-The Road to Bilbao-

I believe some people just are born with the desire to roam. I knew before I started university that I wanted to study abroad. I never knew where, and at the time I had never traveled internationally. I came from a family that went above and beyond to give me everything I ever wanted. But traveling was not in the budget when I was growing up. So I knew I had to prove how serious I was about studying abroad if I wanted this to happen.

At my freshman orientation at Tennessee Tech University our group leader asked, “What do you guys want to do while in college?” Most of the students answered “study engineering”, “Join a fraternity”, “graduate with a 4.0 GPA.”  I answered “Study Abroad.” To this day my family says I was more focused on that than my actual studies (they aren’t wrong). I told myself I needed to give Tennessee Tech a year or two, to see how I adjust to university life before I try to jump into studying internationally. I assumed during this time I would also figure out what country I would wanted to study in.

My second semester of my freshman year after the homecoming parade my friend and I sat in the campus Starbucks, trying to figure out what language these two exchange students were speaking. I was guessing Portuguese, and assumed the guys were from Brazil. My friend finally went up to them and asked where they were from. The guys told us they were from Spain. Little did I know at the time they were speaking Galician, so Portuguese wasn’t too bad of a guess. I remained friends with the guys until they returned back to Spain that summer. Through our friendship I learned so much about Spain, and was always asking ridiculous questions about their country.

After meeting them I became fascinated with Spain. I guess I had just never thought about that country much at all, nor did I know anything about it. I remember going into the study abroad office and asking if studying in Spain was an option. Unfortunately, at that time Spain wasn’t an option for my major. My infatuation with Spain continued, but I knew I’d have to study somewhere else.

The summer before going into my 3rd year of university I save up money and decide to visit my aunt living in Munich, Germany. I just wanted to prove to myself I could travel alone (somewhat). During that trip I kept telling myself if you don’t message the guys mentioning that you want to see them in Spain you’ll regret it.  I messaged the guys and during the last week of my Europe trip stayed with them for a few days in a small town in Galicia. My friends went above and beyond to show me the Galicia region and introduced me to all of their incredibly kind friends.

I returned to America right before my junior year started absolutely in love with Spain. The walls of my room were covered in the photos from those few days visited. I even had to write a letter to myself for the job I had at the time. Each of us employees were to write about our goals we wanted to accomplish, and were to re-open the letter at the end of the semester. I wrote in my letter “Right now you’re pretty obsessed with Spain. I don’t think this will change any time in the future, so here are some euros because you’re going to be back there soon.” I was a slight bit dramatic in the fact that I actually added about 15 euros in my envelope including the letter.

During this first semester of my Junior year of college I had set my mind on studying a semester in Tasmania. The application process for this university was quite extensive, and I wasn’t in any rush to finish it. The week before the Tasmania application was due I went to the study abroad coordinator to ask what my chances of being accepted to the university were. As this program required a large application fee. She told me that my chances were slim as the the Tasmanian University was quite picky, and there were a large number of applicants. At that moment I assumed I should not waste the money, and maybe studying abroad was not going to happen this far into my years at university. Before I left the study abroad coordinator told me about this new university that just got touch with them about exchange students. As soon as she told me this university was in Spain, I was sold! We checked and they offered the classes necessary for my major. The only problem was that they had never received students from Tennessee Tech before, and the application had to be completed very quickly, in order to go the upcoming semester.

I still remember calling my mom leaving the study abroad office so thrilled about the new opportunity. Although, I had not planned on studying internationally until my senior year of university, I knew I would regret passing up on Spain. Within a week I met with so many professors and deans of the university for signatures and recommendations for my application. To this day I still give so much credit to a few professors that went above and beyond to make sure my application requirements were met.

I remember one night after my application was completed, my mom and I talked on the phone for hours about what would happen if I got accepted. My parents were worried that financially going to Spain may be too much. Although, my parents have always given me everything they could, they have been very open about the fact that we were never very well off financially. Seeing my parents work so hard and still struggle made me feel guilty that I would put a strain on them financially. Yet they had not gotten to travel internationally themselves. While I would have money of my own to spend in Spain, what I did not realize was the amount of money you must show proof of to receive a student visa. While money was a big portion of our phone call that night, some of it was filled with crying at that I’d be away from home for half year. I think the fear of safety for my parents and brother while I was gone was something that had crossed my mind. While it never occurred to me that I’d be the one alone living on a different continent, and how much that worried them. We ended that phone call with me saying, “I feel like this is something I will forever regret giving up.” I knew this was not the answer my parents wanted at the time, and it hurt me so much to tell them that their words did not change how I felt about going to Spain.

