Exploring Europe, Inner Fashionista

Reasons to love J.Crew’s latest Instagram contest

How Instagrams of wearing, rolling and pairing their favorite denim gives J.Crew inside looks at their costumer’s behaviors

Within the past year, Instagram has taken the world by storm. Its visual stimulation paired with its aesthetically pleasing filters has made it the ideal medium for social posting for many today-especially fashion enthusiasts. People buy clothes for many reasons, but people who shop at specific labels and spend a considerable amount on their clothes shop for two main reasons: to look good and to feel good. Whether they are trotting the streets of New York or driving their kids to soccer practice, these people dress and act like the world is their runway and they want to make the best impression possible.

People who shop at J.Crew are no stranger to this sensation and that’s why this Instagram contest is right up their alley.

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The Instagram contest, #JCrewDenim, challenged J.Crew fans to photograph how they wear and where they wear their favorite J.Crew denim. A few of the entries shared on J.Crew’s official Instagram account depicted beach scenes, mountain views, bed snuggles, neon outfits and even jumping kids.

This was not only an easy contest for people to enter, but it also gave J.Crew a lot of insight on how their customers wear their J.Crew denim. From these Instagrams, they now know what types of tops and looks people try to go for with different pairs of jeans and what kinds of settings and occasions their jeans are being worn it. It gives a lot of other J.Crew fans ideas and it gives J.Crew itself ideas on how to market and make their jeans. From design to store windows, J.Crew now has a better idea of what their customer’s are looking for from their jeans.

Who better to seek information from than the customer themself?

 

 

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Exploring Europe

A Few of My Favorite Things In Europe

Spending a semester in Europe was one of the best decisions of my life.  Going into it, I was beyond nervous, anxious, and scared about being in a different country no where near my family, adjusting to cultural differences, encountering language barriers, and living in a city for the first time in my life, but I miss Barcelona more than anything.

Before I left for this trip, I swore to myself that I would never be that person who would leave their university for a semester abroad and then return to school depressed and constantly comparing their life now to their life in Europe. Looking at all of my friends who returned from abroad last winter, I thought they were being dramatic and silly not going out or being social.  They looked miserable and out of place and I did not understand how they could love Elon so much before their trip and come back and not feel the same way.

I will always love my university.  It has given me countless opportunities to grow and learn, and I have met the most incredible friends I could ever ask for, but after my semester in Barcelona I completely understand why so many of my friends the previous year were going through such a drastic reverse culture shock.  I find myself constantly starting stories with “this time in Barcelona” or “at Oktoberfest” or comparing college parties to clubs and bars abroad.

To reflect on the best four months of my life, below is a list that represents some of my favorite places, trips, and memories from my experience.

Favorite Things;

In Barcelona

Favorite Restaurant: La Luna; Great food. The raviolis literally melted in your mouth and the pumpkin spice puree was to die for. Super romantic setting, with low-lighting, candles and red flowers on every table. Friday and Saturday night casual drinks at the bar were always good and really busy as well. It became our home away from home.

Favorite Club: Sutton; This was the first club I went to in Europe, and from then on we literally went every Wednesday and sometimes Thursdays. Super trendy and classy, and conveniently located next to a bar we frequented, Hot Bar.

Favorite Bar: Ovella Negra; one of my program’s favorite places in Barcelona. We went here at least once a week.  Set up in a large warehouse, with wooden, long cafeteria tables like Oktoberfest, we would crowd around a cluster of tables with sangria and beer towers.

Favorite Cafe con Leche: QuQu; Bridget and I stopped here every morning on our way to class for cafe con leche. It’s a chain, but it is by far one of my favorite cafe con leches I had in Spain. Tasty but potent.

Favorite District in Barcelona: Gothic neighborhood; I spent a lot of time in this neighborhood. Even though Barcelona is a very spacious city, the quaint cobblestone narrow streets in the Gothic neighborhood was a nice break from the hustle and bustle. It exemplified what I imagined European neighborhoods to look like. With great restaurants and boutiques, I would lose myself for hours there.

Favorite Church (in Europe): Santa Maria del Mar. Located in the Ribera district, we passed it almost every time we went shopping or out to dinner. It is the only surviving building in pure Gothic Catalan style.  The stain glass windows are also breath taking.

