5 VEGAN LUNCHES

5 simple and quick vegan recipes for lunch or dinner; I wrote lunches because I usually have an even simpler dinner, but of course they can be prepared for dinner as well. They are quite cheap; the only expensive ingredients are tahini and nutritional yeast, and you don’t necessarily have to use them. They do make food tastier, though, and once you buy them you can use them for a couple of months.

Note: apparently chickpeas for lunch are what bananas are to me for breakfast – a necessity (and that’s why 4 out of 5 of these recipes contain them).

Some sort of pad thai

It’s not real pad thai; I, as usually, didn’t follow any recipe and didn’t use any oil (you can, of course, use oil if you’re a normal person and you’re not experimenting like me).

Ingredients

  • rice noodles for one person (if it’s for more than one, just use more of the rest of the ingredients)
  • veggies, for example: one onion, one pepper, some broccoli
  • half a can of mushrooms
  • half a block of tofu
  • soy sauce to taste
  • a splash of soy milk (I didn’t have any other sauce)
  • spices of choice (I used paprika, turmeric and black pepper)
  • crushed peanuts or other nuts (I used pistachios)

Instructions

Fry the onion for about a minute, then add pieces of broccoli, red pepper and mushrooms and fry some more, adding soy sauce and spices of choice. Fry until the veggies are not completely raw anymore but not soft either; they should still be crunchy. Cook the noodles according to the instructions. Cut the tofu into small cubes and »fry« them in soy sauce. Throw the veggies and the noodles on it and mix well. I added a splash of soy milk here because it was too dry; real cooks and people who care more mix up a special sauce at this point. I didn’t mind the dish being a bit drier because the noodles were super soft and good (overcooked according to my boyfriend, but I seem to like overdone food for some reason). Sprinkle some roasted nuts on top and eat!

My version of pad thai.

Pasta with hummus sauce

I know it sounds odd, but I guarantee you it’s life.

Ingredients

  • any pasta (as much as you’d like to eat)
  • hummus: the more you use, the juicier it will be (I use about half of what I make out of one can of chickpeas)
  • nutritional yeast: a tablespoon or two
  • some dried tomatoes
  • some fresh cherry tomatoes

Instructions

Cook the pasta, drain it, put it back in the same pot you cooked it in, and throw all the ingredients on top. Add some salt or pepper if desired (I don’t). Mix it well and eat!

Hummus

You can cook your own chickpeas or buy a can (drain the chickpeas and then rinse well in case it’s a can; in my case it usually is). Place around 240 grams (1 can) of chickpeas in a bowl or blender, squeeze some lemon on it, add a pinch of salt, some garlic powder (or fresh minced garlic) and a teaspoon of tahini (sesame paste). Blend it in a blender or in a bowl using a stick hand blender. That’s it! Adding oil is completely unnecessary, but some people find the store-bought hummus tastier (it contains oil, more salt and preservatives).

It looks gross but it ain’t.

Chickpea »curry«

The question marks are there because that’s probably not real curry, it’s just something I made up after reading a couple of recipes and deciding they were too complicated/I didn’t have the ingredients and was too lazy to get them. It was for about two people or two lunches.

Ingredients

  • an onion
  • a clove of garlic
  • 2 medium carrots
  • some green beans
  • a courgette
  • a can of chickpeas
  • soy milk (coconut would be better, I just didn’t have it)
  • spices: salt, black pepper, paprika, curry obviously, turmeric

Instructions

Cut the onion and fry it in some kind of oil (or in water). Add the garlic after about a minute. Fry everything for another minute at medium temperature, then add all the remaining veggies and pour about a glass of water and a glass of soy milk over them. At this point I also added some soy sauce and all the spices, and then cooked it all until the veggies were almost done, then added the canned chickpeas (rinse it first, my friends), some nutritional yeast because I like it, and cooked a couple of minutes more. If it’s too dry add more liquid and if it’s too watery don’t cover it while cooking. Serve with rice.

I had it with rice (I usually have brown, but mummy made white) and more green sprouts because vegetables are important.

Chippies with hummus, eggplant and tomato sauce

If you’re not vegan it probably seems like this meal is missing something (maybe it seems like they all do), but for me it’s a completely normal lunch. I just have it with some hummus and my life’s complete.

Ingredients

  • thinly sliced potatoes (as much as you’d like to eat)
  • an eggplant, sliced
  • any tomato sauce (my mum makes her own, will ask how at some point)

Instructions

Put the potatoes and the eggplant on a baking tray lined with baking paper, add salt and desired spices and bake at around 200 degrees Celsius for about 20 to 25 minutes. Heat up the tomato sauce and, if you’re me, make some hummus! Put it all on a plate and dip the potatoes in the sauce/hummus.

Just try making oil-free potatoes; it’s life-changing.

Sweet potato with, surprise, hummus

Sweet potato is different from regular potato: it’s sweeter and the structure is different; it’s pumpkin-like. If I bake it in the oven, I always cut regular potatoes into thin slices and sweet potato into thicker slices; it’s just my preference, though.

