Monthly Archives: October 2015

First World Problems

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I’ve been back in France for a little under one month now, and I feel like I have completely readjusted to being back. I have a routine once again: I am teaching in the classroom, I am teaching somewhat regularly online, and I am going to the gym. I also make some time to go out with my friends, but I’ve really been trying to focus on reestablishing some normalcy in my life. With this goal in mind, I am on vacation for just over two weeks right now. Before I even returned to France, I made the decision that I would not be traveling anywhere during this break.

Then reality struck. Spending two weeks with no solid travel plans because to cause a great deal of anxiety. My original plan was to teach as much as possible online, so as to rebuild my bank account from my summer of travels. Then one night, my curiosity got the best of me. I decided to just do some quick research to see how much short trips would be during this break. It was my hope that the prices would be so outrageous that the idea quickly passed. However, that was not the case. There were many very affordable destinations for me to visit. However, of all of the places I have left to visit in Europe, I have very specific times that I want to visit. Here are some examples:

  • Amsterdam, the Netherlands: during the spring to see the fields of tulips
  • Brussels, Belgium: during August to see the Begonia carpet in town square
  • Munich, Germany: in the winter to visit the Christmas markets

I also had previously ruled out returning to places I have visited within the last year, as I want to try and see as much of Europe as possible. However, I began to question this decision for a few destinations (Poland and Portugal, to name a few). I’ve also reconsidered visiting some of the places I visited on my very first trip to Europe, in 1999 (Madrid is currently at the top of this list). As I was sitting here pondering all of my possibilities, and even looking at destinations outside of Europe, I realized how fortunate I am to be in this current predicament. At the age of 30, when I look at a map, I feel very satisfied with my travels so far. I am by no means done exploring the world, but I feel at peace with my accomplishments so far. How is it possible that I do not have a strong desire to visit anywhere specific right now???

Over the years, many people have questioned my style of travel, which is one of the reasons that I prefer traveling alone. However, as I was researching popular destinations and monuments in cities around the world, I can say with complete honesty that I very vividly remember all of the places I have been and seen. I am also quite impressed as I read travel articles about different destinations how much of the world I have already seen. Each location and experience is very distinct in my memory. I am happy constantly experiencing different cultures and seeing as much as possible. I have always been of the mindset that I can sleep on the plane or when I get home. When I am in a new place, I should utilize my time to gather memories and experiences. If someone does not agree with me, that is fine, but please don’t tell me that I am wrong. This is something I have been pondering quite a bit recently and I finally came to the conclusion that I don’t care what other people think. Traveling and seeing the world makes me happy. I have found a style of travel that fits my personality, and if it doesn’t seem right to you, the solution is simple: don’t travel with me. However, do not judge or criticize my choices, as they are MY choices.

With all of this in mind, I am still not sure if I will go anywhere during this break, but it is still a possibility. If I do not go anywhere, I will be taking several long weekend trips to different countries and cities. Does anyone have any must see destinations they would recommend, especially in Europe? I am always looking for new ideas and suggestions and would really appreciate hearing about your travel experiences.

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Two Redheads Take on…Portugal

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I consider myself to be a well-travelled individual. I am very fortunate that I have had many opportunities to see not only my own country,but really, the world. I’ve done a significant amount of independent travel since moving to Europe and think that I have learned how to handle very stressful and confusing situations. Nothing in all of my travels could have prepared me for what happened in Portugal. Let’s begin.

After a night involving a lot of live music and even more wine, Jeannette and I had to get up to catch an early flight to Porto, Portugal. We knew it was going to be a rough morning, but for some, it was a little rougher than for others. I was up and ready to go, even if I was in a bit of pain. I was used to navigating the Paris Metro at all hours, both with and without luggage. Grown-Up Me, not so much. I had arranged all necessary transportation and purchased all necessary tickets. I thought we were ready. Then we entered the Metro. Let’s just say, it was a little more challenging than I had anticipated and I forgot to explain how luggage worked going through the turnstile. After a slightly stressful moment, we made it through and were on the metro to get the bus. We were running a bit behind schedule (which actually meant we had more than enough time to still make our bus). However, I was feeling overwhelmed and my anxiety was beginning to build. We made it to the bus without any major problems and before we knew it, we were en route to the airport.

