First month abroad: what to expect + what to do

I can’t believe I’ve been here in Canada for almost a month already. And I still can’t believe I have already completed two whole weeks of classes. It feels like I had my orientation just yesterday.

I like it here so much. It is all that I expected, but also all that I didn’t expect. It’s been such an amazing experience so far and I can’t wait to find out what comes next.

First month abroad: what to expect + what to do

Expect to have to deal with a million boring things

Before arriving in Canada, I had made a list of things I had to get done as soon as possible. Get a SIN number, open a bank account, bring study permit to the international center, and all these boring staff. Then, once I arrived and I went both to my program orientation and the international students orientation, I added even more things to my to-do list.

You might get overwhelmed. You might find yourself going out at 8 am to be the first one at the bank and then you find out they don’t open until 9.30 there. It might take some time to figure out how to get into a building and where to find the right office. But it is okay. If you look lost enough, someone will probably help you.

What to do: do not postpone the boring stuff too much. Just do them, and then enjoy your time in your new city.

Expect to feel out of place

I didn’t experience any kind of cultural shock. Coming from another western country, it didn’t take me that much to get adjusted to my new environment. However, I did my fair sharing of eavesdropping people’s conversation to learn how to appropriately talk with your waiter or how to reply when the cashier tries to make small conversation with you (this is still such a shocker to me).

Sometimes, when I walk down the street, I feel like people can just get that I’m not from here. When I walk into a place, I always feel a bit lost and, even if there are directions, I always go the wrong way.

What to do: accept that you are in a new place and it will take a while to get to know it.

Expect to get lost a lot, and get lost on purpose

For the first week, my sister was here with me, so we did a lot of touristy stuff. This allowed me to familiarize with the different neighborhoods and points of interest. I still use Google maps a lot and the Transit app is my lifesaver, but I try not to rely on those as much as possible. Sure, that means that most of the times I walk a couple of extra meters in the wrong direction, but, hey, my goal is to take 10.000 steps a day so it’s all good.

Most of the times, when I didn’t know where I was or where I was going, I ended up discovering cool little places that I would have never seen otherwise. It can also happen that you accidentally walk in one of the worst neighborhood of the city.

What to do: pick an area of your new city, go there, and just walk around aimlessly.

Expect to change your habits

I feel like have already absorbed some of the locals’ habits: I now eat dinner do much earlier than I would do back in Italy (like, one day I had dinner at 5.30pm); I find myself not worrying that much about having a snack in class or while walking down the street; I always carry a water bottle with me; and unfortunately I also started drinking a lot more juice and soda.

What to do: embrace all the new little things that your new place allows. Keep you old habits that you like and incorporate something new in your daily routine.

Expect to have some communication problems

The language barrier always makes me feel very frustrated. It isn’t really a barrier, because I can understand people and most of the times people understand me. But, I feel like my spoken English is pretty bad. My accent is thick, and sometimes, when I’m in the middle of a conversation, I can’t remember words that I actually know.

What to do: keep studying the grammar and practice using new words as much as you can.

Expect to need a break

You’re in a new place, with new people to meet, new stories to hear, but if it gets too much, you can take a break. Sure, carpe diem should be your motto, but you don’t wanna burn out. There is no point in doing things if you don’t feel like you could enjoy them at the moment.

What to do: don’t be afraid to skip a party and spend time in your room watching Netflix instead.

Have you ever spent some time abroad? How was your first month there?

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Your ultimate guide to packing for a year abroad / Blogmas, day 8

In 4 days I’m going to be on a plane headed to Canada. I’m going to live in Toronto at least until summer 2018.

Everyone keeps asking me if I’m ready to go and my answer hasn’t changed in a while. Mentally, I’m so ready, I’ve been waiting for this for so long. But then, I don’t have anything ready yet. Of course I have a nice running list of things I still have to buy and things I need to remember to bring abroad with me, but that’s all.

Your ultimate guide to packing for a year abroad

This post isn’t about what to bring and what not to bring. That is a personal choice and it depends on why you’re spending time abroad and what you’ll do there. If you need a packing list, you can download mine from here.

In this post, I want to share with you a strategic plan to make packing less stressful and intimidating.

Step 1: make a list

You should know by now that my favorite weapon to get things done is a list. So, first things first, write down all the things you want to bring with you. Right now I have a running list that I update every time that something comes to mind, but it would be more ideal to have a list divided by category. Check what you already have and what you should buy. If you have to buy something new, consider buying big/heavy things at your destination.

Step 2: declutter

Now that you have a list of things you need to bring abroad, you can declutter your closet and your room. Throw away anything broken or useless; donate clothes and items that are still in good shape but you haven’t used in the past year. This way you’ll make room for all the new clothes and souvenirs you’ll bring back home from your time abroad.

Step 3: plan your airplane outfit

You should plan what you’ll be wearing while traveling to your destination before you start throwing things in your luggage. Remember to wear something comfortable and warm. If you can, wear the heaviest shoes and the clothes that, if packed, would take up a lot of space.

Step 4: pack

I’m sorry, but now you’re on your own. Just kidding, I still have a few tips for you, even if this is my least favorite part about traveling in general. The first things to go in your luggage should be big and heavy items. Then, you can fill up all the gaps with shirts and underwear. If you have to pack really big items, like a coat or a bathrobe, consider buying compression bags. I still haven’t put to use the two I’ve bought, but my friends swear by them, so I can’t wait to try the magic myself.

Step 5: carry on

I tend to have a lot of faith in airline companies and I almost never pack extra clothes in my carry on. Most of the times, my carry on is just my backpack with just documents and electronics in it.

How do you usually pack for big trips?