Ingredients

  • sweet potato (I used two small ones)
  • hummus (check the recipe above)

Instructions

Cut the sweet potato into slices that are about one centimetre thick. Put them on a baking tray lined with baking paper and bake at 200 degrees Celsius for about 20 to 25 minutes. I don’t add any spices because I love the taste as it is. I recommend having it with hummus or avocado spread (I make it with lemon, salt, black pepper and garlic powder).

Actually, I think guacamole is even better with sweet potato than hummus, I just didn’t have any avocados.

And that’s it! I hope this gives you guys some ideas about what a vegan lunch could look like. Of course, I could have added tempeh, seitan or some sort of fake meat to any of these meals, but I don’t do that often, except for the occasional tofu (like in the pad thai recipe). I also had raw veggies with all of these meals, like lettuce or something similar. I think they are filling, tasty meals that provide the necessary carbs, fats and protein (because of all the hummus).  More importantly, I think they can be enjoyed by anyone, vegan or not!

5 vegan banana breakfasts

If I had to pick one kind of food to live on for a while, I’d pick bananas. I love them because they’re so versatile, so sweet, but still healthy. I never, ever, unless I really don’t have a choice, have a banana free breakfast. You get the point: bananas are life. So here are five breakfast (or lunch or dinner, no limits there) ideas featuring BANANAS.

Note: when I say cup, I mean any cup, and not the standard American cup measure. It’s just for the sake of proportion.

Porridge with mashed banana

You can make oats without adding the banana, or you can simply add slices of it as a topping, but I really recommend mixing mashed banana into the oats because it makes them sweet and creamy. If you’ll be using classic rolled oats (not instant), you should soak them overnight or at least for an hour before using them, or just cook them longer, as they are harder. You can only use a cup of liquid if you prefer firmer oats, and up to two cups if you prefer them more runny.

Ingredients

  • a cup of oats (the size of the cup depends on how hungry you are; just keep in mind that oats expand)
  • a cup and a half of liquid (water, plant-based milk or a combination of both if you’re me)
  • one ripe mashed banana
  • a spoon (or two) of chia seeds/flaxseeds
  • cinnamon to taste

Instructions

Mash the banana in a bowl (if you’re using the microwave) or in a pan (if you’re using the stove). Add in all your remaining ingredients and microwave it for about two minutes, then give it a stir, then microwave the oats a bit more, for about thirty seconds. It takes about this long for me when I’m using the highest power (it might differ depending on your microwave and on what you consider cooked oats). They should be slightly firm but still creamy; you should be able to stir them. On the stove it might take a minute longer, you should cook them on low temperature and stir all the time; be careful not to burn them (I’ve done it too many times).

Toppings

You can use everything, basically: a piece of dark chocolate, frozen/fresh berries, any sliced fruit, nut butters, nuts, seeds, you can drizzle it with maple, agave or some other syrup or add a spoon of »nutella«. My personal favourite is mixing a spoon of cocoa, a drizzle of coconut nectar and a tiny splash of soy milk in a small cup and microwaving it for about 30 seconds (no more because it will boil and you’ll turn your microwave brown, happens to me about every other time). Then I just pour this over my porridge and that’s it! Be careful not to burn your tongue; porridge doesn’t cool down quickly (which is why I sometimes add a splash of soy milk on top). It is, however, the most filling, delicious and healthy breakfast ever, and my favourite during winter.

This was oats, mashed banana, soy milk, water, chia seeds and cinnamon, topped with a piece of 85% chocolate and a drizzle of maple syrup. It was more on the dessert side, to be honest.

Nice cream

My favourite breakfast in the summer or whenever I feel like eating ice cream! I think I actually enjoy it more than regular ice cream, maybe because I’m a health freak, or at least that’s what they say. The first thing you need to do is slicing a couple of ripe bananas (the riper, the better) and storing them in your freezer overnight or at least for a few hours. The second thing you need is obviously a regular blender (smoothie maker) or a stick hand blender.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 ripe frozen bananas
  • a splash of »milk« or a couple of spoons of yogurt (not necessary, but I prefer my ice cream a bit softer)
  • any flavour that you desire: you can add cocoa powder, fresh/frozen berries, cinnamon, nut butters, vanilla…

Instructions

Blend it all in a blender or in a bowl with the stick hand blender until smooth. You can add any topping you like and you’re done! Just be careful not to get brain freeze.

2 frozen bananas, a cup of blueberries, 2 spoons of soy yogurt. Topped with walnuts and chocolate sauce made of cocoa powder, peanut flour, coconut nectar and soy milk (in the microwave).

Yogurt with banana

It doesn’t get much simpler than this. I used to love Greek yogurt with banana slices and honey; so I veganized it.

Ingredients

  • soy or any other plant-based yogurt
  • sliced banana
  • any desired toppings: more fruit, nuts, seeds, syrup, dried fruit, granola etc.

Instructions

Mix it all in a bowl and enjoy!

