My name is Sean Caltabiano, and I am a 4th year Pharmacy student here at St. John’s. I am a Residence Assistant here on campus and I am involved in Global Ambassadors and Student Ambassadors. Some of my best memories as a St. John’s student involve my semester where I studied abroad as part of the Discover the World Program and the Campus Ministry Guatemala Plunge I participated in.
Over the past few weeks, the Office of Admissions has arranged for prospective students come to St. John’s and ‘shadow’ current St. John’s students like myself. It has been a lot of fun to meet some of the high school seniors, and show them what it’s like to be a student here. As we ate dinner together at Montgoris Dining Hall, I could picture myself in their shoes only a few years ago asking so many questions in anticipation of what I was to expect as a student. Now the tables have turned, and I am the one answering the questions and reassuring the students that they shouldn’t have any problems adjusting, they just have to get out of their room and get involved! They students all went to a trivia night when they arrived called ‘Think Fast’ where there was all sorts of facts, and they even had the chance to win $200. Some of my shadows got up on stage to try to earn their team a spot in the final round by singing, or doing “The Dougie.” We never ended up winning the money but everyone enjoyed the night. The next day, my shadows sat in on my Biopharmaceutics class, and had the chance to show off their calculus skills. All of the shadows left with new friends, phone numbers, and eager to meet up again at orientation!
Fried Oreo Night
As Resident Assistant’s, we have the task of coordinating activities and programs for students living in the resident halls to come to, and we have found that free food is the best way to attract students. Our staff has hosted several fried Oreo nights this past year. I had never had fried Oreos until my RA in my freshman year made them for our floor. For being so easy to make, I’m surprised we haven’t made it a weekly event! There hasn’t been a time that we had left over Oreos. Its not only nice for the residents, but it gives the RA’s a chance to get together too and hang out, and definitely a needed break from studying.
Dinner and a Movie
One of the best services we have here at St. John’s is Campus Concierge. This is the place to go if you are looking to do something fun in the city or catch a new movie in theaters. All of the tickets for the movies, broadway shows, professional athletic events and tickets to theme parks are discounted here. My favorite item they have is the dinner and a movie package. Over my last few years here I have bought several of these and they always turn out being great restaurants. I spent $40 to get a $50 gift card to the featured restaurant, 2 movie tickets and 2 $4.50 metro cards. It is a really great deal to say the least. I recently went out in February with some friends to a place called Blue Water Grill. We all made sure we dressed up for the restaurant right near Union Square. The food there was reasonably priced (for NYC), and there was even some live music! For me, I always have a hard time choosing a place, so this takes that out of the picture and gives me a chance to see some different parts of the city.
At St. John’s we are lucky to be a Division I school, but for those of us who aren’t Division I quality we turn to the Intramural program here organized by Campus Recreation. There are so many choices of intramurals here from softball, flag football, volleyball, and several others. I have been on an intramural volleyball team for three out of the past 4 semesters. It is nice because the games go on for about a month and they aren’t too overwhelming. I always have fun getting together with some of my friends to play, even though I think I can count on one hand how many games we won in the past four years. I haven’t given up yet, and with next week being our last week of games, I am hopeful about winning a few.
I really can’t believe that I am about to finish my forth year of school here at St. John’s. I never believed it when people say that the time flies by, but it is definitely true. I have been involved with a program called Vincentian Initiative To Advance Leadership for the past years. The reason I was drawn in my Freshman year was the free food, and Campus Ministry always has good free food! I came to find that some of my best friends had been in the program since their first year too. We did a lot of reflection on the vocations we were planning to pursue, on how we can be leaders in our communities, and how to use the talents we have to help others. Over the years, we were assigned mentors who we met with, and we even had some guest speakers come in to share some of their stories with us of how servicing others and reflecting helped them find their way. This program has made me look deeper as to who I am in both a spiritual and personal way.
One of the things I missed most while living on campus over break was Dunkin Donuts. The only place found convenient for me to eat was the law school café, which I found was actually really good. I missed my breakfast sandwich that I could use my meal points on, but most of all I missed the hot chocolate. After everyone left, the temperature dropped and I was left having to walk off campus to keep warm. Break was great, but I am excited to have the students and the other RA’s back, and I’m finally able to get back to Dunkin Donuts on campus.
