Two Months of College Abroad: Confessions of a New Sciences Piste

Bonjour, y’all.  

I assume many of our amazing and loyal readers already know, but this August I moved from Sofia, Bulgaria – my home for my humble 19 years on this Earth – to Reims, France, which will accommodate moi for the next two and support me in my attempt to successfully graduate from a French higher education institution. So yes, croissants and other donations are accepted at any times.

Although I’ve been residing in the Champagne and King-Crowning capital for a mere two and a half months, the colorful student life at Sciences Po has already got me pondering about what the student experience could or should be like, whether we’re making the most out of it and how this totally new era in our lives will shape us.

During the week-long October break, I got some extra time to reflect on the first half of the first semester in Sciences Po (according to most sophomores – the hardest), while simultaneously getting an objectively deserved break from it. My first thoughts when trying to summarize the beginning of what feels like a new chapter of not only my ever-struggling academic career, but also of my life in general, were the following:

 “We partied a lot. Didn’t ever drink champagne. Yikes, French is hard. I never imagined that getting 10/20 could make me so happy.”

Yet, lately I’ve been thinking that, although in general I’ve been super happy living in France, I could find ways to be more efficient and get even closer to ‘making the most out of it’. Yes, yes, I know it’s early for New Year’s resolutions and adopting a new-year-new-me mentality mid-semester, but you know what – pourquoi pas? 

Overcoming Fear of Missing Out

So the first objective would be to actually get over that integration week mindset that one should attend absolutely everything: every party and social function, join every association, or otherwise you’d be severely missing out. Might be just me, but upon arriving in Reims, the poor naive two-months-ago version of myself might have actually thought that time traveling and being at two places at a time existed in college. 

Basically, what I’ve come to realize is that early student life is beaming with interesting events, it’s easy to make friends and that’s amazing, but if at some point you start feeling guilty for not attending or participating in an event (because there’s always something happening), then that in a way sabotages all those cool opportunities. Not to say watching Netflix every minute when not studying is a better option, but not being too hard on yourself if you don’t go out every night might be. 

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Teaching Yourself a Subject

The second thing I realized is that although people, often rightfully, complain about the quality of the education they’re getting even in a renowned school like Sciences Po (hi there l’élite de la nation), you still have endless opportunities to learn stuff that are actually interesting. Yes, some lectures are chaotic or boring or confusing, but hey, I for one need to remind myself on a daily basis that I spent my last 8 years in a math school and I was dreaming of somebody taking history, sociology or philosophy seriously. Now I have this, and although it’s not perfect, at least it’s legitimized and people are all interested in social sciences. 

I think this could be valid in a broader sense – most people go to college because they’re genuinely interested in their subject of choice, and even if you end up having a lecturer who just reads his notes monotonously for two hours, chances are, it’s still at least partially connected to what you care about. Plus, we have all these books in the library and smart French kids who talk about politics so that was a quick self-reminder that although studying political science sometimes equals studying the art of bullshitting, don’t be lazy, Krisi, learn something – get your money’s worth. 

Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

Yes, I am aware how cliché this one may sound, but there’s something to be said about how starting university at a new place in a new country for a lot of us is already such a big jump out of the well-established borders of your comfort zone; however, it is relatively easy to fall into a new comfy routine and not hold up to all the pre-college promises. I’ve heard people say how they told themselves they’ll really be unapologetically themselves in college or many other admirable goals and honestly, nothing but wild respect if you feel like you’re getting there. 

My pre-college resolution, as far as I remember, was to do adopt a really do-whatever-you-want-text-the-guy-first mentality and be bold, yet the other day at the library, I asked a friend to go to the restroom with me because I didn’t want to pass by everybody walking on my own. But once you think about it retrospectively and you realise that for instance even though X months could have passed in which you’ve been conveniently postponing making those changes, you could still get back on track. That being said – the rest of the semester, here I come!

