Saturday, February 16, 2013

L’Hiver Partie 1: Genève

Between my trip to Vienna and Christmas break, I didn’t go on any trips, due to finals and exhaustion from traveling all semester. Christmas came as a much-needed break from school. Though I didn’t go home, I was excited for my family to come visit me in Switzerland (and for them to pay for my meals, let’s be real here.).

The week before my family arrived in Geneva, I stayed with the family of another Pepperdine student studying abroad in Shanghai. Though I didn’t know him, I had met his family in September when I visited their house in Geneva and went to the Bodmer Museum with them and several other Pepperdine Lausanne students. I got in contact with them in the middle/end of November, and they graciously accepted me into their home for a week!

Getting to Geneva was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I’ve had in quite a while. Let’s just say that I’m not the most independent person in the practical world, and independent situations like having to figure out the entire bus system of a city (okay I didn’t have to navigate the whole system, but I had never used it before, and I had to figure that out on my own) cause me stress. I know that if I make a mistake it’s my own fault and it’s my own responsibility to figure out how to work out how to get around. Knowing this, I lingered around the Lausanne house the day we had to leave the house, hoping I wouldn’t actually have to leave and be independent.

But then the time came. I left the house with my suitcase filled with a weeks’ worth of clothes, and made my way to the train station, a smile on my face, because I was being independent! The train ride there was relaxed, but I kept looking at my maps of the city’s bus system and memorizing how to get from Point A to Point B to Point C without getting lost. Thankfully, this work paid off and I arrived at the house safely, albeit an hour and a half after I was supposed to. I was shown my living quarters in the family’s guesthouse and conversed with the maid in French until Mrs. de Planta arrived home with her other two sons. I got to meet them and spent dinner, then went to their weekly bible study with them. I got to practice my French speaking and listening skills there. Thankfully, their pastor was understanding of my amateur skills, and helped me out a lot with my pronunciation and phrasing.

The following day I spent sleeping in, cooking my breakfast, and taking a bath (a rare commodity here!) before spending lunch (sushi!) at the house with Mrs. de Planta and going out shopping with the de Plantas’ youngest son, Alexi, after picking him up from tennis practice, at which he had received a bloody nose (we walked around with a cotton wad sticking out of his nose all afternoon – it was quite comical). He and I walked around the main shopping street of Geneva and he bought various video games and we evaluated the different Nerf guns for sale in the toy stores, discussing which would be the best for a Nerf gun war. Once done, we met with his mom at work, and then drove back for dinner.

After a nice and delicious dinner and tea, I went back to the guesthouse and spent the evening reading (read: attempting to read) a French novella and getting a lot of sleep.

The following day I spent no more than four hours out of bed. I woke up late (around 11) and made myself some scrambled eggs for brunch before getting back in bed and working on organizing my photos and videos before napping a little. At around three in the afternoon, I decided that staying in bed all day probably wasn’t the best way to spend my break, so I went to the café down the road and got myself a pastry and tea and finished Pride and Prejudice (which I hadn’t read since October…). Then, I stopped by the guesthouse and picked up a letter I wrote, and walked to the nearest post office – an errand I had been avoiding the whole week. Getting out and doing stuff on my own was so liberating! I even promised myself I’d go into town and go window shopping the next day. I had a quick dinner with the family, then immediately went back to bed.

The next day I finally went into town. I looked around different stores and enjoyed my time out of the house, even though it was chilly outside. While I didn’t buy any clothes, I did get some macaroons from Ladurée and a coffee from Starbs. Of course. Leave it to me to buy food instead of clothes!

That evening, when I arrived back at the house, I had dinner with the family (Mr. de Planta had just arrived back from a business trip in London), and then watched most of a documentary in French about earth and how humans are impacting the environment. Though I only understood about 20-25% of it, the visuals helped, and it was a really interesting film. Sadly, we didn’t watch the whole thing because we were all tired, and it was getting late. Plus Romain, their other son, was flying home from Shanghai the next day and their day was filled with packing for their vacation to their chalet. So I went back to the guesthouse to sleep.

My final day in Geneva with the de Planta family passed almost as the others had: laziness. My productivity was found in washing my clothes and packing (for the most part) those which were dry. Like planned, I arrived at the house around four to attend a play at the de Plantas’ church. I also got to officially meet Romain! We drove over to the church, and I got to re-meet some of the members I had met when I visited in September. Pepperdine’s Church of Christ contacts in Lausanne were also there, so I got to talk to them. Again, the pastor helped me with my speaking. We watched the skit, which had something to do with reading the Bible.

