Oh Venice. What a city. I thought I knew pretty much what to expect before we headed to Venice, because the city has become so popularized by movies, photos, etc., but there was so much more to see and learn while in the city. Despite how much we did in Venice, my favorite thing was probably just wandering the streets, gelato in hand.

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Here are some things I would recommend that you put on your to-do list for your Venice trip. There isn’t a shortage of things to do and I could always be adding to this list, but I had some incredible experiences in Venice that I wanted to share with you so that you get the most out of your trip when you go!

Take a free walking tour.

Josh and I made it a point to take a free walking tour in almost every city we traveled to in Europe. Venice was no exception, and I especially loved the history that our guide incorporated into our tour. You can research your own tours or check out the one that we took HERE. Each guide gives their own favorites, opinions, etc., so I love the personalized aspect of this. You could take a tour of the same city ten times but each time it would be different based on your guide! Our guide also took as many photos of Josh and I as we wanted, so it was nice to have someone to document both of us together in pictures.

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Tour Doge’s Palace

One of the most elaborate, intricate, and beautiful places that I visited in all of my travels in Europe sat unassumingly in St Mark’s Square. Without much research, Josh, Kelly and I decided to check this place out while wandering around one afternoon. We made a great choice. This palace was not only the residence of Doge, the former ruler of Venice, but it also was the meeting place for the Venetian Republic. It was so fascinating to see all the different chambers where different parts of the Republic met and also admire the stunning artwork on display in each room. The elegance of the palace was starkly contrasted by the tour of the underground prison where we made our way across the famous Bridge of Sighs, one of Venice’s most photographed locations.

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Visit St. Mark’s Square (+ Cathedral)

You could spend hours being entertained simply sitting in St. Mark’s Square for free. The Square is lined with all kinds of ways to spend your money and time as a tourist. Not only is Doge’s Palace in one corner of the Square, you can also find several other museums, fancy restaurants, cafes for breakfast, hotels, and the famous St. Mark’s Cathedral. One of my favorite things though was simply to sit with Josh in the Square and people watch. You see all kinds of people strolling through the Square enjoying their day. If you have the chance, visit the Square at night. In one of Venice’s most romantic locations, it’s nice to enjoy the Square with stars overhead and only a few other couples. Just as a PSA: If you happen to be sitting in the Square with any kind of food in your hand, be careful! Josh bought a croissant while we were waiting to get into St. Mark’s Cathedral and a seagull ripped it right out of his hand and almost bit off his hand in the process! It was a crazy experience!

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Ride a gondola (or save a little $$$ and ride the Vaporetto).

Josh and I definitely came to Venice with the idea in mind to ride a gondola. It’s every couple’s cliche, picture-perfect wish, right? Well, once we arrived and saw the cheapest gondola ride would be about 90€, we decided that on our budget, that was a bit pricey. So, what did we do? We opted for 2€ tickets for the Vaporetto, which frequents up and down the canals on the same route that the gondolas take. Sure it’s not as romantic as a man driving you down the canal singing to you, but…on students’ budgets, that just wasn’t in the plan for this trip. There will be other trips to come, but for this time, I’m glad that I came away 88€ richer.

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Hit Sabato in Campo. 

Josh had read about this before we came to Venice, so it was something that had been on his bucket list for our time. He couldn’t have picked anything better…this was absolutely one of my favorite things we did in Venice. On Saturday mornings, in the Rialto Market, a famous chef will hold a pop up restaurant in the middle of the square, with a different menu every week. We enjoyed a  heaping plate of calamari and shrimp the day that I went, and it was hands down some of the freshest food I have ever tasted. It was a pretty cool experience because we were the only tourists eating here…everyone else were locals and did this kind of thing regularly. HERE is a small article explaining more about it in-depth if you need more information.

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Start the day out with an espresso and a pastry

It seems like every corner boasted fresh pastries, fragrant coffee, and a smiling Italian face ready to greet you for the day. Order a cup to stay in the shop and relax over + then you might as well order another one to go…Italians know their coffee, so take advantage of every opportunity you get for your daily dose of caffeine. Regardless of what cafe you go to, you can’t go wrong! The thing to know is that since Starbucks does not operate in Italy, you’ll have plenty of chances to try cute little coffee shops that are seemingly on every corner!

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Hey lovelies!

