Valencia Highlights

It has taken me over a month to pull together a blog post as I have been busy working back in Scotland so my free time has been limited. But I’ve finally managed it and here’s what I have to say about life in Valencia…

My time in France made me very nervous to do another study abroad experience but I can say for sure that my month spent in Valencia has changed my perception of studying abroad.

Valencia is a medium sized city located on the east coast of Spain. I spent one month there learning and improving my Spanish at the AIP language school. I met and made friends with so many lovely people. (Shout out to Andrés, Natalia and Khusrau).

My 4 weeks in Valencia was the most relaxed I have been in a long time. The easy going-ness of life there and the daily beach trips definitely added to the holiday feel of my study abroad experience. My classes would take up the mornings and then the afternoons I would do as I wished (which was usually lazing about on the beach).

My experience in Spain was much like a big holiday; great food, beautiful beaches and a few excursions. Life was easy and simple and I don’t think I could have asked for much more.

So to reflect on my stay I thought I would compile together a list of my favourite memories and things I did whilst in Valencia so without further adieu, here are my top ten highlights from my time in Valencia.

1. Noche de San Juan – an experience that I will never forget. All the Valencians come down to the beach for drinks and bonfires, a better version of Guy Fawkes Night. At midnight everyone runs into the sea for good luck. The atmosphere was relaxed and cheerful, much like everything and everyone in Valencia.

2. L’Albufera – a manmade lake southwest of Valencia said to have the most beautiful sunsets in Spain and I completely agree. Three of my friends and I took a bus after class and watched the sun go down. This place was so picturesque and possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited.

3. Ciudad de las artes y las ciencias – a huge park near the Marina in Valencia. Myself and Natalia went to see the Hemisferic (IMAX cinema), Oceanografico (aquarium) and science museum. The futuristic architecture of the park alone is incredible and combined with what you find inside, it’s a great day out. We spent two days there exploring and learning many new things.

4. Playa Malvarrosa – a beautiful beach south of the city centre and well connected by metro and tram. I spent almost every afternoon here with friends enjoying the sun and the occasional ice cream.

5. La Pepica – the best Paella I’ve ever had. The first day of classes I was determined to try Paella as Valencia is the home of this authentic Spanish dish. So Natalia and I went to La Pepica the first day we met and what an experience it was. The food was outstanding and the service was great as well. It was a little expensive but completely worth it. The restaurant is located right on the beach at The Marina so a great location if you’re soaking up the sun at Playa las Arenas.

6. Shopping in the City Centre – Valencia has a huge shopping district called Colón, you’ll find all the high street stores as well as designer brands, independent shops and Corte Inglés (a huge department store that sells just about everything).

7. Italian restaurants – those of you who know me will know that my favourite type of food is Italian. There were two restaurants in Valencia which I enjoyed especially. Pinsa Di Roma (if you have space for dessert, try the Tiramisu – the best I’ve ever had) and Le Favole which has great pizza and pasta.

8. Valencia Cathedral – this Cathedral is home to the Holy Grail which is displayed inside a glass case that is beautifully decorated with gold and silver. The building itself is a great example of the older architecture found in the city centre and if you’re interested in history and building; this place is well worth a visit and free to visit on Sundays.

9. Benimaclet Neighbourhood – my school was conveniently located in this very lovely neighbour that was filled with really cool street art and sculptures.

10. Valencia Orgullo (PRIDE) – this was one of my favourite days in Valencia. Despite the scorching temperature of 37 degrees (there was a heatwave) this day was amazing. Everyone was happy and having a great time. I even got to walk in the parade with Andrés and Khusrau.

So that concludes my time in Valencia as well as my study abroad in France and Spain. Thank you to everyone who has supported me and to all of you who have been reading my blog. Adios.

10 tips for studying abroad

After finishing up my semester abroad in France, I thought that a good way to reflect on my experience would be to write a list of tips for other people who are going abroad or thinking about it. Writing this blog post conjured up lots of advice that I wish I had been given before leaving for France that I think might have helped me. With that said I hope you find the list below useful and informative.