One of the things I was really excited about when I came to college was how long winter break was! It was so nice to enjoy almost 5 whole weeks off from the hectic college life I have come to know. Even though I did take advantage of a week of just relaxation, I did make good use of my time. With increased responsibilities in the 4th year of the Pharmacy Program, I started off site rotation field experiences and also worked part time at a hospital as a Pharmacy Intern. Between my rotations, and my hospital job that an older pharmacy student helped me get, I was able to continue to learn more about the Pharmacy Profession, even though I was on break. I know the work over break will definitely pay off in the end!
Staten Island Recovery
December 2, 2012
Living in Queens over the past 4 years, there has never been any storm that has been too powerful for tough New Yorkers to get through, however Sandy certainly put up quite a fight. I was lucky enough not to lose any power on campus during the week of school that was cancelled, however, I felt like all I did was watch the TV to see if there were any updates on some of the hard struck areas. After a week of watching the TV and tending to my residents in the resident hall, I had enough and decided that I wanted to go to Staten Island to help my friend James who lives there. James and I actually met on the Guatemala Plunge and I had been meaning to catch up with him, so I took the opportunity to invite some other members of our Guatemala team to Staten Island to help out in any way possible. James knew someone who had their entire basement flooded and damaged the appliances and anything else down there. The owner of the house was a bus driver, and her two sons who worked for the NYFD were cleaning out the best they could. It was a great feeling to work with my friends to help give back to some people who give so much of themselves on a daily basis. Sandy has caused billions of dollars of damage, but together New Yorkers have been able to persevered through the disaster.
December 2, 2012
As a Resident Assistant, I am responsible for planning programs for residents of my building to attend and hopefully learn something to take with them into the professional world! I worked alongside with the Career Center to have a speaker come to talk to my residents regarding internship and job search tips. Patrick, a Career Center representative, came and had a conversation with students about his personal experience with finding jobs.
At internship fairs, he made the point that there are so many people at the fairs that it can sometimes be hard to set yourself apart from every other person who is turning in a resume and applying for a particular position, but the most important thing at these events is to be remembered. To do that you must leave a lasting impression with the company representative. A student needs to be open and have a conversation about the position, and inquire with the company representative about their position and what their job entails as well. We need to reach out and show interest in other people before we can expect them to do the same with us as students.
The Career Center is one of the most helpful resources on campus, and will help you to reach your full potential as a student, aiding us in making that transition to the professional world. Being located in New York City, we have a strong group of alumni associated with many corporations and through those connections, we have the ability to give students an edge with top of the line internships.
December 2, 2012
I can remember when I was looking at potential colleges to attend when i was a Senior, I went to as many Open Houses as I could. There were so many students and families there, but I had no idea of the behind the scenes action going on. As a student here, one of my favorite activities I am involved with is Student Ambassadors! As Student Ambassadors, we are the people giving tours to families and those people at the St. John’s Open Houses wearing the signature Red Jackets. I have been able to meet a lot of other students through the program, and some of them I have become really good friends with! Giving tours at St. John’s is a way I can give back to the University, and share some of my unique St. John’s experiences with perspective students. The Student Ambassadors family is great though. During our last open house, amidst the chaos of hosting thousands of students, we managed to have a dance party outside with DJ Zeke. It was fun to see some of the parents getting involved with it too. Even with the business of classes, I think the best thing I have done is remaining involved with organizations on campus.
Stars of the Century
December 2, 2012
This is my first year as a Resident Assistant (RA) here at St. John’s, and I couldn’t have been happier in any other building than Century. The theme of the building for the first semester was Hollywood. Our staff helped to put up decorations in the lobby and a board for all of the residents to know who the RA’s in the building were and which one was in charge for the evening. Over the past 4 months, our group of 12 who are on staff in Century Hall have grown so close together, and I think we have built a great sense of community among our residents. As an RA we meet once a week as a staff to go over plans and programs that we have planned, but we spend a lot of time together outside of our responsibilities, including taking over Montgoris Dining Hall for breakfast on the weekends. It is just another reason why St. John’s has been a great university to attend! All the opportunities are there for involvement, but it is up to you what you make of your experience!
