By Lauren Dezenski, Staff Writer
Another weekend, another country visited. This weekend’s destination was Barcelona, where I’ve been hoping to travel since I started taking Spanish in seventh grade.
Armed with a laundry list of recommendations and fewer than 36 hours, my friend Rima and I set out on our glorious Ryanair flight to Barcelona. For the record (and to my dismay) no one clapped once we landed.
It’s important to know good places to visit when you’re going to a new city, but sometimes too many recommendations can cause problems. Maybe it’s just because we weren’t in Barcelona for very long (and some would argue not enough), but we had a huge list of places to visit but not enough time to see them.
It’s also worth mentioning that international travel is kind of a drag on three hours of sleep and a chesty cough (the pharmacist’s words, not mine).
Once we made it to the hostel and I used conversational Spanish for the first time in years, we did as the locals did: siesta-ed. Hard. For those unfamiliar, the Spanish basically take a break every afternoon to eat and nap and it’s called a siesta.
Post-siesta, we took the train towards Sagrada Familia and Park Güell. Both of these are pieces of architecture designed by Gaudi — his artwork is all over the city of Barcelona (which I learned in my Spanish class senior year of high school. At least I paid attention in class at some point in my life).
On the way to these landmarks, we decided to stop at this highly recommended paella place in a relatively quiet, residential neighborhood. It was a gorgeous walk, especially since there wasn’t a tour bus or fanny pack in sight, but it was out of the way of most everything we wanted to see. Plus, it turned out the restaurant didn’t start serving their paella until 8 p.m., so we detoured even further by getting tapas and sangria elsewhere.
Despite Barcelona’s size — its population is only 1.6M, the city’s got remarkably good infrastructure, including a transit system that puts the MBTA to shame. We used the train to get most everywhere in the city, though we did cab it back to the hostel after we didn’t leave our paella dinner until midnight.
We figured it would save us time to get ready to go out to Barcelona’s famed clubs (as every single person and their mother who has ever visited the city will tell you), but that wasn’t the case. We laid down for a siesta round two because everyone knows they don’t go out in Barcelona until 2 a.m… but then we forgot to wake up. We did actually wake up at 3:30 a.m. and realize what happened, but it was too late (so to speak).
This morning, we were determined to make up for lost time, going from Park Güell to Las Ramblas and La Boqueria, this food market that is my friend’s favorite place in the entire world (and she’s been a lot of places in this world, so I really trust her judgement).
We were absolutely GUTTED to realize that La Boqueria is CLOSED on Sundays. Strike two. We got over it as best we could with Kinder Bueno gelato and headed up the glorified ski lift to Montjuïc castle before popping down to the sea-side area called “Barceloneta.” A few pictures of the sunset later and back to London we went.
While I experienced so many other aspects of Barcelona and saw a city with much more depth and culture than I ever could have imagined, I can’t help but feel like something’s missing. But I guess that’s travel. You really have to take advantage of the time you have somewhere and carpe every diem, even if that means you’ll need a couple double espressos to do it.
By Lauren Dezenski, Staff Writer
If Webster was a college-aged COM major, he’d describe FOMO in the following ways:
By Lauren Dezenski, Staff Writer
Greetings from the Scottish countryside (or right outside of Edinburgh). The east coast of Great Britain? Who really knows? What I do know is that my friend Rima and I went to Edinburgh (pronounced “Edinboro,” fun fact) on a whim and it couldn’t have been a better decision.
That wasn’t always the case with this trip, though. We booked the train tickets just after midnight Thursday morning and managed to get them at a reasonable price for a trip beginning fewer than 72 hours later.
After booking the train tickets, we perused Hostelworld.com only to realize that there was nowhere in Edinburgh we could stay for less than £90 a night per person (ridiculous when you’re only staying one night, and that’s even before you convert the price over to US dollars).
I did some creative Google searching, ending up at some random site with an available room in a “guest house” for £30 a night. Finding it a better alternative than sleeping in the train station, we booked the room.