Additional recipe for the homemade granola that’s pictured below

Ingredients

  • oats
  • cinnamon
  • nuts
  • some kind of syrup (any)
  • chopped dates

*The quantities are a personal choice and depend on how much of it you want to make and on how sweet you want it. Also, the more syrup you add, the stickier it will become. I usually use about 2 cups of oats, a random amount of cinnamon, half a cup of nuts, half a cup of dates and a quarter of a cup of syrup. I sometimes also throw some seeds in there.

Instructions

Mix it all in a bowl, adding the syrup in the end and mixing it well again. Place the granola on a tray lined with baking paper and bake at around 160 degrees Celsius for about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on your oven. Don’t forget to check on it, it burns quickly. When it’s done, add the chopped dates and cool everything down. Store in closed jars/plastic containers.

Homemade granola, soy yogurt, sliced banana, sliced strawberry.

Warm Weetabix with banana

You can, of course, eat this cold (as it’s meant to be eaten lol), but I like the hot version since it’s getting cold outside.

Ingredients

  • 3 (or more) Weetabix biscuits
  • one ripe banana
  • about a glass of plant-based milk
  • cinnamon
  • topics of choice

Instructions

Very easy: mash the banana in a bowl, add the biscuits and the cinnamon, then the milk. Mix it all and the biscuits will get from dry and disgusting to mushy and nice. Microwave for about two minutes and here’s your alternative to porridge! Top with whatever your heart desires and enjoy.

Tip: eating cold Weetabix with milk, mashed banana, frozen berries, some kind of liquid sweetener and cinnamon is also amazing and my favourite version for the summer.

Weetabix with mashed banana, cinnamon and soy milk, topped with the banana leftovers, some roasted almonds, raisins, and a piece of super dark chocolate. Featuring my broken bowl from a Chinese shop in Valencia (I broke it about 2 minutes after buying it). Good times.

Sweet potato »toasties« with stuff (including banana, worry not)

This might take some more time, unless you have leftover baked sweet potato, so perhaps it’s better making it four lunch or dinner if you’re in a rush in the morning. You can, of course, just make the sweet version, or just the salty (which would exclude bananas, sadly), but here are the ingredients for both. Also, you can just use regular bread if you’re not feeling adventurous.

Ingredients

  • one smaller sweet potato
  • one banana
  • nut butter of choice
  • jam of choice
  • hummus
  • smoked tofu

Instructions

Cut the sweet potato into slices that are about a centimetre thick (sometimes it only means cutting it in half) and bake them in the oven at about 200 degrees Celsius for 20 to 25 minutes. (I hear that some people use a regular toaster for them, but I haven’t tried yet, so I wouldn’t know. I tried microwaving them once, because that’s apparently also a thing, but it took ages and they weren’t as good as they are from the oven.) Spread the nut butter and then the jam on one piece and top with banana coins. Spread the hummus on the other slice and top with slices of smoked tofu. I know it sounds bizarre but it’s seriously delicious, I kid you not.

Well, this contains exactly what’s described above.

I hope this post gives you ideas on what you can make with bananas, and what you can generally eat for a vegan breakfast (regardless of whether you’re vegan or not). This is not where the options for meals featuring bananas end at all, though, so expect more on that topic. 😀

Impressions of Barcelona

I expected two things from Barcelona: for it to be beautiful and crammed with tourists. My mum, who I went with, kept sending me pictures of gorgeous mosaics that we absolutely had to see, while a friend told me to enjoy »the amusement park«. Both my expectations turned out to be facts: Barcelona is a truly beautiful city that is definitely worth visiting, but the number of visitors has a big impact on it.

Park Güell

Stuff that I loved

  • Gaudi’s work. I haven’t seen all of it, not by far, but I did visit Park Güell which is full of his mosaics, including the house he lived in. I’ve also been to Casa Milà (which costs 20 if you’re a student and 25 if you’re not), and I’ve seen Casa Batllo, Sagrada Familia and some other buildings from the outside (because they stole my mum’s wallet while I’m not rich enough). I would really recommend visiting Casa Milà because the roof is the weirdest, but also one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Park Güel is great too, and the cliché wall, where everyone takes the classic picture of Barcelona, is truly worth visiting; just remember to buy the tickets in advance online. It’s something worth seeing, despite the fact that they’re renovating it, which means more than half of the terrace is closed, and that there are lots of people, all trying to get an Instagram-worthy photo.
  • Barri Gotic. The Gothic Quarter is my favourite quarter in Barcelona. It’s full of narrow streets, cool architecture and diverse bars and restaurants, not to mention the shops that sell basically everything, from clothes to expensive artsy souvenirs. It’s also where the Barcelona Cathedral is situated, and while they only made it »gothic« in the 19th century, it truly is an impressive building.
  • Plaza Real. It’s just a square with a fountain, lots of palm trees, yellow walls and many bars, restaurants and clubs, but it’s very pretty. I walked through it several times because it was on the way from my hostel to the Gothic Quarter, right next to La Rambla.
  • Plaza España and Font Màgica. Plaza España is huge and it features a shopping centre, to the roof of which you can get for one euro (there’s a lift). I suppose there are other ways, but that’s the one we chose for some reason. The roof offers great views of the Palacio Nacional and of other parts of the city, and it’s also full of restaurants. The Magic Fountain is a 5-minute walk away and they do a lights and music show every evening. It’s free and it’s something worth seeing despite the huge crowd that gathers there to watch. They play diverse music and do weird but amazing things with the water. I’m actually surprised they haven’t started charging for it yet (nice one, Barcelona).
  • The many vegan options. There are lots of vegan restaurants, but I haven’t been to any, I only tried places that had vegan options. I’ve been to Chök The Chocolate Kitchen and Cookies Demasie. The first one has lots of chocolatey vegan treats on offer (I had the most amazing cupcake) and the second one makes vegan cinnamon buns; they only had one kind plus some cookies when I came, though. We also ate in Abirradero, right next to our hostel, and they had a vegan burger on the menu, but I opted for the quinoa salad instead.
Casa Milà (La Pedrera)