December 2, 2012
Last semester I had the incredible opportunity to participate in the Guatemala Plunge with 14 other St. John’s students through Campus Ministry. A plunge is basically a service trip where you immerse yourself in a new environment, engaging in conversation, culture, and community building with the people around you aiming to help each person grow and take a lesson from the experience. I could not have asked for a better group to travel and work with. One of my favorite experiences was trying to practice my Spanish with one of the local store owners. She wanted me to tell my friends to come to her store and buy souvenirs to take to their families. So I brought some of my fellow plunge members and she was so grateful that she wouldn’t let me leave without giving me a small token of gratitude. The Guatemalan people at the San Lucas Mission (where I stayed and did community service) were so humble, and friendly and wouldn’t think twice about helping their neighbor. I know just by seeing them so happy with their simplistic lifestyle, made me question some of the things in my life, things Americans take for granted on a daily basis. While staying there we also had nightly reflections for the week long trip over Spring Break, where we asked ourselves where we saw God in our day. I had such an amazing trip, that I would definitely go back in a heartbeat if I had the chance!
Livin’ Easy in Ibiza
Starting the last full week was challenging, with a grim week of weather to come, and it was hard for me not to look to the future for hope. Since coming to Europe I have tried to just live in the moment and not throw my hopes and desires too far ahead of me because I don’t want to rush any second of this trip.
Elana planned a trip to one of the IRONIMUS exhibit in Salamanca, which is one of the main attractions I visited 2 years ago.
This was essentially a tour of the new and old cathedrals in the city, where we were able to walk around the upper balconies and see the exterior of the buildings. Outside, we could see all the rooftops spread across Salamanca, as well as the mountains of La Alberca off into the distance.
The anticipation of the weekend was killing me, and by 10:30am a group of 6 of us were off on our last excursion in Spain. Ibiza is an island off the southeastern coast of Spain and is part of the Balearic Islands. Beginning with a bus to Madrid, then a flight, and another bus, it took us nearly 9 hours of travel. We flew Ryan Air for the first time, and surprisingly it wasn’t bad at all, and when we finally landed in Ibiza the weather was sunny and hovering around 65°F. There are two main cities here, Eivissa town and the smaller town of Sant Antoni de Portmany. Eivissa is bigger with more sights to see, and for a while we thought we were actually staying there. After some confusion with google maps putting us on the wrong side of the island and the help of a very nice hotel owner, we were off in the right direction of Sant Antoni de Portmany. We were quite tired by the time we arrived, so we decided to stay in on St. Patrick’s Day and eat in the restaurant at the hostel.
With a full nights rest, I was off with to map of the city, and on my way to summit a nearby mountain.
Supposedly there was a path, but I decided to take the less traveled path up. With every step, I just wanted to keep stopping and take in the island views of the crystal clear blue waters, and the sweeping coastline. The view from the top was well worth the hike, and the unfamiliar sounds of nature not heard since last summer were a treat too.
Being a swimmer, I was incredibly excited for our next stop on the island, scuba diving! The people at Arenal diving were so friendly and helpful with our first dive.
After some pictures and laughs as we suited up with wet suits, air tanks, mask, and fins, we were launched in the dingy to the cove diving site. Two instructors took each of the 5 of us in separately, and we floated around until everyone was in and ready to go down. The water was, well, “refreshing” as my mom would say, and surprisingly, that is exactly what came out of the instructor’s mouth! We took the air out of our vests and let the weights help bring us down. With frequent popping of ears, we swam about 20 feet and viewed sea life and coral in a way I had never experienced before. One instructor sought out some octopi, one of which he just grabbed off of the coral and let us feel. After the octopus inked 3 times, we set it down and swam off to see what other life we could find. I could see a whole circle of fish around us, feeding and traveling in separate schools. The dive only lasted a quick 30 minutes underwater, but needless to say, it was an amazing experience I definitely plan to do again.
