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Christmas in London: Lights, Markets, and Santa!

Time December 11th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, England | No Comments by

Are holidays in London any different than the United States? I found myself being asked this question more often than not by my non-British international friends on more than one occasion over the last month. They are mostly from Eastern Europe, and as Christmas approaches here in the UK a lot of them are experiencing those cultural differences for the first time just like I have been over the past three months. The reality is that I have not noticed much difference. Since I live in a house of Americans even while I am living in London, this time of year feels very much like it would in the states. Yes, it was strange to not be with all of our families on Thanksgiving, but we did manage to all come together and create a proper Thanksgiving meal complete with two Turkeys, sweet potatoes, cranberry applesauce, green bean casserole, enough mash for an army, and yes even pumpkin pie.

Part of me had not really thought about Christmas away from home since I am returning to the states in a few days, but as the questions began to emerge I understood the Christmas season begins a lot earlier here. Christmas began in London on November 1st. Unlike the states where Black Friday marks the turn of the shopping season, early November was the kick off with the lighting of Oxford Street that overnight transformed the city from late Autumn into illuminated joyfulness and trees in every shop window. Even though I went to the lighting, it didn’t really sink in that the holidays were upon us until I spent some time looking at how London changes for the season as I walked around the city this past week.

Of course this holiday driven excursion takes me back to Oxford Street and the glowing silver and golden orbs that hang above the bustling shoppers for many city blocks. Now the glittering bobbles on Regent Street, and the illuminated peacock feathers on New Bond Street have joined these balls of light. The brightest lights are hidden a little farther of the beaten path in SoHo on Carnaby street where silver and hot pink disco balls hang among glittering stars overhead. That is where I ran into Santa Claus a few nights ago!

These lights are amazing and worth an adventure in itself, but my favorite part about Christmas in London that I have never had the chance to enjoy back home, is the beauty of a Christmas market. There are several of these markets throughout the city, but the largest is incorporated into Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. A wonderland it most definitely is as it makes even young adults feel the joy of Christmas all over again. My friend and I stumbled upon the wonderland a few nights ago without really planning to go, but since there was no entrance fee we decided to take a look and were instantly sucked into the mix. The sun was just beginning to set and the day was cooling down so we decided to grab glasses of hot mulled wine (pumpkin spiced wine if you will) to enjoy as we walked through the brightly lit rides and pavilions on every side. The closest thing I can compare it to was a very clean state fair complete with roller coasters, a Bavarian market place, German sausage and beer, and an ice skating rink at the far end ideal for people watching…and we did for easily half an hour. Winter Wonderland was deceivingly large and we spent hours just enjoying the feeling of Christmas before catching the tube back for the night.


The Return to Buenos Aires

Time February 13th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Today I’ll be talking about:

I. Buses (again) and public transportation

II. Mi familia Argentina

III. Receta: Torta de Chocolinas / Chocotorta

IV. My Buenos Aires

V. Musica

VI. Vocabulario

VII. Previous posts


I. Buses (again) and public transportation


When I arrived in BA late on a Thursday night, I was greeted not only by my cousins but also by the two staples of the Buenos Aires weather forecast:

1)      Rain

2)      And okay it’s not really weather, but it can be as intrusive and unpredictable: the subway operators and bus drivers were on paro, strike, meaning that my bus was not able to actually enter the bus terminal and I got dropped off on the median near-ish the terminal.


(Keep in mind that I had in tow all of my worldly possessions, all 80-something pounds of it.)


It all worked out without too much trouble, and within a few minutes I was able to meet with my cousins, who drove me home to their apartment. But all the same… nothing says, “Welcome back!” quite like rain and paros.


On the drive to the apartment, I began to realize exactly how expansive the city is. It just keeps going!


Two of my buddies were made fully aware of the city’s size with a sort of rude shock: the taxi from their hostel to my apartment was a whopping 100 pesos. To compare, the most I’d ever paid for a taxi in Mendoza was only 30 pesos. Ouch!


Clearly, that wasn’t feasible. That left us with the buses… My cousins were kind enough to leave me with not only a bus guide but also a bus card with about 30 pesos on it. However, one look at the bus guide made my brain want to crawl away and huddle in a corner somewhere. There are SO MANY buses. So, we had a bit of an adventure trying to figure out where we were going and how to get there.


