once.

It hasn’t been a complete walk in the park. Living in a building with so many people is hard because every single person is unique and has a set of different values. The first week I was here, I automatically got attached to a group of people. Friend wise, I put all my eggs in one basket. A week and a half in, I HIGHLY ADVISE AGAINST THIS. As hard as it seems to be give every one a chance and opening up, that’s the key to having a smooth transition into making friends. If you stick to one group and something goes wrong, its very hard. Stick to people who make you happy when you start to get sad, stick to those who offer you anything even when they can’t afford to. Those are the ones who will save you from the bad side of culture shock. I’ve only had one sad day, but it passed fast and I’m ready to continue to be happy.

My Czech intensive language course has been so interesting! Yes, it is five hours a day for ten days, but I got an amazing teacher and class. At first I felt nervous to learn, but as she spoke to us the entire class warmed up and before you know it we were speaking Czech! She takes us out into Prague to really teach us the culture and that way we actually use our Czech and learn through interaction. On top of all that she’s like a mini tour guide who knows the city very well. I’ve had the best time in that class even though it isn’t easy. Today was my midterm, but I believe I passed (I hope!)

The Calm Before the Storm

A year ago, if you asked me if I would study abroad I would have told you that it’s impossible. Last summer I thought, why not just try and then its quickly became a reality that I couldn’t fathom to be real. Coming from lower middle class, studying in another countries university was merely a dream. I remember the day I was accepted it felt as if the moving day was too far, but that day is quickly approaching now. It is a little stressful; I have never left the United States before. Actually I’ve hardly traveled outside of New York. I have never been so far from my family before either; all of this is on my mind. I can’t help but want to focus on the positive, the incredible fact that I am about to move and study in Prague.

It’s a little daunting yes, but I can’t begin to imagine how amazing it is going to be. I know my family and friends will still be home when I get back. When I think about how it’s going to be living in Prague, I get giddy inside. In Prague I’ll be considered an adult; I’ll have to be mostly completely independent. I’ll have to learn the Czech, learn their culture and  assimilate myself. All I know is life in New York City, but I am so ready to go through this change. I feel that this trip is going to change me a lot as a person. I hope to come back more mature and grounded and I don’t think staying somewhere where I am comfortable will help me with growing. SO here’s to the big leap across the world 🙂

Back to “The States”

The range of emotions experienced in the past couple weeks have been stressful, but also taught me a lot about who I am and what I want. My last week in Madrid was both emotional and exciting; I was sad to say goodbye to a city that I now view as a home away from home, but I was also happy to return to the city that raised me (NYC) and the small town that I also consider my home away from home (New Paltz).

Saying goodbye to my friends that I made while abroad was the hardest part, but I know that I have the means and the communication to see them again one day, either visiting them or them visiting me. Other than my friends, what I think I enjoyed the most about living in Madrid was just the pure excitement of being so far away from everyone I knew, in a beautiful new city/country/continent, that was filled to the brim with adventures and new things to see. For me personally, the joy of having something to be excited about and look forward to is almost as good as the actual experience.

That being said, I was also looking forward to coming home; one of the best parts about NYC is leaving and then coming back Almost all of my friends in NYC had already left back to their respective universities, so I still haven’t seen most of them yet, but being home with my family for a couple of days was very relaxing. I immediately noticed the little differences between the U.S. and Europe, such as the brutal line at customs when arriving at JFK, which was much longer than any of the lines I had to wait in while I was abroad visiting other airports. Also the fact that I had to listen to commercials for the entire duration of the line, another little thing that wouldn’t happen in Europe. Despite this, being back in NYC made me realize just how big and grand it is (and how small Madrid is). I also thoroughly enjoyed making my parents get me all of the amazing food that I missed so dearly.

Coming back to New Paltz was a different story. I hadn’t been in New Paltz in around 8 months, but it still felt like I never left. My friends and professors gave me a warm welcome back and I definitely enjoyed sharing some of my incredible experiences with them. Missing syllabus week has me playing catch-up for the time being, but my teachers have been very understanding of the situation. I haven’t had much time to really sit down and reflect on the past 5 months of my life due to how hectic my schedule has been, but I know that once I am situated (I still don’t have a bed yet) and caught up with my classes, I will be able to put things in perspective.

