Double Dutching

Last week, I embarked on my 5th trip across the pond and landed in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport for the 5th time (so maybe this is quintuple dutching, not double dutching). Although visiting Knut is no easy task, the travel process has definitely gotten easier as I have gotten more used to it. I have finally figured out the key to falling asleep on the plane (purposeful pre-trip sleep deprivation) and to getting a decent meal on that long flight (packing lunch/dinner at home and rejecting the plane food). Although this trip did include a fun weekend in France, I spent the majority of my time in the Netherlands. Each time I visit Knut in Rotterdam, we do much of the same everyday activities, but we have recently been making an effort to do something different. Since this visit took place in spring – also know as the prime time for Dutch tulip season – we took a day trip to Keukenhof, the famous Dutch tulip garden.

Keukenhof

For those visiting the Netherlands during springtime, I would definitely consider stopping by this sea of colorful flowers. However, if you’re looking for an eventful activity, this probably isn’t the place. Visiting Keukenhof consists of walking through a slow, relaxing environment. We essentially spent our afternoon there chatting, while also stopping to snap a few photos. I wouldn’t say it was anything extraordinary, but I’m really happy that we made the trip out there because tulips are such a typical part of the Netherlands and I was finally able to see what all the hype is about.

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Delft

After Knut spent the morning working and I went on my classic run around Kralingse Plas, we took another day trip to Delft. Delft is the home city to that classic Dutch blue and white painted pottery, Delftware. In Delft, we grabbed lunch and then enjoyed walking through the narrow, quiet streets. Although much smaller than the Dutch capital, Delft has its own quaint cobblestone streets and charming canals. We didn’t do anything particularly exciting in Delft, but it was nice to see another city in the Netherlands. One of my favorite parts about travel is wandering through streets with no agenda, and Delft gave us the opportunity to do just that. We were a little lost and not rushed in the slightest, giving us the chance to just talk and explore with no clear objective in sight. As this trip took place between final exams and the upcoming start of my summer internship, it was the perfect escape from time and schedules.

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Amsterdam

Knut studies in Rotterdam, however Amsterdam is just a quick 1-hour train ride away. Therefore, we’ve always made a day trip (or two) to the Dutch capital when I visit. For some reason, each time I visit Amsterdam, I like it even more. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that I now have other European cities to compare it to or just that the city is growing on me, but it has really become one of my favorite cities in the world. I absolutely love the Dutch bike culture, which is blindingly apparent in Amsterdam with potentially more bikes than people in sight at any moment. Furthermore, the cobblestone streets and canal houses make some of the most picturesque city streets that I have ever seen. In fact, the city looks more like an oversized town because there aren’t skyscrapers taking over the sky nor cars polluting the streets. As a total foodie, I also appreciate the unique, trendy restaurants and cafes that have popped up in the city. Knut and I had lunch at the now Facebook-famous The Avocado Show, where every dish includes the trendy green super food. Knut got The Bun Burger, which is exactly what it sounds like: a burger in which the bun is a full avocado. I opted for something a bit more typical, getting the CAT Sandwich, which is a pieced of toast topped with sliced Chicken (C), Avocado (A), and Truffle (T). As I have seen The Avocado Show appear in countless social media posts, I was debatably more excited for the restaurant than actually visiting the city. That being said, wandering through Amsterdam was absolutely perfect as it was sunny and uncharacteristically 81 degrees.

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We finished the day by meeting up with some of Knut’s friends who were barbequing and swimming at Kralingse Plas (along with what seemed like every other person in Rotterdam), and then inviting everyone over to Knut’s apartment to hangout on his rooftop porch.

Rotterdam

Thus far, I have talked about doing something in just about every place we went except for the place that Knut lives: Rotterdam. Although it may not sound like it, we did spend the majority of the time in Rotterdam, it was just mostly spent on eating meals, running around the lake, and doing work, therefore most of our time in Rotterdam is not as exciting to read about as our day trips. However, we did spend the last day of my visit doing some fun Rotterdam things.

You may have heard about the High Line in New York City, which Knut and I visited in July of 2015. It’s essentially an old above ground railroad track that has been converted into an elevated linear park. I had once read in an airplane magazine that Rotterdam also had one, but none of Knut’s friends seemed to know about it. Despite the “warning signs”, we set out to explore Hofbogen (Rotterdam’s version of the High Line). Unfortunately, there was not much to see. Between the peeling yellow paint of the walkway and the short distance of the path, it was not exactly something that I would recommend seeing. That being said, we did pass some cool street art and I was able to check out an area that I had been interested in seeing for over a year. Luckily, I had a back-up plan and we hopped on the train toward Fenix Food District.

