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Barcelona

In full disclosure, my desire to visit Barcelona was sparked when, as an 11-year-old, I saw The Cheetah Girls 2 TV movie on the Disney Channel. I was enthralled by the music, the art, and, of course, the fact that Raven-Symoné befriended mysterious Flamenco guitar players on the avenues of Las Ramblas. Since then, I believe my interests in Spain, Catalonia, and the city of Barcelona have become much more academic. Still, when I got off the plane at El Prat International Airport to spend part of my spring break in the city, a tiny piece of me couldn’t believe that I was actually in the rich, vibrant city that had imprinted itself in my impressionable mind via the glossy musicality of mid-2000s Disney.

With that being said, having studied the geopolitical and cultural features of Barcelona through my major and minor coursework, going to Barcelona was an incredible experience for me. I, along with my two friends Jenna and Priscila, spent five days in the city, attempting to soak in as much of it as possible.

L to R: Jenna, myself, and Priscila

L to R: Jenna, myself, and Priscila

As there is no feasible way for me to express five days worth of culture, gastronomy, language, art, architecture, and life, I figured I would share some highlights of the trip:

Gaudí: You can’t talk about Barcelona without talking about Gaudí. His architectural influence in the city is as ubiquitous as Catalonian pride – it is simply something that defines the city. In addition to visiting his incredible masterwork, La Sagrada Familia, we were able to see his pieces all over the city: Casa Mila & La Pedrera, Casa Batlló, Parc Güell.

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La Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s incredible, greatest, unfinished work.

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Can you spot the Gaudí?

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Casa Batlló

What struck me the most about Gaudí and Modernism is how closely it mirrors the vibe of Barcelona, or possibly how Barcelona mirrors that of Modernism. The carefree flamboyance of the architecture is something you feel simply walking down Avinguda Diagonal or along Las Ramblas. It was a drastic contrast from the more reserved rationality of British architecture (and culture).

Parc Güell: I think most people fall under one of two categories – “nature” people and non-“nature” people. I am pretty definitively the latter. Though I would rather be inside a high-rise with a book than hiking a mountain, I am so glad I did not let my antiseptic approach to life impact my decision to hike up to Parc Güell. Jenna, Priscila, and I braved the VERY steep hill and roundabout path to discover the most incredible view.

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It was definitely worth it.

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El Museo de Xocolata (The Chocolate Museum): Though I may not be a “nature” person, I am absolutely a chocolate person. I was beyond excited to visit this museum. Apparently, Barcelona housed one of the major Iberian ports that imported cacao beans into Europe from Central and South America. Since then, Barcelona has become a hub for confectioners and chocolateers. The museum was particularly cool given the incredible displays of different buildings, religious iconography, even Pixar characters, all made out of chocolate!

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Our tickets to the museum – BARS OF CHOCOLATE

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La Sagrada Familia…IN CHOCOLATE

The Mediterranean Sea: It feels like we ended every day at the beach. The beaches of Barcelona were particularly lovely, always a deep blue reminiscent of a James Bond film. I think there is something incredibly humbling about the ocean – its vast openness, the fact that it connects every inch of the globe.

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The perfect end to a day

I feel beyond lucky to have spent my spring break in Barcelona, but I’m also finding myself thinking about the end of the semester and looking forward to going back to the States. I’ve actually never experienced homesickness before this, though I suspect it’s natural for me to experience it having spent such a long time away from my family, from Raleigh, from Hollins. Still, as bittersweet as the prospect of returning to the States and leaving London is, I have to remind myself how lucky I am to now call another city home, even if it has been just for the last four months. It’s been gradually dawning on me that I no longer feel quite like an expatriate in London; rather, my time abroad has helped me manifest a new incarnation of myself. Beyond simply feeling stronger, more confident, and more resourceful than I did when I landed in London in February, this experience has helped me refine my ability to reflect and hone my self-awareness. On a very basic level, I feel like I understand a tiny bit more about the world and an abundance more about myself.

