Santorini Island, Greece

When looking up trips I’d like to take while in Europe, the idea of going to Greece wasn’t realistic until a Times article highlighted Santorini Island as one of the Top 50 places a person must see in their lifetime. That was enough to convince me that I hadto see the island for myself and with already being in Europe it made sense both monetarily and logistically.

Our island adventure started with making a stop in Athens first. Withina couple of hours of hour plane landing we made it a point to see the Parthenon, but soon discovered we only had a short time to make that happen. We sprinted up the hilly cobblestone path and finally made it to the entrance. We made the 6pm cutoff time with just a couple minutes to spare and to our surprise found out entry was free for students. The view of Athens from the Parthenon was inspiring and seeing it up close bought elementary school history classes to life. Following our short excursion we explored the rest of Athens and head to bed relatively early for the 7am flight to Santorini Island the next morning.


Once we touched down in Santorini I immediately knew this trip would be incredible, from the weather to the hospitable nature of our hostel owners the trip was off to a great start. With Santorini being a small island we thought it was best to explore via ATVs. Myself and two friends rented from a local company recommend by our hostel and shortly after test driving them we were on our way. We started at the southern tip of the island at a black sand beach. I had never seen black sand before but the look and texture of it was uniquely likable. After a quick nap on this beach we made our way to a lighthouse and incredible does not give justice to the views of the crystal clear water and cliffs running along the island.

As if the views from here couldn’t be better we made it a point to watch the sunset from Oía, which is iconic for the glistening white homes and blue roofs. But although I enjoyed the sunset from here it was the journey there via ATV I found even more enjoyable. It was just an awesome feeling having the wind blow in your face as you drive past the massive expanse of the ocean going for miles.


Our Santorini adventure ended poolside at our hostel which felt morelike a resort honestly with the amazing staff and great quality rooms. The trip was incredibly relaxing and worth every penny for the constant jaw dropping sights we were fortunate enough to experience!IMG_0789

Madrid: Home away from Home

Last year when my roommate brought up the idea of studying abroad together I was pretty skeptical and honestly unsure if it was a good idea. Life was good in Louisville and leaving it behind just did not feel right. I eventually gave in and it wasn’t until my plane took off that the realization I was actually studying abroad hit me.

Fast forward to now and it is safe to say Madrid feels like home. The realization of this first hit me after spending a weekend in Ibiza and despite having an awesome time, I couldn’t wait to return to the familiarity and ambiance of Madrid. While my friends and family aren’t here, technology makes it easy to stay in touch and snapchat and twitter are easy reminders that UofL is pretty much how I left it so I should have no shame being away and making the most of my time in Madrid.

Being here I’ve obviously had to adapt to some cultural differences but I’ve gown to enjoy them and can already tell adjusting back to life back home may be a struggle. For example, life moves at a pretty slow pace in Madrid. Whether at restaurants or walking down the streets, everyone is relaxed and being prompt is not a priority. My friends and I joke about showing up places at Spanish time often because if we agree to meet at a certain time, we usually do not show up until 10-20 minutes after the agreed time. Another cultural difference I’ve grown to enjoy are mid afternoon naps called siestas. During this time a lot of local stores and offices are closed and barely anyone is seen walking the streets. Of course one isn’t obligated to sleep during this time but you might as well since what you’re anticipating on doing will probably be interfering with someone else’s siesta time.

All in all I’m thrilled I choose Madrid to study abroad. It truly feels like a home away from home, and I hope to return again after my study abroad experience is over.

Hasta Luego!

A trip to Valencia

The leisurely coastal beauty of Valencia is one of the gems of Spain. Valencia is the third largest city in Spain, the creator of paella, kingdom of Spain’s favorite hero El Cid, and home of a harmonious balance of modern and ancient. Its Roman roots are juxtaposed perfectly with some of Spain’s greatest “Modernista” architecture, and this alongside its dazzling culture will be sure to leave you breathless!

Valencia’s roots, like so many great Spanish cities, are Roman. It was founded in 138 BC, and was shortly after destroyed in a war. Valencia rose from the ashes of this wreck and was taken over by Arabs, which gave it an exposure to Islamic culture. Valencia was ruled by El Cid, Spain’s favorite legendary soldier, until his death. It was briefly the capital of Spain from 1936-1939 during the Spanish Civil War, and today thrives as one of the busiest ports in Europe!

valencia2From foodies to museum goers, Valencia has something to offer for everyone! Make sure you stop by Valencia’s Cathedral, a stunning Gothic masterpiece that contains what most historians agree to be the true Holy Grail that Christ drank from at his Last Supper! Another must see is the Museo de Bellas Artes, one of the best collections that Spain has to offer. This small museum contains pieces from iconic Spanish artists like Goya, Velazquez, and El Greco (and it’s free!). Check out the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, which is one of the 12 Treasures of Spain, and a perfect example of Valencia’s harmonious coexistence of the ancient and the modern. This construction is gorgeous and inside you can explore the science museum and all of its exhibits! Now let’s get down to everyone’s favorite topic: food! Valencia is home to the paella, a delectable simmered dish of rice with seafood or meat (most commonly chicken or rabbit in Valencia).