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Home cooked meal

The Fenix Food District was something I found on Rotterdam’s tourism website and proved to be quite cool. It’s an old warehouse converted into an indoor area with different cafes, a brewery, a cheese shop, a bookshop, and other unique stores. After getting coffee and cookies at Jordy’s Bakery, we headed to the outdoor patio and enjoyed our afternoon snack amongst a crowd of Rotterdam professionals who were winding down with a beer after work.

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Although it may sound strange, the 20-hour trip involved in visiting Knut has become quite normal for me. I don’t love sitting in airports and on airplanes for so long, but as I said in my last post, I am so thankful for the opportunity this relationship has given me to see the world. This upcoming semester, Knut will be studying abroad at the University of Michigan; therefore my European travels will be slowing down. With one year left before I start living in the “real world”, I am hoping to make the most of student life and see more U.S. cities. As much as I love seeing different countries and cultures, I recognize that the U.S. is one of the most diverse nations in the world and has so many interesting places to offer and people to see. Some top cities on my list include Charleston, San Francisco, and Chicago. Let me know if you have any tips about what to do in those cities, or tips on other U.S. cities to see! For now, I’ve got less than 2 weeks left until I leave for Atlanta, so I will be spending my time laying by the pool, catching up with high school friends, and reading as many books as humanly possible before I get busy with work.

xoxo,

jmd

nothing but nice

As this trip marks my fifth visit to Rotterdam, I’m really starting to feel quite familiar with the city. I have a favorite place, which doubles as my running route, Kralingse Plas (the lake next to Knut’s apartment), I have friends to chat with when we attend RSM (Rotterdam School of Management) house parties, and I have my own “OV” – the Dutch public transport card. Rotterdam has definitely grown on me in the past 2 years, and although it’s not as exciting as Amsterdam, it definitely has a charm that is unmatched to the Dutch capital. During this trip, I’ve been able to enjoy some of my favorite parts about visiting Knut at school, which include running around Kralingse Plas, enjoying the annual home cooked meal curated by Melvin, Thomas, and Joep (during each of my visits, these three boys have made the point to cook an increasingly more elaborate dinner for Knut and me), and attending a typical RSM house party (where I’m able to chat with Knut’s friends). Experiencing the social life of a European school – especially one with an international program – lends such an interesting perspective about how other university students across the world have fun. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s always so refreshing to hang out with a group that includes such a blend of cultures as his primary group of friends come from the Netherlands, Germany, Singapore, Spain, Hungary, Poland, and South Korea.

As for what I’ve been up to, whenever I visit Knut in May, we tend to take a quick “holiday” to a Mediterranean destination. Last year, we chose the Amalfi Coast, and this year we chose the French Riviera (partly based on its attractiveness and partly based on the cheap airfare from Amsterdam to Nice. Speaking of airfare, that’s such an important travel tip. Airfare tends to make up the bulk of travel expenses, so if you’re not dead set on a specific city, searching around isn’t a bad idea – that way you can splurge on important things, like endless gelato.)

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Castle Hill // Nice, France

We took an evening flight, so our first “day” in Nice was quite quick. We landed, checked into our fabulous Airbnb in Old Town, and set out for dinner in our neighborhood. Old Town, or Vieille Ville, is the most charming part of Nice with colorful buildings and local sandwich and gelato shops on every corner. It breathes an Italian air, making it feel much more like Naples than Paris (in my opinion).

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Old Town Market // Nice, France

The next morning, we woke up and Knut ran to the store and made omelettes for us in our Airbnb while I snuck in a quick Kayla workout in the tiny living room. You might think it’s strange that I’d think to workout on vacation, but I genuinely enjoy it. I definitely inherited my dad’s love of fitness, and I was happy to fit in a quick strength workout before setting out on a day of walking around Nice. Plus, there’s something about keeping to my routine while I travel that eases any travel jitters. Finishing my workout with a homemade omelette made me feel like we were a true French couple gearing up for a typical Sunday morning in Nice.