We returned with enough time to walk in front of the famous Café del Mar, where there was a beautiful sunset right over some of the smaller pieces of land off the coast.
Before I knew it, it was our departure day. We traveled back to the city of Eivissa and laid on the beach for a while before we left to head back to Madrid, where our next surprise was awaiting us. We rushed to the hostel and off to the venue where we were going to see Taylor Swift Live! It was crazy how we had the cheapest tickets, yet I was nearly 5 arms lengths away from her.
I have never been able to get so close at any other concert I’ve attended, so this was quite the treat. I took pictures and recorded some of it, and one song in particular she pointed to the small group I was standing with and, as the lyrics go she sang, “I was enchanted to meet you.” Everyone was screaming and I thought it was pretty funny.
Our last day in Madrid was exciting, as we met up with other St. John’s students and walked around one of the largest markets in Europe. We split into smaller groups and wound our way through the streets, because the markets extended several blocks. Just when you thought you were at the end of one line of vendors, there was another street that kept going on. The vendors sold scarves, wallets, collectible items, incense, flowers and many other items.
After the market, a walk in the park, and a workout of rowing around in the pond, I was off to the concluding event of this epic weekend, which was a bull fight at the Plaza de Toros.
I just had to experience this important piece of the Spanish culture! I didn’t really know what happened until I saw it with my own eyes. Seeing the bull get tired out, the second stage is when men on horseback come in and begin the brutality before the matador comes out. When the matador emerged, he tossed his hat to the ground and used his distinctly colored ‘capote’ or cape for several passes with the bull, before the final step, where the lancing of the bull occurred. Though this may come off as gruesome, it is a part of the Spanish culture that must be experienced!
This whole weekend has been full of first time experiences that I will not forget any time soon. I took advantage of as much as I could here in Spain, and I am very excited to see what Italy has in store. Next I will be writing to you from Roma – adios!
Buenos Dias! Here I am after another week in Spain. This week has been particularly exciting with a night tour of Salamanca, my birthday, as well as a trip to Seville.
I had been awating this last tour of Salamanca because it was the “Legends” tour where we walked around to various landmarks within Salamanca
I was used to the view of the city during the day from running and exploring, however the city offers a different feel after dusk. I learned about the legend of a Catholic Bishop who visited Salamanca, and rumor had it that this bishop had a girlfriend! Something that I didn’t know about the city was its history of magic. Apparently the word Salamanca finds its derivative within magic, and there was even a secret tunnel that led people to the magical city which is closed up today.
I give credit to the magical history of Salamanca as well as some amazing friends who prepared one of the best birthday’s I have ever had. Being that my birthday fell on Ash Wednesday it put a twist on things because I decided to give up ice cream.
I was surprised 20 minutes before my birthday and Ash Wednesday with an ice cream cake and two pints of ice cream! The challenge was for the six of us to finish it before midnight, which we just barely fell short of.
Birthday festivities continued into my actual birthday
For the first time a few friends and I went out to a small restaurant in Salamanca, Pony Pisador, which was a nice change from the grease and grime of the residence hall food. The three course meal of potatoes, pork loin, and flan was a great start to a night filled with fun at the karaoke bar.
Pretty soon the night came to a close and it came time to pack up and head to Seville. The trip to Seville was subsidized by St. John’s, and one of the best parts was staying in a four star hotel rather than a hostel! From the breakfasts, to the beds, and the private bathrooms, it was definitely a change of pace from previous weekend trips through Europe.
The weather put a damper on our ability to explore as much as we wanted to. Saturday morning was an early wake up call for the bus tour of the city. We were able to explore some of the more well known areas of Seville including The Royal Alcazar, and the Cathedral of Santa Maria.
The Royal Alcazar used to be an old Palace in Seville; however it is different from the normal luxurious styles of other royalty. The main theme noticed throughout the palace grounds was simplicity with nature. There were plants scattered across the main walkways, and running water giving a very soothing effect. One cool part of the palace was in the basement.
