After graduating from my respective community college with honors (see me above with the overly decorated cap!) and changing my final decision on where to transfer (University of Illinois-Chicago!), I found myself immersed in the transfer process, which was much more of a pain in the butt than anticipated. Thus, I am taking a transition from my travel blog to laugh in frustration at how tricky the transfer process can be.
1. Learning How to Navigate a Second Campus
You mean I have to find out where the best bathrooms, the quietest study areas, and where my classrooms are all over again?!
2. Having to Make a New Group of Friends
Sure, college has already brought me tons of new best friends who I love hanging out with, but when we’re all transferring to completely different schools, it leaves me no other choice but to find new people who accept my weirdness as much as my old friends did.
3. Trying (And Failing!) to Get Transcripts Processed
It took me 2 months before all of my classes finalized well enough for me to schedule the next classes in sequence and take placement tests. Not to mention when your transfer school doesn’t accept your credits because you have too many or they aren’t equivalent classes! This is honestly the most frustrating step since it make or breaks your schedule as well.
4. Going Through Orientation, Convocation, etc. All Over Again!
Honestly just more attempts at getting me to socialize with people I’ll never see again since our major plans are COMPLETELY different from one another. There’s free food though!?
5. Dealing With a Changed Commute
No longer can I roll out of bed at 9am, just an hour before class, pick up some coffee, and be on time. School isn’t just half an hour away anymore, now it’s an hour and a half. Cheers to 530am Metra train rides to get to my 830am class on time!
6. New School, New Spiritwear
Honestly I have less money in my bank account than I did in 8th grade, but I NEED that new college shirt….and sweatshirt…and car decal…and water bottle. Drop any new sororities/frats/organizations in there, and BOOM! A financial nightmare.
7. New School = New Slang Terms and Abbreviations
How was I supposed to know SSB and SCE meant Student Services Building and Student Center East in every email my college sends me? Why is there 6 dorms with different acronyms? What is this new regional slang people are saying?
8. Introducing Yourself in EVERY Class…Again
As a transfer junior, this can be more rare since people think you’ve already been on campus for two years. But then, you’ll find yourself in that classroom where the teacher asks each transfer student to introduce themselves along with where you’ve transferred from.
9. Adjusting to a New Learning Management System
My old school used Canvas, now I have to teach myself Blackboard AND hope I’m turning in all my assignments correctly. Why can’t we all just use the same one??
10. Pushing Through, Despite it All
Though frustrating, transferring to a new school is super exciting. So hang in there, fellow transfer students, we’ll figure out the ropes soon enough!
Of all the places I’ve traveled, Paris has to be that one city where I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to be able to see everything I wanted to in such a short period of time. Thankfully, I was able to get through most of the things I wanted to see, largely due to good preplanning, and extra time that I had built into my days.
One of the biggest tips about Paris I can give you is to wear good walking shoes. I opted for style over comfort the first day (where most of my walking came in) and I largely regretted it the next day when my feet were aching. I’m not saying to toss aside your boots and throw on your running shoes in one of the most stylish European cities, but be prepared for all of the walking you will do, because it is much more than you think it will be. Bring shoes that are better for walking several miles in, or find shoe inserts that will make for much more comfortable walking.
Another must for transportation is to purchase the 2-day (in my case) tourist metro pass. It clocked in to be my most expensive purchase (36€) but I rode the metro at least that many times while I was in Paris, since I was doing all of the major sightseeing all over the city in such a short amount of time. I would highly recommend doing this over a 10-ride pass because those will simply turn out to be more expensive in the long run if you are staying in Paris for less than a few days. Be careful not to lose the metro pass. I cannot stress this enough, as Paris’ metro tickets are less than half the size of a credit card and very easy to misplace.
As for trying to pack all of the sights in two days, here is how I went about it:
Unfortunately since I was low both on time and money, I did not get to enter some of the sites I mention. Feel free to build time into your own travels.
Friday morning, I landed at Charles de Gaulle, and made it to my Airbnb in Pantin (best described as a “suburb” right outside of Paris) by 11am. After dropping off my luggage and greeting friends, we headed towards Notre-Dame Cathedral.