The next day, I was GChatting with a friend and told her about my latest accomplishment: booking this trip. When I got to the part about the train, she reminded me of her worst experience while abroad, which was the train ride back from Edinburgh.
Turns out she booked the exact same train tickets we did. The reason why the tickets were so cheap was that the train companies basically sell tickets that are valid for the entire day, making it a great way to travel flexibly, but also not technically guaranteeing seats on a certain train with tickets sold at our price point. Essentially, we had just purchased standing room-only tickets for a five-hour train ride (oh, did I forget to mention that part about how long the train ride is?).
I broke the news to Rima, who took it much better than I did. We resolved to try to fix it, and if not, make sure we were standing near a widow, because the ride up the coast was, by all accounts, supposed to be incredible. The next day I marched over to Kings Cross in search of a customer service kiosk for answers, which is hilarious because customer service in this country is basically non-existent.
We were up before the sun on Saturday morning, headed to Kings Cross with as much excitement as we could muster for a seatless train ride at 7 a.m. Picking up our tickets, I asked the kind man (using that term loosely, for the record) at the kiosk about the seat situation on the train, saying there was no mention of seats, or lack thereof, on the website — even the fine print in terms and conditions. He chuckled and replied, “You know, you can’t always trust what you read on the Internet.” And then pointed out a typo on the Transport for London website.
Knowing it was a battle we couldn’t win, we set out for the departure boards to wait for the train platform to appear. Once platform 7 flashed on the screen, we booked it through the station and onto the train, finding seats that weren’t reserved, therefore fair game for us as third class (or so it felt) passengers. We even got a table! Take that, condescending man at the kiosk.
After we found our seats, the rest of the trip went swimmingly. Way better than we could have imagined, to be honest. The guest house was basically a hotel-hostel hybrid with private rooms, shared bathrooms and no real concierge. Plus, it was a street over from Arthur’s Seat, a dormant volcano in the middle of Edinburgh and a stone’s throw from the city center.
We climbed Arthur’s Seat despite definitely not being in the correct attire, but the photos are absolutely worth it. We also got caught in a rain storm at the top — but that only added to the experience, in my opinion. Plus, I don’t think we got pneumonia, either, so take THAT Mother Nature. We spent the evening warming up at a cozy gastropub and ended up in bed by midnight. The next day, we started the day with a cheap and delicious Scottish breakfast, complete with black pudding (also known as blood sausage. Holla!) followed by a trip up to Edinburgh Castle and shopping on the Royal Mile. We bought enough tartan and cashmere to last the winter, not to mention the (probably) overpriced tin of Walkers shortbread cookies commemorating the birth of Prince George.
We capped the sightseeing with afternoon tea at the Missoni Hotel (who knew they had a hotel in Scotland of all places?) which was made even better by the attractive men in Missoni kilts working the valet. And to top it all off, we not only made the 5:30 train back to London. We got seats.
By Lauren Dezenski, Staff Writer
Is it bad that I want to preface every single blog post with the statement “I HAVE SURVIVED”? Like it’s a somewhat novel idea that I’ve made it yet another week in this strange little island country that has like…10 different names.
Okay that’s not true, it’s only four or so (The United Kingdom, England, Britain, Great Britain—see what I mean?).
Pro tip: British and English are two very different things. You can be British but not English (the Irish and Welsh, for example. This basically applies to countries that are members of Great Britain but separate from England itself). Isn’t learning fun?
Getting back on topic…noon on Tuesday will exactly mark the halfway point of my semester in London.
It’s been quite the ride thus far, as I’m sure you’ve read. But getting comfortable with your new surroundings takes way more time than any of your friends will ever let on (though I’ll be totally honest because sometimes I’m too blunt).
From what I’ve ascertained in conversations with other friends on the program, it’s hard not to walk off that plane at Heathrow with the expectation that this semester will change your life. But it’s not like taking the Tube is a religious experience that lets you feel close to God the moment you mind the gap and alight to Paddington.
The good stuff takes time and I think in a lot of cases, it’s not until it’s gone that you realize what you actually had.
