Wednesday, August 11, 2010

European Vacation Awards

Wow it's crazy being back. Partly cause I'm 21 now so I can continue on with my "social" lifestyle and partly because I feel like I have a completely new perspective on...well...everything. Haha not that dramatic (maybe) but I did realize that I'll need to travel at least once a year from now on. Traveling is just plain amazing and if you haven't taken a trip yet you definitely should. I've lived in the same city my whole life and while going down to SB was a change, it really wasn't too different culturally. Going to Europe made me realize how much there is to see and how many cool people there are out there. I can't wait to go out again.

But enough of that, I took a long break so I can really "look back" at my trip as opposed to just reminisce, and look back I shall. For those that haven't read my blog this will count as a kind of summary I suppose, but more so than not it will be insight into the continent of Europe. I'll probably be updating this randomly to add stuff I missed too but enjoy whatever version you end up reading! Vale...

Favorite CityBerlin. I honestly cannot rave enough about Berlin. Perhaps it was the fact that I hadn't really wanted to go there at all until I reached Europe, perhaps it is the fact that it is constantly changing, perhaps it's the vibe and recent history, or perhaps it's the fact that they have turned war factories into night clubs. Whatever it is I would HIGHLY suggest going to Berlin if you make a trip to Europe. It really has something for everyone: nice people, beautiful buildings, historical sites, lots of art, great public transportation, fancy shopping a la Champs-Elysées, and a thriving nightlife to name a few. While in Berlin I visited sites, had a BBQ on top of a building, had ridiculously cheap GOOD beer, explored by bike, learned history (very interesting RECENT history), bar hopped, visited an abandoned building turned into a bar/gallery with a live band, saw buildings that were half old and half new, and much more. It's a great city and while I loved every city I went to, Berlin stood just a little bit above the rest.

Favorite Country

Spain. I spent the most time in Spain, and I absolutely loved everything about it. Spanish culture is just so laid back, I love how going out at Midnight is early. Hell, even going out before 2am is early. The lifestyle in Spain just fit me so well...I mean I also come late to everything. While the food did get old after awhile I never got tired of Tapas, or the many different events that would happen consistently around the week (now I'm talking solely about Madrid). Take for example, Wednesdays. Wednesday at night a place called Cien Montaditos has everything on their menu for the wonderful price of 1 euro. Before that the Prado is free to enter and afterward Orange...a favorite club of visiting young tourists has an open bar for an hour and then it morphs into a dance club. And oh man do I love Spanish girls...but I also loved speaking Spanish and learning Spanish. The rest of the country as well gave off the same amazing vibe but I feel like it has so much to offer. It's the country I'd come back to first. Oh yah, and drullets. You can't beat those.

Most Epic Night
Cannes VIP Parties. There are a lot of nights to choose from (all-nighters ending in churros, a pool party in the warm Roman night, a fancy bar with Grey Goose bottle service and a 25K euro drink) but I'd say the most epic all-around night had to be in Cannes where I first learned the art of pretending I am important. The night was, as many nights at Cannes were, full of options. Should I go to a red carpet premier? Hang out with other program mates? Hit up bars? Go to a club? Attempt to get into a party? Earlier that day a friend, Kate, had handed me a ticket to an event her friend was DJing. Turns out, however, that she wasn't going to be able to get ready in time. The event was from around 8-11 and so I figured I might as well jump on the opportunity and thus got into a tux and headed downtown with a crew that were going to be going to a premier. As I walked down the strip heading towards the address I felt very important and I did not want to take no as an answer from anyone. The key is that bouncers (French or otherwise) have no idea who is important and who isn't. They can only judge by attire and attitude. Cannes is full of so many important people it's impossible to be able to know all of them. So, if one acts as though he/she is one of those important people, and they roll alone (or not with a large group) more often than not they'll let you in. Granted there are guest lists, etc. but the really important people don't want to have to say they are on the guest list...they just want to go in. One time I even pointed to a name on the list and yelled "That's me! Happy?" So anyways I went to the event and immediately saw two people arguing with the bouncer claiming they were invited. They were holding the exact same invitation that I was. Damnit. But I kept my cool and patiently waited for my shot at the bouncer...unfortunately that shot never came. They kept at it for awhile and eventually the bouncer looked at me, saw I was in a tux and alone, and said I could go in. !!!! The party was on a balcony over the ocean and at a point in the night fireworks went off. Only thing was after I picked up a free drink, met the DJ, and picked up some food I had no one to talk to. I knew absolutely NO ONE in the party. I ended up doing something that I always wish I could do...approach a random group and talk. And so I found a group that looked friendly and approached them and ended up talking to them for the entirety of the party. They were producers from Iceland, which made sense since it was a Scandinavian party. So the party ended, I said goodbye, and was on my own once again...that was until I ran into my Brittish friends I had met earlier (Greg, Matt, and Thomas who I ended up staying with in London). They were going to another party and invited me along. Their friend, Alexandra, was in one of the many beach-side parties and she came out and got us in by saying we were all having a film meeting. legit!! This party had more free booze, free food, and celebrities. The night ended with dancing, meeting famous people, and basically enjoying being a VIP. As I headed back I met up with some people who had seen the 10 pm screening and returned to the hotel content. Absolutely epic night that proved rolling alone can have its advantages.

