Long-Awaited Waves

On Aug 19, we left Lyon and took a train into Nice. As the train rolled through the countryside, the thought of being on the coast was forefront in our minds. Our only change was in Marseille, and as we stepped onto the platform, we got our first breaths of salty ocean air. It was delightful, refreshing, and invigorating. Our train to Nice gave us a beautiful view of the glittering water, right outside the window, laid out before small, coastal towns. I would have stopped at every single one if I could have.

People told us that Nice is nice, and it very much is. Whereas Lyon was beautiful but overlooked, and therefore not very tourist-ridden, Nice had people from everywhere. As we stepped out of the station that afternoon, it presented itself as a busy vacation spot. Our hostel was a tall building nearby with tiny, sloping rooms, spotty Wifi, and an abundance of Australians. We shared a dorm with two young Australian girls, who we happily made friends with immediately.

Our first night, Em and I treated ourselves to a delicious dinner at a local Italian restaurant. She ordered a plate of mussels while I got ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta. For dessert, we shared chocolate fondue and fresh fruit. The entire meal was fabulous and a nice break from cheap street food.

20160818_192141965_iOS

dinner at Le Luna Rossa

The next day promised to be hot, a perfect day for the beach. Our hostel was a 15 minute walk, so we put on our suits, grabbed the hostel towels (which we technically weren’t allowed to take out of the hostel), and set out on a mission. We’d been dreaming about jumping into the ocean for weeks; it was time.

The beach we went to was unlike any beach I have been to into California. Instead of sand, there is a 20 foot walk from the sidewalk to the water of smooth rocks the size of eggs. People crowd onto every inch of this space, even right up to the water. Women wear bikinis or one-pieces like any place back home, but men in speedos are everywhere. This took a little getting used to. There were also women tanning topless, but since that is something I have done at Pirate’s Cove near San Luis Obispo, I barely noticed.

The water in Nice is spectacular, composed of two jewel-like tones of blue waves. It is wonderfully clean, though startlingly salty (I would definitely avoid swallowing any, as your stomach will be upset afterward). In between our tanning sessions, we spent a lot of time in the water, letting the gentle waves rock us back and forth.

20160821_142334874_iOS

Not even trying to be cute; the ocean was trying to make us fall over

That night, we went out to some of the pubs with one of our roommates, Hanne (hey girl!). We tried several bars, finally settling on the most crowded one. Wayne’s had groups of people hanging out outside, beer in hand. Inside, the front room was packed with people trying to get drinks from the bar and then trying to find a place to stand after. We got some beer, and met a couple of nice American boys as we sipped our drinks. Finally, we moved to the backroom. Instead of a dance floor, this room has 3 long tables lined up, with benches or stools on either side. Almost nobody dances on the floor, as there isn’t much space: bodies are gyrating up on the tables, fighting for space amid the flashing lights and deafening American music. A couple guys gave up their spots on the table so we could get up, and we didn’t come off those tables for 2 hours. It was a sweaty, loud, and sometimes scary time (only because there was a very real chance of falling off the table), but we had a great night dancing with each other and saying no to the many French boys asking us to dance. The next night, we had a repeat evening as we went back with both of our roommates, Bonnie and Hanne.

Our second full day in Nice saw the four of us taking a short day trip to Cannes, home of the famous film festival and a crazy number of fancy places to eat, sleep, and lay on the beach. When I say lay on the beach, I mean that in Cannes you have to pay for a spot on the beach unless you want to sit on the sand with the hot sun beating down on you. Emily and I were recovering from sunburns from the previous day, so the four of us rented beach chairs and umbrellas on one of the “paying” beaches. This was a very laid back day, as we were all tired from travel and dancing, and so we laid on the beach for a couple hours, grabbed some dinner, and headed back. I decided that while the actual beaches in Cannes are better (sand instead of rocks), the water in Nice is much better and looks a lot cleaner.