After we departed from church, we returned to the de Plantas’ house, and Romain and I hung out at a park overlooking the city lights. After a week cooped up in a guesthouse occasionally talking with some of my friends and family, it was nice to be able to talk with someone my age. We talked about everything from our programs to Malibu to what plans we have for our lives. Though we had never met before that night, I found him surprisingly easy to talk to and to open up to, which doesn’t happen very easily, or quickly, for me. So the night ended up being a nice break from the norm I’d begun in Geneva.

We returned to the house and I went to the guesthouse and finished my packing in preparation for picking my family up the next morning. As soon as everything was packed and ready to go, I went to sleep – or at least tried to. I was so anxious for my family to come that sleeping came as a challenge.

Overall, my week in Geneva was pretty much the perfect way to begin my break – I got well rested and recovered from a long semester filled with a roller coaster of emotions, from homesickness to joy, too much travel, and the like. Though I did feel like my unproductivity wasn’t the best way to begin break, I would now argue that it was the perfect recipe! I headed into the rest of my family-filled break well-rested and ready to travel Switzerland and Italy more. 

Wiener Christkindlmarkt!

Of all the trips I’ve been on, most impulsive, short, and yet long trip I’ve taken was to Vienna. The whole trip was a whirlwind.

When I bought my Eurail, I bought it for ten days over a two-month period. Unlike many other students in my group, who started their two-month period on the first weekend we could travel outside of Switzerland, I made mine effective a week later, which meant that I could travel with it until our last travel weekend. Before my trip to Paris, I only had three days left on my Eurail, which would have meant that I would have to pay for my train ticket on the way back from Vienna; however, since Mindy’s dad paid for my ticket back from Paris, I had two days left on my Eurail going into the Vienna weekend.

The weekend before I went to Vienna, one of the girls from the Lausanne group posted on our Lausanne Facebook page, asking if anyone else had Eurail days for the following weekend. Both my RA and I commented, and we decided that we wanted to go to Vienna to see the Christmas markets (several groups had gone the weekend before, and told us we should definitely go; additionally, I had been wanting to go to Vienna the entire semester, but was sad when I only had three days on my Eurail – there was no way I was going to pay $200 for a ticket, no matter how awesome Vienna is). Instead of taking a train on Friday morning, spending two nights there, and coming back on Sunday morning, we decided to make the most economic trip possible: by leaving on Friday night, taking a sleeper train from Zurich to Vienna, and then returning on Saturday night and taking a sleeper train back, as well. We were to leave Lausanne at 8:20 pm on Friday, and arrive at 7:30 am on Saturday, then leave Vienna at 10:30 on Saturday night and arrive in Lausanne at 9:30 on Sunday morning. That meant fifteen hours in Vienna. Why did we decide to take such a short trip? One, we all had a history paper due the following Tuesday (which actually got pushed back until Thursday), as well as other schoolwork (I had to make a presentation in French the following Wednesday, and I’m pretty sure I had some other work I had to do…). Two, it would be much less expensive to use our Eurails and not have to pay for a hostel in Vienna.

So, Friday I spent doing homework and hanging out with my good friend Nathan, as well as cooking soup with him (he, Kyle, and I were all weekend cooking partners – I was teaching them how to cook (and teaching myself more recipes than my typical pasta with tomato sauce dinners and whatever’s-in-the-pantry-works for lunch). After a quick dinner (the soup wasn’t quite finished when I had to leave, sadly), I left with Brooke and Antonia for the train station. It felt so nice to not have to be awake at an ungodly hour, like four in the morning – ain’t nobody got time (or energy) for that! We got on the second level of the train and headed to Zurich. About ten minutes into our train ride to Zurich, the guy sitting diagonally across the aisle from us hiccupped or something, and the liquid he was drinking (that was still in his mouth) went flying across the car. Brooke cracked up, and I had to try my hardest to suppress my own laughter. He immediately took another sip of whatever he was drinking and called someone and started talking in an obnoxiously elevated voice. About twenty minutes later, he hiccupped again. I noted a strange smell, but couldn’t figure out what it was until I glanced back at him and realized that he was drinking beer. And that he was vomiting, not hiccupping. EW! There was beer all over the train seats and floor. Again, he took a huge swig of his nasty beer and called someone, using the same unnecessary volume. The whole car reeked of beer, and I had to keep myself from gagging. Yet again, he did his vomiting routine, and I prayed that he would please just get off at Bern, which was coming up in a few minutes. But as we sat at the train station, he didn’t budge. Just when I thought it would be impossible to be rid of his disgusting presence, he bolted down the stairs just before we departed for our second leg to Zurich. I was so relieved.