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Get ready for 2017: a peek inside my bullet journal / Blogmas, day 6

Beside the Christmas songs, the festive food and drinks, and all the traditions, one of my favorite part about the holiday season is that you get close to the beginning of a new year. I love the feeling of starting something new. New year, new resolutions, new opportunities, new planner.

I like to always be prepared, so I usually start planning my year a bit in advance. This year, I decided I didn’t want to use my weekly Moleskine anymore. During the past year, I didn’t have enough space for some days, while I had too much for others. I also felt very frustrated because there were so many things I wanted to track in my planner, but not so many blank pages.

2017 bullet journal

(This post contains some affiliate links)

I’ve been thinking about starting a bullet journal for so long, but it didn’t felt right to start one in the middle of the year. So I waited. I spent hours looking through amazing layouts on Instagram and Pinterest and taking notes on interesting collections I’d love to have in my bujo. I also started using the bullet journal system in the weekly planner I was using, to see if I actually liked it, and it worked perfectly.

Now that 2017 is about to start, I finally started working on my first real bullet journal.

When I found out Moleskine was doing this limited edition Harry Potter notebook, I didn’t even think twice about buying it. It also helped that at the time it was 20% off on Amazon. I was a bit worried about the fact that it’s a ruled journal, but I intend to keep it as minimalist as I can and I don’t plan to draw that much into it.

As stated on the official bullet journal website, the first page of a bullet journal should be an index. But, the bullet journal system is very flexible, so you can do just what works for you. I’ve thought about not having an index, since I was planning on doing all my monthly and weekly logs in chronological order and then have the collections on the back. Then I thought that I might add some piece of information that I will need often in a daily log, so I decided to have an index.

After that, I have my year at a glance. I don’t really like how it turned out and I don’t even know why I put it in, since I never actually used my yearly overview in my planners.

Before jumping to January, I’ve decided to have some collections up front. I attached my bucket list with some washi tape; the space is running up, so I guess I’ll have to make a new page during the year.

On the next page I listed my main goals for 2017. They are divided into things to do, places to visit, and things to learn. I will probably add a picture or a motivational quote, since I don’t like having all that blank space on the page.

I set up some other collections up front:

  • books to read
  • movies to watch
  • birthdays
  • need & want
  • expenses tracker
  • things to do in Toronto
  • concerts

In January I will finally start school in Toronto. It will be a 16 consecutive months program, so I’ve listed all the courses I’ll have to take, divided by semesters. I also set up an overview for the first semester with important dates, vacations, and I’m planning to add all the due dates. Lastly, I added my weekly timetable.

After a monthly overview, I have Since this is my first year using a real bullet journal, I’ve tried a couple of different layouts for the first weeks. I’ll see which one works best and then I’ll stick with that.

In the back of the journal, I have a couple of more collections:

  • the best of every month
  • yearly mood tracker
  • tv show tracker (yes, the quote is there just because I already messed up the layout and I didn’t know how to cover it up)
  • things I’ve learned about bullet journaling
  • temperature log
  • monthly tasks and bills
  • social media tracker

I am also planning to add a couple of more collections:

  • self care ideas
  • packing list
  • ideas to research
  • places I want to travel to
  • restaurants to try
  • no spend challenge

I am very excited to start 2017 and I can’t wait to use my new bullet journal. I’m already so in love with the system and hopefully it will help me staying focused and motivated.

Do you use a planner? Which one is your favorite? Have you ever tried a bullet journal?

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Christmas in Italy / Blogmas, day 5

Christmas in Italy is a very big deal, it’s probably the biggest holiday. Schools and most offices close the day before Christmas Eve. There are no newspapers on Christmas day and the day after. The only place where you can do some very last minute shopping is at big malls but just for a couple of hours early in the morning.

Christmas in Italy: traditions, decorations, food and more

The holiday season here in Italy actually starts on December 8th. On that day people start putting up Christmas lights and decorations. A lot of Christmas related events start on that day in every major Italian city. But, the best part is that they open all the Christmas markets. I love Christmas markets, even if they all sell the same things and they’re usually super crowded. The holiday season ends on January 6th.

Traditions

Here in Milan we celebrate just on Christmas day. In my family, we usually open our gifts in the morning. Then we have a very long lunch, sometimes it can last until 5 in the afternoon.

Different Italian regions, and sometimes even different cities in the same region, have different Christmas traditions. In Bergamo, which is another city in Lombardy, they get gifts on the 13th of December, the day of Santa Lucia. In Southern Italy, they start celebrating with a big dinner on Christmas Eve and then they also celebrate on Christmas.

Decorations

Along with amazing Christmas trees and elaborate Christmas lights, presepi (nativity scenes) are very common. They even do contests in a lot of cities. So you can find hand carved presepipresepi made of chocolate, and sometimes even living nativity scenes with real people and animals.

Christmas in Milan, Italy

When I was little, we used to make our presepe on our fireplace. My sister and I painted this sky with a lot of stars on a big piece of paper and we used that as a background. We used to buy moss to use as terrain (so accurate for a scene taking place in the desert!). And then we had a lot of model figures that we liked to misplace every day, which made our parents crazy. Nowadays, we just put a wreath outside the door.

Food

Of course food is very important for a nice Christmas celebration. Panettone (originally from Milan) and pandoro (from Verona) are the typical Christmas sweet treat. They can be found just around the holiday season, both in grocery stores (some brands are good, others not so much) and bakery/patisseries (the good stuff). As I told you in my Christmas tag, you don’t eat both panettone and pandoro, but you have to pick a side. Unless you’re like me and you find Italians a bit too obsessed with their food.

Torrone is also something you see a lot around the holiday season. Another typical sweet treat is struffoli, but they are from the South and sadly we don’t get a lot of them here.