I felt almost sick to my stomach the week waiting for my acceptance. Sometimes I wished for it to decline so that I wouldn’t feel the guilt of wanting to go anymore. While I knew deep down I wanted to go, and worked very hard to do so. It was late one night at work and I checked my emails to find a strange email written entirely in Spanish (I didn’t know any Spanish prior to going). I used what would soon because my best friend, Google Translate, and found out I was accepted. I was in such shock! I remember pacing in circles in the office crying tears of joy. I called my parents (waking them up) and told them that I was accepted. My mom replied with “Well, now you’ve got to get that visa.”

 

As I finished up my final exams, I planned as if I was moving to Spain in January. Although, I only told a few people, in fear that I would not get accepted for the student visa. It gave me anxiety to think that I was already accepted, had picked my classes, and was apartment hunting, yet if I didn’t get that visa it was all for nothing. In order for me to get the visa I had to hand in my application at the Spanish Consulate in Houston, Texas. Just before Christmas me and two other students accepted to The University of the Basque Country drove twelve hours to Houston to turn in our visa applications. I soon learned that you will never have all your visa documents, and you will constantly be faxing more paperwork after you leave. On December 27th I finally received my student visa, and now it was time to hurry and book a flight. On January 23rd I left Tennessee for Bilbao, Spain. It’s still all a blur to me as to how all this got accomplished so quickly. Just a few months prior I was looking at the photos of my trip to Spain that summer, not knowing when I’d be able to return. This was absolutely one of those cases where, if you keep pursuing something, it happens when you least expect it.

I have now spent nearly half a year in Bilbao, Spain. To put it simply, living in Spain is more incredible than I ever imagined. The fact that I’m lying awake in my room at 3am due to the noise of the Casco Viejo streets on a Friday may seem like a bother to most, but I’m going to miss it. Everyone studies abroad for different reasons, and they each return with a different experience. I had such high expectations for mine experience, that I was sure I was going to be let down.

Although, life in Spain has been crazy and full of hardships, this place is my home now. I love knowing that I am just a plane ride away from the narrow streets I once got lost in, with my friends looking for a pintxo bar. While I can say nothing but amazing things about Spain, Bilbao, the food, the culture, and it’s people, there are things about this experience that I hate. I hate the fact that in just a few days I have to say goodbye. I hate that I won’t be able to walk along the river at night because I can’t sleep. I hate that I was never told that Spain will slow down your typical American pace, and you learn to take your time with enjoying the everyday things. I hate that I’ve grown accustomed to taking the metro to the beach after classes. I hate that I have met people here that I can’t imagine what life was like before we met. But what I hate most of all, is that I can’t take any of these things with me. Even though this visa will expire, and my exams are over, the friendships and memories don’t end just because distance. Spain, you have won my heart a second time and I hope to return to my second home soon!

Advertisements

-Exploring the Food of The Basque Country-

One major part of living in a new country is being adventurous when it comes to trying new foods.  At times that means humbling yourself and just pointing to the things you can pronounce (a tactic I use far too often). Sometimes going to the grocery store can be just as much of an adventure as going to a foreign restaurant. Although, Bilbao is a quite diverse city, it does not have the international grocery options you may find in places such as Barcelona or Madrid. At times the lack of familiarity can be tough to what you’re craving. But I often find that going to a dozen little stores in search of an item, can lead you to some of your new favorite shops.

After two months of living in Spain I’m by no means a pro at authentic Spanish or Basque food. I’m not even remotely close to finding all the things at the store that I miss from home. But I have recently gotten in a habit of shopping at the same places and having a few favorite cafes. I’m sure what I find here in Bilbao is far different than some other traditional Spanish cuisines. The Basque country has many traditional dishes unique to this region of Northern Spain. I thought it might be helpful for anyone new to the Basque Country or planning on visiting one day to know what to expect from local dining and grocery options.