And then he started talking on the phone again. I wanted to punch someone in the face. And again, he came back up to our level and sat in his previous spot. Once we were in Zurich, I tried to get away from his stench as quickly as I could. Once off the train, we found our next train to Vienna, to find that our sleeper car already had two men sitting in it (our sleeper car didn’t have mattresses, but had six seats that extended into beds). Thinking we were going to have to sleep with them in the car, we gave each other skeptical looks and settled in. Another lady came in, also with a dissatisfied look on her face. The two men began talking to us, and asking us where we were going and where we were from. Once we were done with that conversation, we turned our attention to something else. Because we’d been doing homework on the last train, we decided to watch a movie this time around. So we put our headphones on and commenced watching Hercules. Immediately, the two men began blatantly talking about us, and pointing at us. It was so awkward! And uncomfortable! And of course, the younger of the two went and bought beer for him and his acquaintance. So again, our car smelled like beer: the inescapable scent of the trip. Once we were about twenty minutes in, the men stopped us and asked us if we were watching Shrek or Madagascar. Brooke told them what we were watching, and we returned to the movie. Thankfully, the younger guy got off soon thereafter, and the older man fell asleep until he had to get off. At some point the other lady had gotten off. That meant that we had the whole car to ourselves! So we unplugged our headphones and watched our movie with the lights off.

After we finished the movie, Antonia and I read for our history class before going to bed. Sleeping that night was incredibly hard, and I probably only got about two hours of sleep, if that. It was uncomfortable and I was so cold! And thankful to get off the train, even though it was 7:30 in the morning (yes, that is the college student in me talking). Brooke had been in Vienna for a few hours before during the semester, so she knew the general direction of the center of town. We got money out of the ATM and went to a café for breakfast. After some eggs and cappuccinos, we headed down the street, looking at all of the shops that weren’t yet open. Once nine o’clock rolled around, most of the shops were open, and we went into several furniture shops and looked at their adorable Christmas decorations. Then we found the Starbucks and bought mugs and coffees, and spent a while there with the free Wi-Fi (fun fact: in the Lausanne house, we call it wee fee. And our wifi network is called GeorgesP, and it doesn’t work too well, so the most common sentence muttered within the Lausanne house is: où est GerogesP?). A few minutes after departing Starbucks, after crossing several streets, we encountered the Christmas markets!

Sadly, only two of the vendors were open, so after strolling along the closed shops, wondering when they would be open, we spotted a huge arched gateway, and decided to see what was behind it. There we found the national Austrian library. And there we marveled at the building’s beauty (fun fact: the library is part of the building in which the Austrian parliament meets). After snapping enough pictures, we meandered about, wondering what else we could do before the Christmas markets opened. And then it hit me: see the Lipizzaner stallions! Had it not been for my travel guide to Europe, and my sister’s love for horses, I never would have though about going. But I suddenly remembered, and suggested it to my two travel buddies. They agreed that it would be interesting, and asked me what time watching the training started. With the help of my handy dandy iPhone, I figured out that the training sessions started at eleven. And it was 10:55. But we had no idea where the arena was. Once again, iPhone came to the rescue and told us it was a five-minute walk away. It was actually in the same building as the library, but on the opposite side. So we bought our tickets and rushed inside to see the magnificent horses, only about five minutes late. At first, we were positioned behind a lot of people, near one of the corners, and thus couldn’t see much; after repositioning ourselves, we could see practically the whole ring. Oh my goodness it was amazing! I’ve seen Lipizzaner stallion shows before, but this was the real deal. I was seeing it in person in Austria! My basic knowledge of dressage made it even more special – I knew the techniques, and what the riders were aiming to do with their horses. And it was just so glorious, how fluid and graceful their movements were! We left with complete satisfaction and joy that we had been able to see the show – and that we were in the right place at the right time! – as well as some pictures (which weren’t allowed, but shhh, nobody has to know!)

(This photo was taken legally...what are you talking about?)

From there, we visited the gift shop before exploring. Down the street from the gift shop was a Louis Vuitton, and, being girls, we couldn’t help but be attracted to the allure of the store. What we encountered was a pleasant surprise – the main shopping strip of Vienna, all decked out with Christmas lights hanging over the streets and hundreds (maybe even a thousand) of shoppers. 