Livin’ in a material Sciences Po world and I am a material Sciences Po girl

The last of my semi broad semi private advice would be to sometimes take the time and truly get out of the college bubble. It doesn’t mean that the bubble isn’t a happy place, but the thing with Sciences Po is (and I’m betting it’s not only my university) that it swallows you into its particular self-centred universe where everything, for better or worse, moves on its orbit – you talk, party, eat and breathe ScPo. Days could pass and there might be a wild and loud festival in the center of the city, but I wouldn’t know because I live literally in front of the campus and almost all of my friends live within 7 to 10 minutes of that area. It’s definitely convenient and it makes things easier, but sometimes it gets to the point where you don’t know anything else that’s going on. 

For me, going to study in a quiet salon de thé instead of the overcrowded library from time to time was very therapeutic. Speaking to the place’s owner isn’t like being completely integrated into the Reimois community, but it’s something. And another thing: starting a job outside of campus can always be a good way not only to make some extra money, but also to actually feel as if you’re living in a real city and not just on a campus. Say hello to your new Opera de Reims usher! 

And finally, the last thing I associate with the bubble (or the getting out of the bubble) is that when I was applying to Sciences Po, I was reading a multitude of media outlets for at least 30 minutes a day – Bulgarian, French, U.S. news and more, to prepare for the oral exam. Contrary to my expectations, ever since I actually became a student here, I read way less news. It’s true that in college you have way more work, but still I intend on starting to read the news every morning for at least 15 minutes, because lately the only news outlet has been the Sciences Po Facebook group where associations spam events information – so not too sophisticated, I know. Although the Sciences Po Institute for Shitposting for Bourgeois Teens memes are good.

All in all, during the break, as I got to visit friends outside of France and discuss with them our college experiences – some of whom just starting and others living abroad for more than 4 years, I got inspired to actually be aware of how I spend my time here. Those past two months passed so quickly that they made me think ‘Hey, before I know it, it will be over’. 

So to get back to my initial thoughts, I shared: We partied a lot. Didn’t ever drink champagne. Yikes, French is hard. I never imagined that getting 10/20 could make me so happy. What I would try to do from now on  is to find that balance between going out, but not just for the sake of going out, studying and reading outside of class, staying engaged in the campus life, but also getting out in the city and being informed about news beyond the college newspaper, and generally just be happy. Oh yes, and start drinking champagne!

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Hipster cafés and Democracy Talk in Prague

Maintaining a steady blog content while also applying for university is something I am objectively bad at and I hereby apologise for the long absence and unfulfilled new year’s promises. But for those of you who are still with me, I’m going to share one of my most memorable travels so far in one of the prettiest cities I’ve ever been to – Prague.

Why was I in the magnificent capital of the Czech Republic? Well, you all know that, being Bulgarian, it is my second nature to exploit European money and naturally, most of my experiences outside the motherland are financed by the EU – this one is no exception. 

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Jokes aide, I became part of an international campaign, which aims to raise the turnout of young people at the upcoming European Parliamentary elections (May, 2019) and contribute to lessening the political apathy all over Europe. So one can imagine that my trip was filled with political debates, democracy praise, long discussions of voting habits, corruption and, weirdly enough, Maltese politics. However, all of that is probably a topic of another post – now let’s talk Prague. 

Prague

Photo by @alemarmur –

 

A capital city often compared to Vienna and Budapest, I found Prague even more stunning than the last two. Okay, I might have already mentioned how easily impressed I can sometimes be by cute, well-preserved Western architecture, like I was in Utrecht, but damn Prague is on a whole new level. It doesn’t take you that much time to notice that the city is a one of a kind museum of architecture – you can see Romanesque buildings as well as Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance and literally every architectural style you can google. That said, Prague’s charm is undeniable, inexplicable and absolutely everywhere. From the beautiful cobblestone streets, historical buildings and cathedrals all the way to the hipster cafés, co-working spaces and I guess bars (I was on a ‘work trip’ so there were no pub crawls for me, but you get the idea).