After walking around it (and getting a few selfies, of course) I made my way along the Seine for quite a while towards the Louvre. If you would prefer to take the subway, I don’t doubt there are routes to take that are very quick, but the walk was fairly pleasant and a good way to see the city.
Beware of pickpockets and people trying to sell things to you outside of the Louvre and Eiffel. These are presumably two of the biggest tourists destinations in Paris, so they will do anything to try to sell you the knick-knacks that they have. Otherwise it was a pleasant environment, and there aren’t so many people as to ruin any pictures you might want to take.
After the Louvre, we made our way Tuileries Garden and down Champs-Élysées (shopping destination, tourist central) to the Arc de Triomphe. There is a small median in the middle of the street here where you can stop for a quick second to take a picture head-on, but be careful and watch for reckless drivers. You quite literally are standing in the middle of the street, and the drivers in Paris are ruthless to say the least.
Afterwards, I made a quick stop for a late lunch at a crêperie about a 10 minute walk away. There are several places you can get crepes nearby, but unless you are okay with paying higher prices for the same food that is along Champs-Élysées, I recommend walking to a place out of the way.
My next stop was to Printemps department store, also on Champs-Élysées. This may sound like a weird stop, but the view from the open-air cafe on the top floor explains it all:
As I said before, there’s a small cafe up here that sells some cheap coffee and snacks. If you plan to sit up here for a bit (I did) it’s polite to purchase something.
After this we took the subway towards the 18th arr. to see The Love Wall of Paris. It’s not well known, and it’s in a secluded location right off the subway stop but it’s definitely a sight that was on my bucket list. On this wall, the phrase “I love you” is written in every documented language known.
After this, I headed back to the Louvre to actually go inside (and pay a visit to Mona Lisa herself!) The Louvre is free on Fridays after 6pm for those under 25, so if that is you, I recommend going at this time. The price to enter isn’t hefty normally, but it’s extra money in my pocket.
Today we started off bright and early at 8am to go see the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. It’s free to enter (all except climbing up to the top of the dome) so I highly recommend going as early as humanly possible. By the time we were leaving the crowds and lines to enter were extremely long, compared to basically just walking through the door at 830am. This is another location to be aware of scam artists, because they will block entire sidewalks so you have to talk to them. I even had one try to grab my arm in an attempt to stop me. The views both inside and outside the church are worth it though, but be prepared for a lot of stairs.
After soaking up some sunshine, we headed to go see the Moulin Rouge nightclub in Paris.
After a subway ride, we stopped in a small store and had a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower. There are several places to do so but we chose a secluded area on concrete near a pool of water.
Afterwards, many of us split off to do our own things, but some of us decided to do one of the musts of Paris: shopping. After a half an hour walk past the right side of the Eiffel in the above pic and down a side street, we took the subway to Galeries Lafayette, a large, upscale shopping mall. Even if you’re not one for shopping, come to admire the ornate detailing on the ceiling and sides of the building, or snap a good picture on the bridge connecting one portion of the mall to the other.
For dinner, we stopped in the Jewish Quarter for some falafel, and headed back to the Eiffel to see the lights show at night. Fun fact- it’s actually illegal to film this…but tell that to the several thousand people around the city doing just that at the top of each hour.
The light show is quite simple and lasts only 5 minutes at the top of each hour at night, but it’s definitely something to be seen.
After talking to some girls I met from around the world in a hostel, they were quite surprised that I had been to Paris. They had heard it was dangerous, and they weren’t quite sure if they would go anytime soon or not.
To be fair, if you’re from the States, traveling abroad is another animal entirely from traveling in our own country. Here, we are more worried about violence and bad areas; there, they are more worried about petty theft. There aren’t many violent crimes, if any, that take place in Europe, but people will not hesitate to steal a loosely carried handbag or a stray phone. As long as you keep your wits about you and aren’t causing a scene, you’ll be safe. Just keep all of your belongings put away or out of sight of passersby.
If you’re able to shamelessly catch the songs in my blog title, this is me figuratively giving you a hug:
All kidding aside, my blog has been fairly inactive for the last month (cue me getting asked by everyone about what is going down in my life):
A few weeks ago, I got word that I am officially attending CUNY Hunter College in the fall to continue my BSN degree! I will be able to keep up a running blog in my time in NYC, and be able to give you the ins and outs of the city (Once I fully develop that on my own, of course!) Still unsure if I will be graduating with the class of 2019 or 2020, but as long as I finish my degree, that’s all that matters.