This past weekend, I had the incredible opportunity to attend the first ever CampPINK, a summer camp style weekend getaway hosted by Victoria’s Secret PINK! Through my amazing internship with CollegeFashionista, I was selected to attend a getaway in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York! It definitely felt like quite the turnaround, since I had only been back from Spain for about five days when I left, but I am so glad that I went.

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Upon arriving after a four hour flight and a two hour bus ride into the mountains, we were greeted by PINK Staff with a huge (and I mean huge) duffel bag jam packed full of goodies for the weekend! From clothes to shoes to bedding, the CampPINK Staff seriously had every little detail thought out! Our porch lights were even pink! How cute is that?!

Because I was selected to go to CampPINK through CollegeFashionista, my lovely bosses and other interns were able to attend the camp as well! Within minutes, we had all connected and I truly formed some of the closest bonds in the fastest time ever! It was honestly such an incredible opportunity to be able to sit down next to someone, have a ten minute conversation with them, and leave feeling like you’d been friends for years.

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Saturday was filled to the brim with activities on the schedule like yoga, archery, spinning classes, etc! From sunup to sundown, it was a crazy day full of laugher and lots of spontaneous photo shoots! When we had an hour or two of free time in the afternoon, it was the perfect time to change into some of our new Victoria’s Secret PINK gear for taking pictures! I actually loved attending CampPINK for a lot of reasons, but for me personally, I loved the aspect of getting to style PINK clothing with my personal flair. Usually, I only ever buy underwear + bras at PINK but with a tote bag full of fun gear, I have plenty of items to try out and use worked into my everyday outfits.

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So, as the day went on, I was able to meet so many girls that were at the camp, whether they were fellow Style Gurus for CollegeFashionista, Campus Reps for VS Pink, or girls who had won spots at the camp through a giveaway held by PINK! Finally, on Saturday night, we relaxed by listening to an acoustic concert held by V!bes and munched on some smores that even had pink marshmallows in the middle! Everything was honestly just the cutest!

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Sunday morning, we had breakfast with some rainbow bagels, fruit, + coffee! Then, we headed down to one of the big areas of the camp that was just open with a ton of grass for a morning session of yoga. I really fell in love with yoga during this weekend and I can’t wait to start doing more classes at my gym this summer ~ it’s just so relaxing and wonderful! Finally, after yoga, we packed our suitcases and jumped in the bus for the two hour bus ride back to the airport. I spent the rest of the afternoon catching my flights to get my back to St. Louis! Overall, I can’t say thank you enough to PINK and CollegeFashionista for including me in this wonderful weekend full of surprises and adventure. It was definitely a weekend for the books! If you want to see a tiny taste of the weekend, watch PINK’s video below for a peek into my life last weekend in the Catskill Mountains!

Much love,

Olivia

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“Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel’s immediate rewards, the inevitable myriad new sights, smells and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way.” -Ralph Crawshaw

We had the wonderful opportunity to visit Marrakech, Morocco for four days. This was a perfect amount of time to really take in the city and see all the things it has to offer. Several things that I loved that you’ll find on every tourist’s list were Jamma El Fna Square, shopping in the Souks, and sipping on the traditional mint tea that is oh-so-tasty. However during our time in Morocco, we did some things that I considered to be my absolute favorite aspects of the trip that I can’t wait to share with you!

Now, before I get into the good parts, I need to address some things about Morocco first and foremost. Since this is a predominantly Muslim culture, you do need to be incredibly respectful of that, and take that into heavy consideration while in the country. I knew this going into it, so I thought I had picked out incredibly respectful, modest clothing of baggy pants, long shirts and cardigans that covered my backside. While these clothes were more than appropriate, it didn’t stop men from cat calling or making inappropriate gestures directed at me. This was really something hard for me to deal with because right now in the U.S. and in other places around the world, finally women’s rights are at the forefront of many political conversations, and more than ever the importance of equality for women is being addressed. I felt as though I was stepping decades if not centuries backwards in that aspect when I went to Morocco. Both Kelly and I felt a little uncomfortable many times as we were stared down or yelled at as we walked past men on the street. Because of this, I chose to wear a head covering for the majority of the trip. I just used a scarf that I had purchased prior to the trip at H&M and it ended up being perfect for what I needed it for. Josh acted as my scarf-wrapper for the trip! 🙂

Additionally, Marrakech is just a lot to take in. I will be completely honest, if you have to be somewhere on time, add 20 minutes to that time. You cannot simply “walk somewhere”. That means that it seems as though every step you take, someone will be stopping you, asking you to buy things, “guide” you somewhere, or inviting you to step inside their store to “only try out” the products. Before I left for Morocco, I had read countless articles and blog posts warning me of the scammers or the people who would trick you into paying them for some kind of service, and I fully believed I was prepared. We got into several unfortunate situations where we were completely blindsided by people

13063057_10154658871706686_5588390014249064949_o So, now into the good parts. Morocco is a different world, plain and simple. The intense language barrier {common languages were Arabic, Berber, + French} makes it a bit difficult to communicate unless you have some French skills to use, however we didn’t have too many problems with this because you can always resort to playing charades to try to show what you mean.