Biggest Surprise (City)
Amsterdam. As some of you know, my policy for visiting cities was to not look at any pictures of them prior to my visit if I could help it. I love the feeling of being surprised when I reach a city and see their sights for the first time in person. Nothing can beat coming out of the metro in Milan and seeing their amazing Duomo without any idea prior to what it would look like. That's my opinion at least. Anyways so I have an idea how the cities will look from what I hear or imagine but each place I go to I get at least a little surprised by the reality. Even though I knew what most of Paris looked like I was still surprised how many amazing buildings there were or how it was laid out. Anyways what surprised me the most was Amsterdam. It looked like Solvang (a small Dutch Cali city) but with river canals running through it. Very brown buildings, multi-cultural, and was just a quaint feeling city. Not to mention I was there after the Brazil win and there was Orange everywhere. It was incredibly diverse and cultured, and just seemed so happening. I didn't expect this after hearing all about the red light district and coffee shops. I really don't know what I expected it to look like, but with legal prostitution and weed I expected it to look at least a little different. Nighttime, however, I was surprised by the complete 360 morph the city undertakes. Maybe cause I didn't walk down the red light district during the day, but that strip becomes just a sex crazed neon-light filled packed with men area. It's hard to describe and I think you all need to experience this change for yourself, but after the beautiful park the next day this city never ceased to surprise me.

Best Discoteca (Night Club)

Kapital. I went to a lot of nightclubs in Europe...Madrid especially, and maybe it was as a result of befriending a few promoters, but I think I became addicted to dance clubs. Make sure if you're ever traveling Europe to hit me up, I'm a connoisseur now. As a result, picking just one might seem harder than it really is. There are a lot of amazing clubs, but there are also a lot of bad ones. Other clubs came close: Joy was amazing and free on Thursdays (and easily had the best music), Paris had an amazing music club as well, Pacha was very Euro, Berlin had warehouses, Barcelona had beach clubs, but honestly you can't beat the famous 7 story Madrid nightclub. Yes...7 stories. This club was amazing on all accounts. It had everything you could ask for: a Techno floor (which would spray mist every now and then and had go-go dancers), karaoke, hip-hop, another dance floor, an open air lounge at the top, mojito floor, love lounge, honestly I could go on for awhile. This club leaves everyone happy and while you might get lost and it's unlikely you'll run into friends if you separate, for 15 euros and two drinks included you can't get much better than Kapital.

Saddest Night
Cannes last night. Leaving any city was sad, and any group of amazing people is always heart wrenching to part with, but after three weeks of straight bonding I found the closing night of the Cannes film festival and AmPav internship to be the saddest. Reasons can range from the amazing relationships I'd built with so many of the interns, how we had next to no customers and spent all day socializing, the fact we had a closing party where we wrapped everything up and said our goodbyes, how I fell asleep and almost missed the bus at 4 am giving the whole thing a very rushed sense, or just because we all had such a common connection in film. I can't wait for a much needed reunion with my Cannes amigos/as. It was a roller coaster of a internship, but in the end I would give anything to go back to day one again. It's only fair to mention that leaving Madrid and my Madrid friends was no easy task either vos falto muchissimo.

Coolest Building
Parliament in Berlin. Italy as a whole had some amazing churches: Milan was stunning, Florence had the largest most epic church I'd ever seen, but the building that absolutely took my breath away had to be the Berlin Parliament. Showcasing one of the many unique traits of the city (building new on the old) the Berlin Parliament has a shell of the old building but they have built an incredible glass spiral structure dome thing on the top. Not only that but it's free to go visit (this is key: the other cool buildings usually weren't free...Westminster Abbey was 15 Pounds!! No way it's THAT cool). After waiting in the ridiculous heat, you can finally take an elevator up to the dome and from the top you can literally see the whole city. It's gorgeous. Walking to the top of the dome is stunning too and the whole thing is a real surreal experience. Funny thing is you can actually watch the Parliament in session...Berlin is going for transparency after their past. A must see/visit for an European traveler.

Best Beach

Lecce (Eastern Coast...obscure beach don't know it's name). The Cannes beach was nice, Barcelona's man-made one had enough nudity for everyone, and Valencia's beach definitely was spacious and beautiful, but on the heel of Italy unknown to many American tourists lie some of the most gorgeous beaches in Europe. During my stay in Lecce, Nicola, Michela and I traveled to each side of the heel in order to find the best beach. On the third day we did: near the city of Ortranto after a hike through the trees, we reached a tropical paradise. The water was amazingly warm and clear, the beach MUCH less busy than others and clean with palm cabanas lining the sand. This was paradise. Absolutely one of the most amazing beaches I have ever been to, the setting was stunning and I just never wanted it to end.

