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Southern England to the end

After a raucous ending to my trip to London I went off to stay with family in southern England. I met up with my friend Rob in Haslemere and I got a little road trip through Southern England toward Stonehenge. The English countryside is absolutely stunning, the rolling hills, the brick or thatch roofed homes, and sheep for days. Rob wasn’t super enthused to show it off, rather waxed nostalgic about his massive road trip through the U.S. with our mutual friend.IMG_3936-2 I suppose the grass is always greener on the other side of the pond. Anyhow, we didn’t end up at Stonehenge until 5:00pm and they sell the last ticket at 3:00pm…a smidge late. Nonetheless, there was a farmer road with a spectacular view that we stopped on so I could take some photos as the sun was setting a gorgeous fire in the sky – it was idyllic rural England.

We got to Hayling Island around 7:00pm so we checked in with my grandpa’s cousin, Brenda. She is a spunky octogenarian who is mostly housebound these days but her memory is sharp as a tack. We had met back in the late 80’s but I honestly don’t remember so it was like meeting her for the first time. I stepped into the guest room she had ready for me and I was suddenly hit by a rush of emotion. She reminded me of my grandpa and everything that is always good in my life – my family. Having been relatively isolated for the majority of my trip, the warmth and comfort of family overwhelmed me. However, like a good English girl I had a stiff upper lip and went to dinner with Rob before he headed home.

The next day I was able to explore a little of Hayling Island and take some photos of the beach and the colorful shacks along the sea. Then me and Brenda got down to business, she showed me all her old family photos and stories about my granddad from when he was a child. I saw photos I’d never seen before plus all the photos she had saved of the American family throughout the years that she received from various relatives. It was really a rare experience to have this time with her and I was so grateful to do it. IMG_3944As I was leaving on Wednesday, it saddened me to think that this very kind, caring, family centric woman was never able to find a spouse or have children. Brenda is mostly on her own but clearly has that light of life within regardless. She asked for a selfie for crying out loud! I also taught her how to use Skype on her iPad – gotta love it.

I got into Paris Wednesday night to crash with my friend I had stayed with previously. The night consisted of just Netflix and pizza, I needed the downtime. The next day I had all my final purchases to make before leaving Europe including: purses, cheese, wine, chocolate, and a French reuseable bag to haul the goods onto the plane. By Thursday evening I was packed and itching to go home especially since a lovely cough had cropped up. Friday morning I took off early and boy was I glad I left four hours before my flight. Every part of the airport process took ages plus I found out the hard way that Speculoos and Caramel flour de sel is considered a liquid. Good shit just thrown in the garbage. Why don’t they donate that stuff to charity? I suggested this at security but you can imagine the reception. By the time I used the restroom, picked up Laduree macarons, and some new caramel flour de sel my plane was boarding. Thank God for small miracles, I’m currently writing this mid-flight with my legs stretched across the seat next to me. Hallelujah!

33 days, 4.5 weeks, 9 flights, 7 countries, 6 languages, 4 currencies, 3 Tinder dates, and countless memories. I can’t wait to get home to the Emerald City.

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London: and the luck worsens…then kicks off again

I’m sure by the title you can guess that this post isn’t going to be all raves. In fact, the bad karma followed me from Ireland and just got worse. I am starting to feel like a whiny baby. Here comes the complaining: I was on my flight from Dublin to London and everything was peachy, flight left on time at 4:55pm and I was sure I’d get into London with enough time to make a quick change and head out on a Friday night to meet some Brits. This is what actually happened…I had booked a cheap bus from Stansted to central London – the bluddy thing took 2.5 hours. It was 9:30pm by the time I reached my AirBnB. Since I had such positive experiences thus far with AirBnB I didn’t think this one would be much different. Well, it wasn’t pleasant. I showed up to the flat that was well off the beaten path of Baker Street and no one answered the building buzzer for entry. A nice woman let me in as we moaned about the freezing temps. I arrive on the fifth floor walk up to find a bit of a sketchy hallway and knock on the door I was instructed to use by my AirBnB host. After ten minutes someone finally answers and they are completely unaware of who I am or why I’m there. Turns out this AirBnB is a boarding house with no host present on site.

