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.





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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

Why Paris will never forget me and vise versa

Paris Won

This post is a continuation of my last one. Here, I am going to explain why I had possibly the worst day ever in the most beautiful city ever: thanks, food poisoning.

Thursday morning, we rose early once again to head to Versailles. I wish I could have enjoyed the palace more, but I was already feeling a little lightheaded and thirsty. I fought through and stopped to get a bite to eat, but that is where the day took a turn for the worst.

We spent two hours in Versailles, then headed back to Paris for a few more hours of free time in the city. The entire ride there, I was rocking back and forth in my chair, clinging to my stomach. I felt awful and was trying my best to hold it together so that I didn’t make a big deal or put a damper on anyone else’s journey.

When we got to the city, two friends and I stopped to get a lunch at a cute French café. It was there that I vomited all over the bathroom (I’m very sorry for how much information I am about to share, feel free to skip this post if it becomes too much!).

Vomiting helped clear my stomach, and I tried to eat a bite of the Parisian burger I had ordered, but after a few minutes, I was right back in the bathroom. Again emptying my stomach, I felt dizzy and weak. We left the restaurant and walked to the Louvre, thinking that I would get better with some water and fresh air. We were wrong of course. I almost fainted once we got inside, and got no help from the wait staff at a café inside the museum who refused to give me water because they were “closing up.”

I made it to the bathroom to get tap water, and then sat down on a bench outside because not only was dehydrated and dizzy, I was also overheating and sweat was seeping down my forehead. We had to leave the museum to make it back to our tour group to go back to the campsite. Of course, on the way outside, I vomited once again in the bushes surrounding the museum. This is where I say that Paris will never forget me because indefinitely left my mark. Gross, I know.

The bus ride home was awful. Again I sat clinging to my stomach with my eyes closed and my head bent down on my lap. Luckily, I was so empty inside that it was impossible to vomit again. The plan was for the group to go back to the campsite and eat dinner, then head back to the city for a picnic outside the Eiffel Tower, which we hadn’t seen yet. Unfortunately, we got stuck in horrendous traffic and our bus driver went over his allotted amount of driving hours for the day so we couldn’t go back to the city.

Though it was still light out, I went to bed early once back at the campsite. I laid down in the tent, still feeling dizzy and weak, but couldn’t sleep because my stomach still hurt so much. I kept trying to force myself to sleep, but as the night went on, so did the partying. Everyone outside was incredibly loud and getting drunker by the minute. I ended up laying in my bed with my eyes closed and my hands over my ears for 5 hours until the last of the partiers went to bed at 3:30 a.m. We had to get up at 5:30 the next day to drive to our next location.

That was yesterday. I’m now on the bus, headed to Bordeaux, typing away this story on my iPad. I still feel a little faint, having gotten fewer than two hours of sleep and having contracted overnight a cold that is spreading through the campers. I’m hoping to get some sleep on this ride, but I can’t guarantee anything. At this point, I really just want to curl up in my bed with a huge glass of water. But I’m in Europe and have been anticipating this trip for SO LONG that I have to make the most of it. I’ll do what I can and keep this blog updated! Let’s hope things get better from here 🙂

How my Contiki tour has been so far!

Woo. This has been an adventure so far. Unfortunately, the wifi on this Contiki tour has been limited, so I will not be able to post everything until it’s done, but for now, I will post whenever I get a chance.

I’m exhausted. I’m four days into the tour and want nothing more than a clean, warm bed and a glass of water. But I’m not having a bad time!

It’s now Friday and we’re on the bus headed toward Bordeaux. I’ll start this post from day one.

On Monday the 16th I parted ways with Sarah as she headed to the airport and I got myself to the hotel for the start of the Contiki tour. I checked into my room at the hotel at 2 p.m. and worked on my Dublin post to pass the time until my roommate arrived.

My roommate, Jess, was a sweet Australian girl. Though we couldn’t become great friends in the short amount of time we had together (she is on a different Contiki tour that also left from London), we got dinner together and went shopping . We had to be back at the hotel for our welcome meeting at 7 p.m., so we headed in early and got our seats in a huge conference room with about 100 people. There were four Contiki groups leaving from London that day, so we all met our tour managers and learned some basic rules and regs for Contiki tours.