After Christmas

The holiday season doesn’t end until the 6th of January. December 26th, Saint Stephen’s day, is another national holiday. Families get together for another round of eating a very long meal. It’s okay to use leftover from Christmas, but, in my experience, most of the times people cook a lot of fresh food again.

The next thing to celebrate is New Year’s Eve. There aren’t that many traditions for that night. It depends a lot on how old you are and what you like to do. Some people go dancing at clubs, which is very expensive. In some major cities there are concerts, but they’re usually outside and very cold. You can find fireworks almost everywhere, even in small town. Of course, the most traditional thing about New Year’s Eve is food and drinks. People usually have lentils, which symbolize good fortune and money, and they also have cotechino, which is a kind of meat.

The last day of the holiday season is the 6th of January, Epiphany. Kids get stockings full of candies from la befana and families get together for yet another lunch (but not as big as the one you have on Christmas day).

What is like Christmas in your country? What is your favorite Christmas tradition? What about food and decorations?

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Winter skin care tips / Blogmas, day 4

Lately I’ve been very minimalistic in my skin care routine. That is a very nice way to say I’ve been kind of lazy and I did just what was really necessary. But now that is finally winter, the cold weather is very rough on my skin, so I started putting more effort into my skin care routine.

Winter skin care tips / Blogmas, day 4

If in the summer I can get away with just some sunscreen in the morning and the occasional touch-up, winter requires more work and consistency. Winter is usually very cold here, which means I tend to get dry skin from November to February.

But, over the years, I’ve tried different things to get bright and smooth skin even during the winter and I’m now sharing all my winter skin care tips with you (scroll down for TL;DR).

Face

The best way to hydrate your skin is by using the right moisturizer. Ideally you should use one in the morning and another one for the night. Your day cream should have SPF to protect your skin from UV rays (yes, even during winter!), while the night one should be richer. I have to admit I don’t have different moisturizers and I don’t even use one every single day. I also know I should use more sunscreen, but I live in the Pianura Padana, where during the winter there is always a lot of fog and you start to think that the sun doesn’t even exist anymore, that the warm yellow rays were all just a dream.

One of my favorite self-care activities is giving myself a facial and applying face masks. Recently I fell in love with tissue mask thanks to Garnier moisture bombs. These masks are the perfect choice for winter, since they provide 1 week’s worth of hydrating serum in only 15 minutes. On their English website there’s just one type of tissue mask, but here in Italy I actually found three (which are listed on their Italian website) different moisture bombs for different types of skin.

When it’s cold outside, you should also opt for a lighter exfoliator. My winter face cleanser of choice is Herbalism by Lush. Occasionally, I also use Let the Good Times Roll (which is the cleanser I use during the warmer months); it’s a bit too rough for dry skin, but I often find myself missing its sweet smell so I use it anyway.

The last product you should change during the winter is your makeup remover. If you use wipes, you should consider switching to micellar water. After I’ve tried it for the first time, I never went back to wipes. Micellar water does a wonderful job, it even removes matte lipstick very easily and without being too aggressive on the skin. It is also especially great for winter because it gives the skin an extra boost of hydration.

Hands

If during the summer I can get away with neglecting my hands, during the winter I have to take care of them. If I don’t, they hurt a lot. The first thing to do to prevent cracked dry skin is wearing gloves when outside.

If drinking water is good for you and to keep hydrated, water on your skin is not so great. Of course you cannot avoid washing your hands, and you should wash them frequently to protect your health. To protect your hands you should use a mild soap with ingredients like shea butter. You should resist the temptation to wash your hands with hot water, go for lukewarm water instead. Lastly, you should moisturize right after patting your hands dry.

Body

The first thing to do to keep your body healthy and hydrated during the winter is drinking water and eating a lot of fruits and vegetables.

If water is good on the inside, it’s bad on the outside. So, as tempting as a hot bath might sound, you should definitely avoid it. You don’t want the long bath to strip all the moisture away from your skin. Take a warm shower and keep is as short as possible. Then, remember to moisturize right after. I am not a big fan of body lotions, so what I use instead is coconut oil. It smells so much better and it makes your skin bright and very smooth.

TL;DR

Face:

  • moisturize daily;
  • use hydrating face masks;
  • switch to a lighter exfoliator;
  • consider using micellar water to remove makeup.

Hands:

  • always wear gloves outside;
  • don’t wash your hands with hot water;
  • use a mild soap;
  • moisturize right after.

Body:

  • stay away from long hot baths;
  • use coconut oil right after your short warm shower.

Do you have a different skin care routine for every season? What are some of your favorite products to use during the winter?

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5 Christmas drinks to sip by the fireplace / Blogmas, day 2

The first image that comes to mind when I think about the holiday season is family and friends hanging out together in front of the fireplace, sipping on traditional Christmas drinks. This is totally biased by all those tv shows and movies I tend to watch. In fact, we don’t even use our fireplace that much anymore.

But I do spend a lot of time with friends and family, exchanging gifts, stories about the previous year, and our wishes and goals for the new one. One of the best things about this gatherings is Christmas treats and snacks, which should be served along with Christmas drinks.

5 Christmas drinks to sip by the fireplace / Blogmas, day 2

Hot chocolate

When you say wintery drinks, who doesn’t think about hot chocolate? I think this pretty common in a lot of countries, at least where Christmas is in the winter.

I used to make instant hot chocolate, but nowadays I’m all about making it from scratch. It doesn’t take much more time and I like how it tastes better. All you need is: milk (regular, soy, almond, oat, it doesn’t matter), cornstarch (you can also use potato starch), cocoa, and sugar. Just put the milk on the stove and then stir together all the other ingredients with a whisk.

