One of the best things about choosing Europe to study abroad is that there are countless cultures just a few hours or less away via plane. I have had the luxury to travel to multiple cities and countries in the last four months and I still have a hard time wrapping my head around how blessed I am. 

In the U.S. we have different cultures. The south is different than the midwest and the east coast and west coast are like day and night at times. The same is the case with Barcelona and Madrid, or Spain and France, but there is a difference in how the cultures are, well different. Just a short plane ride north and you are in France where there is a whole other language, lifestyle, culture and people. If you go just a few hours east of France to Hungary you encounter another language that is not even remotely related to any romance language. It is incredible and the U.S. has nothing like it. I'm going to miss the weekend adventures to new cultures and the constant exploration but I look forward to sitting still for a few months until graduation this spring. Who knows where I will end up come the end of May.  
 
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The Generalife in Granada, Spain.
Before leaving for Madrid a dear friend of mine and I exchanged decorated block letters for us to remember each other by. When times are rough and we have no motivation to do anything, or we simply want to remind ourselves of our silly life moments, we look at the letter. Mine hangs above my desk, hers sits on top of hers. On the "E" she gave me is a quote saying, "Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer" and that couldn't be more true. 

Traveling is the one thing that you walk away from being a more informed, experienced and cultured individual. After researching a few places I have visited this semester I realized that several of them are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, places considered to have significant cultural and natural importance regarding humanity and the heritage of the world population. 

As of 2012 there are 962 sites, and over the course of my travels since I was girl I have been to over 20, six of which I have seen since the beginning of the semester. Traveling makes you richer and the fact that these sights were recognized for doing so makes the fact that I went that much better. 

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Engraved details are everywhere in the Alhambra.
SPAIN, 44 UNESCO SITES: Andrea = 4
1.) First is Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, in Granada, Spain. The Alhambra was originally built to be a military base in the tenth century but became home to royalty and the court of Granada in mid-thirteenth century  As the centuries went on the Alhambra slowly became both a fortress and a home. The walled town had quarters for the military, the Alcazaba; an area for the top government officials, the Medina; and quarters for the servants. To the east of the Alhambra is the Generalife, the royal gardens of the Alhambra. Both the Generalife and Alhambra look over the district of Granada called Albayzín and are incredibly beautiful architectural monuments that pay tribute to Muslim Spain in the 16th century. 

While you walk through the Alhambra your jaw will drop in awe. Don't even bother lifting it up either because it will just keep falling down. Also, if you trip over your own feet, like I did (I have a battle wound to prove it) don't be embarrassed, its happens more than you think. Here, the Moorish and Andalusian architecture blend beautifully, the amount of hand engraving makes your hand hurt just looking at it, and the best thing about the architecture and art is that none of it has been altered, even with the Christian conquest, the buildings and art have only ever been restored. This is by far my favorite UNESCO site in all of Spain.

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Chapel of El Salvador del Mundo.
2.) The Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza. I won't sugarcoat this one, it was rather boring but the Chapel of El Salvador del Mundo was beautiful. Úbeda and Baeza, frequently called twin towns, are approximately 10 km from one another and combined make for decent day trip, we did it within two hours on our way back from Granada. The significance of Úbeda and Baeza and why they are considered 
 UNESCO World Heritage Sites is due to their Iberian and Roman backgrounds that lead to their abundance of Renaissance architecture.

3.) Segovia, rhymes with Genovia (that's right I watched The Princess Diaries), Spain. Segovia is amazingly old. I don't know if I have every used those two adjectives together and for the same noun but for this medieval city it definitely works. The three cultures that coexisted: Moors, Christians and Jews created unique architecture and style while also paying homage to the Acueducto, the symbol of Segovia for all intensive purposes. Built in approximately 50 A.D. and restored by the Catholic Kings of Spain in the fifteenth century, the roman bridge is one of the few well-preserved monuments of its age left on the peninsula. Walking around the city and stumbling here and there on the cobblestone is nothing but a treat as you gaze at the ancient buildings, the immaculate Segovia Cathedral and try the delicious pastries. When we left Segovia after our day visit I was filled with new knowledge on architecture and art, but also full of delicious chocolate and cream filling. Never say no to a pastry from Segovia. 

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Acuedcuto in Segovia, Spain.
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Segovia Cathedral
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Rear entrance of Cathedral of Toledo.
4.) The last is Toledo, Spain, The City of the Three Cultures and home to El Greco. Toledo is a city that has been home to several civilizations, architectural styles and was influenced by many cultures but primarily by three religions that co-existed: Islamic, Hebrew and Christian. The imprint of the three religions accompanied by the many civilizations Toledo was home to make the city beautiful. Mudejar architecture, a mixture of Catholic and Islamic styles, is the predominate style in the city and is a reminder that religions have the ability to co-exist. 