The last day in Nice was my favorite. We got a late start to the day, but after getting lunch with the girls, we headed down the beach to the left. At the end of the beach is a wall, with a cluster of rocks hanging over the ocean. You have to swim out near the cliff side to reach them, and climb up out of the water. Emily and I joined a bunch of locals and other adventurous vacationers on the rock, and jumped off one of the lower spots. Even though we couldn’t understand each other, the locals shared our excitement and gibbered at us in French or Italian while we nodded and said “Oui! Oui!”Cliff jumping is an experience that I was very excited to have over in Europe, and we’re hoping to find lots of it in Italy.

20160821_142348651_iOS

The rocks we jumped off of are at the very center of the photo

As I write this, I’m lying on my third tier bunk in Milano. A lot has happened, and it’s been tricky so far to keep up with everything (which is why this post is late late late) but I’m speeding through this post so that I can get to the most important and exciting part of the trip so far: Asti. Keep an eye out for my next post as I detail how I found some long lost family members in unlikely circumstances.

Au revoir, Nice!

-Kayla

Bonjour, mini Paris!

(I am writing this entry as we take the train from Marseille to Nice on August 18. Though I have plenty of time, it is hard to take my eyes off the French countryside and coast that flies past the train window. It is beautiful and green out here, so close to the coast. We have already passed one town that sat right on the ocean)

The best way to describe Lyon is that it is a smaller version of Paris. Two rivers, the Rhône and the Saone, run through the center of the city, separating the Old Town and the new section. We had two nights booked, but extended one day because Lyon is just one of those cities that has a lot of to see that shouldn’t be missed.

Our first night, we got to the hostel and found it to be probably our cleanest one yet. There was a small, grassy courtyard with a hammock and some bean bags and a picnic table. There was usually always someone hanging out down there, chatting on the phone or to another traveler, or dozing after a long night of drinking. We met our roommate, a woman named Jules who we got along with immediately (love you Jules!) and drank wine with her and other visitors at a dinner they held for us that night. The wine flowed, we all got to know one another, and soon someone was suggesting a bar for us to go to (keep in mind, this was a Monday night. There’s never really much going on). There were 11 of us, but at the end of the night it was our group of 6 girls that we didn’t want to part with. Jules was the German girl who’d lived in Australia for the last couple years and was now going to work for a winery in France; there was Marwa from Virginia but originally Sudan, who was only in Lyon for that night before she had to catch a plane to Amsterdam for the weekend before she returned to Lyon to study abroad; there was Maddy from Germany and Kim from Korea, roommates in another dorm of the hostel who helped us polish off a basket of frites at the next bar/club; and me and Emily. We danced, helped each other ward off creepy French guys and get to know the nice ones, and basked in the ecstasy of travel and freedom. We took a picture on the bridge on the walk home, drunk off of the feeling of France, making new friends, and life in general (ok, so there may have been several shots adding to our happiness as well!). It continually stuns me how people of different backgrounds, nationalities, ages, and languages can fall so seamlessly into friendship.

20160817_184631696_iOS

“Starfishing” after we ate: they’re too full to move!

The next morning, Emily, Jules and I woke up late, bodies tired but minds alive with the happiness of being in Lyon. Emily and I extended our stay one more night, knowing we couldn’t leave the next day. This is the great thing about not planning things out; we had nowhere to be and could stay if we wanted. A little hungover, we started the hike up to the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere, a beautiful cathedral that overlooks Old Town. We quickly sweated out any lingering alcohol as the sun beat down on us relentlessly. On the way up, we rounded a corner to see the Roman ruins that we’d seen in a “Things to do in Lyon” article. You could enter at will, and walk among these stone amphitheaters that have been around since ~1200 B.C. There is so much here in Europe that you can touch and know that it’s something that has been around for hundreds of years, and endured. History at your fingertips, indeed.

20160816_145543627_iOS

either the Rhone or the Saone; I don’t remember!

