When Irish Eyes Are Smiling

On my last trip of the semester I fulfilled a life-long dream of visiting Ireland. I stayed with friends in a hotel in Dublin, but we also booked a day tour to Galway and the Cliffs of Moher.

Dublin is a smaller city but there are so many things to see. You can visit the Trinity College Library or take a free tour of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral (and see where politician and author Jonathan Swift is buried). There are plenty of pubs for lunch and dinner with specialities such as Guinness beef stew or a classic burger and fries.

Since we only had one day in the city, we had to miss some attractions with longer waiting times. I guess I’ll just have to make it back someday (what a shame…)

Around Trinity College there are many pubs to visit, as well as souvenir shops and hidden gems.
Look for the signs near the gift shop to meet a tour guide and learn about Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

On the second day our bus tour across Ireland left at 7:00 a.m. The tour was only 40 euro (booked through Finn McCool’s) and took us to Galway, the Burren, and the Cliffs of Moher with smaller stops along the way for food and coffee. Galway is a beautiful town. The Claddagh ring, symbolizing love, loyalty and friendship, is believed to have originated here. The Burren is a region famous for limestone formations. The Cliffs of Moher are one of the most famous sights associated with Ireland and are featured in films such as The Princess Bride and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. 

Fall in love with a Galway girl, as the song says, or just fall in love with the city.
Sitting (and freezing) on a beach in the Burren.

Visiting the Cliffs of Moher is one way to get over your fear of heights…

If you even slightly enjoy great food, kind people, and a breathtaking countryside, plan to visit Ireland!

Spring Break in Barcelona

Bon dia! Over spring break I visited Spain for the first time. Our spring break lasted from March 16 – March 19 (basically the length of fall break at Hope) so I had a short time to visit as much of the city as possible.

This was a popular travel weekend. Flight prices were getting expensive once I factored in all the attractions I wanted to see and my food budget, so I decided to take an overnight bus on Wednesday, March 15. The ride itself took over 14 hours, including breaks, but it honestly was not as bad as I expected. I ended up having two seats to myself, and there were outlets at each seat as well as Wi-Fi.

I arrived in the city early in the morning and set off walking towards the Latin Quarter where I wanted to see the Picasso Museum and the Barcelona Cathedral.

The beautiful Arc de Triomf, built for the 1888 World Fair in Barcelona.
Inside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia (Barcelona Cathedral).

I loved the Picasso Museum (sorry, taking pictures inside was not allowed) because the collection was supplemented by descriptions of changes in the art world as well as changes in Picasso’s life. It created a better understanding of the pieces.

After walking to my hostel and getting dinner, I took public transportation (bus and metro) to the Bunkers del Caramel. These old Spanish Civil War bunkers offer some of the best views of the city. It was a little nerve-wracking; the last bus to get up to the bunkers was more like a rickety school van, speeding through the hills. But watching the sun set over Barcelona was definitely worth a little motion sickness.

Just wow.

I dedicated the next days to the architecture of Gaudi. I recommend buying tickets online to avoid longer lines and get a discount at major attractions such as Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell. You also get to choose the times that work best for you, so you can plan your day accordingly.

Construction is still underway on the facades of the Sagrada Familia, expected to end in 2026. Gaudi designed the interior (pictured) to mimic tree branches. Church services are also held inside.
Got a tan (and some blisters) walking around Gaudi’s Parc Güell.

On my last day, I relaxed at one of Barcelona’s many beaches with some seafood paella before catching my flight to Paris.

If you’re able to visit Barcelona, don’t hesitate! The city is stunning and the people are welcoming. I was able to practice my (very minimal) Spanish, but I never felt judged asking to speak in English. If you learn a few phrases in Catalan before you go, you may get an even warmer welcome – I got a free pastry with my coffee for trying a few phrases.

Barcelona is an extremely walkable city, but I would suggest getting an HOLA BCN pass when you want to visit sights further from the city center such as Parc Güell, and to take the bus to the airport. You can buy passes online for 2, 3, 4 or 5 days.

Skeletons and Museums and Books, Oh My!

I started off this weekend by facing my fears and visiting the Catacombs of Paris. The remains of over six million people are held in these tunnels that used to be part of a mining network. In 1786 city officials began the process of moving bones from the overflowing Parisien cemeteries into the abandoned tunnels. Over the years the catacombs were renovated and decorated with tablets, archways, and inscriptions. The first known public visits began in 1814.

“Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead”

All I can say is I’m glad I went with a large group. It made the visit less spooky.

Later that weekend I visited the Musée de Cluny, which is the National Museum of the Middle Ages. The museum is undergoing renovations but the current building is still impressive and makes you feel like you stepped back in time.

The entrance to the Musée de Cluny.

Inside the museum are reliquaries, altarpieces, statues, and more dating back to the 5th century. The building itself combines Renaissance and Gothic styles and used to be the townhouse of the Abbot of Cluny, the head of a powerful medieval monastery in France.

There were several rooms filled with stained glass windows.

After Musée de Cluny, my friend and I went to get coffee. Since we ended up close to the Louvre, I decided to go there next. Because it was spur-of-the-moment I had no map, my phone was dying, and I definitely wore the wrong shoes. But it was definitely worth the aching feet. The Louvre is the world’s largest museum and the building, originally built as a fortress, is a work of art in it’s own right.

To be honest, I could have spent 3 hours just looking at the statues.

And lastly, I visited Shakespeare and Company for the second time that weekend (I’m very indecisive when it comes to buying books). The shop has a great selection of English-language books including Shakespeare, of course, as well as works by Lost Generation and Beat Generation authors.

Phew! After such a busy weekend, I have just a few days to relax before I head to Barcelona. Wish me luck on the 14 hour bus ride…

Packing for a Semester Abroad

Here are a few items that I have found to be very important (but often overlooked) when traveling abroad.

  • Plug adapters for every country you plan to visit

Small power adapters allow United States-style plugs to fit into different outlets. You can invest in fancy adapters or find them on Amazon. This is something you’ll use every day so I would suggest not buying adapters under 3 dollars… I bought an extra adapter at what I can only describe as the French version of Dollar General and it broke after two days. Also don’t wait until the last minute to double-check which adapters you need for any extra trips. For example, continental Europe uses a different adapter than the U.K. or Australia.

  • An umbrella

Unless you are blessed with a sunny destination (and even so) you should bring an umbrella. Sitting on the Metro for forty minutes after being caught in the rain is not an experience I wish on anyone.

  • Comfortable shoes

Especially in Paris, people tend to dress less casually than at home. You might be tempted to bring every shoe in your closet to impress the Europeans, but in this case your comfort is more important. Bring shoes you know are sturdy, good for walking, and won’t make your feet ache after a day of sightseeing. If you are still worried about “blending in”, sneakers are actually pretty common among students in Europe – a plain pair of Keds or Vans will do just fine. Or you can put comfortable insoles in those fancy leather boots.

  • Layers

Bring clothes that will layer well together. This will save space in your suitcase but also keep you prepared for crazy weather changes. Scarves and sweaters can also serve as makeshift blankets or pillows if you’re stuck in a cold bus, plane, etc.

  • Stain remover pen

This is one of those items I never think to bring but always end up needing. I dropped Korean food on a favorite dress and had to soak it for ages to get the stain out, wondering why I had left my Tide To-Go at home. They’re not expensive and will not take up any room in your bag. Please bring a stain remover pen.



A Typical Weekday

I cannot believe I’ve been in Paris for over a month; the time has flown by and there is still so much to see. This post is long overdue thanks to cold and flu season. Thankfully I got by with lots of hot tea and Ricola cough drops, and my cold is finally gone.

Since I’ve been resting lately, I thought I would describe a usual weekday for me in Paris. Each week is different: sometimes we have class trips, excursions, etc., but here is what I do on most days:

Each morning I have breakfast at the apartment. My host mom provides breakfast for me and my housemate which is usually tea, toast, and fruit. Then I grab my books and head to class. The IES Center where I take classes is about a 20 minute walk from the apartment (or a 15 minute bus ride if it’s cold, rainy, or I’m running late).

On Monday and Wednesday mornings I get up earlier because I have a 9 a.m. class. On Tuesdays and Thursdays my first class starts at 10:45, but I like to arrive about an hour early to finish up homework and catch up with friends.

