Friday, July 21, 2017

Study Abroad Survival Guide: The Logistics

Hi everyone! As the departure date for fall study abroad programs gets closer, I’ve been seeing a lot of questions in my program’s Facebook group, as well as getting a lot of questions from my friends, about the logistical side of a semester abroad. Now that everyone has been accepted to their schools overseas, registered for classes, and bought their plane tickets, a little bit of reality has begun to sink in. People are thinking about how they will get settled in a new country - one that doesn’t operate on US Dollars, AT&T, and maybe even the English language. So I decided to start this Study Abroad Survival Guide series to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about a semester abroad. If you're already an experienced international traveler, then a lot of this is going to be old news. But for those of you who have never been out of the country before, or haven’t spent an extended period of time abroad, this Survival Guide series is for you.

Disclaimer: There are LOTS of ways to go about planning the logistical side of a semester abroad. The following tips are what I personally used, prefer, and would recommend to my friends getting ready to go abroad.

When I studied abroad in London, I arrived into the UK with about 50 British Pounds and 100 Euros that my dad had leftover from previous travel. I did not exchange US dollars for foreign currency before I left and I did not bring any US dollars to exchange for local currency once I got there.

Bringing a ton of US dollars with you abroad is not the best idea for several reasons. Most currency exchange points overseas, especially ones in airports and around major tourist locations, charge higher exchange rates so they can make a higher commission off of your transfer. Also, you run the risk of losing all of your money if your purse/wallet/luggage gets lost or stolen.

Withdrawing foreign currency directly from an ATM abroad will get you the best exchange rate. Because of this, my parents got me a Travelex Cash Passport, basically a debit card that you load with US dollars online which get automatically converted to the currency of your choice. I used this card to withdraw cash from ATMs, or to pay for smaller transactions like snacks and drinks. The thing I liked best about the card was that it had no transaction fees at the ATM, unlike my US debit card. Travelex no longer sells this exact card, but they do offer something similar called the Travelex Money Card.

As for larger purchases, like plane tickets and groceries, I opened a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card under my parents account. This was the easiest way for me to get a credit card without having any credit history of my own. Every month my dad would send me an email with the balance I had accrued over the period (my favorite email to receive!) before taking the amount out of my bank account. I would highly recommend this card for its 24/7 live customer service line (you get connected to real people right away) and zero foreign transaction fees, two criteria you should look for when applying for a credit card to use while you’re abroad.

Last but not least, don't forget to call your bank and credit card company before you go to let them know when and where you will be travelling so they don't freeze your accounts! 

My parents will tell you that ‘Julia’ and ‘budget’ don’t belong in the same sentence, and they might be a little bit right about that. BUT if you want to achieve all of your study abroad bucket list items, making (and sticking to) a budget for the semester is really important. 

Before I left for London my dad and I sat down and created a budget in Excel. The sheet was broken down into categories like ‘Snacks’, ‘Groceries’, ‘Travel’, and ‘Entertainment’ and I made an estimate for how much I thought I would spend on each category for the whole semester. For example, I estimated that I would spend $60-70 on groceries each week for 16 weeks, totaling in a grocery budget of about $1000 for the semester. We made it so that I could input my actual expenses each week and the total estimated amount for the semester would decrease accordingly. This allowed me to keep track of how much I was spending and how much I theoretically had left to spend as the semester went on. Using my banking app, I was able to cross-check my budget with my bank account to see if I should adjust my spending habits at all. 

Full disclosure, I kind of got a little bit lazy with the whole budget idea as the weeks went by which led to me spending more money at the end of the semester than I did at the beginning. This time around, my goal is to be smarter with my spending so I don't run into the same problem again. I think it’s important to give yourself a little leeway for unexpected expenses, but it’s also important to set a realistic guideline for what you can spend while you’re abroad. With a little planning ahead of time you’ll be able to have an amazing semester without coming home to $0 in your bank account.

There are so many conflicting opinions when it comes to the best way to get cell service abroad. Some people get a prepaid ‘burner’ phone, some like International data plan add-ons, and others prefer buying a SIM card to use with an unlocked device. This was probably the topic that stressed me out the most before I left and during the first few days after arriving in the UK. Ultimately, I decided to get the international monthly add-on for my regular AT&T plan, and purchased a (very) basic phone and a monthly cell phone plan once I got to London that I intended to renew at the end of each month. This lasted less than a month. I made it through the semester without any major issues, but in hindsight would not do it this way again. 