A clock, a wall and a bridge 

I mainly got to explore the city either in the super early mornings or in the evenings. While that’s the main reason why you won’t be reading about any museums (they all close at 6 pm), the schedule allowed me to see Prague without the huge flow of tourists. My newly-found partners in crime and I, led by an EU-obessed Czech activist, walked around the old town numerous times each one finding something new to admire. 

The famous astronomical clock was an original and eye-pleasing thing to see, but more interesting was to find out its history/legend – apparently in the 1400s the Czechs were seeking attention and wanted something cool that only they could have and so they ordered the clock, but then after it was done they overreacted by blinding the clockmaster so that he could never repeat his work. And I though Bulgarians are extra, am I right?

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@s.c.brancaleone

Another place worth to be mentioned is definitely the John Lennon Wall in Mala Strana. It represents the ‘cool’ yet still touristy side of Prague and further, my experience there was accompanied by a street singer who in my view couldn’t sing that well, but was awkward enough to be hipster and his chill repertoire actually matched the atmosphere.

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After all, Charles Bridge convincingly won in my personal ranking of tourist attractions. I know, I know – that’s the most famous one and I’m basic, but I have an affinity for bridges that should never be underestimated and in my honest opinion of a ‘highly educated bridge connoisseur’, Charles Bridge might just be the prettiest one in Europe. 

Sightseeing vs hipsterseeing 

In the time when I wasn’t out admiring Prague’s architecture or in – discussing how to reinvent young people’s faith in democracy and rule of law, you could have found me in one particular hipster not-so-overpriced café – EMA espresso bar. I can say that for those 5 days spent in Prague EMA became me and my multiculti friends’ second home. We went there to grab coffee in the morning then drank tea instead of having lunch and after 6 pm…well, I think we sometimes had another coffee. Just like us, ЕМА was also multiculti, which means the baristas actually spoke English ! Plus, it was less overpriced than expected and as I said, the EU paid for us to go to Prague so we could afford to treat ourselves and spend an extra euro on that heavenly mint tea.

As far as the hipster culture is concerned, Café Jedna, which was right next to our hotel deserves an honorable mention. We went there on our last day and I found it was aesthetically pleasing and definitely fitted in the hipster category with its atmosphere being somehow super cosy even though the place was spacious. And something that’s always a plus – it had some  pretty delicious vegetarian and vegan options.

All in all, Prague won my heart with its history, charm and EMA. An analogy – if my home town of Sofia was a guy it would heave been kind of the fuckboy who incorporates architectural styles that should never be mixed and who obtains its charm mainly from the contemporary youth culture, but Prague would most likely have been that good guy who has style, is well-mannered, cultural, classy and knows stuff about history, but ultimately you know he’s most probably gay. Which is my way of saying that as a proven fag hag I found my perfect match. I think I could never get enough of just aimlessly walking around its old town streets, admire its architecture or just drink a cup of mint tea in a hipster café. So please, Prague, be my gay best friend.

 

 

P.s. I can’t portray an accurate image of my Czech experience if I don’t give a special shout out to all of the amazing people who were also funded by the EU to drink tea* – love you, guys

 

*to save the European project of peace

NИYA – the Bulgarian Artist You Want to Hear

First things first – in 2019 we’ve decided to talk not only about our travel experiences, but focus a little bit more on lifestyle and pretty much everything we consider to be worthwhile and potentially appealing – from book reviews, zero waste tips all the way to interviewing new hip artists… That said, may I present you Niya Petrova (NИYA) – the winner of The Voice of Bulgaria 2018 who just announced her first single “By myself”. In fact, I met her 2 years ago when she was singing at a friend’s prom and since then it turns out she has adopted the ‘why not’ mentality, which led her to auditioning and eventually winning The Voice! 

What’s her style? Well, the way she put it: “I would describe it as constantly changing. I get hooked on different genres depending on my current mood. These days though I feels it more like soul. “

 

“I get inspired by everything – starting from people, places, my travels, my work. I believe everything around us can be inspiring in the most amazing ways, if we only give it a chance.”