What I love the most about hot chocolate, whether you decide to make it from scratch or you buy the instant kind, is how creative you can get. You can just add one simple extra ingredient and you get something completely different. My favorite thing to add to hot chocolate is cinnamon. I also like to add shredded coconut. Or you can go classic and put whipped cream on top, or marshmallows, or a combination of both. Other things you could add are: ice-cream, chopped hazelnuts, caramel, coffee, candy canes, crushed gingerbread cookies, peanut butter.

Smoothies

I have two different Christmassy smoothie recipes for you. The first one is a bit healthier, more exotic, and very delicious. You mix together pineapple, coconut water, cranberries, and vanilla.

The second one is a gingerbread smoothie, still healthy, but a bit more sweet and festive. Blend together: almond milk, a banana, fresh ginger, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, cloves, and maple syrup. Serve with gingerbread cookies.

Spiced Christmas tea

Christmas tea infusions are my favorite and I actually drink them all winter long. I love how red and festive they are. If you can’t find Christmas tea bags anywhere, you can just add some dried hibiscus, vanilla, and cinnamon to hot water or your regular tea.

Coffee

Okay, I drink coffee all year long, but it’s usually espresso. During the holidays, I love to sip on my cappuccino. Another kind of coffee that reminds me of Christmas is caffè marocchino (literally Moroccan coffee). The bottom layer is made of cocoa, then it’s coffee, and steamed milk on top.

Do you have a favorite holiday drink? What do you usually sip on while watching Christmas movies?

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The Christmas tag / Blogmas, day 1

After seeing so many people doing Blogmas, I’ve decided to jump on the bandwagon as well. I know what you’re thinking: Sarah, you’re very late to the party. In order to have a successful Blogmas challenge you’re supposed to blog every day of December up until Christmas.

Well, I’ve decided to make my own rules and do a very short version of Blogmas, which will last 10 days. Also, I’ll try to make every post Christmas related or at least Winter themed.

The Christmas tag / blogmas day 1

So my first entry for this very short version of Blogmas is the Christmas tag, which of course I’ve altered a bit because I like to personalize things.

1. Have you ever had a White Christmas?

I don’t think it ever snowed on the actual Christmas day here. However, there were a couple of years when there was still old snow around on Christmas and I loved how everything looked. I love snow and I love Christmas, or at least the holiday spirit, so it would be awesome to have snow and Christmas on the same day. Unluckily, we don’t get that many snow days here, and it just started getting below 0°C these past few weeks, so it’s pretty pointless hoping to have a white Christmas this year. Maybe next year, when I’ll be in Toronto for Christmas.

2. What is your favorite Christmas movie?

I am not that much into movies. TV shows are my thing and I love when they do Christmas specials (they’re doing one for Sense8 this year and I’m so excited). Anyways, the only three Christmas movies that come to mind are How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Elf, and Home Alone. I remember watching them all during the holidays when I was a little kid and I’d say How the Grinch Stole Christmas is my favorite.

3. What is your favorite Christmas song?

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays (covered) by Issues. Also, Thousand Miles Christmas by Matt Webb.

4. Do you open any presents on Christmas Eve?

No. When I was little I used to open all my presents as soon as I woke up on Christmas morning. Nowadays, as I don’t get to find a lot of presents piled up on the floor of my living room anymore, I usually open them as soon as I get them. Or, if someone really insists I have to wait till Christmas to open their gift, I open it as soon as I’m home alone.

5. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer?

I could, if I googled it. And I’m gonna to google it right now because not knowing their name will bug me. I know just Rudolf.

6. Do you like to stay in your pj’s or dress up for Christmas?

I always like to stay in my pj’s. But I also like to put on a nice Christmas themed outfit and makeup. Last year I’ve also painted my nails with a lot of red and golden glitters. I still haven’t decided what I’ll wear this year.

7. Is your Christmas tree real or fake?

My Christmas tree is non-existent. For a couple of years, we had a small fake tree that would sing and dance when you walked by, but then it stopped working.

8. When do you put the tree up and take it down?

Again, I don’t have a tree. But here it’s tradition to put it and all the other decorations and the lights up on the 8th of December. You take everything down on the 6th of January because l’Epifania tutte le feste porta via (Epiphany carries away all festivities).

9. What is your all-time favorite holiday food/sweet treat?

I really like gingerbread cookies, torrone, and yule log cake.

10. Be honest: do you like giving gifts or receiving gifts better?

I love to give gifts, but I hate going shopping for them and I’m always worried I’m buying something wrong or not cool enough. Of course, I also love to receive gifts, especially when it’s something I really like, wanted, or needed.

11. What is the best Christmas gift you’ve ever received?

Can I be brutally honest? I’d say money : )

12. What would be your dream place to visit for the holiday season?

In order of preference: Iceland, Norway, St. Petersburg. In alternative, someplace warm, like Costa Rica or the Caribbean.

13. Are you a pro-present wrapper, or do you fail miserably?

I love to wrap presents and I love to go overboard with ornaments. Sometimes I’m very proud of the results, other times I give up and ask my mom to wrap presents for me (she’s the pro in the family).

14. Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Do you stick to them?

Yes, I do make them. I used to make pretty big and unrealistic ones so I never actually stuck to them. But now I’m setting more realistic goals for myself and I break them down in monthly or even weekly goals, so I get to achieve most of the things I want to do in a year. If you’re interested in how to make your dreams happen, you should get my free workbook.

I also want to add a totally Italian question at the end of this. Many battles have been fought to find an answer to this dilemma. But the debate still goes on and to this day we have no winner.

15. Panettone or pandoro?

I’ve always been team Pandoro over here. But I guess I could tolerate some panettone if it’s without candied fruits.

What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions? But, most importantly, are you team pandoro or panettone?