Favorite Festival: La Merce. One of my favorite weekends in Europe by far.  The entire weekend is full of different activities and events that celebrate Catalan culture. My favorite was the Correfoc- a run through Barcelona where people dress as devils and throw fire crackers at the crowd. It was one of the most terrifying and unique experiences of my life.  It represents chasing all of the evil out of the city.

Fashion and Style

Favorite European Clothing Store: Zara; There are no words. I am in love with their trendy, yet edgy clothes.  I also adore their marketing tactic of updating the clothes on a weekly bases and tailoring the clothes of every store to the trends in that location. 

Favorite Flea Market: Florence. Not much more to say. Italy has fantastic leather markets and knock-off designer bags.

Favorite Jewelry Store: “…”: Located in Barcelona’s Ribera neighborhood, every piece of jewelry was made in the city.  Each had different stones, ropes, and patterns.  Some of the most unique and beautiful jewelry I have ever seen.

Favorite Purchase: Green Canvas Zara jacket with fur insert from Zara

Outside of the City

Favorite City (outside of Barcelona): Paris

Favorite Day Trip: Montserrat or Tossa del Mar

Favorite Club: Kapital (Madrid)

Favorite Traditional Meal: Prague

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Exploring Europe

Prague and Salzburg’s Winter Wonderlands

It was not beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  Even though I cherished the warm weather in Barcelona, the winter-themed lights hung around the city streets and the ice-skating rink in the center of Placa Catalunya definitely felt out of place for the beginning of December.  I missed the snow, hot cocoa, mittens, and pea-coats.

But my winter fix was just around the corner- a trip to Czech Republic and Austria.  This was the last trip we planned at the beginning of October, and at that point it felt so far away. We had so many other trips planned, adventures to be had, and test to be taken before it. The trip never felt real until we were boarding the plane to Czech Republic.

After a two hour flight, we finally landed in Prague late at Thursday night. A forty-five minute taxi ride later, we finally reached our hostel.  After previous stays at the Hangover Hospital in Munich (still scarred), my expectations for any living quarters were not that high.  Simply having our own shower was enough for me to be thrilled about. So, Mosaic Hostel surpassed any other hostel situation we had been in this far.  We walked into the foyer and were greeted by music and a security guard.  The downstairs of the hostel was warm and inviting, with a live band, bar, and restaurant.  We were surprised once again when we walked into our room- an 8 person room just for the 7 of us, equipped with our own marble bathroom with a shower, thick comforters, and lockers.

A quick change and small dinner later, we were on our way into the brisk -12 degree Celsius weather to meet our guy friends from Elon at the bar. With fur scarves, hats, mittens, and pea-coats, we wandered the cobble-stone streets of Prague.  The cold did not matter at this point- we were beyond excited at this point to whip out our winter gear, and as we walked, we were kissed by snowflakes- our first snowfall that winter.

Once we navigated through the streets of Prague, we reached our destination.  The bar was small, but each table was equipped with its own tap from underground. Fascinated by the taps erected in the center of the tables, we all enjoyed a mug of beer and catching up with friends.

The next morning, we woke up early to embark on a free walking tour of the city that Bridget had found online (our tourist skills clearly improving). Spoiled after our all-you-can-eat breakfast at the hostel, we braced ourselves for the cold weather.

We clearly had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We were in the perfect moods, invincible from conceivable problem. Our hostel was perfect (in our standards). We had a very nice, cheap, filling breakfast. We thought the cold was, for lack of a better adjective, magical, because we were so sick of the warm weather so close to Christmas.  The night before had not felt cold because we were elated to be in a place that actually felt like the holidays.

Well, this all wore off about 20 minutes into our walking tour. It was -7 degrees Celsius, which to our amazement was an “improvement” according to our tour guide, an Australian who had relocated to Prague after college. After an hour of being outside, I could not feel my ears or nose, and my feet felt like cinder blocks when I walked.