One of the most unique dining aspects to Spain is the tapas. Although, if you ask for tapas in Basque Country you will be pretty much letting everyone know you’re not a local. In Basque Country tapas still exist but are instead called Pinxtos. Pintxo (pronounced peen-cho) is Basque word translating to “pierce”. This may be because typically these appetizer sized foods are served on a toothpick. Pintxos can be found at almost every bar or café. They are pretty hard to miss as well, as they are usually displayed on plates or clear cases on counter tops of the bar. Pintxos are perfect for a mid-day snack or with a few you could even count it as a meal. Pintxos are perfect for those that are not perfect at Spanish or Basque because they are premade on the counter, and easy to point to. Pintxos are occasionally free with drinks, or on a certain week night depending on the bar/café. Pintxos are typically some type of sliced baguette with cheese, some with different types of meat, or even made into tiny burgers.

17760611_1418553664867876_1605544744_n

Next may just be my favorite Spanish food of all time ,Tortilla de Patatas! In Spain they often cook with eggs and potato and Tortilla de Patatas may be the best combination of both. I like to call these Tortillas the Spanish omelet. Although similar to omelets, Tortilla de Patatas rarely ever contain meat. This dish is definitely the ultimate comfort food of Spain. They typically contain eggs, potato, and onion. Tip to those that hate onion as much as I do simply look for the ones labeled “ sin cebolla”. Tortilla de Patatas may be one of the most common foods served in Spain, and can be found at nearly every traditional restaurant. There are even pre-made versions on the dish at most grocery stores.

Other great finds at local Basque cafes are any type of seafood, cheeses, and chocolate. Although there are barely any fast food style restaurants in Spain. The website JustEat is a life saver for those used to convenient food. JustEat offers delivery (rarely without delivery fees) from local dining options near your location. The only downside to this, is that is you don’t have a somewhat decent understanding of Spanish is may be tough to make the transaction.

17690713_1418559244867318_234986841_n

Grocery shopping here in Bilbao is sometimes a struggle compared to the way I used to shop back in the States. As most all European cities, Bilbao has far more pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks than cars on the roads. I often get caught in Bilbao’s rainy weather unexpectedly while trying to lug all my groceries to my apartment. In Bilbao the go to grocery store has to be Eroski. There may possibly be more Eroskis in the Basque Country than there are Dollar Generals in the southern U.S. Bilbao is also full of panaderías (bakeries), frutería (produce shops), and candy shops.

17792395_1418554211534488_1521542804_n

The first thing you may notice when you walk into a Basque grocery store is all the CARBS! Baguettes usually are the first thing you will see when you go into any grocery store. Although, Spain has a decent amount of gluten free friendly products it’s hard to stay on a strict diet with all the amazing fresh breads. Just about as common as breads here would have to be doughnuts. Doughnuts and any sort of cake style sweet is sure to take up a few aisle of a Basque Grocery store. Lots of local fruits and vegetables is definitely a plus to living in Bilabo. Some of the best citruses and avocados I have ever had were from Spain. One of my favorite attributes of Spanish grocery stores is the fact that literally everything packages or not is from Spain. For the items that were made/grown in another country there is a small photo of that nations flag typically beside the price label.

Although it’s pretty much impossible to find prepared foods such as pre-cooked grilled chicken, biscuit/cookie dough, pie crust, or many to-go style lunches. These stores often do carry a few Mexican, Asian, and Indian food products. Basque grocery stores are not only famous for their low prices baked goods, but their seafood as well. I’ve ate more crab since I have moved here than I thought was humanly possible. You can find very fresh cuts of any type meats here (although mostly chicken). The cheese sections of the store here still seem to amaze me with the variety from sheep, goat, to even a lot of lactose free options. While all of these Basque grocery items are amazing, few compare to the overwhelming selection of chocolate. I would be a liar if I said I don’t have at least a bit of chocolate everyday here. Believe me when I say it completely worth every calorie too!

Although I wouldn’t trade living in the Basque Country for anything, there are still some foods I miss or cannot find living here. One of my biggest struggles is finding smoothies. Many Americanized cafes here offer “smoothies”, there are either juice or a milkshake. Not once have I had an actual smoothie since moving here. Don’t even get me started on the struggle to find a blender to make my own at home either. Some of the grocery store items that are rare to find but are occasionally possible are peanut butter, brown sugar, apple sauce, chocolate baking chips, Italian dressing, flaxseed, chia seeds, marshmallows, and oats. While somethings here are the exact same as in America, but just packaged differently. For example, Dorito chips are very popular here although the US. Version of the red bagged nacho cheese chips are sold in a light orange bag and labeled Tex-Mex flavored. Most American candies or frozen foods are almost impossible to find. Reece’s cups, tater tots, canned soups, or American style ham or sausage are just a few examples of foods that simply don’t exist here.