IMG_2956The flight to Porto was pretty uneventful. I had forgotten that Portugal was in a different time zone than France, so I was pleasantly surprised when we gained an hour. We got off our plane, gathered our luggage, and began the very, very long process of trying to leave the airport. While I understand that different countries speak different languages, being fluent in two languages has usually helped me significantly. But not this time. We were planning to take the tram from the airport to our hotel. We began the adventure of trying to buy our tickets. You could switch the language from Portuguese to English, but it still was neither comprehensible nor helpful. We attempted to use my French credit card to purchase the tickets, as 99% of machines in Europe do not accept American credit cards. I got an error message the first time, so I decided to try it again. The second time, I also go the error message. At this point, both Jeannette and I were becoming annoyed by this situation. We decided to try another machine to see if we would have any luck there. After standing in line, we reach the front, only to discover that this machine only gives you the option of reloading your monthly pass. You know what would have been helpful? A sign indicating that this machine was only for people with monthly passes. Then, we noticed that there was a worker at one of the machines helping people to buy their tickets. We jumped into this line and patiently waited our turn. When we got to the front, the worker was less than helpful, and before I even said or did anything began yelling at me in Portuguese. Another traveler attempted to speak to him in French, which he didn’t understand, so I tried to say something in English, which he also didn’t understand. After a few minutes we realized we were not going to be successful at this machine, even with a worker to help us. So we left the line feeling very defeated. What to do next? The one useful piece of information we received from the disgruntled employee? Only Portuguese credit cards work in the machine or exact change (CHANGE, not bills).

Jeannette and I gathered all of our change together to see if we had enough between the two of us to buy the tickets. We did, but just barely. We work our way to the front of the line again, with our exact change prepared, and select the option to buy two tickets. We purchase two tickets, but only receive one. At this point we are completely confused and decide that it is time to find the welcome centre and get some answers. After walking back into the airport (again), we are told that what we had bought were two consecutive one-day passes for the same person, not two one-day passes for two people. We would be able to get a refund, but it could only be issued at the main train station. In order to get there, we were going to have to buy two short-trip passes, and then have the tickets refunded and buy the correct tickets from the train station. Talk about a complicated process! The man at the welcome centre was very nice, but it didn’t help that we had already wasted nearly two-hours of our day attempting to leave the airport.

Once we made it out of the airport, exchanging the tickets at the main train station was a surprisingly easy process. With the correct tickets in hand, we continued our journey to our hotel. We checked into our hotel and decided that we needed food ASAP. Since we are both vegetarians, we usually agree pretty quickly on a restaurant (i.e. anything with any sort of vegetarian option). We found a cute little café not far from our hotel, where we had an absolutely delicious meal. After lunch, we walked around exploring the city of Porto, which was absolutely breathtaking. We wandered around aimlessly, getting lost in the winding streets countless times. We made it to the bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel. We walked across a very, very tall bridge (well, I was basically running, it was terrifying!).IMG_2968

A fun fact about Porto is that this is where port wine was originally created. Of course, that meant that we had to do at least one port tasting. I’m not a huge fan of port, but believed that it was important to seize this opportunity to try it in the town where it originated. I discovered that I no longer hate port, but that it is definitely not something I could drink everyday. After walking around for a bit more, we eventually decided that it was time for dinner. It was actually quite difficult to find any restaurants with even one vegetarian option. We ended up trying this ‘Tex-Mex’ style restaurant. We explained that we were both vegetarians, and our server very strongly recommended the nachos, along with a cheese platter. We followed his suggestion. The cheese platter was lovely. The nachos were, interesting, to put it nicely. They were essentially, off-brand Nacho Cheese Doritos, Cheez-Whiz, and Frito Lay Guacamole. It was awful!

