European excursion

Our student journalist’s take on five must-see European cities.

This past January, I traveled to England to spend a semester studying at the University of York, in fulfillment of a Certificate of International Journalism requirement. Amidst my art history studies and internship at a photography studio, I had the opportunity to visit ten countries. Rather than ramble on for eight pages and completely bore everyone with the details of every city I experienced, I have chosen to share my list of my top five picks.


Park Guell, Barcelona
Park Guell, Barcelona

If you have ever seen “The Cheetah Girls 2,” you should have a very accurate idea of what Barcelona is not like. No suave young men came to serenade me at my dinner table, there was a distinct lack of whispers to feed my soul and I never saw the opportunity to bust out a tango. 

However, Aqua’s enthusiasm for seeing La Sagrada Familia was not misplaced. The church is a stand-out in Barcelona’s skyline and definitely worth a close-up look. The style is a hodgepodge of different artists and visions, but each element is worth seeing for what it is. I have a personal preference for the back of the church, which depicts different scenes from the Nativity of Christ and is the most accurate example of what the church was supposed to look like. Gaudi’s plans were largely destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, but this side was built during the artist’s lifetime and therefore holds true to his vision. It’s beautiful, but I would recommend waiting until 2026 to pay it a visit since it might actually be finished by then. The scaffolding takes something away from the picture. Gaudi was Barcelona’s main man and his architecture can be seen all over the city. He isn’t my favorite artist, but I respect his vision and the beauty he brings to Barcelona. Park Guell sparkles in the sun and Casa Ballo is perhaps his most intriguing building, but you can decide that for yourself.

Barcelona’s sandy beach provides a kind of haven from the hustle and bustle of the city, though you will have to bask amid an enchanting chorus of sales folk. “Mojitos!” “Coconuts!” “Would you like a massage?” Thank you for the constant attention, but no thank you and go away. Unfortunately, it’s a common occurrence throughout Europe, but it’s not enough to ruin a relaxing day in the sun.

Accommodation Review: I actually couch surfed with a friend throughout most of our European tour. Our Barcelona host was very welcoming and helpful without being invasive. The thought of staying with strangers horrified me when I first heard of the program, but I gained confidence in numbers, and negative experiences were few and far between. I highly recommend giving it a try! Just make sure you exercise your best judgment when selecting a potential host.


As far as charming little Scottish towns go, I cannot imagine one that could more quickly capture the heart. We didn’t have long in Edinburgh, but we managed to explore the castle, climb up to enjoy the view from Arthur’s Seat without the wind blowing us back to America and take in some traditional Scottish cuisine in a quaint pub with cheery staff. My personal favorite part was getting to have my own little Halloween in the middle of spring semester. It began with a tour through the dark and dismal South Bridge Vaults as we learned about the spirits that crouched in the corners and floated above the archways. There was something disappointing in hearing the phrase “there’s an old cobbler in that corner who can still be seen working with his tools” and turning around slowly…to see…absolutely nothing. The setup was excellent; the result left something to be desired. There is something awfully convincing about hearing how a little boy will come up to scared guests and hold their hand to protect them just as you happened to feel a chill upon your own palm… But, make of that what you will! 

Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh, Scotland

Despite any anticlimactic build-up, the stories definitely carried the tour and gave the candle-lit cellar a very eerie feeling. Our first Halloween of the year continued with a trip to Frankenstein’s, a themed pub that takes on the look and atmosphere of the doctor’s laboratory. I settled into one of the electrocution-style benches with my very own Frankenstein (a mixed drink)and watched the laser beams jolt across the spacious, but crowded, room. All in all, it was a highly satisfying night! For those with a more gentle heart, The Elephant House has a delicious selection of eats, a welcoming atmosphere and also happens to be where J. K. Rowling wrote a good portion of her early novels.

Accommodation Review : The Royal Mile Backpackers Hostel was a very decent hole in the wall on the main street of Edinburgh. I can’t expect everyone to be so lucky, but we happened to be put in a room called “Gotham City.” I was “The Riddler” and my travel companions were “Catwoman” and “Poison Ivy.” Thus, our nicknames for the entirely of our stay were born. The staff was very friendly and the hostel had an excellent sense of humor about it. Both for location and overall experience, I would absolutely recommend this place. If you’re unlucky enough to have to sleep in the same room as “Batman” (who has an undiagnosed snoring problem), I am so, so sorry.


First of all, let it be known that the whole business about the French being a snooty, unpleasant lot is a bunch of nonsense. The Parisians were some of the nicest and most helpful people I encountered on my adventure. They would not only give me directions, but walk down the street so I would have a better view of where I needed to go, welcome me to their country, and compliment my hair. 

