Back In New York

How was it over a month ago that I sat in my room writing my “prepping for London” blog post?  How has a month gone by and how have I found myself writing the  “coming down from the emotional high that was one of the best experiences of my life” blog post?

 

In all sincerity, I am very happy to be home; to see my family, my friends, and my bed (sleeping being the second thing I did, only after having pizza, of course!)  I have now been home for five days, the first four of which were pretty hard on my body.  Jet lag (especially after a 14-hour layover in Norway) hit me pretty hard and left me with a migraine and irregular sleep schedule that I am just now coming out of.    Now that I’m not waking up at 4:00 in the morning and have seen the majority of my family and friends, it almost feels as if no time has passed at all.  It was pretty comforting to come home and see that though life went on whilst I was gone for a month, everything stayed relatively the same.  I suppose I am ready to settle back into the life I had prior to leaving, one that consisted primarily of school work and my part-time job, but now I’m grateful to say my mind has beautiful places including Scotland, France, and England to wander to.

Pit Stop in Wales

After the euphoric month I spent in Prague, I am lucky enough to have been welcomed back to Wales for a visit before returning to New York. I am staying with one of my best friends, Annie, who was my flatmate in Uni Hall when I studied at Cardiff University. This is my second time meeting up with her since studying in Cardiff, but my first time coming to her home in Wrexham.

Not only was the cool, rainy weather comforting after an extremely hot summer in Prague, but Annie’s parents and house are even more comforting. They’ve made me feel so welcome that I’ve talked of being adopted into the family.

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Annie took me on a tour to Chester, England on Sunday and then we had a study session when we returned. We went to ride her horse on Monday before a cheeky night out for old time’s sake. Tuesday was recovery day and I continued to work on my essays. Wednesday we met up with another flatmate from Cardiff, Kym, in Chester. They took me to Afflecks, and indoor indie commerce shop with a variety of different shops. It was basically the whole village of New Paltz in one building: tapestries, records, henna… very hipster and I loved it. Unfortunately, my budget was super tight at this point and I had major baggage restrictions so I had to resort to window shopping, but it was wonderful. We eventually went to the Manchester Art Gallery which was free and HUGE. I love art, and it almost made me feel like it was another day in Prague.

All in all, it was so great to spend time with my friends that I made during my first study abroad experience. I remember being miserable when I had to leave Cardiff, not knowing when I’d see all my Welsh and English friends next… 1 and a half years later, I’ve been back to Europe two more times and some of them have even came to visit me in New York.

Traveling is really the most beautiful, indescribable, surreal thing I’ve ever done; I don’t ever plan to stop.

#tbt: Amsterdam

I can’t believe it’s been a month since I visited Amsterdam. It was my last trip until I headed home to New York. I’ve always wanted to visit Amsterdam. I remember my aunt going all the time and bringing me back souvenirs. It was great to finally have the opportunity to see it for myself.

In order to explore Amsterdam we used transportation and walking. However, we soon realize that walking was the best way to get around. I realize the bus pass we got for the four days we were there was not worth it. Lesson learned!

Tip #1: Research! If you don’t need transportation, don’t be pressure to buy a weekly pass or etc. 

Also it’s very important to pay attention. Not only are you look both ways for cars, but bikes make up most of the transportation around Amsterdam. I had to constantly look back and forth just in case.

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The highlight of my trip was visiting the Anne Frank House. I’ve heard about this place for such a long time. I grew up learning about Anne Frank and the holocaust that I had to check it out. The whole time I couldn’t believe I was there and learning about new things I didn’t know. I left that place feeling inspired and grateful for the life that I live.

I also learned that you have to be patience because you have to wait about two hours to get inside. That didn’t stop me from wanting to see the museum. I’ve waited for concerts longer than that!

Tip #2: Be patience and arrive to places early. 

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Another highlight was visiting the Van Gogh Museum. Gogh was another person I grew up learning about. It was great to be surrounded by his art and other artists that were inspired by him or that he was inspired by. It was great to see his famous work and learning more about his life.

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It was also the beautiful scenery that Amsterdam has to offer. There was beautiful canals, flowers, and weather all around me. It was a great time to go to Amsterdam. Although I didn’t get to go on a canal, I was able to experience riding a bike around Amsterdam. It was very nerve wracking at first, but then I got the hang of it. I would definitely ride a bike again in Amsterdam if I have the chance.