Despite this, we were really excited to finally wander around the city with a tour guide (FOR FREE). We had done little to no research about Prague prior to our trip, and had no idea what we should see in the city (outside of the John Lennon Wall). Guidance was definitely needed, and appreciated . Some highlights of our walking tour included:

  • The clock tower in the main square of the city. I have no idea why this is a tourist attraction. Every hour, little dancing disciples come into the window views to the sound of a trumpet. It was very disappointing given the hype. But apparently the clockmaker was very very famous, and his work was desired by other European countries. The Czechs were afraid that if he built clocks in other countries, theirs would be less special. To prevent this, the city council invited him to a dinner party, where they gouged his eyes out and cut out his tongue.  The clockmaker got his revenge the next day, when he jumped into the technical works of the clock tower, killing himself and breaking inner-workings of the clock.  It was not fixed for centuries.
  • The Jewish Quarter.  This is the only city in Europe that still has the original Jewish synagogue prior to Hitler’s Nazi reign.  Hitler had planned on using this area of Prague as the “Jewish Museum,” so that people could visit the area once the Jews were extinct to see how they lived. It’s really creepy to walk around the area with that in mind. Also, their is a small exhibition of children’s artwork from the concentration camps on display.
  • This small bakery with the BEST hot cocoa I have ever had.
  • A haunted church
  • A theater where Mozart performed

We saw a ton more on our two hour tour, but to be honest, I was so preoccupied with how cold I was that it was difficult to listen.

Prague

Prague

Since this was our only full day in Prague, we decided to do the second walking tour they offered.  This tour was on the opposite bank, exploring the castle district.

As good of an idea as this was in theory, we were the definition of miserable once we were on the tour.  We only had a 45 minute break between our first tour and this tour, so we had maybe ten minutes to go into the nearest Starbucks to warm up before we searched for food and met for our tour.

We journeyed with our new tour guide onto a tram to reach the top of the hill where the castle was located. Once we reached the top, we had an incredible view of the entire city, and all of its 500+ towers (thank you, the crazy man who thought Prague was the spy capital of the world for counting them decades ago).

Prague

Prague

Not to sound like a debby, but this is probably the only part of the tour we enjoyed. We were so cold, I could not even tell you what our tour guide was talking about. I honestly debated if what I was feeling in my toes was hypothermia. Once we actually reached the castle, we were not even able to go in it because they were honoring the guards in a special ceremony for all of their hard work.  It was cool though to see them all standing in lines with their rifles, and some of them on their horses.  Other than this, we were exhausted, hungry, and numb from spending 6+ hours outside. Not to mention, we were thoroughly disappointed that the castle was a building surrounding a cathedral, which from the outside looked identical to the Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona.

Fun tidbit we also learned on the tours: the word “defenestration,” meaning to kill someone by throwing them out a window, was coined in Prague because of an incident at the Prague castle in 1618, when two imperial governors were tossed out the window to their deaths. And the act of defenestration happened multiple times in Prague’s history.

Once our tour ended, we literally raced down the hill, over the river, and to the nearest taxi we could find to fit 7 people.  Let me tell you, when we finally reached our hostel, nothing felt better than sitting in our beds, with all of our clothes still on, heat on high, and our comforters up to our necks. I think it took me two hours to regain full movement of my toes.

We also met our new room companion- a quiet asian boy who did not say a word to use. He put down his bag, took out his phone, texted for five minutes, and then left the room.  We all secretly prayed that he left in such a hurry to switch rooms.  Who would place him in a room of 7 college girls, who were all friends? His dream or his nightmare, we will never know.

After reheating our bodies and resting after a long day of walking, we changed and headed out once more to a late dinner and drinks. We went to one of the best restaurants of my entire European trip. It was very authentic Czech, with long cafeteria-like wooden tables.  We were immediately served dark beer (my first dark brew! which was amazing, and super refreshing by the way, I was genuinely surprised).  I had the best beef, gravy, cranberry sauce, and potato pancakes of my life. After eating a lot of pasta, rice, tapas, and pintos in Spain, it was a relief to have food that felt and tasted like home. It was filling, and it felt a lot like Thanksgiving dinner.

The next morning was our last in Prague, and we had a lot to accomplish before catching our bus to Austria. Some highlights from that morning:

  • The John Lennon Wall. This was probably the only Prague monument any of us could name before our walking tours. It was really cool to see his memorial and the different quotes, drawings, and names people have left in passing, but it was a lot smaller than I had imagined. 
  • The Charles Bridge
  • The Christmas Market in the Town Square. Once again, they were a lot smaller than I had imagined, but it was fun to walk around and see the different Christmas traditions that Prague has in comparison to the United States. I really enjoyed the idea of buying your Christmas ornaments and wooden toys at this outdoor market, enjoying a cup of hot apple cider and goulash.

Our next stop was Austria after our quick stay in Prague.  Once again, Bridget’s tourist skills lead us to a bus trip from Prague to Berlin, where we would then to a train to Salzburg.