Stuff I liked

  • The beach (Playa de la Barceloneta). Barcelona has more beaches to the north of Barceloneta, but I haven’t been to those. Barceloneta is a classic: very long, very wide, with many bars and restaurants nearby. The downside of the beach are the guys and girls who walk by all the time, trying to get you to buy drinks, towels or get a massage. It’s hard to fall asleep or read when someone’s screaming »Cerveza!« at you all the time.
  • La Rambla. The famous street that connects the port and Plaza de Cataluña. It’s cool if you fancy taking a walk down a big street that’s surrounded by beautiful houses, is full of bars, restaurants and mini-shops, as well as of people (almost exclusively tourists). I wouldn’t call it ugly or the walk through it unpleasant, but I really don’t see what’s so interesting about it.
  • La Sagrada Familia. Once again, I only saw it from the outside. The way in which the building is done, how diverse it is, the details that it has and just how huge it is, make it amazing and worth seeing. The fact is, though, that there are huge lines and groups of people all around it, and that it’s under construction. They have been building it for about a century, they’re still not done, and they probably won’t be for another decade or so.
  • Mercado de la Boqueria. It’s big and it offers a big range of different food products, but it’s also very very crowded and everything’s expensive. They sell a lot of chocolate, but even the dark versions contain milk, so sad times for vegans and lactose intolerant people.
  • Park Monjuic. A hill with a castle and with amazing views of the city. Totally worth the hike which took us about half an hour with all the stopping for pictures.
Playa de la Barceloneta

Stuff I didn’t like

  • How expensive the entry fees to most museums and other attractions are. Also, they charge you one euro for using the stupid toilet on the train station Barcelona Sants and in the shopping centre Maremagnum, which is next to the Aquarium (in the port).
  • The already mentioned people who want to sell something to you constantly, plus the ones who want to convince you to eat in their restaurant.
  • The pickpockets. They stole my mum’s wallet before we even got to the hostel, which is nothing unusual for a big touristy city, and she definitely should have been more careful, but it still sucks.
  • The crowds of tourists. I’m a hypocrite for saying that because I was one of them, but it still didn’t make me like it. It was interesting to hear so many languages and see people from so many different cultures and parts of the world, though!
Plaza de Cataluña

Stuff I’d recommend

  • Using public transport. It’s well organized and the buses are punctual; the city is also well connected by the metro. We bought a ticket for ten rides and used nine of them in four days (this ticket allows you to use buses and the tube).
  • Staying at Hostal Abrevadero. It cost us 200 euros for three nights for both of us, but we had our own room and our own bathroom. It was very clean, renovated, the staff was super nice and helpful, the room was pretty, and the location was great (near the port and the Gothic Quarter, with bus and metro stations a two-minute walk away). I’m still not entirely sure why it’s called a hostel, it’s not a typical one as it doesn’t even have rooms for many people.
  • Taking a Free Walking Tour with Craft Tours. We walked from Plaza Cataluña, through the Gothic Quarter and finished on Plaza Real. The guide gave us a brief history of the city, touched upon recent political events and told us many interesting things and funny stories about the buildings we saw during our walk. Also, you can pay as much as you think the tour was worth.
  • Eating in Calle Blai which is full of tapas bars where you can eat pinchos: small sandwich bites, a different kind of tapas. I’d recommend tapas in general as they are usually the cheaper, but still tasty option, and also a way in which you can try more things (you share them with the people you’re eating with).
Sagrada Familia

Conclusions

We only spent four days in Barcelona, and still managed to see all that we had planned. This means that it was quite intense and each evening I went to bed with my head full of new pretty images. Barcelona surely has a lot left to see, and I fully intend on visiting it again. I must admit, though, that it felt good to come back to the smaller, more peaceful Valencia.

LONDON

My relationship with London

I don’t know where my obsession with London came from (I suppose it had something to do with Harry Potter, Love Actually and the British accent); I just know I liked it more each time I travelled there. At some point I decided that I’d like to spend some time living there in the future, and I had this thought in my mind until the day I applied for Erasmus. The strange thing is, though, that I’m generally someone who likes summer and the sea; Thames is quite a lousy substitute, and while it doesn’t usually rain heavily in London, the weather changes quickly and it’s often cloudy and wet. And then there’s the fact that London is enormous and crowded; it can take ages to get somewhere and walking around the centre at weekends can be a nightmare. Also, it’s ridiculously expensive.