My tour manager, Josie, is a freaking awesome Canadian chick who has a fantastic attitude and an effervescent love for travel. She made all 45 people in my group feel welcome and initiated our group unity with little effort. Most of the people on the tour are from Australia, with a third of the remainder from New Zealand, six from South Africa, three from Canada, three from America and six from Asia.

After the meeting Monday night, we went to a pub next to the hotel and got to know each other. They are all crazy. Well mostly the Aussies and Kiwis, but the South Africans are up there too. I’ve never met a group of people who can drink so much and get so little sleep and still function.

On Tuesday, we rose bright and early to make our way to France. We took a ferry from the white cliffs of Dover to the French coast, went through the fastest customs check I’ve ever experienced, and then stayed on the coach bus until we got to our campsite on the outskirts of Paris. We set up our camp of little blue twin share tents, and then hopped back on the bus to do a quick tour of Paris.

I was blown away by the beauty permeating throughout the city streets and buildings. Of course, I knew from countless movies and photos that Paris was beautiful, but it honestly took my breath away when we drove through that night. Every building is so intricately furnished with immaculate sculpting on every side, from the entryways to the trim to the gutters. I couldn’t believe that these building were all sculpted by hand and have stayed this beautiful since medieval times.

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But our tour of the city was short lived as we had to return to the campsite so our bus driver could sleep (there are very strict laws governing how many hours the bus driver can work daily). And of course, that night, everyone got super drunk and stayed up into the wee hours of the night getting to know each other.

We rose early the next day to drive into the city for some free time. We were dropped off at the Arc de Triomphe, and had plenty of time to get some good photos. Afterward,  with a group of girls, I walked up and down the Champs Élysées, Paris’ main shopping district. We visited the Louis Vutton store, a Mercedes dealer show room, a Tiffany’s store, and then went to H&M so that we could actually buy something. Parisians are so well dressed and vogue I could barely handle it. I loved it!

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After shopping, two girls and I rented bikes and rode up and down the Seine River. It was one of the most magical things I’ve ever done. The river is beautiful despite the somewhat cloudy water and riding through the streets and gazing at the buildings was unforgettable.

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Along the way, we visited the Pont des Arts, or the Love Lock bridge. Legend has it, if you put a lock on the bridge, write yours and your lovers’ names on it, and throw the key into the river, then you and your lover will be together eternally. Romantic, but pretty intense, huh? So….that sort of commitment scared me and I didn’t put a lock on the bridge. But one girl I was with put her best friends’ and her name on the lock, which I though was a cute idea. The area was pretty toursity, and the bridge pretty crowded, so soon after we got to the bridge, we again headed off on our bikes back along the river.

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Later that night, we met back up with the full group at the Louvre and then headed to a restaurant for dinner. The food was amazing, though many other people in my group did not fancy the snails or French wine, but I was down to try everything that would add to my true Parisian experience. But the best part of dinner was the waiters. I’ve never been flirted with so much than by the old men waiting our tables at the French restaurant. They grabbed all of the women’s arms and shoulders when they talked and did a lot of cheek (and sometimes lip) kissing. It was, uh, enlightening.

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After dinner, we headed to a cabaret show where we watched dancers perform traditional French dances with a few modern twists. The show was absolutely fabulous, but I’m a little regretful that I spent 80 euros on it.

Wednesday night was again full of drinking and staying up later at the camp site, which is how every night of this tour is going to be — apparently. I don’t like it very much, but since we are tent camping, there is no quiet place to go escape the loud noises. And the lack of sleep caused by the rowdy partiers definitely contributed to my awful, awful day on Thursday. For that, I will need to start a new post.

London, Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Dublin, Zurich: The ultimate itinerary for my trip to Europe

Euro Trip 2014 MapIs this real life? Am I seriously heading to Europe in less than one week? I’m so excited, I can’t even see straight, and I really hope I haven’t scared away any strangers as I randomly gaze off into the distance as I daydream about the trip. I’ve been planning to go back to Europe since the day I stepped foot back in the U.S. last summer after returning from Spain. I just can’t believe it’s now one week away.

I’m finally taking the time to jot down the entire itinerary of my 24-day trip through 11 cities in six countries. Primarily, I’m making the list for personal reference, but I hope my friends and family can use it track where I am along the adventure. And of course, I hope anyone reading this will be inspired to plan a fast-paced Euro trip of their own. I’m sure it will be the experience of a lifetime.