After grabbing a coffee to-go, we made our way to the Old Town food and flower market. Here, we walked through the promenade and enjoyed the colorful background of fruits and flowers. We continued to wander through the streets during the morning, and then climbed the endless stairs to Castle Hill where we took in some breathtaking views of the Mediterranean city. Post climbing, we grabbed a sandwich and salad to-go and headed to the beach to get some sun. After realizing that our afternoon boat tour was canceled, we spent the rest of the day exploring the city. We grabbed an afternoon coffee and then went back to the apartment to get ready for our evening. Our Airbnb hosts kindly left us a bottle of rosé (don’t worry, the drinking age is 18 here), so we went down to the beach and had a pre-dinner drink. We then proceeded to have dinner at Olive&Artichaut, where I reserved us a table weeks ago, and enjoyed an absolutely delicious meal. After dinner, we treated ourselves to gelato from the famous Fenocchio and then headed home.

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As Nice is small enough to explore in a day, we spent our second full day in the French Riviera visiting Monaco. To be honest, I liked Nice much better than this boujee city. Monaco was just as obnoxiously wealthy as I had heard with expensive cars zooming by and castle-like mansions around every bend. The city is preparing for the Grand Prix, so the construction around the winding roads was a bit of a bummer. We spent our day walking through Monte Carlo and seeing all of the typical sights, as well as enjoying a great lunch along Larvotto Beach. Later, we took the train back to Nice, repeated our wine on the beach pre-dinner hour, and then headed to another neighborhood in Nice for a fantastic last dinner. La Femme du Boulanger (“the baker’s wife”) specializes in fancy bruschetta dishes that include produce chosen daily from the Old Town market. Our meals were exceptionally fresh and the chocolate mousse that we topped it off with was delectable. It was both of our favorite nights by far.

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Monaco

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Larvotto Beach, Monaco

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Today, our last day, we took things a bit slower. After waking up and checking out of our Airbnb, we headed to the beach for a day in the sun. We picked up a sandwich and salad to-go for lunch again and enjoyed them on the beach before making our way back to the port for our boat tour (this time not canceled).

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The hour-long boat tour gave us a nice view of the city from the sea and was a perfect end to our trip. We finished the day with a classic afternoon coffee and then made our way to the airport.

As I’m writing this from Knut’s Rotterdam apartment with tanned skin and a slightly sunburnt scalp, I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to travel and tell these stories. Although I’m only seeing small slices of the world and I know I’m no expert in other countries or cultures, I think there’s a lot to learn through visiting different places. Over the past 2 years, travel has gone from something that I yearned for to something that I actually practice. My parents have supported my trips (especially when I studied abroad), but I’ve also saved up (and spent) much of my own money in order to see Knut as often as I do. My point is that whatever you’re hoping to do, do it! I never thought I’d be someone who visits Amsterdam (an 18 hour trip) more than New York City (a mere 5 hour drive from my house), but alas here I am. Catch me next week for my adventures in the Netherlands featuring Rotterdam, Keukenhof, Delft, and Amsterdam. Bonjour!

xoxo,
jmd

cheers!

And so my sixteenth year of school is over. To think that I’ve spent the majority of my life in school and now only have one year left is quite insane. I’m starting to become a real human and it’s both exciting and scary. Although I’ve officially put dorm room living and shower shoe wearing behind me, I’ve still got one summer left as a “kid” before entering the big, bad real world. Or maybe I’ve already entered it? But not really. I can’t even legally drink or rent a car in the U.S., so I still feel young. But I also own a business wardrobe and I signed the lease to an apartment, and that’s some real big girl stuff. This is such a weird age. Anyway, I don’t really want to think about this too much.

Back to summer. It’s summer!! The first days of summer break have forever been such an exciting time. That freeing feeling of tossing out folders, 5 star notebooks, and dull pencils with the worn away erasers could never get old. Whether it’s 2nd grade end-of-year ice cream parties or junior year in college late night dorm room chats, that last day of school brings that distinct sense of relief mixed with energy. As discussions of summer camps while licking popsicles have turned into conversations about internships while sipping on sangria (although not for me, the seemingly sole 20-year-old junior in college), that summer sensation remains the same.

Throughout childhood, summer always brought the opportunity to stock up on new books, perfect my underwater handstand, and make new friends while braiding hair within the musty cabins of my beloved Camp Wright. This summer, I’ll still engage in my bookworm tendencies (I’m currently tearing through the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series), but I’ve also committed myself to brushing up on the Spanish that I haven’t practiced since December and I’ve planned a move back to Atlanta for a new internship that will undoubtedly bring lasting personal and professional growth and relationships. The setting and the events of summer have changed, but the sentiment remains the same. Summer exudes a sense of possibility as it urges us to relax, but also to explore, learn, and grow.