The sites were no less enjoyable, either in content or waiting time. I highly recommend buying advanced tickets or showing up an hour or two early before opening times to prevent yourself from wasting the day away in a line. The only line I had to experience was waiting to enter the Paris catacombs because I hadn’t expected them to be so popular and showed up in the middle of the day. My feet definitely got tired of standing, but the two hours passed quickly enough with the help of my phone. The catacombs are a part of Paris that many people don’t seem to prioritize or even know about, but they are definitely an experience to be had! I learned about the underground tunnels via a webpage of creepy sites around Europe. Just about everything creepy is right up my alley, so I made sure to visit on the second of my two and a half days in Paris. They seem like spooky, dark corridors underground and you begin to wonder if those are the only parts open to the public, but then you reach the catacombs–over a mile of tunnels lined floor to ceiling with human remains, femurs stacked in rows and skulls illustrating hearts, crosses and patterns amid the bony wall. There is certainly a level of discomfort that comes along with the trip and an absolute need for respect, but it was unlike anything I have ever experienced and I’m glad I took the time to see it.

Paris catacomb
Paris catacomb

Back up on the surface, the Louvre stole my heart and the entire first day of my trip. Tears may or may not have been shed, but such is the life of an art major and fanatic. The Musee D’Orsay is another must-see for art history buffs and the Rodin Museum provided a morning of entertainment on my final day. Obviously, no trip to Paris would be complete without trips to see Notre Dame Cathedral, the Arc du Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. If you choose to relax on the grass in front of Paris’s most famous monument, just make sure you don’t go signing any sheets to support deaf children (unless you know exactly what you’re signing) or accept “free” anything from strangers. In every case, you’re most likely going to end up paying or getting in an intense debate with conniving salespeople. Regardless of the downers, Paris definitely lived up to its reputation and despite concerns I had with going alone, I felt relatively safe the entire trip and never even had to use my self-defense butter knife!

Accommodation review: Peace and Love hostel is visible from the metro station and only about a 1.5 minute walk away, so the location is excellent. Each room has its own bathroom which is kept relatively clean and is about the size of one you’d find in a typical hotel. The best part is that the shower was NORMAL. No weird buttons to keep pushing and a steady stream of warm water that actually allows you to feel clean afterward! Something different about this hostel is that the cleaning dude is less trusting of everyone than even the tenants, so if you leave anything sitting on your bed when you go out for the day, it will have disappeared into his safety cupboard by the time you return, which is locked in the evening and only he has a key, so you won’t be seeing any of it until the following morning. I’m glad he is looking out for people’s things, but the bartender below the rooms should really have a key so you’re not forced to wait until the morning to get your pillow back. One last word of advice: if you get a mixed gender room and a man with B.O. who snores louder than “Batman” decides to sleep in the bed right in front of the window, don’t be the one to sleep in the bed behind him. A breeze is not always a good thing.


If you have ever wanted to feel like you’re in a magical land straight out of Disney movie, get to Prague this instant! The castle sits up on a hill and the spires of its church jut threateningly into the sky, giving it an appearance strikingly similar to Adam’s castle in “Beauty and the Beast.” It’s a bit of a climb to reach the church within the castle walls, but it is free and definitely worth a look. The sun shone in through the stained-glass windows and projected the fluid rainbow onto the walls, like an enchanting undersea dream. The church itself was beautiful, but the stunning windows, both in color and design, stole the show for me. The majestic rainbows continued throughout, creating a world very similar to the kingdom of Corona during its celebration in “Tangled.” 

Prague, Czech Republic
Prague, Czech Republic

Prague kicked off its summer festival that weekend and vendors, streamers, flowers and delicious smells filled the streets. One definite food recommendation is trdelίnk, a hollow cylinder of bread that’s flavored with vanilla rolled in toffee and almond chunks (I still crave this about every other day).  A trip to Prague wouldn’t be complete without a sampling of the local cuisine. I recommend beef goulash with bacon dumplings and a glass of mulled wine. In terms of food, Prague was the winner for me (though Venice was right up there). 

We also spent the afternoon cruising down the river in a paddleboat. We had hoped to get a swan-shaped one in honor of the ballet Swan Lake which we were going to see later than night, but had to settle on a simple yellow one. Let it be known that there is a very helpful map on the center console right in front of the peddler’s faces. Make sure you actually look at this obvious map because it shows you the boundaries you’re required to stay within and will save you a panicked 10-minute paddle when boats blare their angry horns because you’ve wandered two bridges beyond the limit. Oops? Back on land, the astronomical clock was unique and fun to see, Tim Burton’s temporary exhibit of puppets and conceptual drawings was surreal and inspirational and the entire town was enchanting! We were lucky to have visited on a weekend with so many additional things to do and see, but I would still recommend it even without those elements.

