Melbourne Cup

A couple of friends and I decided to spend the weekend hard at work…

on vacation…

in Melbourne!

How could we not go when there is an opportunity to go to the Melbourne Cup? For those of you who don’t know (I was one of those people if I’m being honest), the Melbourne Cup is the biggest horse race in Australia. It is known as “The race that stops the nation,” and after experiencing it firsthand, I can confirm that statement is true. Even back at uni, there were countless parties throughout the day – this race is truly the one that stops the nation! Anywhere you would go, people would be getting ready for the race.


The state of Victoria even declared Melbourne Cup day a national holiday! Even though I have never had much of an interest in horse races, there is no denying the excitement surrounding the Cup.


The amount of crazy outfits, excessive drinking, and loud cheering made the event one to remember! Thousands of people flooded the stadium, all placing bets and waiting for the main race of the day. Though it only lasted a few minutes, the race was spectacular – not one person lost focus on the horses, and when they passed by, the cheering couldn’t have been louder!

Though I didn’t place any bets (I have terrible luck), we met a group of people and cheered on their horses alongside them. The second the race ended, the shouts of joy and cries of disappointment surprised me from all of those who placed bets. It was a wild time to say the least!

For When You’re in Chicago…

Since each of my previous blog posts  have enticed you so, I am sure you are curious on some must-see sights and things to do here in Chicago! Below, you will find pictures—taken by yours truly—accompanied by my experience at each location. These have to be a few of my most favorite places here in Chicago.

Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, Lincoln Park. Lincoln Park, arguably the prettiest park of Chicago, has a lot to offer. On any given day you will see runners, bikers, and especially vendors out here! It is a great way to get into nature while still being in the city. Along the walking paths there is a restaurant called The Patio and plenty of art pieces to admire! My favorite part about Lincoln Park? Several paths lead you to the beach!

Broken English Taco Pub, Old Town. If you are looking for a super modern and fun place eat tacos, Broken English is the place for you. Just a hop and a skip from the Gold Coast, this restaurant has a super speedy service, lively Hispanic music, and great authentic Mexican-food. If you are looking for a good deal, until 7 pm, most nights you can grab $2 tacos!

Mural, Old Town. There are beautiful murals and graffiti all throughout Chicago. But I have to say, Old Town has some of the prettiest on the sides of their buildings. If you are ever free on a Sunday afternoon, visit Old Town for a quiet and beautiful walk through a small town in a big city.

Oops, did I make you hungry for some exploring?


Because Chicago has a lot to offer.

From Santa Teresa to Cervantes

“Medieval walls? Santa Teresa de Jesus? A 16th century home?” were questions that were going through my head as I toured the nearby cities of Avila and Alcala de Henares. I could not contain myself when I found myself face to face with thousands of years of history. What topped off the experience was that both cities were having medieval festivals!

One of Avila’s centuries-old gates awaited our arrival into the bustling city center inside.

Avila, Spain, which is an old city to the west of Madrid, where I am studying, shattered my expectations as my host mom and I inched closer and closer to the city center where the behemoth wall stood. The wall is almost 1,000 years old and encircles the historic city center. We went through one of the main entrances and were greeted by lively folk music, people in colorful medieval costumes, and a plethora of vendors selling souvenirs and food.

Avila’s ancient wall stretches far and conforms to the hilly landscape of central Spain.
Avila’s “plaza mayor” or central square was flooded with people from all over Spain, enjoying the atmosphere of the annual medieval festival.

On my way out, I did not hesitate to try Avila’s famous Patatas Revolconas, to visit the ancient Cuatro Postes, or to learn more about Santa Teresa de Jesus who lived in Avila.

The inner city’s street were adorned with festive decorations and decorations alluding to religions such as Judaism.
Los Cuatro Postes is an ancient site on a hill with a fantastic view of Avila where it is said that Santa Teresa de Jesus and her brother decided to become heroes for Christianity.
Trying hard not to slip, I inch away from one of the best views of Avila and its medieval walls.
“Patatas revolconas” is a famous dish in Avila made with pureed potatoes and pork meat. This hit the spot!

My thirst for history led me further to Alcala de Henares, an ancient city just east of the city of Madrid. I felt honored to stand in a city founded in pre-Roman times. I was able to visit an archeological museum where million-year-old fossils were displayed along with Roman mosaics and other ancient artifacts. I also received a tour of the house where 16th century author Miguel Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, was born. Stepping outside into the streets of Alcala, I found charming streets bustling with people who have come for the medieval festival. Mini parades of people dressed in armor and mystical creatures livened the avenues of vendors.

One of Alacala de Henares’s street reminded me of downtown Holland with its short trees, charming store fronts, and friendly people.
The University of Alcala was founded in 1498, a just 6 years after Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain!
Alcala de Henares’s central square was lively with decorations of varying cultures representing its multicultural history.
I was able to explore the 16th century home where Miguel de Cervantes, author of the famous book Don Quixote, was born!
While Alacala de Henares was founded even before the Romans arrived, the city’s archaeological museum held millions-of-years old fossils found in present-day Spain!