I’m still single, no worries there.
ALSO I still love french toast so all is normal here.
Now for the REAL reason behind this post:
Tonight starts my spring break, where I’ll be heading off to Paris on a 630pm flight (yay!) to stay for a few days, then flying off to Barcelona for a view of the sights, sangria, and practicing my Spanish, of course. (fun fact: they speak Catalin, which is a combination of French and Spanish. So my muddled Spanish will only help me be able to ask questions in something closer to the native language.)
Honestly, I had no intention of going abroad for spring break, but since a few of my friends study in Paris and Barcelona, I figured now would be a better time than ever to make a trip there!
(Plus, now I suppose I can see if the rain in Spain truly does fall mainly on the plain.)
I don’t have a straight itinerary of everything I’m going to do, rather a list of things I want to see. If you have any more ideas for me, drop me a message and let me know!
Arc de Triomf
Louvre (1st arr.)-Free on Friday after 6pm, Mona Lisa!!
Le Palais Royal (1st arr.)
Notre Dame Cathedral
Rue Cler (7th arr.)-food shopping
Printemps Terrace (8th arr.)- good photo op, good cafe
When going on vacation, most people (At least here in the Midwest!) picture warm, sunny beaches, with the tide rolling along the coast, and the perfect sunny getaway from the normalities of everyday life.
We look, we search. With over 12,000 miles of coastline in the United States, we often are overwhelmed with options of where to go.
So we tend to settle for places we hear of before: San Francisco, Myrtle Beach, Virginia Beach, and possibly the largest of all- Miami.
Although I’ve been to Florida and the Keys more times than I could count as a kid, I had actually never been in Miami for longer than it took to pick up the rental car, grab some lunch, and drive down to Key West or such.
After hearing about some wild spring break trips and vacations from a few friends of mine, I decided to finally set my sights on Miami, and began to plan a summer trip there.
After my standard crazy-lady-obsessive research (find more about THAT here) I settled for about $100/night at Hotel Shelley, one of the many hotels owned by the South Beach Hotels Group.
It’s Art Deco style fit right into the standard style in South Beach, and this hotel was perfect for the traveler who is looking for a cheap hotel room with a few extras included; Free transportation to and from Miami Airport, Free Happy Hour, and very well-kept hotel rooms, to name just a few.
With piece of mind and all of the minor details smoothed out of the trip, I felt extremely confident to be staying here, and had already looked into many things to do while I was down there (#1-Lay on the beach).
When I finally stepped off the plane, after a ride from Newark to Miami (I was previously in NYC), I instantly felt like I was out of place. Most of the people surrounding me spoke only Spanish, and even with 4 years and a planned Spanish Minor under my belt, it felt like I was alone in a whole new world.
Note to my readers, the middle of August was also not the most IDEAL time to visit Miami, unless you are in love with 90 degree, humid heat. The kind that makes you feel like you ran a marathon after walking a few blocks.
After finally getting to my hotel after an hour or two, I was confronted with not being able to check in until much, much later than check-in time, due to an overbooked hotel. I took this in stride and decided to walk down the street to Starbucks and grab a cup of coffee, to add a little normality to my life. But even THIS didn’t go smoothly, because I ended up getting harassed by an unreasonably angry older man who went around the store harassing people of minority groups (including myself as a woman, I suppose) and telling them to go back to where they came from, even after they asked him several times to leave. After leaving, coming back in, throwing his hat at me, and demanding someone thank him for his service in the Vietnam War, he finally left all of us alone. Needless to say, I was on my toes with that one, and I was afraid it would progress to something more violent.
After finally getting back to my hotel and receiving a room (RIGHT next to the concierge desk, which kept me up a good couple hours at night on the weekend), I finally set out for some time on the beach.
Where my hotel was located, the walk towards the beach was only two streets over, and then through a short, grassy area on the outskirts of the beach. What should’ve been a reasonably pleasant, short walk (in modest clothing for the heat) turned into 10 minutes of harassment and being creeped on by guys I would pass by on side streets or that would walk behind me. Mind you, this isn’t late at night-it’s 5pm on a weekday.
Now, I do hail from the suburbs of Chicago. I’m used to the occasional stare, or the occasional beg for money, but this turned into full-scale, being followed down the street, catcalled walk in the middle of the day. Part of this is to do with the fact I am female, and the other part due to the fact I was alone, which I was prepared for.
I spent about an hour out there, grabbed myself some dinner at an Italian restaurant, and called it quits before the sun decided to set. My #1 rule of traveling alone is to be at least within a block of my hotel by sunset no matter where I go, because I would rather miss out on a bit of nightlife than end up harassed or worse by the sketchy people that do exist in the world.
On the way there, I stopped at a CVS around the corner to grab some snacks and a case of water, and then walked back to the hotel.
Side note: Avoid buying sunscreen down here, if at all possible. They know tourists need it, so they up-charge it to about $8-$10 per bottle. Bring a few travel-sized containers on the flight with you if you are like me and refuse to check a bag.
It was already dark by this point, and I found myself harassed by a few more men, and haggled especially hard by one who needed money “to buy his baby food and diapers”. Mediocre haggling at best, honestly.
Now, I’m not saying don’t travel to Miami EVER- please do, the Art Deco style of the 1920’s isn’t replicated as well anywhere else in the states. The beaches are gorgeous, the alcohol is DEFINITELY flowing for you partiers out there (I couldn’t believe the amount of times I was offered things even though I visibly do not look 21), and the culture and cuisine were good as well. This is a fairly cheap tourist attraction, in my opinion, and after the wake of the nightclub shooting, the LBGT community has beautifully banded together to create a welcoming and lovely environment there.
But definitely do NOT travel there alone, in my opinion. Even with all of the street-smarts and safety precautions I took, I felt more safe on the streets of NYC than I ever did in Miami, which is mildly concerning. Safety is #1, no matter where you travel. Because of the amount of tourists they get, many skeevy guys prey on girls from out of town, and vice versa.
Also be aware that in many restaurants down there, the 20% gratuity has already been added to the bill. A lot of the places now have the servers hold tablets that you use to receive the bill and pay for the meal, and in the panic of feeling “awkward”, you may end up accidentally choosing to add a tip to the already-tipped bill (Lesson learned the hard way, over an extra 20% tip on an already $50 meal). Many times you are able to catch it because it is clearly labeled as “gratuity”, but sometimes they are sneaky in hiding it in the receipt.
When I got to Ireland a little over two weeks ago, I was confronted with two options to consider: Spend all of my time in Dublin, or drop $50+ on a day trip to several locations across the country. For a college student, $50 is quite a bit of money to drop on something that you’re not even sure you’re going to enjoy; in this case, I was glad I took the risk.
The trip I chose was through Wild Rover Tours (10/10 would recommend!) and was a tour featuring the Cliffs of Moher and Galway, on the west side of the country.
Although, of course, I knew I was getting a tour of the two, I didn’t expect a full tour of the countryside on the way there, along with four hours worth of culture, history, and Irish music. This was my journey.
Our morning started out with a breakfast stop at the Barack Obama Visitor’s Centre a little outside of Limerick. In Ireland, when a president of another country visits, they name a gas station or a visitor’s centre after them as tradition in one of the towns they visited.
Our drive was accompanied by sights of many ruins of castles, the one below of Bunratty Castle, left over from the Norman Invasion into Ireland.
Our drive took us through “Rocky Road Roundabout”, where the Statue of Ennis stands tall in the center. The story goes that the people around the time the statue was sculpted were jealous of how big Ennis’, shall I say, man parts were, so they ended up leaving them off of his statue.
After a little drive through the town of Ennis (where the creator of RyanAir lived!), we ended up in the town next door of Ennistimon, with it’s Irish-standard rectangular buildings and colors that match the landscape.
Just outside of Ennistimon is the An Gorta Mór, or Famine Memorial. Although the Great Potato Famine was several hundred years ago, it is still a topic that weighs heavily on the hearts of Irish folk.
A (not so) fun fact I learned from this trip was the story behind the stone walls that exist everywhere in Ireland, and can be seen behind this memorial. Because the terrain in Ireland is so rocky, it was impossible to do any kind of farming until the rocks were moved away from the crops. Most of the walls that are still around to this day are the same walls that were put together by victims of the famine. The rock walls served no real purpose in farming, but were an efficient and savvy way to get rid of the rocks. The victims would spend their entire days moving these rocks, hoping to earn enough money or be able to bring home a little bit of food to ease the famine’s effects on their families. They stand as a solemn reminder through Ireland today of the repercussions of having an economy based solely on a few exported products.
About 15 minutes later, a rainbow appeared to my right, and stayed with us for much of the journey.
After a few more turns, we finally made it to the Cliffs of Moher! This is a sight best seen in person and not by pictures, and is truly breathtaking to see. If you are visiting in the winter or early spring months, I would HIGHLY suggest bringing a heavy coat, scarf, and gloves. It wasn’t so cold in Dublin, or in Galway, but the wind came off the coast so strongly and frigid while I was here! We were able to hike up the side of the cliffs, but I do caution you to be careful as you quite literally hike up the side, and there are no walls or railings to block you from falling over the cliff. The wind is actually strong enough to blow you over too, so it adds more risk to climbing. Since it was a little rainy outside at the time, I didn’t hike far for fear of falling.
The castle at the top of the hill is O’Brien’s Castle, which is fashioned more into an observatory you can climb up for an extra fee, to get a better view of the Cliffs. Instead, I just got a (very cold) touristy picture in front of it.
After some time in the Cliffs’ Learning Centre, and some time filing up on gifts, food, and coffee, we were back on the road to Galway!
We made a short stop along the way at The Burren, a rock formation created by lava long before the area was settled. We stopped in a more densely-formed area, but The Burren stretches along the coast for several miles on both sides.
A little while further into the drive, and we stopped to view a life-sized leprechaun’s castle that was built alongside the road. Irish people do not let anything come between their superstitious ways.
About a half an hour later, we finally made it into Galway!
Galway is a much smaller, but very welcoming town on the western end of Ireland, and I’m glad I got to experience it myself. Along my short walking tour, I learned about the culture of the major families that essentially “ran” Galway in the Medieval times, the biggest being the Lynch family. If you have time, read up on their backstory! They’re quite a twisted-fairytale kind of family, and their son was (literally) saved from a burning building by their pet monkey.
Unfortunately, the same son committed crimes in early adulthood, and had to be executed by his own father, since nobody wanted to be the one to kill the son of the most powerful family; hence the term “being lynched” came into existence. This is a picture of the window his son was hung from.
After some time walking around and exploring Galway, I stopped in a Butler’s Chocolate & Coffee Shop for none other than chocolate and coffee. I was told online that if I were to go to any shops in Ireland at all, this was the place to be, and they were not mistaken.
The white chocolate was a latte flavor, and was delicious. If you want the full Irish experience, go for the Bailey’s cream-filled chocolate I have there as well. It might possibly have been one of the most delicious chocolates in my life.
My coffee was a white chocolate mocha, which WAS inarguably the best latte I’ve had in my entire life. It’s nothing like the super-bland espresso versions that Starbucks has. It was sweet, but not too sweet where it was undrinkable. When I was leaving Dublin, I picked up a final (*sniff*) cup of Butler’s and that’s when I found out why they were so good; instead of using coffee syrups like Starbucks, they LITERALLY take a scoopful of Nutella-consistency white chocolate and mix it into the espresso.
After boarding the bus (and sleeping the whole way home), I made my way back to my hostel where I met up with one of my roommates for pizza and Guinness in the bar. The pizza wasn’t the greatest (I’m a spoiled Chicagoan) but I’m not a beer drinker, so I needed something to go with the Guinness. It would’ve been a sin to leave without trying it in the homeland, and the story goes “Guinness is better in Ireland!” so I did have some, but I do like my Irish Coffee much better. I have more of a sweet tooth, what can I say?
The point is, if you find yourself questioning if you should shell out that extra money for a guided trip, do it. It was one of the best decisions I made, and it opened my eyes to the possibility of doing many more of these in the future. Besides, $50 to go on a 12-hour journey across a country? You’re coming out on the other end with a bargain, really.