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I got visit the famous I Amsterdam. I watched people climb the letters with so much ease and I wish I had the strength. Maybe next time!

I miss all the travel places I got to visit. I can’t wait to experience it again one day.

Back To Reality

It’s been exactly ten days since I left Wales. It felt like just yesterday that I was walking the streets of the lovely country and creating a life there. I remember the people, the food, and the place I called home. There are small moments when I think back to the six months I spent abroad. Sometimes it feels like a dream and I just woke up from it. I still can’t believe I got the opportunity to travel and study in UK.

I think over the past six months I developed a greater appreciate for the world and where I live. I started taking a closer look of my surroundings and feel grateful to live in one of the greatest cities in the world. Since I was away for six months, I feel like a foreigner. I have to start falling into the familiar patterns and rediscover my city.

Two days after returning, I went to Manhattan and I couldn’t hide the smile from my face. It was great to be back and call home, home once again. One thing that I started paying more attention is the tourists. I have a better understanding of what goes through their minds when visiting a new place for the first time. Now, I have patience when it comes to being surrounded by tourists because I was a tourist for six months.

I wouldn’t mind being a tourist in my own city. There are still so many things I haven’t seen and I lived here all my life! I still have places in Europe that I want to visit in the future or even return to places like Wales once again. With studying abroad, it made my love for traveling increase. I want to travel the world and grow my appreciation for the world even more.

Aside from seeing the differences between UK and US, I think I’ve become a better person and student. I have learned to take on new responsibilities and skills. I’m on my last year in SUNY New Paltz and I’m ready to take on the upcoming tasks with the new skills I learned. Studying abroad helped my growth and helped in redefining my goals I set in the beginning of the year.

I love that I had the chance to study abroad. It gives me the chance to talk about my experiences and hope that my brother would want to study abroad one day. I can also offer tips to my cousin, who will be studying abroad in two years. I think everyone should have the chance to study abroad and discover the world we live in.

Layover in London

I arrived in London on the evening of June 17th. This having been my third time in flying into Heathrow International, the return was comfortingly familiar. I exhaled joy when I made it through the border and consciously strolled to the Underground, emphasis on strolled, because I was ready for the change of pace that Europe always offers. I got on the Piccadilly Line toward Borough, my final destination, and smiled when I heard the British operator announce, “This is the Piccadilly Line toward Cockfosters, please mind the gap.” The chuckle of a clear novice London traveler made me reflect back on my first time catching the Underground from the airport just 6 months earlier. “I remember when I had my first beer,” I smirked.

I arrived at Borough station and walked nostalgically toward Shrabani’s flat. Shrabani is my amazing friend who I would be spending the week with. I studied abroad with her in Cardiff, Wales just to be captivated by her kindness, generosity, work ethic, and her positive outlook on life. Cardiff was actually her second time studying abroad, so she helped me a lot in my transition being a pro traveler at the time.

Anyhow, I was scheduled to be spending this week before Prague with this phenomenal woman, and she was nothing short of a wonderful host and supporting friend: she cooked me amazing meals, showed me many tourist sights which I had not seen on prior visits to London, introduced me to her friends and favorite clubs, had heart to hearts with me and gave great advice, encouraged me to follow my dreams and gave me ideas aiding my future goals, while simultaneously working on her dissertation for her Master’s Degree at the London School of Economics and applying for jobs. If that doesn’t prove how exceptionally multifaceted she is, I will send you her resume (which I asked to read).

Aside from spending time with Bani, who was also a Peer Counselor for the Center for International Programs (CIP) and is featured on the CIP website, some of the highlights of my trip were the sights.

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First, was the Tower Bridge, which I had always called the London Bridge, but it turns out the London Bridge is just a plain Bridge right next to the infamous Tower Bridge and is really only good for giving a great view of the Tower Bridge, the real star. This was great information to learn since I had known it as the London Bridge all my life (as do most people). It was breath taking, really. The lights, the architecture, the history… it was magical. Bani and I arrived around sunset as well, thus adding to my enamor. We walked across, back, found a loo, then sat on lawn with a side view of the bridge and enjoyed some ciders and the view. We watched people pass and made up possible stories for who they were, where they were going. The London rain and chill was the only reason to ever leave.