I can not rave enough about how much I loved our bus from Prague to Berlin.  It was the best four and a half hours of traveling EVER. The bus was a double decker coach bus with WIFI and bathrooms. Considering there were also maybe 20 other passengers, we each got our own row to lay down and sleep at the back of the second level of the bus. Nothing could be more perfect, especially compared to our RyanAir flights.

Or so we thought. And then we met a three year old (two year old?) German (?) demon child. I am not saying this lightly, he was literally insane. Coerced by one of my friends to poke another one of my girl friends, the child joined in on the game.  All was fun, until he got over confident, and leaped onto my friend, where he preceded to pull her hat over her eyes and sit on top of her, throwing punches the whole time. We tried to stop him- and then he came after us. He tried to pus one of us down the stairs, and at other times he would literally claw at me when I would ask him to be nice. Meanwhile..where was his mom? For the first two hours of this ride, that answer was unknown. We were all so frightened, we slept to make him go away.

Once we finally reached the train station in Germany, our train was delayed an hour.  And then once we ran onto it, we had to switch trains because all of the restrooms were clogged and broken. Once we switched to a different one, the attendants realized that train had the same problem too. This was all said in German, and none of us could figure out why everyone was laughing, or moving, or changing seats, until after our train had stopped in Salzburg.

Nevertheless, we finally reached Salzburg.

Salzburg is like no other city we had visited in Europe.  It was small and quaint, surrounded by breathtaking mountains.  It was a nice break away from big, overcrowded cities.

Salzburg

The remainder of our trip, we stayed at “The Sound of Music Hostel,” which looked more like an abandoned hospital or a school than a hotel. The halls were linoleum checkered tiles, grimy lockers lined the walls, and the rooms were all painted a tainted yellow color.  Despite the initial run in with creepy men (whose wives had gone to sleep) that hit on us while checking in, it was a lot better than what we imagined before our arrival.  It was the last place available online for the days we were in Salzburg, so with slight flashbacks from Oktoberfest and the Hangover Hospital, we had to book it. I would still take that look-a-like hospital hotel over the Hangover Hospital any day.

We devoted our only full day in Salzburg to a “Sound of Music Tour” (aka, my best friend Bridget’s dream tour).  I have not seen the movie in ten years, maybe more, and was not particularly looking forward to a four hour “sing along” tour in -7 degree celsius weather, but it was one of the best tours we had ever been on in Europe.  The tour provided us with a coach bus that took us to several locations including a Christmas market, Nonnberg Abbey, St. Gilgen and Lake Wolfgang, and Mondsee.  Each location felt magical and dreamlike with the snow and swiss alps in the distance.  The route the bus took us on was very scenic, and I was elated we had the opportunity to see such a different part of Europe.  Up until this point (outside of our day trips), the majority of my travels took us to overpopulated and industrial capitals throughout Europe, but never through such quaint back roads and towns.  The view overlooking Lake Wolfgang is something I will never forget, and was totally worth the four hours of singing.

Lake Wolfgang

Lake Wolfgang

After our tour, we spent the remainder of our time in Salzburg relaxing.  We enjoyed traditional goulash, potato cream soup, and wine at a local restaurant, and then wandered through the Christmas markets.

The Salzburg Christmas markets surpassed Prague’s by miles. Rows and Rows of booths circled the town square where an enormous Christmas tree was lit. Each stand overflowed with toys, jewelry, wine, baked goods, hot cider and ornaments. The six of even took a horse-drawn carriage ride around the city center.

Salzburg Christmas Market

Salzburg Christmas Market

After baked pretzels, ornament shopping, and enjoying some beers at a local pub, we trekked home, exhausted from our four days nonstop in the cold.  We climbed back into our beds in the hostel, all anxious to return back to the warm weather in Barcelona and our last two weeks enjoying the city we had grown to love.

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Exploring Europe, Inner Fashionista

What to Wear: Barcelona Street Swag

Barcelona is by no means a fashion capital.  Paris, London, Milan, Hong Kong, and New York City are the quintessential international fashion houses, the trendsetters, and the hosts of the high-fashion runway shows. Despite these precedents, Barcelona locals strut their own unparalled, street swag.

Often called the Fifth Avenue of Barcelona and modeled like the Champs-Elysees of Paris, Passeig de Gracia is breeding ground for local fashionistas.  The street offers a plethora of shopping including notable fashion designers like Channel, Giorgio Armani and Hermes as well as Catalan designers like Oysho, Toni Francesc and Desigual.