CONS: The little brick phone I bought lasted for about 3 days before I gave up on it and was a total waste of money. Also, the AT&T international plan is pretty expensive and you don’t get a lot of data - I don’t think many international phone plan add-ons are meant for long term use. 

PROS: I got to keep my US phone number. 

This time around, I am enrolling in a foreign phone plan for the semester. My program provider partners with a Danish cell service provider called TDC, who will give me a new SIM card to put in my phone. This will give me access to their network while I’m in Denmark and traveling throughout Europe. To do this, I will need to ‘unlock’ my current device so I will be able to use a different service provider. This article explains the steps of how to unlock your device really well!  

CONS: I will lose my US phone number for the time I’m abroad, because it will be replaced with a Danish phone number. 

PROS: Less expensive than getting an add-on to my existing plan or purchasing a burner phone and separate phone plan. I'll also get more data than I would with the AT&T plan and it will be easier to communicate with others who have Danish or European phone numbers. 

I hope this helped to answer some questions about planning for a semester abroad! There are a lot more topics I want to cover so keep an eye out for more posts like these coming soon. If you have any questions from this post or you have a topic you want me to cover next, be sure to leave a comment below!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Summer Reading List

With the school year quickly coming to a close, I find myself anticipating the days when I will actually have free time to read for fun. If you know me well, you know that in the summertime I often have a book close at hand. I've always loved bringing a new book to the beach or on a long road trip, and I'm feeling especially excited to swap out my trusty Intro to Finance textbook for some lighter reads. Over the past few weeks, I've been compiling recommendations from friends, teachers, mentors, and my own research so I can prepare my Amazon order for when I come home. I know I'm a little late on the bandwagon for quite a few of these but better late than never right?? Without further ado, here are the top 12 books I hope to read this summer:

In the spirit of my upcoming semester abroad, I've been looking into books about global travel and culture. This top pick by a longtime NPR foreign correspondent explores what makes certain places happier than others and how our environments shape us to be the way we are. It's part travel memoir and part self-help book but seems like an all-around great read for anyone interested in travel and psychology.

My roommate is obsessed with this movie and had been hounding me for the past year to watch it. I finally did over Spring Break and I have to admit it was pretty good. However, I am a strong supporter of the "Books are Always Better than Movies" idea and want to put this one to the test - plus it fits in perfectly with my travel theme.

I was supposed to read this book earlier this year as a part of a club I joined but never actually got around to ordering it (oops). In light of Malala's recent honor from the UN, I think it's about time I learn more about her incredible story.

This book came as a recommendation from a Google employee when I visited their New York HQ earlier this semester. It's written by a top exec in the company and discusses how to create and maintain happiness throughout your life. I'm thinking it might be a little over my head seeing as I'm not really one for excessive formulas and math references (ha) but I think I need to give it a try.

Another recommendation from my roommate (shoutout to you Nico!) who got this book from her dad earlier this year. Another self-help and happiness book that is supposedly life-changing. Guess I'll be the judge of that!

A few of my friends have recommended this book to me over the years and it's another one that always seems to be on my "to-read" list. A collection of essays and stories written by a Yale student who died a few days after she graduated, this book focuses on self-discovery and how we can make a change in the world.

This book gained popularity over the past year or two and is, again, one that I've been meaning to read for a while. It's a collection of poems about heartbreak, healing, and hope that has impacted millions around the world.

This book was recently made into a movie starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. Set in the future, it ponders how technology, social media, and innovation could potentially threaten our privacy and society at large. I've always liked utopian and futuristic type books and this definitely seems like it would be an interesting read.

A top pick for those in the business world, this book discusses how trends and social behaviors take off and spread throughout the world. As a marketing student, I think this would be a particularly interesting way to learn about buyer behavior and selling.

My dad recommended this book to me last summer and I think I started but never actually finished it. It's a true story written by the former editor-in-chief of French Elle who experienced a stroke and, as a result, suffered from locked-in syndrome. He wrote the entire book by blinking his left eyelid to choose the next letter of each word.