For everything I miss from home I often find something new I love here just as much. That is definitely one of my favorite parts of living abroad, just appreciating the differences. My biggest tip for anyone new to Spain or the Basque Country, is just to try it all because that’s the best way to learn. There is nothing better than going to a new place and finding something you can’t live without!

-My Favorite Travel Playlists-

bus

      Anyone that knows me well knows that I’m all about having a playlist for everything. I creep on everyone else’s playlists on Spotify, and even look up playlist ideas on YouTube. I never relied on my offline playlists as much as when I travel. I have playlists for plane rides, bus rides, walking, and for going out. Typically, I travel alone, and not having someone to talk to can make long travels boring. Almost all of my selfies while traveling show me with headphones in. I feel like the right song can makes a moment feel surreal.  Certain songs still bring be back to certain places and times.

       I have combined about 8 different playlists of mine into 3 condensed versions with 30 songs on each. I felt like the most important playlists for me were ones for riding public transportation, walking around the city, and getting ready for a night of partying. While some of these songs were for travels in Germany, Croatia, Italy, ect, most of these were for my six months in Spain. So if you don’t like Spanish music, you may want to disregard some of the songs (or question your taste in music because Spanish music is amazing!). While I may think these songs make for an awesome playlist, this is all my personal taste in music. Each of these songs have meaning and memories related to my travels. Because these songs were all on my playlists while traveling, some may not be entirely relevant today.

 

 

Plane/Bus/Metro Ride Playlist

  1. Middle by DJ Snake
  2. Super Rich Kids by Frank Ocean
  3. Dashboard by Modest Mouse
  4. My Type by Saint Motel
  5. Soma by The Strokes
  6. Heater by Flume
  7. Desert Island Lover by Bad Child
  8. Hollow Life by Modern Coast
  9. Future Love by The Palms
  10. Tired by Nicotine’s Famous Honey
  11. Alright by Mannywellz
  12. Fruitflies by Gabriel Garzon-Montano
  13. Foreign Girls by Bleachers
  14. Electric by Alina Baraz and Khalid
  15. Gold by Kiiara
  16. Sober by VERITE
  17. Dreams by Beck
  18. Tighten Up by The Black Keys
  19. Casi Humanos by DVICIO
  20. Friction by Kai Straw
  21. Location by Khalid
  22. Sweet Disposition by Temper Trap
  23. Stare Into The Sun by Graffiti6
  24. Foreign Coast by Alfred Hall
  25. No Diggity by Chet Faker
  26. Homeless by Ed Sheeran
  27. Distant Memories by Alexander Lewis
  28. White Gloves by Khruangbin
  29. 40 Day Dream by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
  30. Queen of California by John Mayer

 

Walking Playlist

( This playlist was typically used for walking to the beach. So it may have more beach kind of vibes.)

  1. On My Mind by Liam Bailey
  2. Wait by NoMBe
  3. Baby I’m Yours by Artic Monkeys
  4. How to Fly by Sticky Fingers
  5. Big Sis by SALES
  6. Rooftop by Jordan Rakei
  7. Wake Me by Bleachers
  8. Redbone by Childish Gambino
  9. The Answer by Big Words
  10. Loved By You by KIRBY
  11. Wish I Knew You by The Revivalists
  12. Dulce Vino by Jona Camacho
  13. Never Had Nobody Like You by M.Ward
  14. A Sunday Kind of Love by Etta James
  15. Overload by John Legend & Miguel
  16. Feels Like We Only Go Backwards by Tame Impala
  17. Sleepwalk by Santo & Johnny
  18. Freaking Out The Neighborhood by Mac Delmarco
  19. You’re The One by The Black Keys
  20. Lost by Frank Ocean
  21. Cuando Me Enamoro by Enrique Iglesias
  22. Valerie by Amy Winehouse
  23. Walkabout by Atlas Sound
  24. Flash Junked Mind by Milky Chance
  25. Hawaiian Boi by Triathlon
  26. Brazil by Declan Mckenna
  27. Lost Stars by Adam Levine
  28. (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding
  29. Better Man by Leon Bridges
  30. Habits of My Heart by Jaymes Young

 

Going Out Playlist

(I apologize now for the fact that most of these songs are by J Balvin!)

