Bilbao, Spain

Isabelle and I did a little duo trip together to Bilbao, Spain for our second-to-last free weekend during our study abroad experience.


We were very excited because Bilbao is in the Pais Vasco and not only do they have their own language, but their own culture entirely. It is also home to one of the world’s Guggenheims.

One of my first observations was just how different Euskara is from Spanish. It is a language with no known roots. Luckily for Isabelle and I, even though most people do speak Euskara, everyone spoke Spanish as well.


The Guggenheim was amazing and really worth the very low entrance fee. We were there on a day where they were having a free, live concert too! So as we toured the museum, we were accompanied by live opera and orchestras, which made it a really unique experience.


Fog marks the hour.


The next thing we did was something that seemed like it was just a time-filler/random thing to do but it ended up being my favorite part.

The Funicular de Artxanda is a cable car that brings you up the mountain next to the city. It costs barely a euro, and the views at the top are spectacular. Not to mention, the ride is pretty fun too.


After spending awhile up there, it got a place on my list of “Dream Places to Live”


Later that day, when we went out to eat, we happened up an annual olive oil festival. There was a massive stage that had multiple dance groups performing Flamenco throughout the whole day. I wish now I had popped into one of the stalls and bought some olive oil, but it was a really fun and random thing to do before (and admittedly we went back after) dinner.

Even though we were only there a day, it was a super fun and spontaneous trip. I really want to go back, because Bilbao was unlike any other city I have ever been to in Spain.

(note: some of these pictures were taken by my friend Isabelle!)

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Paris, France

This post will be about my brief but fun-filled trip to Paris, France in November.

We left on a Thursday night, and returned on Sunday, so the trip was much too short to see everything there is to see in this beautiful city.

I have been to Paris once before, but I was pretty young, so I am glad to have had the chance to go again.

First full day, on Friday, we visited the Musee d’Orsay and the Notre Dame as a group.

I was very excited for the Musee d’Orsay because I knew we would be seeing lots of Degas, Monet, Manet, and impressionist art.

Impressionism is my favorite art period because I love the color schemes and style. In Spain, we go to a lot of art museums but typically see much older styles of paintings (Gothic & Renaissance) or basically anything by Goya. As much as these pieces are beautiful, I was excited to see something different.


Of course, the museum did not disappoint and I loved all the paintings we got to see.

The Notre Dame was, obviously, beautiful. The last time I visited Paris, I had not read the original version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame yet, and now that I have, it definitely had a slightly creepier vibe.


We had some free time for the rest of the day, so I bought some artwork along the river and we visited the lock bridge.

The next day, we spent a lot of time in the Louvre, but not nearly enough time to truly see it all. We focused on Greek and Roman art, work by Leonardo Da Vinci (including the Mona Lisa), and depictions of the French revolution.

Afterwards, we explored the city further, enjoyed the autumnal scenes in the city parks, and visited the Eiffel Tower.

On our last day, we spent the morning in Montmartre, which is definitely all the list for “dream home locations”. I loved every second we spent there. It is home to the Sacre Coeur, a beautiful church with Byzantine architecture. Nearby, I bought some delicious macaroons from a local shop, which I devoured on the way to the airport.

My next travel post will be about Bilbao and the wonders of the Basque region!

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Florence, Italy

For the second half of our weeklong fall vacation, we traveled to Florence.

It didn’t take too long for me to fall in love with this city, which is remarkably different from our previous destination, Rome.

I loved Rome, but there was something about Florence that was almost enchanting. We had another excellent AirB&B host, Tom, shown below.

Tom kindly sat down with us and planned out two full days of activities, which was super helpful. While planning our evening itineraries, he suggested a bar called Volume, which we ended up going to both nights because we loved it so much.

We visited the Medici Chapel which was super fun. Money-saving tip for all you EU citizens/duals out there – but Italy gives us discounts all over the place, including here!

If you like seeing beautiful views, definitely check out the Piazzale Michelangelo. It was a bit of a gloomy day but seriously so awe-inspiring.


It was fun to take pictures here because my brother has pictures at the exact same spot when he went to Florence in 2008 as a senior in high school. If I had prepared better, I would have worn a black leather jacket too and mimic-ed his pose, but oh well.