Best Bar
Penthouse. While one of the best nights in a bar was in the Black Pearl in Cannes where we celebrated with a newly engaged couple at their VIP party table, as far as actual bar itself you can just tell by the name Penthouse that it's high class. I visited Penthouse on one of my first nights in Madrid with the leaving Semester students and I visited it twice more during my stay (for a fun story read about this experience with Penthouse). Penthouse is a high class bar, to get in you have to get past a pretty stingy Spanish bouncer, ride a classy elevator up to the rooftop and then just enjoy a view of Madrid while looking classy. It didn't have the best prices or the best music and didn't even give out free t-shirts the more you drank (like our favorite Irish bar across from the Corte Ingles) But the VIP vibe, the prestige, and the setting are unbeatable. Definitely try to get in if you go to Madrid...act as American as you can, it shouldn't be hard.

Most Exhilarating Moment
USA Last minute goal. Speaking of the Irish bar (Named I think, Flannigan's) in Madrid, that's where I experienced one of the biggest adrenaline rushes in my sport-watching history. After a disallowed goal from a 2 goal comeback that we watched in Valencia I found it hard to believe that the USA national team in the World Cup could provide much more excitement. The next game against Algeria game was just that, the epitome of that. Another wrongly disallowed early goal, and the fact that on the other side of the bars English supporters were celebrating their lead, meant the US needed to score to move on. The bar was split into two parts with screens on each and so we could live see what was going on in both games. I was attempting to predict when a goal would come (all were wrong), but my pessimistic friend Matt was right in calling a 90th minute goal. When everyone almost gave up hope, Donovan jumped on a blocked shot to send the USA through at the top of the group. Absolutely incredible. Everyone in the bar including the English were up and screaming. As I went to the bathroom to expel some Guinness from my system a smiling Englander congratulated me on the win. I guess I embody America haha or maybe it was because I was smiling and still thriving off the adrenaline rush. That moment, that goal, absolutely unforgettable.

Most Under-rated Sight
Plaza de Castillas. I'm not gonna lie...I saw a ridiculous amount of sights while traveling this summer. A lot of them were built up, such as the Eiffel Tower, some were a disappointment (like walking 234987 years to see a stupid Windmill in Amsterdam), but in the North of Madrid lies a wonder that not many people visit. Granted Madrid is not a city with a lot of sights, it's more of an experience. Once you've hit Parque del Retiro and Sol up you only have a little left. But on the last Thursday a group of us decided to go visit the Plaza de Castillas and we were not disappointed. Beginning with two huge towers leaning towards each other and a huge golden rod sticking up in between them, this area didn't even feel like Madrid. It was spacious, modern, and full of cars. You could literally see where the city ended and in the distance it was only open space. After a decent walk from the Metro we reached three huge, newly built buildings all of which were completely out of place. Skyscrapers that stuck out like sore thumbs. One was a 5 star hotel, one was just finished, and the last was an office building. In the middle there was a beautiful fountain and in the distance we all watched the sun set for the first and last time in the city. I don't know why more people don't go to see this wonderful sight but don't be one of those that makes that mistake.

Best Drink
Agua de Valencia. I love how in Europe each city has something food or drink wise that they're known for. Segovia had this meat so tender you cut it with a plate, Florence had their Fiorentina steak (which I had for my bday dinner), but Agua de Valencia was by far the best of these unique treasures. A perfect mix of champagne, orange juice, vodka (I think these are the ingredients I don't even know) that all blend together to make a completely stunning drink. It's like drinking Fanta, but before you know it you're drunk. Not only that but it's as cheap as water and getting vases of the stuff basically means you're gonna have a good night. My goal is to learn how to make it and spread the joy. The pitch: Orange juice with happiness.

Most Drank Drink

Whisky and Coke. Funny thing it was, coming to Europe and never having been in a bar. What do I order? What is there even? College has only taught me that cheap beer and cheap alcohol is the way to go, how am I supposed to know what's classy? Imagine going to a free open bar where you can order anything but you don't know anything. That was the dilemma I faced when I arrived in Europe. Thankfully my problem was solved for me. During a party I attended where I met a pretty important producer, he told me he'd treat me to a drink. We got to the bar and he ordered a whisky on the rocks. Not wanting to look bad I ordered the same. Maybe it was the fact that I was with him, maybe it was because I've never had good whisky, but from that point on I decided whisky was my favorite alcoholic beverage. In the next open bar I went to, a friend ordered a whisky and coke. Not sure if I could handle another straight whisky drink I ordered the same. The prefect mix of alcohol and soda, this drink became the trademark of my bar journeys modified slightly when I found out about whisky and ginger ale. When in doubt, it's what I always ordered and thus it wins the award for the drink I drank the most.