-P

Theatricality

Confession time: I am obsessed with musical theater. I can probably attribute it to spending the majority of my middle and high school years singing alto in school chorus and watching Rent relentlessly, but I’ve harbored the obsession fairly quietly. However, being in London, the theater capital of the world, has provided me with the fantastic opportunity to see an array of musicals!

As I’ve mentioned before, I am taking a theater class through Hollins Abroad called “The London Stage.” The course explores theater in London and beyond, exploring different genres, playwrights, actors, and directors. Through the class, I’ve been able to see a variety of different shows. Recently, I saw Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with the class, a musical based off of the movie with Steve Martin and David Niven.

While I have not yet perfected my routine to Rent‘s “Santa Fe” on the tube (although I’m not going to lie – I have relished in the opportunity to “practice” it whenever I’m in an empty carriage, much to the enjoyment of CCTV operators I’m sure), I took it upon myself to explore the musical entertainment that the West End had to offer. I mean, you’re only in London once, right?

First, I saw We Will Rock You! The show, which is a story created around the music of Queen (similar to the way that Mamma Mia! incorporated ABBA’s music or Movin’ Out featured tracks by Billy Joel). I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but Queen is my absolute favorite band. The plot was a little silly and futuristic, but the music was incredible. I loved the theatricality of the show; in my opinion, the music of Queen is intended to be performed that way.

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We Will Rock You!, which has had an incredible 12 year run at the Dominion Theatre, is closing at the end of May. I read an article in the Guardian about how the executives don’t know what to do with the glorious golden Freddie Mercury statue. I personally think it would be an excellent addition to Beale Garden at Hollins. Am I right?

 

After that, I saw Monty Python’s Spamalot! Though I’ve quickly adopted certain “British” sensibilities, such as not laughing too loud in public, I sincerely could not control myself during the show – it was hilarious and very engaging, despite how steep the upper circle seating of the Playhouse Theatre was (there were a few moments when I thought I may in fact have to parachute down).

I also saw Once: The Musical, which is a new musical based off of the indie film Once. I was even more excited to see that it starred Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams on Doctor Who), who had an incredible voice! The lead female, Zrinka Cvitesic, ended up winning an Olivier award the night before I saw it, which was also very exciting.

One of the shows I was very much looking forward to was Billy Elliot, a show that originated on the West End. I loved the premise of the show: it’s set in a small town in County Durham during the 1984-5 coal miner’s strike. The main character, 12-year old Billy Elliot, falls in love with ballet. The show deals with issues of poverty, masculinity, and coming-of-age; it reminded me of a play I had seen about year ago called “Good People” (which is coincidentally now playing in London starring Imelda Staunton, of Harry Potter fame). The show, which featured a lot of child actors, was very dance-heavy. I was impressed by the lead, who was probably around 12 years old. His solo ballet performance before the intermission where he spun over the audience (on a harness of course) brought the middle-aged man next to me to tears.

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Thankfully, I’m not afraid of heights.

The show that I have enjoyed the most thus far was, without a doubt, Les Miserables. As a cult follower of the franchise, I was so excited to see the show on London’s West End. Somehow, despite my astronomically high expectations, I was completely and utterly blown away by the production. Everything, from the vocal performances to the technical aspects of the show, was even more remarkable than I could have imagined. I was also very pleasantly surprised to see Carrie Hope Fletcher, a musician who I have followed on YouTube for years, playing the role of Eponine!

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Something I just noticed while uploading this image – the shading of the clouds that surround Young Cosette’s face in this seminal image make up the French flag: blue, white, and red.