What I’m trying to say is that I love London but I’m not “in-love“ with London. At least not yet. It’s still really scary trying to cross the street and I still second-guess which side of the sidewalk I should be walking on.
I’m self-conscious about my accent when ordering my skinny Americano from Pret. Sometimes that’s reason enough to just stay inside and binge on episodes of Bad Education on the BBC iPlayer (watch that show, it’s hilarious).
But there is hope. This week, I started my internship with a technology media company (the UK’s largest) called IDG UK. I’m by no means a tech nerd (though I can spit some mad game if you ask me about the latest Apple keynote) but like one of my professors told me, tech reporting is just like any other beat.
Thus far, it’s been awesome. Maybe it’s the workload or the diversity of things I get to do or the fact that I’m not taking classes and the office is in a cool part of town and has a ton of windows, but it’s been a great deal of fun.
I’ve even learned some new British slang, realized the value of Google when understanding British idioms and got to cover an event that brought me to the top of The Shard (the tallest building in Western Europe).
It’s also forced me to get out and see a new part of London, which is extremely refreshing. Don’t get me wrong, I love South Ken and the hordes of children in their school uniforms zipping past me on their scooters, but dodging their mothers’ Prada bags and fathers’ Maserati or Range Rover or Bugatti when I’m just trying to run off last night’s Burger King gets old and fast.
I’d much rather be run down by other young professionals just trying to get to that place off Oxford Street that only sells hot dogs and champagne.
I’ve always had better luck with the second halves of experiences. Chalk it up to growing pains, if you must. Getting adjusted to new things can be absolutely crappy, but let’s be real: once you get your sea legs, you learn just how awesome boating can be. Or in this case, living in London.
By Lauren Dezenski, Staff Writer
It seems only fair that I’m spending my last night of fall break holed up in a makeshift blanket-cocoon in my room with all the lights off, felled by a migraine. The last five days have been a total whirlwind (I hate that that’s such a cliché but it’s perfect way to put it) in what has become the total study abroad rite of passage: Fall break. Or spring break for those in the spring semester. Basically a chunk of time that you are given off so you can use it to do the most magical thing in Europe: travel. And travel we did.
First: Flying Ryanair to Budapest was largely uneventful—with one exception. Drinking a pint of cider over dinner before our flight certainly helped us get settled into our flight on the low-cost airline. Ryanair is infamous for selling seats at dirt-cheap prices and then charging you like crazy for things like multiple pieces of luggage or not being able to fit all of your belongings into the smallest suitcase known to man. But you do it because it’s all about the benjamins saved that are better used on boat tours or pub crawls. Duh. So the Ryanair flight to Budapest. Totally normal, run-of-the-mill. The plane descends, touches down and makes a successful landing. Suddenly the entire airplane erupts with applause. And then the first call bugle song that they play at the Kentucky Derby (you know the one) plays over the speakers and a recording comes on saying Ryainair has the most on-time flights in Europe. And then everyone claps again. I’m not sure if we clapped because the flight was cheap or that we all survived the cheapest flights of our lives. For all I know, we could have been clapping for the fact that we were simply not dead.
Once we landed, we navigated the bus/metro system from the airport to our hostel in the center of the city. The highlight of all of our hostel stays on this trip had to be the first man we met in our hostel in Budapest, Zoltan. My friend Tyler, who I traveled with, gave a really solid summary of our encounter with Zoltan (since it only really happened once) on his blog and it’s definitely worth a read.
But back to why fall break travel is a rite of passage. Unless you’re keen on staying in the UK, most students (at least that I know of on the BU abroad program) use this time to visit places they’ve never been before. More often than not, these places are in different countries. And chances are, there’s a language barrier.