There was a room that had a long structure with sitting water called the “Baths of Lady Maria de Padilla.” Itwas a lot cooler in the basement, and come to find out this was actually used to cool the interior rooms of the palace.
The Cathedral was built to show Seville’s, and today it is one of the largest in Spain.
Inside lays the body of Christopher Columbus. There are several interesting symbols in the structure that revolve around Columbus’ history, as well as the history of Spain like the pomegranate being crushed with a spear, and images of Columbus’ coat of arms. There is a large tower which is part of the Church and gives one of the best views in all of Seville. There aren’t actually stairs to get to the top, but it is a continuous ramp to the top build so horses could go up it more easily. We were startled by the loud clang of the bell once we reached the top, but after that it was smooth sailing!
The weekend turned out to be better than I had anticipated and I even got to go see some flamenco dancing where it first laid its roots as a gypsy dance.
I can’t even begin to think that I only have one weekend left in Spain right now, it has gone by all too fast. Hasta luego!!
The City of Seven Hills
Is this real life? This experience has been unbelievable thus far, and I am still wondering how this ever happened. I have been living in Europe for nearly seven weeks now, and it has definitely been one of the greatest opportunities I have ever experienced. Besides traveling most weekends and trying new foods, one of my favorite parts about living in Europe is the weather. The atmosphere in Salamanca is great, blue skies and sunny days, it is hard to ever be in a bad mood. These 60 plus degree days have been great, even though I did see snow for the second time in Europe on my way to Madrid this week. Other than that, it is only really chilly in the morning, but by the afternoon, it is usually pretty nice out and people are always walking around and hanging out in Plaza Mayor during the day.
During the week, the St. John’s Employees, Elana and Fernando, try to keep us busy around town and give us new and fun things to do. There is always plenty of time to relax, and one event held this week was a Spanish movie. I know many people who are trying to learn other languages watch television shows and movies in the various languages, and the Spanish movie worked similarly for me! The best part of going to watch the movie was the surprise junk food Elana brought for the group. Being on a tight budget, I try to save my money for traveling and often don’t get the chance to indulge, but I definitely took advantage of this and ate ice cream, oreos, chips, soda, and lots of other good treats.
The weekend was filled with plenty of fun, starting earlier than I had expected.
My friend Molly had an extra ticket for a Real Madrid Soccer game on Thursday night at 10pm, and at the last minute I decided to go with her. I didn’t think I was going to be able to see a soccer game while I was here, but it worked out perfectly, and Madrid even won with a shutout 7-0! The fans were wild, but I expect they would have been a little more rambunctious if it had been a close game.
St. John’s sponsored a trip to La Alberca, and on our way there on the bus it was actually snowing. I hadn’t been in snowfall since being home so it was an uncommon sight for me in Europe.
This small city had a lot of charm. We began with a scavenger hunt because it isn’t big at all and easy to navigate. The scene was perfect as the light snow began to fall on the quiet streets. The only unfortunate part was that we weren’t able to go up the mountain because it was too slippery due to the snow. We did however stop at a small lookout point outside of the city where we had spectacular views of the valley, and had some nice opportunities for climbing the rocky cliffs.
My next stop was Lisbon, Portugal at 4:31am! After some issues with the tickets for the train, and finally realizing there was a time change, we had made it. If you were here, it wouldn’t be hard to figure out why the city has been nicknamed The City of Seven Hills.
Everywhere I looked, it was either walking up or down a hill, but luckily there is a metro and tram system, making it much easier to get around and avoid the hills.
I didn’t go to Lisbon with many expectations, but if I had any, I am sure they would have been exceeded. I could feel the rich history of the city as I walked the streets and saw the main plaza, as well as the Church, Sao Vicente de Fora in the district of La Alfama. This district sits atop one of the higher hills in the city, and is where the old castle still stands today. From La Alfama, I was able to look out towards the most captivating aspect of the city, the Rio Tejo.
The interesting part is that there is a bridge very similar to the Golden Gate Bridge, and people said the city gave off a similar vibe to San Francisco as well.