(The main shopping road - I wish America, and Albuquerque, had more like this)

After looking around at some of the shops, we grabbed some lunch and some donut-like pastries without the holes in the middle. 


Brooke tried out some of her German, and the lady picking out the donuts for us was thrilled by her charm and attempts to speak as much German as possible (it’s a good thing I didn’t try – she probably would have been annoyed by my lack of motivation to try to say things in German). Once again, we walked through the streets and tried on shoes at different shoe stores (I even tried on some ridiculously tall eight-inch heels, and was exactly the same height as Brooke! I had such a new perspective of the world! I felt like I could conquer the whole world with my new height).

Since both Antonia and Brooke had brought their laptops with them, we decided to take the trolley-bus back to the train station to drop off their backpacks (and some of my purchases) in the lockers at the station. After we lightened our loads, we continued shopping along the main road we’d walked on earlier that day. By the time we arrived at the Christmas market, all the cabins were finally open! We looked at each shed and drank our hot wine and hot chocolate. I ended up buying ornaments for my family and some friends, as well as a nice ring for myself. Once we were done at that market, we decided to walk around. We noticed Christmas lights by the cathedral, so we walked over to that area just to find another market! 

(So pretty!)

We walked around that market and bought some more gifts, and marveled at the awesome sight around us. Everyone was into the Christmas spirit, which made us even more excited for the holiday. After walking around the market, we walked back to the train station to make sure we didn’t miss our train to Zurich.

The train back wasn’t too bad. Granted, the sleeping car next to us was filled with obnoxiously drunk people screaming and laughing for an hour or so. Other than that, the trip was fine. I ended up sleeping about six hours, which was a huge improvement from the night before (I couldn’t even believe I had been on my way to Vienna the previous night!!). The train from Zurich back to Lausanne also went smoothly, and we arrived home around 9:30 am – just 37 hours after we had left the city! As soon as I got into the house, I jumped out of my gross clothes and into the shower – possibly one of the best showers I’ve ever had. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and catching up on some of my homework.

Though it was a whirlwind trip, filled with too many encounters with beer and drunk people, it was definitely a great trip! I must say Vienna is one of my favorite cities, and I wish I could visit sometime in the summer or during warmer weather. Although, I must say, the Christmas season was quite an enchanting time to be in the city! What can I say? I just love Austria! 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Pour L'amour d'une Ville

Bonjour! Ça va?

J’adore la ville d’amour! J’adore Paris, avec tout mon cœur! And today I shall talk about my lovely trip à Paris with my lovely Alpha Phi sister, Mindy (from the Heidelberg program), her parents, and Adam! Her parents were visiting Europe over long weekend and the following week, and they invited Adam and I to join them in Paris the weekend of November 9-11.

First, let’s talk about how incredibly silly getting to and from Paris with a Eurail is. Knowing that we needed to reserve tickets back from Paris (Adam booked a flight to Paris on the evening of the 8th, so I had to book my own reservation for the 8th) on the 11th, and that other groups from the Lausanne program had had problems reserving train tickets with their Eurails when they reserved a week in advance, Adam and I went to the train station two weeks in advance to ensure that we would be able to get spots on one of the TGV trains back to Lausanne. However, at the station, we weren’t able to find a train back to Lausanne with open Eurail spots. Why? Well, we found out that because TGV is a privately owned company, they are able to limit the amount of Eurail reservations available per train to ten. So already two weeks in advance, all of the spots were filled. Instead of booking a nine-hour train back through Lyon or another city, we decided to figure it out in Paris, and hope that some spots would open (I’m not sure how they could have opened, but hey, we wanted to give it a shot! Oh, and the TGV train would only have taken four hours to get to Lausanne). I had also wanted to reserve a ticket to Paris on the 8th so that I could arrive around the same time as Adam, but those trains were also fully booked. Even the trains from Geneva to Paris were booked! So I had to settle for a 6:20 AM train on the 9th. Even though it wasn’t ideal, and even though I would arrive much later than I had wanted, at least I found a train with open spots!