Studying abroad in London offers the unique chance to experience a different culture without having to get over a serious language barrier. Unless, of course, you’re me. But we’ll get to that later. For Tyler and I, we knew we wanted to travel to Budapest and Stockholm, so we booked the flights and hostels and went on our merry way. Emerging from customs in a foreign country is such a weird experience. You shuffle off the plane, hand over your documents and then you’re just spit out into this new place. The country is your oyster. It’s exhilarating and a little terrifying, especially when you’re looking for signs with English because neither you nor your travel partner speak Hungarian or Swedish. But you figure it out. Because you have to. At no point can you just throw up your hands and say “I’m done with this country I’m outta here.” Well, you could, but logistically it’d be quite difficult. You learn to truly roll with the punches and the ultimate value in asking for help. Plus a new-found appreciation for the fact that so many people in Europe are fluent in English.
Funny story about speaking English…My only serious issues with language barriers actually came from trying (and completely failing) to understand English-speakers. The best example is from our first night in Stockholm, when Tyler and I were chatting with this Australian guy also staying in the hostel. He was telling us about he had been traveling around Europe for the last couple months and I asked about his favorite place to visit. He responded “Ireland” but with his accent, I heard “island.” So I tried to clarify: “What island?” to which he replied, “Ireland.” Tyler had to put me out of misery before I brought us further shame by not understanding our own language.
By Lauren Dezenski, Staff Writer
Is it possible to get whiplash from things in your life changing so quickly? As of last week, I finally felt like I had settled into a normal-ish routine of classwork, socializing and sight-seeing. Now, all that is changing once again as Monday marks the start of finals (already?) and fall break begins after finals wrap up on Tuesday.
I suppose the class trip to Brussels at the beginning of the week didn’t help my sense of adjustment—three days in the capital of Europe (I learned that there) were followed by the last two class days of the first half of the semester. Boston University splits up the abroad semester a bit strangely—the first five weeks of the semester are devoted to two classes, followed by a five-day break and eight weeks spent interning and taking one class. Then you spend a week and a half traveling and studying for your last finals and then it’s back to the U.S. with you.
The class trip to Brussels was an interesting experience in that I rarely had any idea where I was. Everything in the city is in two languages—Flemish and French, so looking at a map was extra complicated. Plus, I have absolutely no knowledge of the Flemish language and the only things I know how to say in French are “hello,” “goodbye,” and “my little hat.” That last one is guaranteed to make people laugh, but definitely will not help you when you’re trying to figure out how to get to Delirium Café. Don’t worry, I found it anyway.
Though my complications with the language barriers in Brussels will only get more hilarious—I say hilarious because I laugh when I’m uncomfortable—during fall break as my friend Tyler and I travel to Budapest and Stockholm. I doubt I could identify the Hungarian language if a Hungarian person was shouting in my face, but I think I’ll be okay in Stockholm because I’ve been to Ikea so many times.
Nevertheless, this constant adjustment and readjustment to my changing surroundings is good. What good is your comfort zone if you don’t know its limits? And who knows, maybe I’ll pick up Hungarian in a snap and actually have a sense of direction in one of these foreign cities. But in the meantime, I’m just glad my phone has an international data plan. Thank God for Google Maps.
By Lauren Dezenski, Staff Writer
I’m proud to say this is my second blog post filed while in transit. This time, I’m somewhere below the English Channel, en route to Brussels on a class trip for my political science class. I really wish the Chunnel (the Channel Tunnel) had little windows to see the water. It’s kinda eerie gliding through this tunnel knowing I’m under water but not really knowing much else.
Today also marks my fourth week since landing in London, though it feels like much, much longer. This week, I’ve had the chance to explore both my neighborhood and other parts off city (not to mention the foreign city I’m headed toward now).
I finally got to get my journalism on with Wednesday’s assignment to go to Canary Wharf, find and write a 1,000-word feature story. Canary Wharf is arguably London’s most transformed borough thanks to the jolt of capitalism administered by Margaret Thatcher back in the ’80s. The result: a gleaming, silver archipelago of power and wealth built on London’s formerly dilapidated docklands. Now, the former isle of dogs is inhabited by a major European financial center, chock full of successful-looking men and women in expensive suits. I felt like a pauper walking among the Credit Suisse and Barclays bigwigs, but you gotta fake it ’till you make it, right? One of my favorite sights was a sand sculpture of William, Kate, and the royal baby on the West India docks. It’s now a life goal of mine to be immortalized in a sand sculpture.