Accommodation review: The only thing the Mosaic House has in common with a typical hostel is the look of the rooms and the number of beds in them. There were 24 beds per room, but walls divided them into groups of four, so the feeling of privacy was still able to be retained to a degree. There were lockable (if you supplied the lock) pull-out storage bins below the beds and the beds themselves were actually pretty comfortable! The bathroom was shared between all of us girls, but multiple shower and toilet stalls prevented any potential lines from forming. Overall, the room was able to stay fairly quiet. The lobby looks like something out of a classy hotel and opens up into a full restaurant, bar and stage for live music and, if you’re really lucky, karaoke. Tenants receive discount drink vouchers and the food is both delicious and convenient. The atmosphere and overall look of the place are the icing on the cake that makes the Mosaic House a great place to stay.


While meeting Benedict Cumberbatch at a “Sherlock” convention in Birmingham basically made my life, it is not my favorite city in England and certainly not in the world. That spot belongs to London. It is nearly impossible for me to speak of this city from an objective, unbiased standpoint. From the minute I stepped foot in London, it began to steal my heart. Everything I saw or experienced made my love grow until I was clear that I had fallen head over heels. I find it very hard to explain what exactly makes me love this city so dearly, but I can provide a number of recommendations that have undoubtedly contributed. 

It’s no secret that am a theater buff and major theatrical productions are so easily accessible to the public! Most productions/theaters have a set number of front-row day tickets reserved that provide the best view in the theater for a fraction of the price. Depending on the show, I’ve had to queue as early as 6:30 a.m. or as late as 9:30 a.m. to guarantee myself a ticket when when the box office opens at 10 a.m. It’s impossible to know beforehand, so always play it safe and get there early. Bring a friend or a book to help pass the time because the wait can definitely start to feel very long very quickly, but the end result is worth it every time.

 I’ve also managed to make a few friends that I still communicate with on Facebook because we became “queue buddies” and helped to keep each other company while passing the time. “Mojo” and “Once” were my two favorite examples of a traditional and musical show that I managed to see and highly recommend to future audiences. If you’re not into theater, then this obviously wouldn’t be something you’d want to do, but London is full of classic sites like the British Museum, National Gallery and Tower of London, but there are also hidden gems a short bus or train ride away like Camden Market and Hampstead Heath. Every Potterhead can live a dream by visiting Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station and touring the studio where a large portion of the movies were filmed. Sitting in the Great Hall for yourself takes the Harry Potter experience to an entirely new level. 

A tour of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre provides an excellent history lesson, both of the theatre itself and London’s history, but I needed to go the extra step and returned three months later to see “Titus Andronicus” performed. It’s considered his bloodiest, most graphic work and fainting almost always occurs at least a couple times (their record is around 40 people who passed out during one performance). If you’re squeamish, then stay far, far away! But I absolutely loved it and had every expectation blows clear out of the water. The actors take you back in time to the 16th century and make you part of the show in the same way original theater-goers would have experienced it. You may get shoved, splattered with blood and spat on number of times, and it feels like a special kind of initiation into the Shakespearean world. As an actor sent his cup flying forward and water droplets cascaded upon the crowd, I felt baptised anew by the ethereal experience and will forever remember what I felt standing in the Globe that day. It sounds dramatic, but I encourage you to see for yourselves because there is nothing that can compare. 

London, England
London, England

As far as classic landmarks go, the feeling of seeing the London Eye between buildings and turning the corner to stare into the face of Big Ben was absolutely surreal. You can stare at pictures all day, but nothing compares to seeing them in the flesh. While they might not be all that entertaining, there’s still something very special about standing before them and knowing that you are, undoubtedly, in the heart of London. 

Accommodation review: Do you walk with a spring in your step? Enjoy sleeping with a spring in your neck? If the latter is true, then this hostel’s for you! From lumpy mattresses to dirty sheets, this place has everything to guarantee a mediocre night’s sleep that will leave you feeling largely unrefreshed and 50 shades of grody. They don’t provide any kind of food, so you don’t have to worry about packing on those pesky pounds before starting off on your long day in town. Stay out late and enjoy London’s nightlife! That way, everyone will be asleep when you get back and you won’t be able to turn on the light, so you’ll never have to see those uncomfortable sheet stains! Hygiene is a hassle and West Two London knows it, so they only provide one shower per floor and make sure it’s poorly equipped for your lack of use. Still need convincing? I hope not.