11 // Lean In

This was recommended to me by one of my dad's colleagues in London last year. I bought it, started it, and it's been sitting unfinished on my nightstand at home for the past year (are we sensing a theme here?). Written by the COO of Facebook, this book reflects on women's empowerment and leadership roles in the workplace. Basically she was a #girlboss before it was cool.

12 // Work Rules

Another recommendation from the panel at Google. Written by the company's former Senior VP of People Operations, this book gives tips on how to be a more creative and innovative leader. It's always interesting to learn more about how one of the most prominent companies in the world works.

If you have a book you think I'd like feel, free to send me a message or leave a comment below - happy reading!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Ultimate London Travel Guide

Hi everyone! So as you probably know, I studied and interned abroad in London for the spring semester of my freshman year. It was an amazing four month long adventure that ignited my love for travel (the travel bug is real people!) and placed London at the top of my list of favorite places in the world. Since many of my friends are going to be abroad in London in the fall, and I've gotten a few requests for recommendations in the past, I decided to put down all of my favorite places to go/see/eat etc. all in one place! If you find yourself hopping across the pond anytime soon, I hope this list will make your trip planning a little easier.

When you are planning a trip to London, there are definitely a few must-see locations to check off your bucket list. Here are my top favorites:
  • Big Ben - There's nothing quite like stepping out of Westminster Station to see this iconic British landmark. Head to the corner of Parliament Street and Great George Street for the perfect tourist picture - stand in a red photo booth with Big Ben in the background!
  • Westminster Abbey - Often frequented by the royal family and also the site of Will and Kate's wedding! Sit in the choir stalls during a Sunday service or take a tour of this breathtaking church during visiting hours. 
  • Buckingham Palace - The administrative HQ of the monarchy (essentially the Brits' version of the White house). Be sure to pay a visit during the changing of the guards!
  • Tower Bridge - Most known in recent events as the location where the Olympic rings were hung when London hosted in 2012. Take the elevator up, walk across traffic, and see boats passing through from the glass floor above.  
  • Hyde Park - One of the largest of London's Royal Parks and home to several famous landmarks. Check out Speaker's Corner to watch (or participate in!) a lively public debate, or take a leisurely stroll around the Princess Diana Memorial. Bikes and paddle-boats are also available for rental.
  • Harrod's - Huge luxury department store selling everything from Legos to designer ball gowns. The food hall is absolutely amazing (try the cronuts!) and the toy department is a must-see. 
  • Piccadilly/Oxford Circus - Essentially the equivalent of Times Square in the UK. Giant light-up billboards, street performers, shopping, and more. 

One of my favorite parts about London is that most of the museums are free! So basically it doesn't make you feel as bad if you leave after 30 minutes :) Whether you are an art aficionado or a history buff I can guarantee that you'll be able to find a museum that's perfect for you. But if museums aren't your cup of tea there are plenty of cool activities and attractions throughout the city to explore. 
  • Victoria & Albert Museum - One of the largest museums in London with over 4.5 million objects in its collection. You will see everything from ceramics, furniture, fashion, photography, and sculpture and will most likely get lost in the process!
  • National Portrait Gallery - The first portrait gallery in the world, home to an extensive collection of portraits of notable British people, both old and new. When I was there, they were hosting the Vogue 100 Years exhibit, which is still one of my favorite museum exhibits to date. 
  • Churchill War Rooms - Visit the secret underground bunker used by Winston Churchill during World War II. Learn about Churchill's life and legacy as well as the stories of the staff who spent thousands of hours working here. 
  • Imperial War Museum - Explore interactive exhibitions on wars of the past and present. I found it especially interesting to learn about the World Wars from a British perspective. 
  • Tower of London - Built almost 1,000 years ago and chock full of history - its the site of Anne Boleyn's beheading and home to the Crown Jewels. Be sure to take a tour with one of the Yeoman Warder's - they're actual tower guards who live on the property today!
  • Houses of Parliament - My top favorite guided tour I took while I was in London! Learn about the British political process and see the House of Lords, House of Commons, The Queen's Robing Room, throne, and more. Plus, if you want to see it in action, most parliamentary debates are open to the public on weekdays.
  • London Eye - Giant ferris wheel on the bank of the River Thames. Get amazing views of the city - especially if you go around sunset when everything is starting to light up. 

I'm admittedly not the best person to ask for recommendations on where to get food in London seeing as I tried to cook for myself as much as possible while I was there - #BrokeStudentProbs. However, here are a few places I loved if you want to give them a try! 