Next, was a double whammy! The Leake Street Tunnel and the London Eye… like what!? Okay, so the Leake Street Tunnel  was something a New Paltz professor had mentioned at the Take Back the Night event on campus this past May. She had mentioned graffiti art and how feminist activists often tag there, but I was sold at graffiti art in a tunnel. I told Shrabani I wanted to go and she made it happen. It was so awesome! So diverse, creative, and raw were most of the works. And what was even cooler was that I saw three artists in progress. Next time I make a trip to London, I might tag something on the wall too, even if only a poem.

So after 30 minutes of walking through this tunnel and taking pictures, being inspired, we walked a bit, turned two corners and BAM: The London Freaking Eye! “Holy cow, OMG, WTF” and all the other cliché American phrases was all I thought as my chin dragged across the ground. I don’t know if it was the sudden, unexpectedness of it or its utter beauty, but I was floored. Wow! I had seen it when flying into London just like the Tower Bridge, but geez I didn’t think seeing it up close would be so profound.

View of the London Eye from where Bani and I sat.

View of the London Eye from where Bani and I sat.

Bani and I set up shop in the Southbank Center right next to the Eye, which was also hosting a university graduation. She transcribed interviews while I read The Color Purple; it was perfect. We eventually took lunch outside where we found a bench with an epic view of the Eye, thus we continued our work outdoors.

Another highlight was all of the food experiences, whether prepared by Shrabani or at a restaurant. Also, this cool restaurant and nightclub Bar Salsa which offered both Bachata and Salsa lessons. Studying and reading was another highlight of the week. Bani is an exceptional study partner and motivator. Ugh, it was amazing; a great layover before my trip to Prague.

Goodbye Cardiff!

In less than 24 hours, I will be returning to New York. I can’t believe that I will no longer be studying abroad in Cardiff University. For the past six months, I’ve been independent and experiencing a world I read in books and seen in movies.

I’ve made a life in Wales and I grew so much as a person. I have learned new skills and adjusted to being on my own. I have seen the differences in cultures and taught people about the how New York really is.

I never thought that a Puerto Rican from the Bronx will ever get the chance to travel the world. I never thought that I would get the opportunities to create memories that I will talk about for the rest of my life.

I’m excited and nervous to head back to the states. When I come back home, I have to remember that there’s no more Tesco and that I have to rely on transportation. I have to remember I can’t just hop on a bus to London or plan trips to Ireland or Rome when I feel like it.

But I’m excited that I will be reunited with my family after all this time. I’ve been away from my family before, but not to this extend. This was an experience for the both of us. I can’t wait to thank them for giving me the chance to study abroad. I can’t wait to tell them all about my trips and give them the gifts from all the countries I visited.

I can’t wait to provide my parents with the support they’ve given me. I want to be able to cook for them, clean for them, and provide just as much as they provided for me.

I know once I return, I need to start looking into jobs, internships, and start preparing for my last year of college. Vacation is finally over! :p

I’m sad to be leaving Cardiff, but I have a feeling it won’t be the last time I visit. One day!

Hello Ireland!

I have less than two weeks left in Europe. I thought it was be good idea to squeeze in two more countries before I head back home. My friend Lauren and I made a decision to visit Ireland and Amsterdam because those are two countries that we always wanted to visit. Spring break happened so fast that we didn’t get to include these countries into our travels.

So in the beginning of June, we headed off to Dublin, Ireland for three days. Out of all the traveling I’ve done, Ireland was the easiest and smoothest traveling day. We were able to explore on the first day with no problem.

Tip #1: Traveling can be fun, but it’s not glamorous all the time. There were moments that I was so exhausted and wanted to just sleep. You’re constantly on the move and alert. Traveling is fun, but it’s not always fun.

On the first day, we explored the city of Dublin. We even went to the Guinness Storehouse and learned how beer was made. It was really informative and I learned a lot about the industry. The highlight  of that day was that met three different people that either lives in New Paltz or went to SUNY New Paltz. It was such a small world!

Tip #2: You never know who you’re going to meet on your travels. The world made me large, but it can surprise you in the smallest ways.

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On the second day, we took a bus tour to Belfast which is in Northern Ireland. The bus tour ran from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. filled with so many things to do. First, there was a black taxi tour in the town of Ulster, where I learned about the troubles between Catholics and Protestants. It was interesting to see and learn about the history between the communities. It’s crazy to think it’s still going on after all these years. We got to visit the peace wall and I wrote a small note with the lines of “Love is love. Peace is peace. All lives matter.”