Lisbon is rather large, and when I ventured over to Belem we were traveling right next to the water. Aside from the most crowded tram ride I have ever taken, this region was just as amazing. We stopped in front of the Monastery of Jeronimos.
I can see how the religious can live such peaceful lives, especially in a place like this. The center was open with grass and a fountain. The stonework, just like all over Europe, was spectacular and very intricate.
The group of us decided to walk along the water to 2 different places.
The monument to the discoveries gave a fantastic view of the city behind, as well as the water in front. This structure is rather new, and smaller than I thought, as the rooftop could only hold about 25 people. After this, we walked to the Torre de Belem, which is an old fortress on the edge of the water. Everyone was sitting in the small lookout shelters around the first floor which were great for pictures. The best part was that because it was Sunday, this was all free!
The weekend was a huge success after our incredible hostel (Lisb’on), the traditional Portuguese dinner with friends and plenty of food, and ending with the famous Pasteis de Nata pastry and a walk around the street vendors. I couldn’t have asked for a better first experience in Portugal, and I hope I will be able to visit the city of Lisbon again!
Barcelona and the City of Gaudi
Only one week in and I can already realize the relaxing feel of the Salamanca overcoming me. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Paris because there was always something to do or see, but I never considered how different life in Spain would be. The daily ritual usually consists of waking up very early to go to breakfast and walk to class. I usually hang around until lunchtime, then siesta, homework, dinner, and repeat. There is time in the schedule just to take a breath of fresh air and enjoy living in a foreign country. When I am in a new place, I usually feel like I always have something to do or see, but that isn’t true in Salamanca, and I think that is one of the things that I am coming to appreciate.
In the beginning of the week, St. John’s scheduled a tour of the small city, such a small city that we even had the same tour guide that I had when I visited in my senior year of high school! The guide took us through the city explaining the history of Plaza Mayor and the town around the oldest university in Spain. We ventured inside the CATHEDRAL …. This Cathedral, like many others, has the traditional domed structure. What is interesting about this dome is that there is a dove sprawled out in the center of top of the dome, some 250+ feet from the ground. The dove looked like it was pretty small, but to my surprise I was told that in reality it is 12 feet in length!
For those of you who have not been to Spain, a very common treat many like to indulge in is chocolate con churros. After the tour I went to a well-known churros restauraunt called Valor. The 3 churros were served with a cup of thick hot chocolate to dip the churros in.
It didn’t take much to finish, but they were filling enough, and there was even some chocolate in the cup left. I attempted to drink this, but if you can imagine, this is not traditional hot chocolate you are used to in America, it is essentially a bar of chocolate melted and put in a cup. Nonetheless, by the time I left, all the chocolate was gone too!
The entire week I was preparing for my weekend ahead, and by Thursday evening, a group of 7 boarded the overnight train to Barcelona. A short time after we left the station, the conductor came around to check out tickets, and low and behold, we didn’t have the right tickets. After he finished yelling at us in Spanish he left, and luckily he didn’t come back for the rest of the journey.
Barcelona welcomed us bright and early Friday morning, and we set off to the hostel where we were planning to stay. This hostel, Equity Point Centric, was one of the better hostels that I have stayed because it essentially planned our weekend for us. We started with a Gaudi tour of the city, walking around and exploring all of the architecture designed by Gaudi.
The works by Gaudi were astounding to see in person, with a modern takeover, the shapes and façade’s were more ornate than I had ever seen. The Sagrada Familia is one example, which is still being worked on today after his death. This church highlights the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus with three different faces. Even though Gaudi isn’t the one finishing the church, it is looked at as one of his greatest works and still has about 15 years until it is finished.
We concluded with a walk to a higher point in Barcelona where Gaudi designed Park Guell. This park has great views of the city and across it stretching to the Balearic Sea. The weather was great, hitting upwards of 70 and the park was alive with people everywhere, and performers singing.
Barely having slept, it was time to siesta before the evening plans the hostel had provided for us. We gathered to go out for tapas and sangria closer to the port. I have noticed that tapas are different all over because at this restaurant the tapas were essentially bread with toppings like chicken nuggets, olives, red peppers, quiche, cheese, or meat, and at other places they are just smaller portion of any number of appetizers.
