The Pearl of the Danube: Budapest!

After our crazy adventures in Dublin, my roommates and I knew that Budapest would have to be a more relaxed affair. After (finally) getting a great night of sleep, we headed out to experience Budapest’s famous thermal baths. We decided on the Széchenyi Bath, which is the largest medicinal bath in the city. Floating around in the hot water and soaking in some sun was just the afternoon I had in mind. Note: this experience made me miss the beach and the summer terribly.

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Perhaps the most interesting stop in Budapest was to The House of Terror, a museum dedicated to victims who were imprisoned, tortured, and killed in the building during the Fascist and Communist regimes. The experience was both educational and incredibly moving. Hungary has a brutal history, which is not often talked about in the U.S. in comparison to that of other countries. The tour of the prisons within the House of Terror was particularly disturbing. This museum is fascinating, but it deals with a heavy subject, and I would certainly not recommend it for young children.

As for other tourist attractions, we climbed to the top of St. Stephen’s Basilica late one afternoon to take some fabulous pictures of the city. The inside of the church is beautiful as well- what struck me the most was the sheer size. We walked by the Basilica a few different times, so I was able to get pictures by day and night!

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A walk along the Danube River to see the Parliament was also in order before dinner. The Parliament is a spectacular building, probably the most beautiful building I saw in Budapest. Unfortunately we were on the same side of the river as the Parliament, which isn’t the best place to be for photography purposes.

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A few more remarks on Budapest:

  1. The Ruinpubs are a must-see, the heart and soul of Budapest’s nightlife. These are bars located in abandoned buildings that have not been renovated. Rather, they are decorated with all sorts of old toys, electronics, and graffiti. The most popular one (and the only one I went to) is called Szimpla Kert. I can say that it was, hands down, the coolest bar I have ever been to. Also, super cheap drinks!
  2. I was very impressed with the food in Budapest. It is easy to eat ridiculously well for a cheap price. I had goulash at two different places, and both were very good. On both nights I ate out, the waiters were extremely kind and accommodating. Sadly, I was so excited about all the food that I failed to take even a single picture.
  3. This city is NOT expensive, especially having grown up in D.C. and currently living in Paris. Time and time again I was blown away by how little I was paying for high-class dining, the metro, drinks at bars, and pretty much anything else.

All in all, Budapest was a great stop. It isn’t one of those gorgeous cities where you wander around and all the streets look like they’re out of a fairytale, but there are some interesting attractions and plenty of stunning places to see within the city. It is definitely a place with a great deal of history and lots of character. Two days is a short time to see any city, so here’s hoping one day I’ll return to Budapest and experience even more of its charm!

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Three Days in Dublin

Mid-semester break is a glorious concept that I wish my home university would hop on board with. At the half-way point in the semester, when we’re all exhausted from boatloads of work and mid-term week, we are given a week off to relax and recharge. If you’re studying abroad, it’s a week to travel, have the time of your life, and return home ten times more tired than you were when the break started.

On the agenda for my Fall Break? Dublin, Budapest, and Prague. Budapest and Prague are two cities that I’ve wanted to explore for as long as I can remember, but Dublin was definitely a wildcard, thrown in there simply because my roommates and I managed to secure a flight for under 20 Euros. I was looking forward to visiting Dublin, of course, but I did not have the highest of expectations.

Turns out, my short stop in Ireland was an absolute blast. On our first day in Dublin, we took care of the classic tourist activities- a trip to Trinity College Library, and tours of both the Jameson Distillery and the Guinness Factory.

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But first we stopped for Irish breakfast, of course. I tried white and black pudding for the first time ever, and both were a lot tastier than I expected. The food was delicious, but I’m honestly not huge on salty breakfasts, and as far as salty breakfasts go, I’m more partial to the American option.

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Trinity College has a beautiful campus, and we took some time to admire the various buildings before making our way to the library. The Trinity College Library, which also happens to be the largest library in Ireland, is dimly lit and really makes you feel as though you are walking through history. Its main attraction is The Book of Kells, a Gospel Book believed to have been created around 800 A.D. I knew next to nothing about The Book of Kells, but learning about its past and seeing it in person was impressive nonetheless.