So, without further ado…

Here are  my Morocco “Must Do’s” for Marrakech .

1. Ride a camel. This had been on my “30 Before 30” list for years, so I was downright elated to be able to check this off the list. We went on a half day excursion with the company Dunes and Desert  for an extremely affordable and fun-filled time with several other travelers and three guides. They took us through the desert and we rode until we reached a traditional Berber village. There we sat outside and drank mint tea and ate msemen, a traditional Moroccan crepe that has honey and poppy seeds on top. During our break, we were serenaded with traditional Berber songs by our guides. I couldn’t honestly have asked for a better experience and would recommend this company to anyone because of how kind and genuine they all were. Honestly it was a wonderful escape since the day before this, so many people tried to scam us. It was nice to spend a morning with people who we knew were genuinely happy to be sharing their country with us.

     2. Visit the Ben Yousaff Medrasa. Formerly an Islamic college, this building was restored and reopened as a historical site for the public to visit. You can explore all the nooks and crannies of former dorms for the students and awe over the beautiful central courtyard. This place is a photo op waiting to happen since little has really been refurbished since it actually was a college. While it doesn’t really top the lists of many “To-Do” articles in Marrekesh, our Airbnb host recommended this spot to us, and I was so incredibly happy that we visited because it was one of my favorite things that we did!

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3. Enjoy a typical Moroccan hammam experience. After researching and finding several options that we were considering, we actually stumbled upon a completely new spa, Esprit Spa, right outside the souks. Once we saw how nice both the prices and the interior were, we made an appointment. The hammam was something that was on my Morocco Bucket List going into the trip, despite the fact that I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. While each hammam does things a little differently we were told, I would highly recommend trying it out while you’re in Morocco. Basically, in less than eloquent words, you get a massage, scrubbed down with exfoliating beads, and get buckets of water doused all over you. Somehow, it ended up being relaxing and it felt incredible to get rid of all the dead skin that I had (the amount of dead skin that came off of me was ridiculous)! While some people opt to go in their birthday suit, I felt a little more comfortable in my swimsuit. 🙂

4. Escape from the hustle and bustle in Jardin Majorelle. Yet another recommendation from our wonderful Airbnb host, the Jardin Majorelle was an incredibly refreshing way to spend a morning in absolute peace and tranquility. The garden covers almost two and a half acres and is just breathtaking the way the garden has been curated between plants, decor, and pavilions. One of my personal favorite things about the garden is its history. Yves Saint Laurent bought the garden in the 1960’s in order to save it from  becoming torn down and turned into a hotel. Saint Laurent’s ashes are scattered in the gardens and there is a monument in memory of the fashion designer.

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All of this being said, I just want to close by saying that Morocco is full of beauty, charm, wonderful people, and stepping into the city of Marrakech feels as if you’ve stepped into another world. While there were a lot of adjustments and challenges that came with our trip, we were ultimately so much more so blessed with amazing experiences that far outweighed the bad ones. The thing about traveling is that it is actually rewarding to see some downfalls, because that shows you how real the place is. You know that you’re not living in some fantasy tourist’s dreamworld. You’re living real, authentic life and your eyes are open to the challenges, struggles, but also benefits of another culture. Ultimately, this was an extremely rewarding experience that I would recommend to anyone and everyone. In my opinion, this is somewhere that I traveled to where I wouldn’t want to live in the future, but I would absolutely return to again because I was so enticed and captured with the whirlwind of colors and smells that encapsulate you when you first step foot in Morocco.