She told me that she’s happy to draw inspiration from her work as well. Apart from singing in bars since she was about 17, Niya works for two charity organisations – “Probudnik”, which focuses on supporting kids in risk, and “Single Step” – a well-know non-profit supporting the LGBT youth in Bulgaria. Inspiring, ain’t she? 

Her debut song “By myself” was shot in Jordan and isn’t the typical song produced for a commercial singing competition winner. Unlike many mainstream pop pieces, Niya’s single is authentic, enchanting and quite fresh, I would say. 

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“There hasn’t been a moment when I felt some kind of pressure to change who I am thanks to all the people around me. They were the ones who always supported me to be myself. Not staying true to my style and what I envision is not an option. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be real.”

That’s what she told me when I asked her about how she managed to stay true to herself… For Niya it seems unquestionable (and that’s how it should be), but most listeners who have encountered Bulgarian pop would understand my genuine appreciation of her rare wilfulness. She’s precisely the type of Bulgarian artist I would brag about to international friends and readers.

With “By myself” she wanted to show “what and how exactly goes through my mind at the time being” and somehow it just worked.

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“It’s great to see how the casual humming of a melody, some words written down and some thought put into from great musicians, transforms into a song.”

When I asked her what does she think should be next, she said “Only good things are coming! I hope to sing more original pieces and even dare to write herself, as well as more performances and… more from everything let’s put it that way!”

All and all, Niya is the type of person we need in the Bulgarian music scene! So, go listen to her new song and The Voice performances 😉

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2018: A Year of Almost Adventures (Part 2)

In case you’re still in the mood for reflecting on 2018 (as I will probably be till June), then you might want to get a short break from your to-do-listing, goal-setting and new dieting in order to enjoy my briefed 2018 adventures around the world. Even though I always want to travel and explore more, as I look back I realise that I did, in fact, visit more cities in that year than I have in any other year of my life… So, I’ll share with you the ones I was too busy/lazy to write about at the time being – enjoy. 

Check out Nancy’s part one of the 2018 recap here

St. Petersburg, Russia

Our first stop finds itself in mother Russia. It might sound familiar as at the time I managed to put my stay in Moscow into written form, but St. Petersburg is another story. ‘Piter’, as many young people are used to calling it, was absolutely beautiful, deserving of all of the hipster praise, noticeably more European-like than Moscow and surprisingly English-speaking. Visiting the Peterhof Palace, I got to indulge in my Romanovs obsession that I’ve been suppressing since early childhood. But by drinking coffee on rooftops and overeating at a Georgian restaurant called Kazan Mangal, I believe I truly vibed with the city despite not being stylish enough to meet its standards. Thank you, next.

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yes, I do resemble Russian royalty, thanks for noticing 

Athens, Greece

The summer of 2018 started with a short trip to Athens, which was meant to mark my 18th birthday. My friends and I decided to celebrate that, but also the end of the school year by doing something refreshing and as traveling with friends is always a good idea, we chose the cheapest and nearest destination available, #squadgoals. Being one of these rare Bulgarians that do not vacation on the Greek seaside, I actually surprised everybody by stating that it was my first visit in Greece ever. However, I found Athens to be exactly what I needed – pretty, ancient and hot. What I’ll remember most is probably how I hiked to the Acropolis on platforms and the magnificent view from there – truly one of a kind. Long story short, my friends and I, we wandered around the ancient town then went to a shisha bar and ate gyros. Would repeat. 

Perpignan, France

After my trip to Athens, I worked all summer in order to complete my #DiscoverEU journey  in September with a high school friend – Alex. For those of you who don’t know that’s a EU-funded initiative that gives many 18 years olds a free Interrail Pass, allowing them to travel for free by European trains. That said, we started from Paris and then traveled to a small French city near the Spanish border named Perpignan. Although it was, in my view, more Spanish than French and definitely the most random of all our destinations, it turned out to be super colourful and with an undeniable southern charm. Plus, despite being dirty af, the city was generally picturesque and the locals were welcoming, especially the two Bulgarian gypsies that gave us directions! So, if you’re passing by Perpignan I definitely recommend going there, but like, not for more than a day – it has a limited sightseeing potential. 