I’m excited to see The Bodyguard, an musical adaptation of the 1992 Whitney Houston film, in a few weeks. As I said before, I’m only here once! All in all, I am very much taking advantage of the theater scene in London and definitely satisfying the musical theater geek inside of me. I will keep saying it: more than anything, my time abroad has made me more certain of my interests and given my the confidence to embrace them, theatrically. :)

-P

Traveling and thriving

One of the things I was most excited about in coming to London was the proximity to Europe. As an international studies student (and self-proclaimed wanderlust), I am most happy when I am traveling. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to get to the Continent for a weekend trip (or shorter).

A few weekends ago, a few friends and I decided to take a weekend trip to Paris! The most cost-effective choice was a coach bus, so we took an overnight coach to the city. Once there, we explored all of the major sites: Notre Dame Cathedral, the Latin Quarter, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysee, the Spanish quarter, and Sacre-Couer Basilica.

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The view of the east end of Notre Dame Cathedral – look at that buttressing!

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Walking along the Seine

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Paris was home to some of the most significant intellectual movements throughout history – of course we went to a bookstore! This one is Shakespeare & Company Bookshop in the Latin Quarter. I wanted all of the books, especially “Seventeen Contradictions” by David Harvey

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Priscila, Jenna, myself, and Avery, with Notre Dame’s west front in the background. Thank you to Catie for taking the picture!

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We locked our love on Lovelock Bridge!

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A perfect day in Paris
(L to R: Jenna, Priscila, Avery, and Catie)

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Fun fact: the Eiffel Tower is a relatively recent addition to Paris. It was erected in 1889 and a lot of Parisians thought it was a hideous addition to the city. It goes to show the healing powers of time – the tower is now a universally lauded symbol of the city.

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Easily my favorite place we visited – the Sacre-Coeur basilica in the Spanish quarter. In addition to being a gorgeous basilica, there is an incredible view of all of Paris from the steps.

We had an incredible day in Paris and ended up taking an overnight coach back. Such an efficient, albeit tiring, way of traveling! I just couldn’t get enough, so the next weekend, I decided to go to Amsterdam!

I ended up going by myself, which was a little daunting but I knew I could do it. I initially took myself on a tour of the city, which was surprisingly walkable. I saw Dam Square, Magna Plaza, Anne Frank’s house, Rembrandt’s house, and a lot of beautiful Dutch, Gothic, Renaissance, and neo-Renaissance architecture. I then headed over to the Museumplein, a plaza of some of the world’s best museums, all located in Amsterdam.

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One of the first things I saw when I got off the coach at Amstel station. Perfect weather in a beautiful city.

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I walked about 2 km from Amstel station in southeast Amsterdam to Centraal station, which is in the heart of the city. The great thing about Amsterdam is that it really is a walkable city – I was amazed by how many people were walking and biking.

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The glorious Centraal station.

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of course, I had to find a cafe to get a hot chocolate and write some postcards!

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Why yes, I amsterdam! Note the incredible Rijksmuseum behind the sign. The entire Museumplein (Museum plaza, in Southwest Amesterdam) was awesome, but I spent about 4 hours in the Rijksmuseum obsessing over Vermeer, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Monet…such a great museum!

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[das me]

A few months ago, maybe even a few weeks ago, I would not have believed myself capable of going to a foreign country alone, but I did it! There is nothing more self-affirming than putting yourself in a situation where you have to rely on yourself and be resourceful. Traveling is disorienting; immersing yourself in an entirely new culture, frequently an entirely new language, can be scary. Still, I think nothing helps the soul grow more than traveling, than learning about different cultures, than experiencing the way someone else lives. I can think of nothing I enjoy more.

I have learned so much already in my time abroad, not only about the new places and people I have interacted with, but also about myself. I feel as though I have grown so much in these few months. That’s the point of studying abroad, I think: to uproot yourself from familiarity and to discover that you can in fact thrive somewhere entirely new.

-P

Field Trips!

Growing up, I always loved the excitement of field trip days. Field trips meant leaving the tedium of the classroom and getting to explore somewhere new. While I’ve certainly come to love the classroom environment, I never outgrew that desire to break out of the ordinary and explore (I am studying abroad, after all).

