Morocco

Hands down I was able to see one of the most interesting places this past weekend- Marrakech Morocco. This was the first time I was ever in Africa, however, I felt like I was in the Middle East. It was so interesting going here because I learned a lot about Morocco in one of my classes I am taking this semester.  It was fascinating to note a lot of the things that I had researched for class.

Upon my arrival, I was pleasantly surprised when I only saw that one man would be touring my group around for the weekend. I figured that because of the dangers that follow an Arab country, the program that I went through would have more than one source of security. I tried to make the most out of my experience there and didn’t let my fear get in the way of seeing such an interesting part of the world.

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The first day my group walked around the center of town to see the souk and enjoy a market tour. I loved watching all the workers make the leather so that you are able to see how it is made and trust that it is real. As much as I loved the leather market in Florence, Italy, this market was even better because it showed the process of how each product is created. Our groups stopped at a few places that our tour guide, Ali brought us to help some of his friends make business. Later that day we were able to visit a few traditional restaurants that were absolutely beautiful. From the outside you are not able to see the true beauty but the second you walk inside you feel like you are in some magical place.

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For sunset, we all had down time to chill on the roof of our riad, where we were staying for the weekend. The hot sun was the most beautiful thing to watch as it came down. We all enjoyed the incredible scenery of Marrakech and built up an appetite for a delicious meal that they had prepared for us at our riad. The food reminded me of Middle Eastern cuisine and because of my food restrictions, I was basically eating couscous and vegetables all weekend. I couldn’t complain though because of how accommodating they were to make me special meals that I was able to eat.

IMG_8734The second day I was there we woke up early to visit a traditional Berber house. I was astonished to see how welcoming and generous they were when our group arrived. The lady of the house made us the most incredible green tea I have ever had. You can tell a lot of love goes into making it. I had one of the other woman who was there draw some henna on my hand just so I could support her business. After, we went to the mountains to get a camel ride. I have done this before in Israel, but here there was a better view instead of just desert you could see a river and mountains all around.

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Our next stop for the day was the Ourika valley and Atlas Mountains. Here, we did a hike that was probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. Obviously our group leader said the hike would only take an hour and a half and was completely doable… three hours later we were almost to the top of a mountain and had hiked up walls of hard rock without attachment or safety precautions…something that would be impossible to find back home. I was so proud of myself for making it all the way and got to enjoy a relaxing lunch at the foot of the Atlas Mountains by a river stream.

That evening we went to the Jamma El Fna Square to have dinner and it was extremely packed with locals who were dancing and eating. I was so exhausted from a long day that I told myself I would go back to the square on Sunday to play with the monkeys and do some last minute shopping.

IMG_8882Day three started out with a trip to the Hammam. I could definitely say that this was an experience of a lifetime. I was a little creeped out by the whole idea before I went but than I decided that if I came all this way and did not try it, I would regret it in the end. It turns out that it was so much more of a relaxing spa experience than I ever imagined it.

IMG_8887 Later that afternoon we did a historical walking tour of Marrakech, which included going to an old University that resembled a Mosque and also going to a famous castle. Both were very beautiful and the architecture was something that I have never seen before. The beauty of it was that it had an Islamic influence.

Later that afternoon we went for more henna and visited a place that had spices and oils. I bought a few great souvenirs for friends and family. We went to dinner at this really beautiful restaurant that looked out on the sunset and it could not have been a more enjoyable experience to end such an amazing trip.

 

Luck of the Irish

Spending a weekend in Dublin,  Ireland was much more than experiencing a country filled with Irish pubs.  It was also more than the opportunity to be reunited with a large Jewish population of college students who are studying abroad.   I was pleasantly surprised by how beautiful the city of Dublin is and how sophisticated their stores and restaurants are.  Every local person that I met throughout the weekend was nicer than the next.  This weekend started when I met my five best friends from home at the Dublin airport.  After getting completely lost and circling my way around each terminal’s baggage claim area, I was reunited with them for the first time in a month.  We arrived at our hotel and after quickly dropping off our luggage we ran over to the Guinness factory because it was already approaching early evening.  We toured the factory for a solid three hours and it was nice to learn more about how beer is made and comparing and contrasting points that I picked up at the Heineken factory in Amsterdam.  At the end of the tour we all got a free liter of Guinness!  Even though I do not enjoy dark beer because it is an acquired taste, it was so beautiful as we looked out and took pictures at the very top of the factory as there was a panoramic view of Ireland.