June 10th – Washington, to New York, to London

I live in D.C., but my flight to London leaves from JFK airport in New York City. So I’ll be using Megabus to get to New York (have I written my ode to Megabus yet? I’m practically married to the company at this point), where I’ll then have four hours to make it to the airport and get myself through customs. This will be my first time flying internationally alone and I’m, like, crazy nervous. But I’m so excited for this trip that I know I’ll combat my nerves with thoughts of beautiful England, enchanting Ireland, feisty Spain, alluring Italy, majestic France, intriguing Monaco… wait, what was I talking about again?

June 11th – London Calling

I’ll arrive around 10 a.m. where my lovely, lovely travel pal Sarah will pick me up from Heathrow airport and help me get acquainted to the city. She and I will be staying with her aunt in Wimbledon, and Sarah will have arrived a few days before I do, so she’ll be ready to hit the town as soon as I get there.  Sarah’s been to London more times than I have fingers, so she’ll be my personal tour guide and take me around the London bridge, Big Ben, the London Eye, Abbey road, Platform 9  and 3/4, etc. She and her aunt are being so awesome about letting me stay with them and showing me around, and I can’t say enough how much I appreciate it.

June 12th – Explore London

Sarah and I will do more sightseeing and souvenir shopping early in the day. We bought tickets to Once, the musical, and will have to make our way over to the theater midday. Afterward, there will be time do more exploring after the show before we retire early to get a good start the next day for Dublin.

June 13th – Off to Ireland!

For more details, see my post: How we’re seeing Dublin in 38 hours (we might just be crazy)

Rising early, Sarah and I will take a train to the coast of England and then ride a ferry across the water to Dublin Port. The 8-hour journey will take up most of our day, but we’ll arrive with just enough time to hang out in Temple Bar and take a nighttime sigh-seeing tour of Dublin.

14th – Irish Overload

This will be an incredibly fast-paced day, with a morning 3-hour walking tour and then back-to-back visits to the Guinness Storehouse and Jameson Distillery. At night, we’ll go out like true Irish lassies and hit up a bar crawl with our fellow hostel visitors.

June 15th – Back to London for a Bit

A ferry and a train will take Sarah and I back to London, and spend the rest of the day relaxing and recovering. Sarah will be preparing to head back to the States, and I’ll get ready to start my Contiki tour the next day. But we must get one last scone together before we part.

June 16th – Head to the hotel in London to start my Contiki tour

I’ll have to check in to the hotel by 2 p.m. and then spend the evening getting ready for the tour. There will be orientation for the trip where I will meet the tour manager, chef and my fellow travelers. The checked-in travelers have a chance to go out to dinner, but we can’t get cray cray since we have to get up early the next day to head to Paris.

June 17th – Depart London for Paris

Off to Paris! We’ll begin our voyage on a ferry to France, where we’ll pass the White Cliffs of Dover. Then we’ll hop on the Contiki coach bus and travel through World War I battlefields in the Valley of the Somme to Paris.

Once we arrive at our campsite, we get to set up camp – which I’m super excited about because apparently, we’re sleeping in pairs in these cute little blue tents. I’m sure tight quarters will force us to become very close with our fellow travelers – literally. Once we have set up camp, our bus will leave for the Tour of Illuminations, which will take us around the beautiful, lamp-lit streets of Paris, passing the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Champs-Élysées.

June 18th – 19th  Explore Paris

The city of love will bring us plenty of sightseeeing to do over these two days: Left Bank, Notre Dame Cathedral, Louvre and more. I know the enchanting smell of French baguettes will draw me in and I’m so looking forward to chowing down on some French cuisine. Plus, shopping!! I know everything will be way expensive, but I will do my best to find a few Parisian gems to ring back to the states. Our tour also includes a trip to Versailles, France’s most well-known château, where we will explore the impressive exterior of the extravagant palace. I’ll have to make sure I bring extra memories for my camera!

On the last night in Paris, we get to experience a Parisian night out, starting with an optional dinner in an atmospheric restaurant and authentic cabaret experience, complete with can-can girls and champagne. I’m so ready to live the high life.