This summer will bring some of the most memorable times of my life. It will be a mixture of “firsts” and “lasts” as I enter my final year as a student, so there’s all the more reason to make my last summer before I’m a full-grown adult human worthwhile. Here’s to a summer filled with a trip to Europe (which begins today as I am writing from the international wing of the Newark airport), the beginning of a potential career path, my 21st birthday, new friends, and so much more. Cheers to summer vacation!

xoxo,
jmd

hasta la vista

*Written on December 23*

And so, here we are. 122 days later, and I am back in the U.S. I’m currently sitting in the Newark International Airport for the next five hours, which gives me the perfect opportunity to sit down and think about these past four months.

On August 23rd, I took the first of what adds up to 30 flights this semester. I set off for the first of 9 countries that I’d travel to and the first of 12 trips I’d be lucky enough to go on. I left my little town with the dream of seeing the world and I did just that. Today, December 23rd, I have landed in the US with a bittersweet feeling that naturally comes with returning home and leaving a beloved place.

This semester, I have learned so much about my country, Spain, travel, and myself. I have seen the U.S. through the eyes of many different cultures and I have viewed those same nations through my own American perspective. I have become vastly more independent and I have discovered small aspects of myself that I didn’t realize before. Some people return from abroad claiming they feel like a new person and that they realized something life changing about themselves when removed from their comfortable environments for a few months. Personally, I don’t think I’ve gathered any drastic insights about myself, but I certainly think living in a new country for four months has taught me a few lessons and has left a few lasting marks on my personality and character.

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Oslo, Norway // August 2016

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Rotterdam, the Netherlands // August 2016

What I learned about my country

Beginning with what I have learned about the US, I think the most important lesson comes in the realization that there is a world outside of the United States that functions differently from the U.S., but just fine. After living outside of the U.S. for four months, I have realized that I can survive just fine without 24/7 air conditioning, a drying machine, American brands, and all of the other things I am accustomed to in the U.S. In fact, I now see how wasteful Americans – including myself – can be. Will I start turning off the air conditioning when I leave the house and start recycling every piece of plastic, paper, and glass? Probably not. But I do think living outside of the U.S. has given me a new appreciation for the environment and I hope to develop increasingly more environmentally conscious habits as I continue living in the U.S. and potentially even abroad in the future.

Something else I have learned is that although the U.S. can seem uninteresting compared to other countries, that’s just because it’s where I live. Life in Barcelona is exciting, but the day-to-day activities are honestly not any different from what they would be if I lived in any major U.S. city. Where we live never seems as interesting as other places because it’s what we are accustomed to. Due to my extremely obvious American accent, I was asked many times where I am from and just about every time I received responses such as “Wow, that’s so cool! I have always wanted to go to the U.S.” After traveling for 4 months and being exposed to so many different cultures, I have really come to appreciate the U.S. and everything that seemed so “boring” a few months ago.

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Munich, Germany // September 2016

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Barcelona, Spain // September 2016

What I learned about Spain

Before moving to Barcelona, I honestly didn’t realize that Spain’s different regions were as different as the North, South, East, and West regions of the U.S. In fact, they are arguably even more different because different languages are spoken in the different regions. I was expecting to hear Castilian Spanish – what we think of as Spanish – everywhere I went, but Catalan is by far the dominant language in Catalonia’s capital city of Barcelona. Additionally, Catalonia isn’t nearly as conservative and traditional as the other parts of Spain, which I really didn’t know until living in Spain with a Catalan roommate. It was such an amazing life experience to live in another country and really become a part of the city by living in an apartment with a Catalan roommate, learning through Spain’s public university system, and experiencing the night life and cuisine while speaking another language.

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Mallorca, Spain // September 2016

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Figueres, Spain // October 2016

What I learned about travel

I have always loved airports and that feeling of endless possibility that comes with being in a building in which there’s the opportunity to reach every corner of the world. However, I have never travelled as much as I have in the past 4 months. After hopping across Europe just about every weekend, I have found a greater appreciation for travel and for the purpose of it. I am thrilled that I was able to go on 12 trips to 9 different countries in the past 4 months. I saw so many cities and made memories that I am sure to never forget. However, what I really noticed is that the cities are different in their historical buildings and significances, but the itineraries we follow when exploring these new places are largely the same. We take pictures with iconic sights, observe exquisite architecture, and enjoy delicious local cuisine. Some cities I’ll go back to, others I don’t know that I’ll ever see again. But honestly, in most cases, it’s not the city that matters. What really matters when I travel is whom I am with. I was lucky enough to be with some of my absolute best friends as we travelled all throughout Europe. In 10, 20, and 30 years, it’s going to be so great to be able to look back on this time of my life and be able to share it with friends that I know I’ll still have for decades to come.