The next day, we were off to Lisbon, which was like any other big city I have visited. We rented a car, as we were going to be driving through Spain in a few days. The drive from Porto to Lisbon was breathtakingly beautiful. I love taking country roads and seeing the real countryside of a country. Olive groves, cinnamon trees, storks, castles–we saw it all on this journey. We also stopped in a small town, Águeda, that was known for an art installation of umbrellas over one of the main streets. When we arrived, we didn’t see any umbrellas, so we headed to the visitor centre. The person working didn’t speak English, but spoke French, so I explained what we were looking for, and she told us that the umbrellas hadn’t been installed yet. In two days, they would be installed, so we should come back then. Needless to say, this was our only scheduled visit to Águeda this trip. We left feeling a little bit defeated and continued our journey to Lisbon. We eventually made it to Lisbon (after getting lost a few times) and checked-in to our hotel. The hotel was well placed and included parking (in the city), so it was exactly what we were looking for. We explored the city for a few hours before stopping for dinner. After dinner, we were exploring the old town and found a bar with seating on stairs, so we stopped for a quick drink. It was unlike any other bar I have visited and a really cool experience.

One of the places I wanted to visit in Lisbon was the Pink Street. After stopping for a quick drink, we began our adventure to Pink Street. We eventually found it (not an easy task), only to discover that it was closed…why? It had just been repainted. Of IMG_2972course! While I wasn’t able to walk on the street, it did look like it would be a really cool place to try and visit another day. The next day, we were leaving for Seville, Spain, so we headed back to our hotel kind of early. We were driving to Seville, but were eager about exploring even more of the Portuguese and Spanish countrysides. Once we were on the road, we decided to stop for some breakfast at one of the many roadside cafés we kept seeing. As neither of us speak Portuguese, communicating in small country towns proved to be quite challenging. We saw they had some cheese, and what appeared to be bagels. We were so excited to have found bagels! We ordered two coffees, some cheese, and one bagel to share. The cheese was delicious. The bagel….wasn’t actually a bagel. What it reminded us both of was a bagel-shaped dog treat. It had a cinnamony-flavor and was hard. To this day, we are not sure what we ordered, but we like to joke that we ordered a dog bagel.

Overall, our trip to Portugal left much to be desired. While the country itself was beautiful, the specific set of circumstances we found ourselves in was less than ideal. I feel like I need to put some distance between me and Portugal, but one day, I would like to return and give it another chance. The next leg of our adventure was even more eventful! Stay tuned for what happens when two redheads take on…Spain!

Two Redheads Take On…Paris

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My best friend and I are a dangerous combination when we are together. The last time she was in France we had so many stupid adventures together that I wasn’t sure that trip could ever be topped. I was wrong, in every way possible. This trip was, quite possibly, the most ridiculous vacation I have ever been on. After a week of normalcy in Tours, I was ready to begin my adventure with Grown-Up Me in Europe.

The first two days of our trip were spent in Paris. I was lucky enough to find an awesome apartment on AirBnB for us to rent. It was ideally placed and in a neighborhood I have been exploring for about 6 months. Part of the reason that we chose the exact dates of her visit were because of an annual music festival that began in France, but has since spread to other countries—Fête de la Musique. We are both avid lovers of live music, so any opportunity we have to discover new music we embrace (especially if it is free!). Having spent a significant amount of time on her last trip to France exploring Paris and being tourists, this trip was designed to be a more authentic Parisian experience.IMG_2857

While I have been to Paris countless times since moving to France and am always discovering new things I’d like to do there, it is also difficult for me to always make these hopes come true. One of the main problems is that a lot of the things I’d like to do require me going off the beaten path, into areas I do not know very well. As a solo female traveler, I am always hyper aware of my surroundings. If I’m not sure about something, I always ere on the side of caution and add that activity to my list of things to do when someone else is with me.

After retrieving Grown-Up Me from the airport (I was not late this time, but her plane was), we immediately headed to our AirBnB apartment to get the keys and drop off our belongings. The apartment was huge and the host was very friendly and helpful. After a quick pause to gather our thoughts, we immediately began our adventure. The first stop of this trip was the Pablo Picasso Museum, which had only recently re-opened. This was one of the museums I had not explored, as it had been closed for over one year. It was a very nice museum, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who wants to do a smaller museum in Paris. (Don’t get me wrong, the Louvre is wonderful, but I have a love/hate relationship with it. While the artwork is magnificent, the crowds leave much to be desired.)