IMG_8008-1After the fun time touring the Guinness factory,  that evening my friends and some of their family members who were visiting from home enjoyed a delicious authentic Irish dinner of fish and chips at a pub that was close to our hotel.  It was really nice to relax and enjoy each others company, especially because I don’t get to see these friends everyday, it makes times like these so much more special.  As the end of the night approached, we were all over exhausted from traveling and drinking so much beer so we got to bed pretty early.  IMG_7992We needed to be well rested for Friday because we all had to wake up at 6 am to catch the Irish Day Tour buses to take a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher.

Throughout the day we made a series of stops with the first being the famous castle in the town of  Limerick.  We could see the castle in the distance but our bus only took us to a view point where we weren’t able to get a close up.  There was still pretty scenery of a river and bridge.

FullSizeRender Our next stop took place about two hours later when we finally reached Clare which is the location of the beautiful cliffs.  Supposedly this area was in the running to be one of the 7 wonders of the world.  Even though it is not considered one, I can absolutely see why it was such a tough decision to make.  We only were given an hour and a half to wonder around and I could have used another hour to see more view points and take in the beauty.  It was one of those things where a picture cannot begin to explain how astonishing it really is.

Our third stop was to another cliff region called The Burren and I think I took this view for granted because of the previous cliffs that I had seen.  It was still mind blowing to see how high up we were and the huge rocks that made up the mountain we were standing on.  The water below us was crystal blue and almost reminded me of the water color in Lake Tahoe, CaliforniaIMG_8109After taking a quick lunch break that was organized by our bus leader, we made our next stop at an old catholic cemetery not far from the second cliff area.  I did not really understand much about this sacred place but it was a good way to get some nice photos.  On our way out a man showed me an old skull that he had found inside the funeral home. IMG_8111

After getting the goosebumps it was time to hop back on the bus and head to our last stop of the day which was the fishing town.

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After napping for three hours on the bus ride home, we all worked up the energy to go out for our first evening in Dublin.  We went to Temple Bar which was not far from where we were staying which is an entire street of cute Irish pubs and parades.  Beside seeing a bunch of locals dressed up for the holiday, it was nice to bump into a few friends that I haven’t seen since coming abroad.  After a few bar crawls, we made it back where my three friends and I all snuggled into one bed and quickly fell asleep.

All of Saturday consisted of day drinking and celebrating St. Patricks Day along with every other American student studying abroad this semester.  My crew and I started at a bar close by to where we had brunch and ended back at Temple Bar where we were able to celebrate with other friends and enjoy hanging out and taking pictures with the locals.  It was really fun roaming the streets all day and hopping from pub to pub because I don’t have this type of social scene in Barcelona or Miami where I go to school because those cities are more organized around clubs.  By the time 5 pm arrived, my sorority sisters from Miami and I met and had dinner together.  It was so much fun being all together and gave me a taste of what being home feels like.

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Sunday I got to sleep late before checking out of the hotel and I then met a friend for brunch who had not flown back to her city.  After eating we went shopping on Grafton Street and it was nice to shop at some of the same stores that we have in the States but not anywhere I’ve traveled so far within Europe.   Dublin was definitely the most fun weekend I have had while being abroad and I plan to return sometime in the future.

Fam Squad

Having my family in Barcelona over this past week made Spain feel a little more like home. I was able to take them to all my favorite places. It was also nice to go to a lot of new places that I haven’t had the opportunity to go to yet. Some of those places included a wine vineyard, Montjuïc, The W Hotel, and some restaurants like Monster Sushi, La Luna, Cerveceria Catalana, Eyecream & Friends, and CDLC.

