On my escape to Paris (and beyond)

One day, I’ll go back and finish the posts from Germany. One day, I’ll finish the posts from Sweden. And then, eventually, I’ll go into full detail about the reasons behind my sudden departure and escape to a new life.

For now, I’ll leave it at this: I was unhappy, and now I’m on the road to recovery. In what seemed a few short days, I sold and donated my belongings back in LA, transitioned to working online, and bought a few one-way tickets. The first ticket was to home in Maryland, where I desperately needed the love from my family whom I had not seen in a year and friends whom I had not seen in more than a year.  Step one complete: feel a sense of belonging.

Then, I was off to Paris, the first leg of my multi-city pit stop on my way to Australia where I had applied for a working holiday visa months prior.  My pit stop includes Paris, Salzburg and Madrid, with maybe a few excursions tied in. Turns out that the cost of a one-way ticket from D.C. to Melbourne this time of year ($900) was roughly the same as a trip from D.C. to Paris ($250) and Madrid to Melbourne ($700). Of course, making this 2,000-mile detour includes the additional costs of lodging, intercity transport, food, activities, etc., but in my pursuit of happiness, the chance to spend alone time in some of my favorite cities is worth any cost.

Chaos erupted at the Anthony house on Jan. 8 when I got an email from WOW Air, the budget airline I had elected as my vehicle into this new passage, that my flight that took off in three hours was canceled. A storm in Iceland (the layover city and WOW Air’s central hub)  was the culprit. My parents remained calm while I threw a fit, deranged from the lack of sleep I had gotten over the last few days, and went into panic mode. I called the airline to get on the next flight out and was told there were no flights till Saturday. It was Monday.

I’ll cut out the details of my mini-crisis here and say that with the help of my vastly under-appreciated angel of a mother, I found and booked a new flight to Paris on a different airline out of a different airport. It left only 4 hours after my original flight and arrived in Paris 8 hours later. But at least I would arrive the same day and not forfeit my Airbnb. The catch: it cost $900.

I forked it over willingly, hopeful that my travel insurance would cover it. But the initial blow to the wallet was not a great way to start a tightly budgeted trip.

We rushed to the airport in the freezing rain (not cold rain, I mean real ice crystals falling from the sky), and soon enough I was seated in my window seat I had specially selected as a treat to myself: 25A. It was my favorite number and favorite letter all wrapped in one delicious windowed package.

As we took off, I made friends with the 20-something, friendly-looking girl on the aisle seat (the seat between us being empty, thank heavens), and was alarmed by our coincidence. She had also been on the same WOW Air flight to Paris from the other airport and rerouted to this flight. She was even traveling alone on a two-week trip through Europe. And she went to my school. Like, universe, C’mon!

Whereas I typically go out of my way to avoid speaking to anyone on a flight, I was somehow ecstatic to have someone to talk to and commiserate with about our delayed trips. We had a good time goofing off on the plane and made plans to catch up in Paris once we arrived. I’ve always sought solitude in the notion that everything happens for a reason, and this was one prime example of divine intervention at play. If I had been on the WOW flight, I probably wouldn’t have talked to anyone as usual, despite us all making the voyage from the same point A to the same point B. And I wouldn’t have met a companion to explore Paris with. I only wish this happy circumstance hadn’t cost a small fortune.

I also want to note here that I ironically watched the movie Paris Can Wait on the flight. It felt clever.

We arrived in Paris on time, and my friend and I parted ways after exchanging contact info. It was dark out when I caught my bus to my Airbnb, and watched the rain fall on the highway out of my window as we approached the city’s center.

When I made my first steps on the wet sidewalk in Paris, I felt an instant surge of energy, a healing force, like a squirt of Neosporin on a fresh booboo. I was here. After months of dreaming, yearning, contemplating and hoping, I was finally on the first brick of the long yellow brick road ahead. I felt warm, though Paris was wet and cold. I felt awake, though I had gotten little sleep on the plane. I felt full, though I had spent months feeling empty.  This is where I’m meant to be, I thought.

After a few failed attempts at navigating, I finally arrived at my Airbnb. I was renting a private room on the top floor of a small, very French, flat a few hundred meters from L’Opera. The host was delightful, the room was quaint but charming, and I was very pleased. But I couldn’t get too comfortable just yet. Despite the late hour, I knew I had one item on the agenda that had to be conquered before the day was gone.  I donned a few more layers and an umbrella and set out of the Eiffel Tower.