At the top of the hill is the Basilica. We were happy to get there, due to the fact that we were sweating buckets, but when we stepped in the main room we nearly forgot all of that. There are mosaic masterpieces everywhere: the floor, walls, ceiling. We tried to take a couple pictures, but nothing can accurately capture what it looks like. It was dark and cool, and we just sat in there for a good 20 minutes, cooling off and looking around. The inside is beautiful beyond words, and no matter how much I wanted a good picture, cameras just can’t capture how amazing it was to see it.

20160816_125239055_iOS

la Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere

Outside, there’s a lookout point so that you can see all of Lyon, which is stunning. When we were too hungry to stay, we went back down the hill to find an eatery. I stopped in front of one in Old Town, and we stared at it for a minute, confused. I was given advice to only eat places where you can’t understand the menu because it’s in the native language, but you don’t realize till you’re doing it how hard it is to order when you have no idea what the dishes are!

After a kind employee took pity on us, we sat and ordered a late lunch. Emily got a salad and a crepe, while I decided to try authentic Lyonaisse food: saucisson chaud de Leon. It was a thick sausage, sliced and marinated in a red wine sauce accompanied by cheesy potatoes (best ones I’ve ever had, sorry Mom), asparagus, and a small salad. My bet paid off because the entire dish was absolutely delicious and one of the best meals I’ve had in Europe. We went back to the restaurant the next day for dinner, and I had the same thing – no ragrets! (Le Petit Grouton in Old Town Lyon, for curious food lovers)

20160816_135838723_iOS

saucisson chaud de Lyon

We spent one more day in Lyon, doing a walking tour and taking a boat back up the river, followed by nap/rest time. Meaning Emily took a nap while I watched a couple episodes of Orange is the New Black.

As of 2 hours ago while writing this, we reached the coast. We have encountered so much bad weather in the past couple weeks (Paris was lovely the whole time, but this morning in Lyon we woke up to pouring rain!) that we have been itching to reach the coast and the beach. Despite what happened in Nice a couple months ago, we’re very excited to take a couple days and relax. Even just changing trains in Marseille earlier, we breathed in the air and agreed that it felt incredibly good to smell the sea. Read on to my next post to find out just how nice Nice is!

Au revoir Lyon!

-Kayla

 

To Love, or Not to L0ve…

I skipped a couple stops on our trip for this blog due to tiredness, laziness, or possibly-maybe-definitely being a bit drunk, but basically between this post and the last we’ve been to Brussels (1 night), Brugge (2 nights), and this is the last of 5 nights in Paris. I didn’t blog about Brussels because there really wasn’t much to blog about, except for Georgette’s Cafe that had AMAZING frites (which will never again be “French” fries to me because THEY’RE NOT FRENCH, they’re Belgian; and Delirium Cafe, a bar known for its pink elephant logo). And then there was Brugge, which I will blog about and explain why I didn’t have the heart to blog while there, because when you love something deeply you don’t want to be on an electronic device for even a second.

And then… there’s Paris.

I received a lot of opinions about Paris. There were the, “Oh my goodness, you’ll LOVE Paris!” people, which I appreciated because these people then added that they could see me fitting in there. These were also the people that seemed very excited for me to go and wanted me to love it as much as they did. Instead of telling me HOW to feel about Paris, these people told me why they loved it, and knew me well enough to know that I would love it in my own way. Basically, these people wished me well in Paris, and hoped I would enjoy it.

Then there were the people who told me what they didn’t like about it: how dirty it was, how the people were rude and how touristy it was. I’m not going to say it isn’t those things (to an extent), but what city isn’t?? I didn’t think it was any dirtier than San Francisco, any more touristy than New York, and these are places that I love! The rude part, you just deal. There is a huge difference between someone trying to convince you to hate a city, to talk about it in a way that they hope you had as bad of a time as they did, and someone dreamily saying, “Oh, you’ll fall in love with Paris.” Sorry, but I won’t be validating your dislike of it anytime soon.

In Paris, we got lucky with a cheap Airbnb, across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower. The flat had 4 bedrooms -of which ours was the largest with a big, comfy bed – and we had free reign of the kitchen and the living room, which contained a piano, a samurai sword, a mask collection, and a tiny balcony with a small table and 2 chairs. With plants and books everywhere, and the way the light streamed in, the place looked beautifully and stereotypically… French. It was amazing. And then there was the bunny.

