France | La Tour Eiffel


It’s simple to find a photograph of the Eiffel Tower online. In fact, it often feels futile to take the same photograph that has come many times before you. I decided to try something different.

In this collection of photographs, I attempted to take one of the world’s most photographed monuments and tried to create something unique. I challenged myself to find new angles and ways of looking at the famous structure.

Here are some photographs taken in my attempt to create something unique.

Sarah Brandenburg studied abroad in Paris, France in summer 2018:

Spain | Things to Do at the Top of Tibidabo


So I only ended up on the top of Mount Tibidabo because my group decided for our project, we wanted to visit the Observatory. I didn’t even know Barcelona had one before coming, so I thought we would check it out. It interested me in particular because it seemed like more of a low-key thing– kind of something you should do if you have time after seeing all the other touristy things.

How to Get There

Well THIS was definitely a longer journey, but very doable. It took us about an hour leaving from Arc de Triomf once again. We had to take the metro, a tram, and a bus, but the views were 100% worth it. You can view the directions from Google maps here or follow these steps:

  1. Take metro line R1 to Molins De Rei
    1. 2 stops
  2. Get off at Plaça de Sants
    1. You’ll have to exit and go to another metro station for the next line
  3. Take the S2  to Bellaterra
    1. 5 stops
  4. Get off at Peu del Funicular
  5. Walk to the tram and take FV to Vallvidrera Inferior
    1. Non-stop
  6. Get off at Vallvidrera Superior
  7. Walk to bus stop 111 to Tibidabo
    1. Stop depends on if you want to go to the Observatory (4 stops) or the amusement park (5 stops)

Observatori Fabra

When we finally got to the observatory, it reminded me of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. The Observatory Fabra is actually the 4th oldest active observatory in the world. Once the bus drops you off, you walk along this pathway surrounded by trees and greenery and end up at the gates. The hours of visitation are dependent on when you go:

Day Visits are only Sunday mornings from 11AM to 12:30PMNo bookings are needed, but tickets cost 2 Euros and includes a guided tour (children under 10 are free!). This applies all year except for August, Christmas and Easter.

Night Visits must booked ahead of time during the months September to June. The price is 10 Euros(children under 7 are free!) and you get to look through the telescope Centenari.

Something that I WISH I got to do was Dinner with Stars which includes a dinner at the observatory under the stars, a guest lecturer, a tour, and the opportunity to look through the telescope! You can definitely check out the website for more details on pricing and dates, or click here.

Tibidabo Amusement Park

You can see the castle from this amusement park all the way across the city in Barceloneta. Once again, I didn’t even know there was an amusement park in Barcelona! When we were up on the mountain, it seemed like a lot of children’s summer camps were visiting as well as families with young children, but it has rides for all. From the iconic ferris wheel to a statue of Jesus (like the one in Rio), this is just another fun activity to add to your list of non-so-touristy things to do in Barcelona! You can purchase tickets here.

Uaala! Gelateria

After a long day of traveling to Tibidabo, there is conveniently a lovely ice cream store across the street from where the tram drops you off call Uaala! Gelateria. It had some great gelato and a sweet owner so I would definitely recommend checking it out while you’re up there ?

Paulina Hernandez studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain in summer 2018:

Spain | City of Girona


When I first heard the name of this town, I instantly thought of the Princess Diaries because the name was far too similar to Genovia. However, this city did have characteristics and architecture that gave you the feeling that you were in some sort of fairytale land. Girona was one of the places for our class’s Friday field trips.

At the entrance, you see a Lioness statue with some small steps right next to it. Our tour guide told us the story of how back in the Roman times when they had walls surrounding the city, citizens of the town had to be within the gates by sunset or else they would be left outside the doors for the evening. This was done to protect the city from outsiders. However, the people came up with a secret code to show the guards if they were locked out and were in fact from Girona: they would kiss the bottom of the lioness statue!