If you’ve been keeping up with my travels, you may remember my tales from my last time in Paris. If not, I’ll fill you in: it was a 2-day trip as part of a large group tour and due to some unfortunate circumstances we were not able to see the Eiffel Tower. But it turned out I would have missed the tower anyway because I spent the entire second day vomiting (and sometime diarrhea-ing) around the city, namely on (not in) the Louvre.

I was determined to improve round two.

I didn’t take my AirBnB host’s advice to take the bus to the tower because I wanted to stretch my legs after 11 hours of awkward airplane seat yoga. And I’m glad I did. As I strode down the Parisian alleyways, I stumbled upon street after street lined with dangling Christmas lights. Set upon the backdrop of, in my opinion, the most beautifully architected residential buildings in the world, the scene was utter magic. I giggled gleefully as I walked through this winter wonderland, watching the lights dance in the reflections off the wet pavement. I didn’t know where I was or what the buildings and monuments were that I passed by but it didn’t matter. Everything was beautiful.

I logged about 15,000 steps on my step-tracker on my walk to the Tower. I walked along the Seine once I got close enough to it and let the glimpse of the top of the tower that peeked in and out behind building be my guiding light. I thought I was nearly there when I turned a corner and wham, as if walking in on someone right after a shower, there I stood before it in its naked, natural glory.

The Eiffel Tower was everything I had hoped it would be. Though the grounds around it were blocked off for what looked like the remnants of some enormous market or festival, I was still able to walk right under the underbelly and gaze up along the spiraling metal vines and hatches, all the way to the top. In the midnight fog, the tower illuminated the sky like a torch. In the next few minutes, I walked around and through it, finally trekking away far enough to snap a few photos of the monument in its entirety.

In my walk to the Tower, I had given heed to the devil in my head that was predicting something would happen to prevent me from seeing the Tower once again. Maybe it would be closed off for some construction reasons. Or worse, perhaps something would happen to me on my walk, which, to be fair, was an astute prediction as I, a young tourist woman, walked alone at night in a city I hardly knew.  I am a firm believer in Murphy’s Law because I live it, experiencing disappointment after disappointment when I have my heart set on some grand outcome. It has led me to expect the worse, only to be surprised when plans work out.

But this night in Paris was even better than I had imagined. It was not a disappointment but an improvement, ten steps in the right directions when I had sought only one. Once again I was full, more full than I was in my first few steps in the city, and I felt like life was on the up and up.

I hope it was a forecast of what was to come not only in my next few days in Paris but in all of my travels ahead. Things work out.

I was genuinely excited for the first time in a very long time.

 

 

 

 

12 life lessons I learned from a year of travel

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“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley

2013 was the year I fell in love with travel. 2014 was the year I let that love take me all over the world. In the past 365 days since I started this blog, I traveled to three continents, nine countries and 22 cities. And that’s while being a full-time student, working 30 hours a week, interning and taking a summer class.

From climbing to the top of a huge sand dune in the Sahara Desert, to losing 50 Euros at the Monte Carlo Casino, to listening to stories wild 55-year-old Welsh woman on the train on my way to Ireland, I’ve had a whirlwind of experiences, both challenges and delights. In honor of my one year anniversary of being a Young, Broke Traveler, I’m taking time to reflect on everything I’ve learned from traveling in 2014.

Lessons I learned from each country:

  1. A small good deed goes a long way. (Canada)
    I met so many kind-hearted people in Canada. When I left some souvenirs at my hostel, the housekeeper mailed them back to D.C. for me. It was a small deed, but unbelievably kind, and inspired me to pay it forward.
  1. Nothing can bring people together the way music can. (Ireland)
    Oh man, bliss. Musicians populated nearly every street corner and pub in Dublin. And where there was music, there was a crowd of people listening and applauding. Music brought people together, connecting them and making them happy in a way no other medium can.
Dublin Musicians
Musicians played on almost every street in Dublin.

 