My classes include the Maghreb and the Arab World, Poetics and Politics of Gender in France, French Women Writers, Immigration and Diversity in Paris, and French Language and Context. During breaks I get lunch from a nearby boulangerie. They have typical French pastries but also pasta dishes, sandwiches, and soups for under 6 euro.

After class I usually grab a snack from the same boulangerie. Depending on how much homework I have I’ll either study at my homestay or at a café if I really need to focus. There are also plenty of beautiful libraries.

This is just a brief overview of a usual weekday. Some days I’ll go sightseeing in the afternoons as well. There are so many things to see in the city and a semester somehow feels like not enough time. In March I have trips planned to Ireland and Spain as well as more excursions with the program. It seems far away but I know I’ll be traveling before I know it!




Châteaux of the Loire Valley

Because no visit to France would be complete without visiting a château, our first IES excursion was to the Loire Valley. This region of France is known for it’s vineyards, orchards, and historic architecture. Several excursions are included in  IES tuition and it was great to enjoy this trip before classes officially began

The entrance to Château de Chenonceau

First we visited Chenonceau where Diane de Poitiers (a mistress of Henry II) and Catherine de’ Medici once lived. The château features a blend of Gothic and Renaissance styles and spans across the River Cher.

The next day we visited Château du Clos Lucé. Leonardo da Vinci spent the final years of his life in Clos Lucé after being commissioned by King Francis I to create a mechanical lion. The building now serves as a museum dedicated to Leonardo,  containing models of his inventions and copies of famous works such as the Mona Lisa.

Leonardo lived at Clos Lucé from 1516 until his death in 1519.
A recreation of his workshop and sketches.

My favorite of the three is Château d’Amboise. A royal residence in the 15th and 16th centuries, the building was abandoned and damaged throughout history but has been restored and maintained by a descendant of Louis-Philippe.

Strong Downton Abbey vibes.
We toured the château and the town on our own.
Taking a break for cappuccinos and croissants.

IES classes officially began the next week on January 30. Some students also have outside courses at French universities or internships around the city. Taking a trip before class was a great way to meet people in the program and unwind before homework and exams! We have three more excursions and I’m looking forward to seeing more regions of France.

Bienvenue à Paris!

Today marks the end of my first week in Paris with the IES French Studies program. I left for France a few days before the program started to travel with my sister who studies in Menton. After three flights and a bus ride, we arrived in Menton on Saturday,  January 14.

Our view from the bus as we traveled along the southern coast of France.

Menton is close to both Italy and Monaco, with great views of the Mediterranean. On Sunday my sister and I took a short train ride to Monte Carlo. As part of the most populous quartier (administrative area) of Monaco, Monte Carlo is known for winding roads, casinos, and fantastic ocean views.

On Monday it was time to leave for Paris. I decided to take a train instead of flying because it was less expensive and offered views of the French countryside. Once I arrived in Paris, it cost me under 2 euro to take the Metro from Gare de Lyon train station to my homestay.

Many students in our program choose to live with a French family to learn about daily life in Paris and practice French with native speakers. My host mom prepares dinner for my housemate and I three nights each week. So far we have had great meals such as beef and potatoes, vegetable soup, and turkey with a mushroom sauce. I could write an entire post about food (and I will…stay tuned).

After a breakfast of tea, toast and fruit, my housemate and I left for the IES French Studies center to start orientation. The program begins with an orientation and intensive French language classes. There are also cultural activities including street art tours and food tastings.

Street art livens up buildings in the Belleville district.

The rest of our courses begin on January 30. This means we have plenty of time for sightseeing.

Outside Notre-Dame de Paris.
The beautiful stained glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle.

Some highlights so far include Notre Dame Cathedral, Sainte-Chapelle, and the Conciergerie. The Conciergerie is known for detaining criminals and political prisoners (such as Robespierre and Marie Antoinette) during the French Revolution. Best of all, the student ID card provided by IES allowed me to visit Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie for free! Many tourist sites, movies, etc., are free or discounted for students and young adults.

My first week in Paris has not been without challenges. Communicating almost 24/7 in a foreign language (even one you have studied) can be frustrating when you’re a perfectionist like me. Adjusting to new time zones and new customs takes patience. But the benefits of improving my French and learning about a new culture far outweigh any difficulties so far. I cannot wait to explore more of what Paris has to offer.