Thursday
06/07/18

A Last Hurrah in Split, Croatia

Posted by Madeline on June 7, 2018 in Brac Island, Croatia, Split, studying abroad, travel

A few weekends ago (April 26-29) my roommates and I went on a Bus2Alps trip to Croatia. We looked into organizing it ourselves, but it was hard to find affordable transport. Bus2Alps was cheaper to use with what they provided, so we just used them for transportation and accomodation. Our bus left at 9 pm Thursday, arriving around 10 am Friday to Split! Our seats didn’t recline much, and there was barely any space, so I didn’t sleep well at all! The 27th was my friend Rachel’s birthday, and she’d found a guided kayaking and cliff jumping tour for us at 3. Until then, we decided to go to the beach, which was nice since I didn’t have much energy! The water was so clear there, and saltier than the water I’d been in in Italy (Sicily and Viareggio) somehow. We sunbathed, played volleyball in the water and listened to music. When it was time, we started heading for the kayak place. They drove us in a van to a rocky beach -it was really uncomfortable to walk on! And we put in our kayaks, I was in a kayak with Lucy, Rachel with Jesse, and Roselyn with Daniella. Our guide was alone, and took pictures as we went along. It took about half an hour to get to the cliffs. We parked our kayaks at a small beach around the bend from them. Getting out, we saw a starfish in the shallow water, and asked if we could pick it up:) Our guide said it wouldn’t hurt it and we were just preparing it for high tourist season!!

It felt so funny to hold..slightly prickly, and when it moved I almost wanted to drop it because it felt so strange. After we’d passed it around for everyone to hold, we put it back off to the side and continued to the path to the cliffs. There were little prickly plants that we stepped on and put our hands on climbing over the rocks, which was slightly painful! When we made it out to the edge, we went to the lower rocks to jump first. It was exhilarating to jump off, I hit the water with a smack and water went in my nose. The water felt so good though, refreshing! We swam to the wall, where there were low enough rocks and grabbing spots to lift ourselves back up to climb back to the jumping spot. Next, we went to the higher level, about 7 meters I think the guide said.

After a few rounds, we were ready to keep going. Staying somewhat close to the mainland, we passed between small rock outcroppings and finally glimpsed the bay where we’d go to shore. When we paddled in, a few families were at the little beach watching their kids play in the water. They were really excited by the kayaks, so our guide let them get in one and paddle around a bit!
While our guide loaded up the van with a tiny help here and there from us, we watched the sunset over the water. It was so calming and peaceful, I felt good surrounded by friends in such a beautiful place enjoying the moment.

The next morning, we took a ferry to the nearby island of Brac. The ferry ride made me nostalgic of times when we took a ferry across Lake Champlain as a kid. I loved seeing the changing landscape from the ship as we went by.

View of Split from the Ferry


The hour long ferry ride brought us to a quaint marina and town filled with white cottages with bright clay red roofs.

Incredibly clear, turquoise waters greeted us when we went down to the shore. For lunch, we stopped at a restaurant we found that said they were the best in the town. I was skeptical since that’s a common, often false advertisement. Looking at the menu though, it seemed good, and the customers food appeared so as well, and they praised it. So we sat. One girl in our group said to the waiter how the food was good, but still inexpensive. He shook his head, saying not really. He said in the center of the town you could get the same dishes cheaper, but here, they prepare the food properly, and truly follow how it is meant to be, such as using the best cuts of meat, etc. It was nice to hear his honesty..he could have simply nodded and smiled, but he took the time to explain the importance of how we had truly paid for quality.
Lucy and I took an earlier ferry back than the rest of the group, since we wanted to explore the city of Split more. We’d heard of Diocletian’s Palace, but didn’t know anything more besides Game of Thrones had some scenes filmed there. After speaking with a guide, we found out that most of the central square of Split was where the Palace used to stand, but had been filled in with buildings for the people to live. We meandered around, enjoying the absence of cars, narrow streets archways, and marble walls. What I really liked was that Split felt very different from Italy. When I’d gone to Barcelona, the ancient buildings looked just like those of Italy’s, similar to what I’d seen in Rome. The wide use of marble for building, and those bright red roofs I think were what really set it apart. It also didn’t seem as touristy as I would have expected since they had this large, beautiful palace, right on the sea, and the popularity of Game of Thrones. But as Lucy and I went to the museum, it seemed as though they could have benefited from some tourism to bring in money for upkeep and repairs. On the lower level below the city, the old cellar or basement of the Palace, there were leaky areas, crumbling walls and it just seemed to be deteriorating overall. I did have fun making some friends back home who are lovers of Game of Thrones jealous though!