Following the tapas, we were brought to a Flamenco Show which was great to watch, as this is one style of dance practiced throughout Spain. The combination of the instrumental pieces and the 3 dancers, was quite an experience to watch.
On Saturday morning, we attended another tour around parts of the city, and then took a walk down Las Ramblas leading us to the water. Las Ramblas is a street with vendors and people everywhere. Looking up and down the street, one would think they were at a circus with people dressed up in various costumes consisting of flowers, people dressed as babies, standing statues, and even a person sitting on a toilet. It was quite a walk, but once we finally made it to the beach it was great, despite me getting soaked by the waves.
Our time in Barcelona flew by, and we were soon headed on a train back to Madrid. Being that we were getting back on a Sunday, I decided to explore some of Madrid as well, because there aren’t enough weekends in Spain for me to have a full weekend in Madrid. My friend and I visited the Cathedral in Madrid right next to the Palacio Real, as well as Plaza Mayor. The plaza was dead when we first arrived, but after some breakfast, we stepped outside to Spaniards and tourists everywhere. I most enjoyed just walking around and stumbling upon new sights and buildings in Madrid, making for a carefree day and a nice way to end the weekend. Until next week, Hasta Luego!
Buenos Dias from the small city of Salamanca, Spain! I can’t believe that the first module of five weeks has come and gone so quickly, and this past week I traveled to my home at the University of Salamanca for the next 5 weeks.
The past week was busy with studies and last minute voyages around Paris. The week began with the anticipated Valentine’s Day holiday. Walking around Paris, I could tell during this time of the year in particular why Paris is the called the city of love. With love all around, I decided to find some love of my own, and I found it at Berthillon.
Berthillon is a small ice cream shop and cafe known to have the best ice cream in Paris. I really could not tell you what I got, but it certainly did not take much time at all to devour it.
It was sad to realize that there were only two days left and all I could really afford to do is study for my two finals. It was a relief to finish finals on Wednesday and, with only hours left to spare in Paris, I took advantage of the time going to have a last look at the Garden of Luxembourg as well as visiting the Pompidou museum.
The relaxing walk through the park was a nice way to take school off my mind in that short time period where I had no classes. The Pompidou museum showcased modern art and video done by a variety of people up to the 1970’s.
Before the group flight in the morning I made sure I went to one of my favorite crepe places to get my last banana and nutella crepe, which I am hoping will hold me over for a few years until I am able to return again. I was ecstatic to go to Spain and meet with some of my friends from the Queens campus, but even more so to finally be able to speak Spanish. I knew my mediocre Spanish would be much better than my limited French vocabulary to communicate with the natives. Boarding the plane I was speechless when the flight attendant said “Hola” and all that was coming to my mind was “Bonjour!”
The St. John’s staff member Elena was very welcoming to all of us students as we set out to begin our adventures in Salamanca. After unpacking, I was ready to go and look around Salamanca, and revisit the church and Plaza Mayor, which I saw in my senior year of high school.
The blue skies of Salamanca were a great change from some of the gloomy views in Paris. The city is small and a lot easier to navigate compared to streets of Paris as well.
The environment of the city is great with locals out and about during the day, as well as an amazing night life with bars and clubs a plenty.
The Spanish music has been a great experience to listen and dance to! The past few nights have been much later than I had anticipated, however the siesta during the day works great with this schedule.
I don’t know that I can say I am excited to start classes next week, but it should be a bit different, seeing as it will be through the University of Salamanca and not St. Johns. Adios amigos!
The French Riveria
Wow, yet another whirlwind week in Paris has passed! From the weekly excursion, a midnight run service trip distributing food to some of the homeless in Paris, to my incredible journey to the French Riviera, it’s been filled with new discoveries. The week began with a walk to Montparnasse, another thriving area which houses the only skyscraper within the actual city of Paris. The story behind this massive 56-story structure called Tour Montparnasse is one of incredible sights and angered Parisians.