This is not only the location of shopping for all tastes, but a pseudo runway for fashion inspiration.  Characterized as one of the busiest and most touristic roads in the city, Passeig de Gracia is one of the most essential stomping grounds for observing street style in Barcelona.

Local street style can be easily identified on this street.  While most tourists wear sneakers, denim, and riding boots, most Barcelona adolescent locals rock a different look. Styled with darker colors, chunkier shoes, lots of layers, and accented with topknot hairstyles, body piercings and minimal make up, they pull off a grungier, edgier swag.

Four Most Notable Women’s Trends:

Womens trends

  1. Combat boots– Heeled or flat, buckled, studded, and made of leather.  Young locals wear boots in every neutral color and for every occasion.  These boots are most often rocked with baggy sweaters and skinny jeans or with tights and a jewel-toned skirt.
  2. Studded accessories and embellishments– studs on studs on studs.  From pockets on shirts and jackets, shoulders on sweaters, to the back of a pair of pumps, studs are the most utilized embellishment of the season.  It gives an edgy look to a classic piece of clothing.
  3. Shorts worn with tights– Taking advantage of the 60 degree (Fahrenheit) average weather, many locals rock black tights under a pair of denim shorts or dress shorts.  Worn with combat boots or heeled booties, this look dresses up and winterizes ordinary shorts.
  4. Army green jackets– Army green is the new black in Barcelona.  Whether it is a fur lined winter coat, or a lighter canvas jacket, army green is the most commonly warn color. With leather or denim accents on the sleeves, neutral colored furs, or gold studs, there are different jackets embellished for every type of style.

Men rock similar looks.  In comparison to the United States, their attire is sleeker, tightly fitted, and edgier.

Four Most Notable Men’s Trends:

Mens Trends

  1. Fitted, Colored pants: Chinos in neutral colors including brown, black, camel, burgundy, olive, and navy are hot this fall.  Worn with v-necks, cotton t-shirts or flannels, these pants instantly dress up any look.
  2. Look-alike original Clarks:  Since going out attire is more formal here, these shoes are essential for most local males wardrobes.  Seen in suede or leather and in colors including browns, black, blue, and olive, these are usually worn with dark, slim-fitted denim pants or colored chinos.
  3. Wearing denim rolled at the ankles: Although most Barcelona adolescent male locals wear tighter denim, they roll them up a few times at the ankle and usually paired with Converse sneakers or look-alike Keds.
  4. Deep V-necks:  Cotton t-shirts and ¼ button ups are a must especially for going out, but one thing is certain: deeper v-necks are more acceptable here.

Think you can pull of Barcelona’s street swag? Try shopping at one of these stores: Zara, Pull&Bear, Mango, H&M, Desigual, or Diesel.

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Exploring Europe

That’s Amore: Venice

When my boyfriend and I decided to take a trip together, we had no idea where to go.  We both had different traveling interests- he, being snowboarding in the Alps or beaching in the Canary Islands, and me, bed and breakfasting in the south of France or on the coast of Spain. The more countries we researched, the more frustrated we were with possible weather, hotels, and price options. Finally, we came upon Venice- the infamous city of love and the sinking city- and our decision was made.

After hectic traveling revolving around touristy schedules of sight-seeing and picture-taking, I was beyond excited for a quiet weekend away.  Not only this, but we had just finished a week of presentations and papers, and this was the perfect way to celebrate.

Two weeks before our trip, the city was under four feet of water in some areas due to torrential rain. All I could imagine was walking to dinner in rain boots up to my waist, and holding all of my luggage above my head. And of course Mike was excited- he thought this was another opportunity for him to take out his Euro swim suit. Fortunate for us, the majority of the city was cleared before our arrival (sorry baby).

Side note: Kayne West took Kim Kardashian on a Italian getaway in Italy for her birthday a month previous to our trip. They went to Florence and Rome, and did the last romantic night in Venice, including a gondola ride and a rose in St. Mark’s square- Mike, did you copy him??

We probably should have researched commuting in Venice, because looking back, we made some pretty rookie mistakes in the beginning. After taking an hour bus from Treviso into Venice (thank you, Ryan Air, for being extremely uncomfortable, unpredictable, and for always dropping us off in the middle of no where), we reached the city. It was pouring. We had an address and directions to the hotel, but no way of knowing where we were. Huddled under one umbrella together, we ran to the nearest water taxi- which just so happened to be the town car of water taxis- and climbed in with no thought of how expensive it was. The second we walked onto the boat, we realized what we had done. The undercarriage was wooden with leather seats, and the windows gave a spectacular view of the canal. But at least we were out of the rain.