Views from Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath

And yet, none of these things made me dislike it. I spent nine months there having a laugh and enjoying every minute of it, loving every part of the city; even the dodgy Cricklewood where I lived sort of grew on me. Of course, there were times when the slow traffic made me nervous, when the amount of people in Primark made me leave everything and walk out, or when I was shocked by the price of a glass of mediocre wine in some random club (8 pounds). But all that was nothing compared to the times when I walked London’s streets, lied in a park on a sunny day, or visited one of the markets. I was happy to be there all the time; I liked travelling by tube, going to Co-op and sometimes I even liked the rain. I wasn’t scared of moving there all alone and I was next to depressed when I had to go home. But there’s a good reason for all that: I was an exchange student.

Erasmus life is like living in a bubble; it, sadly, isn’t real. Everything’s temporary and you’re aware of that, which is why you try to make the most out of it while you can. I had few classes and didn’t have to work, which meant that I didn’t have to commute to another part of the city every morning. I also didn’t struggle with loneliness; I had my Erasmus flatmates, and I basically forgot what it’s like to be alone; I don’t think I saw two films by myself in the entire year. And then I had the scholarship, I paid my rent in advance and whenever I was running out of money, my mum and my grandma would help me. I was free as a bird and I didn’t have any real worries.

London itself

The cons of living in London therefore didn’t affect me as much, but I did enjoy the good stuff, the things everyone loves. I’ll focus on these, and I’ll leave out the main tourist sites because I’m sure you already know everything there is to know about Buckingham Palace and Madame Tussauds. The best things about London are the mixture between old and new architecture, the many enormous parks, the amazing markets and the fact that there’s always something going on. There are so many events, concerts, clubs, pubs and restaurants that it’s hard to run out of things to do or places to go to.

Views from the top floor in Tate Modern

PARKS

It’s no secret that London is full of amazing parks, but it’s not all about Hyde Park and Regent’s Park, there are many other ones. I had Clitterhouse Playing Fields and Gladstone Park near to my residence, and I often ran there. The first one is basically just lots of grass and some benches, while the second one is more park-like. Neither of them is very special, though, while the ones listed below absolutely are:

  • Hampstead Heath: there’s a hill, a forest, small lakes (in which people actually swim during summer; I guess they’re just that desperate), an amazing old palace called Inverforth House (you can walk through a part of its garden), rich people’s houses and Parliament hill (a very cool viewpoint)
  • Golders Hill Park: basically, a zoo; you can see various kinds of birds and other animals, including squirrels, like in every London’s park
  • Richmond Park: enormous, be prepared to walk a lot or rent a bike; you can see deer
  • Holland Park: a big pretty park that includes a Japanese garden
  • Battersea Park: next to Thames, it has an adventure park, and it’s right next to Battersea Power Station which was on the cover of Animals by Pink Floyd
  • the usual ones which are definitely worth a visit too: Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Regent’s Park (you can walk to Primrose Hill from here, another amazing viewpoint), St. James’s Park, Victoria Park, Green Park, Greenwich Park, etc.
Richmond Park

CEMETERIES

It might sound bizarre, but I really like cemeteries. I prefer older ones with interesting tombstones. I think it also has something to do with the fact that cemeteries in England differ a lot from the ones in Slovenia; for one thing, there are a lot less candles and flowers and I find that reasonable. There are lots of them in London and I have only visited two:

  • Hampstead Cemetery: near Cricklewood. There’s a path that goes through it with a fence on both sides and people run, walk and cycle there. It’s beautiful, the tombstones are surrounded by trees and it has a creepy gothic vibe if you walk through it when it’s getting dark. It’s free of charge.
  • Highgate Cemetery: it’s divided into the West and the East Cemetery and I only visited the Eastern part. For the Western part you must book a guided tour (around 12 pounds). I only had to pay 4 pounds for the East Cemetery which is also where Karl Marx is buried. Douglas Adams is also among the people buried in the East Cemetery. The West Cemetery is supposed to have amazing architecture, and George Michael is buried there, but his grave isn’t visited during the tour.

Otherwise, London has the “Magnificent Seven”: seven big private cemeteries, all established in the 19th century because there wasn’t enough space in the existing ones. Highgate is one of them, alongside Kensal Green, Abney Park and Brompton, which are also supposed to be worth visiting.

Hampstead Cemetery (a very bad picture, but a good representation of its creepiness and of English weather)

MARKETS

Markets are among the things that make London such an amazing city to live in. They are just screaming London as they are crowded, you can buy/eat things from all over the world, they are loud and there’s music everywhere. Keep in mind to check the opening times online before visiting them: some are closed on Sundays (Borough Market) while some er only fully open on Sundays (Brick Lane). I’ve been to the following five markets several times and I really can’t decide which one I like best: Borough Market, Camden Market, Brick Lane, Portobello Road Market and Covent Garden. There are also other famous markets in London but I either haven’t been to them or have only been once and don’t really remember them, so I won’t write about them (Old Spitalfields Market, Greenwich Market, Broadway Market etc.).