  1. Relaspe by Marc E. Bassy
  2. I Feel It Coming by The Weekend
  3. Keep On by Kehlani
  4. Safari by J Balvin
  5. Consideration by Rihanna
  6. Bound 2 by Kanye West
  7. Sensualidad by Bad Bunny
  8. Passionfruit by Drake
  9. Girls by Joey Purp and Chance The Rapper
  10. Shining by DJ Khalid and Beyonce
  11. Unforgettable by French Montana
  12. That’s What I Like by Bruno Mars
  13. Soulmate by Mac Miller
  14. Florescent Adolescence by Arctic Monkeys
  15. Bad Child by Bad Child
  16. Sweatpants by Childish Gambino
  17. Slide by Calvin Harris, Frank Ocean & Migos
  18. Bonita by J Balvin
  19. Last Nite by The Strokes
  20. Chantaje by Shakira & Maluma
  21. For Free by Dj Khalid & Drake
  22. #GETITRIGHT by Miley Cyrus
  23. Come Get It Bae by Pharrell Williams
  24. It’s A Vibe by 2Chains
  25. Ego by Beyonce
  26. Beast of burden by The Rolling Stones
  27. Mi Gente by J Balvin
  28. Fade by Kayne West
  29. Lento by Nfasis
  30. 3005 by Childish Gambino

Packing Essentials for Europe!

24177625_592578794406908_1480072337523998720_n(1)

I have been asked a lot by friends that are traveling to Europe what they should, or should not pack. I feel like my lists are always identical to the ones available on every other travel website. It wasn’t until recently that I started thinking of all the weird things I would rethink packing (or in some cases, not packing.)  I thought it might be helpful to share a few things I would buy before going to Europe, and other things I would buy once I arrived. These items may not to relevant to everyone, but they were ones that I found very important during my travels.

Things to buy once you’ve arrived:

Hair Styling Tools:

 I would suggest buying hair styling tools while you’re in Europe. When I was in Spain I brought “the works”, blow dryer, curling iron, and flat iron. All of these products were made for use in the United States, so I brought converter attachments. I had used these same styling tools in Europe previously, and never had a problem. Unfortunately, my second night in Bilbao I was getting ready to go to a party, and noticed my flat iron started to smell like wires burning. I touched the flatiron and noticed that it was hotter than normal. Because I am the fool that I am, I decided it was worth the damage I may cause, to straighten my hair. Thankfully, I was smart enough to press the iron lightly,  to avoid burning. I then decided my hair needed some loose curls. My curling iron never smelled funky. So I assumed my flatiron must have been acting up. I probably left my hair wrapped around the curling iron for around five seconds. Then I  noticed my hair was stuck to the curling iron barrel. The whole apartment started to fill with a burning smell. I pulled the curling iron away, and my hair came off with it. Of course, this strand of hair had to be in the front of my face.

The dead ends it left me with, lead me to learning a lot of Spanish words about hair. After many hair masks, I finally broke down and went to a salon to get my hair trimmed. All this being said, I would just be cautious when using hair styling tools from different countries. I eventually bought new European ones that worked just fine. I believe the reason for the overheating was caused the fact that in Europe the outlets run at a higher voltage. This causes American products to get over heated. In all honesty, you may be able to find some high-end converters that can maybe reduce this problem. But my Target bought converts seemed to work just fine, except for those styling products.

Reusable Bags:

 In Europe they are a lot more environmentally conscious than we are here. One example is the fact that if you want to have a typically thin plastic grocery bag for your things, you must pay a small fee for each bag. I love this concept because it makes you rethink how many plastic bags you’re wanting to use. What is far more common in Europe, is to buy a reusable bag (usually a euro), and bring it with you to each shopping trip. I bought about four bags when I first moved to Bilbao. I made sure I always kept one in my backpack or purse for any spontaneous purchases. These reusable bags will save you money in the long run, avoiding the constant small charges for the thin plastic bags.

Over the counter Medicines and Eyedrops:

These are not necessarily things that you have to wait to buy in the country you’re planning on visiting. Although, medicine in Europe is far cheaper than in the United States. The only problem is trying to get your typical over the counter medicines. Because I don’t often take medicine whatsoever, the thought of bringing much medicine for my six month stay in Spain did not cross my mind. I packed vitamins and a small travel size amount of ibuprofen. This was all fine and dandy, until I became incredibly ill, and soon used up all of  the ibuprofen.