  1. The first month may be the most difficult month of your life (so far) especially if you’re studying abroad in a country where the native language is different from your own. When people talked to me about studying abroad, it was always painted as the easiest and most amazing experience. For some people that is true, without a doubt but for others perhaps not. The first month that I lived in France tested me more than I ever expected. I had thought my French was at a good level and that I could get by, but it turned out that I could barely understand anything anyone said. For me, it took time to realise that this was my first-time leaving Scotland for more than a few weeks and I had to give myself some credit. What I said to myself constantly was that ‘if studying abroad was easy, everyone would do it’.
  2. You have to reward yourself for the things you get right and not punish yourself for the inevitable mistakes you will make. Part of the study abroad experience is learn about a new culture but also to learn about yourself. Whilst doing this I made lots of mistakes, whether it was grammatical errors or forgetting that the supermarket was closed on a Sunday afternoon. Everything is different and by the end of my experience I had learned so much by making everyday mistakes.
  3. Learn as much as you can about the place you are going and if you can, visit it before you leave to live there. I had never visited Tours and had only been to France a handful of times before my big move to the Loire Valley. Having studied French language and culture for numerous years I expected that the only problem would be the language barrier. I thought that all European countries were fairly similar with their ideals and mannerisms, of course I know countries have very different cultures but when I arrived in France, I experienced a huge culture shock. Everything felt different and even the things I new weren’t the same as Scotland, seemed so far from anything I had been told. The shops and restaurants would close in the middle of the day and the supermarkets would randomly shut and after midday on Sunday it was impossible to buy food unless I went to a restaurant. It was these small things that I had never even thought about that really threw me.
  4. It’s normal to feel homesick. Nearly every person who studies or lives abroad will feel homesick at one point or another, it’s kind of a rite of passage. From the minute I arrived in Tours I was overcome with a longing to be back home. Moving to France was completely out of my comfort zone and it made me miss Scotland more than I had ever expected. But it taught to appreciate my home and my family and friends because of the distance that separated us. Homesickness does fade, for some it never fully goes away but for others it occurs only at random moments. It teaches you to be grateful for what you have at home or you learn to appreciate the experience of living abroad. Either way I feel I have learned how to cope with life abroad much better than when I first arrived in France.
  5. It’s ok not to love/enjoy it. For me, my experience abroad was disappointing. I’m not saying I hated it or that I regret going but I expected to get so much more out of the experience than I did. Likewise, it’s ok to enjoy it so much that you don’t want to go home. I know so many people who absolutely loved their experience and for them the hardest part was leaving. Either way, living abroad taught me what I can cope with and what I can’t. I learned a lot about my limits and also about the things that I love to do the most.
  6. Take lots of photos but don’t live on your phone. For me taking photos was one of my favourite parts. Every day I was experiencing something new and to capture it and have that memory forever, well there’s nothing quite like it. I would say that I wish I had turned my phone off more and just enjoyed the moment for what it was rather than constantly being on my phone to take photos.
  7. Try to make friends with people from the area. This is something that I regret a little as I didn’t feel I had made huge connections with any locals. Of course, I spoke to many lovely French people, but I think when you’re first language is different to that of the country you’re in, you crave your own language and I found that the people I made good friends with were all English speakers. If I could go back, I would try to force myself to speak more French and go out more, but I still wouldn’t change the great people I have met and made bonds with
  8. Travel as much as you can, but don’t overwhelm yourself. Do what you feel comfortable with. Travelling to different countries was something I thought I would be doing nearly every weekend. But I found that for me it was just too stressful. There simply wasn’t enough time at the weekend to visit other countries and experience different cultures. I will say, however, that I became very familiar with my region and explored numerous places in the area. It was also a lot more expensive to travel in Europe than what I had expected. I had been told by so many people that transport in Europe was so cheap and in some ways that was true but by the time I added a 2-hour train to either Paris or Nantes, it worked out quite expensive. I compromised with trips to fairy-tale-like châteaux and a few days out in Paris. The travelling aspect really depends on what you are comfortable with and what you think will best suit your schedule.
  9. There is always someone looking out for you. I was very lucky that I went to Tours with one of my closest friends without whom I’m sure I would have gone home in the first week. Doing the experience with someone you already know is so rewarding in that you build tighter bonds and become almost like family for one another (as cheesy as that does sound). Having Rhiannon with me also allowed me to meet more people who she had made friends with and eventually we had a tight-knit group of friends. Everyone is all going through the same experience and I was surprised by how easy it was to speak to other people about being homesick. As well as this, don’t feel scared to tell friends and family how you are feeling in your new home, whether it be love, hate or somewhere in between. For the first few days I didn’t want to speak on the phone to my parents because I was so homesick that I thought it would make me feel worse. But in reality that first phone call I had with them was a turning point for me in my experience.
  10. Write about your experience. Before leaving for France I knew that I wanted to document and write about what I was doing. So, I created this blog and also brought a diary with me which I was given for Christmas. For the first few weeks I found myself constantly writing in my diary about how I was feeling but eventually I would just write once a week. I found that was a great way to relieve stress and anxiety that I had been feeling that week. Some of my thoughts I chose to publish online but others I kept to myself. Either way, I think it is really important to write about your experience so that you can remember it, and if your memory is as bad as mine; you’ll need to write everything down before you forget it.
  11. Bonus number 11. If you are going to France, make sure you find out if there are any strikes happening that might affect you. As I’m writing this blog post I’m sat in a Starbucks waiting to hear news about my flight home which has been cancelled due to strike action by French Air Traffic Control. At the moment strikes and protests happen a lot in France more so than I have ever experienced back home so quite often I find myself frustrated. But oh well, c’est la vie
Trevi Fountain in Rome 4/5/19
Loire river

Easter holidays

It has been a long time since I last updated on my life in France and my travels around Europe. Since my last post, I have been very busy with tests/exams which resulted in my lack of updates. But I’m back now writing about what I’ve been up to these last few months.