I go inside and the people there are definitely nice but the whole thing feels off and uncomfortable. I text the host but I’m not receiving a response. There is no key for me and when I’m shown the only empty room that isn’t padlocked (assuming it’s my room) I’m just not okay with this set up. The walls were paper-thin, the New Yorker staying next to me was Facetiming with his wife and I heard every word like he was in the room with me. There was ONE full bathroom for probably five (those are the only ones I saw) people. After an hour of not hearing from the host, I booked a nearby hotel via Expedia. Keep in mind, my AirBnB has been paid for and the likelihood of a full refund is slim. Nonetheless, as a solo female traveler I need to follow my gut so I put on my pack and head out on the streets to walk to the hotel.

Buckingham Palace SelfieI get to the hotel and they don’t have the room I had booked via Expedia so after 15 minutes of the manager calling around he tells me another hotel in their Shaftsbury chain has room for me. He calls me a comped cab and I go to Notting Hill, I get inside the next hotel and the desk person says they don’t have room there either that I should’ve gone to a different hotel. I’m just spent with patience so I get a little flip but they call me another comped cab and I head back to Paddington. I finally get a room and by the time I’m checked in and my room key works (first try failed), it’s past midnight! Not to mention, I wasn’t really sure where I had landed – thank God for GPS. As of this posting I still don’t know if I’m getting any money back from AirBnB. EDIT: As of today (2/22/15), I was refunded the full amount from AirBnB, they agreed the housing I encountered was not up to their standards.

The following day I was just in a horrid funk over the massive money hit I had to endure due to the unforeseen circumstance plus it’s grey and shitty outside but at least I have the BBC, ITV, and my own loo. I walk across Hyde Park to Harrod’s and it was definitely a sight to see – total chaos but beautiful in it’s own opulent way. Then I wander over to Buckingham Palace to take a selfie for the Facebook crowd then wander north. I walked for ages and didn’t see any other significant sites, just the park and a circus or two. I decided to find the nearest Sainsbury’s to my hotel which happens to be in Paddington Station so I saw the bear and the infamous train hub. I also loaded up on water, snacks, and breakfast foods for my mini fridge. Then I went back to my hotel to sulk a bit.

IMG_3924After some amusing conversation with friends back home I decided the best plan of action to raise my spirits was to see a British movie in England so I saw Kingsman: The Secret Service. It worked. Coincidentally, I was also being messaged by a fellow traveler on Tinder during the film. Even though I swore I was quitting Tinder tourism after the last experience, something said this guy was different. My gut was right, we were to meet after the movie but it didn’t end up working out so we planned for Sunday night instead. Sunday was bright both literally and figuratively. Off character for me, I decided to board a tourist Hop On Hop Off bus so that I could see all the major sites without having to buy multiple underground tickets which happen to be at least 4 pounds one way. It was a beautiful day and I got some wonderful photos and managed to get off the bus just in time to walk back to the hotel to change and call an Uber before my high tea reservation at Grosvenor House.

IMG_3930The high tea was fantastic, beautiful place setting, a setting sun, lovely music, and the food was amazing but overall too much quantity. I took a doggie bag and decided to do a bit shopping on Oxford and Bond Street. I visited Selfridge’s, Burberry, Chanel, etc. until all the shops closed around 6:30pm then called another Uber (Thank God for Uber!) to get back to the hotel. Ordered curry take away and watched some tele before heading out to meet up with the Brazilian. We met at a nearby pub and he was quite friendly and interesting so we ended up going out in Shoreditch. However, getting there on the underground was a mess – took us over an hour to make it to Whitechapel.

Whitechapel in famous for one person, Jack the Ripper. When we got out of the tube which was closing for the night, the staff warned us not to walk the streets at night. I seriously didn’t think this area was dangerous anymore so we ended up taking a cab to Shoreditch. We got there and found a bar where we were easily 10 years younger than everyone and the music was just repetitive. Eventually we left and found our way to a place playing old school hip hop and really began our night. We didn’t get out of there until 4:00am! It was a great night and happy to leave London with a better impression than when I started. The next day after very little sleep, I checked out and caught a train to Haslemere to meet Rob for a mini road trip through southern England to Stonehenge! Stay tuned…

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Northern Ireland: throners unite!

IMG_3893After my stint in Dublin I was lucky enough to meet up with family friend’s just over the Northern Ireland border in Warrenpoint, a sleepy coastal town. Deirdre and Dwayne were extremely generous with their time and money while I was visiting. Deirdre is a native of Warrenpoint and you know it while walking down the street since she seems to know everyone. I was treated to many pubs and restaurants around the town as well as a Game of Thrones tour of the North.

