Monday, July 14, 2014

Study Abroad Tips: My Hostel Awards List

I decided to give out some awards to the hostels I stayed at while I studied abroad. I hope this is helpful even though I am comparing hostels that are not in the same cities. 
Best Breakfast: Shelter Jordan (Amsterdam)
The Shelter Jordan had three options for breakfast: Muselli with either milk or yoghurt, a fruit, and either coffee or tea or toast with spreads, a fruit, and a drink, or depending on the day: eggs and a drink, french toast and a drink, or crepes and a drink. Also, you didn't have to wash your own plates! But you also did not have access to the kitchen. 
Best Beds: Sunset Destinations (Lisbon)
The bunk beds were so comfortable here, I slept like a baby. The mattress was comfortable, the sheets were warm, and the beds were all made out of recycled material. You also got your own personal night light and outlet. 
Best Location: Equity Point (Girona)
Girona was a small town so anywhere you stayed would have been a great location but walking to the hostel was easy from the train station. It was also easy to get to any of the attractions and parks. 
Honorable Mention: Sunset Destinations (Lisbon)
Since the hostel is right next to the main train station in Lisbon, it was easy to get to from the airport bus. There are also many taxis outside the station and they were the same price as the buses! It was also really close to the main attractions and to the concert arena where we saw Beyonce.
Honorable Mention: Astor Place Hyde Park (London)
The hostel is located in South Kensington and it has two tube stations near it. There is also the number 10 bus that was 24/7 right around the corner from the hostel. It was so easy to get to and from  this hostel.
Friendliest Environment: Sunset Destinations (Lisbon)
The staff was super friendly and helpful giving us advice on where to eat and where to go. The people staying in the hostel with us were also super friendly and we even went to the Beyonce concert with this one guy from our hostel. 
Honorable Mention: Plug Inn (Paris)
The first night here I got my own room since they must have overbooked me, and I was totally fine with that since I was traveling alone. The second night however, I did get put into the four female dorm I booked and I met two girls who were also traveling alone. I invited them to come on a Sandeman's Tour with me and they did! It was a great way to meet new people while traveling alone. 
Best Reception: Equity Point (Girona)
The lady at the front desk was SO helpful. She gave us a free map and made suggestions all over it. She told us about a market in a nearby park that we should go to because it was only open on Saturdays and that if we wanted to buy things from the shops, we should do it that day because they would all be closed on Sunday. She also offered us extra blankets.
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Honorable Mention: Plug Inn (Paris)
This one girl at the front desk helped me find my way to the Catacombs and mentioned places I could go nearby and pointed out the best street for good, cheap food. Another receptionist helped me find my way back to the airport.
Most Secure: Shelter Jordan (Amsterdam)
At the Shelter you have to buzz the door to be let in (they see you on camera). Once inside, you had to show the receptionist your "key" which was a paper they gave you at check in that indicated when you checked in and when you would check out. They put a number on your luggage in the luggage room and give you a number to carry with you. When you leave with your luggage you have to show the receptionist that the numbers match. The luggage room is also locked and can only be opened by the receptionist's buzzer. The lockers in the rooms are large and you can use your own lock. If you wanted to charge your phone at the reception desk the same number system used for the lockers was used for your phone. It felt like such a safe place.
Honorable Mention: Sunset Destinations (Lisbon)
To enter you had to be buzzed in, but you had to show the camera the special Sunset Destinations bracelet they gave you at check in. The luggage room was in a separate part of the building and the two doors could only be opened by staff who had the key. They also put a sticker on your bag to know it was yours. The lockers under the beds were also huge and you could use your own lock. 
image from here
Honorable Mention: Astor Place Hyde Park (London)
You had to use your magnetic swipe card to be let into the main building and into your room. The lockers under the beds were okay, but at least you could lock them with your own lock.

Best Overall: Sunset Destinations (Lisbon)
At Sunset I felt safe, comfortable, and I met a lot of cool people. We even had dinner at the hostel one night for 9.90 euro. They served sausage, pasta salads, dips, vegetables, and sangria. You could eat as much food and drink as much sangria as you wanted. They also had an outdoor patio where you could eat, listen to the DJ, and even swim- they had a pool! The kitchen was clean and nice. They had showers and toilets available for people who didn't have their rooms available to them yet to use. They gave out free maps and suggested good places to eat. It was also conveniently located next to the train station so getting back to the airport was no problem. They had a new hot drink machine that was free to use any time of the day. The only thing that could have been improved upon was the breakfast- it was mostly bread and cereal. However, one of the girls working there did say they usually made crepes but since they hostel was packed those days they just gave out bread.