Much love,

Olivia

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I’m basically halfway through my program here in Spain (cue the tears) but I feel like I’ve gained several years’ worth of wisdom since I’ve been here. Being a firm believer in everything happens for a reason, I can see all kinds of different situations that have occurred over the course of my life that have been wonderful learning experiences (even though they didn’t feel like it at the time). Spain is no exception to this. I’m here today to share with you five things that I’ve learned so far during my study abroad experience. If you’re thinking about studying abroad or you have any questions regarding it, be sure to let me know via comments, email or on Instagram (@oliviableeker).

1. You will absolutely make lifelong friends. 

No matter how ridiculously cliche and cheesy it sounds, this is so so so important. When I came to Spain to study abroad, my boyfriend also did too. To say that the time we’ve spent together traveling and exploring Alicante has been wonderful would be the understatement of the year. However, I’m so thankful that we’ve been able to also go our own separate paths and make tons of incredible friends for ourselves. Alicante is a very international city so not only have I made a plethora of friends from Spain, I’ve also made friends from Argentina, England, Germany, South Africa, and many more places. All of this being said, I haven’t even touched on the people from my university that came here, too. I have met some of my best friends here in Spain, but the best part is…they go to my university so the party won’t stop when I leave Spain. With some of these girls on the trip, I know I have friends for life. That is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world.

2. You’ll find a second home. 

Because of the program I chose, I was given the incredible opportunity to live with a host family. My wonderful host family consists of my Madre, my Padre, two host sisters and host brother. Living with them, I have gotten a completely new outlook on all kinds of life issues, learned about all kinds of Spanish customs, and {IMPORTANTLY} eaten some of the best food I’ve ever had. My host family is actually from Argentina so I eat this beautiful mix of Italian, Argentine, + Spanish foods. It’s the absolute best. I can already tell you that I’ll definitely be visiting Alicante again in my life, and I have a good idea of where I can crash if I ever need a place to stay. 🙂

3. You’re given an irreplaceable chance to see the world. 

I’ve already grown so much to feel like Alicante is my second home while I’m studying here, but that’s not even to mention the other incredible aspect about living in Europe ~ travel. Currently, since I am on my spring break from the university, I am taking a three week trip backpacking Europe. Seville {Spain}, Brussels {Belgium}, Copenhagen {Denmark}, Venice {Italy}, Milan {Italy}, Budapest {Hungary}, + Dublin {Ireland} are all the places that I’m exploring right now and I couldn’t be happier! When airplane tickets from the U.S. to Europe are so expensive in the first place, this is a wonderful opportunity to take advantage of while you are studying abroad! Most of my flights for these three weeks cost me under 20€, so basically $22 or less for every flight. To me this is something that I would never be able to afford if I kept flying from the U.S. to visit each one of these places individually, so I couldn’t be happier for this opportunity!

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4. You will improve your second language skills. 

Coming to Spain, I could speak Spanish más o menos, but after being here for several months, I’ve noticed several things about myself. Not only am I learning how to speak a lot more rapidly, but I am also gaining so much in my confidence. Even if I don’t know a word, I just say it and hope for the best. Before Spain, I would think and think and think in order to pull together several sentences ahead of saying them. Now I notice that I can just speak freely without even thinking about it and it is starting to come so naturally. I’m so happy to see the progress that I’ve made and I highly recommend this to you when you think about studying abroad. Of course I know people who have gone to Australia, Ireland, England, etc. where they have had incredible times, but I definitely think that there is something to be said for the added layer of learning a foreign language when you go.

5. Food. 

Well, this really is pretty self explanatory but the food abroad is incredible. Honestly even every different city I’ve visited in Spain has had their own type of cuisine so it’s amazing to see the differences as you move from north to south or east to west. Coupled with fresh fruits and fruit juices everywhere you go and regionally specific dishes of paella, Spain has gifted me the most incredible thing of food. I’m sorry if I come back to the U.S. with my jeans fitting a little tighter.

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I hope this has shown you just a glimpse into my life right now and some of my favorite aspects of studying abroad so far! I can’t wait to make a final post when I get back to the U.S. recapping everything I’ve learned over the five months that I’ll be here in Spain! Stay tuned!

Much love,

Olivia

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I returned the other day from a weekend in Barcelona and needless to say, there were plenty of options of fun things to do there for the weekend! Personally, I loved how basically every corner that you turn, you’ll find one of Gaudí’s works of art! There were plenty of differences that I found interesting between where I live here in Alicante and Barcelona. The main difference being, of course, the language. While Spanish is widely spoken in both cities, Barcelona embraces the fact that it is the capital of Catalunya and speaks Catalan very commonly. This is just something to note for when you’re trying to search for things on a map or navigate the Metro station ~ most things will be written in Catalan, so be prepared. Needless to say, I had a wonderful weekend filled with some wonderful foods, sights, and sounds, and I can confidently say that I came back to Alicante with lots of great memories.