I also forgot to mention that in honor of our last escapade around France, where we wore matching headbands because it was winter, we decided to do something similar, but in the style of summer—floppy sun hats! All of our outfits this vacation centered around our sun hats, which caused some frustration when trying to take pictures—they always got in the way!

After the Pablo Picasso Museum we wandered around Paris for a few hours. At first, we wandered aimlessly, just finding cool streets and areas to explore, by chance. One area we explored was the Chinatown neighborhoods. This is something Jeannette really enjoys, as she has visited many different Chinatowns around the world. However, to this day, neither of us are really sure that we ever actually made it to Chinatown. For Jeannette. the lack of a gate was very misleading, and for me, it did not look like any of the other Chinatowns I had visited. I can’t remember for sure what we did that night, but I can guarantee that either wine or mojitos were involved. If I remember correctly, this was the night we bought a bottle of wine and drank it along the Canal St. Martin. You know that your friendship has reached an epic level when the only criteria you have for buying a bottle of wine is that it have a twist top (I had forgotten the corkscrew in my suitcase). Needless to say, with such limited criteria, the quality isn’t always the best. In fact, I would say it was one of the worst wines I have ever had in my life, but it was okay, because of the scenery and the company.

We tried to call it an early night, as we were heading to the Château de Versailles the next day. Prior to Jeannette’s arrival, I had bought an annual pass, as I was also planning to visit with my mom, so it ended up being cheaper to buy an annual pass than individual tickets. As an added bonus, with the annual pass you get to skip the line! After walking from the train station to the château, we bypassed a line of several hundred people and were the first visitors inside the château for the day. It was quite an amazing experience and feeling—we saved ourselves probably 3-4 hours by having this annual pass.

IMG_2867This was not my first trip to Versailles, but was my first trip without being part of a group. Honestly, it is a much more enjoyable experience when you are with only a few people. The château was much different than I remember it from 2007 (the last time I visited). It was also a much more enjoyable experience, as we were there when the château opened, so there were not many people there (yet). We also chose this particular day to visit, as it was one of the few days each week where the fountains were turned on for part of the day. We had also planned ahead a packed a picnic lunch for later in the day, which, of course, included a bottle of wine (with the same requirements: twist top).

We spent practically the entire day exploring the various parts of Versailles—château, gardens, Trianons, and Marie-Antoinette’s domain. It was a long and exhausting day, but also a very fun day. After the château we began exploring the gardens. This was also around the time that the fountains were scheduled to be turned on. We had a snack and a bit of wine while waiting for the fountains to turn on. After watching the fountains, we began our trek to the Trianons. I forgot how far apart everything was and was already feeling pretty exhausted when we arrived. We explored the Grand Trianon and then we began exploring the grounds. We spent quite a bit of time walking and trying to find a good place to have a picnic. In the end, we found an excellent place to have a picnic. It was secluded and quiet. In fact, in the almost 1.5 hours we spent picnicking, we only saw two people. TWO PEOPLE! We were still in the grounds of Versailles, but we only saw two people. How was that even possible?!?

It wasn’t until after our awesome picnic, when we tried to find our way out, that things go interesting. Everything in this garden looked the same! We could not seem to find the main path, and kept ending up right back where we started. Then, we saw where we needed to be, but couldn’t find a way to get there, as there was what appeared to be a dried up moat between us and the other side. Then, we found many gates that, in theory, should lead us to the other side. Only one problem, every single gate was locked! It was at this time that we began wishing we had more wine. There’s never enough wine!

Then, we headed to the Petit Trianon, followed by Marie-Antoinette’s domain. This was one of my favorite parts, as I have spent the least amount of time exploring these areas. It is truly mind-blowing to stand there and think about why these areas were built and how disconnected Marie-Antoinette was from everyone else. While I understand that she was a very, very young queen, it is sill quite baffling that she built her own little world, in an effort to better understand what it was like to be poor. It was also here that Jeannette found her future house—Marie-Antoinette’s farm.