June 20th – Depart Paris and drive through Bordeaux

Surely tired from the previous night’s festivities, we’ll pack up our campsites and head through Loire Valley, traveling past rolling vineyards and chateaus. On our way to Spain, we’ll stop in Bordeaux and visit the UNESCO World Heritage listed St. Emilion, with its fortified medieval city.

June 21st – Biarritz and Pamplona

Leaving Bordeaux and heading south, the bus will stop at the beach resort of Biarritz, known for some of the best beaches and surf in Europe. Since I’m not a huge sun-bathing person, I’ll probably spend most of my time in Biarritz hitting up the coastal shops and boutiques. Apparently, Biarritz has great beach fashion and locally made linens and regional produce like hams and salamis.

Leaving Biarritz, we cross the border to Spain and spend the evening in Pamplona, the city know for the Running of the Bulls. Pamplona has an awesome Gothic cathedral that I’m sure I’ll obsess over, and amazing Basque restaurants that serve traditional foods like barbecued lamb, fresh trout and red peppers.

June 22nd – Off to Barcelona!!!

Lately, I’ve become increasingly obsessed with Barcelona. Already suffering from an obsession with Spanish language and culture, I can only image how I’ll soak in the incredible, vibrant colors and beachy vibe of one of Spain’s best-known cities.

So on the way to Barcelona from Pamplona, the bus will head through the Baroque city of Zaragoza, set on the banks of the Rio Ebro. We’ll stop for lunch and engorge in Spanish tapas, and get a chance to check out another amazing Spanish cathedral. Once we arrive in Barcelona and set up camp, we depart for the city just in time to hit up Montjuic, a hilltop with full vistas of the city and location of the 1992 Olympic Games complex. Then we will check out the Sagrada Família!!!! I can’t wait!

Later, we get to enjoy a night out in Barcelona, which I’m sure will be one we won’t want to tell the kids.

June 23rd – Explore Barcelona

After a morning walking tour of the city, we’ll have free time to visit shops on Plaça de Catalunya, La Rambla, Parc Güell, or hang out on the beach. That night, there will be a family dinner and optional Flamenco show, then we head out for a night out in Barcelona – part two.

June 24th – Off to the French Riviera

The rugged coast line of the stunning Côte d’Azur will capture our attention as we roll along on the coach bus, stopping for lunch in Arles.  The beautiful city of Cannes will great us as we roll along the Riviera on our way to Antibes.

June 25th – Explore the French Riviera and Monaco 

On this sunny Wednesday, we’ll stop at the Fragonard perfumery, the home of the French perfume industry. We’ll have some free time to explore the area and try some French wine and, at night, get to explore Monaco and maybe even blow some cash at the Monte Carlo casino.

June 26th – Off to Florence

Leaving France, the tour crosses over the border to Italy. First stop: the Leaning Tower of Pizza (hehehe had to do it 🙂 ). We next drive to our campsite, have a family dinner, take a tour along the river and unwind with a glass of Tuscan wine.

June 27th – Explore Florence 

We’ll hit the museum and the city centre, take a guided tour through crowded streets, and watch a demonstration of Florentine leather making. At night, we’ll have an optional group dinner  (an authentic Tuscan feast, which there’s no way I’m missing), and then head out to experience Florentine nightlife.

June 28th – Head to our last stop: Rome!

Traveling through Tuscany, we’ll leave Florence and head to Rome where we’ll set up our last campsite on the tour.  A coach tour if the city will guide us through the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia, where we’ll then then step off the bus to see the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. With our free time later, we get to check out the Trevi Fountain or see the Spanish Steps. And at some point, obvi, we’ll  be stopping for pizza and gelato.

June 29th —  When in Rome…

In the morning, a tour guide will take us through the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. Then, of course, the tour leads to the Colosseum and Roman Forum.

Free time later in the day will give us a chance to explore the city, eat more pizza, go shopping, and, knowing me, take lots of pictures. I just really want to know what it means to “do as the Romans do.” Ha.

Then, it’s our last night out! I know that I’ll have made some awesome friends during this crazy Euro adventure, and the group will want to go out with a bang. And if that predication is wrong, I’ll just go out by myself. Whatevs.

June 30th – Ciao for now Rome!

On this day, everyone packs up and rolls out. The tour ends midday Monday and we’re all on our own to transport ourselves back home. But Europe won’t be able to get rid of me that quickly. I’ll have a few more days before I head back to the States.