Before the adventure began, Mike told us that the top of Tour Montparnasse features the ‘best’ view of the city of Paris, partly due to the fact that it is the only place where the eyesore of a skyscraper cannot be seen and does not obstruct the skyline of The City of Lights.
Two years following its construction, there was a ban on building skyscrapers in the urban city center of Paris, and for good reason! The panorama from the top was like no other view in Paris. One thing I really enjoy about Paris is there are so many places where you can catch incredible views of the city like Tour Montparnasse, Montmartre, and the Eiffel Tower, all of which I have experienced! I was able to see the St. John’s campus from the top of Montparnasse, as well as the Garden of Luxembourg, which I was able to stroll through earlier that day. The excursion was timed to perfection. We were able to see views in the daylight as well as the transformation to dusk and nighttime, with a great view of lights scattered across Paris.
In anticipation of my weekend travel plans to the French Riviera, excitement mounted inside of me and dimmed my enthusiasm for class this week. When I first set out for Paris, I knew I wanted to travel to Nice, France the last weekend, because I knew it would be my best chance for good weather. Soon enough it was 4:30 Thursday morning! We were on our way to catch our 7am plane to Nice. We were pleasantly greeted with palm trees and a beautiful sunny day. We ventured off to the small hostel (11 euro a night!), and the group of 10 of us all fit in one room. I was so excited to explore the sights of this area, and our first direction was off to the beach! It gave me such great satisfaction to see the crystal clear blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea crash onto the rock beaches of Nice. The thought running through the back of my head was that soon these warm temperatures would be a daily occurrence anywhere I travel to! Growing up on the shores of Lake Ontario where I fall asleep to the waves crashing along the beach, the sound of the waves in Nice put me in a relaxed and peaceful state of mind. While the group planned to walk along the sidewalk up to the hill looking over Nice, I couldn’t help but run to feel the water, which was a bit warmer than I had expected. After skipping rocks and putting our feet in the water, the group climbed to the top of the hill, offering an amazing view of the market square, the rooftops of Nice, and of course, the Sea.
The sun’s rays were shining gently and it wasn’t too hot, but a nice change from the cooler temperatures in Paris. In the end, the water felt cooler than only 5 hours earlier, but still did not stand a chance against me, and on February 12, 2011 I swam in the Mediterranean Sea!
The next day, we ventured off to the 2nd smallest country in the world, Monaco. The scenic bus trip took us through the hillsides winding in and out just above the water, and along the trip we passed Bono’s house, as well at the most expensive house in the world (sold for $750 million) in the town of Eze. The wealth in Monaco was astounding and the sights were just as unbelievable. We ascended the top of the hill overlooking the city, where we were able to view the changing of the guards at the Royal Palace.
The harbor was filled with multimillion-dollar yachts and ships, and it makes sense because I can’t imagine a better place these high rollers would want to dock.
The famous Monte Carlo Casino, nicknamed ‘Casino Royale’ was more spectacular than I had even imagined.
Anyone who knows me well is aware of my fascination with cars, and seeing some of these cars was the best part of the casino. It isn’t every day one can walk through aisles of Rolls Royce’s, Audi R8’s, Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s, Bentley’s, and last but not least, the prized Bugatti Veyron (the most expensive car in 2010-2011 priced at $1.7 million)!
Needless to say, it was truly amazing for me to experience. After returning to Nice, the group spent the remainder of the night at the beach chatting and relaxing, which couldn’t have been a better ending!
Our return to Paris was bitter sweet, since the weather wasn’t quite as nice as Nice, but how can someone be disappointed to return to Paris?! Not having gone to the top of the Eiffel Tower, a few of us trekked to it and made it to the top! It was surreal to be at the top of one of the most famous monuments in the world! An added bonus awaited us on the first floor of the tower where there is an actual ice skating rink, with free rentals! It can’t get much better than free skating while on the Eiffel Tower.
This has been one of the busiest weekends yet, but for sure a rewarding one with many lasting memories! I am looking forward to the week ahead, but sadly, it is nearly time to say goodbye to Paris. Au revoir…
The Treasures of Paris