Hostels I Stayed At:
Amsterdam: Shelter Jordan 
Paris: Plug Inn
Girona: Equity Point
Rome: Ciak Hostel
Florence: New Ostel

As you can tell, I wasn't impressed by the Italian hostels. I will however tell you a bit about them because they weren't terrible, just not impressive.
New Ostel: It was a very basic hostel. They did not take credit cards for charges less than 50 euro. There were two buildings and I was in a 4 person dorm across the street. There were three keys: one for the main door (which locked on its own), the door to the floor of the dorms (which did not lock on its own), and the key to your own dorm room (which also did not lock on its own). There were lockers provided and you could use your own lock. There was no breakfast provided and only 1 shower and 2 toilets for a floor of about 5 dorm rooms. It was a clean hostel though. It was not very social but it was conveniently located near the Santa Maria train station. 
image from here
Ciak Hostel: It was a one floor hostel. They only had toilets for guests who checked in early (no showers). The rooms were small and each had their own one person bathroom. The beds made a lot of noise when you moved. The place was clean and the staff helped you figure out how to get to the main attractions. The breakfast was good- cereal, coffee, sweet breads, bread with spreads, and fruit. There were computers available free of charge. Towels were also given to use (if asked) for free. It was located 2 metro stops from the Termini Train station and a 20 minute walk to the Colosseum. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Little Overrated

..but still lovely. On Sunday I went for a walk on the Highline, which some friends and I find a bit overrated since there isn't really much to do except walk across the overground park but it was just so nice out that I found it really enjoyable and relaxing. I also got a hibiscus ice pop along the way to quench the heat. 
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I have to check this place out, along with the beer garden!
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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Intro to Photo

I took an Intro to Photography course last Fall and I learned so much. I took photography in High School, but I was never given as much freedom and guidance as I did in college. Here are a few scans of my final project. I know they aren't profound, but I'm proud of them because each one took blood, sweat, and tears to create and I learned so much from the process. My scanner definitely does not do any of them justice, so I promise I did use filters on them and they are in fact a clear black and white in person. Also a special thanks to my models Kendall, Luiza, Lisa, and Elana.
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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Life Lately

I haven't been doing much lately, but that will change soon. Also, the photography is going to get better. I hope. Here's just a bit of what I've been doing.
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1. My dad and I made pizza one night. We didn't make it from scratch, but we did buy all the ingredients to make this beauty.
2-3. I got a pedicure with Jessica, who I missed so much. Then we ate pizza and spumoni ices.
4-7. I took the ferry from Manhattan to Governor's Island where I met Elaine and her boyfriend to watch the Spain v. Chile game. What a travesty. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Study Abroad Tips: A Guide to Low Cost Airlines in Europe

Upon my return to the States, I decided it would be nice of me to share my experiences and knowledge with other students who may study abroad in Europe. I did so much research before and during my trip and I found study abroad blogs super useful so I've decided to add to those blogs too. The first installment is about Low Cost Airlines. You love them because they're cheap, but they can be a real hassle to deal with. Here are my tips and tricks. Also, click the study abroad tips tag to see my other tips.
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First off, flying a low cost airline means that you will most likely only be traveling with one carry on because if you want to check a bag, you'll have to pay an additional cost and we're all about saving as much as we can while studying abroad. Most airlines have regulations on the dimensions of the carry on you're allowed to bring onto the plane. They also have a weight restriction, so beware of that. You should check each airline's rules on this but I bought the Barcelona Cabin Max backpack. It even has the dimensions written on the outside so it's kind of like tongue-n-cheek to the airlines. I never had a problem boarding a flight with this bag.