July 1st – 2nd – ?????

Still not quite sure what I’ll be doing these two days before heading back to London. My friend Rachel, who is studying abroad in France, and I planned to meet up in Switzerland, but that might not be possible anymore. So I will probably just be spontaneous and pick up a one-way ticket to some place I’ll want to explore before heading back to the Heathrow airport the night of the June 2.


Oh, parting is such sweet sorrow. I fly out from London that morning, expecting to be back in Washington, D.C. later that evening. With the next day being July 4th (U.S. Independence Day), I can’t think of any better way to feel welcomed back to my home country than with firework, hot dogs, and everything stars and stripes.

Gracias, Merci, Grazie

My Upcoming Contiki Tour: The Mini Rider

I browsed through the Contiki tours and discovered on somewhat within my budget and target duration. It’s the Mini Rider, a 15-day tour through London, France, Spain and Italy. I want to see the major Euro tourist attractions — the Eiffel Tower, Colosseum, London Eye, etc.– since this will be my first trip through Europe. When I go back after graduation, I’ll explore the off-the beaten path spots.


This is a camping tour, which means I will be sharing a tent with another traveler. It’s not as glamorous as staying in hotels, but camping is more adventurous and fun– and it’s a fraction of the cost. Along that note, I am assuming my tour mates will also be adventurous and open — and hopefully as broke as I am, since they, too, chose the budget tour.


The tour is $1,620 with an additional $250 for food. In total, it will cost $1,870. I didn’t purchase the traveler’s insurance, which was another cost. Luckily, Contiki has a layaway option, so I can pay two to three hundred dollars toward the trip every month, or as often as I would like. Contiki layaway also allows other people to donate money to the fund through a link that users can email to others. On that note — I am writing this post on Dec. 24 and hoping tomorrow may bring some monetary gift from my parents (I’ve been good this year, I promise!)


Commencing on June 16, 2014 and concluding on June 30, the tour follows a curved path though southern Europe. Travelers are to fly into London on June 16, meet the tour mates and receive a Contiki orientation, then depart for Paris on June 17 (I plan on flying into Europe a day or two early to have more time to explore there). We’ll spend a few nights in Paris, then head to Pamplona, Spain. After leaving Pamplona, we will head to Barcelona for two days before traveling back to France, along the French Riviera. We’ll stop in Monaco along the way, then embark into Italy, where we will spend a few days in Florence and then swoop down to Rome. After two nights, the tour ends, and travelers are responsible for getting ourselves home.


From contiki.com.

As many of the reviews mentioned, the trip involves a significant amount of time on the bus. As someone who spent her childhood on road trips, though (and who, even at age 20, is rocked to sleep like a baby on any mode of transportation), I am fine with long bus rides. As long as I am sitting where a video is visible, I’m set.


But along with those long rides, there are also tons of sightseeing and cultural immersion opportunities. These are the major sights and destinations the tours covers:


Image from wikimedia.org
Image from wikimedia.org

Arc de Triomphe

Eiffel Tower


Notre Dame Cathedral


Château Versailles

Loire Valley

Pamplona & Barcelona

Image from independent.myreaderoffers.com
Image from independent.myreaderoffers.com

The Lighthouse & Bay in Biarritz

Sagrada Família

Rio Ebro

Montjuic and the 1992 Olympic Games complex


Gothic Quarter

Parc Güell

French Riviera 

Image from royalcorrespondent.com
Image from royalcorrespondent.com

Côte d’Azur


Royal Palace in Monaco

Monte Carlo


Leaning Tower of Pisa

Duomo Cathedral

Statue of David

Image from thewondersoftheworld.net
Image from thewondersoftheworld.net

Ponte Vecchio

Medici Palace


Basilica Santa Croce

Giotto’s Bell Tower


Piazza della Signoria


Vatican City

Image from destination360.com
Image from destination360.com


Roman Forum

Piazza Venezia

Trevi Fountain


Piazza Navona

St. Peter’s Basilica

Sistine Chapel

This extensive list of sights is, of course, paired with a list of night clubs, restaurants, bars and shops for souvenirs and nightly outings. I am beyond excited. As more plans unfold, I will be adding posts with details regarding the Contiki Mini Rider Tour!