Something I have been absolutely loving about this program is how frequently the classes I am in allow for such opportunities to explore and learn firsthand. Already, I’ve been able to trek across the city of Westminster (the administrative borough of London – it’s kind of confusing to understand how the boroughs of London function, but I’m starting to get the hang of it), explore the Tower of London, visit Rochester (a small town in Kent), tour the BBC headquarters, and attend four different theatre productions!

My contemporary Britain course took us on a tour of Westminster, where we walked along the Northern bank of the Thames (providing a perfect view of the London Eye), saw the Ministry of Defense — perhaps I’ve been reading too much Orwell, but I’m sure I counted no less than 3 police officers looking at our group suspiciously when we stopped to take pictures of it– and visited the Houses of Parliament. The Ministry of Defense is actually located where part of Whitehall castle once stood — as an avid fan of Showtime’s The Tudors, it’s hard to imagine that at one point in history, the place where all of these civic buildings now stand was occupied by a huge castle. In typical English style, we then went by Sara Levine (our program director here in London)’s house for high tea and biscuits.

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The Eye and I.

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House of Parliament

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Some of the class — I have a tendency to make people pose for photographs against their will.

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Just after the sun had set :)

I visited the Tower of London with classmates from my Medieval English History course. It was a pretty strange visual contrast to see the cosmopolitan, modern buildings of London juxtaposed with the ancient structure. My favorite part was easily the Royal jewels, which supposedly belong to the people of the Empire. Yet another reason why the American colonies should reclaim our part in the Commonwealth…

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Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

The Tower complex

The Tower complex

With my Architecture class, we took a day trip to Rochester, a small town in Kent, to visit Rochester Cathedral and Rochester Castle. The Cathedral was massive, encompassing almost the entire town. It was particularly interesting because of how many converging architectural styles were represented in the interior: the nave was almost entirely Norman while the transepts were early English Gothic and decorated Gothic. There were a few features of perpendicular Gothic and a splash or two of Victorian as well.  [I had no background on English architectural styles before this class - you can tell how much I'm learning!] We also got to climb up to the top of the castle, a Norman structure built in 1140, which was very cool (and exhausting).

Rochester Cathedral

Rochester Cathedral

A creeper shot of my architecture professor, Jon, taking a picture of the castle.

A creeper shot of my architecture professor, Jon, taking a picture of the castle.

Rochester, from the Castle (look at that shadow)

Rochester, from the Castle (look at that shadow)

An interior castle shot -- 12th century spiral staircases are not my friend.

An interior castle shot — 12th century spiral staircases are not my friend.

Architecture class selfie

Architecture class selfie

My roommate, Priscila, and  I :)

My roommate, Priscila, and I :)

I was so excited to be able to visit the BBC headquarters with my British Mass Media class. As an faithful subscriber of all things BBC, it was very cool to see where a lot of the news and media is broadcasted from. The organization has been instrumental in changing the way that world news is broadcasted and received – as a Communications minor (and International Studies major), I found it incredibly fascinating (so fascinating that I forgot to take pictures — sorry!).

Finally, I’ve seen four shows thus far with my theatre class: Blurred Lines (at the Shed, a temporary venue at the Royal National Theatre), Rapture Blister Burn (at the Hampstead Theatre), Oh, What a Lovely War! (at the Theatre Royal Stratford East), and Happy Days (at the Young Vic). I am so glad I decided to take this theater class because besides being able to see critically-acclaimed plays in the theater capital of the world, it’s reminded me how much I love literary analysis. I’m going to have to squeeze in an English class once I’m back at Hollins; I’ve missed it too much!