After countless hours exploring the domain of Versailles, we got on the train back to Paris to continue our ridiculousness. This night, we went to one of the speak-easy style bars (the Red Door) that has been on my list, but was also connected with my favorite bar in Europe (Panda & Sons in Edinburgh). They had recently done a bartender exchange, and I was excited to see this bar for the first time. Again, we tried to call it an early night, but of course, that simply isn’t possible when reunited with your best friend in Europe.

After staying out way too late and drinking way too much wine, we eventually made it back to the apartment to get some DSC06996sleep before Fête de la Musique the next day. The “problem” with this festival is that it goes all day and into the next morning. In an effort to make sure that we would be able to partake in the festivities for as long as possible, we didn’t begin the festival too early. Rather, we spent our morning trying to be a little healthy We had a typical French breakfast in a café, followed by another great adventure: tying to find the Promenade Plantée. This had been on my list of things to find and do for many, many years. Again, it was something that after much research and consideration, I decided would be best to do with at least one other person. Jeannette was the perfect person for a number of reasons:

1. She loves hiking/walking as much as I do

2. She loves exploring gardens

3. She had been to the High Line in NYC (which is modelled after the Promenade Plantée)

4. She is just as directionally challenged as I am, so getting lost would not be a big deal

Before, during, and after breakfast I had been looking at maps and reading things on the Internet, in an effort to make sure that we didn’t spend 17 hours trying to find this path. When we started our adventure, we were both optimistic, but quickly, we realized that it wasn’t going to be as easy to find as we had hoped. As it is a raised line, we were able to spot it relatively quickly, but then we couldn’t find how to actually get to/on it. Then, after a bit more walking, we made it to the line itself, but had to do some investigating to actually figure out how to access the line. In the end, we were successful and able to walk the entire length of the line. It was a really, really interesting experience. There were many times during our walk when we both forgot that we were still in Paris. It was really quite calm an peaceful. If you enjoy walking and seeing a city from another perspective, I highly suggest that you take a few hours to walk the Promenade Plantée.

After our morning walk (I realize we sound like a couple of old women, but whatever) we began celebrating Fête de la Musique. Our first stop for the day was a taiko drum performance. It was interesting, but not exactly what we had envisioned. We both have a passion for listening to drums (taiko drums especially) so we had high expectations. Unfortunately, our expectations were not met. We decided to leave about half way through the performance in search of another type of music. We decided to begin heading back toward our apartment, as there were supposed to be many interesting performances in that area. We were not going to stay in this area for the rest of the day, but it seemed like a good place to have some lunch and drink some wine.

This was not my first time celebrating Fête de la Musique in France. In 2007 when I spend my summer studying in France, I discovered this festival in Tours, the city where I currently live. The problem for me, is that Tours is significantly smaller than Paris, so it was much easier to just stumble upon awesome musical performances. With the countless neighborhoods in Paris, it was much more difficult to just wander aimlessly, while still finding wonderful musical performances. I had spent considerable time exploring the Paris Fête de la Musique website, only to become even more overwhelmed as I spent time reading about different performances. This was the only part of our trip that was not very well planned, as I didn’t even know where to begin.

One of the reasons I wanted to head back to Canal St. Martin was because there was supposed to be a steel drum performance in the late morning or early afternoon. Sure enough, while we were sitting along the canal enjoying our lunch and wine, we could hear steel drums in the distance. We decided to cross the canal and try to find the performance. We were successful! I’ve always loved the sound of steel drums, so I loved hearing them being played, while standing in one of my favorite parts of Paris. After spending quite some time listening to this performance, we began walking along the canal again. We decided to stop and enjoy some more wine and just talk for a bit. While we were sitting there drinking wine and chatting we noticed many people stopping to look at us and take our picture. It was very strange and eventually someone came over to talk to us. It turns out that we both looked so French that tourists (usually Americans) wanted to take our picture to show their family and friends. We both laughed at this, and explained that we were also American, but that I now lived in France. It made for an interesting conversation. Also, it helped a great deal with making me feel that I had truly acclimated myself to the French style.