  1. You may speak the same language as someone, but can be having two very different conversations. (England)
    I thought I’d have a lot in common with Londoners given we speak the same language and are influenced by similar pop culture icons. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I found London to be as foreign as Spain or France, with many different customs. I was glad to be wrong – I wouldn’t have learned so much otherwise.
  1. Dress well, dine well, drink wine, and appreciate art and surround yourself with good company.(France)
    Life’s too short not to.
  1. Being rich is glamorous, but really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. (Monaco)
    Our Contiki tour guide told our group about all the famous people who applied for citizenship in Monaco but weren’t granted because they weren’t quite rich and beautiful enough. That’s ridiculous. Yes, Monaco is the most elaborate, beautiful, expensive country I’ve been to, but its culture of stuck-up-ness and policy of exclusion make it ugly.
  1. Life doesn’t have to be rushed. Take time to stop, reflect, relax and enjoy. (Spain)
    In the U.S., it’s so easy to get caught up in the fact-paced, goal-driven, individualistic mentality. In Spain, people are still goal-driven, but take breaks from work to spend time with family, walk the dog, play with the kids, rest and have a pitcher or two of sangria – all in one day. It’s the best way to make time slow down.
People in Spain enjoy a nice break in the afternoon.
People in Spain enjoy a nice break in the afternoon.
  1. Let go and enjoy the moment. Family and friends are everything. Good food makes the world go round. (Italy)
    The second and third are a given in Italian culture. The first I learned at a karaoke bar in Florence. I’m usually nervous to go on stage and sing in front of a bunch of strangers, but at that moment, I thought, “What do I have to lose?” and I rocked out to Rollin’ in the Deep by Adele. It turned out to be one of the best nights of the trip. The tequila helped…
  1. Success requires discipline and determination. But it’s okay to take a break every once in a while and have a beer. (Switzerland) 
    During the day, Zürich – one of the largest financial centers in the world– was bustling with sharply dressed business people on their phones, walking quickly, making business transactions. But those were the same people I saw at night, taking leisurely strolls by the water or drinking in the streets, cheering on Switzerland in the World Cup.
  1. You don’t need money to be happy. Peace, love, trust, friendship and brotherhood make you richer than money ever can. (Morocco) 
    Some of the happiest people in the world live in Morocco. While many live in poverty, they don’t wallow over what they do not have. Instead, they cherish what they do have — peace, love, trust, friendship and brotherhood – and that’s all they need. All anyone needs.
One of the happiest people I have met was a carpet craftsman in Morocco.
One of the happiest people I have met was this carpet craftsman in Morocco.

Lesson I learned about people:

  1. We’re not so different. 
    In 2014 I became friends with 29 Australians, 8 Kiwis, 7 Canadians, 5 South Africans, 5 Chinese, 3 Moroccans, 2 Japanese, an Italian, an Irish, a German and a Scott (they all spoke English). And while we came from 5 continents, we laughed at the same jokes, appreciated tights hugs, wore jeans, enjoyed a good beer (or glass of wine) and ate French fries, and hated to say goodbye. I found I have more in common with people from other countries than we have differences — because we’re all humans. Now I can’t wait to meet other people and find out what else we have in common.

Lesson I learned about myself:

  1. I’m more competent than I think.
    My trip to Europe in the summer was my first solo trip. And while I met up with a friend in London, and joined a tour group for 15 days, there were several days when I was completely on my own. Though I had some confidence in myself, I was nervous about traveling solo through countries like Italy and Switzerland where I didn’t know the language. But I struggled through the challenges – like figuring my way around Zürich – and realized I am capable of more than I thought. And it was with the new-found confidence that I felt compelled to travel to and from Casablanca alone.

Lessons I learned about travel:

  1. “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”
    It’s so true. I met so many kind French people, despite all the chatter that the French are rude; I felt safe in Morocco and met some of the kindest, friendliest people in the world, despite discouraging rumors about Islāmic countries; I saw productivity and achievement in Spain, despite claims that Spaniards are lazy and drink too much. The only way to truly know someone or someplace is to travel.

Travel is everything. It’s how I learn about both the world and myself. I’ve been incredibly blessed to have visited as many countries and have met as many wonderful, unforgettable people as I did in 2014. I worked hard for it and I cherished every moment. Now I’m excited to see what 2015 brings.

What lessons did you learn from travel this year?