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While we were on the bus, the tour guide gave us information on Ireland and told us many mythological tales. There were even moments that we learned about Game of Thrones shootings, a show that I love very much.

Aside from that we visited the Giant Causeways and the Rope Bridge which I went over. It was amazing! The view of Northern Ireland is breathtaking. The water is a bright blue and there is so much green life around. I fell in love with the views of Ireland. By the time we headed back to Dublin, a rainbow appeared in the sky, and I knew that going to Ireland was a great decision.

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On the last day in Dublin, it was a perfect day to visit the parks. I got to see the Oscar Wilde statue. He is one of my favorite authors and the statue fit his personality perfectly. I also got the opportunity to visit Dublin Castle for free because it was the first Wednesday of the month. The day ended with a view of the state apartments as well.

Tip #3: Make sure you research the places you go to. There can be great discounts and free places to visit.

Ireland was such a great place to visit and I can’t wait to come again!

4 Reasons To Visit Cardiff

Cardiff has been my home for the past six months. I’ve created so many memories as a visitor and as a student of Cardiff University. I was fortunate to get to know my surroundings in the small city. I was able to visit places like the National Museum of Cardiff, Cardiff Castle, and soon the Millennium Stadium in June! If you (the reader) is planning to visit Cardiff, here are a few things you should do:

1. Walk everywhere! Explore your surroundings.

I’m going to miss walking everywhere. Although a part of me misses transportation, it was great to not rely on it. I was able to walk to class everyday and to the city centre when I needed something. I loved the shortcuts I found to get to places faster.

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2. So many food options. Try them all! 

I’m glad that I was able to try different restaurants, diners, and food joints all around Cardiff. There are even hidden arcades with even more food places to try. Whether it was brunch or a traditional Welsh dish, it was great to try different things each time. I enjoy brunch the most because who doesn’t love a good breakfast in the afternoon?

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3. Catch a rugby game at a bar or live. 

An exciting thing I was able to do in April was cheer on Cardiff University in a rugby match. Students traveled to Swansea to go against the university there. It was great to dress in red and represent Cardiff. I’ve never been to a college game before and it was exciting! There was school pride everywhere I turned with cheers and banters against the other team.

It was also exciting to go inside a stadium for the first time. I’ve never been in a stadium before and I never realized how huge it was! I’m pretty sure it’s smaller than most stadiums, but I like that even though I was in the second to last row of the stadium I was able to view everything. Rugby is still a confusing sport, but every time Cardiff scored a point, I cheered so loud! The day got even better because Cardiff University won!

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4. Visit Cardiff’s attractions. 

I got to visit the one and only Cardiff Castle. I remember seeing it the first time when I arrived in Cardiff and I was glad I finally got to visit. I got a Castle key (it’s great for three years) and all it had to offer. The Cardiff Castle has the best view of Cardiff. The breathtaking view brought a big smile on my face. I also learned the history of the castle and was happy about the sunny weather.

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I visited City Hall and although it was limited there was a lot of things I did get to see. I was able to see an art piece of Princess Diana and marble statues of important people from Wales. It was a very elegant place that many events are held there.

I also returned to Cardiff Bay and saw the difference between the first time I went to now. The weather was warmer, so many people were out enjoying the sun. I was able to go inside a building filled with history of the bay and Wales as a whole. It was perfect weather for a burger and walking around the bay. I even tried the best Welsh cakes in Wales and let me tell you that they were telling the truth!

Since I only have three weeks left, I decided to visit the National Museum again. It was a different experience since I was alone exploring it again. I was able to sit down and draw a few of my favorite paintings and statues. I also got to visit the new exhibits and fall in love with art all over again. I was glad to have the opportunity to just leave my flat one morning and walk to the museum for the day.

I can’t believe that I’m almost heading back to the states. I’ve been so accustomed to Cardiff and all that it offers. I hope that I have the chance to visit Cardiff again in the future.

Final Stop: Austria & Germany!

I couldn’t believe Spring Break was almost over. Before I was returning to Cardiff for my last weeks of classes, I headed to Austria for a few days. I’ve heard of Austria briefly and I was curious to find out all about it. The minute the plane landed and I was surrounded by a breathtaking view of the mountains, I knew I was going to fall in love with the country.

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I stayed in Salzburg, Austria, the home to the famous movie Sound of Music. It’s also the hometown to the composer Mozart. The town is small, but nonetheless it held a lot of history and fun things to do. It was a change from the busy cities I’ve traveled previously. We spent the whole time walking around rather than relying on transportation.

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On our second day in Austria, my friend and I went on the Sound of Music tour. We got to see places where they shot the classic movie. It was also a great opportunity to see how scenic Austria was. Austria is filled with so much green life, it’s honestly the most beautiful place in the world.

I’ve only seen the movie twice (my friend Lauren was more of the fan), so I got to learn about the scenes, fun facts, and even sing along on the bus with other fans. By the end of the trip, I knew all the words, and I  may have even get some holy water from the famous church that the main character got married in.

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397562_10205498911728850_5837471293956446950_nOne of the things I miss from Austria is their delicious food. I got to try their famous pretzels, apple strudels, schnitzel, and goulash. I loved the opportunity to eat different foods from the different countries I visited.

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Tip #1: Don’t be afraid to try new things. When you’re traveling, step out of your comfort zone.

On our third day, we decided to take a trip to Munich, Germany! We took a train from Salzburg and decided on a hop on/off bus for the day.

Tip #2: If you’re only in a country for a day, try a hop on/off bus. It’s a great way to see everything that country has to offer and learn about them in a short amount of time.

The weather was nice to see Germany through the top of the bus. It was nice to get off the bus and spend time to see the city through our eyes. It was weird to see everyone out and about because most of thee stores were closed. This was a repeated pattern in Europe. Either stores were closed completely on the weekends or they closed earlier than I’m use to. I’m so use to stores being open everyday on late hours. Just one of the many differences between Europe and America.

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A moment that I will always remember is when an elderly woman dropped her phone, I picked it up, and gave it back to her. She was so thankful, she decided to give me some German chocolate and 50 cents. I wasn’t expecting that and it just made my day that she was just so happy that I helped her out. It made my experience in Germany even brighter.

Tip #3: Expect the unexpected. There are good people in the world.

I couldn’t believe Austria and Germany was my last countries that I visited for the break, but it was a good way to end the best trips of my life. So when you’re planning your trip to explore Europe, don’t forget to add Austria and Germany to your list.

Third Stop: Rome!

The next stop for five days was in the beautiful city of Rome! Not only was I spending the first week in April in Rome, but I was spending my birthday in the ancient city.

The weather in Rome was a nice change from the wind and rain from our previous trips. Before heading to Rome, one of the things I was looking forward to was the food! The first meal I had in Rome was a pizza filled with prosciutto. I knew from that first meal that Italy was not going to disappoint!

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The first place I visited was the Vatican Museum. The Vatican Museum was overwhelming, amazing, but overwhelming! There was so many things to look at. In every direction, there was beautiful art that I wanted to capture in my mind forever. It took my breath away at the amount of work that went into making these masterpieces we know today.

From my time at the Vatican Museum, I learned two things:

  • Be VERY careful: I learned before traveling about the thieves, but also keep in mind for the people trying to sell you a bag, selfie stick, tour, whatever. Be mindful and smart.
  • Be in the moment: I made the mistake of missing the most important piece in the Vatican. I was so focused on taking a photo of the overall picture, I forgot to take the finer details in. Put down the phone and just take it in.

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Aside from the Vatican. I saw the Colosseum and I was in awe. I’ve always saw this on television and photos that actually being there left me speechless. I remember taking photos and realizing how unreal it looked. I also had the opportunity to go inside and explore it’s history. I was surprised at the information I’ve already knew. (Thanks SUNY New Paltz!)

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Since I went the week of Easter, I was honored to see the Pope! On Good Friday, we were able to see him and be apart of a mass in front of the Colosseum with over thousands of people from around the world. It was a surreal experience that I will never forget. Also seeing the sunset behind the Colosseum wasn’t a bad sight.

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Towards the end of the trip, I wanted to fulfill my Lizzie McGuire dream of seeing the Trevi Fountain. Now, I knew beforehand it was under construction, but I was in for a surprise.

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Tip #3: Don’t assume things are going to be like the movies or the way you wanted it.

Even though it was HEAVILY under construction, it was still great to see it and throw a coin, even if no water was running.

Rome was filled with so much great history and delicious food. I had an amazing time and wouldn’t mind visiting Italy again.