Back in South Ken, I found myself in Hyde Park nearly every day this week until I was felled by a nasty cough. It has been absolutely beautiful and rain-free in the capital for the last couple days and there really is no better way to enjoy the weather than with strolls around the Serpentine or jogs to the Marble Arch. See, Mom, I’m actually using my sneakers! Friday night, a couple friends and I packed a dinner and some ciders and picnicked on a hill next to Kensington Palace as the sun set. It certainly wasn’t as active as a run, but it was a heck of a lot more fun.
Since then, I’ve been nursing a persistent cough that the British hilariously call a “chesty cough.” Even getting sick here is a cultural experience. In the process of buying out the cold and cough sections of Boots in the hopes of feeling better before the trip to Brussels, I can’t help but feel a little proud I’m not feeling well. Clearly I’m doing something right, because you only get sick when you’re exposed to other people. It’s like my chesty cough is proof that I’ve been out and about, getting to know this city and its inhabitants. I could be totally insane trying to justify this, but you know there’s a grain of truth in what I’m saying.
Now, I’ve got an arsenal of cough medicine, lozenges and nasal spray to keep me powering through Brussels’ delicacies and sites. Here’s to hoping they do their job.
By Lauren Dezenski, Staff Writer
It has always taken me a little while to feel settled. It took a couple months for that to happen when I came out to Boston from my suburban Minnesota hometown. I still remember the moment too – it was the first time I went for a run on the Esplanade and caught a glimpse of the Charles and the Boston skyline.
This moment certainly didn’t happen during a run, though I did go for a guilt-induced jog through Hyde Park today. Chock it up to one too many nights ending at Burger King. Whoops. I even got lost on my run and ended up at the Speakers’ Corner, where people go to pontificate about their beliefs and ideas in the open air (thanks, Wikipedia). My favorite part of the entire ordeal is that tons of people come to listen and heckle the speakers. Being the digital creature I am, I recorded a Vine while at the corner and actually caught one of the hecklers calling a speaker a “crazy antichrist.” I laughed.
The epiphany actually happened on a relatively tame Friday night. After a day of sightseeing, high tea and Kate Middleton impressions (okay, so I may have made my friend take a ton of pictures of me walking out of the same door Kate did during the Royal Wedding…), my friend, her sister and I decided to explore the South Bank.
The South Bank is a neighborhood or borough directly across the river from Westminster. Coming from the Crofton in Kensington, the easiest way to get there is to get off the tube on what’s technically the north bank — though no one calls it that — and walk across one of the bridges to the other side. We opted to get off at the Embankment tube station instead of Westminster (we had seen enough of Big Ben for the day).
We exited the station at around 10 p.m., so obviously it was dark out and walked up the stairs to a pedestrian bridge flanking the London Bridge. The view from the bridge looking across the Thames toward the City of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral was breathtaking. Electricians have to be rich in this town because all the structures along the river were lit up with these incredible colored lights, with the blue-lit arches of our pedestrian bridge to the yellow lights from surrounding buildings and this incredible pink and purple structure that I think was an art museum, with everything glittering off the Thames’ low tide. The notorious London clouds even parted to reveal a full moon behind the entire spectacle.
I kept raising my camera to capture the view, but ultimately keeping it down as I stood and just tried to absorb the view. It’s one of those moments when you try as hard as you can to take mental snapshots. For me, a camera can’t duplicate that sense of warmth, happiness and even peace that washed over me as we made our way across the bridge, stopping every few feet to soak up the view a little more.
By Lauren Dezenski, Staff Writer
This past week was my first full week of classes (four days of four hours of classes, which for the record is more than I was doing back in Boston so that’s an adjustment in and of itself). After my four hours of morning classes on Monday, I decided to be a good student and head over to neighboring Imperial College for a study session. They also have a pub on campus so I figured I’d get a pint as I worked my way through my Government and Politics of the European Union textbook. Aren’t I such a good student?