Best Food
Italy. When traveling countries in Europe, food is a crucial factor in your enjoyment of cities. I always wanted to try whatever special meal they had and experience the food as much as possible. One country, however, stood out above the rest as far as taste and deliciousness goes. I didn't eat much at all in the North, but I do know the South of Italy including Tuscany is nothing but quality in the food department. As far as consistency you can't beat Italy. While Paris had amazing food as well (see below) not much is better than some amazing pasta, pizza, paninis, or gelato. Coming back to consistency though, chains rarely exist. McDonald's is the only one that really makes its mark but every bar (what they refer to it as, basically a place you can get espresso, sandwiches, calzones, pizza, etc.) has roughly the same things and they are all at roughly the same quality: great. For dinner any place is good, and often times I would get a "tourist menu" which is a set meal that often comes with water, a pasta plate, a meat plate, and bread and coffee. The problem with all of this was my budget, but that was a sacrifice my stomach was willing to take. Top it off with Gelato (my favorite flavors were Mela Verde y Ananas) and it's game over competition.

Most Ate Food

Doner Kebab. No, not one of those sticks with fruit and vegetables and meat...Donor Kebabs are all the rage in Europe, especially in Spain. They are as common as Starbucks in a city; there was at least one every block. So what are these kebabs exactly? Basically the most cost effective, delicious food that you can get. Recognizable by a spinning cylindrical spiced meat that they are carved from, Donor Kebabs are basically sandwiches (more like paninis than normal sandwiches) with Mediterranean sauces and spices that vary from store to store and they are delicious. They were my favorite quick lunch food to get and I miss them so much.

Best Meal

Paris. French food grew on me. While in Cannes it seemed like all I ate was bread, but after leaving I felt myself craving croissants and baguettes more than I expected. So, when I returned to France on my Paris trip I indulged myself in quiches, crepes, and all the other goodies. Saying Paris is expensive is an understatement. It's so often visited that they can get away with charging ridiculous prices, especially to Americans. As you walk down the streets and pass the restaurants that have their outdoor tables facing outwards one can't help but notice the incredible food. We were only in Paris for three days, but we decided that one of the nights we had to eat at one of those fancy places. So, right before going to watch the USA England game behind the Eiffel Tower, we ate at one. It was amazing. Paris is all about sauces, and so AM I. I ordered salmon with rice and they gave this ridiculously good custom made sauce specifically for dipping and tasting good. I need to go back, and I need to eat more food like this.

City with the most Sights

Rome. Roma is a city where you can literally have 5 full days of sight-seeing and still not see everything. Paris I feel was like this too to an extent, but Rome takes the cake because it is a much smaller city. You have the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Ruins, Spanish Steps, Roman Forum, the Trevi Fountain, the Fountain of the Four Rivers, Piazza del Campidoglio, Piazza Venezia, Piazza Navona, St Peter's Square, Olympic Stadium, a castle I can't remember the name of, and that's just off the top of my head. This is not mentioning many of the other amazing ancient buildings, ruins, countless fountains, pillars, etc. that it has to offer. If you want to see all of these, you need to have at least 5 good days to explore. There are THAT many.

Most Overwhelming City
London. Instead of overwhelming, I could substitute huge, busy, or any other similar adjective. London is a city that has cities within itself. It's crazy. For example, I stayed in Brixton...a semi-ghetto area of London. Within Brixton, you have literally everything. There is a market for food, parks, a movie theater, bars, clubs, pubs, countless restaurants, sights, and basically anything you could ever need. From my experience, nearly every other section of London has this same diversity (speaking of diversity it is the most diverse city I've ever been to). Sure there are downtown areas, but there are so many downtown areas it's almost hard to keep track. Meeting up with people in London is definitely a feat giving how many places there are and each has its own thing. I feel as though I saw a lot of the city, and yet looking at tube stops I barely even scratched the surface. There were plenty of sights I wasn't even aware of in the East, North, West, etc. Not to mention they have over FOUR football teams: Chelsea, Arsenal, Fullham, and Tottenham to name the major ones. It's mind-blowing thinking about just how much there is within this one city.

Best Public Transportation
Madrid. Sure Berlin had some very good public transportation, and it ran all night on weekends, and they had your choice between U-Bahn (underground) or S-Bahn (overground) trams or buses. And maybe they were less busy and easy to use. And maybe they were even nicer...Wow...maybe I'm starting to change my mind...BUT I'm biased and I absolutely loved Madrid's metro. After six weeks in the city I was a pro at getting around, and the metro literally flies from place to place. If it weren't for the strike and the closing of the 4 line to Arguelles, any trip would only have taken between 5-20 minutes to get absolutely wherever I wanted to go in the city. They're clean, efficient, and amazing. BART should take note.

