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By Stefania Tutra

Nine out of ten times that I walk out my door here in Barcelona, the first destination I go to is my local metro stop. I live close to two metro stops; the main one I use is called Marina on the L1 line and the other one is Bogatell on the L4. I live a quick five-minute walk from the Marina metro stop which in three stops (about 10 minutes) takes me to the center of Barcelona, which is also where the IES Abroad center is. The other stop, Bogatell, is also a five-minute walk and in just 10 minutes the metro can take me to the Barceloneta beach. The transportation system in Barcelona is very well designed and accessible, as there is a metro or bus stop close to anywhere I would like to go within the city. It is also very cheap, efficient, and safe.

The best purchase I made when I first came to Barcelona was a T-Joven card (pictured below). It was 100 euros which sounded a bit pricey to me when I first bought it, however it is incredibly worth it and I would recommend it to anyone studying abroad in Barcelona. It is a 3-month metro pass that comes with unlimited rides either on metro, bus, or even the TRAM. I think one of the biggest benefits of the T-Joven card is that it also allows you to take the metro to Barcelona El-Prat airport without any extra charges, which has saved me a great amount of money considering an uber ride to the airport is almost 40 euros. You can also use the card to get to the outskirts of Barcelona for free. Last weekend, my friends and I decided to go hiking at the beautiful Montserrat mountain range. It is about an hour away on the metro so we were shocked at the fact we did not have to pay anything and could just use our T-Joven cards to get there.

Navigating the transportation system in Barcelona is very easy and convenient. There are rarely any metro delays, which is something I am going to miss when I return to living in DC where I sometimes have to wait 15 minutes for the next train to come. In Barcelona, you almost never have to wait more than 5 minutes for the metro. I also appreciate that on Fridays the metro is open until 2am and on Saturdays it runs 24 hours (in DC it closes at midnight every night, which means I never take the metro on the weekends). Overall, I have taken an uber or taxi very few times in Europe because the public transportation systems here are a much more efficient and cheaper way to get around the city. America, you need to step up your public transportation game.

By Stefania Tutra

This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel to one of the cities I have dreamed about for as long as I can remember – Paris, France! Paris was everything I imagined it would be and more.

I arrived in Paris at about 9 in the morning on Friday. We immediately went to our AirBnb which could not be in a more perfect location; it was in the Trocadero neighborhood, which is right across the Seine River in front of the Eiffel Tower. Because of our proximity to the Eiffel Tower, we could not wait to see it so it was our first stop. Walking towards the tower was an indescribable feeling – from seeing it in pictures and television from when I was young, to finally seeing it in person, right in front of me, felt unreal. Realizing we had yet to eat breakfast, we decided to stop at a romantic little Parisian restaurant across the street where we had the classic French breakfast filled with lots of croissants, baguettes, butter, fresh jam, coffee, and juice. The hype over the French croissants is so real. It was better than any croissant I had ever eaten – just the perfect amount of buttery and flaky.

After the Eiffel Tower, we walked to the Arc de Triomph which was only about 20 minutes away. Passing by the Arc de Triomf in Barcelona all the time, it was cool to see how the one in Paris compares to the one in Barcelona. Although the same structure, the color and design of each are so different and fit the vibe of the different cities. For example, putting Barcelona’s brown Arc de Triomf in Paris would look SO out of place, and vice versa.

Next to the Arc is the iconic Champs de Elysse street, lined with infinite shops and restaurants (kind of like Paris’s version of Barcelona’s Las Ramblas). We wandered around the stores, wishing we could afford that 6,000 euro watch from Cartier. Paris is for dreaming, right?!

After dinner and more croissants, we decided to explore Paris’ nightlife by checking out the Oberkampf and Bastille neighborhoods. The nightlife scene in these districts was a very unique, “underground” vibe. However, Parisians also LOVE their Spanish music, so we ended our night dancing at a club to the same songs we would hear in Barcelona.