IMG_2932Eventually, we left Canal St. Martin and headed toward Montmartre. I enjoy Montmartre a great deal, but it is one of those areas I will not explore by myself. At this point, we realized that we were out of wine (surprise!) so our immediate mission became finding more. Luckily, we had saved our twist top bottle, as we did not want to deal with wine leaking in our bags. We replenished our supply of wine and began just walking around Montmartre. What I loved most about this part of our day was the different feel it had. It was a much more independent, eclectic experience than in the other parts of Paris. We discovered a band that reminded us of the Detroit Party Marching Band (one of our favorite local bands). We also discovered a number of very young, local bands, who had stages set up in the middle of the street. After spending a few hours listening to music and drinking, we decided that we should stop and have a snack. We continued exploring the area, and eventually stumbled upon a café called le Chat Noir. We decided to stop here, and again, there was live music taking place inside.

After countless hours in Montmartre, we decided it was time to head back toward central Paris. One of the main reasons was that it was getting later in the day, and we wanted to make sure that we staying in very safe areas. Our next stop was exploring the Marais and nearby neighborhoods. We popped in and out of many cafés and bars during this time, both to listen to live music and to enjoy a tasty beverage. As the day went on, our conversations became more and more ridiculous, to the point that I was laughing so hard I was crying, almost nonstop. After eating dinner and listening to wandering music performances, we decided to just begin walking and trying to find different music. It was already quite late (probably around midnight). This time, we were truly wandering aimlessly, and had taken to displaying our musical ‘talents.’ Drunkenly singing “Part of Your World” with your best friend, while walking the streets of Paris, is a memory that will never be forgotten. We were both having so much fun and just embracing being absolutely ridiculous. While performing our fantastic rendition of this song, we began hearing drums in the distance. As I mentioned, we both love listening to drums, so we decided it was worth exploring. It turns out, there was a drumline performing outside of this bar just up ahead. We could not believe our luck! We listened to them playing, while drinking the last of our wine. Every time we thought they were done performing, they would begin another song. And they were really, really good. We spent probably two hours listening and dancing to this performance.

As we had an early flight to Porto, Portugal the next morning, we decided that we should probably begin heading back to our apartment, as neither of us knew exactly where we were or how long it would take to get back to our apartment. We left the performance and were just talking about what an awesome day we had had, when we hear this man yelling behind us. It was someone who was also at the drumline performance and felt the need to follow us and ask us questions and try to get us to go somewhere with us. Of course, he was very drunk (as was most of Paris by this time), and really wasn’t listening to what we had to say. Eventually, I had had enough and began yelling at him in French. This sent a message to him, and eventually he walked away, mumbling under his breath about how unreasonable I had been. While I had been drinking all day, I knew my limit and made sure not to cross it that day, as Jeannette does not speak French, so I knew that I had to at least be able to communicate clearly the entire day. At the time, this was a very scary experience, but it was also a learning experience. I learned about the value of remaining alert. If I had not, who knows what could have happened. I learned that being nice only works to a certain point, and sometimes you have to be mean to get your point across. I learned, that in a potentially dangerous situation, I am able to send a clear message in French and have that message respected.

After a lot of walking and a metro ride, we made it safely back to our apartment. I made sure that we were both back and ready for our early departure in the morning. However, Jeannette was having a very difficult time getting everything prepared, and could not find her contact case (it ended up being in her suitcase the entire time). We eventually made it to bed for a quick nap, before we had to get up to catch the bus to the airport. Overall, this trip was off to an amazing start and we were both eager to begin our next adventures—Portugal, Spain, and Morocco.

Travel is the Only Thing You Buy that Makes You Richer

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This past year has been one of great adventure for me. I’ve visited so many wonderful places, learned a great deal about the world and myself, and done a lot of solo traveling. As much as I love to travel and see the world, it is also difficult for me to spend my money. I am a very logical thinker and I know what my daily/weekly/monthly budgets are, and I adhere to them. Always. I sometimes get so focused on working and making money that I forget to enjoy life (especially the fact that I am living my dream in France). 2d47eeffb96a1b600d0d10e2d17c2c44While I am really good at budgeting and saving, it always stresses me out to see my bank accounts decreasing, rather than increasing. I’ve made it through some pretty difficult financial times this year, and finally feel like I am financially stable again. I don’t want to feel like I did at the beginning of last school year ever again. When I was presented with the possibility of several visitors this summer I had mixed feelings. I was of course excited about the possibility of having people visit, but also a little hesitant, as I wouldn’t be able to do my Freelance job while people were visiting me. In the end, I decided to do as much of my freelance work as possible before people started to arrive. This meant consolidating one month’s work into about two weeks. As stressful as this might sound, it helps me to feel more financially stable and secure, so that I can focus on having a good time and enjoying the company of the people around me.