20160813_182143916_iOS

Our host was helpful and accommodating, despite the fact that we never saw him. He did, however, fail to mention his bunny. Its name was Patapouf. He was adorable, but also kind of an asshole. The entire 5 nights we were there, we barely saw him eat or drink anything. He hopped around with no clear goal, and once he’d warmed up to our presence he would proceed to get very… friendly with our legs. I know for a fact that my leg doesn’t resemble a female bunny. At all.

The first full day in Paris, we visited the Louvre. It’s essentially a giant maze, containing sculptures and paintings and art on art on art. We made a mad dash with what seemed like half the population of Paris to see the Mona Lisa, and stood near it for a couple minutes just thinking about it (who’s she smiling at? Is she constipated? WHAT’S THE SECRET????). We moved along pretty quickly, however, as the entire room was full of people waving their selfie sticks around trying to take 5 billion pictures that they’ll never look at again. The Venus de Milo wasn’t as crazy, but much of the same was happening everywhere.

 

20160813_182805000_iOS

Disclaimer #1: I hate selfie sticks.

After we left, walked down Rue de Rivoli for food, and hopped on the metro, we went over to Notre Dame Cathedral. It was beautiful, situated on an island in the middle of the Seine. The Gothic style building was massive and breathtaking… and then you see the line to go in, as long as a football field. We settled for taking a couple pictures in front and getting ice cream.

Disclaimer #2: We’ve eaten a lot of ice cream. And gelato. And croissants.

Looking for the next metro stop, we crossed the Seine and happened to come upon the bouquinistes! These are people who make a living setting up stalls along the river, and then have hundreds of worn, old copies of novels/books, all in French, for less than 10 euro. They’ve also started selling prints, keychains, small trinkets, and old maps. I saw an article a couple months ago saying that these businesses were in trouble, due to digital reading; my purchase won’t make a difference, but I did pick up an old copy of The Alchemist. It’s in French, and my French is terrible, so it’s going to be lots of fun to read.

20160810_174133374_iOS

That night – and two other nights of the five we were there – we grabbed some take away (food to go) and sat on the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower. We claimed our favorite spot, and enjoyed the beautiful weather as the sun went down, accompanied by a bottle (or 2) of cheap wine. We made numerous friends doing this, including a just-married couple and several adorable little girls who gave us kisses on the cheek. This time also included people-watching and telling the men hawking cheap bottles of wine or Eiffel Tower key chains: “Non, merci!”

Perhaps our favorite day was Versailles. We left late – which is not recommended by anyone and you should really get there as early in the morning as possible –  and took the wrong train, which actually ended up working out just fine. It stopped at a different section of the city, and so we walked through the town of Versailles, got a sandwich, and picked up delicious nectarines from an open air market. The line into the palace was an hour long, followed by a tour through the opulent rooms and chambers. What person needs three sitting/receiving rooms, a private room, AND a bedroom? Our favorite room was probably the Hall of Mirrors, decorated with hundreds of gold-gilded mirrors and crystal chandeliers.

(Funny anecdote: you could use one of their audio guides for free, and as we walked into one room that looked like the King’s bedchamber, the guide explained that it was not, in fact, the bedchamber. This became hilariously funny as a horde of people without the audio guides crammed in front of the bed, trying to get pictures and selfies of it. It was just a bed)

The tickets we bought were only good for the actual palace building, but what intrigued us were the gardens. The Versailles Gardens are famous, beautiful, well-kept, and huge. Many of the palace windows looked out on them, and they spread for miles and miles. Everything was a vibrant green and the hedges were perfectly trimmed. From above, the gardens look like a forest, but one too precise to be natural. Deciding to splurge, we paid to explore.