The union pub thing (it’s still not really clear what the place is called) is basically a big room with a couple of tables, big windows and high ceilings that apparently gets pretty wild on Wednesdays when classes are in session. Oh, and of course, a bar that stretches the length of the room.
Walking into the union (we’ll call it that), there had to be no more than five people in the place (probably because it was 2 p.m.), including the one bartender woman that gave me a pretty glare-y once-over as I walked over to the bar. Actually, it felt like all five people in the establishment turned and stared as I walked into the place. Like they could smell it on me that I wasn’t from here (or even a real Imperial student). Finding a spot to sit felt like that scene in Mean Girls where Cady tries to navigate the lunchroom only I didn’t have a posse like Janice and that guy who’s too gay to function telling me where the awkward foreigners sit. Because that’s apparently now my clique du jour. At least no one growled at me.
But alas, faking it until I make it is among my primary skills so I plunked down in the corner of the union with my pint and textbook and did my best not to be distracted by the freakishly good music being played. Seriously, they played “Hey Ya,” “99 Problems” and “Milkshake.” I kept kind of laughing at the music because it was great (I was drinking a pint, after all), and the bartender and other patrons just kept looking over at me with these weird judge-y stares. In hindsight, this might be because I ordered a pint at 2 in the afternoon.
People trickled in and out of the union during my three hours of studying (that music was really distracting) and I couldn’t help but feel like I was just this weird magnet with my funky and arguably fresh American scent.
Once I finished my work, I resisted the urge to slam down my glass and yell “FOR AMERICA” or drop the mic or something (because that would be rude). I have no proof or real knowledge that anyone in the place actually even noticed I was there, but it was strange to feel like I was sticking out like a sore thumb.
One of my friends on the program is originally from England and has been acting as my cultural ambassador. I told her about my experience (“IT’S LIKE THEY COULD SMELL THAT I’M AN AMERICAN!!!”) and she said it’s probably true. She also said that no one really cares. If you’re from America, you look like an American and people can observe that the same way you know a German when you see one and that’s that. But really, no one cares.
I still haven’t decided whether or not I’ll be going back this week. If I do make it back, I’ll just have to resist the urge to sing the national anthem or start a “USA” chant.
By Lauren Dezenski, Staff Writer
Well, I’ve survived my first week abroad. It hasn’t been too painful. Aside from the constant ache in my feet from walking so far. Blame that on my refusal to wear sneakers while sightseeing. Gotta look posh, ya dig?
We didn’t have classes on Friday and since some of my friends had plans (side note: don’t worry guys, I actually did make friends), I decided to head out and do some solo sightseeing. Since it was a rainy day (and by rainy I mean transitioning from sun to rain in 20-minute intervals), I made up my mind to visit one of London’s museums. I’m not normally one to fly solo like that, but YOLO (You Only London Once), so why not?
I made my way to the London Transport Museum and the market and shopping area called Covent Garden, which apparently inspired Faneuil Hall and is much more posh than its Boston counterpart. After getting off the tube at Covent Garden, nearly being trampled by some German tourists and realizing my Google Maps app wasn’t working, I just wandering through the streets. It didn’t take long to find Covent Garden (hint: follow the crowds) and the museum itself, which featured the development on London’s mass transit systems from the days of the riverboats all the way to the future of the Underground.
I spent a good hour and a half going through the exhibits and the accompanying gift shop (and proceeded to spend more pounds than I’d like to admit on some souvenirs). Afterward, I took to the streets around the markets and just wandered around, stopping at Ladurée for a couple macarons and a little café for a sandwich to snack on as I explored.
I was surprised by how empowered I felt during my outing. I had honestly never done anything like that — sightseeing for me had always been a group endeavor complete with friends and family members to take my picture. But it felt really refreshing to set out on my own, armed with nothing but a camera and a not-so-functioning cell phone, and see where my feet took me.
I’m not sure how, but I ended up in Trafalgar Square, replete with people climbing all over the lions and a view of Big Ben and Parliament in the distance. I’m sure I had some goofy grin during that tube ride home, but I didn’t expect to feel so accomplished – even though I forgot to snap a selfie with one of the lions.