Losing €50 at the Monte Carlo Casino and other tales from the French Riviera

There are few places in the world I think are more colorful and more beautiful than the French Riviera. It was hard to say goodbye to Barcelona, but we quickly dried our tears as we ventured onward to the sunny south of France. On the morning of Tuesday, June 24, we packed up and headed back across the border, making a stop for lunch in Arles, a cute town with sand-colored buildings. We unfortunately didn’t have time to really explore the city and before we knew it we were back on the bus, headed east toward Antes. Euro Trip Summer 2014 1199 We arrived to the campsite in Antes around dinner time. We were greeted by the on-site Contiki staff and offered local cuisine, which included frog legs and champagne punch. Mmm. After dinner, I spent the rest of my night at the bar. But I wasn’t drinking; the bar was the only place on the site with wifi, so I parked myself in a little nook and spent hours on my iPad planning my post-Contiki trip to Switzerland. Once everything was squared away, I went to bed around 1 a.m., ready for an early departure the following day. I got some much needed sleep and felt awake for the first time in at least a week. On the morning of June 26th, we made our way out to Nice, France. I have a few friends who have been there before and one friend who studied there for months, but I knew very little about the city. Consequently, I was absolutely blown away by the view of the coastline. The water was a gorgeous shade of turquoise that faded into a deep blue and stretched as far as the eye could see. The buildings were complementary shades of orange, peach and tan, making the juxtaposed colors a perfect setting for a coastal town. Euro Trip Summer 2014 1252 After grabbing a quick lunch, my friends and I climbed to the top of an overlook, capturing breathtaking views of the landscape. We hung around at a park at the top of the hill, then headed back into downtown Nice to find some souvenirs. Like most cities on the tour, I could have stayed in Nice for days, but we had to head back home to get ready for the night’s festivities. Euro Trip Summer 2014 1254Euro Trip Summer 2014 1277 We had a delicious quiche dinner back at the campsite, then boarded the coach once more. This time, we were headed to Monaco, where we would try our luck at the Monte Carlo casino. I had no intention of gambling, rather just watching the rest of the group playing games and cheering them on. But, of course, nothing ever goes as planned. On the bus, we played a game of Contiki roulette, where all 45 of us put one euro into a pot and were given a number. When we arrived at the casino, a number would be randomly selected and that person would have to bet the money at a table at the casino. If that person won, he/she would have to buy a round of drinks for everyone. If he/she lost, no harm done. So. See where this is going? Yep. I won the roulette. So the fates of everyone’s drinks were in my hands! I’ve never even bought a lottery ticket before, let alone been to a casino. So I had to get some hep from the more experienced guys to walk me through how to work the tables. I played a few rounds of roulette, feeling a little more confident each round, but unfortunately I lost every time. So, there was definitely a downside to the night, but on the plus side, I can now say I gambled at the Monte Carlo! 10377253_10203028096357727_7441099756112741176_n Casino aside, Monaco was beautiful. I definitely understand why you have to be filthy rich and beautiful to live there (so there go my hopes and dreams of moving to Monaco!) but I’m glad I was at least able to visit the country for a night. Every building had a fantastic view of the water and the streets were in pristine condition. The architecture was reminiscent of Nice, but cleaner, brighter and more pompous. It was a great place to take photos. 10511369_10203028146998993_5953747978822387193_n We headed back to the campsite around midnight, where the few people who did win some cash at the casino bought everyone drinks. I went to bed not long after, ready for the drive to Florence the following day!t

Paris to Pamplona, highlights and thoughts

We left Paris and spent the day on the road, headed to Bordeaux. The bus ride was long and draining, but we stopped at a few service areas along the way to get food and stretch our legs.

We arrived to Bordeaux around dinnertime. The campsite was an in adorable, quaint town comprised of small cottage-like houses with flowers hanging from the window sills. It was as picturesque as you would imagine a small French town to be.

That night, we had a bit of free time so I walked around with some friends to explore the town. We got a couple bottles of Bordeaux wine, which the city is famous for, and headed back to the campsite for dinner. After dinner, some people headed to the river for a swim, while I went with a few others to a local bar in town to watch the France versus Switzerland FIFA World Cup match. It was probably one of my most favorite nights of the trip so far. I loved the communal spirit resonating in the bar as the locals cheered and shouted for their team. Still feeling sick from the previous day, I left the bar and headed to bed early to get some much-needed sleep.

Euro Trip Summer 2014 721

Rising at 6 a.m. the following morning, we packed up camp and headed out towards Pamplona, Spain. On the way, our tour manager surprised us with a quick detour to the Dune du Pyle, Europe’s largest sand dune. At first most of us groaned a little, thinking it would be a boring excursion through a mound of sand, but we soon found we were terribly wrong.

We climbed to the top of the dune and were taken aback by the view from the top. The dune was situated right on the coastline, overlooking the ocean. On the other side, a vast, lush forest covered the ground. And in between, the dunes stretched for at least a kilometer, making the peak and awesome place to take pictures. We stayed there for less than an hour, but we had enough time to take a few group photos and watch some boys from the group roll all the way down the dune. Pretty badass.

Euro Trip Summer 2014 742

We soon left the dune and headed toward our next stop on our way to Pamplona. This time, we stopped at Biarritz, which I knew was a beach town, but did not realize how incredible a beach town it is. Biarritz is a ritzy area in the south of France, turned into a popular vacation spot by a king who used to live there. The streets are lined with expensive shops and boutiques and beachfront restaurants with breathtaking views.

The water there was a deep, crystal blue and the coastline was split by huge, beautiful boulders protruding from the water. Instead of hanging out at the beach with the rest of the group, two friends and I walked up and down the shops along the beach, stopping for some necessities and exploring the local commodities. Oh to be rich!