For a Quick Bite (mostly chain restaurants, but good for busy days of sightseeing):
  • Pizza Express - Italian restaurant serving pizza, pasta, salads, etc. - try the Fiorentina pizza!
  • Pret-A-Manger - I shed a tear any time I see one of these here in the U.S. because this is where I went to lunch basically every day during my internship. Panera-esque fresh, ready-made soups, sandwiches, salads, pastries, etc. Seriously SO good. 
  • Nando's - An trademark British fast-casual establishment known for their Peri-Peri chicken.
  • Hummingbird Bakery - Adorable bakery with delicious homemade cakes and cupcakes - try the rainbow cake!
  • Ben's Cookies - Fresh, gooey cookies made with chocolate chunks - not chips (yes, this makes a huge difference). Yummy, cheap, and perfect for a mid-day pick me up. 
For Breakfast:
  • Cereal Killer Cafe - Quirky and nostalgic cafe serving custom mixes of modern and old school cereals from around the world (called "cereal cocktails") as well as over-the-top hot chocolates and other breakfast treats. Reminisce on your childhood while eating lucky charms and watching classic Saturday morning cartoons. 
  • The Breakfast Club - Perfect brunch spot serving up the classics - from pancakes and eggs to a full English. Be sure to make a reservation or arrive early as the line is usually out the door on weekends. 
For Afternoon Tea
  • Kensington Palace - Kind of touristy but who could pass up the opportunity for tea on the grounds of Will and Kate's home?!
  • Sketch - Infamous pink tea room that turns into a cocktail lounge by night. The perfect mix of sophisticated and insta-worthy fun. 
  • Goring Hotel - If you're feeling especially posh, pay a visit to where the royals have often gone for tea. The Goring has been serving up the quintessential tea experience for over 100 years, so you know it's got to be good. 
For Lunch and Dinner
  • Bluebird Chelsea - Cute, modern, European restaurant with a market, casual café for brunch and lunch, and an outdoor terrace. Great ambiance and has lots of vegan and vegetarian options alongside other yummy fares!
  • Byron - Casual restaurant that puts a British spin on the American hamburger joint - only classier. Get a delicious burger and shake to fend off homesickness while abroad. 
  • My Old Dutch - Another place I frequented while I lived in London. MOD serves sweet and savory crepes and on Monday nights they're only £5! The nutella crepe with ice cream is my personal fave.
  • Café in the Crypt - Head underground (below St. Martin in the Fields Church) to this affordable café that serves fresh food and is located right in the heart of the city. 
  • The Natural Kitchen - Another place I frequented for lunch during my internship. This restaurant serves different, healthy foods each day. They usually have a few different types of meats or fish and a huge selection of pasta, sides, salads, and more, plus fresh-squeezed juices and baked goods.

If you really want to get a feel for London's culture, say goodbye to Big Ben and head somewhere slightly less touristy for the day. These aren't necessarily hidden or unknown, just a little more unique. 
  • Shoreditch - Eclectic, artsy, urban and my favorite place to spend a Saturday afternoon. Check out Spitalfields Market or Brick Lane Market for delicious food from around the world as well as unique homemade clothes, jewelry, gifts and more. There are tons of vintage clothing markets (with a surprising amount of American college gear) and lots of cool hipstery coffee shops and independent restaurants. 
  • Camden - Similar to Shoreditch, Camden has a more urban, authentic city vibe and is definitely the place to be on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Head to Camden Lock Market and wander through the hundreds of stalls selling food, clothes, souveneirs, and more. The hot chocolate at Chin Chin is to die for!
  • One New Change - For beautiful views of St. Paul's Cathedral and the London skyline head up to this free rooftop terrace.
  • Notting Hill - The place to go if you want to see the colorful, charming row homes London is famous for. There's also lots of cute shops and restaurants as well as a street market on weekends. 
  • Liberty London - Gorgeous, upscale department store in a sprawling, but homey building on Regent Street. Fun for an afternoon of window shopping. 
  • Fortnum and Mason - Luxury grocery store with delicious food and cute gifts. Their picnic baskets are #goals. 
  • Daunt Books - Quaint bookstore with original oak bookshelves, sunny skylights, and cozy armchairs. They specialize in travel books but have regular bookstore sections as well.  