Surf Camp!

During orientation, we had a compulsory surf safety presentation (can’t get more Aussie than that!), and we were told about Surf Camp Australia. Two days of nothing but “SURF EAT SLEEP REPEAT.” Sounds great right? So we got a bunch of people to sign up and within no time we were off!

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7 Mile Beach – best place to learn to surf in Australia!

With our bags packed and eager to get going, we arrive at our meeting place just a little early! Okay, we were an hour early… Luckily, they plan to take the first 20 people by train instead of bus, so after waiting for a few more people to arrive, we’re off to the train station! Because we are so excited about our adventure and hanging out with other ICMS students, we are chatting away with the group while we wait for the train. Unfortunately, our surf camp instructor, Scott, leads his sweet, innocent little ducklings onto the quiet carriage of the train…

for our two hour ride…

20-odd college-age students…


Of course not.

We tried. We really did. Thankfully after an hour, most people start getting off the train, but not without scolding our group multiple times for talking on the quiet carriage. So after a long, awkward, exciting, and at times uncomfortable train ride, we make it to Gerringong, where our cute little surf camp oasis is expecting us.

Jose, the manager, giving us instructions for the weekend


We have a meeting once everyone arrives about the breakdown of the weekend. Two groups of campers with two surf lessons, one Saturday and one on Sunday!






Surf, eat, sleep, repeat!

Getting up on Saturday, we are full of excitement! We get our wetties (wetsuits) on and head to the beach for lesson number 1! It’s not the best day to swim, let alone surf, but the wetsuits definitely help. We have our basic instruction about how to surf and the anatomy of the surfboard, but unfortunately the wind and the waves are so bad we can’t surf that morning. We still have tons of fun hanging out back at camp, playing giant Jenga and talking with our fellow surfers.

Trying to beat the record of 26 levels high…. wasn’t successful, but we had fun regardless!

The conditions still are pretty bad in the afternoon, but they let us attempt to surf anyway! I try my best to remember the steps, but by the end of the day, I still am not able to stand up on my board. However, I am determined to get it day 2. But for now, it’s dinner and some dancing at the local pub!







Sunday morning we get up at 7 and we’re surfing by 8! After a bit of help on some better waves, my lovely instructors get me up on a wave and it was incredible!  Gliding so smoothly across the water I throw some shakas at the guys signaling I finally had it! After our lesson, we head back to camp to pack up and have our closing meeting. They weren’t kidding – Surf eat sleep repeat – I was beat by the end of it! However I wasn’t quite ready to get back into school mode…

ICMS Surf Fam <3



Living Among the Dinosaurs

On Saturday I found myself eating tiny coconuts and sipping water from tiny shoe-shaped flowers. It was like a miniature tea party!

In fact, one of my favorite memories from childhood was the tiny tea-set that my sister and I shared. Even for 10-year-old fingers, it was teensy. And we would always drink tap water and eat baby goldfish. At that point in my life, real tea was a very grown-up concept.

Now, thanks to my roommate Sav, who introduced me to this drink and the constant presence of tea at our evening meals in Chile, I’m addicted. And a warm cup of tea was exactly what I was craving after Saturday’s adventures.

Let me back up.

On Saturday, my study abroad program took an excursion to La Campana National Park. It’s a magical place just a bus ride away from Valparaiso, where the ecosystem changes suddenly to remind me of Jurassic times.

Doesn’t it seem like dinosaurs would live here? I kept expecting a pterodactyl to come swooping by. This mix of vegetation has been here for hundreds of thousands of years, and the palm trees, or palmeras, are a species unique to Chile. Their presence here has to do with the microclimate in the national park, which receives a lot of rain.

I learned all these things from our tour guides, who were an incredible source of knowledge about the national park. They pointed out tons of wildlife, patiently answering all my questions about rocks and woodpecker species.

The part about the rain, though, I picked up on pretty fast. It was raining all day, starting just after we unloaded the bus in the parking lot. By the time we got back, about 5 hours later, we were slipping and sliding down the muddy hills.

On the plus side, the rain made the waterfall that we went to see absolutely gorgeous! Our guides noted that there was more water rushing down it than they had ever seen.

The rain also allowed us to see some more secretive birds, a tarantula, and flowers that would have closed up otherwise. These adorable bell-shaped yellow flowers generally last about a day, but with the rain, they were filled up to the brim. And they were the perfect shape to take a little sip out of!

The tiny coconuts that made up the other half of my tea party were from the Chilean palmera. They’re about the size of a quarter. Our tour guide found one on the ground and split it open with a rock. They don’t have water inside, but the fleshy white part tastes just like any other coconut!

Overall, I had a wonderful time in the land of the dinosaurs! Despite the rain and the cold, it was an amazing place to visit. And on the way back, we stopped at an authentic Chilean restaurant to warm up with a cazuela (a typical brothy soup) and, of course, some tea.