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The Jameson Distillery included an interesting tour, and I can now say I’m a certified expert in the different types of whiskey. The end of the tour included a glass of whiskey neat, which was a nice touch. It’s definitely not my drink- that was my first whiskey neat, and it’ll probably be my last for a while. 😉

The Guinness Factory was far less interesting; it was more of a museum than anything. However, the gravity bar at the very top of the factory included a pint of Guinness with an amazing view of the city, which I very much enjoyed.

View from the Gravity Bar
View from the Gravity Bar

St. Patrick’s Cathedral- the briefest stop of them all. We didn’t have the time to go in, but it looks great from the outside!

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Dublin can pretty much be seen in a day, but Ireland’s beauty is infinite. The next day, I took a bus to see Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, and more of the Irish countryside. Galway is the cutest little town, very quaint and colorful with a great view of the sea. Unfortunately, I did not explore as much as I would have liked seeing as we were only there for a couple of hours.

Galway
Galway

My trip included a personal tour of a family-owned farm in Ireland. This was a highlight- not only did I get a great glimpse of the Irish countryside, but the farmer who gave the tour was extremely friendly and a pleasure to talk to.

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The Cliffs of Moher were spectacular, simply breathtaking. The hike along the edge took just over an hour, and I had the opportunity to take plenty of photos along the way. The contrasting views from each end of the cliffs were great- bright and sunny on one side, eerie and shadowy on the other. What shocked me most is that you can walk right up to the edge of the cliffs; there are no barriers, fences, or anything. This is also a popular spot to film famous movies, including The Princess Bride and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. As far as natural beauty, this is one of the most gorgeous attractions I’ve ever seen.

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After the cliffs, we made a few more stops. Among other things, we saw Dunguaire Castle and some coastal spots…

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Last, but not least: Dublin has a phenomenal nightlife that I more than welcomed after spending the last two months in Paris. No clubs with sky-high heels and designer clothing, no outrageous cover prices or rude bouncers, and no house music. Dublin is much simpler than all that. The Temple Bar area has tons of great Irish pubs with spectacular atmospheres. Everyone is extremely friendly and there is great live music on every night of the week. People are drinking, dancing, singing, and having the time of their lives.

Live music at Temple Bar!
Live music at Temple Bar!

Needless to say, Dublin (and Ireland, more generally) thoroughly impressed me. The people are very warm and friendly, the city is vibrant and alive, and the rest of the country is unconventionally beautiful.

Thanks for reading! More posts to come (Budapest and Prague) in the next few days!

 

Versailles

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting Versailles. Bright and early (well, 10 am) on Saturday morning, my roommates and I hopped on the RER for a day of walking around and exploring the immense grounds of Versailles.

We started off in the gardens. A tip for anyone who plans on visiting Versailles: the palace is super packed until 3 pm, after which the gardens usually become very crowded. So do the opposite, and visit the gardens in the morning, and the palace anytime after 3 pm, as it will make for a much more pleasant and less chaotic tour.

What stunned me the most about the gardens wasn’t how glamorous or decorative they were, but simply the sheer size of them. We walked for a good mile before reaching Marie Antoinette’s Estate. Most people have never even visited this part of the Versailles Gardens, and it is highly underrated. Marie Antoinette’s Estate is the picture of tranquility and serenity, and our picnic (baguettes and cheese, of course) in that area was definitely one of the day’s highlights. And to top it all off, the weather could not have been more perfect- clear skies, sunny and 75!

The first view of the gardens.
The first view of the gardens.

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What a lovely place for a picnic! (Marie Antoinette's Estate)
What a lovely place for a picnic! (Marie Antoinette’s Estate)
Marie Antoinette's Estate
Marie Antoinette’s Estate

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And of course, the most famous garden of them all- The Orangerie!