Fast-forward to the 9th: I left the house for the gare with a group that was also going to Paris, and when I got on my train, I found another two girls from my program going! (I have an irrational fear of traveling alone – but only in Europe – so this was comforting, especially since they were sitting across the aisle from me, whew!) After watching the sun rise above the mountains and green fields through a hazy sky, I got to work on reading a 250-page book until I fell asleep (a rare feat for me!). About twenty minutes away from the city, I woke up and stared out the window at the green landscape until I arrived at the train station. I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to meet my entourage until I saw them standing at the end of the platform, waiting for me. Like a scene from a movie, Mindy and I ran up to each other and gave each other a huge “hello” hug. It was pretty darn cute. I even got hugs from her parents! I got a nice “oh, Leigh we’ve already seen everything there is to see in Paris, you came a bit too late” sass from Adam. Always the sass master trying to thwart my own attempts at sassing. We figured that since we were at the train station, Adam and I might as well try to reserve seats back. When that didn’t work out without a nine- or ten-hour train back to Lausanne, we decided we would try the next day. We then left the gare and headed to our weekend apartment so I could drop off my stuff.

After settling in, we went to see the Eiffel Tower! What a sight for sore eyes! 

(La Tour Eiffel)

(My adopted family for the weekend!)

When I visited Paris with my parents, we didn’t go all the way to the top, but this time we did. Sadly, it was still hazy, so I couldn’t get an amazing view or photograph of the city, but that was fine by me; I was still on top of the Eiffel Tower. Possibly my favorite part of visiting the tower was the announcement on the second floor, warning that “pickpockets are active in the tower,” which I originally heard as “pickpockets are active in the town.” Silly French announcements! We then grabbed some lunch (a burger for me – I don’t know why I’ve become so enthralled by burgers…oh, wait! That’s because I can’t eat American food here!) and then took the metro to the Arc du Triomphe. Adam had to be back to the hotel by four to register for spring courses back in Malibu, so we went back early and rested until dinnertime. In the meantime, Mindy, Adam, and I talked and listened to music. Oh. And Mindy and I booked our tickets to the Mumford & Sons concert in Budapest in March!!! So stoked! We went out to dinner and got steak and champagne, which were both delicious, then walked back to our hotel and slept the night away.

We spent Saturday literally seeing everything touristy in Paris. First, we had to get breakfast, so we went to Starbucks. Then we stopped by the Gare de l’est, which Mindy’s mom called “Gary East” since she refused to speak French. We still couldn’t find any TGV spots back to Lausanne, so Mindy’s dad kindly paid for a regular train ticket, which I couldn’t thank him enough for (and which he didn’t need to do – we could have easily taken the nine-hour train home). From there, we visited Notre Dame, followed by Shakespeare & Co. Then we were looking for somewhere to eat lunch when I spotted the cute restaurant right next to the famous bookstore. It ended up being a delicious find! I got myself some duck with pistachio, followed by the most delicious cappuccino with vanilla chantilly (whipped cream).

All I can say is, when I go back to Paris, I am getting some of that duck and a cappuccino again! It was beyond delicious! Then we headed over to the Luxembourg Gardens, which I had visited with my family two years ago. Even though it was cloudy out, and the toy sailboats weren’t floating in the pond, it was still gorgeous – the flowers were still in bloom, and the leaves were stained yellow.

(Mindy, Adam, and me sitting by the main pond)

The Lewises thanked me for suggesting we visit the garden. Point two for Leigh! Of course we had to visit the second most touristy place after that: the Louvre. We didn’t spend too much time there – just an hour. But we were already tired from the day, and didn’t have quite enough energy to absorb the whole museum (even though it’s impossible to see the whole museum in a day – much less an hour). When we left, we tried to find Angelina, home of the best hot chocolate in the world. However, the line was so long that we decided it would be a better idea to go back to the hotel instead of wait in line. Once again, we relaxed and unwound after a busy day of sightseeing, and spent our time back at the hotel talking and laughing.

Then, we went out to dinner, where Mindy and I got burgers (judge us harder…because Mindy’s parents and Adam were judging hardcore. I even ate my burger like a real European and cut and ate it with a fork and knife!) and Bordeaux wine fit for Alpha Phis (silver and bordeaux are our sorority colors). Dinner was a riot! We talked about who I’m going to marry (oh dear…if you really want to know, ask me personally; I’m not going to post it on the world wide web), how “artsy” means “drunk” (I’m not sure how we arrived at this conclusion, but it does makes sense in a way), among many other subjects. And for dessert, I ordered the most delicious pistachio macaroon with raspberry sauce in the middle. I died. And I loved it so much that I declared that I wanted to lick my plate, but I didn’t think that was socially acceptable. But really. I would definitely go back to that restaurant just for the macaroon.

(Dying even just looking at it! - and it was bigger than it looks, with about a three-inch diameter!)

After a delicious and hilarious meal, we walked all the way to the Concorde (basically from the Arc du Triomphe) to see the Eiffel Tower shine. Like a true artist, I spent a good fifteen minutes taking “#artsy” shots of the tower and street and capturing video footage for a possible video of my travels. We returned to our hotel and slept.