I am not a huge follower of Game of Thrones, but apparently Girona was one of the places used to shoot the show. With its Romaness, gothic and baroque architecture, I do not blame them. The Cathedral of Girona is probably one of the more iconic Game of Throne landmarks (at least that’s what my classmates would tell me). Inside the cathedral was just as beautiful. The glass-stained windows have always been my favorite part of these churches. This one in particular had this courtyard surrounded by pillars; above each pillar, there were carvings of the most famous Bible stories. If you were to follow along the pillars, you could unfold the tale yourself. There was something peaceful about this courtyard that made it my favorite place in Girona.

We also got to tour the Arab baths, which were preserved thanks to local nuns who recognized that this place was in great condition for its age and wanted to continue that. I was surprised myself of the preservation, as our tour guide gave us rich history on the importance of each of the 3 rooms. People of Girona used to only shower once a month, so it was a luxury and recreational time to go to the baths.

We walked to the very top of one of the preserved Roman walls of the city where we had a breathtaking panoramic view of Girona. The walls, now full of greenery, kind of reminded me of a jungle gym, which stairs, bridges and walkways. There’s a line to go to the very top with a steep staircase but it is definitely worth the trek!

Afterwards, we learned more about the Jewish Quarter and how badly they were mistreated in the city back then because they were believed to bring the bad luck to the city. These areas had very narrow roads which would easily be crowded. As we walked through, I overheard a man playing his Spanish guitar on some steps and it was the first time I had heard one all trip! It reminded me of that scene in Cheetah Girls 2 where Angel is playing from the top of the restaurant.

During our down time, my friends and I ate at this great Italian place and got some ice cream at this well-known ice cream shop called Rocambolesc Ice Cream. We also walked across this bridge that was designed by the same man who made the Eiffel Tower!

This was a beautiful field trip and a nice way to explore Spain outside of Barcelona. I enjoy them because it’s like traveling is part of my curriculum for the class.

Paulina Hernandez studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain in summer 2018:

Spain | Visiting Camp Nou


My family and I are major FC Barcelona fans, so I knew visiting Camp Nou was definitely on my to-do list. I went with 2 friends from the program who mentioned they were going one day after class. Purchasing the tickets online was very easy, though you can also buy them at the stadium. We decided to do the cheapest option that included the museum and tour of the stadium for 25 Euros, and let me tell you, it was WORTH IT! They have other options that include more but are more expensive but include access to an audio guide, virtual reality experience, exclusive sites, a gift, an official tour guide, or walking around the pitch. You can click here to buy tickets and compare them for yourself.

Getting to the stadium was not too difficult. Google Maps was definitely a friend on any traveling needs because you could use the public transportation and it told you EXACTLY what lines to take and how many stops for the metro. If you’re at the Residencia Dorms, you can take the Metro from the Arc de Triomf and follow the following steps or click here:

  1. Take the L1 metro line to Hospital de Bellvitge
    1. 8 stops
  2. Get off at Plaça de Sants
    1. You’ll have to exit and go to another metro station for the next line
  3. Walk to the Metro Plaça de Sants
  4. Take the N2 metro line to Estació Av. del Carrilet
    1. 6 stops
  5. Get off at Riera Blanca – Les Corts
  6. Exit station and follow signs to Camp Nou

When we arrived, we took a couple pictures outside the main entrance and then made our way over to the stadium. There are large signs telling you where the entrance is for the tour. We got to take pictures with professional photographers and had the option of buying these photos afterwards. As we enter the museum, it is filled with all the trophies and exclusive valuables. A couple of my personal favorites were Luis Suarez Bota de Oro and an old jersey from Messi! Since we did not have the audio-guide, we just walked around and saw what we wanted to see. They had this cool wall with a bunch of panels that would constantly flip and land on a certain page that gave you a clear image of one of the players if you stepped back and saw the bigger picture. You could spend as much time here or any of the places on the tour as you wanted.

To be honest, all I thought I paid for was the museum and walking into the stadium to see the classic “Més que un club” on the stadium seats, but in reality it was far more than that! Really, we kept walking and following the signs into all these different regions of the stadium that I didn’t know we had access to so that was super cool!

After the stadium seats, we were able to actually go down where the players sit and close to the field. I got a picture of me sitting on one of the chairs where the players sit! After we went to what looked like the press room, the visiting players’ locker room, the announcers’ room and ended at the giant FCB store. I got myself some nice fuzzy socks to remember this incredible opportunity.