We reached our hotel within minutes. This was definitely incomparable to any of the hostels, hangover hospitals, or any other living situation we had endured the entirety of our European travels. It did not take much to make us happy- a queen bed, our own room with heat, a television, free internet, a bathtub, our own bathroom, free breakfast. It could not be more perfect.

The first day, we took in the city in small bits.  We had a late lunch and split a bottle of wine, and later that night, we enjoyed an authentic Italian meal- gnocchi, once again.

The biggest bridge in Venice on the Grand Canal

The biggest bridge in Venice on the Grand Canal

The following day was our only full day in the city, and it was one of my top favorite days in Europe.  We woke up late to a free breakfast, and then spent the entire afternoon wandering Venice.  We in and out of shops and bakeries, walked up and down small streets, and gazed at the dozens of canals that weaved in and out of the streets.

Mike surprised me with a wonderful gondola tour. We journeyed in and out of residential areas of Venice on a romantic gondola ride. I felt like a princess in the big black gondola with gold seats.

After our ride, we wandered to St. Mark’s Square, the most famous square in Venice.  Mike of course bought seeds to give to the pigeons, a tradition in the square and which many directors use in films set in Italy. I turned around for five seconds, and he reappeared with a red rose.

St. Mark's Square

St. Mark’s Square

This weekend in comparison to others in Europe was slow and relaxed, but I could not have asked for better company or a better boyfriend.

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Exploring Europe

When in Rome, spend a weekend with Elon in Florence

 

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I have always wanted to visit Italy.  Like many girls, it  was one of the first destinations I wanted to go to (outside of Paris) when I planned my European excursions.  The romance, the gondolas of Venice, the history in Rome, the narrow streets, the enormous bowls of pasta, Gucci and Prada- Italy has everything to fulfill a girl’s every need and dream.

Not only this, but I knew this would be a trip I would be looking forward to from the second I bought a plane ticket because a group of at least 12 of my best friends were studying in Florence for the semester. Florence had never been on my radar before they signed up to study there, but I knew that I had to go there because I would instantly feel comforted being surrounded by so many good friends.  It was a home away from home, and an Elon away from Elon, N.C.

Once I arrived at the train station (along with every other girl almost who was abroad in Barcelona from Elon), I was greeted by two of my best friends, Jenna and Kara.

Walking the streets of Florence on the way to their apartment, I was instantly in awe of the beautiful architecture and the narrow, quaint, cobble stone streets.

After a quick lunch at the same pizzeria where the Jersey Shore worked during Season Three in Florence- which was actually really good pizza, it’s just depressing that it feels like you are eating in the guido cast’s laundry room- I finally got to wander my first European flea market.  Past the Duemo de Firenze are rows and rows of purses, gloves, leather jackets, boots, scarves, and pottery. With Jenna as our chief bargainer, we wandered through the aisles in search for christmas presents and presents for ourselves.  My most beloved purchases- brown heeled leather ankle combat boots, green leather gloves, a Missoni scarf, and a double zip cobalt blue snake skin clutch.

That night we had the most incredible dinner.  I had gnocchi that melted in your mouth and I still dream about to this day.  We celebrated reuniting, and also the end of their trip.  They were all leaving Italy in four days, and this was their last weekend abroad. Lucky for me, they were on the same page about wanting to do everything possible their one last weekend in Italy.

That night, we went to their favorite bar in Florence. I have no idea what it was called (Fire something maybe? my bad), but I instantly felt like I was back in the states. You walk into this bar, and the first thing you notice (besides the dozens of American college students) are the collage of American college tshirts that quilt the ceiling. Covering the walls are hundred of signatures and greek life shout outs.  Next to the bar is a list of shots, each dedicated to a different American college.  University of Michigan, University of Miami, etc. were all on the list, but of course Elon made an appearance.  The classic orange juice and vodka Elon shot was our drink of choice that night.

Surrounded by some of my best friends, all you could hear were shrieks of excitement and all you could feel were slight pulls and bumps from everyone jumping on top of each other to say hello.  What made the night even more perfect was the soundtrack- classic American tunes, including every North Carolinians favorites: Sweet Home Alabama and Sweet Caroline. It felt like home.