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After a lovely picnic, we headed away from Marie Antoinette’s Estate, and away from the gardens altogether to finally see the Palace of Versailles. There are no words to describe how magnificent it was, it is something you must simply see for yourself. The amount of gold in the palace’s interior is indescribable, and the incredible collection of artwork and artifacts is equally impressive. Not surprisingly, it was quite similar to Peterhoff, which is right outside of St. Petersburg and based entirely on Versailles.

The Hall of Mirrors (and the many people in there).
The Hall of Mirrors (and the many people in there).
Gold on gold on gold.
Gold on gold on gold.
The palace has a number of enormous halls...
The palace has a number of enormous halls…
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And ceilings with spectacular artwork.

Although we were at Versailles for the better part of seven hours, and we walked close to 8 miles, another trip is definitely in order to further explore the palace and the gardens!

**My apologies for slacking so much on the blog posts lately- I’ll be sure to have more up in October as I travel to Dublin, Budapest, and Prague for Fall Break!

 

Day by Day in Paris

Having seen a lot (but certainly not all) of the famous Parisian landmarks, I’ve decided to dedicate this post to something much simpler and less glamorous- my day-to-day life. From my days in class to my nights out on the town, Paris has most definitely treated me well so far.

Sciences Po

While my orientation week was slightly overwhelming, class at Sciences Po has been pretty great. I’m taking six different classes: International Trade and Organizations, International Public Law, European Economic Law, Histoire des Relations Internationales (History of International Relations, which I’m taking in French), Redistribution and Social Welfare, and a French language class. All of them are incredibly engaging and very different from the classes I’m used to taking at home, which have been much more math-based. My professors are extremely knowledgeable, and having so many students from different countries in each of my classes just makes the whole learning experience more interesting.

As far as Sciences Po itself, the school is located in the sixth arrondissement, which is very chic and upscale. Like most city schools, there is no campus, but rather a series of different buildings within a few blocks of each other. My classrooms are delightful, as most of them are decorated with mirrors and have the feel of an antique room in a big palace rather than that of a college classroom. To clarify what I meant when I said the area is quite trendy, my classes on Monday and Wednesday are across the street from Prada and next to Salvatore Ferragamo. There’s no shortage of designer shops here, so I do love to window-shop between classes!

And when I don’t shop between classes, I enjoy exploring the city. There’s no better place to walk around than Paris, and Sciences Po’s central location makes it way too easy (I remember the days when I planned on studying between classes…). Here are some photos from an afternoon walk last week.

Jardin des Tuileries, right by the Louvre.
Jardin des Tuileries, right by the Louvre.
Place de la Concorde
Place de la Concorde
A beautiful fountain (Place de la Concorde)
A beautiful fountain (Place de la Concorde)
Strolling over the Seine.
Strolling over the Seine.

Restaurants & Nightlife

Some quick thoughts on my favorite restaurants and clubs so far.

Wanderlust: This outdoor club on the Seine is a hot spot on many days of the week. I came here with a friend on a Saturday and enjoyed the laid back atmosphere and the enormous terrace- there is no shortage of space here. The bouncers can be nasty; the trick to getting in is staying in very small groups. Drinks are pricey, but spending a night at a club on the Seine is a pretty sick experience.

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Le Petit Marché: Located in the Marais, some friends and I decided to check out this restaurant on a Friday night. The wait was quite long, but we enjoyed drinks in a trendy lounge downstairs before finally being seated outside. I tried duck for the first time and it was absolutely exquisite. This restaurant boasts delicious French food with a Japanese twist, and I highly recommend it if you are in the area.

The drinks lounge.
The drinks lounge.

Eggs&Co: My roommates and I came here for brunch on a lazy Saturday morning (by morning I mean 2pm). The wait was long, but the place (6th arrondissement) was great. It was a quaint little restaurant with a narrow spiral staircase leading to two small rooms with a rather low ceiling. Not only did the restaurant have a lot of character, but the food was flawless. Many different varieties of eggs cooked to absolute perfection! If you don’t mind the wait and love eggs (or brunch), check this place out!

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“A walk around Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.”