Recently, the weather has been beautiful here in London (66°F! and sunny!) so I’ve been taking advantage of it and spending a lot of time outside. Fingers crossed it lasts!

a beautiful day in Highbury; when the sun comes out, so does all of London :)

a beautiful day in Highbury; when the sun comes out, so does all of London :)

-P

Weekend Trip to Bath

This weekend, the program organized a weekend trip to Bath, Somerset. Despite an incredibly wet season (according to experts, England has experienced the most rain this season, since records began), we were lucky enough to get a sunny two days in Somerset.

We took the national railway train from Paddington station (yes, of Paddington Bear fame!) to Bath, which gave us the opportunity to see some of the western countryside.

Upon arriving in Bath, we checked into our hotel and headed straight for the Roman Baths, of which Bath gets its name. I find it quite funny to hear about how some names are established — my English Medieval History professor told us that the location of the Battle of Hastings in 1066 (in which the Normans defeated the Anglo-Saxons) was then named Battle. I’m starting to wonder how a place near my hometown of Raleigh, NC got its name: Duck, North Carolina.

Roman Baths!

Roman Baths!

The Roman baths were very well preserved and I loved the interactive museum we toured. After the tour finished, we had lunch and went on a walking tour of the city. I had a minor Austen-induced moment when we visited the filming location of BBC’s Persuasion. We went on to see the Assembly Rooms and tour a very cool fashion museum.

The filming location of Persuasion. It looked like a Windows XP desktop image.

The filming location of Persuasion. It looked like a Windows XP desktop image.

Soon after, we were able to tour the Bath Abbey which is an absolutely breathtaking piece of architecture. As a aficionado of ecclesiastical architecture (and with the influence of the English architecture class I’m taking), I was astounded by how magnificent the abbey was. Gothic structures were created to mirror the image of the sublime; it’s honestly difficult for me to grasp that humans constructed it.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

Another shot of Bath Abbey

Another shot of Bath Abbey

The gorgeous interior

The gorgeous interior

The next day, we visited Longleat House, the home of the eclectic Marquis of Bath and a beautiful example of Elizabethan architecture. Bizarrely, the family ended up opening two amusement parks next door to the manor, resulting in a very strange visual juxtaposition. We traveled on to Wells, a small city near Bath, to visit Wells Cathedral. Wells is a tiny city in Somerset – in fact, it has very little in it besides the church. In the UK, a city is still defined as a town that has a cathedral, so Wells qualifies!

Longleat House

Longleat House

Wells Cathedral

Wells Cathedral

We also visited the Bishop’s Palace, which looked like something out of a Hans Christian Andersen story, and the Vicar’s Close, an ancient avenue where many ecclesiastical affiliates lived.

At Bishop's Palace

At Bishop’s Palace

We got lucky to have such beautiful weather!

We got lucky to have such beautiful weather!

A bunch of us hanging out at Bishop's Palace :)

A bunch of us hanging out at Bishop’s Palace :)

I had a fantastic weekend and am excited to travel more within the UK and the Continent. Since the UK is a small, old country, it’s easy to stumble upon pieces of history almost anywhere! I look forward to continue to uncover more!

P

London Calling!

I had an amazing January term interning at Estée Lauder! Despite being jam packed with touring the city, meeting alumna, and work, the month flew by.
Less than 12 hours after flying back home to Raleigh, I embarked on a new adventure: LONDON!

Somewhere over Ireland

Somewhere over Ireland

I’m spending my semester abroad in the UK through Hollins’ 30-year old London Abroad program. This program was established by Hollins so the classes I’m taking are taught by professors affiliated with the school. This semester, I’m going a little easier on myself and taking only (only?) 5 classes: Contemporary Britain, English History Through the Middle Ages, English Architecture, The London Stage, and British Mass Media. As an international studies student, taking classes that provide me with such a holistic understanding of British culture, history, and society is very exciting! Moreover, all of my classes are fairly hands-on: we visit museums, churches, libraries, theater performances, even the BBC headquarters!