Barcelona, Spain 

Speaking of sightseeing potential, the one in our next stop – Barcelona was unbounded. Alex and I spend there about 4 days and as effective as we tried to be, one can never get enough. The first day was rainy, so I learned Barcelona’s charm does not hide only in the sunny weather. On the second day, we rented bikes and, as basic as we were, listened to Ed Sheeran’s Barcelona while exploring the city. After that, I lost the chronology, but we went to a chill local beach outside the capital of Catalonia, drank lots of sangria, met another Bulgarian gypsy and I personally became Gaudi’s biggest fan. Before we know it, we found ourselves on the next train station heading to Valencia. 

Valencia

Valencia quickly became my favourite. Our Airbnb was amazing and as central as it gets. The city itself was the perfect combination of typical seaside town and stunning architecture. Ah, the palms and the Gothic buildings… but mainly the palms. I am an exotic persona now, just so you know. Moreover, if I’m not getting it wrong, we drank a thing called horchata, which was a Valencian healthy non-alcoholic drink that you must try if you visit the city. Overall, it was the most vacation-like destination that was perfect both for the ‘I worked all summer, I deserve this” mentality and for providing me with strength and a positive attitude to face the new school year (my last one).

Madrid, Spain

Last but not least, we finished off by spending a day and a half in Madrid. Obviously, it was not nearly enough to explore it to its fullest potential, but still, I was charmed. For the Bulgarians reading this, I can put it that way: if Barcelona was the Spanish Varna, Valencia – Sozopol, then Madrid was Sofia. It was objectively a cool and fun place to be especially thanks to its big city vibe. Alex and I spent the last night of our Spanish crusade by going to… a 50’s-themed American diner, showcasing globalisation at its finest. Don’t judge us, we ate enough paellas and drank enough sangrias to feel authentic. 

 

I hope you’re as happy with your traveling experiences from 2018 as I am with mine! If not, hey, heads up, you’ve got 2019 ahead.

Read Part 1 here

A Weekend in Reims: the University Town for Royals Only

Ah, Reims – the French capital of Champagne and 900 years-worth of royal coronations is what today most people would see as just a fancy champagne-tasting destination. While others, namely students, would sometimes prefer no other term than “shithole”. However, I don’t necessarily want to argue with the local Rémois, but I do have to say that nothing I saw there made me want to use the aforementioned noun.

Reims might not be the city of lights, nor the city of the world’s desire, but in fact, it turned out to be the city of my… academic ambitions. Oh well, Nancy and I didn’t go there to taste champagne (like we’d have money for that) nor to check out where some king named Louis, Charles or François was crowned. Actually, we decided to spend a weekend in Reims to explore the Sciences Po University campus and get the overall vibe of the city, like, see if it’s livable.

We stayed at a friend of Nancy’s – Patrick, who is indeed a student at Sciences Po and in fact was the one who shamelessly called this cutie of a city “a total shithole”. It was quite fun to witness both sides though – ours as a blinded by Reims’ charm and affordable prices tourists and his as an American “trapped between two real cities” (Paris and Strasbourg) in a petite and rather calm historical one.

A royal’s first impression

Getting off at the train station I remember that I was already carefully examining my surroundings, calculating my chances of being admitted at Sciences Po and imagining what would it really be like to live there. Of course, that was me being overly dramatic as it was just a train station like any other. But the excitement stayed with me long after.

So, after leaving our luggage, our first job was to visit the only major touristic attraction and maybe the most important cathedral in France – Notre-Dame de Reims. I believe the only word that can describe its high gothic exterior is DAMN.

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And when you think about how every French king from 1027 to 1825 was crowned right there (according to Wikipedia), I have to say it is hard not to be genuinely impressed. Okay, Reims, you’re ancient and cool – I give you that. But can you serve the honorable purpose of being the home of a real 21st century royal aka moi? We’ll see.