20160812_143035965_iOS

The only way to really see the gardens is to wander through them, randomly choosing which grove to venture into. It was a beautiful summer day, and we just strolled until we came upon a café sitting in the middle of the trees. We had already been discussing what we wanted to eat (crepes, as usual) and figured that a nice glass of rosé wouldn’t hurt as well.

Em ordered a crepe, but one of the waiters convinced me to try their house dessert, something called a melba which turned out to be vanilla ice cream swirled with raspberries and topped with French cream. One of the French waiters, a charming man with brown hair and a teasing spirit, kept coming over to our table to talk to me. One of the greatest regrets of this trip so far is that I walked away without his number.  There is something about Paris that makes it so easy to fall a little bit in love with everything around you.

Other highlights of the 5 days:

Hiking up a bunch of stairs to get to Sacre Coeur, a beautiful cathedral with sweeping views of Paris

Hanging out with my friend Elle from Italian class at Cal Poly (thanks Elle!). We met her at the Shakespeare & Co. bookshop, then went to lunch in a Parisian café where we enjoyed croque monsieur. The next morning, we met her at the Paris Catacombs, a series of caves under the streets where they moved bones from nearby cemeteries in order to make space in the 1800s. They were creepy but such a powerful and interesting experience
20160813_125926358_iOS

20160813_111838008_iOS

On our last night, we finally bought Eiffel Tower keychains from one of the men selling them around the Eiffel Tower itself as they yelled “One euro! One euro!” So to the people back home getting souvenirs, you’re welcome

Alright I need to stop this post before it takes you an hour to read it. Stay tuned for the next one, coming in hot!

With love from Paris,

Kayla

What They Never Told Me

Sometimes in life, things don’t go the way you’ve planned. The same goes for traveling. Ideas and goals change, but it’s the bigger stuff, too; the stuff you didn’t expect. When I was prepping for this trip, I knew there was much I hadn’t thought about, I just didn’t know how much. Turns out, there’s a lot.

I’ve had people tell me, “Oh what a wonderful vacation!” After what we’ve experienced so far, I have to politely disagree on that description of what we’re doing. Vacations are a relaxing time, a time to unwind and take a break from the world before diving back into your daily life. This trip is different; it’s an adventure, where good and bad things happen and you don’t just go home afterward – you have to keep going, and carry the mistakes and frustrations with you.

There’s more to backpacking, too. You don’t anticipate the sweat from walking to your hostel from the train station; if you experience one kind of weather, you’ll get sick of your clothing options in a week. You leave for the trip excited and resolved to keep up the blog, keep up the blog, keep up the blog – and then somebody asks if you want to go get a beer or late night pizza, and that’s the rest of your night. Or when you get to your bed at the end of a long day of walking – 5 miles, 8 miles? – and fall into bed to get the most amount of sleep possible before getting up to do it all again the next day. And unlike a vacation, when you know that all of the shit you’re going through is only temporary because you’ll be back in your comfy house and walking around in sweats and slippers to find the cereal in the cupboard, this doesn’t stop. We’ve planned on three months; the comforts are small and fleeting. Once you become relaxed, it’s off to the next stop.

Why am I going on and on about misfortunes and disappointments? Well, dear reader, it’s because we suffered our first travel mishap. Okay, more like… disaster.

We didn’t technically miss our flight from London to Amsterdam. When we got to Gatwick Airport, the bag drop had closed 7 minutes before. It wasn’t enough that we were tired – London is an extremely exhausting city – not to mention a little hungover, and sad to be leaving a place we’d fallen in love with. Add to that the crushing realization that because our bags couldn’t make it on the flight, we couldn’t either. After an hour and a half of scouring the internet for options that did not include buying another flight for over 200 pounds, we realized that there was no way we were getting to Amsterdam that night.

Fortunately, we were able to spend the night back at our hostel due to some overbooking we’d done months earlier. Knowing that we had to get to Amsterdam and not wanting to waste even more money, I turned to an app I had only heard about: Bla Bla Car, an international rideshare service. I had no experience with the app, but after searching London to Amsterdam I found a single ride for the next morning, leaving at 11am. He had two seats left; I booked them quickly, and only stopped to caution myself after. Everybody had warned us about being “Taken,” and I’m certainly not trying to prove anyone right on that one.