      Important (and of course beautiful) places to see in Toledo: 

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Banks of the Seine in Paris, France.
FRANCE, 38 UNESCO SITESAndrea = 1
4.) The one UNESCO site I have been to in France counts for a lot more than one monument, thank gosh. If it hadn't I feel I would have cheated France with my 24 hour day trip. The site is Paris, Banks of the Seine and includes seeing various landmarks such as the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame de Paris, city squares and basically anything along the Seine River. Paris, being the river city it really is, is a beautiful city that has historical masterpieces every which way along the Seine, from hundreds of years-old to more recent developments Paris balances the different architecture styles. The only thing left for me to do is go back and visit the rest of the breathtaking country. 

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Tor Peterson and Kevin Kriz in Heroes' Square.
HUNGARY, 8 UNESCO SITESAndrea = 1
5.) My three day trip to Budapest was wonderful and I'm pretty sure it will be deemed the highlight of all trips I will have taken this semester. I know I said knowing a place I have visited is a UNESCO Site makes my experience even richer, but if Budapest hadn't been it still would have been well worth the trip. The World Heritage Centre entitles the location Budapest, including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue and I can happily say I have been to each tourist sight listed in that title. Budapest is a city that used to be two, Buda and Pest, and is now joined by several bridges. On the right bank is Buda, on the left is Pest and civilization can be traced in both cities back to the Palaeolithic period, we're talking Stone Age here people. Budapest is a beautiful city that has some of the most amazing things including bath houses, labyrinths, monuments and a democracy that is only a year older than me. 

      Important places to see in Budapest: 

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The Banks of the Danube and Parliament building.
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A quick snap of one of the churches in the Castle District.
PORTUGAL, 14 UNESCO SITES, Andrea = 1
6.) If you read my blog post about my weekend trip to Lisbon, Portugal you know I fell in love with the ocean, beautiful city, the people, and of course the pastries - what else is new. The history of Lisbon dates back to over 300,000 years ago, needless to say I was told a lot of information on the walking tour that I could not digest, but these are the important things to know. 
  1. Though it dates back to over 300,000 years ago, only in the early 12th century did it became a nation state.
  2.  According to a legend the city was named Olissopo and founded by Ulysses. Olissopo has origins in Phoenician Allis Ubbo which means "enchanting port" and this is where Lisbon, or Lisboa, received its name.  
  3. During the 15th century Lisbon was the departing point for Portuguese discoveries that lead to finding colonies in Atlantic islands, shores of Africa, Asia and Americas. 
  4. It was during this same time period that the UNESCO sites I have seen were built: Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém in Lisbon
  5. Earthquake of 1755 destroyed almost the whole city and it was rebuilt by Marquis of Pombal
  6. It is one of the world's longest founded cities 
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Monastery of the Hieronymites in Lisbon, Portugal.
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Rachel Arsen on Atlantic Coast beach in Lisbon.
After traveling to each of these destinations I have walked away being happier than I was when I arrived and also more informed about each city's culture, history and people. The more I immerse myself into the Spanish culture and the culture of being a frequent traveler, a nomad some would say, the more I enjoy investigating the places I have been and want to go. You truly do walk away from a place being a richer person, and I have learned to never  doubt the power of traveling because of this. 
 
Paris, France is a real life doll house.

Beautiful old buildings, delicately designed doors and ornate scaffolding. Monuments that are centuries old are placed along the sidewalks all while the new mixes well with the old. Paris could be one of my favorite places to travel, but the only thing missing was someone special to share it with. 

That sounds cliche, but many of us who traveled to the city of love felt the same way. You see a different type of beauty in Paris and you can't help but think that you want to share it with someone else that you see that same beauty in. 

Yes, I am an independent woman who can handle things on her own, but that doesn't mean I don't want to share a moment or two with someone special at the top of the Eiffel Tower, or walk through the halls of the Louvre and share interpretations. Now, don't think that got me down. Not having a soulmate to share my time in France didn't effect my level of extreme joy one bit. The pure exhilaration of being in the city was enough of a companionship for the 24 hours I was there. 

If you recall I had a to-do list for my adventure in Paris, but not everything went as planned due to the rainy weather, but I made the most of it. 

We arrived that morning in Paris around 9:00, met a taxi driver who sped along the streets but stopped abruptly for any woman who wished to cross the streets (what a gentleman), ate at a Moroccan restaurant (some what contradictory, I know) and then we dropped off the groups bags at their hostel. I was meeting my friend from home so I was the definition of a tourist and carried it with me. By 2:30 we were off to see the sights. 
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Musée du Louvre, Paris.
First up Musée du Louvre
Anyone who knows me well enough knows that my father is a art enthusiast and former art teacher turned special education principal. (I still don't understand how one job progressed to another.) But somewhere along the way of him raising me, his affection and love for art wore off on me and now I find myself going to museums and art exhibits to clear my head and see the world from different perspectives. Naturally, when I arrived outside the Louvre, I was giddy. One student even laughed when I was unable to hold in my excitement and skipped a few times.

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Pinching the top of one of three pyramids.
We walked along the outside and in the main courtyard (Cour Napoléon) and pinched the top of the Louvre Pyramid (Pyramide du Louvre), but we didn't have the time to squeeze in a grad tour of the inside. I could feel my dad's head shaking in disapproval, but all the more reason to come back and take him with me!