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Day trips from London: 3 stunning places to visit outside the city

If you follow me on Twitter (if you don’t, what are you waiting for?), you may know I’ve spent some days in the UK at the end of November. This wasn’t my first time in London. Over the years I’ve been there a few times and I am not the biggest fan of the city. It’s not because it’s not pretty (it is very pretty), but it just didn’t have the right vibe for me.

This time, I went there to meet with one of my dearest friends. She’s been living there since the spring, so she was my guide and we did less touristy stuff. Staying in a more residential neighborhood in West London and seeing how people actually live there, made me change my mind a bit.

That being said, one of the things I love the most about London is that you can take so many day trips from there. Cardiff, Bristol, Bath, Oxford, Brighton, Birmingham, Sheffield, Canterbury, Bournemouth and many other places are all a one- or two-hour train ride from London. Unluckily I didn’t get to visit all these cities, even though I’d love too.

Day trips from London: 3 stunning places to visit outside the city

Here, my top 3 day trips from London and, yes, they’re in order of preference.

Stonehenge & Bath

This is definitely my favorite day trip from London. I took this trip back in April when I was in London with my sister for Easter break (and for a Simple Plan concert). I always wanted to go visit Stonehenge and after a bit of research, we found out there were a lot of coach tours that take you to both Stonehenge and Bath.

We were never big fans of group tours, we actually never did one before. For this specific excursion, this option was the cheapest (about 60£ for the bus ride + Stonehenge tickets + guide) and it also made us spend less time on public trains or buses. The company we went with was International Friends and I’m telling you this just because we really enjoyed our time with them. They definitely made us change our mind about coach tours (so much that we did another one when we were in Amsterdam).

Most companies also offer the option to do a Stonehenge, Bath, and Windsor tour. But, in my opinion, we did the right thing by booking just Stonehenge and Bath, because you get just the perfect time in both places.

Our day started pretty early. We had to be at the meeting point at 7.30 am but, because it was Easter, the tube was opening later than usual, so we enjoyed a 20-minute walk from Tottenham Court Road to Great Portland Street. Thankfully, the weather was fine and it was kind of cool walking down empty streets in London – something I will probably never see again.

We took our bus and, after about 2 hours, we arrived at Stonehenge. There, we got some time to visit the Stone Circle with an audioguide, the Neolithic Houses, and the Exhibition. For me, it was kind of surreal standing in such an iconic place, full of history and mystery. And even the weather was surreal. I mean, look at that black sky.

Stonehenge

In the early afternoon we arrived in Bath. Thankfully, it stopped raining and we even got some sun for a while. We walked around the town with such an experienced guide who told us so many interesting stories about Bath and the people who live and used to live there.

The Circus in Bath

After the walking tour, we got a bit of free time. My sister and I decided to visit the Roman Baths (about 15£), which I definitely recommend doing. Seriously, this is the most famous attraction of the town and everything there is so well preserved. Having studied a lot of Ancient Roman history and literature in school, visiting this place was one of the highlights of the trip for me. After that, we also had some time to visit the Abbey.

Roman Baths in Bath

The architecture in Bath is breathtaking and I love how everything looks so well put together, probably because most of the buildings are made of the same golden-colored stone, the Bath stone.

The Making of Harry Potter

Okay, so where do I begin telling you how cool this thing is? If you’re a Potterhead, but even if you just watched the movies once, this place will blow your mind. This wasn’t even my first time on a movie set, but it was so so so cool. I’m still at a loss of words.

Compared to the Warner Bros Studio Tour in Burbank, CA, this tour is cheaper (35£). Also, since this is not being used to film anymore, you don’t have to follow a guide through the backlots and soundstages. You get to walk around on your own and you can stay for how long you want to.

On their website they say the average visit time is 3 hours. We booked our tickets for an early afternoon slot (2 pm, if I remember it correctly) and we didn’t get back until dinner time (which is after 8 pm for us).

To get to Leavesden, my sister and I took a train from London Euston to Watford Junction (anytime day return ticket is about 17£). Just outside Watford station you can catch a shuttle bus (2.5£) that will take you right in front the entrance of the Studio Tour.

When you arrive there, you’ll have to queue for a while. Then you get to watch a video clip just to get more excited about being on the set where they film Harry Potter. After then, the Great Hall doors are opened and you’re in! You’ll find yourself in a state of complete awe. I want to let you know it’s completely okay. And it does not get better until a couple of days after.

By the time you get to the café, you might have regained the ability to talk and process things. Here you can have a butterbeer (I warn you, it is very sweet) or butterbeer ice-cream. They also offer other common snacks (sandwiches, cakes, etc.), probably for the muggles.

The Making of Harry Potter, Butterbeer

But it’s not over yet. After your break at the café, you get to walk outside, where you can find Privet Drive, the Night Bus, the Hogwarts bridge and so much more. I don’t want to get too much into details. Part of the amazingness of the tour is that you don’t know what will come after. You think you’ve see the best thing ever, but then you go on and there’s something even better. Like the huge model of Hogwarts. Walking into that room was just breathtaking.

At the end, don’t skip the gift shops. You’ll find a lot of amazing things, from clothes to accessories and candies. Unluckily, things aren’t the cheapest. I got just a Chocolate Frog from there, but I’m still dreaming about the Ravenclaw cardigan.

Oxford

I went to Oxford with my friend during my latest trip to London. Overall, it was a nice day. The weather was okay, it was cold but sunny. The city was a bit crowded, especially on the main shopping street. Christmas lights were already up and there was even a small Christmas market, so the atmosphere was great.

To get to Oxford for London, we took the Oxford Tube (same day return 14£), which is actually a bus. After an hour of traveling through the beautiful English countryside, we got down at High Street, right in front of the University Church Of St Mary The Virgin. Our next stop was the Oxford Covered Market, which is something you cannot miss. It is also a nice place where to have breakfast or lunch.