Of course, we saw THE DAVID. Let me tell you, I was NOT expecting it to be as big as it was. I always assumed it was closer to actual-person size. It was quite a busy day when we went, so I couldn’t get the best pictures but trust me, it really was worth it. Keep in mind that it is the most notable artifact in the Galleria dell’Accademia, so you don’t need to reserve the entire day for it.


FOOD was definitely a highlight of the Florence. We went to a pizza place called Gusta Pizza that we actually went to THREE TIMES during our stay. I unfortunately didn’t get any pictures but it was soooo delicious, I’ll be dreaming about it until my return.

We also went to this amazing panini place near the Duomo called Panini Toscani. When we go in, the owner of the restaurant personally gives you samples of the meats and cheeses they have available that day behind the counter, and then you choose what you’d like in your panini. I loved the personal element because it makes you feel really connected to the food and where it came from.

Last major highlight for me was this really amazing shop that we went to that was across from our AirB&B. It was called Alberto Cozzi – Antico Laboratorio Artigianale. It was started in 1918 and is still run by the same family, and if I remember correctly, five brothers work there today.

While we were there, one of them gave us a demonstration of how they make paper and I bought a wallet for my boyfriend and planner. Everything was so beautiful and I wish it was realistic and in my price range to order more once I am home.


To end, I just want to say sorry for how late these posts are being put out. For an update, I am actually currently in the U.K. and have been for about 2.5 weeks. In exactly a weeks time, I will be heading back home to the United States.

Posts to come will include a reflection of my time in Spain and what I’ve been doing while back in England!

Hope you have all had a wonderful holiday season ❤

Follow my social media to get more updates on my study abroad adventures:

Personal Instagram: jemmss

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Twitter: jemmsss

And use my AirBnB referral code to get $40 off your first day (and help me save some cash too)

Rome, Italy

For my fall break, I went with two of my friends to Italy. During our week-long vacation, we spent 2.5 days in Rome and 2.5 days in Florence.

Since we did a lot during this trip, I will be splitting it into two posts.

First, let’s talk about ROME.


Now, the moment we booked this trip, I was planning to go all out during my Lizzie McGuire experience. Using this famed classic as a guide, we made sure we visited everywhere she did.

Our AirB&B was in a really great location and was just a short walk to the Colosseum. Our AirB&B host was also AMAZING and really gave us the best advice and tips that made the trip go smoothly. His first recommendation was a pizza place nearby and let me tell you — first bite of Italian pizza did NOT disappoint.


We took the first evening slow, and just toured around a bit before retiring to bed, watching Lizzie McGuire Movie for inspiration.

The next day, we really were ready for game time. We hit the Colosseum for real, even though we had seen the outside the day before. Since the line was so incredibly long, we took the bullet and paid for a tour, allowing us to skip hours of waiting. The tour actually was super interesting and I learned a lot I didn’t know (ex. it was built in only 10 YEARS!)

We also went to the Trevi fountain, which I threw a coin in just like Lizzie (but admittedly missed the actual pool since the gates kept us so far away from it and I am not the best athlete).

Next was the Spanish Steps, which we had to see in tribute to our beloved home base of Spain.

Finally, we popped on over the Pantheon, which was honestly way more impressive than I was expecting. I knew it would be big, but it is really hard to grasp just how big until you walk inside. Afterwards, we went to a nearby gelato place and sat for awhile to enjoy one of the great Italian gifts.

That night, we met up with some friends of ours and got a Groupon to an ice bar, which was a first for me. It was Halloween, so we wanted to do something fun and different. Although we only stayed for a little under 45 minutes, it was really worth the money. The drinks were good, the staff was awesome, and it was a lot of fun to huddle up in your thermal ponchos.


The next day, we decided to tackle the Vatican. Being naïve, we all didn’t realize that we would be arriving just in time to see the Pope’s Wednesday address. Consequently, we were very shocked when we were entering Vatican City and all of a sudden heard everyone start to clap — so we look up and there he is! Popping out of a window!

Since it happened to be All Saints Day, the Sistine Chapel was unfortunately closed. However, we were able to see St. Peter’s Basilica, which was absolutely incredible. I could have stayed in there all day because it was so beautiful.

I mean, it is MASSIVE. Beyond massive, actually. It is honestly unbelievable that it was built in 1506.

The rest of Rome was mainly exploring. The city is so beautiful and there is no shortage of things to see and do. And there was definitely no shortage of things to eat.

Check out my social media (below) to see more updates on my travels.

Travel Instagram: jem.and.belle.