Best Biking City
Berlin. Amsterdam is another large biking city, but when I biked there I felt like my life was always in danger. The narrow streets, the river canals, and the three other lanes of traffic (walkers, drivers, and trams) made it an intense experience. Berlin on the other hand had bike lanes ON SIDEWALKS. You don't have to worry about cars, biking in Berlin is safe, easy, and efficient. You always have space, always have a clearly marked path, and even have your own crossing lights. I went on a biking adventure in Berlin without any idea of where to go and ended up easily following signs and just having a good time. Not only that, but you are allowed to carry bikes onto the U-Bahn or S-Bahn which is invaluable. I didn't feel like biking all the way back, so I just walked it onto a train and relaxed for the return journey.

Coolest Famous Person Met
Ryan Gosling. In Cannes I had the honor of meeting plenty of famous people, but not many were cooler than the Notebook man. Granted, we didn't really have a deep conversation. I was making a film with Godfrey (which you can watch below) and I had just finished it and put it online. I was excited to show Godfrey how it turned out, so when I saw him sitting outside I decided to walk out and tell him. People gave me weird hesitant looks as I passed by and I wondered why. I told them I was visiting Godfrey and they eventually let me exit outside. As I sat down by Godfrey and said hi I looked up and saw the cast and director of the movie Blue Valentine including Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan. Not wanting to seem intruding, I just continued on with the conversation with Godfrey and midway through Godfrey said "Hey Ryan, meet Ryan". Ryan Gosling looked up and we shook hands. He was incredibly down to earth and he asked me if I wanted any candy. They were figuring out what they were gonna say during their panel, and I was just chilling next to Godfrey hanging out...that is until one of the higher up AmPav employees kindly told me I didn't belong back here. After the speech I worked up the courage to ask for a picture and it was worth it. Definitely a cool guy.

Most Epic All-Nighter

Kapital/Producer party/Pool Party. This one's a tie. I had more all-nighters than I'd like to admit while traveling abroad, and none of them were study related haha (but I got "A's" so take that studies). The first true all-nighter I had on my trip was as a volunteer for the Producer Party at the American Pavilion in Cannes. We all volunteered because we knew the caliber of people that would be there. Ideally by working the party we'd meet contacts and spread our name out in the industry. Realistically the Producers just got trashed and we were left to pick up the trash. That, however, didn't stop us from having fun. Us interns started our own dance party after awhile and not only that but as a result of the party we got a lot of free things including incredibly soft Stella blankets!! Two friends and I opted out of taking a taxi back and we walked along the beautiful Mediterranean as the sun rose. Epic.
The second took place on the night before the IES group trip to Valencia. We all wanted to go clubbing on Thursday, but the problem was the bus was leaving early for Valencia and none of us wanted to miss it and miss the trip. The solution: NO SLEEP. We partied at Kapital on a night when they were promoting Dewar's White Label whiskey and as a result we got a lot of free whiskey (including two bottles that were "taken" from display) and sunglasses and a hat. The metro re-opens at 6 in the morning and Kapital was closing around 5. We stayed up all night, I lost my voice singing N'Sync, danced till my legs felt like they were gonna fall off, went home, took a shower, and walked to the bus to see everyone else basically in the same state I was. And we headed off to Valencia! Funny thing was the people that actually slept nearly missed it. A life lesson for you.
Finally we have the Roman Pub Crawl that ended at a pool party. I'll go into more detail later about pub crawls, but all you need to know is that this one started in a bar with an hour of free drinks and then ended far south of the city at a pool. Rome was incredibly hot, saved only by the countless free fountains around the city that provided free cold water (free=key word) and we literally sweat so much we never needed to use the bathroom. My skin was baby soft after being in a sauna for three days, but basically a pool party was exactly what I wanted. So me and my friend Mickel-Ange from the hostel headed to the pool party wearing swim trunks and a towel. People gave us somewhat weird looks as we were some of the only people dressed like this at 10 pm at night, but they weren't laughing when we were swimming in the pool later (actually I wouldn't know, but I just assume). There was a DJ and a dance floor, a bar, and a pool surrounded by a lounge area. Even though it was late in the night it was still warm enough to warrant swimming in the heated pool. It was an epic night, and for the sake of this blog I'll censor it haha but we stayed out until the very end and took an early bus back into the city where we hopped on the metro. If we looked weird before, we definitely looked out of place now as we both wore our towels, swim trunks, and wet hair at around 6am in the morning as most people were heading to work. Aww good times.

Best Party
Short Film Corner party. While sneaking into parties was fun and all, you just can't beat being on the guest list. My film, Lukewarm was in the short film corner in the Cannes Film Festival and as a result I got invited to the Short Film Corner party. This was THE happening party of the night in my opinion (definitely over that Dulce party with all the celebrities). Not only were there complementary drinks and food, but it was filled with aspiring filmmakers. The music was great and it ended with lots of dancing. The view was amazing and you could walk out on the deck and look back at the city and the people were all amazingly cool. One girl showed me a precursor of Vino Tinto at a bar (basically wine with lemon juice). Easily one of the best parties I've been to as an invitee.