Thursday after I finished my last midterm, I met my family at the W hotel on the beach. It was a relaxing way to celebrate the end of my exams with drinks and a beautiful day. Afterwards, we walked along the beach and stopped at an ice cream place that I have wanted to go to for a while now. Eyecream & Friends is a really clever idea. They have you a pick a flavor of ice cream and two toppings. They add two eyeballs on your ice cream scoop to give your ice cream more character. We sat on a bench enjoying our snack and watched all the pedestrians walking along the street.

Friday morning we took a train from Barcelona to Vilafranca del penedes. This was about an hour south from the city. We arrived in the wine region where we spent the entire morning touring the Parés Baltà vineyard and learning more about cava, the Spanish wine. The only other winery I have been to was in Israel last summer, which did not even compare to this one. Our guide, Jemma did a great job showing us around the vineyard and educating us more on the process. After testing about ten of the wines, my whole family was practically on the floor. It was an exciting activity that I enjoyed a lot because I don’t have the chance to do that everyday.

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We were able to take the cable cars up to the top of Montjuïc on Saturday and strolled around the castle for a good hour. There was a view of the port and you could even spot the W hotel from all the way up there. We didn’t end up going into the castle but it was still worthwhile to take the ride up just to capture the scenery. However, it is definitely not a “must do” if you are just visiting the city for just a short amount of time.

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Not only did we do new things but also I was so happy to take my family to my favorite shops and restaurants. My mom and sister loved the Gracia area of Barcelona just as much as I do. We shopped around during the evenings from 7-8:00 pm when all the street venders are out and there is a lot of action going on in the streets. I took them to my favorite boutique “Clink” across from my apartment on Verdi. They sell women’s clothing and accessories. I also took my family to the Gothic area where they have a candy place “Happy Pills” that I know my sister wanted to go to. It’s a cute shop that organizes the candy by color. They give you a pill bottle in various sizes that you stuff with candy. Then they stick on labels with cute sayings. My sister got a bottle that said “Sweet Kisses from Barcelona.” It’s a great souvenir that you can keep for medications after you finish the candy.

By the time Sunday came around, it was time for my family to fly back to the States. I had such a great time showing them around my city and enjoying this incredible experience with them.

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Lisboa

I may just be one of the luckiest girls in all of the world because on Friday morning of last week, my parents and both siblings were able to take off from their work and travel to Barcelona to visit me for 10 days.  I met them at the airport in Barcelona so that we could all travel to Lisbon, Portugal together.  We arrived in Lisbon late afternoon and after getting situated in our hotel, we walked around the city to get a feel of what it was like.  We walked to the pier and it reminded me a little of Barcelona because of the water and beautiful sandy beaches.

IMG_7741Saturday was a day full of activities.  My parents hired a driver to take us around to the smaller towns outside of the city.  The first place we visited was a city called Sintra.  There, we visited the Palace Pena.  It was a beautiful castle that was on the very top of a huge mountain.  There was so much fog in the air that it was almost impossible to see the full palace.  I truthfully thought the outside was even more impressive than the inside.  Because I have seen so many royal palaces from traveling, the inside seemed extremely outdated and did not have gold trimmings along the ceilings and walls like other places I have seen before.  However, the outside looked like it came from a fairy tale book.  This is definitely a place I would recommend for someone to visit if they were taking a trip to Lisbon.

After walking through the entire castle, we stopped in the town of Sintra to shop, walk around the narrow and beautiful cobble stone streets, and get a quick café.  Even though we made a quick stop,  it was still enjoyable to walk around and spend time with my family.

Our next activity was going to Cabo da Roca, which is the western most point facing America.  It was a really windy out by the water but it was still really beautiful to see the crashing waves and smell the fresh air.  Our tour guide told us a frightening story of two parents that got to close to the edge to find their child and fell off.  After that, my paranoid parents were in a hurry to get back in the car and hit the road again.

After working up an appetite from running around the city all day we went to a delicious, authentic fish restaurant in Cascais.  I was so pleased to have fish because I keep a kosher diet and while I have been abroad the only protein I am getting has been from cheese.  I got a scrumptious grilled salmon and enjoyed trying a place I have never been before.  After lunch we walked around the fishing village and my siblings and I walked down to the harbor to get some pictures and take in the scenery.