Initially I wasn’t too keen on the idea of a tour since it seems to be a lot of time spent on a bus rather than out meeting natives. However, our group was very small (6 people total) so we were able to see and do a lot in a short period of time. Including a bit of cosplay and a few non-show related stops like Giants Causeway. IMG_3896I met a few girls who were fun and willing partners for dress up and photos. Dwayne and Deirdre joined in as well although they were admitted novices as far as GOT knowledge but they enjoyed themselves. I didn’t see Jon Snow (Kit Harington) or Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) but I got a nice overview of the northern coast of the Emerald Isle.

The remainder of my stay mostly included nearby sites including a castle, a grand park, and other quaint coastal villages. I was invited to the town ceili but I was stupid enough to pass it up for a horrid Tinder encounter. Since D&D are my parent’s age I wasn’t interacting much with my age group so I thought it might be nice to get a little freedom and meet up with someone in Dundalk. Boy was I mistaken! I should’ve gone to the ceili and danced with harmless folk. Ugh, wasted loads of money on cab fare for a Irish wanker. If you want further details we’ll have to meet for a proper drink and the craic. I think I’ll be avoiding Irish men for a long time…IMG_3905

My final day in Warrenpoint included recovering from my awful date by getting outside for a couple walks along the sea and lunch at Fusion which was a nice hip place in the point. I highly recommend people checking it out if you happen to be in that area. We also crawled a few pubs along the square and ended up back at Ye Old Ship for acoustic music around 10:00pm. It was a good low-key day. I’m afraid my energy level wasn’t as high as it should’ve been but bad dates tend to deflate my tires plus I’ve weirdly found my comfort zone is solitude. I’m an extrovert by most standards and I love meeting people but when I’m ailing from anything (cold, ankle injury, mistreatment by others) I just feel like being alone.

Hopefully my rather somber nature didn’t offend anyone but it was unavoidable. Maybe I’ll come back to Ireland another time and hang with Kieran again, he was the only exception in my Irish male interactions (Dwayne doesn’t count since he’s an American expat). Many thanks to Deirdre, Dwayne, and Kieran!

Dublin: where luck of the Irish is B.S.

I know I’m going to sound annoying to some of you when I say this but I’ve found out that I really don’t like being around a lot of other Americans when I travel. I think I was spoiled with the first half of my trip since I went to non-English speaking countries and visited places where a blonde American such as myself is exotic to some extent, at least this time of year. IMG_3874I got to learn a few words in other languages, met some interesting English is not their first language folks (thus exotic to me), and had a grand time. Now, I’m in Ireland which I was really jazzed about when planning my trip thinking that it would be a nice reprieve and maybe comforting to finally get to a place where communication wouldn’t be a problem. Turns out, I was wrong – it feels blasé.

However, Dublin is a great city and there is PLENTY of partying to do here if you’re into that sort of thing but expect to pay a high price and to meet/hear American English all over. I suppose being near Trinity College helps in terms of the amount of Americans around not to mention my proximity to Temple Bar. When speaking with my AirBnB host, Kieran, there seems to be a lot of cultural seepage happening from the U.S. with the presence of big companies like Amazon so there is little if no culture shock happening here for me which is not that fun. The biggest differences so far are currency (Euro) and driving on the wrong side of the street…whoopy.

IMG_3862I did my tourist duties by visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral (first one I had to pay to get into thus far), Dublin Castle, Trinity College library, Book of Kells, Stiffy on the Liffy, and the old Jameson distillery. It was freezing but at least clear and sunny, however, the next morning after unsuccessfully going out in Temple Bar the night prior, I woke up with a sore throat. Strike one for luck! I had even touched the Jameson millstone three times the day before – bastard stone. Kieran was kind enough to fix me Lemsip with honey and Bushmill’s to cure my throat, which I seemed to help but I ended up having a low-key Saturday. After spending an afternoon at The Library Bar at the Central Hotel reading and writing, I got some chippers at the Stag Head pub then walked to the infamous Cobblestone in Smithfield to listen to some trad music and have a pint. I may have attempted to take a sneaky photo of a couple of guys at the pub with big bushy beards and stylish hair cuts (alá Sons of Anarchy) but accidentally had my flash on…needless to say I didn’t get the photo and nearly left the pub out of mortification. However, I met a nice young family with a little 20-month-old boy who was so keen to dance to the trad music.