Best Place to Stay
#15 Hilarion Eslava, Madrid. Hostels are a cool place to meet people, Hotels are fun, bed and breakfasts and friend's houses are also a good experience, but hands down THE BEST place I stayed in Europe was my bachelor apartment pad in Madrid. For six weeks, three of which saw the apartment occupied by only 2 people and an RA, I had the run of the mill on a HUGE spacious apartment incredibly close to school and right next to Cave Bar (a bar whose insides look like a cave, if you couldn't figure it out) and the metro. The view was nice from the 5th floor, we had an incredible living room area, a nice kitchen with a washing machine, huge rooms, and a really fancy shower (oh and a bidet which I was hesitant to use...I'm sad to say I'm still a bidet virgin). I couldn't have asked for more. I can't wait to have my own apartment in a city one day, but until then the memory of this amazing place will have to suffice. Absolutely amazing.

Best Pub Crawl
Rome. It's funny how I can have a whole category just for pub crawls. I did a total of 4 in my journey abroad and three of them were in Rome. Berlin's pub crawl was fun and cheap and I met some really cool people, but Rome's pub crawls were just epic. Two out of the three provided two of my favorite nights in Europe. The first, on Friday, was the Colosseum pub crawl. We went with a big group from our hostel and it was epic. This was mostly as a result of the cool people with us and the cool people we met, but definitely had good times all around. We had so much fun I wanted to go again on the second night, but this one simply couldn't live up to the standards set by the first night. Then Sunday came, and one pub crawl supposedly ended in a pool party. I wasn't really down to spend money on one again because I didn't know if it would be cool or not, but eventually I decided to go and definitely didn't regret it. When in Rome...Go on Pub Crawls.

Best Deal

Tigre. It's no wonder why going to Tigre in Madrid is a guarantee to see Americans. Their deals are reminiscent of the excess Americans love. Ordering any drink in this bar means you'll get a complementary plate of tapas which could easily pass as a meal. For those that don't know tapas are basically a wide array of snacks; from a slice of Tortilla Espanola to Bocadillos to Croquettas to anything they feel like really. Definitely a must for anyone on a budget, Tigre is the place to be. For 5 euros a drink you can't beat it.

Cheapest City
Berlin. Speaking of deals, Spain as a whole is pretty inexpensive in the scheme of things but Berlin wins. On my first night I volunteered to buy three half liter beers for everyone as a result of my free stay with Thomas, and I was afraid when I saw the prices were around 8 to 9 euro per bottle. It wasn't per bottle, however, it was per case and for 9 half liters it was less than 9 euros total. Absolutely ridiculous. No wonder on Friday and Saturday nights literally EVERYONE has a beer in their hand no matter where you are. Take that, an add in the fact that you can get 5 cents back by returning bottles for recycling and you have a ridiculous deal. The public transportation system was interesting too because it fully relied on the honor's system. You could buy tickets but noone really checked them. Food also was really greatly priced and you can get a filling nice meal for less than 10 euros with a drink or two. Clubs ran at around 5 euros entrance fee which is honestly nothing, and the city as a whole just is really affordable. Definitely a good city to be a student in.

Most Eventful Tour (Guides)

Segovia. Not like I had all that many tour guides, but I figured Segovia earned a mention here. It's a beautiful historic city with incredible buildings, only thing was our tour guide seemed to have it out for us. Everything IES related was only in Spanish and this tour was no exception. Thing is not everyone is on that level of Spanish and giving it was the first weekend in the program, many people didn't feel up for making the effort. Our tour guide responded to this disinterest by claiming some of the students were drunk, rude, disrespectful, etc. He wasn't the only one, another tour group guide commented crudely about us as well. It was bad enough we had to follow around a guide on his own pace, but that was too much. It was interesting and all, but if you're paid to make sure the people are having a good time learning don't claim they're drunk just because they don't want to listen to you. Maybe we shouldn't have talked as much during the tour, but maybe he should have been just more entertaining!

Best Bar Area
Florence. There were a lot of cool bar areas, but on the night of my birthday Nicola took us to a place his friend recommended. We knew we had arrived when we saw hundreds of people grouped around outside with drinks in hand. Next to the river in Florence, underneath one of the castle towers, there was a huge outdoor area filled with bars. It was the happening place to be, and giving the weather it was really a pleasant experience being outside with an amazing view. We ordered "Invisibles", basically a really strong drink that could put Agua de Valencia to the test, and just had a good time hanging out. Really cool and unique.

Best Sporting Event

Emirates Cup. The Bull Fight was definitely an experience, but when I came to Europe my goal was to watch a soccer match. Thankfully, Greg on my visit to London had purchased tickets for the Emirates cup where AC Milan, Celtic, Lyon, and Arsenal were all playing in a tournament. It was my first match viewing and it was incredible. Despite many starters such as Fabregas and Ronaldinho not even being there, I still really enjoyed experiencing the lively atmosphere (especially Celtic fans) in an incredibly built stadium with a beautiful pitch. We got two matches for the price of one and both were quite exciting. Now, to only watch a REAL premiership game.