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Getting to business

Next on the list was, of course, Sciences Po. Why did we even wait so long, right? Well, it was because the cathedral was actually on our way between Patrick and his roommate Liam’s apartment… but otherwise the university was definitely our priority.

So, if I thought that I wanted to get in before, I think after seeing the campus I reached a new level of motivation. Although I’m coming from an actually decent looking and freshly renovated school, Sciences Po looked noticeably better than every administrative building I’ve seen in Bulgaria, especially educational. I guess I can’t exactly put that in my letter of motivation, but I see you ScPo, I see you.

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took that from their site oops

The following evening we went to a party, where I even got to meet a lot of people from the university and practice my French so I got that going for me. Not that I am obsessed or anything, but I can’t imagine that Sciences Po could have a more informed candidate at this point.

Even queens have budgets

On the next day Nancy and I had breakfast at a place called Lion de Belfort. And I mean a real French breakfast – not the budget version we were mostly restricting ourselves to in Paris. We’re talking pancakes, croissants, bread with confiture, orange juice AND coffee!! We payed 8 euros each so I think for the same amount you might be able to get a cappuccino and a bottle of water in Paris. Key word: might.

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Then, about 2 hours before it became time for us to sprint out way to the train station, we found an authentic vintage bazar that was basically made for us. So, we might have spent a little bit more than we had planned for a weekend outside of one of the most expensive cities in Europe, which was already shamelessly absorbing our finances, but we had an awesome time. Plus after that in Paris we just ate cheap supermarket food for a few days in order to compensate – if that’s not a responsible adulting I don’t know what is.

I would like to devote my last paragraph to the actual jewel of Reims – Patrick and Liam’s apartment. Two and a half bedrooms, huge living space with a lot of light located right next to Place Drouet d’Erlon, where there are many cafes and restaurants. Their student lifestyle is insane, just saying. And the best part? They’re paying the same amount of money my sister does for her 10 square meters shoebox in the city of lights…

A Parisian for Two Weeks: Living Like a Local in the City of Lights

Together in Paris.

 

If you watched the animated movie “Anastasia” as a child, then you might make an association with the necklace that Anastasia’s grandma gave to her at the beginning of the film, with those words engraved on it. Weirdly enough, I have been binge watching this cartoon literally ever since I can remember. At some point, my sister and I started using together in Paris as a cute inside joke/ display of affection. But this summer, it actually happened: we were finally together in Paris!

 

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To be absolutely honest, we also went to Disneyland together with our grandparents when I was 9, but that doesn’t count, okay?! This September I got to visit my favorite person on Earth in, what is now, my favorite city on Earth.

Ever since I came back to Sofia, whenever somebody dares to make a casual comment about how Paris “isn’t anything special”, I become as eager to start a debate as when Bulgarians use the word “gender” as an insult.

 

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Not what most people imagine when they hear Paris, but still Paris.

 

Apart from Paris’s undeniable charm, another reason why I got to love it so much is probably because I stayed there for 2 weeks, which I realized is the longest I have ever stayed in one city outside Bulgaria. I became quite attached.

Besides, I feel confident that I got the most out of my time there – we visited sights, went to bars, restaurants and parks all while actually living in the city and being the normal non-vacation us.

My (future) Parisian lifestyle

The initial reason for my trip was not just to visit Nancy or to casually run into Kylian Mbappe. I did see a huge graffiti of him the moment I entered Paris though, which I considered to be a sign from the universe, but whatever. In fact, I came to participate as a journalist at the Paris Model European Union. Another contribution to my “local consciousness” – every day of my first week I felt as if I’m just another Parisian with a 9 to 5 job. Or more like a fancy-ass version of that, since the simulation was in the actual Assemblée Nationale, in one of the most beautiful (and expensive) neighborhoods in Paris…

There’s nothing that motivates me to study and work my ass off more than the memory of me having cheap lunch (a 3 euro mini salad from the supermarket) with a view of Invalides and the Eiffel Tower.