 So like the basic America that I am, I went to the market to pick up some more. Little to my knowledge, these types of medicine are not sold at markets. After humbling myself and finally asking some locals, I found out you have to ask at the Pharmacia for this medicine. I lived literally steps from a Pharmacia, and even spent days practicing how to ask for it. But every time I walked pasted the Pharmacia, I saw lots of people in line. Any one who knows me well, knows I get nervous speaking a lot of Spanish in front of locals. So after about a week of procrastination and a high rising fever, I finally got the nerve to ask for the medicine. I felt so stupid for getting so worked up about asking for ibuprofen. It took me about two seconds and they pharmacists were so nice. I returned multiple times later on to buy medicine there. One thing to remember if you are in a country where you do not know the language is that, most all pharmacists know at least a little English. The fact that they knew English helped me a lot when I was trying to describe eye drops. Because once again that was an item I did not realize I would need to pack.

 

Things to bring with you:

Iphone Charger:

 Like most Americans, I use an Iphone. While Americans have a cult-like obsession with Iphones, Europeans don’t see the fascination. So, when my phone charger broke, I went on a wild chase to find a new one. The one place I had ever seen phone chargers for sale was inside what are commonly called “China Shops”. These are shops with low priced household items all made in China. I was so excited that I found a charger for two euros. The excitement soon died when I tried it out at the apartment, to just find out it didn’t work. After a day of searching I finally found an electronic store with an iPhone charger. This may have only been such a struggle for me to find one because I wasn’t a local. But I will say that for every one Iphone charger, you’ll find around twenty android chargers. This just seemed odd to me coming from a country that worships the Iphone, and sells chargers at every gas station and grocery store.

Spotify Premium:

Whether you’re a fan of Spotify or some other music streaming service, playing the fees for offline use is well worth it. I don’t think any investment was more important for me  than my Spotify premium membership. Most travel blogs I read talk about how important a plane ride playlist is, and without a doubt it’s a must! But in Europe you will be walking and taking public transportation a lot. At first, I listened to my playlists on the metro and bus to simply avoid unwanted conversations for weird guys on the metro. But after the months went on I listened to music while on transportation or walking because I missed the sound of English. I know this may sound crazy because Spanish is a beautiful language. But when you spend any large amount of time out of the country, you start to miss familiar sounds.

This also helps when you are in a country where the people speak a language you do not understand. During my summer in Germany in 2016, I didn’t run any errands without headphones. Because if I didn’t have them in someone could possibly try to ask me something I would not understand. This may seem rude for me to avoid people like this. But the level of stupidity you feel when you shrug your shoulders because you don’t understand a word someone is saying is far worse.  In addition, to my many reasons why you should have offline playlists ready for your travels, is because the songs you listen to during those adventures will forever remind of a certain place. I have dozens of songs that remind me of bus rides, or the beach, because with offline playlists you end up listening to the same songs a lot!

 

Perfume:

While this purchase is not necessary, it’s one of my favorite things to purchase for a trip. Pick a perfume or cologne to wear everyday during your stay in a certain location. I only did this for three different countries. But every time I come across the left-over perfume I’m instantly flooded with memories from my time there. It is a way to hold onto a memory without it just being a photo or video.

 When I lived in Bilbao I wore Miss Dior every day. This is my favorite perfume and I had worn it before in the United States, but saved it for rare occasions.  When I returned back from Spain,  about three months into being home I had an event that I felt I needed the Miss Dior for. This sounds incredibly dramatic but I’m telling the truth when I say I cried because to me it smelled like Bilbao.

 

I hope that some of these suggestions would help you pack for your next European adventure! 

 

 

 

 

-My Roman Holiday-

To start off, I’m no expert on Rome! I realize I was only in the city for a three-day weekend as a tourist, but I will say I learned a lot about seeing the sights of Rome in those three days.  I bought a flight to Rome after many late nights of staying awake talking to one of my best friends (and fellow exchange student) here in Bilbao about how much we just wanted to travel every weekend we could while living in Spain. My friend and I made a list of our top five European cities we just had to see during this semester, and it just happened to be that Rome was on both of our lists. So we looked for the cheapest flight to Rome and booked it that very night.

This spur of the moment flight purchase gave us less than two weeks to plan for it. I had the bright idea of only looking for a place to stay about how close it was to the city center. Other than that the only real planning we did was figure out what places in Rome we really needed to see during our visit. The list consisted of The Colosseum, The Vatican, The Trevi Fountain, and as many gelato shops we could possibly stop at. So we assumed because our list was a fairly typical and simple Rome tourist sight-seeing list that we would have no problem seeing each one of these with ease. We assumed wrong!