After my adventures with Chris, I had a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. While I would have preferred to have returned to France and picked up with my freelance work, I didn’t have a choice. My visa to stay in France expired at the end of May, so I had to leave the Schengen Zone and return to France as a tourist for the summer. If I didn’t leave the Schengen, a massive administrative nightmare would ensure, on both the French and the American sides. In order to try and prevent this catastrophe, I decided to willingly leave the Schengen. However, most of the countries which are not a part of the Schengen are very expensive countries to visit. The last couple of times I’ve had to leave the Schengen, I went to London. As awesome as London is, I was ready for a change. I began researching other countries that are not part of the Schengen. Many countries were possibilities at the beginning, but there were a few characteristics that set Edinburgh, Scotland apart from the others:

  • There is a zoo with pandas
  • There are several acclaimed vegetarian restaurants
  • There are castles
  • There are beautiful landscapes

Coming at the end of a week long adventure throughout Europe I was not feeling my best. The night before my flight to Edinburgh I tripped on a curb, twisted my ankle, and scraped my knee pretty badly. I felt like I was falling apart! I decided to push through the pain and tiredness and make the best of this new journey. Going through customs in the UK was a nightmare, as always. They asked me questions I had never been asked before–what are the credit limits on my credit cards, what are ALL of the places I’ll be visiting while in Edinburgh, and then the usual questions. While I understand being cautious, it was quite a different (more intense) experience than I’ve had while going through border patrol in any other country.

DSCF5495When I finally made it to Edinburgh, the first thing I noticed was how friendly and helpful everyone was being. I don’t know if living in France has jaded my perspective, but the people in Scotland seemed genuinely happy and willing to help in any way they could. I was able to take the tram from the airport to my hotel, which was very convenient. I arrived mid-afternoon in downtown Edinburgh and promptly checked into my hotel. I really just wanted to drop off my bags and begin exploring the city. My hotel was perfectly located–at the end of the tram line, next to Calton Hill. The hotel was very clean and modern with average-sized rooms (by European standards). It was perfect for me. I dropped all my things off in my room and set off to find the Scott Monument in the Princes Street Gardens. The monument was impressive from the ground, but it was possible to climb to the top. This was a major accomplishment for me, as it was a very windy day, so at the top of the monument I felt like I was going to be blown away. The views were spectacular and made me very eager to continue exploring this city.

After walking through the gardens I decided to just walk around the city for a bit. Just walking around was a relaxing DSCF5515experience. I decided I would try to find a cocktail bar before dinner. After some initial searching I found a bar called “Panda & Sons.” After reading a little bit more about this bar and a few reviews it was clear that I had to visit it. Unfortunately, I was almost two miles away. However, the walk to get to the bar took me through some interesting neighborhoods and near some cool looking gardens. This bar is designed to look like a speakeasy and is perfectly executed. Speakeasy-style bars have become one of my favorite types in recent years. Panda & Sons was the best executed speakeasy bar I’ve ever visited. You enter through a bookcase and walk into what feels like someone’s living room. The drinks are perfectly made, and relatively reasonably priced (considering it’s Edinburgh). Everything in the bar was panda themed (!!) which was an added bonus for me. After a few drinks I set off in search of dinner. I found a restaurant that claimed to have veggie burgers, and since I’ve yet to find a true veggie burger in Europe, decided to give it a shot. It was one of the most delicious veggie burgers I’ve had in a really long time. It was an actual veggie burger!

The next day was hiking day. In my research I discovered that there is some excellent hiking to be done in Edinburgh. Initially, I DSCF5550wasn’t sure if I was going to give it a shot or not. Hiking is one of those activities that I feel is best done with a buddy (especially when one is accident prone). After scoping out the situation and reading reviews/tips, I decided that I could handle it. However, with my still twisted ankle, hiking to Arthur’s Seat proved to be a more challenging task than I had anticipated. I didn’t end up making it all the way to the top, but I made it almost to the top. I encountered another American while hiking and she told me that the path got really narrow, rocky, and steep just a bit ahead. As I was already hurting, I decided not to attempt the last stretch, but rather to take a moment and enjoy the scenery.