A Survival Guide to Paris Public Transit

Hey there! Before I start with this post, my first in a series of survival guides for life here in France, I thought I’d introduce myself. I’m Ariel, a junior marketing major studying at ESSEC, a business university in Cergy, a suburb about 40 minutes north of Paris.

That being said, I take public transport all the time. I use it to get to and from class, get down into Paris, and travel around France. I’ve used probably every form of transport available here, from buses to the RER to the Metro. I’ve also had the *lovely* opportunity to get to deal with maintenance being done on the train tracks, resulting in a partial shutdown of the RER, which is how I get home.

So yeah, I consider myself a bit of an expert on navigating Paris’s public transit system. Since Louisville doesn’t really have public transport, the system in Paris can be a bit confusing at first, especially if you don’t speak French. I thought I’d help clear up a few things. Here are my top 5 tips when riding Paris public transport.

1. Vianavigo is your BFF

Vianavigo is an app that helps you navigate the Paris public transit system. You put in your destination and the app uses your location to figure out the best route for you to get from Point A to Point B. There’s also a map of the entire train system and timetables, both of which have proved quite useful for me.

My favorite thing about it is that it lets you know if there’s any kind of issues with the transit you’re going to be taking. That’s how I found out about the work being done on the RER.

2. Follow the crowd

If you don’t know what you’re supposed to do, watch everybody else first. For example, when coming home from Paris one night, the train I was on suddenly stopped and everyone got off. I had no idea what was going on, but I followed the crowd to a group of buses that were apparently set up to get us to various train stops. I use the “monkey see, monkey do” rule a lot when I’m traveling, especially if I don’t speak the language of that country.

Note: you’ll see a lot of people jumping over turnstiles or sneaking in behind people. This is because they don’t have tickets. This is illegal and you will be punished if caught. Always have a valid ticket or Metro pass.

3. Know how to pronounce the name of your stop or have it written down

If you need help, go to the ticket window or look for someone wearing an SNCF uniform. However, they won’t be able to help you if you can’t tell them were you need to go. If you’re afraid of butchering the name, have it written down or pull up your handy Vianavigo app and show that to them. They’ll quickly be able to tell that you don’t speak French, so they’ll use hand gestures and, in some cases, a bit of English to get the point across.

4. There will be armed police/soldiers and baggage check points everywhere

Following the terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice, the country has been in a state of emergency. This means that at major train stations and tourist attractions, there will be mandatory bag checks. Just have your bag open, don’t act suspicious, and you’ll be fine.

You’ll also see armed soldiers a lot, at train stations, tourist attractions, and even just in the street. I would freak out if I saw this at home, but here in Paris, it’s totally normal. I’ve even walked to the train station near my apartment and found soldiers randomly walking around. The only time I ever get bothered by the heightened security is when “suspicious bags” are found and the trains are halted until the police have checked it out. Aside from that, I’ve actually grown to like it. It makes me feel safe, especially when I’m walking by myself at night, after class or down in Paris.

5. Public transit is easy to use

When there’s not work being done on the rails and workers aren’t on strike, the public transit system here in Paris is very user-friendly. There’s maps in all the Metro stations, so you can easily find out what train you need (if you haven’t downloaded Vianavigo). There are plenty of signs. And to figure out if the train coming up to the platform is yours, just look at the helpful screens on the platform. You’ll either see the terminus station for your direction or, at some of the larger Metro stations, your stop will be lit up. Easy peasy.

There you have it. My top 5 tips for surviving the Paris public transit system. It might seem unfamiliar, but as long as you have a valid ticket, you observe the people around you, and you know how to read a sign, you’re good to go. Just don’t freak out when you see a bunch of armed soldiers strolling by.

One Month In

Having been in Prague a little over a month now, I have definitely come to several conclusions. First of all, when sharing an apartment with five other guys, things get messy. A single refrigerator is not designed to hold enough food for six men. The person who cares the most will end up loading and unloading the dishwasher and taking out the trash. It is best that the same person not be the one who cares the most about everything, or they will be doing all the dirty work.

I have learned that time away from these five people, who you do everything with, is essential. Having just returned from a solo trip to Vienna, I feel rejuvenated and ready to face another week in our loud, slightly squalid, and up all night apartment. Don’t get me wrong, I like these guys, but sometimes you just need a break.

