An Ending; A Beginning

Well, readers, it’s my last couple hours in Europe, and I’m sorry to have failed you. I totally stunk at this whole “blogging while traveling” thing. Think of this post as an intermission; I’m not done blogging the trip, but I feel that I need to say goodbye to travel properly before resuming the blog. I’m about 8 or 9 cities behind, and have so much to cover. But I can tell you with absolute honesty that I did not fail myself.

This trip was everything – and nothing – like I expected it to be. If you follow my instagram or see the photos I post on Facebook, you might think that my trip was all about glamorous shots in faraway, beautiful places, not a care or worry in the world. There were definitely moments like that, don’t get me wrong. But there were hard moments, too. I once listened to a professor in college lecture about the subject of happiness. She had us look at our lives and ask ourselves when we were truly happy, and then pointed out that you can’t be happy all the time. Instead, we exist in a state of contentment, punctuated by spectacular moments of joy or happiness. The rest of our lives are filled with moments of frustration, sadness, boredom, etc. We are not always happy; we can’t be. This trip made me realize how true that is. I could be blissfully happy one evening, sipping Prosecco at a restaurant overlooking Positano on the Amalfi Coast, and the next morning be absolutely frustrated to the point of tears that our bed bug problem wasn’t resolved, or that I didn’t know which bus to take to get us to trail head for Path of the Gods. The thing about travel is that you come to recognize your moments of happiness, and savor them, tucking them away because of how special they are. And for me, these moments come more frequently when traveling than when doing anything else. This is how I know that this is not my last trip.

This is one of the hardest posts I’ve had to write, for two reasons.

  1. I don’t know how to make this a “goodbye” post, because I’m not saying goodbye. I’m saying “see you later!” to the many cities, countries, friends, cats, and landscapes that I’ve seen. There is no doubt in my mind that I’ll be back someday.
  2. There is only so much that can be captured by words. I can describe the walled city of Dubrovnik to you, with its orange tiled roofs that contrast the blue sea. But it’s an entirely different matter to stand upon the actual city wall, smelling the salty air and listening to the gleeful shouts of the cliff divers. I can only bring you so far.

I can only hope that my words inspire at least one person to take the leap and travel – to a place you’ve always wanted to see, or a place you know nothing about. Take with you a good pair of shoes, a backpack, and a travel towel. Do not go as a tourist: go as someone who wants to see, not look. Someone who wants to experience, not merely dip their foot in the water. Find moments to yourself to reflect on what your experience means to you, and how it fits into your view of the world. Taste the local food, and do not go carefully, or quietly. These are not travel words. Go boldly, go proudly. Shout out to the world what you want, and then take it. And when you do finally travel, leave your bubble behind. The bubble has no place in the big wide world. The bubble will not allow you to meet foreign best friends, order something off the menu that you can’t pronounce, or hike to the top of a mountain.

I hope that you’ve been enjoying this blog so far. While I did fail in my writing mission, I’m partly glad. As I play catch-up with my posts over the next couple weeks, it just means that I get to relive everything that’s happened.

I will miss the daily cappucinos, the buttery croissants, the sound of Aussies wanting to go party, the late nights spent laughing and drinking wine, the endless bottles of prosecco/rose, and many, many more precious moments.

See you later, Europe.

– Kayla

The Travel Took Over

Wow. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve last put out some words to you, and I can’t even begin to cover everything that’s happened since Asti, the subject of my last post. It is, however, my intention to cover as much of this trip in blog posts as possible, so it looks like everything will just be… a little late.

Written: September 11, 2016 on the train from Firenze to Siena.

Days spent in Milan: August 24th-August 27th

After the dazzling and impossible evening spent meeting my family, Emily and I traveled to Milan, where I spent most of our time sick. We were in a rare 5-person dorm, and I was assigned the top bed in a 3 tier bunk bed. We hadn’t seen anything like it yet, and it ended up being the perfect place for me to try and recover. It was promptly dubbed “Kayla’s Princess Tower.” When I felt better, we explored il Duomo di Milano, a giant structure with thousands of carvings – gargoyles, angels, spires. It was quite the sight to behold. In Italy – and several other European countries- women’s shoulders and knees must be covered. Even if you wait 2 hours in line, officials will turn you away without hesitation if you have nothing to cover yourself with. I brought a big infinity scarf to wrap around my waist, over my skirt that was a bit too short. As I tried to put it on, however, the wind betrayed me and revealed to about half of Milan just how white my ass is. Emily and our new friend/roommate, Pheobe (girl, if you’re reading this, we think you are a wonderfully awesome human being and we’re glad we met you!) laughed at me but said no one noticed. No, guys, they definitely noticed.

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il Duomo di Milano

 

Inside, we saw the replica of the golden Madonna that sits on the top spire, and explored some crypts with some dead saints whose names fled my memory the second we left. As always, the selfie sticks were rampant and endlessly obnoxious. We also took the lift to the top of the dome, where we got amazing views of the city and the many intricate sculptures that were a part of the building. I can only imagine how long that thing took to build, and how long all of those carvings took. Once we’d had our fill of il Duomo, we visited a store that sold wine – and lots of it. They had bottles of red, white, and sparkling delicious nectar from every major wine region in Italy. Pheobe picked up some prosecco while I went for a bottle of Moscato d’Asti. We also indulged ourselves and visited Laduree for macarons. I am not at all ashamed of how much money I’ve spent on macarons during this trip. There are times when I like them more than gelato.

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Promise, I’m holding my beloved Laduree bag

On our last night, at Pheobe’s recommendation, we visited the Navigli area, situated on the river. We ran into a frequent problem: we went over there around 10, hoping to find a fun bar with drinks and dancing. What we found instead is that everyone was still eating dinner. We had a late snack of arancini – fried risotto balls filled with cheese and prosciutto – and gelato, then found a bar that let you take beer to go so that you could walk along the river and hang out with friends. The best thing about is that I found a stout! Finally! All through Europe I’ve been searching for a good, creamy stout beer. The alcohol content wasn’t as strong in this one and so the chocolate flavor didn’t have quite the same effect as others I’ve had, but it was still delicious. With nothing else to do, we sipped our beer by the water, indulging in our favorite activity: people watching. People in Europe are fun to watch because you don’t understand anything they’re saying, and they have different habits and mannerisms than Americans do. This makes it very fun to try and figure out their backstory. Eventually, we’d finished our beers and had 30 minutes until we had to take the metro back, so we grabbed two more stouts. The bartender didn’t seem to want to stop talking to me, even asking when we were leaving Milan. Sadly, “the beautiful girl from California” (his words, not mine), had to leave.

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Can you believe this is somebody’s crypt?? Me neither! Photo taken at the main cemetery in Milan

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It was like something out of a movie – this old man appeared out of nowhere, speaking no English, and showed us he’s a caretaker at the cemetery. Then he gave us a tour!

Speaking of leaving… we will now leave this post for the next one – Venezia!

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.

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“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.

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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.

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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)

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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