We met the driver and his friend the next morning, and picked up another guy soon after. It was squishy in the car, but our fears were dispelled right away. The three were Londoners on their way to a techno festival in Amsterdam for the weekend. Conversation slid easily from topics like travel to music to the things they wanted to buy in Amsterdam. These weren’t a bunch of creepy guys looking to kidnap us; they just wanted to take a lot of drugs and dance to their hearts content for three days straight. Personally, I think we got a great deal.

The drive took about 8 hours, as we traveled through 4 countries. We spent 1.5 hours in the car to the port of Dover, where we drove on to a giant ferry. Despite all of the disappointment about missing a day in Amsterdam, wasting the flight money, and generally messing up, this ended up being a crazy and wonderful alternative. As we left the port, we could see the White Cliffs of Dover fading away in the distance. It’s definitely not something I had ever expected to see, and it makes for a great story, right?

20160804_142838605_iOS

Strait of Dover

After two hours spent relaxing in the lounge and eating ship food, we got back onto land at Dunkirk, France. From there we spent about 4 hours driving through France, Belgium, and the Netherlands to finally reach the much anticipated Amsterdam. I don’t remember a happier moment than meeting up with Kassidy (Emily’s friend!) in the street and going up to the flat to set our packs down. By this time it was 10pm, and we went out into the streets. Giant pita with falafel has never been so welcome, nor scarfed down so fast.

As I write this, we have just finished our first full day in Amsterdam. After waking up late (it was the first morning I’ve woken up later than 6:30am, so yay!), we went downstairs to a highly recommended coffee shop called Bocca. Around the corner, we grabbed giant crepes filled with nutella, strawberries, and bananas; with nowhere to sit down, we found a dock floating on the edge of one of the canals and sat with our toes dangling over the water, trading stories all the while. The threat of rain had us grabbing our rain jackets, and then we were off into the city.

20160805_094632373_iOS

Fat crepes!

 

If anyone’s ever been to Amsterdam, or heard about the Anne Frank Huis, you might know that it’s always busy. Tickets sell out amazingly fast, and the line to buy tickets at the door is insanely long. We got there around 1:30pm today, and people can buy tickets at the door starting at 3:30. Not wanting to wait 2 hours in line, we decided to walk around the city, and try again later. We bought a hunk of goat cheese and a baguette, eating on the canal again; we took pictures of all of the many tree-lined canals and the beautiful buildings on either side. Completely by chance, we happened upon the Banksy museum; the three of us love Banksy, so we decided to pay the euros and go through. Safe to say I was in awe, and it was a fun museum.

20160805_144115820_iOS

Banksy’s “Pornography of War”

For dinner, we went to Nes 41. Their menu changes daily because they get their food fresh, so we dined on a charcuterie plate followed by tender beef with goat cheese and a raspberry sauce. This was all accompanied by Fanta cocktails (shoutout to Auntie Lori and Omi! The fanta is just as delicious as it was 10 years ago, although the Spanish liqueur they put in it really added to it).

I took a walk through the city alone today to go back to the Tulip Museum we’d seen earlier.  As I walked among the canals and the casually – but still fashionably – dressed people of all ages and creeds, I realized that within less than 24 hours, I had fallen in love with Amsterdam. The city is large enough to have lots of things going on, yet you can easily walk everywhere. The people are nice and the food is wonderful.

IMG_6706

My favorite photo so far – it’s the troll looking to exact his toll!

I  bought myself a pink tulip from the museum today. As a sentimental traveler, I’ve decided to pick up one small memento from each city, my way of remembering what I most loved. The tulip will remind me of the quaint buildings squished together; the music as the Pride celebrations began Friday night and people began to dance; and the way the sun set as I stared down the length of a canal, watching the light beam across the water and set the trees on fire.

I don’t know how I’ll leave, but at least we have one more day.

Your wayward, but most importantly alive traveler,

Kayla