 

Euro-Trip

After exploring four different countries in just twelve days, I can say without a doubt that traveling around Europe is an incredible experience, but also an expensive one. It isn’t the flights or the hostels that run up the bill, but rather it is the day-to-day expenses of attempting to see as much as possible when being a tourist in some of the most amazing cities in the entire world. The four stops I made on this trip were London, Paris, Dublin, and Berlin, with the latter two cities not being overwhelmingly pricey, but the first two cities making NYC seem cheap. However, expenses aside, each city presented a much different culture, atmosphere, and experience that I won’t soon forget.

Dublin: My first stop had a little bit of a different feel from the other cities I visited, mainly because I stayed with a good friend of mine from UC3M at his parents house, rather than a youth hostel. Exploring a new city with someone born and raised in the area and who knows the culture well allowed me to see the city more from a resident’s point of view rather than a tourist’s, which I personally think is better. The Irish are warm, welcoming, and love to have a good time (the Guinness is amazing).

London: The second stop on my trip had a much more touristy vibe to it and it’s hard not to in a city as grand as this. Similarly to NYC, it is so big and there is so much to see, but at times it almost felt like everything was just one giant rip off. Dealing with the conversion rate of the pound while also dealing with inflated prices is definitely a hard thing for a college student on a budget to handle. Other than the damage done to my wallet, London was definitely a city that I enjoyed and that I plan on returning to (I also find the slang there to be quite comical).

Berlin: The third stop on my trip seemed like one very long and very dark history lesson. Man, does this city have a lot of baggage to it when it comes to the 20th century. From WWI/WWII to the Berlin Wall, it was quite interesting to see how all of these events were linked and how bad humanity can be in desperate times. In addition to the history, the nightlife in Berlin is also second to none, I’ve never seen people party quite like the Germans do (even though it was freezing).

Paris: Similarly to my stay in Dublin, the final stop on my trip I was with a good friend of mine from New Paltz and crashed at his apartment… and similarly to London, this city didn’t treat my wallet too nicely either. I’d have to say that Paris is the most beautiful city I have ever been to thus far in my life and it was the closest to Spain in that the majority of people didn’t speak English, whereas in the other cities I visited, everybody spoke it perfectly. Going to the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre were unforgettable experiences and this is definitely a city that I would love to come back to in the not so distant future.

Now I am finally back home in Madrid, where I have a little over a week left to enjoy living in this amazing city before returning back to NYC!

Feliz Navidad y Feliz Año Nuevo

Celebrating the holidays abroad has been an unforgettable experience and one in which I was able to see it from a different perspective. There were many similarities of course, but many differences that I believe were a combination of cultural differences as well as me just being accustomed to how I celebrate with my friends and family back in New York.

In Madrid, Christmas had a lot more emphasis on the religious aspect rather than just the commercial part. Spain of course is a majority catholic country, whereas in Brooklyn there is a much larger jewish community. I am not exaggerating when I say that there must have been a Nativity scene on every single block in my neighborhood in Madrid, all garnering crowds of people admiring them. I’m not quite sure about Manhattan, but I know I haven’t seen nearly as many Nativity scenes out in my neighborhood in Brooklyn.

However, while Christmas may have been a little different, New Year’s Eve couldn’t have been more similar. With Puerta del Sol serving the exact same purpose as Times Square does in NYC, thousands of people headed there to go see the countdown and fireworks at midnight to bring in the new year. Just like in NYC, it was almost impossible to move and there were police everywhere, but it was still a sight to behold.

There was one tradition on New Year’s Eve that I found quite interesting and decided to partake in and that was the Spanish tradition called the “Twelve Grapes.” Dating all the way back to 1909 and originating in Puerta del Sol, it consists of eating a grape for every time the bell strikes after the clock hits midnight. Doing this is supposed to lead to a year of prosperity and is now fabricated into the cultural tradition of Spain as well as other Latin and Hispanic communities. Being that this is the first year in which I participated in this tradition, I will be sure to give credit if it works (I am hoping it does).