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One castle, two Bay Ganyos

Speaking of lifestyle goals… let’s talk Versailles. I honestly can’t remember another time when I’ve been that impressed by something. It’s one of these places that even the enormous crowds of tourists simply cannot ruin. Neither is it the type of famous sight that is objectively overrated. Na-ah. The castle and especially the gardens were the definition of grandeur. Totally worth the waiting on huge lines, guys. And no, we weren’t Bay Ganyos and we did not skip the line. Definitely not.

 

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Best unexpected moment in Versailles? There is a small restaurant in the gardens where we ate cheap pizza. Cheap for Paris standards, of course, for Bulgarians nothing in Western Europe is actually cheap.

 

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A-MAZING

Paris can be everything you need

One sunny day we walked around the Gardens of Luxembourg with our friend Tony – another Bulgarian girl who studies in the Sorbonne. I can’t tell if it was the unusually hot weather or the gardens themselves with all the palm trees, but I remember feeling more as if I’m in Barcelona. But, hey, who said that Paris can’t be exotic?

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Found my American family in France

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For the first two days of my second week Nancy had lectures pretty much all day and that’s why her best friend Rachel and her parents, Steven and Karen, de facto adopted me. They also took all of their “European children” (aka Rachel’s friends and exchange students they have hosted) out on lunch, where we got to experience 2 things. One overwhelmingly French and the other not so much: we were served by a stereotypically rude Parisian waiter and attacked by bees. Like, really?! Paris is supposed to be too gloomy for that, but I guess global warming knows better.

On the next day, we went shopping and just aimlessly walked around the 4th arrondissement, which is charming and quite hipster. At the end of their stay, they proclaimed me as their Bulgarian daughter number 1! (Nancy is number 2 so that’s a big win)

A sweet escape (almost) in Paris

After nearly 10 days in Paris, my sister and I decided we needed a break from the big city and so we made ourselves a picnic for two in Montsouris – a super peaceful and green park almost on the outskirts of Paris. Both of us brought our new books from “Shakespeare and Company” and chilled there for the afternoon. Ayran bought from the nearest kebab shop, “A short history of WW1” and the company of the best human/sister ever… what more could you ask for?

In the end, I simply loved everything about Paris (except the 18th arrondissement – do not go there). Well, yes, Parisian waiters can be intentionally rude, if you want to drink a cappuccino you need to sell you kidney first and as it turns out, you don’t run into Kylian Mbappe or Antoine Griezmann every day… But overall Paris is vibrant and fun, aesthetically pleasing, multicultural while somehow remaining super French and if I had to use one word to describe it, it would be “spellbinding”.

P.S. One thing I learned from my stay in Paris: not knowing how to conjugate verbs shouldn’t stop you from trying to communicate in French. Amen.

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Two Broke Girls in Russia: Hunting for Oligarchs in Moscow

For those of you who haven’t been following our blog from the beginning, you may need to know that my sister Nancy is completing her final year of Bachelor’s by doing an exchange in Moscow. Ever since we officially found out she was admitted, or at least ever since I learned, a trip was instantly put into my imaginary calendar and despite our parents’ strong efforts to convince me it was too expensive, I started doing my research. Turns out that a girl with no less than 7 different cheap flight apps and her only sister abroad can do more than any travel agent.

Fast forward to spring break, when I finally got to visit Nancy, explore Moscow and St. Petersburg, pretend to know Russian and even communicate with local babushkas way more than I had ever imagined…

Russia – the land where people don’t speak English even at the airport

I arrived at Sheremetyevo Airport with The Master and Margarita in my hands, which I was reading during my flight in order to convince myself that a) “oh, I’m so cultured!”, and b) this would somehow prepare me for the Russian vibe, but trust me on this one – nobody and nothing can prepare you for Russian bureaucracy. My first encounter with it was precisely at the international airport, when I still hadn’t even googled how to say “Thanks” (Спасибо), so you could probably imagine the intensity of the situation: a Russian woman trying to mimic the necessary administrative steps for when one has lost a suitcase and a foreigner desperately wishing for an emergency anger management session… Thankfully, my luggage found its way back to me, before I had killed half of the staff.