(Getting #artsy)

Sunday morning, we woke up, got ready, and ate at Starbs again. Then we collected our backpacks and parted ways. Mindy and her parents had to be at the Gary East at eleven, and Adam didn’t have to be at the Gary Lion until one, so he and I went back to the Concorde to film a short video for our amazing media coordinator, Richelle! The basic premise was to take a piece of paper and write anything on it and pass it from the left side of the shot to the right; she would then compile all of the videos and make it look like everyone in our program was sending the sheet across the continent! Cool right? Yeah our media coordinator is the best! Adam’s said “#beekeepingismysecretpassion” and mine said “I am a cat lover, and I love to run!” since Mindy and I had been singing that all weekend, much to the dismay and annoyance of those around us (

(I'm going to make a cute cat lady someday! Actually, let's hope not. That said, this is probably a terrible thing to be posting on the internet...guys I'm a dog lover!)

Then, we headed to Gary Lion and left the gorgeous city of love. On the way home, I attempted to read Measuring the World, but that left me tired, so I instead listened to music and wrote in my travel journal!

Overall, I loved my trip to Paris, as well as Mindy’s family! It was so nice being able to finally meet her parents, especially since they’re so hilarious and easy to have conversations with. In my own words, “[Mindy’s] mom is like my dad the way she stuff says. Ah sang it! I mean dang it!” I am so glad I got to spend my weekend in Paris with such a fun group, and I look forward to my third time visiting – sometime in the future!

Au revoir! 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Viva La Vida!

¡Buenos días!

One of the luxuries of the Lausanne program, in addition to our gorgeous homeland and our central location on the European continent, is our ability to travel every weekend we’re here (save for the weekend between our finals weeks and the first weekend of our orientation weeks), made possible by our three-day weekends (Friday through Sunday). While you’d think that this is a lot of time to travel and see Europe, it’s really not that long. Unless you leave on Thursday night after your last class and return late on Sunday (you can’t return after midnight on Sunday, or you get counted as absent in all of your Monday classes, and an absence on a Monday (or Thursday) counts as two instead of one), you will only really spend a day and a half in any given place. Since our main means of transportation is via train, our travel days can be extremely long, so that sometimes leaves only a day to see a city. However, every semester we get a long weekend, which is a five-day weekend extending from Wednesday until Sunday (again, you can leave after your last class on Tuesday if you wish). I spent this semester’s long weekend with my roommate, Alexa, and two other roommates, Hank and Jonathan, in Madrid, Spain. ¡Vamos!

The whole process of going to sleep and getting up in the morning was a bit stressful (a bit meaning really in this situation). The night before we left, I was busy working on a humanities paper I had due the following Tuesday, and had decided at around seven o’clock pm to change my topic. I was so stressed that I decided not to join in the fun of the house’s Halloween party (worst decision I’ve ever made…). On top of that, I hadn’t packed for my trip, printed my boarding pass or hostel reservation, or filled out the travel log, so I found myself packing in my room from midnight until 1:30 in the morning. After a measly hour and twenty minutes of sleep, my roommate woke up to take a shower. Being the light sleeper that I am, I stayed awake for the next half hour before it was my turn to hop in the shower. At four o’clock we rolled out for our 4:20 train with another group that was heading to the airport as well. About twenty minutes into our 40-minute train ride to the Geneva airport, my roommate started arguing with one of the boys. At that point I knew it was going to be an interesting trip.

We arrived at the airport, went through security with no problems, and got on our airplane. The instant our plane’s ignition was turned on, a terrifying sound resonated through the plane that sounded like a saw cutting through the body of the plane. I’m not the best flyer, so this sound set me on edge and set my heart on a racehorse’s pace. To be honest, I was quite convinced the plane was going to break down on the takeoff, but tried to calm myself. As you can all see, since I am able to write this today, the plane did not crash or blow up or get sawed in half. Which I am beyond thankful for. And about ten minutes into the flight, the horrifying sound stopped.