Travel is exciting, but if you make it about checking destinations off a list, the magic can be lost. There were many cities I didn’t get enough time in, but at least I have the memories with my friends to keep those cities clear in my memory forever. What’s even better is if you get the chance to meet locals and actually experience the city in an authentic way. Last weekend, I returned to Knut’s home in Norway, and once again it was one of the best trips. I attended a 3.5 hour rendition of Singing in the Rain in Norwegian with his family, and although I understood very few words, I felt like I was really getting to see a genuine part of Norwegian culture that I never would have had I gone to Oslo without a Norwegian. Although seeing Oslo was not new to me, I enjoyed that trip more than some of the trips to new cities because I got such an authentic cultural experience.

Finally, I learned that travel isn’t always pretty. I have had trains cancelled, too many flights delayed to count, and many other travel complications. What it’s taught me is that there are situations that are completely out of my control and that panicking is the least helpful way to cope. Does this mean I don’t panic? Not exactly. But I am more aware of the fact that things won’t always go as planned and that it all works out in the end. I have also learned to really appreciate being home in the comfort of my own bed much more.

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Lisbon, Portugal // October 2016

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Rotterdam, the Netherlands // October 2016

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Barcelona, Spain // October 2016

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Seville, Spain // November 2016

What I learned about myself

As I said previously, I haven’t experienced any great revelations about myself in the past few months, but I have been able to see my own strengths and weaknesses a bit more clearly. I have learned that I am a lot more independent than I thought I was, and I’m also largely low maintenance when it comes to travel. However, the Spanish culture has really exposed my perfectionist attitude. In Spain, life moves at half the pace I am used to and I am told “traquilo” (calm down) about 100 times per day (along with most of the other American students). The lack of urgency for most things really does drive me crazy. However, I notice that that’s not exactly a good thing. Throughout my time in Spain, I have come to appreciate the Spanish way of relaxing and spending time with people over books/working. Although I don’t think I could adopt such a lax lifestyle, I really value it.

Finally, taking five courses in Spanish and spending an entire semester learning in a different language, I have really seen myself stretch my comprehension skills much further than I ever thought that I could. I remember the first day of my 20th century Spanish literature class when I felt like I did not understand a word. Four months later, I was reading a 300+ page books in Spanish and writing four page essays in class. I eventually realized that I’d never succeed if I dwelled on every complicated conjugation and every individual word, so I tried to just sit back and understand what I could. Learning in Spanish and successfully completing the semester was one of the most valuable parts of my experience because I was able to see my confidence and my execution of the Spanish language grow in such a short amount of time. Although my speaking still isn’t great, my understanding, reading, and writing have definitely advanced significantly. Leaving Barcelona, I really feel as if I can now communicate with an entirely additional population of people thanks to just about mastering a second language.

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Prague, Czech Republic // November 2016

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Budapest, Hungary // November 2016

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London, England // December 2016

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Paris, France // December 2016

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Tranby, Norway // December 2016

Ultimately, this past semester has been everything I expected and more. I was able to live and learn in a new culture, travel the world, and make so many incredible friends. To anyone contemplating studying abroad, my advice is to do it. This is truly the only time in your life that you’ll have the chance to travel the world without the pressure of real-life responsibilities weighing you down. Thank you to every person who made this experience so wonderful, especially my parents who made it possible. There is nothing else you could’ve given me that compares to the thrilling adventure of these past four months. Here’s to the end of one of the best chapters of my life. Although this one was great, I’m sure there are so many more great ones to come. As Carla told us the night before we left, home isn’t just where you’re from, but also every place you’ve loved and been loved by. I know I loved Barcelona and I sure feel like it loved me.

Hasta la vista,

♡jmd

Women Should Be More Outspoken

A few weeks ago, I witnessed (eavesdropped on) a conversation in the Barcelona airport that really stood out to me. Naturally, my curious (nosy) self listened and then promptly wrote a quick reflection on it. With just 3 days left in Spain, I’d rather wait to write about leaving until I’ve actually left, so stay tuned for a post this weekend about what it’s like to leave the place I’ve learned to call home and return to the place I’ve always known as home. As for this post, it’s slightly dramatic, but what else do you expect from a 20-year-old female college student about to enter the business world dominated by men?