The last time I posted I was halfway through my semester abroad in France and now I am nearly finished. I have just two weeks of classes to go (mainly exams) and then one more week where I will be travelling to a few places and getting things squared away before I go back to Scotland. It will not be long until I am home, and I am very much looking forward to it.

Before the Easter break my friend, Erin, came to visit me from Scotland and we spent a few days in Tours before going to Paris for the weekend. It was great to see the city again and enjoy the beautiful sights it has to offer. On the Sunday evening we travelled back to Scotland where I spent the next 10 days seeing friends and family and celebrating my boyfriend’s birthday. A few days after that my family had an Easter party at my Auntie’s house where we even had an Easter egg hunt (which I will never be too old for).

Paris 7/4/19
Paris 7/4/19

The time at home went by too quickly and before I knew it, I was leaving to go back to Tours. The journey back to France was very stressful as my flight was delayed so I nearly missed my train from CDG airport to Tours (roughly 180km journey) and that was the last train. But with the help of a few very kind strangers I managed to catch the train and make it back to Tours, where Rhiannon was waiting for me. (thank you for all your help Rhi – you know what I’m talking about)

The start of Summer in Tours

The Easter weekend that has just passed was spent mainly sunbathing in the Jardins de Prébendes and Botaniques with Rhiannon and our friends Claire, Sam and Emily. It was very nice to have a relaxing weekend and enjoy the great weather we had. Here’s hoping it stays sunny and warm. More to come soon (ish).

Amboise, Loches, Orléans and Azay-le-Rideau

I am now past the half-way point of my semester abroad in France which brings with it many deadlines and tests to revise for. As such the following blog post is mainly pictures from my recent travels around the Loire Valley. More to follow shortly (when there are fewer exams to worry about).

Burial site of Leonardo da Vinci
Château Royal d’Amboise
Château Royal d’Amboise
Château du Clos Lucé (Leonardo da Vinci’s former home)
Loches
Loches
Cathédrale Sainte-Croix d’Orléans
Orléans
Cathédrale (again)

Shout out to my lovely mum and dad who came out to visit me this weekend where we took a trip to Azay-le-Rideau and ate numerous cakes and pastries (as is expected when visitors come to Tours).

Azay-le-Rideau
Spring has sprung in Tours

Congés – Week 6

I am lucky in Tours that my university takes a week break (congés) in February from classes. During this time, I went to Geneva with some friends, visited a few cities/towns near Tours and had a visit from Stewart.

The week off began with myself and Rhiannon bumping into ourFrench teacher from our university back home. This was a completely bizarre moment as we did not know he was in Tours, let alone in France. What was even stranger was that we were stood outside the Cathedral for one of our classes,not at university where it would be more likely to see someone from home (although still completely random). Rhiannon and I were both completely shocked and I imagine that our faces would have been a picture. Seeing our teacher reminded us that it is not long at all until we go home, we’re already half way through our semester abroad in France, which has completely flown in.

A few days later I took a train to Nantes and spent the day there with Liam before we flew to Geneva. The descent was amazing, and we saw the Alpes from the French and Swiss sides, it was truly breath-taking. After we got off the plane, we walked into the terminal and had to decide if we were going to France or Switzerland. This was a very strange experience as we could walk through one door and be in France and walk through another and be in Switzerland. I had never seen anything like it before, so Liam and I were both a little baffled. (later we discovered that Geneva airport is situated right on the border between the two countries). Eventually we arrived at the hostel,dropped off our bags and met up with our friends (Jen, Rhiannon, Kirsty and Hollie).It was about 6pm and the sun was just beginning to set over the Alpes, so we wandered down to Lake Geneva where we were afforded with a stunning view of Geneva and it’s surrounding area. The following day we explored the city and saw a lot of the main sights including the UN building, St Pierre Cathedral, Parc des Bastions, Jardin Botanique, le Jardin Anglais and numerous shops and hotels. The next morning Liam and I both had early flights so headed to the airport. I flew back to Nantes by myself which was a huge achievement for me as I hate flying but I got through it and even wound up talking to a lady on the flight (in French) about life in Scotland and what I was doing here in France.