The dad found me spot up by the band and took me up there to watch nice and close, literally sitting in the music circle. The little red-headed boy just spun in circles in front of me while fiddlers and guitarists played beautiful music. It was quintessential Ireland. When I gave up my seat in order to use the bathroom, I ended up sitting next to a guy name O’Shayne at the bar who had just moved back to Ireland from Canada. He was an interesting fellow but we mostly just engaged in pub talk.

The biggest and best surprise of Dublin came the day after. I had drunk a few pints of Bulmer’s at The Cobblestone and decided to go low-key the rest of the night and grab take away after making a pit stop at my AirBnB. On my way back to the flat, I stepped wrong on uneven stones one the sidewalk and twisted my ankle. Strike two for luck! I limped back to my room and hoped it would heal quickly. When I told Kieran, my host, the next morning he offered me a ride to the busárus where I was going to depart for Warrenpoint. Not only did he drop me at the bus station, he ended up giving me a driving tour of the coast north of Dublin including Howth and Malahide among other beautiful places. It was a gorgeous clear but cold day and I was very grateful for such a generous host, I was able to see parts of Ireland I never would have seen otherwise.

Once I parted ways with Kieran, I made my way to Northern Ireland and the legendary Warrenpoint. To be continued…

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Prague: 25 Czech koruns for a dollar

If you can’t tell by the title of this post, I am amazed by how incredibly affordable the Czech Republic is compared to the rest of Europe. Granted, I was aware it would be fairly cheap but with the exchange rate I ate all my meals for $20 or less total. As in the entire day’s worth of food cost $20 in restaurants. What?! You can buy a beer for 25 koruns…that’s $1. IMG_3814If I was European, this would be the place to come for Bachelorette, grad, or any other party that involves getting massively drunk – it would only cost $8 for me to be wasted.

If the affordability of alcohol and food isn’t great enough, I decided with such low costs all around me, I should pamper myself before I hit the super expensive stops in the UK. I booked a massage, manicure, and a pedicure…$100 for all of it. Crazy!! Granted, there are plenty of spas in Prague that charge US luxury prices but I went to Mystic Temple (a Thai place) and it was a very nice facility with phenomenal prices. I really needed that massage after the weeks of lugging my pack around and sleeping in random beds – definitely worth it. Same goes for my feet.

IMG_3843CAUTION: as much as I rave about Prague, non-smokers please take heed. They have NOT banned smoking indoors in this part of the world. Everywhere you go there are people smoking and it stinks both literally and figuratively. Luckily, I found a wonderful café within easy walking distance from my AirBnB rental called Café Louvre that has a smoking section on the opposite side of the large restaurant so that those of us who would rather not relive our youthful mistakes by contracting lung cancer, can eat with clean air. Apparently, the likes of Kafka and Einstein have patronized this place and I can see why. It is in a beautiful building in the heart of the city centre with a vibrant buzz of stylish customers. The service is brisk and the most you’ll spend on a full breakfast is the equivalent of $8 which includes tea/coffee, juice, bread, eggs, cheese, and/or pancakes.

Coincidentally, this café is located three floors above the bar where I decided to go out on my last night in Prague. After a lovely spa day, I decided I should take my refreshed ass out on the town. I scoured the web for recommendations and decided hanging with the alt crowd is definitely the way to go for me – Seattlite all the way – so I looked at Rock Café. They were having a show for Kensington, a Dutch band I had never heard of but when I checked them out on Spotify decided they were my kind of music. So, I bought a $15 ticket and showed up at 8:00pm. I watched the opening act, Holden Caulfield, a Czech band which was pretty fun to watch then thought this room full of 15-year-olds might start getting old if Kensington isn’t as good as this crowd around me indicates.

After being crunched four people from the stage by an increasingly exuberant crowd, Kensington took the stage at 10:00pm and it rocked! The kids were insane and so energetic it was contagious. I was dancing and throwing my hands up and I didn’t even know the songs which definitely put me in the minority in this audience. The band was lively and so stoked by their fans’ energy that it only got better as the show went on. I was hooked. Unfortunately my phone died quickly during the show so I only got a partial video of one song, which is posted here. Before the final finale song (you know they had to have a false ending then returned to the stage for two or three more) the lead singer suggested the crowd stay afterwards to hang out and have a beer. I thought, “Is he for real? That never really happens in the U.S. for bands that are obviously a big deal.”

