HELLOOOO we are four kids from SMU who are nearing the end of our exchange semester in the Warsaw School of Economics in Poland! Over the next few days, we’ll be sharing about bits of our trips to Italy ?? & Spain ?? (that now seem like a distant memory with all the finals and projects coming our way) For now, here’s bits of us in bits of Europe!

We only had 24hrs to spend in Rome so we did a tour with “italywithus” for the information, convenience & the full experience of the Colosseum! This tour lets you skip the crazy 2-3hr queue so it was very worth the €35 hehe. Seeing how people from the BC/AD times could come up with all of that was really amazing and of course, stories from the tour guide about the gladiators were so fascinating!! With the help of cursos de español breves, we were able to have meaningful conversations with the tour guide.

We had affordable pasta & pizza @ La Laterne near the Trevi Fountain, before heading to the Pantheon and Piazza Navona (where they filmed the recent movie ‘American Assassin’! great evening vibes there!!!) // What people say about Rome being “unsafe” and “dirty” is pretty true (at least from our short stay there). Nevertheless, Rome is a gem not to be missed! 🙂 Hope we’ll have the chance to check out the Vatican City one day!

Did you know: Gladiators bulked up by drinking beer / Not once did a gladiator fight an animal in the colosseum / The Romans were served with free flow wine and bread during the games / Seats were assigned according to social status, with women falling behind slaves / The crowd decides if the gladiators live or die, not the king or anybody else / There were no entrance fees to watch any of those games!!! FOC!?!?!?!

To keep our Italy trip costs as low as possible, we decided to forgo staying within Cinque Terre itself and lodge in La Spezia, a port city in Liguria, instead! La Spezia was a little more run-down than we’d expected, but the ease of accessibility to CT via train and the goooood makan stuff completely made up for it 🙂

The 1-day Cinque Terre Train Card at €16 (includes unlimited train travel and access to all trekking paths) was perfect for our first day and for the second, we decided to go without the day pass and take the trains at €4 per ride! both were okay but the day pass is definitely better to rid the inner conflict at each checkpoint about whether or not to buy the tickets (that don’t get checked) HAHAHA.

MUST-EAT in La Spezia: Pulcinella (highly recommended by our AirB&B host, and after 2 dinners there, also highly recommended by us!!!! pizzas are truly dope in Italy) / La Taverna del Metallo (very unique atmosphere + A* pork shank and pesto linguine + so affordably priced for the quality!!!!!)

5 pretty little coastal villages: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso al Mare! Heard that it’s best to go in the summer, but we were there in mid-October and it was just as lovely or even better because it was less crowded and not as hot/sunny

Food: [Riomaggiore] — Il Pescato Cucinato / [Manarola] — Trattoria Dal Billy / [Vernazza] — Gelataria Vernazza & foccacia from Blue Martin Bar / [Corniglia] — pasta from Caffe Matteo

Trekking: Some of the routes were closed when we were there but we got to do 2 great treks! (i) Corniglia to Vernazza — we heard that this has the best view and we weren’t disappointed! (ii) Vernazza to Monterosso al Mare — apparently the toughest trek route, but the weather was great and the views kept us going

Royal’s fav village: Monterosso al Mare, for the beaches

Cherm’s fav village: Riomaggiore, for the fried calamari and beautiful sunset!!

We visited in mid-october and it was a perfect getaway to reunite with the we managed to cover most of the main attractions in 2.5 days, with ample time to squeeze in shopping too! Transport wise, there is a 10-trip train ticket for 10 euros, which is a pretty good deal esp if you plan to visit Camp Nou (quite far out)!