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The rest of the afternoon consisted of going to the Tower of Belem, Vasco de Gama and Parque Eduardo VII.  All of which were more sites to see closer to where we were staying in the city opposed to the smaller towns outside of Lisbon.

Each site was nice to see but by the end of the day I was completely exhausted and needed a break.  Our driver took us to this fantastic famous bakery Pastéis de Belém to end such a beautiful day.

 

 

The line was all the way out the door and I could smell the baked goods all the way from across the sidewalk.  I tried a new dessert for the first time that were the famous custard pastries.  I made sure to shove a few down before my dad would convince me to give him the box!

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Sunday was our last day and was more relaxing because we only had a brief amount of time before our flight to Barcelona.  After what seemed like a long journey home, my family and I arrived back in Spain where I welcomed them to what has been my home for the past two months.  They plan to stay here for the next week and hopefully on my breaks I can see them and have this last weekend to spend together in Barcelona!

Sealed with a Swiss!

This week I took my very first trip to Switzerland.  I traveled through an organized program called Bus2Alps that took us to Interlaken, a town in Switzerland.  From Interlaken, we were able to sign up for various activities throughout the weekend.

We arrived at 3:00 in the morning, so we quickly got situated in the hostel that we were staying in and went to bed.  Unfortunately the hostel consisted of many students from all around the world and had a nightclub attached to it so there was constant noise throughout the hallways.  I was hardly able to sleep for three nights.  I guess you could say the thing I was looking forward to the most was coming back to my quiet apartment in Barcelona.

When we awoke mid morning on Friday, We had breakfast across the street and met up with a few friends who went skydiving in the morning.  It was so nice to see some of them because we are studying abroad in different countries.  After catching up with them, we took an hour walk to a beautiful lake in Interlaken called Brienz.  There, I had my friend take blog pictures of me for my fashion blog.  We hung out there for a while, just relaxing, capturing pictures and taking in the beautiful scenery of the amazing lake and mountains that surround it.

FullSizeRender-2We decided to rest our legs and went to a nice restaurant where I tried my first famous Switzerland dish called Rösti.  This dish consists of small pieces of potatoes that are cooked on a frying pan with cheese and a sunny side egg on top.  However, because I had three more dishes of Rösti throughout the weekend I learned that you are able to add vegetables or whatever else you want to mix in.  I was pleasantly surprised by the food in Switzerland; I went with very low expectations.  I am fan of cheese and potatoes, so to my surprise I enjoyed the meals!

Later that evening, my friends and I went to a chocolate workshop that was offered through my trip advisor.  I have never made my own chocolate before, but it was a delicious and fun treat! The class took place in a small chocolate store where there was a large table, which we all had room to stand around and listen to the guide who was teaching us how to cool down our chocolate.  I learned a little about coco and within 30 years chocolate will be just as expensive as caviar.  It was a fun activity to do with my friends and I enjoyed decorating and adding toppings to the chocolate bars I was making.

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Day two, (Saturday) I woke up early to get a full day on the mountain.  I signed up for beginners skiing lessons with a few of my close friends who are abroad in Italy.  I have been skiing since I was a young girl, but ever since I got into a ski accident in 8th grade, I continue to have a lot of fear each time I ski.  Saturday was a beautiful day and even though it took a full hour for me to get comfortable on my skis and back in the groove, I was flying down intermediate mountains by the end of the day.  It was nice that I had two friends that were more advanced than me and three that were complete beginners, I was able to do a little skiing with both groups.  The view was absolutely breathtaking and as I was skiing I almost felt like I was going through the clouds.  I don’t think I have ever seen anything so beautiful.  Even though it was an expensive activity because I had to rent all of the gear, it was 100% worth every penny.  Come on, not everyone has the opportunity to go skiing in the Swiss Alps!