Personal Instagram: jemmss

Twitter: jemmsss

And use my AirBnB referral code to get $40 off your first day (and help me save some cash too)

Morocco (Part Three)


My final destination in Morocco was the famous city of Chefchaouen, the blue pearl.

As soon as the city came into sight, we were all speechless. It is honestly one of the most awe-inspiring views I have ever seen.

We had very limited time in there and tried to make the most of it. Obviously, we all wanted to go shopping in the markets and try our hands at haggling, but we had more time for that the next morning before we had to head back to Spain.

The first day was more for some light exploring and a really lovely dinner in a beautiful and old restaurant. That night, we all hung out together on the rooftop of our hostel to enjoy our last night in Morocco. With reflection (I am writing this post many weeks later), this was one of my favorite nights of the entire study abroad program.


We had a light jam session with guitars and singing, but unfortunately, I can’t post videos directly to WordPress without premium 😦 Otherwise, I would have gladly included a clip.

That next morning, we took a really lovely hike, which I will make a separate post about to include in my hiking section. We went really early in the morning and it was such a peaceful and humbling view.

Afterwards, we had about 2 hours to shop, and I had a long list of things I wanted to buy. Haggling made me nervous at first but in the end, I think I did really well. Something to keep in mind is 10 dirham is equal to about 1 euro. For example, 200 dirhams is 20 euro. As much as you don’t want to be swindled yourself, you also don’t want to swindle the local shops either. I rarely just went with the initial price, but I tried not to push them to bring it down too low so that they still could make a profit – as conscious consumerism is incredibly important in places that have been manipulated by western tourism. In the end, I bought a woven lantern, tapestry, some jewelry for friends, and a beautiful canvas painting for my sister.

Eventually, it was time to say goodbye to this beautiful blue pearl, and goodbye to Morocco. We left by way of Ceuta, the Spanish city in Morocco. This was a humbling experience because it reminded me of the priveledges that come with my passport. Our Moroccan friends who had been traveling with us couldn’t even enter Ceuta themselves because of the lack of soft borders — which seemed odd seeing as Ceuta is IN Morocco.

In summary, Morocco was AMAZING and I am definitely eager to return. I have never been to a place so different, so colorful, and so welcoming. If you have ever pondered the possibility of taking a trip there, I highly, highly recommend. Just take the plunge and GO.

Check out my previous two posts (1,2) about Morocco…

Or my social media (below) to see more updates of my travels.

Travel Instagram: jem.and.belle.

Personal Instagram: jemmss

Twitter: jemmsss

And use my AirBnB referral code to get $40 off your first day (and help me save some cash too)


Morocco (Part Two)

In this most, I am going to talk about my experience staying with a host family in Rabat, the capital of Morocco, and my time in a small rural village.



These are pictures of the room we slept in during our homestay. Unfortunately, I really dropped the ball with taking pictures of the entire house, but it was super beautiful. The house was in the medina of Rabat, so everything was very old and traditional.


First thing I want to rave about is the mint tea in Morocco. It is literally so delicious and so simple. We drank it for almost every meal. Once I return home, I want to learn how to make it myself because I am having some serious withdrawals.

The best part about Rabat was hanging out with local university students. We had a great preliminary discussion with a handful of students where they got to ask us questions and we asked them some as well.

Later, we went off in a group and got coffee, allowing for more relaxed/casual conversation. I really enjoyed this part. They really inspired me because all of them knew 3-4 languages and were effortlessly switching back and forth. It made me realize that as hard as Spanish is, I have no excuse to not push forward and become as proficient as I can.


That night, we all experienced something very new, and very different. We went to the hammams. Basically, they are community baths where you can be professionally scrubbed. It is a very normal part of society there and although not everyone participates, some people, including my host sister, go weekly.

At first, the nudity was a little uncomfortable but we all adjust (the girls were in one building and the guys were in another, obviously). I opted to be professionally scrubbed and it was definitely an incredibly intimate experience. I am very glad I stepped out of my comfort zone because I know I would’ve regretted it if I hadn’t taken the opportunity.

Fertility Eels

During our time in Rabat, we also visited some Roman ruins. I really enjoyed this excursion mostly because of the cats. They are super well cared for at the site and were all really friendly. We even named one particularly cuddly cat Samantha. Ugh, miss her.

There was also a shrine there that was cared for by an elderly lady. At the shrine, there was a pool with eels, and with the help of the lady, you can throw in an egg and if the eels eat it, you are fertile. She also cared for most of the cats, so they are also fed some egg when an offering is made.