I discovered that solo travel is amazing on multiple levels. First, you get to go where you want to go. There are no conflicts about where to eat or what to see. You don’t waste time looking for members of your group. You can start and end your day whenever you please.

In regards to classes, I have learned that it sounds great to have class only 4 times a week (that would be 4 classes meeting once a week, each for 3 hours at a time), but in actuality, it isn’t as great as it sounds. Furthermore, it becomes less great when there is a bank holiday and a professor decides to make up your class during a time that you already have a class and he doesn’t consider that a good excuse for missing his make up class.

I have found the metro to be a wonderful thing! Once you figure it out, you are never far from a station and a quick way home. You don’t have to rely on anyone to get around and you can leave someplace whenever you choose. You don’t have to worry about where to park or whether you will get a parking ticket for parking there.

I have discovered that I must look like a local, as I have had several people come up to me and ask for directions and have had two women on buses strike up conversations with me in Czech. I have found that the best way to handle these awkward conversations is to nod my head, mimic their facial expressions and laugh when they laugh. So far, so good!

Most of all, I have discovered so much about myself. I have learned that I can survive in a foreign country. I can navigate the transportation system, the grocery store and a dishwasher with Czech directions. I can travel to other countries in a pack of 12 or I can head off on my own. I can balance school, domestic chores, and a plethora of festivals, and still get a good nights sleep.

All in all, it’s been a good month. Time flies when you are studying abroad, especially when it is for just one semester. Seize opportunities, get out of your room and then get out of your country, but most of all get out of your comfort zone and make memories.

Hala Madrid!

If football is religion in Europe, then Real Madrid is the Vatican! Anyone who is in Madrid during a match will quickly learn that the entire city comes to a complete stand still for 90 minutes. Everyone either gathers in their homes, local bars, or makes their pilgrimage to the Santiago Bernabeu (Real Madrid’s Stadium). Football fans also know that Champions League football is special as it is the competition that brings the best football clubs throughout Europe into one tournament.

On this faithful night Real Madrid was playing Sporting Lisbon (the champions of the Portuguese League last season), in their opening match of the Champions League. As we got onto the metro to the stadium we were greeted by thousands of other supporters chanting Real Madrid’s famous chant “Hala Madrid”. Once we finally got to the stadium we spent about 30 minutes just getting into the stadium so I would highly recommend anyone going leave at least two hours before the match to guarantee you do not miss anything. Additionally, Champions League tickets are a little harder to find then a regular season game, because everyone wants them. That is why we paid a little extra (around 100 Euros) to get tickets through a company who purchases a lot of tickets from the club directly as soon as they go on sale to the public so that we were assured to get valid tickets.

Walking up the stairs to our seats had my heart pumping a hundred miles per hour. The inside of the stadium was beautiful! There is not a single bad seat in the entire stadium. We got to our seats about 45 minutes before the game, but we were entertained by the players warming up and all the prematch rituals that only happen for Champions League games. (Again another reason I highly recommend going to a Champions League match.) In addition, was the starting line announcements with the likes of Christiano Ronaldo, Garreth Bale, and Sergio Ramos, the greatest players in the world!

When the match finally started it was incredible! The first half saw Real Madrid stringing passes together all over the pitch only to just finally just miss the crucial pass right at the end. While Sporting was playing a counterattacking kind of game, where they would defend deep until they could regain possession and then would quickly break on the Real Madrid defense. Sporting actually came the closest in the first half as they hit the crossbar right before halftime. The half finished 0-0, but both teams looked like they had goals in them.

The second half was when the goals finally came flying in. Sporting scored first, within 5 minutes into the second half with Real Madrid’s defense made a crucial mistake and the ball fell to Sportings striker, who scored with a very simple shot put Sporting up 1-0. Real Madrid kept pushing for an equalizer, but just could not get the ball in the back of the net. That was until the dying minutes of the game. With 5 minutes left in the match Real Madrid won a free-kick just outside the box. Ronaldo with his trademark free-kick rocketed the shot over the wall and into the top corner to tie the game at one apiece. The stadium went absolutely mad! For a good portion of the game it looked as if Real was going to lose, and then the best player in the world showed his world class! The match was not finished there however. With 4 minutes of added time Real was not looking to just get a draw, they wanted to win, and they pushed everyone into the attack. With 10 seconds left in the match Real Madrid’s winger whips in a cross from out wide and up rose Morata (Real Madrid’s substitute striker) and headed in the winner! Literally the last touch of the ball was the winner. The stadium erupted as everyone in the stands (including us) completely lost our minds and were going crazy.

2-1 Real Madrid, Champions League night at the Santiago Bernabeu! The type of thing football fans dream of and we got to experience it!

Hala Madrid!