An hour and fifteen minutes later, we landed in Madrid! After exiting the plane, we made our way to the metro to find our hostel. After twenty minutes on our second metro train, Hank noticed that it looked like we were heading into the outskirts of the city, and that we were supposed to be staying in the old town of Madrid. He asked an older gentleman sitting across from us if we were heading in the right direction, and found out that we had passed our metro stop seven stops ago. So we had to disembark and go almost all the way back (we were supposed to get off at the second metro stop…oops!). At the metro station, Alexa asked the police where our hostel was in relation to the metro station. However, since she didn’t know much Spanish and since the policemen didn’t give the best instructions, we couldn’t find it, or the street it was on. That led to another hour of searching, lugging our luggage and asking person after person where the street we were looking for was. Finally we found it and checked in around eleven. However, we couldn’t go into our room until three, so we had to find something to do in the meantime, but they would hold our luggage for us. So we decided to get some tapas for lunch and to see the Plaza Mayor and the Palacio Real.

(Plaza Mayor)

(Alexa, Jonathan, and Hank in Plaza Mayor)

(Palacio Real)

The palace was stunning. We were able to go in (Alexa and I were smart and brought our student IDs, so we got a discounted entry price. Note: when in Europe, always take advantage of your student ID!) and walk around. Every single room was extensively decorated, and it reminded me a lot of Buckingham Palace. One thing I noticed about the palace was how many Chinese paintings there were. There was even an entire stateroom filled with Chinese paintings on the walls and ceiling. After seeing the palace, we stopped by the armory and marveled at the helmets with pictures of demons and intimidating beasts on them. Once we left, the line to get in was at least ten times as long as it was when we first came, so we were thankful that we had come early enough to beat the crowds. We then walked around the palace onto the street. 

There, we saw an interesting looking painted rooftop and Alexa, Hank, and I decided to look for it. Jonathan decided to stay at the small park next to the palace until we returned. Our scavenger hunt did not lead us to the building we were looking for, but we did encounter two different parks – one normal one and another one with Egyptian ruins that overlooked the city. We then continued searching, but couldn’t find the building. So we got some ice cream and returned to the palace, only to find the building and realize that we had passed it before. We gathered Jonathan and headed back to the hostel, stopping at a jewelry store to buy some turquoise bracelets. We got our room key, and settled in to our hostel room.

Keeping with Spanish tradition, we then took a two-hour siesta. Which was much needed. Afterwards, we went out to get our hands on some paella for dinner. We found a nice little restaurant that served it and stuffed our stomachs with the delicious Spanish plate. Because it was Halloween, our hostel was having a special event with its sister hostel nearby, with free sangria at our sister hostel followed by bar hopping. We decided to try it out, but 1. the sangria was cheap and disgusting (which should have been expected, since it was free), 2. we were just playing drinking games instead of actually being social and getting to know other people, and 3. I was far too tired and grumpy to go dancing with my companions, so I asked if we could just go back to the hostel and sleep. The boys agreed with my suggestion, and we decided to go back and rest since we’d had a long day. Alexa wasn’t too happy about our decision, but it was for the sanity and health of our group that we didn’t go out that night.

The next day we got up, got some breakfast from the tapas restaurant we’d eaten at the previous day, and went to the Prado Museum (I got in for free!). 

(Museo del Prado)

On the way there, we saw the most adorable beagle puppy, and Alexa and I went up to his owner, a friendly and cheerful little kid, and asked if we could pet his dog. We asked and found out that his name was Gumer. Gumer! So cute! Of course I got some pictures of him, and fixed my need to pet an adorable dog. 


Since I was writing my humanities paper on Venetian Renaissance paintings, the museum helped me develop my ideas and gain more knowledge on the subject. Plus, we got to see all of the famous paintings and painters, like Las Meninas and Goya, which I had learned about in high school, so that part was really exciting – I finally got to see the paintings and the museum that I had learned about in Spanish class since I was a measly middle school kid. We then took a break from museums and visited the botanical gardens next to the Prado, where we took pictures, looked at the beautiful scenery, and talked. 

After our jaunt through the gardens, we visited the Reina Sofia (I also got in for free – thank you Pepperdine ID), which was nothing like I’d imagined it would be. I had no idea it was filled with modern art, which I’m not a big fan of in the first place. We had only really gone to see Picasso’s Guernica, but since the boys had to pay full price, they wanted to check out as much of the museum as possible. So we did that. And then we encountered the floor filled with propaganda from South America in the 1970s. After being sufficiently depressed and freaked out by that, we encountered a separate exhibition, and a piece that took up three rooms. The first room had a white light projected by an empty slide projector onto a white screen and a chair in front of it. Every few seconds, the slide would change, still with white light shining on the screen. Though the lights were off in the room, lights from the room before it still illuminated the space. Then we moved onto the second room, which was pitch black except for a white light that was projected onto a white sphere. Over the speakers was an uncomfortable noise. The white light fluctuated with the pitch of the voice. It took me a while to figure out what the sound was until I realized that it sounded like a man being beaten to death. His screams filled my brain, and my heart picked up its pace. I then moved into the third room, which was pitch black and silent. I was freaked out more than words can express, and so I anxiously asked my companions if we could leave. They weren’t quite as freaked out as I was, but they agreed that we should leave.