From pubs to bars to clubs, London has plenty to offer once the sun goes down. And now with the Night Tube running 24-hours on Friday and Saturday you can stay out until the sun comes up again ;)  Here are a few of my favorite places to spend a night out with friends. 
  • Koko - Eclectic multi-level club and music venue housed in an old theater. Plays a mix of  live music from up-and-coming indie bands to top 40s hits. If you get the chance, be sure to check out their Guilty Pleasures night (it only happens a few times a year!).
  • Queen of Hoxton - Mix of a bar and club with multiple levels that play different types of music (live and DJs). Has a rooftop terrace and a photo booth. 
  • Piccadilly Institute - Classic tourist club in the center of Piccadilly Circus. Six-levels with different themes and mostly top 40s music. Discounts on Thursday nights if you bring your student ID. 
  • Roxxy - More of a casual bar with a dance floor. Happy hour and themed nights with student discounts. 
  • Tiger Tiger - Club and restaurant. If you're missing the American college life, check out their Monday night Frat Party! 
  • London Cocktail Club (Shoreditch) - Probably one of the wildest bars in London. Has a dive bar vibe but is actually on the more expensive side. Definitely worth it if you want a unique night out.
  • Roadhouse - Bar/club/restaurant with live music and DJs. Karaoke on weeknights.
  • O'Neill's - Irish pub that apparently all Villanova/American students go to while in London. We never made it there but from what I've heard it's a fun time!

If you'll be in London for a little while, there are lots of cool places throughout the U.K. that are worth a visit. With a little bit of planning in advance, you can find round-trip train or bus tickets for relatively cheap - or book an Airbnb and turn your day trip into a weekend excursion! 
  • Stonehenge - I didn't actually know that this was in England until I went! Super cool to see such an iconic landmark in person and to hear all of the theories on how it might have come to be (aliens, anyone??).
  • Bath - City in the English countryside known for its beautiful Abbey and, most notably, the Roman baths. Amazing architecture and quaint town with shops and restaurants. Go to Stonehenge in the morning and head here for the afternoon to see two World Heritage Sites in one day!
  • Windsor Castle - Home to none other than HRH Queen Elizabeth (pro tip: if the flag is up that means she's there!). See a smaller version of the changing of the guards as well as cool exhibits on growing up in the royal family. 
  • Brighton - Seaside town with a fun boardwalk and amusement pier. Great food (I had my first fish and chips here!), lots of cute shops, and has a cool music and arts scene. 
  • Cambridge/Oxford - Take your pick of one of the iconic rival universities in England - or see both! Take a campus tour to hear more about the history and quirky traditions of these prestigious schools. 
Of course there are many more exciting and unique things to see and do in London, but I hope this gave you a little taste of what the city has to offer! If you have any recommendations be sure to leave them in the comments below. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Top 5 Study Abroad & Travel Apps

Hi everyone - long time, no post! I thought I'd get back into the swing of blogging because I will be heading abroad again in the fall (huge shout out to my parents for supporting my love of not spending more than 6 consecutive months in the US lol). I'll be spending my fall semester studying European Business Strategy in Copenhagen, Denmark and I couldn't be more excited! Get ready for more adventures abroad coming soon.

In the meantime, since a lot of my friends will be studying abroad for the first time next semester, I figured I could share some of my ~wisdom~ with them as they prepare for their own adventures! To start, I've compiled a few of my favorite apps I used during my time in London - almost all of which I still use now. There are obviously so many travel-related apps and websites out there, but if I could only choose five, these would be my picks:

It's great to be back on the blog again - keep an eye out for more posts like these to come! 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

One Year Later...

It's crazy to think that a year ago I was agonizing over college applications, staying up until midnight on deadline days and driving my parents insane with my procrastination. It's crazy to think that just a year ago I sat crying in their bedroom because I didn't know what school was right for me. It's crazy to think that this exact day one year ago I had just put down my deposit at the university I now call home. 

If you had told me a year ago that in 365 days time I would have committed to Villanova, survived the tedious days of orientation (awkward luau, anyone?), met some of my best friends, come to love Sunday morning recaps over French toast in the spit (after a wild night in conshy), cheered on my team from the student section in the Pavilion, joined an intramural volleyball team, survived late nights in Falvey followed by snack time in Good Counsel 225, and fall in love with a place I had known pretty much forever I would have called you crazy. During those four short, incredible months better known as my first semester of college, I laughed, cried, made mistakes and memories, and grew as a person for the better.

ready for hoops mania!