Ironically, while I was visiting, my dad texted me an article that FC Barcelona was actually at UCLA practicing that day. I really came across the world and we decide to swap places lol.

Paulina Hernandez studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain in summer 2018:

Spain | Best Part of Class: Having Dinner with a UCLA Alumni’s family in Gràcia


As I had mentioned in previous blogs, I had always dreamed of studying abroad because I wanted to assimilate to another culture that was completely different than anything I was familiar with. Even though this program is about 3 ½ weeks, I still felt like I got that. However, the defining factor of this experience was when we had the privilege of meeting John Arboleda, a fellow Bruin now living in the neighborhood of Gràcia in Barcelona with his beautiful wife and 2 children.

Our professor had us meet Arboleda at the IED School of Design Barcelona, where he works as the director of Special Programs and Innovation. We got a small tour of the modern and colorful campus, received some small gifts, and ended up in a classroom where we got the opportunity to hear Arboleda’s story: where he grew up, his own study abroad experiences, and the opportunities for living abroad. I never really considered living outside of The States until this lecture. His charisma and sense of humor kept us students engaged and wanting to hear more about how a Colombian LA-native ended up living in Spain away from everything he knew. The timeline of how he got to where he is now is something of a story that I hope you get to hear if you decide to go on this program!

It was awesome being able to relate to a fellow Bruin who wore many caps of first-generation to transfer student. He talked about the struggle of finding employment post-grad and how studying abroad in college shaped the way he wanted to live his life.

Afterwards, we walked over to his home through Gràcia. He explained to us how during the evening, families and kids, adults and teenagers, all come to the plazas to eat, talk and enjoy each others company. I saw this group of little ones playing with those battling spin tops that I haven’t seen since I was a kid. It was so refreshing to see people outside, socializing and playing instead of locked inside with electronics.

Inviting 30 students over to your home for food is more than generous. Arboleda let us know how in Spain, the home is supposed to be private and intimate for the family, so having someone come over was a big deal — which made us feel all the more special and welcomed. He also had a fellow friend he studied abroad with over. We got a tour of his home, met his kids and got a chance to mingle some more with him, his wife and family friend. I asked questions about how it felt moving so far from family, how to continue traveling under a budget and his lifestyle in Barcelona.

I was so intrigued that this could be a reality. Since then, I have thought about possibly taking a gap year abroad.

Arboleda also serves on the UCLA Alumni Association and visits the campus every few months for his meetings. I currently am in the Student Alumni Association (SAA) which is a branch of the Alumni Association, so it was fun to talk to him about how we could work together to get more events like this going– having students abroad meeting up with Bruins living abroad in that area. It was definitely a unique experience that gave us more insight the idea of living abroad.

Paulina Hernandez studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain in summer 2018:

France | Paris in the Rain


I had one wish before leaving Paris. I wanted to experience Paris in the rain. It was hot, unexpected, but it poured one day.

I walked out of my classroom and there it was, a wall of water showering on all of us. My wish had come true. A storm had surprised the city, and I was given the rare chance to explore Paris in the rain, a summertime rain.

Here are a few photographs and a film of Paris in the rain.

Sarah Brandenburg studied abroad in Paris, France in summer 2018:

France | The Arteries of Paris


The river is a refreshing place to take a stroll. Whenever the hot summer sun felt too unbearable, I would go to the river by Pont Marie, order a freshly pressed pamplemouse (grapefruit juice) and absorb the view.

There are places on the riverside cafés that are renovated boats. You can grab a refreshment and sit on the water. I enjoyed Monsieur Pelican, situated close to Pont Marie and Hôtel de Ville.

Friends talking by the river at Monsieur Pelican

This place is the only tourist filled location in Paris that I thoroughly enjoyed. Both Parisians and visitors are drawn to the water, especially during the hot summer months. The Seine is a haven from the heat even if it is un-swimmable.