Our last day, we hopped back on the bus. In an hour we reached Krka National Park. The bus ride down to the main area made me sad we weren’t there longer to do a true hike into the vast wilderness we could see as we wound down the weaving road. We only had time for a walk down to the falls area and hanging out there a bit before re-boarding the bus. The falls were very beautiful though, and we walked on a boardwalk through what was like an upscale swamp -a mix of trees, plants and water, but the water was clear to the bottom with mesmerizing whirlpools.
I’m so glad I went on this trip, for a bit of a last hurrah with my roommates for the semester, and to be there for my friend Rachel’s birthday!

Sunday
04/22/18

First Trip Outside of Italy

Posted by Madeline on April 22, 2018 in Barcelona, studying abroad, travel

So unfortunately, the wishes of my last post did not fully come true, as last weekend I went to Barcelona and it rained almost the entire two days we visited! To note, of course on Sunday morning when we left, the weather forecast was sunny and 68… perfect timing!! Ah well, we still had a good time and made the most of it! Flying in on the lovely Ryanair, our already late-night flight was delayed an hour, so by the time we got to our airbnb it was almost 2am! My roommate, Jesse, and I went right to bed since we wanted to get up and rolling early the next day. Before our planned 9:30 visit to La Sagrada Familia, we stopped at a place called Granier Cafe to grab a little breakfast to go. They had a deal offering 3 muffins for 1.50 euro, and the muffins were called Magdalenas,so it was fate! They were light, moist and lemony, and we ended up getting them the rest of the mornings of our trip!
La Sagrada Familia was really cool to see outside and in. With construction still going on, the outside is slightly harder to appreciate with cranes and structures blocking the full cathedral though.

Inside felt more modern with the tree-like structures stretching to the ceiling and geometrical stained glass windows moving through the colors of the rainbow with each progressing window. We enjoyed reading the signs about Gaudi too, with his goals to make a bright, inviting church to encourage people to come worship. Jesse and I talked about our own feelings on religion, and how it can be hard to figure out what we believe.
Next on our itinerary was a visit to Park Guell at 1pm. Since it was only about 10:30, we decided to walk there, stopping at a viewpoint of the city along the way and then a supermarket for snacks. We arrived at the park well before 12 and sat on a bench to eat our crackers and cheese. With so much time to spare, we walked to stand under these arches of a cave built into the hill where a 4 man band was playing. Two played guitar, one played a mix of hand held instruments, while another drummed or danced. Their unique energy and style was fun to watch. Right around our time to line up for our time slot, it began to rain, then pour. That made me unashamedly pout, but thankfully the monument part had a covered area, and then the rain let up a bit when we went to see the mosaics.


On our way out, a wall of checkerboard mosaics framed the stairway down and I liked the individual mosaics and altogether as a pattern. It reminded me of quilts.

By the time we left, we were both veeery ready for lunch. We knew we wanted paella, so I googled and found a place near another spot we wanted to see. The restaurant, La Fonda, was right off a famous street called La Rambla, where there are many touristic shops, but it’s a beauriful, wide-set street with two lines of trees surrounding the central walking path.

The restaurant ended up looking much fancier than I’d imagined, but it wasn’t too badly priced for us to split a skillet of paella with clams, calamari, shrimp and pork. It was nice to get a small break from Italian food, even though I love it, don’t get me wrong! But I enjoyed having a different type of food. We sat next to an older couple that I don’t think said a single word to each other the whole meal. Once they left, Jesse and I both commented on how sad that was to see! We both agreed we never want to end up in a relationship like that. They looked miserable, we both hoped it was maybe because of a fight rather than how they are all the time, but I’m not convinced it wasn’t the latter. Next, we stopped at the market nearby along La Rombla. The covered space had many vendors, some selling fruit -whole and in cups to go, or smoothies, others with meats, fish, crepes, nuts, burritos..more than I can name! I got a cup of mixed fruit, while Jesse got one with just mangoes -I think I should have done the same because hers were so fresh and sweet, whereas my mix didn’t seem quite as good! Then we shared a kabob of strawberries drizzled in chocolate:)