And then “YOLO” Jenna made an appearance and ordered the girls a round of “Blow Jobs.” Made of Baileys and almond vodka topped with a dollop of whip cream, we each lined up to take the shot,  with no hands!

Even though I was enjoying the relaxing atmosphere of Florence and having all of my friends do my weekend planning (for once), I still wanted to see more of Italy.  I have an obsession with Greek and Roman mythology, and knowing that Rome was only an hour and a half train ride away, I knew that I had to make that trip.

So, after a long night at the bar, Bridget and I woke up at 5 a.m. for our trip to Rome. Up to this point I had been pretty impressed with the weekend trips that Bridget and I had planned and schedule to a T, but this was by far the most impressive trip. They say Rome was not built in a day, but it is possible to see it in a day. (Bridget, we should really write travel books.)

We arrived in Rome around 8 in the morning, and sprang into our action. We started the morning making wishes in the Trevi Fountain, and then literally ran to our tour of the Vatican.  The three-hour tour took us throughout the Vatican, including St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, both of which were nothing like a imagined. For one, I had no idea the Vatican was that large. The Sistine Chapel on the other hand, despite its absolutely breathtaking frescoes, was much much smaller than I had imagined.

That afternoon, we had a picnic outside of the Coliseum- the highlight of my Rome trip. We ate pizzas and enjoyed the views between the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, and another Arc de Triomf.   We took another audio guided tour of the Coliseum, walking around the different levels and arches of the arena.   I was not aware that the ground floor of the arena had eroded and that it was now possible to see the different passageways where they kept the contenders and animals.  I had watched ‘Gladiator’ again right before my trip, so the entire time I was just imaging the thousands of people gathered to watch people kill each other.  It was absolutely incredible to be walking around something that played a large role in Roman society hundreds of years ago.  What will people think of football stadiums in a couple hundred years? Maybe this is different, but I was still in awe.

inside of the Coliseum

inside of the Coliseum

Somehow we still had almost two hours to kill before our train back to Florence, so we took the advice of Bridget’s dad and journeyed over to the Spanish Steps. As the sun was setting and with a bowl of gelato in our hands, we climbed to the top of the steps and looked across Rome’s skyline. And of course, directly below us, was Rome’s fashion district- a road of the most infamous fashion designers including Missoni, Prada, and Gucci.

From the top of the Spanish Steps

From the top of the Spanish Steps

More than satisfied with the amount we had seen and tasted, we trekked back to Florence for another long night.  After thirty minutes of throwing on clothes and showering, the girls and I headed out to a birthday celebration at a family-styled authentic Italian Restaurant on the other side of the river.  We shared plates of tortellini, penne a la vodka, risotto, prosciutto, cheese, and bread, all in preparation for the night ahead of us.

Their last Saturday night in Italy- we “obviously” went to Space (kidding guys!!!).  It was a very cool club, and pretty large for Florence’s going out scene. We had VIP tables overlooking the dance floor, and danced the night away, the thirty or so of us from Elon.

The following day was beyond rough.  We had stayed up late drinking and talking, and the night before I had only slept three hours in order to make the train for Rome. Despite this, I would sleep in the crack between two small beds for a minimal amount of hours just to see those girls in Florence.

Exploring Florence, the view from the River

Exploring Florence, the view from the River

That day was quiet- a trip to an American diner (finally had a bagel!), last minute shopping (Bridget bought the cutest boots and I added yet another scarf to my collection), and we saw the David, which is actually the most massive statue I have ever seen.

It was hard to say goodbye to these girls, especially knowing that they were leaving to go home in two days. I was jealous that they were returning to their families and our old lifestyles, but I was beyond thrilled that I had a month remaining in Barcelona.  I could never imagine spending a semester in Florence, but with such a great group of people there, I could see why they had the time of their lives. It was exactly the trip I needed- to see good friends, to feel like home, but also the comfort of knowing I was returning to Barcelona.

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Exploring Europe

Madrid

A semester in Spain would not be complete without a trip to Madrid. Fortunate for us, our program arranged a weekend trip to the capital of Spain. Originally I was not going to attend, but last minute I decided I could not miss the opportunity. I packed my bags the night before, and less than twelve hours later I was on my way to Madrid.