A glass of freshly pressed jus de pamplemouse

Sarah Brandenburg studied abroad in Paris, France in summer 2018:

Spain | “Dance Like They Do in the Mediterranean” – Barceloneta


The most cheesy thing I have ever done (but do not regret) is play Ed Sheeran’s “Barcelona” as I walk along the Mediterranean. But c’mon, I HAD to.

One of the places you’re bound to end up when in this beautiful city is the most popular beach found in the neighborhood of Barceloneta; this literally translates to “little Barcelona” which is accurate since it is always flooded with people, but that’s part of the fun!

There’s lots to do, see, and eat in Barceloneta as it is a hot spot for nightlife or cruising along the boardwalk. Here some of my favorite places and recommendations to make the most of your time:


The Mediterranean was definitely a different take of the beach than the Pacific, but I loved it just the same. It can tend to get crowded, especially during the summer, but you should be able to arrive around anytime of the day and still find a good tanning spot. Sometimes, my friends and I would head out there right after class with our towels and sunscreen in our backpacks lol.  *Definitely recommend going in groups so there is at least one person staying back to watch everyone’s belongings* ?

There are no huge waves like in California so there’s no surfing, but there are plenty of jet skis, boats, and parasailing (which you can rent in the Olympic Port!). The waters are pretty tame and not as cold either, which I really appreciated because I tend to get cold very easily lol.

There are also people selling various things on the beach, which can be overpriced. BUT, one of my best investments was this purple/colorful beach blanket for 15 Euros; it’s larger than a normal beach towel, easy to fold and put away, and sand slides right off after you shake it out.


As you walk along the boardwalk, you see people riding bikes, rockin’ roller skates, selling jewelry and lots of restaurants. My friend and I were on the hunt for some good gelato, though! Luckily, if you walk down the boardwalk towards the W Hotel, you’ll find this gem of a place called Ice Box. It has incredible gelato and is right on the beach. This little black cups were so cute that I kept it to be my new jewelry holder lol.


My friends made it a mission to try as many tapa places as we could throughout the program (and I highly recommend it!). One of my favorite places that was on the cheaper side was found in Barceloneta, called Jai-ca. It was one of our go-to lunch places after class and has this cute and cozy vibe to it. I’d 10/10 recommend for some good and authentic tapas!

W Hotel

If you’re looking for a more extravagant meal (but 100% delicious), you might try the Bravo 24. We saved this tapas meal for the last day as a celebration, but thank goodness we did because it was the best tapas of my life (nice to end on a high note lol). It also has incredible views of the city from the higher floor which you can get access to as well. It’s best to go at sunset!

Paulina Hernandez studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain in summer 2018:

Spain | Fiesta or Siesta?


Well in my book, a siesta can be just as good a fiesta! A siesta is basically like this afternoon nap during the hottest parts of the day, and they are a big deal in Barcelona!

I’m originally from California, so the time change was something that took a while to get used to being 9 hours ahead of my normal schedule, but I promise these siestas saved my life because I was able to sleep during the day and it was perfectly normal!

Our professor told us right when we got there that usually, anywhere from 4-8PM, shops and restaurants would close for “siesta” so that the workers could go home and see their family, rest or even nap. Since we were near a tourist area, most stores now stay open but it wouldn’t be uncommon to find yourself locked outside of a store.

To a Californian girl like myself, it seemed odd at first to take break right in the MIDDLE of the day. [I mean I love sleeping in but 4PM!?] This is normal in Barcelona because they follow a different daily timeline that can look something like this (I modified it for the way I adapted as a student but it follows the same structure):

8AM – 10AM →  Go into work/school

2 PM →  Lunchtime!

4-7 PM →  Siesta ?

9-11 PM →  Start Dinner

After midnight — Enjoy your night!

Eating lunch at 2PM or eating dinner at 10PM definitely took some getting used to, since back home my lunch and dinner times are usually 12PM and 6PM, but there’s a reason for this!! I discovered it my first evening in Barcelona actually. After the orientation we had that first day, a group of us decided to go eat and watch the World Cup match that was going on that night. As we sat there eating our first taste of tapas and enjoying the fútbol game, we noticed that it was 9:30PM and it was STILL light out. I mean it, like the sun was barely setting and the air was cool so people were walking their dogs, going out for a jog or grabbing dinner outside.