And, surprise, surprise, the buses are slightly different here than in Mendoza. There are 3 different rates depending on how far you’re traveling, for one. The bus drivers are more impatient (which I hadn’t realized was possible.) I almost got squashed by the doors of one bus because apparently I was too slow getting on. Jeez.


By the end of that day, I was angry at the city. I felt cheated by my lack of understanding of its inner workings. I hated needing to cling to a map like any other Yanqui tourist yuppie. I had learned everything I needed about Mendoza, Valparaiso, and even Santiago by myself with hardly any effort—why was one city suddenly so terrifying and mystifying to me?


We finally did figure it out just fine, and I managed to successfully take not one but two Buenos Aires buses in one day by myself, and we got back in time for dinner with the family. (Though the bus ride took over an hour. Good lord.)


All in all, I was left feeling very grateful that I hadn’t been living in the capital for the last 4 months and very homesick…for Mendoza.


II. Mi familia Argentina


However, it’s hard to mope and feel homesick too much when you’re surrounded by family.


First of all, let me explain how I ended with family in Argentina that I had never met before coming here:

WWII Lithuania wasn’t the safest place for a Jew to be, so my grandpa left for New York. His brother went to Uruguay, settled down and had a family. (Leaked over into Argentina a bit, obviously.) His daughter is my second cousin. Her son stayed with my dad for about 4 months when he lived in California; they were about the same age. I’m staying with his two oldest children, Camila (20) and Mariano (26), but he also has a 3 year old and a set of 6 month old twins.


In spite of my misgivings about the city itself, I knew I had found “home” again when I entered my cousins’ apartment. They’re artsy semi-hippies just like me! They’ve got this great dining room table that they recovered themselves with newspaper comic clippings. Magnets made of old keyboard keys. And they drink actual tea, the kind that you strain through a small metal net, not the kind that comes in a package.
img_3882   img_3883
We’re pretty distantly related when it comes down to it, but we still have some of the most important things in common and we’ve gotten along very well. I’m so grateful that I’ve had the chance to meet them and that I get to claim them on my family tree!


In addition to showing me around town and hanging around the apartment together, I’ve had a few fun get-togethers with my family.


The first was dinner with the chicas (minus Lisa, who was in Chilean Patagonia, but obviously with us in spirit.) Mariano grilled up the best meat we’ve ever eaten and then played us some songs on his guitar. I was so proud to show off my chicas and their amazing Spanish that puts mine to shame and to show off all my nice cousins. We talked late into the night on Mariano’s dad’s balcony, looking up at the stars. (Stars in the middle of the biggest city in Argentina—say what?)


Since Ale and Lorri left the country a week before I did, we had a sort of sleepover/packing party at the cousins’ departamento so that we could spend one last night all together. “Welcome to our hostel!” joked Mariano.


I still cannot believe their generosity.


About a week later, I brought by another Yanqui friend that I met in Argentina to meet the family. We thought it would be a quick, “Hi, nice to meet you, bye, we’re going to Tigre now!” But little did we know that the family was throwing a despedida lunch for Mariano, who was leaving for Spain the next day. To their surprise, my Yanqui friend ended up swooping in and taking over grilling duties. “They didn’t believe me when I said I knew how to do an asado!” They also didn’t believe me when I said he wasn’t my boyfriend, but that’s another matter.


Asi que this apartment has been the place where all the pieces of my heart came together.


I also had the strange but nice experience of sharing the holidays with my Argentine family. Mostly the strange part was that it was so hot that I was dripping sweat, we drank cold drinks (or just sucked on ice cubes), and swatted mosquitos. And yet much of the holiday imagery is borrowed from us, like the tree covered in “snowy” tinsel. We drove out to the provincia for Christmas dinner with…my um… cousin-in-law’s (?) family. Lots of people I didn’t know, which was also weird. There were mountains of food, of course. Pionono, matambre , ensalada rusa, and (very atypically) turkey.


Around midnight, the neighbors started up with fireworks. (Cue the babies crying, haha.) Then we all got up to give besos to everybody at the party and wish them a merry Christmas. I think I would have thought it was cuter if I hadn’t been so hot that I didn’t want to be touched. After that, they carried the presents out of the house and put them under the tree in the backyard. By this point, my one glass of champagne and the heat had done some gnarly work to my system, and I curled up in the hammock under the tree to take a little mid-party nap. (Tee hee hee.) I was woken up when one of the kids brought my present to me from under the tree, which I hadn’t been expecting. The cousins had gone out and bought me one last reminder of Argentina’s bizarre fashion sense:


My very own swag pants. Awesome.