“Women should be more outspoken”

As I stood in line at the Barcelona airport awaiting my trip to Budapest, this statement echoed loudly in my head. I was standing in front of two business professionals – both women – who had just finished some type of conference in Barcelona. One was heading back to her office in Munich, the other home to California. They spoke English to each other, but both carried accents that pointed to a lifetime spent elsewhere. Their voices differed – they weren’t of the same nationality. But what they did share – and what the 20-year-old American college student unbeknownst to them also shared – was a strong belief in women.

“Women should be more outspoken” the lady traveling to California said. She continued to talk about how women aren’t valued if they don’t speak – how they’re forgotten amongst the men. She explained how she surprises the men in the room with her confident, direct voice. The woman on her way to Munich agreed. She spoke of how “they”, meaning men, are sometimes scared of her because she unexpectedly offers differing opinions with a force that they didn’t think she had. They continued speaking as my mind drifted.

The closer I get to the real world, the closer I get to this understanding that women are not equal to men. I used to think it was an exaggeration, an excuse for people to complain. This, I can assure you, is not the case.

What I’ve also learned in the past few months is that although today’s woman is not equal to today’s man, we are on our way.

Putting political opinions aside, the recent U.S. presidential race was a great achievement for women. Despite the outcome of the election, there were moments in which the world believed that a woman could be president of the United States of America, the leader of the free world. Although the time for a woman to run the world hasn’t quite arrived, I truly believe that the perspective has shifted. The glass ceiling is cracking. I used to think a woman couldn’t ever become president, and now I wonder which woman it will be. I know that I’ll see a female president in my lifetime, the question is only a matter of when.

This week I was also given a precious gift from my professor of Spanish Romantic Literature. Professor Caballé gifted all of us with a book that she compiled titled La pluma como la espada: la vida escrita por las mujeres – “the pen as a sword: the life written by the women.” This book includes the poetry and writings of female Hispanic writers from the 18th century who broke the rules of society and began to publish their own works – something only men were permitted to do. Some of these women wrote about the lack of freedoms they had, others about their struggles. But what stood out to me most is the writings written by women against their own sex. At the time, the only literature they had studied was literature written by men and for men. Because of this, some female writers didn’t know how to write about women in any context other than in mockery of them. Fortunately, the majority didn’t write like this – but that minority that did reminds me much of today. It reminds me of why women must be more outspoken: because deep down, we feel as if we are not as qualified, smart, or capable as men. We refer to ourselves, and other women, in a derogatory manner that we’d never use when referring to men. We hide our voices within ourselves and wait until it’s our turn. Well, the majority has spoken. It’s our time.

As for the ladies on my flight, they give me hope. Hope that one day I’ll be traveling the globe for important conferences and will unknowingly inspire a young girl to do the same. Their strong belief in women and their bravery in facing a room full of men without an ounce of inferiority in their composure is why I know that we are on our way to the top.

Forget the pen and give us the sword; we’re here to make that ceiling shatter.

♡jmd

 

Last trip, best trip

This past week, I went on my final weekend trip with my friends. To think that just a few months ago we were dreaming about traveling through Europe together and now it’s over is slightly sad, but mostly happy because I know I have made so many lifelong memories. After four months of traveling during almost every weekend, it’s definitely going to feel weird to have my feet on the ground for more than 5 days in a row once I return to the U.S next week. However, I’ve still got one solo weekend trip left, plus the long flight back to the U.S. next Friday.

As for this past week, my friends and I visited two of Europe’s most exciting cities: London and Paris. I’ve dreamed of visiting these two cities since I was a little girl, so it was definitely the trip I was most looking forward to.

We began the trip with London where we spent the first day enjoying teatime at Harrod’s and then ice-skating in Hyde Park. Walking to Harrod’s, we all completely fell in love with London. From the fact that Aveeno lotion is available in the pharmacies (hint: it’s not in Spain) to the city’s lively New York City vibe, we felt like London was home – only with a richer history and a cooler accent. Teatime completely lived up to my expectations with an assortment of finger sandwiches, pastries, and of course, an abundance of tea. We didn’t have to wait to be seated and I honestly felt like I was the epitome of English class as I sipped tea in one of London’s most iconic spots. As for ice-skating, I’d like to thank the classic “Friday Night Skate” of my middle school days and my body’s apparent muscle memory for allowing me to stay upright on the ice. Skating in Hyde Park with Christmas lights surrounding us and a soundtrack with Paul McCartney singing “Wonderful Christmastime” may have been the most English we felt throughout the trip. Needless to say, the first day was a hit.