The view from my window. I'm staying in a homestay near the Highbury & Islington tube station (NE London, zone 2)

The view from my window. I’m staying in a homestay near the Highbury & Islington tube station (NE London, zone 2)

Buckingham Palace aka my future home once I marry Harry ;)

Buckingham Palace aka my future home once I marry Harry ;)

So far, my adjustment to British life has been pretty smooth. I still frequently look the wrong way when crossing the street, so I’ve resorted to risking minor whiplash while looking both directions as I walk. I find myself missing my car and Target (there’s no single place in London where I can buy food, clothes, DVDs, and get Starbucks!).

I'm still getting used to the pound! What a fitting name -- all of these £1 and £2 coins, despite their cool old world aesthetic, weigh a lot.

I’m still getting used to the pound! What a fitting name — all of these £1 and £2 coins, despite their cool old world aesthetic, weigh a lot.

Still, I’m also finding that I like the way in which a lot of things are done here. The entire unspoken custom of queuing is something I wish I could take back with me to America. I love how casual the approach to celebrities is here — I’m pretty sure I saw Andrew Garfield (of The Amazing Spider-man franchise) walking the opposite direction on a tube platform. Given the celebrity culture of America, it’s a nice change to encounter famous people being rather ordinary. I’m a massive fan of the band Queen, so I’ve been crossing my fingers and hoping to encounter Brian May. Hopefully I’ll be able to remain as nonchalant about him as other Londoners seem to be about celebrities. :)
I’m having a great time and am so excited to do some traveling! We will be going on a class trip to Bath, Somerset, so I look forward to sharing that with you!
P

For January term 2014, I have been interning at Estée Lauder’s Global Corporate Communications office in New York City!

I can already feel myself fitting into the culture of the office. Since there are no typical days, my assignments vary depending on what needs to be done. One day, I helped my coworker Chris organize, package, label, and ship books to international executives of affiliate offices that had attended a global leadership forum hosted in Shanghai. On another day, I helped my coworker Kerry go through the corporate intranet and find and record glitches in the system. I also helped Jill, who directs international PR for the corporate offices, research different international media sources that had requested press releases and interviews with Estée Lauder. Even though these assignments were seemingly mundane, I really enjoyed them. I have been able to apply a lot of the skills I acquired through my communications classes and have felt challenged enough that I am fully engaged while still feeling capable of completing the tasks. Plus, as someone who is very meticulous, I will seize any opportunity to make a color-coded spreadsheet (as I did with all of these assignments). :)

My assignments at work are becoming increasingly more creative and I am loving the freedom that my supervisors are allowing me! I’ve been working with the corporate intranet, copywriting news articles, and brainstorming more innovative forms of philanthropic giving!

First day of work!

First day of work!

My ELC ID! :)

My ELC ID! :)

Morning commute from Columbus Circle to the GM buidling on 5th Ave.

Morning commute from Columbus Circle to the GM buidling on 5th Ave.

The GM building! I work on the 42nd floor.

The GM building! I work on the 42nd floor.

I still am so in awe of this beautiful city. Despite the frigid temperatures and supposed “polar vortex” that has been encompassing the island of Manhattan, I’ve taken the time to explore.

The view from Penn Station during the last leg of my commute home!

The view from Penn Station during the last leg of my commute home!

A little redundant, but the Empire State Building is so beautiful! This is the view from 5th and 44th.

The Chrysler Building is so beautiful! This is the view from 5th and 44th.

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Being a tourist

Still being a tourist

Still being a tourist

Times Square after work :)

Times Square after work :)

How incredible is this city? This was on my way to Penn Station one Saturday morning :)

How incredible is this city? This was on my way to Penn Station one Saturday morning :)

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World Trade Center memorial -- an incredible experience.

World Trade Center memorial — an incredible experience.

at night :)

at night :)

the view from Brooklyn :)

the view from Brooklyn

Holy Cannoli!

Holy Cannoli!

I look forward to sharing about my adventures in the Big Apple!

Pavithra

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