  • Borough Market: my first memory of London. It’s near London Bridge, it’s full of amazing food (they sell fresh ingredients and ready meals, but nothing except food and drinks) and you can eat sitting by the Thames because it’s so close. It’s a nice stop when taking a walk from Tower Bridge towards Tate Modern or vice versa. As already mentioned, make sure not to go there on a Sunday and try to go between Wednesday and Saturday because not all traders are there on the first two days of the week (you won’t be hungry though). My all-time favourite dish is a mix of veggies from the Ethiopian stall.
  • Camden Town is another old memory and simply a classic: full of tourists, music, graffiti, crazy shops and various food stalls with all the possible junk food you can imagine (you can find healthy stuff too though). Camden Market is open every day from ten to six. ​You can buy everything, from T-shirts, to hand-made jewellery and paintings.
  • Brick Lane is probably one of the best markets I’ve ever been to. There are always amazing street performers, there are various food halls and they sell a lot of art work. Perhaps because of the bagel shop, but I swear I sometimes felt as if I was in New York when walking through it. Brick Lane is officially only open on Sundays from 5 to 10. There are things you can do in the lane also on other days and there are some stalls, but I would definitely recommend going on a Sunday at about twelve or so (if you don’t mind the crowd).
  • Portobello Road Market: it’s in Nothing Hill where the film with the same name was filmed, and where you can see cute colourful houses and majestic white ones too. It’s where I ate the best falafel in my life (I can’t remember which stall it was but I’m sure I’d find it again). It’s open every day except Sunday, the hours differ slightly, and the best day is Saturday.
  • Covent Garden, a covered market that’s slightly posh. It’s adorable during the holidays and great to wander around when the weather sucks. Otherwise, I don’t think I ever bought anything there or ate in any of the restaurants (I’m not rich enough). Covent Garden is open every day.
Brick Lane and chocolate (the shop is called Dark Sugars)

FREE STUFF TO DO

  • PARKS: Needless to say, but anyway: all parks are free as far as I know. Sometimes there are also special events with not enter fee, for example Winter Wonderland which takes place around Christmas (so from sometime in November) and is in Hyde Park. It’s free to enter but you’re naturally going to have to pay for taking any rides or if you’re going to buy some junk food from the stalls. It’s worth just seeing it as it’s enormous and colourful. There are also various other events in parks, like concerts, and one thing you can always do on a sunny day is having a picnic.
  • MARKETS: You’ll probably be tempted and buy something but there’s no enter fee, and markets are fun to just look at as there’s so much art and so many street performers. Plus, the food is cheaper than in most restaurants.
  • WANDERING AROUND: If you like walking, you’ll enjoy losing yourself around London, finding a way from wherever you’re staying to the centre. For me the most interesting parts are Soho, Brixton and Camden Town (these also have many pubs and clubs and a very lively nightlife).
  • SKY GARDEN: If you book online in advance (you can do it three weeks before) it’s completely free and the views are amazing. If you’re too late to book it, you can still reserve a table and have a (costly) meal.
  • MUSEUMS: Most of the museums in London are free (minus the special exhibitions they are holding at the moment), among those: Natural History, British Museum, National Gallery, Science Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum etc. I would really recommend Tate Modern if you’re into art. I didn’t understand anything when I first visited it but the thing with contemporary art is that you got to read the description. When I went there for the second time I found it a lot more interesting, but the best thing for me is still the fact that you can get to the top floor for free and enjoy amazing views of the city.
Victoria Park

London is an amazing place to visit as a tourist, as it is a great destination for an exchange or for studying. It’s the best place for outgoing people because it really offers a lot of basically everything. It has been more than a year since I left it behind and I miss it daily. Luckily, I’m going there for a few days in November to catch up with some friends, and I’m really looking forward to visiting the same old spots. London just never gets old, I guess.

My Erasmus exchange and internship

Exchange in London

I’m writing this during my second Erasmus experience: an internship in Valencia this time. The fact that I’m here is a direct consequence of the year I spent in London; I came to Spain for a guy I met on my previous exchange in England, where I met a whole bunch of cool people from various parts of the world.

I always knew I would take part in an exchange at some point, I just didn’t know when exactly that would happen. There was always something making me stay: a boyfriend, my family and friends, the comfort and simplicity of living at home. And then, on a random December day in 2016, I had lunch with a friend who had recently returned from an exchange in China, and she got me so excited that I decided to apply, even though the deadline was in two days. I thought: if she could do China, I sure as hell can do London. I spent a day preparing the documentation and writing motivation letters, and then I applied. And that changed a lot of things.

I went on exchange because I had this vision of myself becoming a proper Londoner, getting some British accent, travelling the whole UK. None of that happened, though. In the whole nine months I spent there I haven’t made a single British friend, haven’t acquired a trace of British accent and the only proper UK trip I did was to Edinburgh. And despite all that, I had the best Erasmus experience I could ever wish for. I met people from different countries with whom we partied a lot and, more importantly, became great friends. I’d still say that my exchange was a classic, nothing I haven’t heard of before. I believe most people have an amazing time studying abroad and experience similar things as I did. Except for falling in love, maybe, but that’s not out of the ordinary either: roughly one million Erasmus babies were born since 1987, they say.