Euro Trip Summer 2014 828

Our stay in Biarritz was short-lived and we soon continued on our way to Pamplona. After a two-hour ride, we crossed over the border into Spain and arrived in the city for a short walking tour and stop for drinks.

Pamplona is one of the cities I have studied for years in my Spanish classes because of its rich culture and historical significance. This small town in the north of Spain is best know for its San Fermin festival, better known as the Running of the Bulls. Heard of it? Yeah. It’s when a bunch of crazy people run down a long path and have six bulls chase them to the bull ring, where afterwards the bulls are slaughtered. The festival lasts for more than a week, and has been a national tradition for centuries.

We walked about the city for a few minutes, stopping at a statue of the festival. After snapping a few pics with the sculptured bulls and matadors, we continued into a local pub for some sangria. Of course, having spent the previous summer in Spain, I had already had my fair share of the fruity, delicious drink. But most of the Australians and other people on the tour from the Southern Hemisphere had never had it! And boy did they love it. The pub we went to made the drink extra strong and extra sweet. We split three pitchers between six of us and drank every last drop. It was the perfect drink on a hot day.

Euro Trip Summer 2014 843

The group then headed back to the campsite for dinner. We had a choice of stay at the campsite or go back into the city for a night out after dinner; and of course I wanted to go back into the city! I couldn’t pass up on a night out in Pamplona. Luckily, I wasn’t alone. About 20 of us shared cabs to go back downtown and we ended up in the famous square of Pamplona where the San Fermin festival begins. But during the rest of the year, the square is a popular shopping area with lots of bars and a few night clubs.

Euro Trip Summer 2014 855

We ended up at a pub in the square where we got mojitos, more sangria and a Spanish drink called kalimocho (red wine and coke). We helped turn the somewhat empty pub into a club by dancing up a storm inside. It was unbelievably fun standing around with everyone in a circle and taking turns showing off our skills in the middle. It was definitely one of the best nights yet.

Bordeaux, Dune du Pyle, Biarritz and Pamplona were amazing places we only got to spend a a few hours exploring. I wish we had more time in all of them, especially Pamplona, but I was happy to head to Barcelona the next day!

My Best Friend and I are going to Switzerland!

I just found out some incredible news. My best friend Rachel will be studying abroad on a vineyard in the south of France while I’m in on my tour of Europe! Unfortunately, the tour will not go through the town where she is staying, but we will both have free time during the same week. So, we’ve devised a master plan to meet in Switzerland and go on a train ride through the alps together!

Where better to rendezvous than the Swiss Alps?
Where better to rendezvous than the Swiss Alps?

After my tour ends in Rome, I’ll have three days to make it back to London for my flight home to the U.S. Switzerland lies exactly between Rome and the London Heathrow Airport, and it is an optimal place for us to meet. Plus, I have always wanted to go there — it’s on my bucket list!

We looked into train rides through the Alps, and the best we have a found is the Jungfraujoch Top of Europe ride from Rail Europe, an 8-hour train ride through the Alps. According to Rail Europe’s description, we will leave from Grindelwald in Switzerland, and take a modern cogwheel railway 6762 feet up to Kleine Scheidegg. After that, we’ll head toward Eiger Glacier station, where there will be a mountain restaurant and polar dog kennels. The railways continues through the Eiger tunnel, stopping for sightseeing on the way to the highest railway station in Europe: the Jungfraujoch. It’s more than 11,000 feet up and rightfully called the Top of Europe. Apparently, this trip covers Switzerland’s most breathtaking scenery, including a 13.6 mile ice stream and an Ice Palace.

Eiger Glacier Station. From travelmemo.com.
Eiger Glacier Station. From travelmemo.com.

The ride includes:

  • Round trip travel to the Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe from Grindelwald
  • Scenic trip to Eiger Glacier Station and through the Eiger tunnel to the Eigerwand and Eismeer stations.
  • Sightseeing at the Great Aletsch Glacier, Ice Palace, Ice Gateway, Sphinx observation terrace, high alpine research exhibitions and more.

Cost: $107/person for young adults.

While that’s not necessarily cheap for someone traveling on a minuscule budget,  the price is pretty reasonable compared to most other train rides we found. Many are several days long, include meals and have first-class accommodations. Psh. I have no problems with second class, as long I have a big enough window to see the Alps.

I seriously hope this is what our ride looks like.
I seriously hope this is what our ride looks like.

We are going to wait until closer to the date to finalize our plans and book our train ride, but everything looks like it will pan out so far. Hopefully we’ll even have time to pick up some Swiss chocolate. Yum.