Everyone on the Business and Culture program had high hopes for this trip. All of our days trips up to this point- Tossa Del Mar, Sitges, Torres, and Girona- had all been beyond perfect getaways from the hustle and bustle of Barcelona. And for the most part, our expectations were met.

Within an hour of arriving in Madrid, we were booked solid. We had a walking tour of the old city center, and a museum tour of the Prado. Despite our exhaustion from going out the night before in Barcelona, Bridget and I were quite pleased that for once we did not have to do all of the booking, planning, and scheduling ourselves.

After an exhausting first day of wondering the city, my nine girlfriends and I dressed to the nines and went out to one of the best dinners I have ever had. After 20 minutes of wondering the cobble-stone streets, we stumbled upon an authentic Spanish restaurant. Lured simply by the meals of people sitting outside the restaurant and the quaint atmosphere, we made our peace and decided that this was our final destination.

Little did we know that they would stick us in the attic of the restaurant. That may be slightly dramatic- but they did lead us upstairs away from the rest of the restaurant guests- and might I add a tiny tiny staircase- up into a small light room that smelt of smoke, had one small window, and felt like a tropical heat wave. We sat on small benches around a table that maybe reached our knees, but once the home-made sangria started coming, it did not matter. We ordered tapas on tapas- jamon, steak, tortilla de patatas, patatas bravas, and plates of cheeses and bread. We easily spent three hours in the attic of this restaurant hysterically laughing and drinking, already reminiscing about the month we had spent in Barcelona.

Back down the stairs to reality, our night was still young. Barcelona standards, it was just about time to find a bar.

Our night began and ended at Kapital- the most infamous, touristy club in existence in Madrid. After clubbing in Barcelona, we thought it would be hard to be impressed by any other nightlife, but we were very, very wrong.

Kapital is five stories tall and pulses with a different type of music on every level. The first level has a stage that all other levels overlook and entertains the crowds with live DJs. Every other level- equipped with their own bars and lounges, plays any music from Reggae and Dancehall to hip hop and R&B, creating a world of its own each flight of stairs. In the direct center of all the levels, live entertainment performs. The night we were there, acrobats performed in hoops above the partiers on the first level.

I don’t remember a single song that was played,and I have no idea how my friends did not lose each other in the different levels- but it was one of my favorite nights out in Europe.

With fierce pains coming from my toes crammed in my nude pumps, I finally looked at my phone and realized it was already 5:30 a.m…and we had a 9:30 wake up call.

I grabbed Bridget and a couple other friends, hopped in a taxi, and made the most strategic, perfect stop of the entire night: drinking chocolate and churros at one of the most famous cafes in Madrid. We rejoiced- especially since Barcelona does not have any means for late night food- and chowed on cinnamon churros and chocolate.

The rest of the weekend in a blur. The morning following Kapital, our group journeyed to another art museum to see Picasso’s la Guerica painting (which, might I add, is absolutely incredibly and is a HUGE piece of work-and some Dali. For lunch, a group of us wandered around and old market outside of the city square which had turned into a food and tapas market. That afternoon, our tour guide led us one last time into the Royal Palace (where my feet turned green because the stupid dye from my flats bled).

outside of the Royal Palace

outside of the Royal Palace

I don’t even want to mention the following day, because to me it is easily forgettable, but for the sake of remembering Europe, I will comment on our program’s last Madrid day:

Finally, the next morning, we adorned business casual clothes to tour Spanish corporate businesses. This was the entire purpose of our entire trip, and needless to say, it was the biggest waste of time. Ever.

The main purpose of this trip was to introduce Business and Culture students to successful, Spanish-grown businesses. Half of our group was to be introduced to Repsol, and oil company, and the other to Telefonica, a communications corporation. Since I signed up late, I was given Telefonica.

First, we arrived to the businesses almost 45 minutes late because a girl on our program went missing. And by missing I mean she went home with a random boy she met at the bar the night before and wouldn’t answer anyones calls. No names needed.

This was a blessing in disguise. I am not sure if our tour guide- who is a public relations professional for the business- had something planned before our late arrival, but she gave us literally one of the most unproductive, self-explanatory tours I have ever been on. Thank you for showing me what a conference room and a cafeteria looked like, I had no idea. I still don’t even know what your business is. And the highlight of the tour- a holograph of a woman- was SUPER impressive.

All in all, even though the main purpose of our trip was not received well by most-including me-it was one of the most memorable weekends in Europe.

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