In the days leading up to leaving for Rome we asked some of the other exchange students at UPV Leoia what bus takes you to the Bilbao airport. We thought we would test out the bus, and make sure we did it correctly the day before. Of course when we got to Moyua (the biggest area of Bilbao) to test out the buses we thought “Hmm we don’t actually need to test this bus route. Let’s go get a latte and hot chocolate like we do every single time we are procrastinating, and forget about it.” I honestly think we just got too confident in this whole “We take buses and know what we are doing just like a real European” mindset.

So the night before we leave for Rome my friend spends the night at my apartment. We plan on waking up at 4am in order to leave my place in time to walk to the bus stop to get to the airport in time for our flight. We get to Plaza de Federico Moyua and look for the bus stop. It sounds really simple until you realize this plaza is a giant circle with about eight different bus stops. I was very quick so say let’s just pay for a taxi and get there the lost American student way. But fortunately my friend speaks much better Spanish than I do and she was able to ask this girl that suitcases walking to this bus stop if it was the stop for the airport. We were incredibly fortunate and this girl was very helpful and we talked to her the whole way to the airport. Nothing far too interesting happened on our flight to Rome, another than me handing my friend on of my ear buds and desperately trying to find the perfect take off song for the start of our flight. After sleeping with my head awkwardly smashed against the mini fold down table for two and a half hours we land in Rome.

We land in Rome and I look at the time to only realize it is two hours later than the time I told the owners of the flat we were renting for air b&b that we would meet them. So as soon as we get out of the plane I message the owners and apologize for my mistake and ask when the would open it up for us. Unfortunately, they would not be free for two more hours. My friend and I packed out backpacks to the so full it was painful just to avoid paying for a bag for the flight. So because we had these wildly large turtle shells strapped to our backs and we thought about the fear of pick-pocketers we thought it was best to chill in the airport for those two hours. My friend and I sat there and got sort of realized once we got to the apartment we really didn’t have any plan of what do to after that. So my friend gets on her laptop and quickly researches somethings to do. Me being the helpful travel partner that I am went to the well-lit bathrooms and did my makeup.

Our two hours of waiting goes by relevantly fast for our overwhelming exciting to just be in Rome. We realized our best option to get to the flat we rented was to take a taxi. We assumed you could just walk up to one of the dozens of taxis parked outside and get in. We soon got rejected by each one of them due to the fact that they were all reserved. We go to the help desk to ask about taxis and get sent to the bottom level of the airport. As we get off the escalator we are approached by two men asking us if we need a taxi. My friend answered yes and we showed them the address to our place. The both got together and google mapped it, and said yes, they could take us there. We were told to follow the older man to his car. As we walk through what felt like a mile of the airport and go down to the tunnel to the parking garage I begin to think about the movie “Taken” and how neither of these men have name tags and are parked in a parking garage. I quickly start to worry and tap my friend on the shoulder and tell her I don’t feel right about it. We decide to tell the man that our friend was going to meet us at the airport and we didn’t need his service anymore. The man didn’t know English so he called his boss to have us explain and after much frustration we just walk away from him. I’m not trying to claim these men in the airport were harmful or frauds, but everything was very suspicious.

We then got to that bottom floor once more, go outside, and instantly have tons of taxis to choose from. We get into a taxi and just sigh with relief. We made it and we are on our way to our flat. We soon realize that The Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport is incredibly far away from the city. If you have ever been in a major city and taken a taxi from the airport you know that the price is normally outrageous. We cringed the whole ride to the flat as we watched the price rise. By the time we got to the flat our bill for the ride was nearly sixty euros. As we step out of the taxi the man we are renting the flat from is waiting for us on his Vespa all Italian-like and everything. We walk into the most beautiful little villa full of luscious greenery and sunshine. We get a quick tour of our adorable little flat. As the owner leaves my friend and I quickly start to unpack and as usual let our moms know we have arrived safely. All of a sudden my friend begins to panic and realized we can’t find her phone. We both search franticly through our bags, the sofa cushions, the walk way into the villa, any corner we could think of. We soon come to the conclusion the cell phone got left in the taxi. My friend like any young adult six thousand miles from home would be, was super upset that we would never be able to track down the taxi for her phone.