Coolest Architecture (City)
Barcelona. Gaudi is the king of Barcelona. Before arriving, I had never heard the name Gaudi. Maybe because I'm just not that into architecture, but honestly every building that is worth seeing in that city is built by him. It's rare in architecture to have such a distinct consistent look that is incredibly unique. He had exactly that and whether it was in the Parkguele, Segrada Familia, or in one of his random buildings scattered throughout the city you can't help but stop and be in awe at how strange yet attractive each one is. He supposedly was inspired by nature, and each building has some origin in a natural Earth structure. It gives Barcelona a very distinct feel and it definitely had some of the coolest things I've seen as far as buildings go.

Coolest Architecture Building
The City of Arts and Sciences. Speaking of buildings, in Valencia there is a MUST see building that is essentially a collection of museums and an IMax theater. These buildings all were absolutely stunning to look at, and they're also quite hard to describe so just look at the pictures and enjoy. My favorite is the Imax theater which is in the shape of an Eye. Or the building that looked like a whale coming out of the water. Stunning.
City with best street performers
Barcelona. Nothing beats sitting at the Palacio Nacional, drinking beer from an immigrant vendor, and listening to some very talented Spanish guitarist. Barcelona is a city centered around music. They had, in my opinion, the highest quality of music performers out of all the cities I visited. Rome had some interesting ones (people blowing bottles for music), Madrid as well (a guy who used his fingers to play drinking glasses), but I just love Spanish guitar music and Barcelona was full of it. This is an example. Not to mention the amazing fountain show that was accompanied and synced to music.
Favorite Park
Retiro. Madrid's Parque del Retiro is HUGE. It has everything you could ever want from a park. Not only can you go boating, but you can visit art galleries in the Crystal Palace, see some amazing flowers, or just relax and watch the PDA that Spain is famous for haha. It's a wonderful park, and while I didn't spend as much time as I would've liked in it, I can definitely appreciate it.
City with Best Street Vendors
Barcelona. Street vendors are EVERYWHERE in Europe. You can hardly walk around the street without seeing rip-off bags, sunglasses, or paintings. Just asking someone how much something costs starts a bidding war. It's really intense. But Barcelona had it down right. The street vendors had four strings on each side of their cloth that the items they are selling are arranged on. This is in case cops come, they can just pull the strings and now they have a bag. Pretty clever, but a friend of mine was in the process of haggling with one when cops appeared. Everyone of them ran quickly but my friend was taking her time in deciding on which purse she wanted. Eventually the guy had to just go leaving my friend with a free purse. This isn't the reason they were the best, but simply walking down the famous Las Ramblas shows how much you can get for cheap in Barcelona. Add the other knock off street vendors and we have a winner. Honorable mention would have to go to Madrid on Sundays during El Rastro. This huge weekly market literally has anything and everything you could ever want for ridiculous prices. If it was every day like Las Ramblas, it would've won.

Most Annoying Street Vendors
Milan. I couldn't believe the nerve of these guys. They'd walk up to you and say "free bracelet! free bracelet! try it on!", and when you try it on they ask for money. If you don't pay them they rip it off you and get pissed. What kind of salesmanship is that? They got personally offended if I didn't want to try on their free bracelet too. Come on guys. You're selling a piece of string that honestly is good for nothing but giving a bad tan line on our wrist. Don't act like ANYONE actually needs this thing. Sell something cool, like knock off designer sunglasses and we can talk.

Biggest Rip-off
On the topic of street vendors, this one in particular had something actually cool. Basically, next to his boom box he had some dancing disney characters. Funny thing is, these dancing characters were just paper and their legs were strings. They were dancing along to the music. It was could they be doing that? Corey, a friend was so intrigued he decided to purchase and after some haggling got it down to 2 euros. So he got it, the guy proved that it could dance by putting it next to the other ones and then handed it and told us to not touch the "magical" black parts. We took it back to the hostel, and the second we put it up with music playing on the laptop it fell over. It's legs are strings. How did we ever think it could hold itself up? Those magical black parts were black pieces of paper. Nicola, who had seen those guys a lot growing up in Italy claimed we weren't doing it right and we spent about 20 minutes trying to figure it out before researching and finding out we just got scammed. Those dancing ones were on a very thin string connected between the boombox and his brown bag. It was hard to finally accept those pieces of paper weren't magic, but we just gave it to the son of the Hostel owner and he proceeded to rip it apart. If you see these guys, don't let their Gypsy magic fool you. Honorable mention goes to the Ice Bar in Amsterdam. I paid money to get cold air blasted in my face in their "4-D" experience. That was just painful and unpleasant, and the whole time it was just cold as we listened to "ice-ice baby" and other clever songs related to coldness.
Most Beautiful City
Paris. As much as it might seem cliché, and as much as I hate to admit it, Paris truly is the most beautiful city I visited. Gold is everywhere, and every building could honestly be a main attraction in any city in the US if put there. The parks are kept up well, there are incredible sights like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. It just wins. Get over it.