Champs-Élysées

Classes kicked off this week, which left me with significantly less time for tourism. On Thursday however, taking advantage of the fact that my first and only class is at 5 pm, I hopped on the metro and arrived at Champs-Élysées to take a stroll on the famous avenue and explore the surrounding area.

Up to this point, Champs-Élysées is easily my favorite place in Paris. The city of Paris has no shortage of beauty- every corner you turn, you are guaranteed to run into a famous palace, store, or monument. But so far, I have yet to find a place as vibrant as Champs-Élysées. For many, the atmosphere on this avenue is not a selling point; in fact I am quite sure that very few people would claim it is their favorite place in the city. It is crammed, noisy, and at times can be packed with tourists. Personally, I flock to anywhere with many people, so this enormous and crowded street was a nice break from your typical quiet and smaller Parisian street. As anywhere else in Paris, the buildings that make up this street are gorgeous, intricately designed, cream-colored low-rises with incredible attention to detail. From upscale designer stores to famous middle-of-the-road brands, to smaller boutiques, you can find every type of shopping on the avenue, not to mention a variety of restaurants and high-end pastry shops. [Note: I spent at least twenty minutes in the largest Sephora I have ever seen…it was incredible]. It’s a phenomenal place for people watching and window-shopping alike. As I mentioned above, you’re always sure to run into a famous historical sight when you are strolling around Paris, and when you reach the end of the Champs-Élysées you are greeted by l’Arc de Triomphe. I snapped a few quick photos, but before I leave Paris I will definitely be back to climb to the top for what I’ve heard is a spectacular view of the city.

Avenue des Champs-Élysées
Avenue des Champs-Élysées
Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe

A short walk from the Champs-Elysees lies Pont Alexandre III, one of the most beautiful bridges in Paris that spans across the Seine. It offers yet another incredible view of the Eiffel Tower, and the decorations on the bridge are breathtaking. The statues and monuments are adorned in gold, which makes walking along the bridge a unique experience. I walked back and forth on it a few times just to admire the beautiful sculptures and magnificent view. In between the Champs-Elysees Avenue and the bridge, you can find both the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais, two architecturally brilliant buildings that function as museums. I will be back to actually visit the museums, but on this day I simply enjoyed the visually stunning exteriors.

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A statue on Pont Alexandre III
A statue on Pont Alexandre III
The view from the bridge.
The view from the bridge.
Grand Palais
Grand Palais
Petit Palais
Petit Palais

If you are ever in Paris, be sure to check out the area of Champs-Élysées, it is SO worth it!

Bienvenue à Paris!

My first week in Paris has been jam-packed with many different experiences. From getting to know the city and exploring the different neighborhoods, to meeting new people from all over the world and making new friends, the past few days have been somewhat hectic.

My apartment is quite lovely and in the perfect little area. It’s situated in the 15th arrondissement, just a five-minute walk from the nearest metro station and a 25-minute walk to the Eiffel Tower. It’s in a slightly more residential area (while still being very central), meaning it’s never crazy busy or loud, but everything you need is still right here (and for me, everything I need means dozens and dozens of pastry shops). I’m living with three other girls, and so far it’s working out great! We have a spacious living room, perfect for entertaining, and we successfully threw an awesome housewarming party a few days ago to meet some of our fellow classmates at Sciences Po.

The living room.
The living room.
Wine and cheese for the housewarming, of course.
Wine and cheese for the housewarming, of course.

The great thing about living in a big city as opposed to visiting as a tourist is that you’re in no rush to see all of the tourist attractions. Having arrived in Paris in the month of August, I’ve decided to save many of the big sights for the month of September when tourist season winds down a little. Of course, Paris has so much to offer that I’ve still been sightseeing quite a bit.

I haven't climbed up yet, but I did have a wonderful picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower.
I haven’t climbed up yet, but I did have a wonderful picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Pont des Arts (the love-lock bridge)
Pont des Arts (the love-lock bridge)
A view from a bridge on the Seine.
A view from a bridge on the Seine.
One of the best parts of Paris is stumbling into random beautiful buildings- this one is right here in my neighborhood!
One of the best parts of Paris is stumbling into random beautiful buildings- this one is right here in my neighborhood!