In the afternoon we opted for a free walking tour. There are a lot of different companies you can go with. Some of them bring you inside colleges and the Divinity School, so you have to pay a fee for the tickets and then also give a tip to your guide. We opted for a completely free tour and we just tipped our very competent and also very funny guide.

The first thing I learned during the tour is that there isn’t one University of Oxford, but that is made up by more than 30 colleges. We got see some of them: Christ Church College, Trinity College, All Souls College, Merton College, and Hertford College. We also walked by the Bodleian Library, the Radcliffe Camera, and the Bridge of Sighs.

After a quick stop in a beautiful café full of other students, we took the bus back to London. Of course it took a lot more than it took in the morning because of traffic, but there was free wifi so I cannot complain.

Have you ever visited one of these places? What other day trip from London would you recommend?

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A day in the life: 4 college students share their typical day

The other week I talked about the Italian school system. Today I’ve decided to share the typical day of an Italian college student. I also wanted to show how different and how similar being a student in different countries or majors can be. One thing is sure, we all love our coffees and hitting snooze in the morning.

a day in the life: 4 college students share their typical day

For this post, I’ve got some help from 3 awesome ladies, who are sharing their typical day as a student. Lauren studies musical theater and blogs at Glitter & Grandeur. Blondie just graduated from college with a mechanical engineering degree and a physics minor and blogs at Blonde Roast by the Coast. Alyssa is a religious studies and political science student and blogs at The Wise Willow.

A day in the life of a Psychology student

I’ve recently (well, it’s been 4 months already) graduated from the University of Milan-Bicocca with a degree in Developmental Psychology. Of course, every semester and even every day within the same semester was a bit different. I’ve decided to talk about a typical day during my last semester of college here in Italy.

My course load was pretty light, still it felt like it was the hardest semester ever. I had to take just an 8-credits course, psychology of gender differences and inequalities, which I loved. And a 4-credits lab, which I didn’t like that much and skipped as much as I could. But then, I had to take care of the research study for my dissertation and I had to actually write my dissertation, which wasn’t easy and pretty time consuming, but it was my favorite part of all these years.

Morning

6.30 am // Rise and shine! I don’t mind waking up early (most of the times I’m up by 8 even if I’m home with nothing to do all day). But I hate the moment I actually wake up and have to get out of bed. So, after hitting snooze a couple of times, I get my coffee and my cereals, and then life gets a bit better.

7:36 am – 7:50 am // Based on how much time I wasted checking my emails and social media and getting ready to get out of the house, I used to catch either the 7.36 or the 7.50 train. If the train was on time, I usually enjoyed a slow walk from the station to the school where I was conducting the study for my dissertation. If the train was late, I got to enjoy a little power walk, but they all recommend to workout in the morning so it was okay.

8:30 am // I set up the classroom and all the material I needed and then started the activities and the tests with the kids. Some of these activities were fun, others were kind of boring for me (especially one where you had to listen to the same two sounds over and over again). But all the kids seemed to enjoy every “game” and some of them even asked me to do something twice – of course, they usually asked to repeat the most boring ones.

12:00-ish pm // I used to take the metro (aka subway or tube, we call it metro here) to go to university, as I always had a class (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, from 12.30 to 2.30) or the laboratory (Monday and Friday, from 12.30 to 4.30) in the afternoon. I used to have lunch while taking yet another power walk to class.

Afternoon

2:36 pm // Most of the times, I made it to the station and I went home right after my class with the 2:36 train. But if the class ran late, or if I had to stay to talk with a professor, or if I had to go get a book, I stayed there and studied at the library all afternoon.

3:30-ish pm // Study time! I used to go over all the notes I’ve taken during the day, then the assigned readings and sometimes, when I was feeling super productive, I even started preparing my notes for the next days.

5:15 pm // Tea time, except I don’t like tea, so it’s coffee or juice or a yoghurt for me. Usually, at this time both my sister and my mother were home so we had a snack all together and relax a bit.

5:30 pm // Some more study time. I usually tried to read some new material and papers for my dissertation or do some of the data analysis. But a lot of times it was just me wasting time on the computer.

Night

7:00 pm // Relax and/or workout.

8:00-ish pm // Dinner time.

9:00 pm // Time to catch up on social media and binge-watch tv-shows.

12:00 am // Finally bed time!

A day in the life of a Musical Theatre student

gHello loves! My name is Lauren Norton and I blog over at Glitter & Grandeur. I am a lifestyle blogger & actress spreading sparkle to inspire others in living a happy, positive life – with some theatre tips and tricks thrown in for good measure. 🙂

A day in my life is a little different than most college students, so bear with me. I am in my final semester for my Masters of Music degree in Musical Theatre. This means I take 9 graduate credit hours a semester (most of them involving performing so I don’t have a ton of written homework or tests – instead I perform in class for a grade) – in other words less classes but more work. I also work three jobs, in addition to blogging, but two of them are only on weekends so I won’t mention them here. Anyway, here is a typical day in my life!

6:30am // My first alarm goes off. I hit snooze… even though I shouldn’t. I should get up and workout but, let’s be real, that never happens.

7:00am // I actually wake up. Then, I proceed to lay in bed for 5-10 minutes while I contemplate what to wear and check social media on my phone. I’m not a morning person. I rush to get ready, make a massive cup of coffee, and run out the door.

8:00am-11:00am // Work at the on-campus library. Gotta pay the bills!

11:00am-1:00pm // Class time! On Mondays & Wednesdays, I have Ballet from 12-12:50. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I have On-Camera Acting from 11-12:15.