The point is that it was a great year: the most special, different and interesting so far. It also changed me in many ways. Before I left, home was an easy notion to understand and describe, but it isn’t so anymore. When I’m in Slovenia, I always feel like it’s temporary, like it’s just a period I’m spending there before I pack my bags and disappear for a few months again. And truth be told, it doesn’t just feel like that, it is like that. The past academic year felt like trying to get the uni stuff over with just so that I can spend the summer working in Spain.

The best part of my first Erasmus were the people; I love London but, to be honest, we would’ve had fun anywhere. I’m still in touch with the friends I made there and we’re trying to get ourselves in the same country at the same time every now and then, even though that’s easier said than done. It’s hard enough to organize trips with friends from my hometown; imagine doing it with people from Spain, Italy, Poland, Finland, Greece, China and so on. But hey, from time to time we succeed.

Internship in Valencia

You can do 12 months of Erasmus during your bachelor’s and 12 during your master’s. I haven’t used any of the months during my bachelor’s but decided to use them all during my master’s. After 9 months in London I still had 3 left, and where else would I spend them if not in Valencia, the place where my boyfriend lives, a cool city, and an opportunity to improve my broken Spanish. On top of that, I found a translation related internship (that’s what I study).

It’s safe to say that it’s nothing like London was, and I don’t mean that in a good or in a bad way. The place is completely different, it’s summer and I primarily came here to be with someone, so that’s what I’m mostly doing. I’m working from home most of the days, so I don’t see my co-workers every day; the interesting part is that most of them are Erasmus interns too, but that’s not a rule, it’s an exception. We’re quite lucky when it comes to that as we always have people to hang out with (and the gang is great this time too). I think the biggest difference is that I don’t have flatmates, except my boyfriend. That changes a lot of things; some of the greatest and funniest memories I have of London happened in the kitchen, in the hall or in one of our rooms.

The biggest difference is the amount of time: one summer is nothing. Two and a half months are over in a heartbeat and here I am wishing I could do it all over again. The work isn’t exactly what I was expecting; I’m not learning as much as I thought I’d be. The co-workers, though, were a very positive surprise. When you put a group of exchange students from different countries in the same place, amazing friendships and funny memories are bound to happen. I thought I’d just be spending a cool summer with my boyfriend and his friends, so making international friends was a big plus. As for Valencia, if you’ve read my previous post you already know I love it here.

So, study exchange or internship?

I’d say study exchange is the one that’ll give you the proper experience. Studying abroad as an exchange student usually isn’t that hard (it was very easy in my case), you have less classes, and you don’t have to work if you don’t want to (and if you have enough money; the scholarship won’t make you rich or anything). All of this means a lot of time for all the nice things: parties, trips and hanging out. If you want to go abroad for a shorter period and get some working experience, an internship might be the right option for you. It’s harder to know what to expect, though, and you might find it harder to meet people, as you may be the only Erasmus intern at the company (but you have Erasmus groups on Facebook, so no worries). As for applying and getting accepted, it’s easier to get accepted for an internship (that’s just because you find the employer after you’ve been accepted, while for the study exchange you apply to a certain university, to three, actually, in order from your first choice to your third choice). The places are limited for the study exchange, but they aren’t for the practice. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

For how long should you go?

As for the internship, that’s completely up to you and your employer (I found mine, or better said he found me, on erasmusintern.org). You can go for anything between a month or two and a whole year. An exchange is usually for one or two semesters, some are for a whole year. I’d recommend going for at least half a year or one semester, because that’s roughly how long you need to really get to know a place, a country, and to understand how it is to live there properly. Two months is cool, but they’ll pass faster than what you think. For me nine months passed incredibly fast, not to mention the summer that’s coming to an end.

Where should you go?

That’s a completely personal choice, of course. I went to London because I love it, and because I like the accent and the culture. You should think about any possible languages you’d like to learn, any culture that interests you or place that really appeals to you. The scholarship does vary according to the country, but, for example, you get the same amount of money for Italy and the UK, and the latter is much more expensive, especially London. I got around 500 euros per month (80% of the whole amount right away and 20% after I came home), but that depends on the country you come from; that’s what Slovenian students get for going to the »first category countries«, so the more expensive ones. In general, you will need more money than what the scholarship gives you, so if that concerns you, you should go to a cheaper country. You might get some money from your employer if you’re an intern, but that’s not a rule (it’s more like an exception).

Student residence or private accommodation?

Student residence forever. That way you’ll meet people, it’s even possible that they’ll put you in a flat or block with other exchange students (they did it with me) and you’ll have to try hard to be lonely. If you get private accommodation it’s possible you’ll end up living with people who are older and working full-time or just with people who, you know, already have a life and don’t need you in it. In case you’re going to England, you’ll get a single room, and I think that’s the case in many other countries too (not in mine, though).