5 days post-Ireland, and I think it’s safe to say I’ve finally made a full recovery from the 19 hours of traveling, and all of the jetlag that added up after 4 nights of no sleep!
Since I was there for 2 full days (and then some) I’m splitting my Ireland trip into two parts; Day 1 is my time in Dublin, and Day 2 is my time across the country in Galway.
Unfortunately for this first post, only a few of the pictures will be my own. Of course, as any good tourist would, I had taken several pictures of everything I saw. Theft got the better of me though, and I found myself with my phone stolen out of my hand by a bicyclist within 5 hours of my landing in Dublin (Can I check “being scared in a foreign country” off my anti-bucket list now?). Nonetheless, Dublin was beautiful and had much to offer me, so at the very least I have the experience of being there to talk about!
I landed in Dublin at about 10am, and after some time in customs (where I’m always afraid I’ll say something wrong and get in trouble!) I made it to Usher’s Quay before 11am!
I used the Airlink 747 bus to get to Dublin. Now, whether you like public transport or prefer the solidarity of a taxi cab, the Airlink buses are the CHEAPEST and fairly efficient way to get there. I paid 10€ for a return ticket, but the bus fare one way is only 6€. Honestly, how could you go wrong, when taxi fares are at least 20€ for the same distance?
The Airlink buses have several drop-off points throughout the city, but Usher’s Quay was closest to where I wanted to be. They drop you off along the River Liffey, as you can see above.
My hostel didn’t allow check-in until 2pm, so I took this opportunity to just walk around and explore the area. I ran into the famed Temple Bar, which I believe is probably hard to find if you were actually looking for it, as I took a side street (that looked more like an alley) and walked through a few streets like this to find it.
I also did some shopping in the Ilac Shopping Centre, one of Dublin’s big shopping malls, to catch up on the European fashion. It might be overcast and rainy almost everyday there, but it doesn’t do anything to hurt how fashionable the people in Dublin are!
And of course, I had to get a little taste of home in a foreign country, and was pleasantly surprised with the spelling of my name on the cup:
Traditionally, my name in Ireland is spelled as Cailín, but is still pronounced as Colleen, which is just the Americanized spelling. I’m still tempted to change it to the traditional spelling, but then think of how hard it is already for people to pronounce my name as it is; unless you live in Ireland, this is just a phonetical nightmare.
After a little more walking around…and my phone getting stolen…and putting in statements with the Irish Guard (which are lovely people!) I finally committed to staying in for the rest of the night, and meeting my hostel roommates, which were also very lovely. Two were from Brazil (one a mother, one a student, neither knew each other), one was from Hamburg, Germany, and on the second night we were joined by two girls from the States (Who didn’t talk to us once) and a girl who was an Irish Citizen, but out in Dublin for work.
It’s 6am-most of you (in Chicago, at least) are still fast asleep, and I’ve already walked through security, picked up my standard cup of coffee, and have plopped myself in front of my gate, where I will sit for (at least) the next 3 hours.
Okay, not fun, but still exciting as heck!
It’s the morning of Day 1 (which will turn into Day 2 as I fly over the Atlantic later this evening) and the nerves are kicking in, but the adrenaline rush of setting out on a new frontier alone is what makes me the travel junkie I am.
Of course, I’ll be sitting tight for quite awhile. Since I am a standby passenger on 99.9% of flights I take, my days at the airport often are full of anxiety of getting to the gate on time, sitting as close to the ticket counter as possible, and hopng that maybe, just maybe, there’s enough vacant seats that I’ll be able to finally take a deep breath as I’m handed a boarding pass with an actual seat number on it.
Obviously, there are times when the deep breath is in frustration, because it’s the 3rd flight in a row to my destination I’m bumped off of, and I’ve already been at the airport for 9 hours (been there, done that!).
Of course, the benefits of having this status (Thanks mom!) are DEFINITELY more of a blessing than a curse.
For the (very) low price of $12, I fly virtually across the globe. My time is most definitely worth the money I save.
As I go along this trip, I will do my best to blog my days, but most likely I will be posting a lump of pictures and posts the day I come back.
I leave you now to go convert some cash into Euros!