After the Louvre we walked along the Seine river and took in the breathtaking views. We knew we were missing out on Paris' hidden gems and the history of the city because of our short window of time, but we tried our best to stop at buildings we thought were important and figure out what their significance was. That sounds absolutely terrible, go to a famous city and decided what was more important to see and skip other parts, but we all justified it by telling ourselves we would be back one day. I'm crossing my fingers.

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Notre-Dame Cathedral.
We walked along the Seine until we hit the Notre-Dame Cathedral, or Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, and boy was that beautiful.  As the former religious and social justice reporter for the Marquette Tribune, I find every house of worship to be fascinating. They are places that are central to a culture and tell you much about the history of a country and a population. Notre-Dame was not an exception, it was the rule. 

The beauty inside was moving, and the number of candles being lit by those who were worshiping and tourists was astounding. "Our lady," another name for the cathedral, took over 200 years to build, seeing completion in 1345.  That makes the cathedral  over 800 years old and to this day it is still used for Sunday mass by the Roman Catholic Church and is the seat of the Archbishop of Paris. With it's age, the church has seen it's share of positive and negative moments.

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Rose window inside Notre-Dame.
•    In 1431, Henry VI of England was crowned King inside the cathedral.
•    1804 Napoleon was crowned Emperor inside the cathedral, and before saved Notre-Dame from demolition due to its state of disrepair.
•    In 1909 Joan of Arc was beatified in the cathedral by Pope Pius X. 
•    During World War II, France was afraid the Germans would destroy the newly installed stained glass windows, so the Church decided to remove them and were put back in after the war.
•    For more history visit Notre-Dame's historical website here.

After I processed the age and importance of the church and picked my jaw up from off the ground, we were off.

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Angelina hot chocolate.
Next was hot chocolate, and not just any hot chocolate, Angelina's hot chocolate.

Angelina is a short walk from the Louvre and worth every bit of the 4,50 euro it cost for a cup of hot cocoa. The thick, dense chocolate is the richest form of deliciousness I have ever tasted. Piet Levy, a former coworker of mine at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, recommended the spot before I left Madrid and I can't thank him enough. Everyone moaned at the price but ten minutes later when our straws scratched the bottom and all that was left was the annoying suction sound, you didn't see a single frown, only smiles that symbolized our happy tummies and satisfied sweet tooth.

As we drank our to die for liquid candy, we walked toward the Eiffel Tower and along the way saw women who were the epitome of French. One woman had wavy hair tucked in a high pony wrapped with a bow, perfect makeup and red lipstick, a blazer and blouse paired with a high wasted skirt and heels with tights. Don't forget the gorgeous man her arm was wrapped around either. His dress pants, casual blazer, button down and loafers flattered her outfit. The couple made me swoon. Love was in the air, and I was in love … with my hot chocolate.

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Eiffel Tower, Paris, France.
Shortly after, we ran into the Eiffel Tower

All I can say is that it is huge. I mean, I can say more than that but that was my first impression. It was strange to be at the foot of something you see so many times on television and in the movies. It's no lie to say I had to pinch myself. When we were in line to buy tickets to go up I couldn't believe I was seeing something that I always dreamed of. I think this was the moment that the fact I was in Paris hit me. My mother always dreamed of coming here and here I was, for 24 hours, and feeling guilty that I was there before her. So, I took it in just as she would have.

  • When we went up the elevator, I was afraid of the heights. Just like my mother.
  • When we got to the top, I took a lot of photos. Just like my mother.
  • When I tried to look over the side, I think I vomited a bit in my mouth. Possibly like my mother.

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View of Paris from the top of Eiffel Tower.
It was a breathtaking view and experience that was worth the 7,50 euros (student discount, ka-ching!) After we descended the tower, we went and had our crepes and I joined my friend Milea from the United States for the night. The next morning two men from our group and I were off to Budapest, Hungary. Talk about a change in trips.

Overall, I really enjoyed Paris, France but it is expensive to travel. I spent approximately 40 euros on food, transportation and fees to get into places. Was it worth it? Yes, but if you're going to go there on a student budget search for deals and be efficient in where you eat, what you want to do and how you are going to travel within the city. Walking is your best bet if you want to save money on transportation or make sure you see a group of things in one area before you hop on the metro to other sights.

Did I complete my to-do list? Let's see:

To-do list:
1. Pinch the top of the Louvre  -- Check.
2. Eat cheese and crackers and drink wine in front of the Eiffel Tower for lunch -- Weather complications, next time.
3. Pinch the top of the Eiffel Tower and go to the top -- Sadly, no. Weather prohibited us from going to the top of the tower and from taking a photo of me pinching the top.
4. Go to Angelina and have the best hot chocolate in Paris -- My sweet tooth craves nothing more than another.
5. Eat a crepe with strawberries for a dear friend of mine -- Does Nutella count? Strawberries cost more...
6. Try not to drool while looking at all the extremely well dressed Parisians. -- That is just impossible.
7. Not be mad if I don't succeed at number six because it is a tall order. -- Not a bit upset, only jealous I can't pull off a bow in my hair.