If you had told me a year ago that in 365 days time I would have moved 4,000 miles from home, seen Big Ben and taken countless rides on double decker buses, ate croissants under the Eiffel Tower, cheered on Scotland's rugby team at a pub in Scotland, drank wine at the top of a mountain in Spain, taken a trip to Ireland with my entire family, and have a real job in London I would definitely not have believed you. My life is an absolute dream right now and I am so so so blessed to be here. I've been in London for 3 months and I'm honestly still pinching myself!! If it wasn't for Villanova (and my parents, of course) I would never have been able to go on such an amazing adventure - and it's not even over yet!

always repping...even across the pond
Watching the Wildcats win the national championship for the first time since my dad was a freshman at Villanova in 1985 was absolutely unreal. Never have I been so proud to be a Villanovan and never have I been so certain that I made the right decision just a year ago. And although we didn't quite have a riot the size of the ones on Lancaster Avenue these past few days, you can bet that we celebrated in the empty streets of London at 5 in the morning when that winning shot went in at the buzzer. That's what I have come to realize is so amazing about the Nova Nation - no matter how far away you are, you will always be a part of it. You will always have a second home and a second family to come back to.

live reaction to the big win from London 
It's hard to put into words how much I have loved this past year. All I can say is that I cannot wait for the next three.

Go cats \V/

Monday, March 14, 2016

A Rainy Afternoon in Ireland...

Hi everyone! It's been an awesome past few weeks in the UK - classes ended, my family and friends came to visit, we took a trip to Knock, and I started my internship today! I'll be posting a few more updates on all of that soon but for now I wanted to share a little peek into life on the family farm in Ireland...

This past Friday we had big plans to climb Croagh Patrick, however the weather forecast did not cooperate and we spent the afternoon at my aunt Maura's instead. All weekend she kept a basket of delicious, freshly-baked scones out on the counter, which were enjoyed alone or with a cup of tea at all hours of the day. Not wanting to leave Ireland without the recipe, Meghan and I spent our rainy day learning how to make them! If you want to find out how to get these yummy treats for yourself, keep reading!

Aunt Maura's Irish Scones


1.5 lbs. Self-raising Flour
8 oz. (about two sticks) Margarine or Butter - softened
8 oz. (1 cup) Sugar
4 Large Eggs
1/2 Pint of Buttermilk
1 tsp. Baking Powder


Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F) and grease two baking sheets
Sift flour, sugar, and baking powder into a large bowl
Incorporate butter into dry mixture and knead until crumbly
Add eggs and buttermilk, mix until dough is formed
Generously flour a clean, flat surface - we used the counter top - and knead dough for a few minutes
Flour a cookie cutter or glass and cut into circles
Bake for about 30-40 minutes, until golden

(Makes about 20 large scones)

Serve with butter and jam and enjoy! 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Adventures in Barcelona!

Hello everyone! Apologies for my lack of posts lately - the "study" in study abroad is really catching up to me. With only a few weeks left of classes the assignments, projects, and tests are really piling up! It's hard to believe that my second semester is almost over and that I'm going to be starting my internship soon (so excited!!). I thought I would take a break from writing my macroeconomics paper to share my latest adventure with you...a weekend in Barcelona!

Last weekend almost all of us (minus two people whose families were in town) headed to sunny Spain for an amazing couple of days filled with lots of hiking, tapas, and even a trip to the beach! We arrived in Barcelona on Thursday afternoon and after dropping off our bags at the Airbnb, enjoyed a traditional Spanish lunch at a restaurant down the road. We had to put our Spanish skills to the test as none of the staff spoke English very well, and I tried flan for the first time (verdict: not a fan of the texture). Afterwards, we explored the city a bit, stumbling upon the beautiful Santa Maria del Mar Church which was built in the 1300s, and popping into a few shops along the way. Then, we got some incredible churros and hot chocolate before heading to the Pablo Picasso Museum. The museum was so cool! It was really interesting to see the progression of Picasso's work over the years.