Because these are low cost airlines you should also be aware that they do not provide you with any food or drink as part of your ticket purchase. You can purchase food from the airline during the flight, but at a high cost. I suggest bringing your own food from home and buying a water bottle at the airport.
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Ryanair: The airline you love to hate. Ryanair is usually the airline with the lowest cost. They keep their costs so low because most of the time they fly into airports that are an hour outside of the main city. This means you'll have to find transportation that will take you from the airport into the main city. Usually there is a train or a bus. I recommend Terravision. It can cost anywhere from 4-8 euro if you buy the tickets in advance. You must check in online and print your ticket for Ryanair. If you do not do this, you'll have to pay a hefty fee at the check-in desk. Have your passport handy for online check in since you'll have to enter your passport number. Make sure you enter all the correct information because if it's wrong, they'll give you a hard time at the airport. If it is incorrect, you'll have to call Ryanair customer service to make the changes. Also, for anyone who is not an EU Citizen, you'll have to wait in line at the Ryanair desk before you go through security to get your Visa approved. While at the Ryanair desk or right before you board the plane, you may be asked to weigh your bag or make sure it fits in the approved carry on tester. If it should not fit or be over weight, you'll have to pay 50 euro (or the equivalent of that in another currency) to check it in. Check the Ryanair Cabin Bag Allowance before you travel. Make sure you bring earplugs or an iPod on the plane with you because while in the air Ryanair will try to sell you every product under the sun from food and drinks, to makeup, to perfume, to maps of the city you are flying to, and they will ask you to donate to charities. This makes for an uncomfortable ride since you can't get any shut-eye from all their blabbing. Earplugs or headphones and and eye mask help to zone them out.
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Easyjet: Easyjet also flys into some airports outside of the main city so you should find transportation that will take you to your destination. Again, I suggest Terravision buses. They may also fly into some more central airports so getting to the city center will be a bit easier. For Easyjet you should also print out your boarding pass before you get to the airport. Before you're about to board the plane you may be asked to place your carry on in the tester, if it does not fit you will have to pay to check it. Check the Easyjet Cabin Bag Allowance before you travel. You should also be aware that Easyjet does not allow a second small personal item on the flight like most other low-cost airlines. You'll be asked to put your personal item into your carry on.
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Vueling: Vueling is by far my favorite low-cost airline. Sometimes flights are cheap, sometimes they're not. You'll have to search. Usually Vueling flies into the main airport of major cities and transportation to the city center is easier. You have to check in online before coming to the airport, but you do not have to print your ticket. I suggest printing out both tickets before going to the airport though because on your return flight, if you do not have your ticket printed, they will ask you to weigh your carry on. If it is overweight, you'll have to check it in and pay a fee. By having your ticket already you can avoid this and go right to security. I think the seats are more comfortable on Vueling and they do not try to sell you a million things while in air. They let you sleep. They also even play some music before take off and after landing. You're allowed one small personal item along with your carry on. Check Vueling's Cabin Bag Allowance before traveling. Vueling also allows you to gain points every time you fly and if you accumulate 500 points, you get one free flight anywhere.
Skyscanner: This is a great search engine to find the cheapest flights. It lets you search for any country and then it will list all the airlines and flights going there from cheapest to most expensive. Just be sure to check the dates you enter, since I had a friend who booked a flight for the wrong month.

Also, remember to delete your cookies after searching for flights because the next time you go to search, the prices will have gone up.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Feeling Nostalgic

I'm having a bit of summer nostalgia. Being back home, this gorgeous summer weather, and the fact that I'm no longer a care free child has got me feeling saudades for those summer adventures. I want to go away for a weekend and spend it exploring, riding bikes, swimming, having a picnic, and laughing. Lots of laughter. Here are a few films that have me daydreaming. 
The Sandlot- An American classic. Its about a new boy in town who befriends a group of neighborhood boys that play baseball. They go on many adventures that summer and also try to salvage his step father's autographed Babe Ruth baseball. Screencaps from here
The Way Way Back: A 14 year old boy spends the summer at his Mom's Jerk Boyfriend's summer house. He reverses his miserable summer by working at a water park and befriending a super cool and funny adult. 
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Stand By Me: Another American classic. Based off the novel, The Body, by Stephen King, a group of friends go on an adventure to find the dead body of a boy who went missing. It's more of a drama film, but it is an absolutely beautiful and equally devastating coming of age story.
Now and Then: I've written about this movie before, so I obviously can't get enough. It's about a group of old friends, now women, coming together for the birth of one of the girl's first child. Samantha retells the story of their summer full of adventure. 
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The To Do List: Not necessarily like the other films on this list, but it is about a girl who graduates from high school in the 90's and wants to be sexually prepared before she goes to college. It is both awkward and hysterical.
Cheaper by the Dozen 2: The Baker family heads to the lake house for the summer. Every child wants to have a fun summer while their dad is blinded by beating his nemesis. There is also a scene where the dad follows his daughter on her first date and while I still haven't even had that talk with my dad yet, I wouldn't put it past him to do the same.
Aquamarine: Two friends are about to split up once the summer ends but before they do, they have one crazy adventure when they find a mermaid and help her fall in love so she can keep her legs and stay on land. 
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants: I loved these books growing up and the movie is no different. Four best friends spend their first summer apart and each has a different adventure while they share a pair of jeans that magically fit them all perfectly. Another wonderful coming of age story.
The Kings of Summer: Three boys run away from home for the summer because they are sick of their parent's rules. They build their own house in the woods and live off the land -ish.