III. Receta: Torta de Chocolinas / Chocotorta


For our family Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) dinner party, my cousin and I made a simple, classic Argentine dessert: torta de Chocolinas (or chocotorta.)


As my cousin Camila said, “Chocotorta will never let you down, because it’s easy and it doesn’t have to be pretty or neat.”

Plus, it’s delicious.



Cream cheese

Dulce de leche

Chocolinas chocolate cookies


Optional: cinnamon, liquor, chocolate milk powder, vanilla extract, fruit garnish, etc


(However, I could imagine some delicious variations with ginger snaps, oreos, thin mints…or any type of cookie, really. Not sure what you’d use as a substitute for dulce, though. Perhaps chocolate? Coconut cream? Pumkin? Lots of fun possibilities, and I’m really excited to play with it a bit.)



First, combine dulce and cream cheese in a bowl. (This is to taste, but I think you want a higher cream cheese to dulce ratio.)


Next, fill a shallow dish with milk and whatever additional seasonings you want. Soak the cookies in the milk until they are soft but not mushy. You want to take them out just before they start to fall apart and lose shape.


In a casserole dish, alternately layer cookies and the dulce/cream cheese mixture. (The bottom layer should be cookies, and the top layer should be dulce/cream cheese.) Garnish with crumbled cookies and/or fruit. Put it all in the fridge or freezer. Serve cold.



IV. My Buenos Aires


Even though I was still in same old Argentina, I felt like I was in a different country than the one I had been in all semester. The architecture of Buenos Aires is very distinctive, for one. It’s also easier to find “Americanized” restaurants, products, and English-speakers, which was all very weird to me.


Possibly most importantly and most strangely, Buenos Aires has been the circuit breaker between my life in Argentina and the life I’ll return to back home, between Yona and Paloma.


Maybe it’s because I’ve had it in mind this whole time that I’m about to leave. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been hanging around with a guy who has central AC and peanut butter in his apartment. But as soon as I got here I started forgetting tiny, strange details of the Argentine social norms that I know so well and have been using every day all semester. Trying to shake someone’s hand instead of giving a beso. Saying “Gracias,” after being handed mate. What the heck, Yona? It’s not like I don’t know these things.


It reminded me of the moment when I realized our Mendocine friend, the IFSA secretary, who the chicas and I tried to emulate in many ways… wanted to be a Yanqui in many ways. We’re trying to be Argentines, who are trying to be Yankees, who are trying to be… So, who’s who anymore? Which identity am I trying to assume?


Buenos Aires definitely zigzags back and forth across that line into the blurry gray middle zone too, but it’s still uniquely Argentina. With all its quirky crazy charm.


Since coming to Argentina, I’ve seen 3 different faces of the famous downtown Plaza de Mayo: I’ve seen it on an afternoon when the madres de los desaparecidos marched and called out names of their missing children. I’ve seen it at Very, Very Late O’Clock packed with people and choripan vendors, the Casa Rosada alive with flashing lights and live music, for Dia de Dependencia. I’ve seen it decked out for Christmas, with the lush lawn trimmed down and a tree made of recycled materials covered in tarp.




But to me, none of those images represent Buenos Aires. Maybe they should. But my Buenos Aires was a bit off the beaten path, which is just how I like it.


I spent the majority of my time in barrio Agronomia, which isn’t exactly central.


(The hour+ bus ride meant that I didn’t venture out to the microcentro very often.) Luckily, Agronomia was much more my speed. I had a great time getting to know the neighbors, doing my own grocery shopping and cooking, and pretending that I lived there on that street shaded by hibiscus trees.


I will also always think of Buenos Aires as my romance city.


I’m still not sure what I want to say about it, but I feel like I need to say something because it was definitely a part of my experience in Argentina. An important one, I think, and a big change for me.


However, this is the one area of Things You May Encounter on Study Abroad that I can offer you exactly no advice on. (And who can?) I can’t tell you how to find love. I can’t tell you how to avoid love. I can’t tell you what to do or how to handle it when it’s time to go home. I can only tell you what my experience was.