Quite exhausted and wanting to get out of our damp clothes, we headed back to our airbnb. We climbed into bed and set our alarms for 1/2 an hour. When they went off, we shut them off and woke up about 2 hours later!! I felt so groggy for the rest of the night! Intelligently, before we fell asleep, we’d made reservations at Taverna Can Margarit, suggested by our airbnb host, for 9 pm. It was right in the neighborhood, (Poble Sec) only a 5 minute walk from our place. Jesse and I went along with a girl named Remyah. While waiting for your table, they offer you a glass of their house wines in barrels in the front room. Their wines seemed thicker and sweeter than the wines I’ve had in Italy. It was a cool idea to hang out and mingle with a glass of wine before dinner. The decor of the place reminded me of a cabin. Where we sat, there was a wood beamed overhang in a large yellow room with wooden, wicker-like chairs, and more wooden antiques hanging on the walls. Jesse and I shared a plate of rabbit stewed with onion and garlic.
The next morning, we hiked up tons of hills and stairs to reach Montjuic Castle, a military fortress with views of the sea. We didn’t really feel like paying to go in, and weren’t sure if it would be worth it, so we walked back down, heading to Granier Cafe once again. I ordered a coffee along with the Magdalena and another pastry I wanted to try for only 2.60 euro! We sat by the window, and while we sat, a little girl with a Mickey Mouse umbrella and her little rain boots on the wrong feet, walked by. We waved, and she waved back, then continued back past us along the window to wave at all the other people sitting behind us! Her mom smiled and rolled her eyes, turning the stroller around to go grab her! That made my morning:)
We got on the metro to go find some of Gaudi’s houses. We saw Casa Battlo and Mila, both with the unique wave-like style outer walls with round windows. Casa Battlo had more mosaics and bright colors, so I liked that one better. It started to rain again, so we chose to give up on site-seeing and shop. We didn’t find anything good, so we stopped and went for nachos and tacos for lunch. Then we felt we had to try the churros at a bakery, and they came as a stack of them to dip in a cup of something in between hot chocolate and pudding!
Jesse and I both love soccer, so we decided to head to a bar to watch the Barcelona vs. Valencia game. We guessed at a stop to get off from the metro, then googled ‘sports bars near me’. I randomly chose Dow Jones Bar. We sat down to watch the game since the bartender was watching as eagerly as the customers. At half time I ordered a June Bug and tap water, the first time I’ve had free water in Europe!! It was fun to watch the game at a relaxed bar, and comment on the game with Jesse. At the end of the game (Barcelona won 2-0 btw) Jesse’s friend, Maddie, who’s studying abroad in Barcelona met us there to show us around a bit before dinner. She showed us the gothic district we hadn’t been able to find earlier and the port area, then we went to a tapas bar: Pepa Tomate. We shared dishes of bread with a tomato and garlic juice sauce, mushrooms in a wine sauce, spinach fritters with honey aioli -my favorite, grilled lettuce hearts in lemon vinaigrette and wok vegetables on rice noodles. After dinner, Jesse informed us that her dad was paying for our meal, what a nice treat!
We decided we also wanted crepes for dessert, so we found somewhere nearby that had giant foot-long crepes:) We walked and ate, as Maddie showed us Plaza del Sol, where she said people just go to sit on the stones at night and drink beers.
For our last night, we decided to try out the famous night life of Barcelona. We went to a club called Boulevard -a multi floor club with many different rooms playing different types of music. We met three guys from Finland who we hung out with the rest of the night. They were pretty funny and one was a hilarious, but pretty decent dancer! Around 3, I was getting tired and wanted to leave. Some of my friends still wanted to stay out, but I convinced one to come back and then the other two followed! We ended up going to bed at 4 in the morning and waking up at 8:30 for our travel back..so I felt out of it the whole day, and went to bed at 8 that night!!
Overall, it was a really fun trip, but one thing I realized is that I shouldn’t judge a place so much by pictures on social media. Before I went, my image of Barcelona was so different because all that was in my head was an unrealistic city full of mosaics and bright colors. It’s easy to forget that the little blurbs on social media are only tiny parts of places that don’t begin to make-up the overall picture and feel of the whole city. My expectations of Barcelona were a little too high, which made my adjustment to reality harder. I still had a great time, but I now know I need to be careful about how much I let social media influence my presumptions since you can’t base your expectations of an entire city off of a few pretty tourist attractions.