Without a doubt, you can fill up a weekend {or easily a longer amount of time} with all kinds of adventures that Barcelona has to offer. First things first though, if you’re coming to Barcelona from another place nearby in Europe, you should definitely try using Bla Bla Car, which Josh and I used. It was a great experience to get to and from our destination very economically, all the while practicing our Spanish with the driver and the other passengers. I would definitely recommend this experience!

Once we got to Barcelona, we headed to Port Olímpic, where our Airbnb was located. If you haven’t tried Airbnb yet, click HERE in order to save $20 off your when you take your first trip!

It was quite a unique experience for me to stay on a boat in the harbor right in the center of Barcelona! The harbor is absolutely beautiful to walk around and spend some time exploring.

  • I would definitely recommend taking a stroll along Barcelona’s beaches and walk until you find yourself along the docks for the boats. There’s plenty of incredible restaurants surrounding the harbor and it really just is quite a picturesque view. I mean look at this, isn’t is beautiful? The boat in the picture below is actually the very one that we stayed on.

  • The next thing that I would recommend doing {and beyond a shadow of a doubt my favorite thing in Barcelona} is La Sagrada Familia. The history surrounding La Sagrada Familia is incredible and was so fascinating to learn about. Josh and I paid 26€ per person in order to get entrance tickets as well as an audio guide in English, which was SO incredibly helpful. At every single different station, whether inside or outside of the church, there was an audio aid giving us the history and facts. Even though it cost several euros more, I would definitely recommend this option, because from my experience, you can truly appreciate something (a monument, cathedral, national landmark) 100x more when you truly can understand the importance behind it.

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If you’re not sold even just based on these photos, you’ll just have to go see it for yourself. It is absolutely incredible. Antoni Gaudí spent a good 40 years of his life designing this church. Gaudí designed the church with three outside facades, the Passion Facade, the Glory Facade, and the Nativity Facade. Since Gaudí was a very religious man, it was said that he decided to depict every story in the Bible on the outside walls, however, since it took him so long, he eventually came to the conclusion that “just the stories from the New Testament will do”. So, you can literally follow with your eyes along the outer facades of the cathedral all of the different Bible stories depicted. It’s absolutely incredible.

Then, we headed over to Plaza D’Espanya for the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc. You’ll have to check into the times for yourself when you go, however when Josh and I were there last weekend, the fountain show  lasted from 7-9. This free fountain show was a fun, spectacular way to spend the evening, sitting on a park bench and taking in the sights. Catchy music and flashy lights take over the plaza and you can either stop and watch for a few moments or make an entire evening out of it! This was such a fun, free, and spontaneous thing for us to do for an evening.

  • La Boqueria Market was second only to La Sagrada Familia, was one of the best parts of this trip to Barcelona. If you’re strolling the iconic shopping road of Las Ramblas, you’ll find St. Josep La Boqueria Mercado right along your path, and you MUST stop in. The absolute array of fruits, fish, and other foods in this market make it an incredible place to stop. It will be nothing short of a sensory overload if you visit. My favorite thing that we did here was try lots of cups of fresh-squeezed juices. This is such a popular thing at all the stands, and most of the juices were 2 for 2€, so I had no problem grabbing up several different flavors. This was also my favorite place to eat lunch while in Barcelona, because you can get all kinds of breads, meats, and empanadas for an average of 1-2€ each.

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  • After tackling the market, we were ready for one final adventure. We headed to Parque Güell, yet another one of architect Antoni Gaudí’s incredible works (in case you haven’t noticed, Gaudí kind of owns Barcelona) for the last afternoon that we had before we had to come back to Alicante in our Bla Bla Car. Parque Güell was an absolutely quirky, wonderful park to get lost in for the afternoon. It didn’t feel like we were in a large, metropolitan city, it simply felt like we were in another world that was tucked away in a forest. Also, this was my favorite place to get a panoramic view of the city! It was beautiful!

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Well, there you have it! In case you have any more questions about good neighborhoods to stay in, my favorite foods that I ate, or even more ideas of things to do, be sure to comment or email and let me know your questions and I would be happy to share more with you! But, in the mean time, much love y hasta luego!

Olivia

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