One of my favorite places I’ve seen so far has to be the Luxembourg Garden (Jardin du Luxembourg). Situated in the 6th arrondissement, I came here alone one morning to enjoy a few hours of fresh air and open space. The garden is splendid and maintained to absolute perfection. There were so many beautiful little statues and monuments that perfectly complemented the large palace and all of the flower-filled lawns. My favorite place in the garden was The Medici Fountain- the photograph doesn’t do it justice, but the reflection of the trees and the statue in the pool of the fountain was one of the most perfect reflections I’ve ever seen.

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The Medici Fountain.
The Medici Fountain.

Finally, here are some random observations after my first week here.

  1. The coolest aspect of my experience abroad so far has been meeting so many people from different countries. Since I’m doing and exchange, meaning I’m not in a structured program, but rather just enrolled in a university, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting not only Americans, but people from everywhere in the world, which has been amazing.
  2. I had heard so many stories prior to coming here about how mean the French are, particularly the Parisians. So far, I haven’t experienced that at all. Not that they go out of their way to be nice or friendly, but being from Washington D.C., the Parisians seem completely normal and certainly not mean or rude.
  3. True stereotypes: No one here wears any colors (blacks, browns, grays, navy, and beige are your options), and I think I have seen one overweight person the entire time I’ve been here.
  4. French food is everything it’s made out to be, and more. SO delicious.

As always, thanks for reading. 🙂

Croatia Episode III: Brac and Plitvice Lakes

Since I’m falling a little behind (thanks for nothing WiFi), and since I’ll be leaving for Paris in just two days, I’ve decided to combine my last two stops in Croatia.

Brac

After the two days in Split, we visited Postira, a small beach town on the island of Brac. The first day began with an enormous scare, as we realized when we arrived at the apartment we had booked that, well, it did not exist. No worries though, because after speaking with the agency, we landed a gorgeous house that was less than 100 meters from a peaceful and relaxing beach. The beaches in Postira are to die for. I use the word beach in a very loose sense, because the beaches there are not what come to mind immediately when you think of a beach. Rather, they are very small stretches of rocky terrain right on the edge of the cleanest and clearest water I have ever seen. I enjoyed snorkeling on a daily basis, as there were so many different fish to see, and even after I had been there for five days, I was in awe at how a body of water so big could remain so clear. Postira is a very small town, but it does boast a nice stretch of restaurants in the harbor. Nothing overly special, but this town is worth visiting simply for the beauty of the water.

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 While visiting the island of Brac, my family and I took a day trip to Bol, a slightly bigger city, to see one of the most famous beaches in Croatia- Zlatni Rat. The design of the beach is absolutely awesome. It sits on a point with pebbles and water on both sides, but in between there is a lush pine grove with a few bars and restaurants where you can escape the heat in the hotter hours of the day. As in Postira, the water was stunning. I had seen many aerial photos of this beach, and you can really see the color of the water change from green to blue. Shockingly, this change is just as evident when you are swimming in the water. Zlatni Rat is a huge tourist attraction, so while I’m glad we did not stay in Bol and come here every day, it truly is a remarkable spot.

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Plitvice Lakes National Park

Our last stop in Croatia was a visit to one of its most famous national parks, Plitvice Lakes. As soon as I stepped out of the car upon arriving there, I welcomed the cooler breeze and cloudier weather. The hike in the national park was easily the most amazing one I’ve ever been on. It looked like a scene out of a fairy tale. The park is layered, with over ten different lakes separated by breathtaking waterfalls. Our hike took around four hours and included a relaxing boat ride over a dark blue lake and many, many pictures of gorgeous cascades. As our hike progressed, the lakes changed in color from bright green to gray, and the waterfalls changed in size, making the entire experience even more interesting. It is difficult to put into words the beauty of this historic site, but this unique national park truly reinforces how much natural beauty we are graced with on our planet.

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We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm, and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open. (Jawaharial Nehru)