Play-Doh & Rosé

Right after we got to our hostel, we decided that no time is to be wasted and went out almost immediately to meet with Yani, another Bulgarian expat. We had dinner in, hands down, the most curious and eye-catching restaurant I’ve ever been to.

Didu’s design is something you can’t see everywhere – people sitting in hanging wicker chairs by the windows, every piece of furniture being aesthetically pleasing in some bizarre way and on top of that, you get walls covered with small Plasticine sculptures. How cool is that?! Also, visitors are the ones who leave the Play-Doh models. So, if you’re feeling at least half as childish as I was, you’ll definitely enjoy making them (while drinking fancy af wine, of course).

Being a tourist is low-key the best workout

On the next day we did check “taking basic bitch photos in front of St. Basil’s cathedral” off our list, and we also tried traditional Russian cuisine in a Soviet-themed café – Varenichnaya No.1, all while discussing Russian politics. While we were going from one sight to another, I believe I broke my record for steps per day, as my pedometer was literally going crazy. Well, that’s what you get in a city with bigger population than that of my home country.

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Saint Basil’s Cathedral on an unusually sunny day

The time when I fell in love with a bridge

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly Zaryadye Park, and in particular the new bridge that was build there called “The Floating bridge” (Парящий мост). The project was carried out by American architects and what’s interesting about the bridge is that it doesn’t have a single support. It’s simply astounding. Weird as it may seem to have such a modern building near the historical centre of Moscow, but it somehow fit in its own unique way. What’s more, from its long cantilevered section you could perhaps get the best view of the Kremlin, the Krymsky Bridge and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

I don’t dress for men… I dress for Bolshoi.

Next on our schedule was the “Bolshoi Theatre”. It is still so surreal for me to be able to say that not only did I see Bolshoi, but I actually saw a Russian ballet there! Now, I’m not saying we bought cheap student tickets an hour before the play and we used that time to pick up a new outfit for my sister, but I am. Gotta live the life you strive for, right? Needless to say how breathtaking was the performance and out of all the productions I’ve ever watched, La Sylphidewas undoubtedly the best one.

Comin’ thro’ the rain for oligarchs and sweets.

On the following night Nancy decided to show me Moscow City – a new urban area with skyscrapers, which was located in the middle of nowhere and for some reason the buildings reminded me of the Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated. The weather was cold, windy and it was starting to rain, which was the perfect driving force for me to speed up and summon Turbo Krisi – that’s me on high-speed mode and also my super hero secret identity (shhh…). Another thing that kept me going was that we were heading towards a fancy restaurant on the sixtieth floor of a skyscraper and we needed to get there before dinner time in order for it to be socially acceptable not to order anything but dessert (the only thing we could afford). Did I mention something about living the life you strive for? Yeah, so that was pretty much our motto.

Fortunately, we got to the expensive restaurant Sixty around 5 pm and thus got the perfect lightning for another round of basic bitch photos! Yasss! Even if you think we were sort of lame, oh well, we enjoyed our extravagant desserts and embraced the full Bay Ganyo mentality, because, hey, who knows when we’re coming back again… I’ll just give them a gigantic tip when I’m rich (pinky swear). So, if I had to guess where Russian girls go to hunt their oligarchs, I would have to go with Sixty, and if someone asked me where you could one eat the most extra desserts – my answer would be the same. До свидания, Sixty!

When I come back it will be in my private helicopter.

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After all, I fell in love with that city.

Although the life in Moscow must be generally hard and stressful, hardly would anyone argue that its history, culture and charm are absolutely everywhere. There is a feeling of majestic communism, which mingles with the new modern and alternative vibe… and the combination is awe-inspiring.