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That night, I had dinner with both of my Barcelona friends and my close friends from university in Miami and it was so nice to have everyone together.  I am really happy that they all were able to get along and enjoy each other’s company.  Our last day I had fondue with my roommates before we left for the two and a half hour bus ride to Geneva.  Sunday was mostly a relaxing day because I was still sore from skiing but it was nice to finally get back to Barcelona after a long weekend away.

I don’t know when the next time will be to have the opportunity to travel to Switzerland, but I am glad that I was able to do it now while I am young and can travel with close friends.  If I go back again within the next 15 years, I would love to try paragliding.

Madrid y Seville

This weekend my two roommates and I traveled to Madrid and Seville.  We left on Thursday evening by taking a train to Madrid.  Upon arrival, we checked into our first Airbnb apartment.  The apartment was located in the center of the City and was in an ideal location for tourists.  Friday, we woke up as the sun was rising so that we could get an early start on the day.   Our first stop was the Botanical Gardens.  Most of the flowers and beautiful gardens have not yet blossomed because of the winter season.  It was still very pleasant to be able to walk around and to imagine what it would look like during the warmer season.  We only stayed for a little while because we still wanted to cover a lot of other sites and we didn’t have too much time to do so.

After the gardens we had some breakfast and chocolate milk, which helped to energize us and provide some warmth before venturing outside again.  After breakfast, we went to the Prado Museum, which is one of the most famous museums in all of Spain.  The museum consisted of collections of European art dating back to the 12th century.  I enjoyed leisurely walking around and seeing some of the Spanish sculptures and paintings because I am more familiar with Italian works but this is the first time I have ever visited Spain or a famous Spanish museum.

As afternoon approached, my friends and I went to Parque del Retiro.  There, we saw musicians playing American music and each turn took us down a different path.  On one side we saw a fountain that got us a little wet as we stopped to take pictures.  After casually roaming around for a bit of time, my friends wanted to go to the Chueca area to shop and see what else it had to offer.

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By the time we got there it looked like a lot of the stores and restaurants were closed because it was the siesta.  It was nice to still get a feel for the area.  It reminded me of the area in New York City called Soho.  All the streets were cobblestone, and it was very trendy and young.  If we had an extra day in Madrid I would have enjoyed going back to try one of the restaurants for dinner.  After walking around for an hour we saw a market that was also on our itinerary.  We walked through Mercado de San Antón and looked at all the fresh food.

Late afternoon, we did our last tourist stop of the day and went to the Palacio Real.  This was the famous palace of the royal king.  It was so beautiful and reminded me a lot of other palaces I have visited with my family from previous European trips we have taken.  Every time I visit a place like this I always find it so remarkable that so much gold was used throughout the ceiling and walls of each room.  It is mind boggling to imagine how much time and money was used on each palace.

That evening for dinner we went to a delicious Italian dinner at Grazie Mille.  Our waiter was an adorable man from a beautiful small area in Italy that attracts a lot of tourists during the summer seasons.  I would recommend this restaurant to anyone who travels to Madrid, if only I could go back each week!

On Saturday morning, we woke up to visit our last tourist attraction.  We went to the Center of Spain which is a really busy area surrounded by stores and restaurants.  There we took a few pictures and headed to the train station to go to Seville.

10991194_10152655527591451_314254411342789458_nAfter a three-hour train ride we arrived.  Seville looked exactly how I always pictured it to be; colorful, authentic and quant.  We arrived at another Airbnb apartment and this sweet woman named Barbara greeted us with open arms.  She was the first local person we met in Seville and she left a positive and lasting impression.  She even got my roommates and me a bottle of champagne to celebrate our first night in Seville.  After unpacking some of our things we went to a place that Barbara suggested.  The place is a great looking dock where you can see the entire city and enjoy a remarkable sunset.  We called them “the mushrooms” but it is really called Metropol Parasol.

Sunday was an action packed day to explore the City.  We started at Plaza de España, which was by far my favorite part of the entire trip.  It was a beautiful park where a lot of movies are filmed.  I had never seen a park this beautiful in my entire life.  It was so colorful and full of beautiful Spanish tiles and had a very authentic look to it.  We took a lot of pictures and enjoyed just walking around and up and down the many pedestrian bridges.