After departing the museum, we got lunch at a restaurant affiliated with our hostel, and then walked back to our hostel to take another siesta when Jonathan and I remembered that we had seen these two-foot long pieces of candy that we wanted to buy. Hank decided to take his siesta and Jonathan, Alexa, and I went back to Plaza Mayor to buy some candy. Then, we went to Plaza del Sol (the plaza we had entered the previous morning from the metro station) and went browsing and shopping. We stopped at a jewelry store, Sephora, a soccer store, and a few clothing stores. 

(Plaza del Sol)

Alexa had wanted to go to Zara, but we couldn’t find it (I had asked someone in Sephora where it was – in Spanish – and she had told me the right directions, but I just didn’t realize that we had to go farther than we had in order to find it) until we were walking back to the hostel. Of course, we had to go in. There, I bought some heels and a sparkly blue dress, and Alexa bought a sweater. Happy with our purchases, we went back to the hostel. I got on my phone and had a spontaneous freshman year roommate, Ruth! It was such a great conversation, and even though I know I was supposed to be living it up in Madrid, it was great to talk to such a great and lovely friend!

We were supposed to go to a flamenco dance show that night at the other hostel, but when we got there, they informed us that the dancer had gotten in a car accident, so the show was canceled. To compensate for any inconveniences, they said we could go bar hopping with the hostels for free. So we went out and got a quick dinner and returned to the hostel in time to leave for the event. Overall, the venues were so fun, especially compared with a bar that Pepperdine students frequent back in Lausanne. Here, they had great dancing music, and the people from our hostel were really friendly and nice to talk to. I even got to talk to some locals in Spanish and practice my Spanish speaking skills, which I apparently haven’t lost, thank goodness! Basically the whole night was filled with dancing and talking to other hostel guests (who weren’t drinking much, or anything, and by default, I could actually have a good conversation with). One of the guys from our hostel was from France, and I also got to practice my French with him, which was encouraging, since I hadn’t really talked much in French outside of our French class, to be honest. After visiting four bars, we decided that we were tired out from dancing and the loud music and returned to the hostel at, yes, four in the morning.

The next day, we got up and went to Toledo on a day trip. I hadn’t realized how close the city was to Madrid, and it was nice being able to get out of the city and see some new scenery. Our driver dropped us off near a museum, and we essentially wandered around the city for a good six hours. There, we visited the cathedral, and pretty much every part of town. Sadly, we hadn’t done any research on the city before arriving, so we didn’t have an agenda. But we got a lot of walking in regardless, and got to see many cats! 

(ahahahaha silly cat!)

Even though it was a cool little city, there wasn’t anything extremely remarkable about it, except for the view of the countryside and the river. Our driver picked us up at four and we returned to Madrid for the rest of the evening. Again, we took a siesta and went out to dinner afterwards. Once more, we returned back to the hostel, packed, and went to sleep early.

Saturday morning our alarm had somehow not gone off, so we had to rush to get out of the hostel and to the airport on time to make our flight back to Geneva. We literally woke up and were out the door in fifteen minutes, running the whole way to the metro station. Since we were all upset about not waking up on time, tensions were high between all of us, which did not make the trip to the airport any fun. Alexa and I had to constantly remind the boys to stick with us instead of walking ahead of us. When we arrived at the airport, it turns out that we had a lot of time to spare, actually. So we grabbed some donuts from a shop and sat in the waiting area, where we ran into three other girls from our program, who had been in Barcelona for a few days, and had come down to Madrid for a day. We caught up on each others’ travels and boarded the plane. Sadly, my carry-on bag was slightly too big to be considered a carry-on by the airline, so I had to check it for a fee of fifty euros – not a happy thing for me to hear. But once we were back in Lausanne, I was so relieved to be home. So relieved. That’s when I realized that I was essentially done with traveling for the rest of the semester (well, save for my trip to Paris the following weekend). I was already so over traveling and just wanted to spend my weekends catching up on sleep and work, since I hadn’t done either in a long time.

All said and done, my trip to Madrid was great. I loved the city, and although I didn’t love the company, it was a good trip. I’m so glad I got to go and experience the culture I had spent seven years learning about in middle and high school.

¡Hasta luego!