Rural Village

The last part of this blog post will be to talk about when we visited a rural village in the mountains of Morocco. This part of the experience was to show us the other side of the country. Most of the population in Morocco does live in rural areas and relies on agriculture. After spending so much time in the city of Rabat, it was an interesting contrast.

The family we visited were so kind and hospitable. They made us couscous and sweets, and we all sat for a while with the translator and asked each other questions. At one point, since our Spanish program director was there, a three-language translation was needed for one of the questions. It was asked in Arabic, translated into English, and since he did not quite understand it still, we needed to translate it to Spanish. The whole afternoon was very beautiful.

Next post, I will wrap up Morocco with our trip to Chefchaueon.

NEW: Check out the travel instagram I created with my friend Isabelle! We post pictures everyday from our trips – so check it out if you want to see photography that I haven’t included on my posts or personal instagram before. —— jem.and.belle

Personal Instagram: jemmss

Twitter: jemmsss

And use my AirBnB referral code to get $40 off your first day (and help me save some cash too)

Morocco (Part One)


Finally, I am sharing my experience in the beautiful country of Morocco. I traveled there in early October and it was the absolutely life-changing.

There is so much to say, so I will definitely be splitting it into multiple posts. If you have ever thought about going to Morocco, get ready to hear a thousand reasons why you SHOULD.

My university paired up with another program called Morocco Exchange to plan our trip. Basically, once we arrived in Tarifa (southern most tip of Spain), our lovely hosts through Morocco Exchange became our guides. They were both American, past-Peace Corps volunteers who served in Morocco and fell in love with it, making it their forever home.


We took a ferry from Tarifa to Tangier and got our first taste of Africa. Our first stop was a woman’s center, where local woman were educated and taught vocational skills – like sewing. We talked to some lovely ladies there and ate some good Moroccan food, getting us immediately acquainted with the country we were about to spend a week in.

We headed off to Rabat, but stopped in Arcila for a surprise camel ride and town visit.

Even in these first couple hours, I truly got an understanding of the importance of community in Morocco. My favorite part about Arcila was talking to a man whose family has been the caretaker of a community oven (owned by the mosque) for generations.


The family cares for the oven for free and always has done. It isn’t a job, but a responsibility they took on for the good of the town.

Another example of community is the treatment of the street cats in Morocco. I will talk about this more later, but due to the belief in Islam that people should care for all living things, street cats are well taken care of by the community.

People leave food and water out for them, and they seem happy and healthy. As a cat lover, I really enjoyed this aspect.

Also, Arcila is known for the beautiful murals that adorn its mostly white walls. Every year, artists are invited to paint more pieces of artwork, each one more unique than the last.

In my next post, I will talk about Rabat and the small village we visited.

NEW: Check out the travel instagram I created with my friend Isabelle! We post pictures everyday from our trips – so check it out if you want to see photography that I haven’t included on my posts or personal instagram before. —— jem.and.belle

Personal Instagram: jemmss

Twitter: jemmsss

And use my AirBnB referral code to get $40 off your first day (and help me save some cash too)


Adventures in Andalucía – Sevilla

Here is the third and final installment of my adventures in the Andalucía.


We saw quite a lot during our time in Sevilla.

First, I have a lot of pictures from the Real Alcázar de Sevilla, which included my favorite palace gardens yet in Spain.

Like many palaces in Andalucía, it was originally built by Moors. Due to this, it is another example of Spanish and Islamic architecture converging.

Fun fact: It is actually the oldest palace still in use by the royal family of Spain.



The palace gardens were exceptionally beautiful and allowed for some nice photo ops:

We also went to the Catedral de Sevilla, which is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. It was definitely one of the most impressive cathedrals we have seen – and we have seen A LOT during this program.

This is also where Christopher Columbus is (or isn’t buried). Apparently, they ~think~ he is in this very ornate monument, but have reason to believe he might also be buried in the Dominican Republic. However, they can’t check because that would mean dismantling the really cool tomb.

Too bad he wasn’t a really cool guy…but that is a sentiment for another time.

And that concludes Andalucía! Next up: Morocco!

Follow my social media to get more updates about my study abroad adventures:

Instagram: jemmss

Twitter: jemmsss

And use my AirBnB referral code to get $40 off your first day (and help me save some cash too)