Best Place to Watch World Cup Games
Santiago Bernebeu. I watched games in a lot of different places. The Irish Bar I mentioned earlier definitely gets a mention because of the vibe and free shirts, but nothing beats the energy and atmosphere of the screens in front of the Real Madrid Stadium. I was there for three main matches and it was crazy. One day it even began raining and the fans still continued to cheer as they danced in the rain. I only wish I had been in Spain for the finals, because if I were I would've been right back there in front of the huge screen chanting "Yo Soy Espanol" with all of the other fans. Villa Villa Villa Maravilla.

Place I could see myself living in most

London. Having not yet been to New York, London just seems like the coolest city to live in. It's so happening all the time, and as a film person I saw that there is a very lively film scene. I loved just going to a coffee shop randomly and seeing a short film festival playing on a screen there as artists of all sorts typed away on their Macbooks. I loved making a movie there (the trailer which you can see below), and I don't just seems like the city has so much to offer. I only scratched the surface.

Most Missed Item

Water. Pandora and Hulu were missed for sure, but how could I not miss complementary water? On hot days it was unbearable, for this whole month I've been back in the US I've made a point of chugging my water before leaving, just because I have extra and can. I couldn't believe I had to ration out my glass of water I Paid for during a meal. It was almost unbearable. I hate paying for water, and I hate even more paying for water that doesn't even last me the whole meal. The few places that actually allow service of tap water serve it warm without Ice and it's pretty bad. The positive is it made me appreciate water as a commodity, but who needs appreciation...I like my water free and cold. Is that so much to ask?!

Best Beer

Berlin (best individual beer: Amsterdam). To clarify, Berlin had the best and cheapest beer out of all the countries, but Amsterdam provided me with the best glass of beer I ever had (and probably will ever have). On my second day in Amsterdam we decided to go to the Heineken factory and at the end of the tour we got a fresh cup of beer that had finished brewing the day before. It was SO GOOD. It's hard to explain, but it was sweeter and just fresher tasting than any beer I've ever tasted. Supposedly the sugar gets less and less strong as the beer ages, but it's not like it was too sweet. Because of this glass of beer, I drink Heineken as much as I can. I'm only chasing the high though, nothing can ever come close. And because I don't feel like making another category, Sangria is amazing in Spain.
Favorite Song
Shine on. There are lots to chose from, from Stereo Love to Memories to We no Speak Americano (all runner ups)...but as a result of not being overplayed and just being an incredibly awesome song I'd have to go with R.I.O.'s Shine on. It's a song that makes me feel incredibly happy and I'm happy to make this song the song of my summer. I made a playlist and really all of the songs will remind me of this epic trip, but Shine On I never get tired of...until I over play it too. I'll give it a few weeks.

Favorite Picture Taken
First of all, I took a million pictures on this trip. To check them all out just go to my Facebook there's plenty of good ones! This one is a street performer in the Sacré-Coeur in Paris. I took a lot of pictures but finally came out with this one timed just right with the city in the background. On that same note this place would have to go down as the winner for the Best Street Performance I saw. They had a ridiculous dance performance and one guy even juggled a soccer ball on a telephone poll!

Short Film Special!!

While abroad I made a total of two short films. One in Cannes (my first stop) and one in London. The first one is an early cut (I'll be doing one more by the end of this summmer) and the second is a trailer for the full length short film that will run around 9 minutes entitled Smile. Enjoy!

La Festival de Cannes't from Ryan Turner on Vimeo.

And finally all of the cities I visited in order:
Cannes, France

Madrid, Spain
Segovia, Spain
Barcelona, Spain
Paris, France
Valencia, Spain
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Berlin, Germany
Milan, Italy
Florence, Italy
Pisa, Italy
Rome, Italy
Lecce, Italy
London, UK

Thanks for reading guys, it's been a pleasure. Feel free to check out past entries and I'll see you on my next epic adventure. You can keep updated on my doings on my website:

What you should get from this: TRAVEL. Seriously you won't regret it, go see the world, spend that hard-earned money and visit as many places as you can.


  1. You're a very bright and insightful young man. It's a pleasure reading your adventures. Glad you're having a blast. Enjoyed the read

  2. Ryan, I absolutely loved this blog entry! After traveling to a lot of the same places I found myself agreeing or coming up with my own awards for my semester abroad. Your pics are awesome and I'm glad to see you a had such an amazing time :-)

  3. Such a fun read Ryan! I wish I'd given prizes out after my trip to Europe...but now I have a ton of new places I want to go the next time I'm in Europe based on what you've written!