Conclusions

Erasmus will give you more than it will take from you, that’s for sure. Your friends, family, boyfriends and girlfriends will wait, you’re not going for that long. Your independence will increase because you’ll have to find your way around in a foreign country, and your mum won’t be there to wash your clothes or cook your meals. You’ll learn how to communicate in a foreign language with ease and you’ll meet people from all over the place (which also means free accommodation in the future, wink wink). People who participate in exchanges are generally open-minded, into hanging out and into travelling, so you’re bound to find people you have something in common with. Basically, you’ll feel like you’re on a long holiday: you’ll party like you’re back in high school, uni won’t be that demanding, you’ll take random day trips and you’ll have fun, I bet you will. And really, have you ever heard of anyone regretting Erasmus? Me neither. So just apply before you get old because the only thing you’ll ever regret is not doing it.

Valencia

Valencia: pros and cons (well, sort of)

This is not a classic 5 pros and 5 cons of living here because I generally love it and don’t really feel like trying to come up with bad stuff just for the sake of balance. I’m not here as a tourist, but it’s not like I’ve lived here for years either; I’ve been in Valencia for a month and a half as an Erasmus intern, and I’ve got a month left. I’ve also travelled here many times before, including for Fallas, because there’s a guy here whom I like to see every now and then. So, let’s get into it.

Jardín del Turia

Pros first, of course

  1. The people. This can probably be said for Spanish people in general, it’s just that I don’t know anyone who isn’t from the Valencian Community. They are just…nice. They are open, funny, loud, and no matter how bad their English or your Spanish is, you’ll be able to communicate somehow, and they’ll encourage your attempts to speak Spanish, however feeble they might be.
  2. The way of life. Siesta, late dinners, spontaneous drinks, and the fact that they always find time for relaxing and don’t feel bad about it. We all need more of that.
  3. The weather. Yes, it can get too hot in the summer, but in general it’s pretty great. It doesn’t rain often, it doesn’t snow, the sky is almost never miserably grey, and the wind feels good, especially in the summer heat, and isn’t annoying at all. There’s no real winter; if you come here in February, it feels like spring does in Slovenia, where I come from.
  4. The sea. That’s a personal one; I just happen to feel like coastal cities are far superior to inland cities and that London is the only exception. The beach in Valencia is nice, sandy, long and good for hanging out. The colour of the sea isn’t crystal clear or anything, but it only takes an hour or two by car and you get to the classical beautiful beaches to the South of Valencia; to places like Gandía and Jávea.
  5. The size of the city. Valencia has something less than 800 thousand residents, and virtually no houses; everyone lives in blocks. That makes it quite easy to move around as nothing’s very far. You also have lots of transport to choose from: Valenbisi, the tube, buses, the tram.
  6. Events and cool places. Valencia might not be as big as Barcelona or Madrid, but there’s still plenty going on. Clubs, bars, concerts, cool restaurants, outdoor cinemas, beach bars, festivals. It’s hard to get bored here.
  7. Fallas. The most famous, most bizarre and crazy event in the city. It’s in March and it involves huge beautiful painted sculptures (that are burned in the end), lots of fireworks (during the day too for whatever reason), a lot of noise, street food and huge crowds of people. It’s a bit insane, it can be overwhelming, but it sure as hell is something to see.
  8. Jardín del Turia: what used to be the Turia river is now an enormous park that divides the city; it’s long and wide and it’s also where the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias is situated. It’s a place for walking, doing all kinds of sports and having picnics. Most of all, it’s a place that makes you forget you’re in a city, while it’s at the same time impossible to not remember it.
  9. Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. There are locals who hate it, but it’s undeniable that it’s really something to see. The combination of white buildings, blue pools and the scorching sun makes it look pleasantly alien.
  10. The old centre. Cool architecture, a huge Central Market full of fresh fruit and veggies and many pretty bars and restaurants. Slightly touristy, but not really in a bad way.
Plaza de Ayuntamiento

Cons

  1. Fucking cockroaches. Yes, I’m supposed to be all for animals, but I just can’t. They are huge, and it’s common to meet the bastards on the street at night (or in your kitchen). It’s not like that’s only typical here, but I have never lived in any place as warm for that long before.
  2. Not moving at all and sweating like a bastard. Sweating in the middle of the night. Sweating. I like warm weather, but some summer days are just too damn hot. Still worth it for the mild winter, though!
  3. Rare tubes, people being extremely late and just the general slowness of life. Sometimes being forced not to rush is wonderful, but not when you’re in a hurry, and not if you’re a very punctual person.
Playa de la Patacona

All in all, I love it. I love it how I’m just a fifteen minute bike/bus/tube ride or a half an hour walk away from the centre or the beach, and how I can go running to the »river« every day if I feel like it (Valencia is a city of runners as it seems, there are many, and it kind of gives you motivation). I love it how there’s always some exotic restaurant I’ve never heard of before, how much people are into meeting and talking and how warm the nights are. I’d just stay and I’m already dreading the cold autumn and winter I’ll be forced to spend in Ljubljana. But once I graduate, who knows, I might come back here, even though London still sort of has my heart and I feel like we’re not done yet. Anyway, I’ll save this baby for another post. Congrats if you got this far and thanks for taking the time!