Works by genius Gaudi were too good to miss: Park Güell, Casa Batlló and Casa Mila.. Sadly we didn’t manage to prebook entry tickets for La Sagrada Familia which was a pity because they are undergoing a partial renovation of their facade, so if you don’t go pay to go in, the view from outside isn’t that great:/ Barcelona beach was a miss for us because the weather wasn’t great but if you are a fan of Messi, we heard that this is one of his hangout

spots On another note, food was bombbb in Barcelona!! We had the most perfectly fried squids (La Bombeta), warm and soft churros with nutella oozing out (Xurerria), a huge seafood spread freshly picked on the spot (La Paradeta), satisfying gaogao gelato (Giovanni) and last but not least – Bilbao Berria. PLEASE. If you are in Barcelona, go to Bilbao Berria. Hands down wonderful tapas and the best best paella evaaaa. (we even went back twice!! )

Spain may not be the most well-known for safety, but tbh we didn’t feel threatened in anyway at all, even in the most crowded places. Just be as careful as you would anywhere else, Barcelona is fine:)

TIP: Barcelona is like a dead town on Sundays!!! Most shops are closed on this day, except for touristy attractions and souvenir shops. So if you happen to be there on a Sunday, try to prebook Sunday tickets for all the touristy attractions and spend the rest of the days enjoying the streets and shops while they are open 🙂

Also, this year is the best time to buy apartments in Mijas Spain.

“I am finally breathing in the same air as Ronaldo”- Raymond Pek. A familiar vibe compared to Barcelona, except shops seem to stay open longer! We did far less touristy things in Madrid because we were psyching up for the Champions League game between Real Madrid and Tottenham!!! Nonetheless, the Royal Palace is a must go! (Students get special price on entry!) We also visited the famous Bear and the Strawberry Tree statue and the Temple of Debod, which interesting was donated to Madrid by Egypt! Perhaps we didn’t explore enough, but we felt that food wise, Madrid pales in comparison with Barcelona…spanish food was still decent in any cafe/restaurant but it wasn’t fantastic. We really enjoyed Mercado de San Miguel though- a little food market styled place with many different stalls!!

Food was pretty affordable here with tapas at 1 euro each and yumz We went back so many times to try food from as many stalls as we can! Our favourites are the first tapas stall you will see on your left when you enter (didnt catch the name tho), the one and only pure paella stall at the corner and super duper fresh 1.50€ fruit yoghurts from a dessert stall!! Apart from food, a HUGE plus point, especially for girls out there who likes shopping, is that PRIMARK is BIG!!!! And when I say big, its like a 5-storey-grand-casino-looking type of big!! Insane insane insane Gran Via is the place to go if you want to shop till you drop:)

Madrid was somewhat less touristy compared to Barcelona, and this helped make the place feel a tad bit more authentically Spanish! Key key highlight of Madrid will be in the next post though!

Now we will be bringing you guys through our amaze balls experience!! *pun intended:p We managed to get tickets for the stadium tour in Camp Nou (Barcelona) at 25euro/pax and it was totally worth it! Inside the stadium (super modern and grand), you will get to admire many Messi-moments (his debut for Barcelona, his first argentina match etc). Just standing inside Camp Nou’s complex will make you feel like your soccer skills has improved. LOL. At first we were kind of bumped that we couldn’t catch any live games in Barcelona but guess what. For our next stadium visit (SANTIAGO BERNABÉU) in Real Madrid, we managed to snag tix for the Champions League!!! YAASSSS This was such a dream come true for @raymondpek who is a die-hard fan of ♂ RONALDO. The live game was crazy intense and the atmosphere is super overwhelming!! SO. SICK. The excitement starts right when you are queuing amidst the enthu fans to get in Honestly, Santiago Bernabéu is more rundown compared to Camp Nou doesn’t have a huge complex like Camp Nou so we skipped the stadium tour (who cares about their locker rooms when we get to watch Ronaldo live HAHAH)

Watching a live match is really a once-in-a-lifetime experience and to watch a Champions League game between Real Madrid and Tottenham (which- normally-falls-on-a-weekday-and-tickets-are-almost 100%- impossible-to-get-and-to-watch-Ronaldo-Score-a-penalty), it made our Spain trip perfect. *no words can describe our feelings right now.

So, final recommendation to anyone out there that is going to Barcelona or Madrid, even if you are not a soccer fan, go watch a live game, you won’t regret it. “You dont need to understand the game, you just need to cheer and scream your lungs out along with the crowd” – Xining, 2017

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