On Saturday, we spent the majority of our day at the Louvre museum. Pro-tip: if you show a copy of your EU student visa, entry is free! We marveled at all different works of art, from the Ancient Greeks to Egyptians to the Mona Lisa (which is way smaller in person than I ever imagined it would be!). Afterwards, we took the metro to the Notre Dame Cathedral where we marveled at its beauty and French Gothic architecture, while munching on delicious warm Nutella-coconut crepes. Saturday night we went back to the Eiffel Tower, but this time we squeezed on a crowded elevator which brought us to the very top. Seeing Paris from the top of the tower at night felt like an absolute dream and the view was incredible.

Since our flight back to Barcelona was in the early afternoon on Sunday, we had just enough time to squeeze in one last tourist activity in Paris, so we decided to visit the Sacre Couer Basilica. The basilica sits at the top of Montmarte Hill which is the highest point in the city. We could have taken a funicular to the top, however being the cheap travelers we are, we decided to climb the stairs to the top. Although we were out of breath, the views at the top were fantastic and well worth the hike. Before making our way back to Orly airport, we explored the Montmarte neighborhood as we made our way down the hill, and picked up some macaroons while we were at it. It was a sweet ending to a dreamy trip in the city of love. Je t’aime Paris, until next time xoxo

By Stefania Tutra

This weekend I ventured out of warm, sunny Spain for the first time during my study abroad semester and headed north to cold and cloudy Amsterdam. I completely fell in love with the city after this weekend and definitely plan to return at some point in the future.

Day 1 – Friday

We arrived into Amsterdam Schipol airport early Friday morning, and went straight to our hotel to check in. The e hotel was located on the outskirts of Amsterdam, only 15 minutes from the airport, as this was the cheapest option we had when booking our housing the trip. We took a 9 minute train from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal station. We headed out to explore, and walked around Dam Square, eventually leading us to a flower market and the infamous “I Amsterdam” sign in front of the stunning Rijkmuseum. We stumbled upon a charming café called “Gruter” and decided to have lunch there. I decided to try my first authentic Dutch food, and ordered a vegetarian “Flammkuchen.” It’s essentially a super thin-crust pizza topped with a French cream, onions, and whichever toppings (in my case, I got it with arugula and mushrooms).


After eating lunch, we decided to continue exploring and walked to Vondelpark. We went back to the hotel for a quick Spanish ‘siesta’, and then took the train back to the city to go to the Heineken Experience. The museum was interesting and highly interactive, and the free beer at the end was a huge added bonus. We were starving afterwards so we went to a nearby pub called “O’Donnell’s” and had an incredible burger with fries for dinner.


Day 2 – Saturday

We took the train into the city around 10:30 in the morning. The first stop was Ten Kate Markt, an outdoor market with plenty of fresh local produce, cheeses and breads, and street food. Parallel to it was a place called Foodhallen, which was exactly what it sounds like – an indoors food market. This was a more upscale, hip, modern food market with an overwhelming variety of food to choose from – tacos, middle eastern food, dumplings, fish, sushi, vegan, etc. I decided to go with a sushi burrito and it was delicious. We spent majority of the rest of the day in the Jordaan District, which is crowded with beautiful houses, original shops, and of course, canals and bikes. The infamous Anne Frank house is located here as well. Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to go inside as tickets had sold out over two weeks ago, but even seeing it from the outside was unbelievable. Afterwards, we went on an hour-long canal tour of the city, which is one of my favorite activities that I did the entire weekend and would definitely recommend if you are traveling to Amsterdam. We got to see almost the entirety of the city through the canals, with an accompanied audio guide explaining the rich history of each neighborhood we passed through. After the canal tour, we walked around the Red Light District and grabbed dinner at an Italian restaurant.


We ended our weekend in Amsterdam the best possible way – Amsterdam Music Festival. The lineup was stacked with big DJ names such as David Guetta, Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike, Axwell and Ingrosso, and more. Also, at the stroke of midnight, the world’s #1 DJ was announced, being followed by a performance by them, and this year it ended up being one of my all-time favorite DJs, Martin Garrix. The festival lasted from 10pm until 6am, and every moment of it was incredible. The high-energy crowd was filled with concert-goers from countries all around the world, music bringing us all together for one night in one incredible city. Thank you Amsterdam, for the unforgettable weekend -- I will definitely be back.