After my morning of hiking, I spent the afternoon enjoying the architecture and visiting various museums. I was pleasantly surprised by how affordable the museums were to visit (most were free!). I have a weakness for art museums and could spend days exploring the lesser known museums of the world. As much as I love and appreciate the major and well-known museums, I think there is a lot to be said for the independent, local museums. I called it an early night after visiting many museums, as the next day was my zoo day (pandas!).

I awoke very early, as my scheduled panda visitation was with the first group of the day. Compared to the other zoos I’ve DSCF5784visited, this zoo was not one of my favorites. It was very confusing to navigate, with either no signs or misleading signs. Also, the animals were not very active, so I was a bit disappointed. Of the two pandas, I was only able to see the male. It was nice to see a panda, but I think my experience at Zoo Parc Beauval in France has ruined all future panda visits. Last December my best friend, Jeannette, and I were lucky enough to have the panda exhibit to ourselves for nearly an hour and the pandas were incredibly active. While I don’t regret visiting the Edinburgh Zoo, I don’t think I will be making a return visit anytime soon.

To conclude my weekend in Edinburgh, I spent the next day exploring Stirling. Several of my friends highly recommended visiting Stirling Castle, and now that I have, I can see why. It was definitely worth the train adventure, even in the terrible weather. I’m used to the romantic styles of castles, which are very different from the castles in Scotland. It was also at the Stirling Castle where I received a real history lesson about Scotland. I love learning about the history of different countries and cities I visit. It was also here that I learned about the significance of the unicorn to Scotland, and who wouldn’t love a country where the unicorn is a very important symbol.

OverDSC06950all, it was a wonderful getaway to Edinburgh. It helped me to realize that I would love to return to Scotland to explore other cities. While Edinburgh was lovely, I think there are many more equally lovely cities I need to explore. After returning to France I had about 10 days of normalcy before Jeannette arrived in France. I embraced those 10 days by trying to relax and regain my energy, while also working at my freelance job as much as possible, as this was going to be my last opportunity to earn money for the rest of the summer. Stay tuned for the next adventure: two redheads take on France, Portugal, Spain, and Morocco!

And So Begins Another Year

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Wow! It has been a really long time since I’ve written about my life and my adventures. It’s hard for me to believe that it is already the middle of October! The past five months of my life have been among the best in my life. I’ve never been happier and I feel incredibly fortunate to have spent nearly half of the year (?!?!) traveling with some of my nearest and dearest friends and family. I plan to dedicate a significant amount of time to blogging about all of my adventures, but that is going to be a huge undertaking, which I shall commence next week, when I am on vacation.

Here’s a quick overview of my late spring/summer/early fall endeavors to pique your interest:

  • 3 continents visited
  • 13 countries visited
  • 6 states visited
  • 2 friends came to Europe
  • my mom and I spent 5 weeks exploring Europe together (and both made it out alive!)
  • returned to France for a second year of teaching

When I write it, I still can’t believe that this was my reality for so many, many months. I am currently back in France and have begun my second year of teaching English as a Second Language. This year I am in one collège (middle school) and one lycée (high school). So far I am loving working in the high school and am very excited about everything that this next year will hold for me. In addition to teaching, two of my dear friends will be getting married at the beginning of the month, so I will have the opportunity to attend a French wedding and the opportunity to celebrate their very special day.

After tomorrow, I am on vacation (already). As I’ve only been in France for a few weeks and I’m still acclimating myself to my French life, I will not be traveling anywhere for this vacation. Honestly, I’m a little sad to not be taking advantage of this opportunity to explore another new country/city, but am secretly relieved to have a staycation after such an intense summer of traveling. However, I am planning a long weekend away somewhere during the month of November, followed by a real vacation in December.

Here’s to another unforgettable, absolutely amazing year in France!

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Enjoying some limoncello in Venice. Cheers!