We kind of just sat in the flat hour about an hour and regretting the whole spontaneous adventure.  I thought that if there is nothing we can do to make this day any worse we might as well go walk to the coliseum and see one of the sights we had talked so much about. I guess in my mind because we got a flat in the city center that we could walk to every major point of Rome without too much trouble. We walked out of the flat and literally started walking. We just meaninglessly starting walking, and following people assuming we could get to the coliseum. After nearly an hour of walking, I use many international data (very bad idea) for google maps. I realized we were still another hour from the coliseum. We got about fifteen minutes from the coliseum and it was getting really hot and confusing, so we turn around. Now because I could I could write about six thousand words on what we did the rest of the trip I thought I would make the rest of this blog about my personal Do’s and Don’ts of Rome.

DON’T: Use uber or taxis unless you have to in Rome:

Some cities are small and it’s much cheaper to uber everywhere. Rome is not that city! Rome is very spread out and not cheap to get from one sight to another. Our second day of being in Rome and racking up uber charges we walked to the Train/Metro/Bus station. This station alone was about ten times the size of the Bilbao airport. This station is also full of pick pockets so keep an eye on your backpack! We asked around and found out that this tiny little newspaper stand sold 24,48, and 72-hour metro, tram, and bus passes. Yes, I said a newspaper stand! When you live in Europe for a little while you begin to realize nothing is sold where you expect it to be. We bought the 48-hour pass for only twelve euros. This was a great investment and with a little street smart and decent map reading skills you can get all around the city.

DO: Eat wherever and whatever you want in Rome:

Some major cities often have overpriced food near major touristy sights. This is not the case for Rome. Everywhere we ate was fairly inexpensive for the locations. In addition, the food in Rome never once failed my expectations. So calorie counting is beyond unnecessary here. With all the walking you can eat carbonara and gelato for every meal without gaining a pound.

DON’T: Fall for the people at the Vatican or the Coliseum that make you pay to “skip the line”:

I’m not going to say they are all frauds, because I have heard that if you buy these passes online ahead of time you really can skip the line. But these people will harass you the whole time in line speaking any language you can imagine offering line skips and occasionally a tour. This is tempting with the long lines for either of these places. But we witness that many people who skipped the lines had to not only pay the person offering this too good to be true deal, they pay extra at the gate, and the tour doesn’t really exist.

DO: Go to the Coliseum on the first Sunday of the month:  

This day is free for entry and although many websites try to claim the coliseum is not open on Sundays, that is far from true. We got incredibly lucky and went unknowingly on the first Sunday of the month. We went two hours before closing and made it in with about an hour to spare. From photos I have seen I the past I don’t believe it was nay busier than normal that day either.

 

DON’T: Try walking back to your flat after dark:

This completely depends on where you are located. We personally had a flat in a fairly nice area. But as I have mentioned before Rome is quite large and you will more than likely see that the areas of town you walked through during the day soon get much scarier at night. My friend and I got chased and cat-called may times and learned to walk as close as we could to out flat, and order an uber from there.

DO: Go to hole in the wall places:

Rome has many hidden antique and bookstores. If you are anything like my friend and I this will become one of your favorite parts of Rome. Our favorite place was this little antique bookstore called Acquisto Intere Biblioteche located right near the Vatican. This place has some high quality and very unique postcards, posters, and old Italian magazine reprints. That is not to mention the thousands of antique Italian literature that lines the walls.

DON’T:  Stay in a hotel:

In Rome air b&b is much cheaper and more spacious typically as well. The flat we stayed in was amazing and only 183 U.S. dollars for three nights. This was a full sized flat with a kitchen, pull out sofa, and bunk beds. If anyone would like to know more about the flat we stayed in feel free to contact me for information.

 

Overall out time in Rome was incredible! Nothing compares to seeing the Coliseum for the first time at night and nearly crying at the sight of it. You will love the history, architecture, food, and the kind people of Italy.

 

My New Life in Bilbao

My new life in Bilbao has been a bit of a whirlwind. For every amazing and timeless moment, I experience, there is always a far more embarrassing one to follow. Although, the photos may show the easy side of my life here in Spain, the reality of it is far different. For every Instagram post of a mountainous hike or a beach trip is usually hidden a wild story of getting lost, falling asleep on the bus, a dead cell phone, and a lack of Spanish vocabulary. I wanted to show everyone all sides of what it’s like to be a 20-year-old female living abroad. I love reading travel blogs, but rarely do I find the ones that include the realistic side of the journey. I’m thrilled to share my good and bad experiences here in the Basque Country!