1:00pm-2:30pm // Depending on the day, this time is used to grab a quick lunch and practice my music. I will have a 30 minute voice lesson or vocal coaching each day during this time as well. Lots of singing! These are my favorite classes.

2:30pm-3:00pm // During this time, I do little tasks or grab coffee. Tasks could include: catching up on blog social media, copying music, meeting with professors, or chatting with friends.

3:00pm-4:00pm // On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have Musical Theatre Dance class. It is a ton of fun! We learn choreography for various Broadway shows. Other days of the week, this time is used for writing/editing my thesis or applying for future jobs.

4:00pm-6:00pm // My school day is over! I use this time to crank out some focused productivity whether it be writing a blog post, working on my thesis, doing homework, practicing my music, etc. I do this either at my desk in my apartment or in the on-campus library. I prefer the library because I tend to nap if I go home.

6:00pm // Cook and eat dinner! I usually watch Netflix while I do this.

7:00pm // If I am in a show, I usually go to rehearsals from 7:00-10:30pm. If I’m not in a show, I use this time to catch up on blog promotion through social media or relax until bedtime.

10:30pm // It is time to get ready for bed! This doesn’t always happen, but it is my ideal scenario.

10:45pm // Crawl into bed and read a book or watch Netflix until I fall asleep — which usually occurs around midnight.

And that is my day! It gets pretty hectic at times but I love what I do.

A day in the life of a Mechanical Engineering and Physics student

bHey there, everyone! I’m Blondie from Blonde Roast by the Coast – a lifestyle blog for the coffee, cleaning, cooking, and cat-obsessed.

I’m not actually a college student anymore, but Sarah was nice enough to include me on this post. I just graduated from college in May with a Mechanical Engineering Degree and Physics Minor. Although my college career was focussed mostly on my schoolwork, I also held executive positions in my social sorority and the academic engineering fraternity on my campus. Now, without further ado, a day in the life of Blondie!

6:30am // My first alarm goes off. That’s a funny joke. I turn it off.

6:40am-7:50am // My alarms go off every 10 minutes until my roommate (and best friend) Steph bangs on my door and tells me it’s time to get up.

7:50am-8:00am // Start brewing coffee, brush teeth, get dressed, throw hair up, grab a granola bar and my coffee, and power-walk to class on the opposite side of campus (I went to a REALLY small school)

8:00am-9:15am // Class. My 8am classes were usually upper-level math or physics classes so they were pretty hard for so early in the morning.

9:30am-10:45am // Actually get ready for my day – grab a shower, hair, make-up, the whole nine. Then Steph and I would usually head to Dunkin Donuts for a coffee and some food. Once we got back we would get our planners out and get organized for the day.

11:00am-12:15pm // Another class – usually upper level engineering, so still difficult, but more hands-on and interesting.

12:30pm-1:00pm // Academic club meetings – such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Society of Women Engineers, Math Association of America, and things like that.

1:00pm-2:00pm // Senior Physics Class. My school was so small that it was just me and one other student, George in this class. So it was actually really fun to just hang out with George and Dr. Clarke for lab.

2:00pm-6:00pm // Senior Engineering Lab/Senior Project. I won’t bore you with what these classes actually consisted of, but they were exhausting.

6:00pm-7:00pm // Dinner – the food in the caf was horrendous, so I would usually run to the Bar and Grill on campus to have a quick dinner and “assess the damage” (see how much homework I had for the night).

7:00pm-8:30pm // Meetings – Monday was for the Executive council for the Engineering Fraternity, Tuesday was for Executive Council for the Sorority, and Thursday was for Chapter Meeting of the Engineering Fraternity.

8:30pm-2:00am // Homework. SO. MUCH. HOMEWORK. My friend Cathy and I would usually head to a cute lounge in her dorm, listen to Maroon 5 or Ed Sheeren and do homework.

2:00am // Cathy made a promise to herself to call it quits around 2am most nights. So that’s when I would head back to my apartment. My roommates usually left it a mess so I would usually clean up and set up my homework at the kitchen island.

2:15am-4:00am // Keep working. I was taking more classes than the rest of my classmates because I wanted that Physics Minor so badly. I would usually stay up until 4. If I had a lab report and test the next day I would be up all night. But that only happened a couple of times.

4:15am // Hopefully, I’m in bed emotionally preparing for the next day and dreading the moment when I hear Steph bang on my door.

So there you have it! The day in the life of an engineering student.

Honestly, I can’t say that I miss it. The working world suits me a lot better, but there are days that I miss having a break between classes to grab food with Steph or listening to Maroon 5 with Cathy as we panicked about our grades. Looking back now, I think it was all worth it, but at the time it sure didn’t feel that way!

If you’re interested in reading more about coffee, cleaning, cooking, and cats, please check me out over at my site, instagram, pinterest, facebook, or twitter!

A day in the life of a Religious Studies and Political Science student

aHi everyone! I’m Alyssa, a second-year college student and lifestyle blogger at The Wise Willow! I am a Religious Studies and Political Science double major, and I’m excited to tell you about a day in my college life!

Mornings

Monday/Friday: On Mondays and Fridays my first class (African Politics) starts at 10am, so I have some time to wake up, send emails, and get caught up on other tasks that got pushed back the day before. I’m not really a morning person, but I do like to have time to wake up before my classes. My alarm usually goes off at 7:30am, but I definitely press snooze a few times before getting out of bed. I like to wake up by making some coffee and my breakfast in my dorm room, and getting on my computer to check emails and social media! For breakfast I usually have oatmeal, a few peanut butter and banana rice cakes, or a vegan protein smoothie!

Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday: I work at my campus Office of Admission in the morning on these days of the week, so I wake up around 7am (I get out of bed at about 7:15 once I stop pressing snooze!). I make coffee and eat breakfast before walking to work for my 2.5 hour shift. I love working there, and it’s a great way to start my day!