After a couple of days spent relaxing in Tours, I went to the Château de Chenonceau to do some research for my semester abroad project. This is a 2,500-word essay written entirely in French about a topic of my choosing which I must submit by June. It seems far away but it is proving to be quite difficult to gather the appropriate resources. Nonetheless, my visit to Chenonceau was wonderful. I was lucky with fantastic weather as I wondered around the château and its grounds. It is a very beautiful building and architecturally stunning. The history of it as well is particularly interesting as a lot of women have been in charge of its gardens and structure; something that my project will be focusing on. All in all, I had a lovely day visiting the château and it’s surroundings.

On Friday Stewart arrived in Tours for the weekend and it was wonderful to see him again. During the weekend we ate lots of good French food(of course) and took a trip to Paris on Sunday to see the sights as he had never been. It was a great weekend and I was very sad to see him go but thankfully it is less than 6 weeks until I am home again for Easter.

It has certainly been a busy week and perhaps quite overwhelming but I am again grateful for this opportunity to visit all of these wonderful places and of course to share these experiences with new and old friends. À bientôt.

Auntie Alison, are you sure you know what you’re doing? Week 4

The above question is what I said to my Auntie Alison at the age of ten. We were driving around Glasgow trying to get our way home and got completely lost and ended up in an industrial estate. She reminded me of this story on Saturday whilst making our way towards the Château de Chambord and getting a little bit lost in the process. The day had only just begun but with only one bus running to the château and no clue where the stop was, we wandered around a car park looking for any kind of clue that would tell us where to go. Eventually we ended up back at the information desk at the train station asking a member of staff where it was. As he spoke in rapid-fire French it was almost impossible to understand him but with the words ‘gauche’ (left) and ‘arrêt’ (stop) I managed to work it out.

Before we knew it, we were within the grounds of possibly the most beautiful château/castle that I have ever seen. The pictures online could not prepare me for how breath-taking it was. The gardens of the château were also truly stunning, and each tree or flower stood in perfect symmetry to the rest creating the typical French jardin style. We spent most of the day wandering around Chambord and its grounds and were lucky that the rain held off. It was a long but great day surrounded by gorgeous architecture and landscapes.

Throughout the weekend, auntie Alison and I indulged in numerous French delicacies such as pain au chocolat, baguettes, cheese and veg from the local shops and markets and a few cakes from the patisserie. All of the calories that were consumed were more than likely burned off by the amount of walking we did. As well as this, I became a tourist guide for the weekend showing auntie Alison all of the beautiful sights that Tours has to offer its visitors. The first thing I showed her was the cathedral, my favourite place in Tours and her reaction was exactly the same as mine when I first saw it; completely gobsmacked. By the time Sunday rolled around we had already seen and done so much that we were both exhausted but pleased with what we had accomplished in a matter of days.

All in all, it has been really good to have family with me here in Tours as it can feel a little lonely when most of your friends and family are back home in the UK. Nevertheless, I am grateful to be here and to have met all of the lovely people I have. À bientôt.   

Paris

At the start of the month Rhiannon and I took a trip to Paris and met Liam there. It was an early start to the day as the train left the station at just after 8am but it was definitely worth it. We arrived in Paris, met Liam and bought our metro tickets for the day. We started off in Montmartre and took the cable car up to the Sacre Coeur. Having visited Paris twice before in recent years I was eager to see not only the church but the view from it. Although the weather wasn’t great, we were able to see all around Paris and the view was as beautiful as I remembered.

After going inside the Sacre Coeur we wandered further down to the Moulin Rouge. As it was the middle of the day we didn’t get to see any of the lights so we headed towards the Arc de Triomphe. We climbed up the 284 steps and were rewarded with a view of the city. We could see the Sacre Coeur where we had just been, the Eiffel Tower where we were heading to next and the Notre Dame and the Louvre. Following our descent down the numerous steps, we walked down the Champs Elysée and then in the direction of the Eiffel Tower. I remembered seeing it from a viewing platform (Trocadero) when I had last visited Paris in 2015 so we headed towards it and saw the infamous Eiffel Tower. We were lucky enough that it wasn’t overly busy and so we were able to enjoy the view and take lots of good photos.

After the Eiffel Tower we stopped for some lunch near the Louvre and then headed into the museum’s grounds. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to go inside but we wandered around the area for a while and then walked to the bookshop Shakespeare and Company. I had read about the store online and that it was famous for the authors who had spent time in the original store as aspiring writers. Following this, we walked across the road to the Notre Dame where we went inside and saw a mass taking place. The church was beautiful and its gothic architecture was stunning, although I have to say I prefer the one in Tours but it was still lovely to see. The Notre Dame was our last stop on our trip to Paris so we headed towards the train station and waited until we could board and head back to Tours.

Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise” – Shakespeare and Company moto

Paris was possibly the best day I’ve had since coming to live in France and it has reminded me how grateful I am to have this opportunity to live abroad and to be an hour away from my favourite city.