The next morning we got up early, got ready - quite the process with 10 people sharing one bathroom :) - and walked to the base of El Turó de La Rovira. This is an amazing mountain overlook that provides 360 degree views of the city. During the Spanish Civil War, anti-aircraft guns were installed here to defend Barcelona from Franco’s air force. For some reason I was surprised to see palm trees and cacti on the climb up - definitely a big difference from London...It actually reminded me a lot of California! It was a beautiful, sunny day and we stayed at the top of the mountain for a while, taking in the incredible sights of the city. After our climb down, we stopped at a little bakery for some treats and headed to Parc Güell. This park is one of many places in Barcelona designed by architect Antoni Gaudí. He has a very distinctive and unique style of architecture and it was very easy to spot his buildings and architectural influence throughout the city. After the park, we headed to Las Ramblas, a popular street in Barcelona known for its shopping and food market, La Boqueria. We stopped there for a late lunch and got some delicious gelato and fruit for dessert.

On many of our bucket lists was to go to the beach and watch the sunset, so after some more exploring, we did just that! Number one awkward/funny moment of the weekend was seeing a lone nude beachgoer walking along the ocean in front of everyone! We had to laugh because some of the guys had joking been looking up nude beaches in Barcelona before we left...I don't really think a naked middle aged man was what they had in mind :) Even though it was pretty chilly, a few of us actually dipped our feet in the water - which was surprisingly not as cold as expected. After the sun had set we headed to a restaurant by the beach for a traditional dinner of paella, a Spanish dish served family style that consists of rice, seasonings, and fish.

The next day was one of the best days of this entire trip so far. We had planned in advance to go to La Sagrada Familia, an absolutely enormous basilica that towers over the city. It's hard to describe how amazing it actually was. All I can say is that it was one of the most incredible and breathtaking places I have ever been in my life. The church was designed by Gaudí and its construction began in 1882, and its not even close to being done yet! The builders are projecting it to be completed in 2026 (GCP 10 year reunion in Barca anyone??). I walked through the church for over an hour just in awe of the craftsmanship and beautiful stained glass windows that illuminated the walls in a rainbow of colors. I can't even begin to imagine how awesome it will look once its done.

After La Sagrada Familia, Susie, Nicole, Manisha and I broke off from the larger group and got a lunch of a bunch of different tapas (another traditional part of the Spanish diet that is basically just appetizers and little snacks) at a authentic restaurant - it was SO good. We ate outside in the sunshine with the sound of a live Spanish band in the background - it felt like a scene from a movie! We then got more gelato, churros, and hot chocolate before heading to Zara for a little shopping.

When were up on the mountain on the second day, we spotted a ferris wheel and magical looking castle (which turned out to be a church) on the top of another mountain in the distance. In a spur of the moment decision our little girl squad decided we had to find a way to get there. After a quick google search we discovered that there was a tram that would take us right to the top! However, that plan was soon squashed when a friendly woman explained to us at the bus stop that the tram doesn't run in the winter..or on Saturdays and Sundays. But, we were still determined to get to the top so we hopped on a bus which took us about half way up where we ran into two other girls (one from Chicago and the other from Sweden) who had the same goal in mind. We all began our trek up the mountain - shopping bags in hand - as the sun began to set over the city. Every time we thought we had almost gotten to the top, the path twisted and there was more walking to do. About an hour later, we FINALLY made it to the top and let me tell you, it was so worth it. You could literally see all of Barcelona, from the mountains, to the ocean. It was incredible, especially with the sky pink from the sunset. At the very top, like an oasis in the desert, was a beautiful hotel where we obviously rewarded ourselves with a glass of wine and dinner after the hike. Sharing a meal with some of my best friends, overlooking the sparkling city at night was the perfect ending to a perfect day. We then ordered a taxi to drive us back down :).

The next morning we packed up and a few of us went to Camp Nou, the largest stadium in Spain and home to acclaimed soccer team FC Barcelona. Our tour included access to the museum on the history of the club, the locker room, the commentary box, the press room, the tunnel the players run through before every game, and a walk on the field. It was so cool to learn about a team that is such a big part of the Spanish culture and the stadium was awesome! I can only imagine how lively and energized it gets during a game! After our tour it was time to say adios to sunny Barcelona so we headed to the airport to catch our flight back to London. Another crazy fun adventure to add to the list!

Hopefully I can keep you updated on my activities in London from the past few weeks once I get some of my work out of the way...look out for more posts to come!