The first pieces of advice everyone in Mendoza gave me was
a) Get an Argentine boyfriend so I could practice my Spanish
b) don’t fall in love with an Argentine because he would only break my heart.
Gee, thanks guys. Well, it turned out that none of the Mendocines I met were really my style, so I avoided that problem all together. However, I did meet an American man…


Before I left the US, I joked a whole lot about all the men I was going to meet and hook up with in Argentina. But I didn’t actually expect or necessarily want that, and I definitely didn’t see my little fling coming. He wasn’t the type of guy I thought I should be looking for: older, military, American. It was sheer dumb luck, but I don’t think I could have picked a kinder guy to hang out with, and I think it was something I really needed. I had my first real dinner and movie date. We went sailing, a first for both of us. I learned how to kiss. I think I learned a lot of useful things about myself, men, and relationships, but I’m still too emotionally tangled in everything that happened to be able to process it all yet.


It lasted about a week all together…and then we had to go our separate ways. He was the last person I said goodbye to before I left for the airport. (And I was almost late because of it. Oops.)


“I don’t want to leave,” I whimpered through my tears.


Ever the pragmatist, he replied, “I think your experience of the past week has been very different from mine…” Referring to the break-in of his car two days before Christmas and the ensuing paperwork quilombo.


“Okay, so I don’t want to stay in Argentina forever,” I admitted. “But I still don’t want to leave…”


So my heart broke—colossally, spectacularly. But I’m so grateful that it all happened, and if I could do it all over I don’t think I’d change a thing. And the Yanqui and I are still friends.


For those of you who find romance on your study abroad, or wherever you are, that’s the least I could possibly wish for you.


V. Musica


I believe this will be the last time I share music with you guys, so we’re going out with a bang: 2 good bands for the price of one!


The cousins introduced me to Onda vaga

(My favorite song starts at 5:02. The comments list each individual song and let you skip between them.)


The love interest introduced me to No te va a gustar.

(And here are the lyrics for this particular song.)

They’re from Uruguay, but their musical style is very much like Argentina rock nacional.

(Other good songs: Chau & Memorias del olvido.)


Here’s hoping these guys keep you dancing through your day and whatever your next adventures may be.


VI. Vocabulario


Mellizos – fraternal twins

Flequillo – bangs (hair)

Despedida – farewell

Chorro – (slang) thief

Fuegos artificiales – fireworks

Hamaka – hammock


VII. Previous posts

  1. Antes de que me voy  (Before I Leave)
  2. Host Families and Fun with Public Transportation
  3. “Are You the Girl with the Blog?”
  4. Playing Tourists in Buenos Aires
  5. Looking Good, Mendoza!  
  6. A Detailed Guide on All Things Micro 
  7. Trip to Las Termas
  8. Daily life in Mendoza
  9. Habia una vez en los Andes… 
  10. Night of the Soccer Game 
  11. Road Trip! 
  12. My Mate for Life 
  13. Ringo vs. Chuck Norris 
  14. Pros and Cons 
  16. Philosophical Moments in Neuquen
  17. Cordoba and Oktoberfest
  18. Some tips about Hostels
  19. Student Life in Mendoza
  20. Trabajo Voluntario
  21. San Rafael
  22. The Chicas Take Chile
  23.  Soaking up the Last of the Sun – Mar del Plata

The Blog Where I Try to Describe a Month’s Worth of Activities…

Time December 3rd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

“Travel is at its most rewarding when it ceases to be about reaching your destination and becomes indistinguishable from living your life.”

Let me start off by apologizing for how long it has taken me to write this post. I went from having almost no homework throughout the year to having 6 essays due within 2 weeks. Not only that but I was sick for about a week and am still trying to shake it off.

So what have I been doing this past month?

I went to Dublin for a few days to show my old roommate from GW who is currently studying in Paris for the year, Casey, around. While in Dublin we went to a Bon Iver concert with a bunch of people from the Butler program, but not before yet again hitting up the Guinness Storehouse and enjoying Dublin. I finally saw the Book of Kells and the library at Trinity College. We even went on a pub crawl and got to go into the bar where they filmed Gerard Butler singing “Galway Girl” to Hilary Swank- a scene the Butler Galway Girls frequently watch while we’re here.

Bon Iver Concert at the O2 Theatre in Dublin. One of the best concerts I’ve been to and I had so much fun with Casey!