Afternoons

Monday-Wednesday, Friday: Lunch at 11:15am, and study time to catch up on assignments and projects. I have class (Statistics) from 1-1:50pm, and I have another class from 2:30-3:50pm (either Religion or Education, depending on the day). Once I’m done with these classes, I like to go back to my dorm room and drop off my extra class stuff and pick up materials for my evening classes and activities (and to make more coffee!).

Evenings

The evenings are when most of my activities (besides classes and work) start! On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays I have an Italian class (4:30 to 5:30 on Monday and 5:30 to 6:30 on Tuesday/Thursday). I love this class! It is a self-directed course for two credits, and I eventually am hoping to study in Italy for my Masters!

I have dinner in the dining hall at 6:30, and then walk to the library to start working on homework and projects for the evening. Sometimes there will be events that I will go to at 8 or 9pm depending on the time of semester.

Throughout this evening time I will write blog posts and watch YouTube videos as study breaks, and I usually end up leaving the library by midnight or 12:30am. I get back to my dorm room, shower, and go to bed!

Next semester I am also taking 18 credits (4 four credit classes and the 2 credit Italian class), so my daily schedule will be quite similar! It can be a busy schedule at times, but I have loved all of my endeavors! I hope that this gave you a glimpse into my college experience, and I wrote a post about my daily college life last year if you are interested in seeing how it has changed over the course of a year! 

How is/was your typical day as a college student? Is/was it similar to ours?

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10 unique and actually useful gift ideas for students studying abroad

As I told you in my previous post, I celebrate my birthday last week. I’ve had a great time and cool and useful gifts. This, and the fact that the holiday season is almost here, inspired me to write a gift guide, a list of gift ideas for students studying abroad.

unique and actually useful gift ideas for students studying abroad

(This post may contain affiliate links)

Is your friend moving away to study in a foreign country for a while? Do you want to give them something special, thoughtful, and useful? I made this list of gift ideas for students studying abroad from first-hand experience. I can assure you that if you pick one gift from here, you cannot go wrong.

Backpack

If your friend doesn’t have one already, you can’t go wrong with a backpack. Especially one that can be used for school, but also as a cabin luggage.

white water walk in niagara falls

During my first year of college, for my birthday, I bought myself a North Face Borealis Backpack and I’ve been using it for everything since then. It’s perfect for college, as it has a lot of different pockets: for your phone, for your keys, for your wallet, lip balm, lunch box, medicines, there’s even space for pens, and it has a laptop sleeve. I also use this backpack every summer during my road trips. It’s the perfect size to bring it on a plane as a cabin luggage, and it’s quite comfortable to carry it around even when it’s heavy. It’s waterproof, it has those super great waist straps and, for extra security, you can add a lock to the zips.

Adapter

As we’re living in the digital era and we always carry around lots of electronics, those need to be charged. A lot of other essential items, like a hair dryer or an electric toothbrush, need to be plugged in. Unluckily, different countries have different plugs.

Trust me, you can never have too many adapters. I have 4 and I’m always looking for a way to make room for more devices. So, go ahead and buy your friend an adapter, either a universal or a country specific one.

External battery

Since we’re talking about electronics, another essential thing to have is a portable battery. This is essential for those awesome days when there are so many views to take pictures of. Or for those long days of travel when listening to music drains the phone battery. Your friend will be thinking of you every time they get a low battery warning and another half day away from a socket.

Journal

Even if we’re in the digital era and your friend is planning on sharing the whole adventure on social media, or perhaps a blog (make them read why they should start a blog while living and studying abroad), a proper journal is an awesome thing to have. It could be used to take notes of all the things one shouldn’t miss, to make little bucket lists of places to visit and restaurants to dine at, or to write down personal thoughts and emotions that don’t belong on social media.

moleskine

My first travel journal was on a plain Moleskine notebook, I loved that I could write and draw. But I quickly converted to the Squared Moleskine Notebook. I can still draw on that, but it’s so much easier to write on a squared (or ruled) notebook while you’re on the road, trust me.

DIY travel guide

This is a more personal gift. It will be even better if you’re a crafty person and you can bring one handmade with love. What you should do is: research your friend’s destination and create a custom itinerary or a list of all the attractions you would love to visit. Tell your friend to go to all those places and send you a postcard from there.

Scarf

If you’re into fashion and you’d like to buy a piece of clothing for your friend, a scarf is the perfect gift. A shirt might be cool too, but you need to know the size and sometimes people have a different taste. A scarf is a bit less personal, but it’s so useful. Especially if someone is moving to a cold place. But even in a warm place, it can be used as a shawl during a cool night or when the AC is killing you.

Cream

This might sounds funny. But I actually put on my shopping list to buy at least 3 packs of my favorite hand cream. I know there will be creams where I’m going, but it took me years to find one that is perfect for my skin. I know I’ll have to make some trials and errors before finding another perfect match. So buy your friend’s favorite cream.

Kindle

For the book lover a Kindle is the perfect gift. Even if they are all for printed books and don’t like e-readers, when you have to fit everything in a 23kg luggage, a Kindle seems like an amazing idea and your friend will be very happy to have one. Along with the Kindle, give them a long list of good books to read. Also, make sure they Join Amazon Kindle Unlimited, they can get unlimited reading and unlimited listening to a lot of books for less than 10$ a month.

Gift card

Gift cards are a student best friend. Just be sure to check that the shop will be available at your friend’s destination and that they’ll accept gift cards bought in another country.

Food

Food is a great gift, maybe the best of all. But be sure to check if it’s allowed in the destination country.

Do you have a friend who is moving abroad for a semester? What do you think about these gifts? Do you have any other suggestion?

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