By Stefania Tutra

This past weekend, most of my study abroad friends were away (whether it be at Oktoberfest or a weekend getaway in Paris), but I stayed home in Barcelona. I knew I wanted to do and see as much as possible as this was my last weekend here for a little while (I am traveling for the next five weekends in a row). This became an easy task because one of my closest friends at GW, my sorority sister Elizabeth, flew into Barca for the weekend from Sevilla. Elizabeth arrived with her three other friends on Thursday evening. They were starving after their flight so we went to a tapas bar close to their AirBnB, which was located in one of my favorite neighborhoods, Gracia. We had the classic 10pm Spanish dinner filled with patatas bravas, croquettes, pan con tomato, and of course, sangria. We had an early night as we knew we were going to have an action-packed following day. On Friday, we went to the typical most popular Barcelona tourist destinations — Parc Guell and La Sagrada Familia. As a friendly tip for anyone planning to visit, book your tickets in advance for these two as they WILL sell out. Also, if you are visiting on a weekend, be prepared to wait a good 20 minutes at Parc Guell if you want to get your perfect Instagram photo at the iconic multi-colored mosaic benches. After Parc Guell and La Sagrada Familia, we walked along Passeig de Gracia to do some shopping, as well as walked by the iconic Gaudi-style houses Casa Batllo and Casa Mila.

On Elizabeth’s last full day here (Saturday), we got a bit of a late start in the day but spent most of it around the Gothic Quarter neighborhood. Elizabeth and her friends toured the inside of the Palace of Music (Palau de La Musica Catalana) which they said was incredible. I did not get the chance to go inside because I arrived late but it is beautiful on the outside and I definitely plan on touring it at some point in the next two months. Afterwards, we went inside of the ancient Barcelona Cathedral. This cathedral is one of my favorites as I think it is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in Spain. I am always walking past this cathedral daily after class, so I was thrilled to finally get the chance to see it from inside. After the cathedral, I decided to take Elizabeth and her friends to explore the narrow streets of the Gothic quarter. We did some window shopping, and stopped at a hole-in-the-wall empanada restaurant called “La Fabrica.” Not going to lie, the four cheese empanada I ordered was probably the best empanada I’ve had in my lifetime. We then walked along Las Ramblas, purse in hand trying to not get pick-pocketed, and to the famous La Boqueria Market. It was my first time truly exploring La Boqueria and I was overwhelmed by the amount of amazing, endless food displayed. I wanted to try everything but I settled on some gelato and a fruit smoothie. After a long day of walking and exploring, it was siesta time. We ended our day with more tapas at a restaurant in the “El Born” neighborhood. Elizabeth and her friends loved Barcelona and said it was their favorite city they’ve visited in Spain thus far. It was an amazing weekend for all of us, and especially sweet to have a close friend visit and remind me of home.


By Stefania Tutra

As I am nearing almost one full month of living in Barcelona, I have learned the importance that food plays in Spain’s culture. Food is central to a Spaniard’s identity, and is a way to live. The food that I find myself consuming almost every day here in Barcelona is “tapas.” Tapas are everywhere you go in Spain, and a big part of social gatherings; they describe more of a way of eating rather than a type of food. Tapas bars are the liveliest restaurants you will find in Barcelona – loud, filled with conversations and laughter, music, and open until the early hours of the morning. For those of you who are not familiar with “tapas”, they are an appetizer or small portion of any kind of Spanish cuisine. In other words, they are not meant to be a full meal. They can vary from cold dishes such as mixed olives or cheese, to hot such as ‘croquetas’ (I will explain what that is later). From my experiences so far, the best tapas are usually served standing in crowded, hot, smoky bars. These are often where you will find the cheapest tapas. My rule of thumb is that if you are paying more than 5 euros for a tapa, then you are not at an authentic tapas place and are paying the tourist price, so go somewhere else! Almost all the tapas I’ve had have been phenomenal, but some more than others – so, I decided to make a list of some of the best must-try tapas while in Spain.