Bon Iver performance: [youtube][/youtube]

Live music at the Gravity Bar at the Guinness Storehouse: [youtube][/youtube]

The next weekend was our Belfast weekend. The Butler staff picked us up Thursday and we drove to Belfast and enjoyed a free dinner. The next day we visited the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Bridge, a rope bridge that leads you to a small island on the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland. It was pretty rainy and cloudy that day so we weren’t able to see the coast of Scotland but it was breathtaking nonetheless.

Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge, even with my fear of heights I managed to not just walk across this but jump up and down and scare some of the people around me. The island was scarier to be on since people kept slipping and falling from the mud!

Rocks at the Giant’s Causeway…either formed by cooling of volcanic rock, or the broken remains of a bridge built by the giant Finn McCool who just wanted a friend.

Do you see the top of that cliff all the way over there on the other side of this second Giant’s Causeway inlet? Yes, well I climbed up the side of the mountain (ok there was a path) and walked all the way to the tip of that cliff. Yea, I know.

And this is where we climbed to. It basically felt like being on the edge of the world.

A view of the Giant’s Causeway: [youtube][/youtube]

On Saturday we took a Black Taxi tour and learned about the Troubles. We visited Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods, learned about the history of the area, and signed our names on the Peace Wall. Asking our driver about his experiences during that time and hearing about how he and his brothers used to be routinely dragged out of their house for questioning by the police, and hearing how he had seen a friend of his killed in front of him is something that I will never forget.

Learning about the Peace Wall and when it will come down, which according to our guide probably won’t happen in the near future since the people want it there.

Later that afternoon we went to the Titanic Museum and learned all about how shipbuilding and other modern industries affected Belfast, as well as everything you could possibly want to know about Titanic (the ship and the movie).

Some of the Galway Girls in front of the Titanic Museum in the Belfast Harbour near the shipyards.

That night the Belfast Christmas Market opened and the Christmas lights turned on. Although we weren’t able to get tickets at such late notice to the  Lighting Ceremony, we did get to enjoy the Market.

Belfast Christmas Market: where kangaroo is a delicacy, obviously.

Beautiful Belfast.

As much fun as Belfast was, I was pretty sure that I got the flu while I was there because upon returning, even though it was our last week of class, I struggled to do anything besides sleep and take hefty amounts of Sudafed.

By the time I got around to feeling any amount of better I had so much work to do- and it was Thanksgiving! My apartment cleaned and cooked all day and borrowed tables from the nearby hotel in order to host Thanksgiving at our place. Everyone showed up with their favorite family dish (or if they couldn’t cook- some wine, store bought food, or plastic utensils). Even though a lot of us were feeling homesick after seeing all of our friends and family talk about the fun they were having at home, it was a successful night. We feasted and all said how thankful we were that our families supported us enough to let us have the best semester of our lives.

Happy Thanksgiving! Half of our food (yes there’s much more) laid out under our very creative sign.

Me and my fresh out of the oven apple pies! Not as good as at home and definitely not pumpkin but still delicious.

Everyone enjoying our delicious Thanksgiving feast.

After this I had a few hours of rest before I hopped on a bus to the Dublin airport and flew to Germany to visit my cousins and have a second round of Thanksgiving feasting. It was nice to see some family especially since Thanksgiving seemed to wipe my immune system and make me sick yet again, on top of the twinge of homesickness I was still feeling. Plus my cousins had brought over the coveted pumpkin (which we could find NOWHERE in Galway, and pumpkin pie is my all-time favorite food), along with other American delicacies to enjoy (and by delicacies I mean Velveeta, Chili mix, cornbread and pumpkin).

Since I returned from Germany it has been nonstop work. All of the essays are due around the same time and I leave for my last trip, a 6 day adventure to London, in just 3 days.

It’s been a hard week all around. Realizing that I have a dozen days left and half of those will actually be in Galway is hard to accept. It seems like yesterday that I arrived in Europe, excited and anxious for what the semester would bring. This semester has been so amazing and rewarding; it felt like it could never end. But the first of our group has left to return to America today, and I feel like there is so much I have yet to do or experience and that these 4 months were nowhere near enough time.  I’m so excited to see my family and friends in less than two weeks, and the fact that I have my 21st birthday, Christmas, New Years, and spring semester to look forward to is comforting. But I am not even close to being ready to say goodbye to my Galway home.