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The next day, we got up early for a full day of sight seeing. We hit just about every important sight from Buckingham Palace to Big Ben to Westminster Abbey to the London Eye to Shakespeare’s Globe and finally to the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. Accumulating over 25,000 steps and only using the metro once, we covered just about every historic spot in London. We finished the day with dinner at the fancy shmancy Bob Bob Ricard restaurant where there’s conveniently two “Press for Champagne” buttons at each table. We toasted the night to our last and best trip together and to many more celebratory dinners in the future.

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Our final day in London consisted of a tasty brunch followed by exploring some of London’s Christmas markets and neighborhoods. My favorite neighborhood was the posh, yet quaint Marylobone. Marylobone gave me that village-within-a-huge-city feel just like Greenwich Village in New York City. Here, we wandered through the charming streets and walked in and out of the shops. At the end of the day, we packed our bags for our nighttime flight to Paris.

In our opinion, Paris is the D.C. to London’s New York. Although that’s a bit of a compliment to D.C., Paris is more spread out than London, has a large number of neighborhoods, and is filled with many museums and monuments. The gardens remind me of D.C’s parks and the classy buildings have that historically chic vibe that D.C. breathes.

We quickly learned that two days in Paris was not going to be nearly enough time to see everything, so we narrowed it down to what we could see. We started with an hour and a half at the Louvre where we really only explored one section – the 13th-15th century Italian paintings – and also caught a quick glimpse of some Spanish paintings. Our reason for looking at the Italian paintings isn’t surprising in the least, as we were being classic tourists who wanted to see the famous Mona Lisa. Although most people say they are disappointed when seeing it, I was actually impressed because my expectations were so low that the painting ended up surpassing them. I was surprised that it was as big as it was because I had heard that it was practically the size of an 8.5×11 piece of paper, which is a vast exaggeration. I’d say it’s at least the size of 4 8.5x11s combined. Regardless, I thought it was cool to see a painting I have learned so much about since my elementary school days and found that it was definitely worth it (Note: I got into the Louvre for free with my EU student card and there was absolutely no line to see the Mona Lisa, so my opinion is quite biased).

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This may look strange, but a girl was offering everyone around her to use her balloons, so we went for it 🙂 

We continued the day by sharing a picnic of champagne, Brie, and a baguette on the lawn of the Eiffel Tower, then making our way to Champs-Élysées to grab macaroons at Ladurée and explore the Paris Christmas markets. We ended the night in a typical French bistro where we enjoyed escargot and free tap water (Note: Water is rarely free in Europe and is definitely not free in Spain, however we were surprised with free tap water in every restaurant in France).

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The next day, we headed to the Musée d’Orsay, which I’d have to say was the best museum I have been to. I absolutely loved the exhibit of the Impressionist painters, particularly Monet. The exhibit brought me back to my 8th grade art class where I chose to study Monet for my final project. Seeing his works in the flesh was definitely a cool experience. The museum also offers the stunning view of the Seine through the clock tower, which I was more than excited to see (and take a picture in front of). I found it fitting that we took one of our last pictures abroad in front of a giant clock looking out on a river and a beautiful city because that view embodies the essence of our time abroad: fleeting, yet absolutely full of adventure.

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The rest of the day was spent enjoying a cruise on the Seine, visiting the famous Notre Dame, and finally finishing our trip without another fabulous meal at a French bistro.

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As I currently sit in my little bedroom in my old-fashioned, quirky apartment in Barcelona, I can’t help but think about how quickly this semester has gone by. With just 10 days left in Europe, and only 6 in Barcelona, I cannot believe my semester abroad is almost over. But before I can dwell on what’s ending, I look forward to my last weekend trip and my last week in this magical city. As for my final trip, I’m going “alone” to one of the coldest countries in Europe. I’ve been there twice before, so this shouldn’t be too hard to guess. Let’s hope there’s no snowstorms that cause me to miss next week’s exams. (Well, maybe that wouldn’t be so bad…)

♡jmd

almost home

After a few consecutive weeks of travel, I was more than happy to stay in Barcelona this past week. What was really cool was that this past week brought so many reminders of home in the form of many people and many activities.

Beginning with some of the people, my mom and Ben came to visit this past week. Seeing my family in my city is always really exciting because I get to show them what this “new” life of mine is like. Once again, I had another visitor come during my parents’ trip. This time my best friend from home, Sydney, came to Barcelona. I haven’t seen her since May when we both left for our summer internships in Atlanta and San Francisco, so it was so great to see her and show her around my city.