After the next couple of days, I realized in Barcelona, the sun is only gone from 10PM to about 6AM, which was different from back home — but this culture shock and adjustment was just the thing I was looking forward to going abroad.

I’m not sure if any of you had a similar experience, but I had to practically beg and convince my parents to let me go abroad with every good possible reason: the classes count towards my minor, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it’s free (thanks to this scholarship!!). I even added the Spanish minor to make the classes count!

But why did I go great lengths to go abroad?

My mom told asked me why I wouldn’t just go backpacking Europe after I graduated from UCLA. My answer was the fact that I wanted to learn what siestas were. I wanted to discover for myself how to adapt to them, and how to live the lifestyle of a local even if it was for a short time. I am so blessed I got this opportunity because I’m not sure when I’ll ever get the chance to temporarily live in another country again and learn to adapt to a culture I am not familiar with. With that, I not only figured out how to keep my sleeping schedule on track, but gained world-experience and became conscious of real-world issues that other countries were facing outside of my home country. It opened my eyes that there is so much more out there than what’s happening in my backyard, and it matters just as much.

Paulina Hernandez studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain in summer 2018:

Spain | Study Spots and Polka Dots


As beautiful as the Universitat Pompeu Fabra is, I did not want to spend my limited time in Spain sitting in a library. The most challenging part of any study abroad program is finding the balance between exploring the city for yourself while simultaneously making sure you are caught up on your assignments. Luckily, summertime in Barcelona happily allows for both.

When I did the program, we stayed at the Residencia Onix, which quickly becomes your home. It is about a 15 minute walk to campus, 25 minute walk to Barceloneta and the beach, 25 minute walk from La Sagrada Familia and conveniently a 5 minute walk to the Arc de Triomf and Metro!

*The Arc quickly becomes a reference point of how close you are to home*

When my friends and I did not want to read in our dorm rooms, we would first take advantage of the rest of the Residencia Onix. They have a lounge on the basement level with couches and tables to study at, and even a room open at the late hours of the night where other international abroad students are studying. It’s a great place to meet other people from all over the world and USA who are in different programs. They also have a movie room, a television, and ping pong tables (which seems to be a big thing in Spain apparently).

Another perk of this residence is the roof! It is open 10AM-8PM, so if you catch yourself home during those hours I would definitely check it out. It has a pool with some lounging pool chairs and is festively decorated. Sometimes, my friends and I would take a dip in the pool to cool off and then read or do our assignments under the warm summer sun. There is a great 360 view of Barcelona where you can see the Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter to the Sagrada Familia and Barceloneta. 10/10 would recommend taking advantage of it.

Right around the corner, there is this cute little coffee shop called BRACAFÈ. From delicious pastries to great lattes, this cafe is a gem I wish I found sooner. There is inside seating, but the weather is so nice in the evening that I would recommend sitting at their outside tables — and YES they have Wifi!

If you’re looking to get out of the Residencia Onix area, my favorite part of the city was the Gothic Quarter because this is where all the tiny streets seem to criss cross one another in an no particular pattern. In these lovely streets, my group found Boheme Bakery Cafe during one of our group project ventures. We took time to break from our scavenger hunt-like assignment to refuel with some lattes and sweet goods. It is found around the corner of the Picasso Museum and one of the coolest little streets for the arts. I had a caramel latte (of course) and red velvet cupcake with cute little white chocolate hearts all over it.

So the Polka Dots from the title of this post go hand-in-hand with one of the most well-known tapas restaurants my friends and I happen to find! *Tapas are like Spanish appetizer-like dishes, a must-have when in Spain* But really, before visiting a museum, we were really hungry and just Yelped the nearest restaurant and luckily we came across Casa Lolea (which apparently usually needs a reservation FYI!). They are most known for their patatas bravas, a type of tapas dish, because they make them in their own special way. I actually really liked them, and that’s saying a lot being that I’m a picky eater lol. I also did myself a favor and ordered a slice chocolate cake because I’m on vacation, so why not?

Paulina Hernandez studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain in summer 2018: