Take the leap

We leave in a week. Its hard to believe I’m going at all. It doesn’t really set in fully before you go, like some part of your mind is waiting for you to wake up, like its some trick your brain decided to play. But as you pack your bags you realize its no joke, you’re going. You’re going far.

Its an exciting thought to be living on the opposite side of the world. All it takes is a little paperwork. It seems much harder than it is, everything so far especially the visa has been straightforward. I’ve made the journey before, all 14 hours of it. Its not as bad as you’d think, and it is completely worth the result. Japan is one of the most unique places you can visit and I can’t wait to return for this experience of a lifetime. So if you’re reading this and trying to decide if you should go, take the leap, it’ll be well worth it.

Follow this trip on instagram! @gallivanting_globetrotter

Bard…Not the Most Italian Name?

One of the coolest cities I visited in Italy was actually very close to Italy’s French and Swiss border. Bard, Italy is unlike any other place I visited during my travels. Its scenic, winding roads give you the chills as you experience views of quaint villages nestled into the Alps and the aqua blue water of the Dora Baltea River in the Aosta Valley. I don’t think I ever took so many consecutive pictures at once; each time I took a step further, there seemed to be a better photo for me to capture. All I’m saying is make sure your iPhone Camera Roll is cleared out or you have plenty of memory in your camera before you make the journey!

Aside from the amazing views, there is also a lot of history behind this Italian city. It is home to Fort Bard (Forte di Bard), which dates back to the 1800s and the Napoleonic era. If you have the time, I highly recommend taking a guided tour of the fort. While learning some key facts about Italian history, you will also be graced with a panoramic view that will truly take your breath away. There are several levels that ascend and each consecutive level offers an even more detailed view of the one before it. If you choose to take the tour, you will reach each level via a transparent elevator. This was by far the most scenic part of my trip; I simply could not look away as everything beneath me became smaller and smaller, yet so stunning at the same time.

After your tour, reward yourself with a freshly prepared Italian meal. If you don’t feel like wandering, the uppermost level of the fort has a conveniently placed café for you to take a rest and grab a bite to eat. I myself did not eat there, but when does any café in Italy disappoint you? (Hint: never). If you walk away from the river for a few minutes, you will discover a hotel called Hotel Stendhal e Hôsteria “La Pôsa Bertolin.” Within this hotel there is a dining room that serves the most delicious lasagna–you simply cannot go wrong. In addition, this could be your home for the night if you wish to stay overnight and have a little extra time to spend in this historical city!

Unfortunately, I had a limited amount of time during my visit in Bard. If it was slightly closer to my base in Milan, I would have easily made another trip or two before departing my beloved Italy. However, I did travel to Brusson, Italy from there. If you’re feeling adventurous and nature-driven, I highly suggest you find a way to get there. I had the pleasure of taking a group trip there on a double decker bus, which, in hindsight, probably was not the best idea on extremely narrow, winding roads leading up and through the Alps. A word of advice: if you make the trip to Brusson, take a small car that can handle the tight turns and small lanes! Brusson is situated within the mountains and has great trails and waterfalls if you are more into the nature and outdoors-y side of Italy. Once you enter the village, you feel as though you have entered a different world. The inhabitants of this area in Italy are so secluded and truly have the place to themselves. It’s hard to put into words, but if you go you’ll see what I mean.

I wish you luck in your travels! Buon viaggio!

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.

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.

 

I’m Back.

I’ve been back for 3 weeks and it was HARD to be back. Where do I even start? Change is weird but it’s good. Especially this kind of change. I gained new friends and a confidence that I cannot explain. I’m happy where I am in life and that’s what studying abroad did for me. Everyone who has a remote desire to study abroad should do it and this is my humble opinion. Do what you need to do, talk to your advisors, go out there because the world is waiting for you.

I will not be where I am if I did not go abroad, so if you crave to know the unknown, trust me you won’t regret it. This is why it took me a while to write the last post on this blog because I knew that writing this meant that I was done with my experience. But, that’s where I was wrong. My experience does not have to stop here, that was only a little taste and now I’m ready to conquer the world.

One of my biggest fears was returning back but I’m not scared anymore. I have such an amazing group of friends and family at home that made it easy for me to transition. Of course, I still think about Sevilla every day but we are human beings and we adapt quickly. Look at me? I’m back in New Paltz, ready to take on my last semester and finally graduate. I have new goals in life and I can’t wait to reach them all.

Thank You SUNY New Paltz.

Cheers to life and Cheers to making new experiences.

-Estefany Lopez

Goodbye Sevilla

Perfect people

Home sweet home and that means every night is taco night.

Reflective Perspective: Living After London

It’s amazing how much bigger the world feels after coming home.

One thing I noticed was that I didn’t forget how to drive, not did I forget the way to my favorite places. I walked around my home campus today, and knew all its secrets like old friends I hadn’t seen in a while. The new Wooster building that had been a process for most of my college career, which I will meet properly in a few weeks. The old round nook by the Student Union, where if you stand in the center you can hear your voice coming in from all sides. The wide canal of stones between Humanities and the Library. It was all there, much like I had left it, but it all felt just the slightest bit bigger.

I remembered all the codes for my favorite fruits and vegetables at the register at work. I remembered people who had left, and met people who had arrived. I remembered how the potato salad used to taste, and how it was just the slightest bit different now. I felt very at peace with the changes, and with the things that remained constant. Nothing overwhelmed me – I had perspective.

Perspective isn’t something you can take for granted – in fact, it comes from moments where you can’t take things for granted. I swam in different water for a while, and it gave me a renewed sense of moving through different spaces. I’ve developed an even deeper fondness for the space I know best.

Soon classes will begin again at SUNY New Paltz. I’ll find myself mentioning stories about England, either to peoples’ chagrin or delight. I’ll be grateful for the familiar class structure and the chance to work with old friends. And because I’ll be graduating, I will probably cry. A lot. Because I will be so happy and grateful, and so proud of myself.

Even so, I recognize, that even this year, which feels so thrilling and lucky and revolutionary, is probably not as big as the biggest things I will experience in my life. Reflecting on how much my mind has changed, and on how my vision of the world is even just this much different, gives me the perspective that the world I live in can be as big as I could possibly dream – and is potentially even bigger.

#NPSocial #NPAbroad

Reflecting on London

It doesn’t feel like it’s already been three months. While I was abroad, time seemed to fly because I always had something to do. Italy this weekend, Brighton the next, then maybe Sweden the week after that. The friends I made in other countries, who are outside of this study abroad program, are people who I still keep in touch with. I met so many people while travelling and staying in hostels, and I never believed I would be able to become that social. Study abroad has boosted my confidence in myself in a way that I never expected, but is an obvious welcome change. By the time I left London in December, in the city truly felt like home.

Coming Home

I’ve been home for about 3 weeks now. I started back up at my job, since London left me with a negative amount in my bank account. I have an apartment to move into soon once I go back to college. Life is moving on. I wish I was still in London, with the family I stayed with and with the friends I made there. Going from living in such a big city to a small town in Nowhere, New York is hard to adjust to. Camouflage print everything is considered to be the height of fashion here, yet I never saw it once in London, and I didn’t miss it. The quiet, small town life is leaving me restless. I miss being able to go into central and walk around for hours. I miss being able to casually go to another country for a weekend just because I felt like it. I can’t wait until I can go back to London, maybe more permanently.

Twenty Four Hours of Goodbye

I can hardly believe that in just over 24 hours, I will be back on a plane heading back home. After watching the unbelievable transformations and crazy happenings in my country from a distance, on the news, through my British and European friends, hearing about several feet of snow in my home state when it’s practically balmy here… Home almost sounds like a foreign country. It’ll be strange to hear snow crunching under my feet again.

It’ll be strange to come home and not see my dog bounding and singing at me, because she passed away just two weeks ago. That’s been hard… but I know she passed doing what she loved, and she’d want me to keep looking ahead. Little bugger.

It’ll be strange to be the me I’ve become, in the home I haven’t seen in so long.

Some things I’ll bring home with me:

Minimalism: I’ve been inspired during my time here to try to live with less. I’ve found that I can live happily without lots of the things I keep around at home – so one plan is to purge the house of unnecessary extra things, to make moving around easier. I want to travel again, and the less I have, the easier that will be.

Teacakes: I couldn’t bear to leave without stocking up on the beautiful teacakes that Lani showed me in Scotland! And they go perfectly with…

Sainsbury’s Fair Trade Black Teabags: These are brilliant. They are better than PG Tips or whatever else fancy, the extra pound cost does not make them taste better, don’t let anyone tell you different.

Citysurfing skills: I can now maneuver around a city I’m unfamiliar with, with minimal confusion and sometimes even beating the ETA on my phone.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Yes, the original version of one of my favorite books of all time. With the original cover art (not quite a first edition, but for 2.50 pounds at a used Welsh bookstore, I am not complaining at all).

British slang: Bril. Bonkers. You Alright? Ta! Cheers (I guess I already had this one, but I’m still bringing it back). Mental. Quite. Every little helps. Calling cookies biscuits, chips crisps, and fries chips… I can see the confundery even now.

Memories: Of some of the best theatre I’ve ever seen, the sweetest people, and the most educational and inspiring adventures.

My landlords left me a note before their trip this weekend, thanking me for being such a great tenant – I was surprised and thrilled that I don’t suck at adulting, and that they liked me. I wished I had a chance to spend more time with them, I’ll never forget their scathing and hilarious comments while we watched The Great British Bakeoff. I also had my last rehearsal with the Kingstones A Capella group this Wednesday, and my last D&D Session on Sunday. My friends have all been inordinately sweet to me, and I’ll miss them so much. I have never liked goodbyes, but it seems like I have no choice but to get used to them, since I’ve absolutely fallen in love with traveling.

Maybe I should just not put so much weight on the goodbye part, because honestly, it’s the time I spent with them before goodbye thatI’ll love and remember the most. There’s facebook, and there’s time. Life is long, even if it’s short.

One thing I am relieved about, is to be done with finals – If I can give one really solid piece of advice to anyone studying abroad in the UK, it’s this – do not put off your finals to the last minute. Ask your classmates what is generally expected from an academic research paper well in advance (for instance, I learned by accident that it’s only acceptable to go 10% over the word limit, and that a proper academic paper has anywhere from 10 to 14 citations for 3,000 words – these were rules I did not follow for my first two essays). And make sure to do the work bit by bit, so you don’t find yourself pulling an all-nighter before a final during your last week abroad. Trust me, you’d much rather be walking around and saying goodbye to things than stressing about university.

Tomorrow I say goodbye to my home-away-from-home: I’ll visit the Christmas market in Surbiton, have lunch with some friends in Kingston, and then Dennis and I will have our last pints with fish and chips at the Albert, down the road from my house in Norbiton. And then that’s it – the next day, after a six hour plane ride, I’m back home…

Funny how home is so relative. How it changes over time. And how you can accumulate so many different ones, all of which speak to a different version of you. Eventually it’s like you learn to carry home with you wherever you go, and it adapts to the space you fill. Maybe that’s what growing up means.

I’ll miss this home and this time here in London… as my landlady Judy would say, it’s been absolutely “bril.” 🙂

#NPSocial #NPAbroad