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Having guests in Barcelona is always an excuse to go to my favorite restaurants, and I was sure to hit all of them with my parents and Sydney. Sydney and I brunched at Brunch & Cake and Flax & Kale during her two mornings here, and the most exciting restaurants that I took my parents to were Tosca (my favorite restaurant in Barcelona) and La Taperia at El Nacional. Tosca is situated directly in front of the Palau de la Música Catalana, my absolute favorite building in Barcelona that boasts a colorful, intricate design with modernist accents. Ever since I studied the building in my Masterworks of Catalan Art class, I have been obsessed with its immense detail and its interesting mix of materials and styles. With the amazing view of this building, Tosca is already a perfect place to dine, but its menu that includes 40+ unique tapas makes it all the more better.

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Brunch & Cake

As for El Nacional, this is such a fun place that I recommend everyone go to when in Barcelona. Located in the center of Passeig de Gracia , El Nacional has a glam indoor warehouse feel as it is a converted industrial building. In fact, the building has been a café-theatre, a fabric dye factory, a car dealer’s shop, and finally a garage. Today, the building is home to 4 restaurants and 4 bars that all flow together in a way in which guests can view the action occurring at each. In my opinion, La Taperia is the most fun because waiters walk around with trays of food and yell “Paella” “Tortilla” “Patatas” and more and guests have to raise their hands if they want it. There is also the option of ordering the old fashioned way, but I think it’s much more exciting to grab a tapa as it flies by. However, don’t arrive starving because the nature of the place – and Spanish culture in general – is to sit back, relax, and be very patient.

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El Nacional

After my parents and Sydney left, l was yet again greeted by someone from “home”: Justin Bieber. My 12-year-old self who said he sounded like a little boy would be embarrassed to see my 20-year-old self at his concert, but hey when in Barca…

I was surrounded by thousands of teenage fan girls, as well as my best friends, and it couldn’t have been more fun. The Biebs didn’t quite live up to my expectations as he sang 30 second chunks of songs and spent half the concert answering questions from the crowd with answers such as “In 10 years, I see myself as…a better person.” Wow, how profound. Despite his lack of charm, watching an American pop star in Spain and hearing thousands of people singing in English was cool.

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About that whole English thing. Being in Europe, it’s honestly unbelievable how many people speak English – which is everyone. Although I’m getting closer to being fluent in Spanish, I’m still far from thinking and dreaming in Spanish. I really hope that the U.S. starts to incorporate another mandatory language into schools (and by that I don’t mean 1 day a week of Spanish class) because it really does open up an entirely new way of thinking. I’m starting to realize that translating texts from Spanish to English just isn’t worth it because you lose so much of the sentiment beneath the words of the original language. I’m definitely thankful that my native language happens to be spoken almost everywhere, but I do wish I was forced to learn another. For now, I think reading 300+ page novels in Spanish will do the trick, but in the future I hope I keep up my Spanish despite the fact that I don’t have to learn it for school.

Anyway, this week’s reminders of home were only heightened by missing my favorite American holiday. For the first (and hopefully last) time ever, I went to school on Thanksgiving. Luckily, my study abroad program ordered cakes and cupcakes to make up for Spain’s lack of a Thanksgiving. Additionally, my friends and I met up with Margaux’s family on Thursday (my roommate from Vanderbilt) – giving us a bit of a classic Thanksgiving family feel. After saying hello and sharing a few glasses of rosé, the other girls and I went to Thanksgiving dinner at DosTrece – a restaurant owned by two Californians who offer a special Thanksgiving menu each year. Although it wasn’t exactly the Thanksgiving I am used to, we had plenty of turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn bread, apple pie, and wine. We finished the night content with our first “Thanksgiving” in Barcelona, yet all the more excited for our next one at home.

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This past week, we crossed the “one month left” mark and are truly at the end of this surreal journey. Living in Barcelona for three months has been such an incredible experience and I really can’t imagine having been anywhere else. I have learned so much about myself and my perspectives on culture, identity, and life in general. I am excited to be back in the U.S. and to see my friends and family, but it breaks my heart when I think about how this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday are my last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in Barcelona (due to my upcoming travels). With just one full week left in Barcelona, I plan to cross off the last few things on my Barcelona bucket list.

Here’s to an unbelievably busy week ahead of me!


jmd