  1. Croquetas
    Croquetas are definitely one of my favorite tapas dishes. A croquette is a small breadcrumbed fried food roll usually containing, ground meat, fish, ham, cheese, mashed potatoes, or vegetables. My personal favorites that I’ve tried here in Barcelona have been the ham and cheese, and the mashed potato croquetas. The closest equivalent to croquetas that I’ve had in the United States would be boardwalk crab cakes (but sshhhh- the Spaniards do it way better!).
  2. Patatas Bravas
    Tied with Croquetas, my other favorite tapa dish are patatas bravas. These are essentially the French fries of Spain. The tapa consists of white potatoes that have been cut into small irregular cubes and deep fried. My favorite part is the sauce that they are served with, which is typically a warm aioli (usually of a garlic flavor) or a spicy tomato sauce. I have yet to go to a tapas bar and NOT order patatas bravas as one of my tapas; just like French fries in the U.S., each restaurant prepares patatas bravas in a slightly different way than the other, and the same can be said for the topping sauce. My goal is that by the end of my semester abroad, I will have tried plentiful different patatas bravas to be able to confidently conclude which restaurant prepares them best.
  3. Pan con Tomate (Pa amb tomàquet)
    This tapa is exactly what the name translates to: “Bread with tomato.” Pan con tomate is considered a staple of Catalan cuisine and identity (Catalonia is the region in northern Spain which Barcelona is the capitol of). Pan con Tomate consists of white bread, which may or may not be toasted, with tomato rubbed over and oil and salt drizzled on top. While it sounds very simple, it is the perfect accompaniment to the rest of your tapas, or really any Spanish meal -- therefore definitely a must-try tapa.
  4. Tortilla de Patatas (or Tortilla Española)
    If you Google “Tortilla de Patatas” what comes up is essentially what is commonly known as an “omelette.” However, this Spanish tapa is nothing like the omelettes that are commonly served in the U.S. In tortilla de patatas, pre-fried potatoes are the main ingredients after eggs. Chopped onion is also sometimes added to the recipe.
    By now you are probably sensing that Spaniards really enjoy their potatoes, and you are not wrong!
  5. Chipirones
    “Chipirones” are baby squid or very small cuttlefish. They are usually battered and deep fried, and served with lots of lemon. They are a tiny snack but you receive a plate heaped with them when you order this as your tapa. I am not typically a big seafood person, however living in Barcelona is slowly changing that as the seafood in Spain is incredibly fresh and full of flavor. 10/10 would recommend!

By Stefania Tutra

My first week in Barcelona has felt more like a vacation rather than a school orientation. Every morning I wake up and see La Sagrada Familia from my window, I forget I am not in a dream and that I actually am living here for four months. Since the moment my plane landed in El Prat airport last Monday, I have felt constantly overwhelmed with excitement. I moved into my residence hall where I am living with 9 other students from the IES program on my floor. Three of them also happen to go to GW, which definitely made it easier to make friends and feel more at home in such a new environment. I had orientation the following day, and then my daily intensive Spanish class began.

Outside of class, I have found myself wandering around Barcelona’s streets, trying to immerse myself in the local culture, and eating a lot of new food (mainly tapas). One of my favorite neighborhoods I have explored so far is the Gothic Quarter. The narrow streets lined with cafes, restaurants, and boutiques have a unique charm to them that makes you want to walk around for hours.


On Tuesday, it was National Day of Catalonia which is considered a national holiday here, therefore we did not have class. Millions of people came out to show support for Catalonia’s independence. Protestors wore red shirts and red-and-yellow Catalan flags, and marched while banging drums, blowing whistles, and chanting slogans of support such as “Libertat!” It felt unreal to have attended an event that is going to go down in Spanish history forever.

To me, the biggest challenge so far in Barcelona has been adjusting to how late the locals eat and go out. For example, dinner only begins to be served at 8pm, while in the States I have usually finished dinner by then. Dinner is eaten late and goes on for hours, as restaurant-goers do not get up and leave as soon as they have finished their food (like in the States) but instead sit and chat over “café con leche” until 11pm. Then, it is common to go out for drinks and festivities, and often return home around four or five o’clock in the morning.

Above all, I am confident that choosing Barcelona for my study abroad location was the best decision I have ever made. I am so in love with this city, its culture, and its warm-hearted people. Other than improving my Spanish (and picking up on some Catalan), I am looking forward to really getting to know the heart of Barcelona, as well as exploring other cities throughout Europe. Until next time, ¡hasta luego!