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Then we went to the Triana, and walked across the bridge and went inside the market at the end.  There, I bought a beautiful hand woven leather bracelet for my older brother.  They had a bunch of food and goods to purchase.  However, the market was not fully open yet so we decided to walk across the bridge to the other side to try the amazing churros that we heard about.  Those were certainly not overrated and were the most delicious pastries coated with chocolate.  I am also a big fan of churros!

Next, we took a visit to Cathedral de Seville.  It was a stunning church that had beautiful stained glass in the inside.  It also had a lot of designs on the exterior, making it one of the most magnificent churches I have ever seen.  I learned while I was there that it is the third largest church in the world!

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Because we still had a small amount of time before we had to leave for the airport, we heard that the Alcazar Palace was a nice place to see and happened to be right next to the Church.  We walked around inside and because of how big the palace was it took up a few hours to walk the entire Palace. It was very interesting to see because most of the palaces I have visited were not as old as this one.  It included a beautiful section of Spanish tiles that date back to the time of the Renaissance.

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While we were leaving for the airport I could not stop looking out the window to see the rest of the amazing city. I hope to visit both Madrid and Seville again in the future!

Ciao Bella

Last week I took the first trip alone since I have been abroad.  I visited a few of my closest friends who are also studying abroad in Florence, Italy.  It was such an amazing trip and just reflecting back upon the time I spent in Italy, brings a smile to my face.

When I arrived Wednesday evening I was able to see the nightlife because it was one of my friend’s 21st birthday.  On Thursday we went to the Duomo, the famous church.  It is a close walk to their apartment and the architecture is absolutely stunning.  We took some pictures on the outside and I must have passed the Church at least 10 times throughout the weekend because of its central and visible location.  For the rest of the day I shopped my way through the leather market.  Because their apartment is directly upstairs from this market that is filled with soft and beautiful leather, it would be a dangerous thing for me to live there since I am a bit of a shopaholic.  After making a few too many purchases (sorry mom) we finished our day at the Mercato Centrale and I was able to satiate my hunger with a delicious homemade pizza.

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On Friday we woke up early to head over to the other side of the city.  We walked across the Ponte Vecchio, the famous bridge in Florence.  Doing this, we were able to take our time, take pictures and see all the beautiful jewelry that was sold on stores all along the bridge.  After, I was able to go to the Gucci Museum, which was really exciting for me since I have a strong passion for high-end designer brands.  The museum was interesting, however, I do not know if it was a “must do”  if I return to Florence, but because it was starting to rain, it was nice to have some time indoors.  For lunch we went to a place that many friends recommended and I had to try something called “Gusta Pizza”.  I enjoyed another margarita and the waitress even treated me to a heart shaped pie.  Even though I love American food that was probably the best pizza I will ever have in my lifetime.

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As we made our way back to their apartment, we stopped at Piazza della Repubblica, a large square in the center of Florence surrounded by cafes and nice restaurants. It even had an adorable carousel in the center.  My friends explained to me that on Sundays the square is always full of children and families who enjoy listening to street artists and play with men who blow bubbles all over the square.

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Saturday, we woke up early to catch a bus that drove us to Venice, Italy for Carnival.  The first time I had visited Venice, it was during Carnival as well and I still believe that Venice is absolutely stunning and I would always be willing to return.  Besides the cold, it was a perfect day that ended with a romantic gondola ride that my friends and I took all around the canals.

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On the last day we woke up early to climb Michael Angelo which, to my surprise, turned into a beautiful day.  I must admit, the 50 steps or so were well worth the effort.  The city view was breathtaking.  I was able to appreciate things that I never was able to when I was younger.  Even the architecture on the buildings was remarkable.  Italy offers art in so many ways,  that cannot be seen elsewhere.  We treated ourselves to some mouthwatering gelato.  It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend.

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Before coming abroad I was nervous about traveling alone and studying in a different city from my best friends.  This trip made me appreciate our friendships much more and the benefits of traveling and visiting friends in different cities.  This trip reassured me that I made the right decision and that no matter where my travels take me, there is no better place for me to be studying than Barcelona.