Nonetheless, I thought I’d lallygag around the club for a bit after the show to see if this hang session was really going to happen. I was definitely interested in letting them know how fun their show was and how I’ll be sharing their music with my American friends/blog readers. I also kinda wanted to meet the lead guitarist because he reminded me of a college crush and on stage he seemed really cool – so, what the hell right? I was on the brink of leaving, I had gotten my coat from the cloak room (50 cents) when I realized that I had pushed past the bassist in retrieving my coat. So, I decided to wander back that direction just to see if they were all out and if I could at least squeeze in a guitarist introduction.

Well, I did and we ended up hanging out for a bit talking about music, Seattle, labels, touring, etc. There were multiple disruptions, to be expected, but due to this hang out I met some other cool chicks (one in another band, Mydy Rabycad) and other Kensington band members. I joked that I was just pretending I belonged in this scene and Casper (guitarist) said, “You should hang out.” So, he got me a drink and I just stuck around until the bar closed and we got kicked out. It was pretty fucking cool, the whole experience and I’m very proud of myself for sticking around since I tend to be that shy person that says one reasonably intelligent thing then just leaves. I’ve never been one to engage in sycophantic or groupie behavior but I think I am immune to that label this time since I didn’t know who they were 48 hours ago.

Regardless, I think all of you should watch my short video (sorry my phone died mid song) then check out Kensington on Spotify or iTunes and see what kind of trend we can start so they can tour in the U.S. I’ve already used what little social media pull I have via Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to get some Seattle buzz going for the band. We shall see what happens!

I highly recommend Prague to anyone who wants to experience a beautiful European metropolis on a budget. The city of spires did not disappoint even in frigid temperatures. Just beware of the smoke because it’ll stick to you even if you don’t partake but if you’re lucky that stale tobacco smell will remind you of a night you spent with a cool Dutch band.

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Italy: Ciao, Ciao!

After a lackluster visit to Switzerland I was looking forward to another spicy culture and visiting with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. Arriving in Venice via bus was a good way to see what the locals would be like as we slowly headed towards the infamous sinking city. My first encounter outside fellow travelers was an adorable Italian family. Mama, papa, and two bambinos. IMG_3782The unity of the famiglia was something I came to see was a universal value. I suppose we all have this assumption about Italians due to our overexposure as Americans to the mafia and what we see in Italian-American culture in places like New York and Chicago but I wasn’t sure what the real Italy would be like. Well, it was a pleasant surprise to see young, old, men, and women just adore children. My friend has twin girls that are 15 months old and the attention they garnered was fascinating and heart warming.

Nonetheless, once the bus arrived in Venice I was first struck by the smell. Yes, Venice stinks. It depends on your level of olfactory sensitivity but I’m from the Pacific Northwest where most of the time (ahem, Tacoma) the air is clean with little fragrance other than pine tree scent. Venice has the smell of…stagnant sea water. Aqua alta (high water) is a continual problem for the city which means the water from the sea begins to seep up through the pathways of the city and puts everything under a few inches of water. It seemed possible that this had occurred recently judging by said smell and the puddles. Surprisingly, the water in the canals was still a glorious blue/green color regardless of hundreds of years of extreme pollution. How do they do it? Food coloring like Chicago on St. Patty’s Day? Doubtful.

IMG_3726Walking through the city attempting to get from Piazzale Roma to Piazza San Marco, I quickly found out why people say it’s impossible not to get lost in Venice. It’s insane. I utilized my phone’s GPS nearly the entire afternoon just in the interest of being on time for my train to get back to Vicenza where I was staying with my friend. I had my large pack on my back so I didn’t love all the small passageways and tempting shops. Instead I took a few photos to prove my arrival then sat in a ristorante for two hours giving my back a break, utilizing free wifi, and writing about Switzerland. I gave myself an hour to find my way back to the Stazione Santa Lucia and boy was I happy did that because it took the entire hour.

After a 1 hour train ride I met up with a friend I have known since kindergarten but haven’t seen in years. She lives in Vicenza with her husband and twin girls, they teach for the military and have lived in the Azores Islands in Portugal and now here in Italy. They have a big beautiful home with two extra guest rooms and bathrooms with all modern American amenities. It was great to be there and reconnect with a long-lost friend. We decided that I would be on my own Friday then we’d wing it for the weekend. After a good sleep albeit not long, Tinder traffic was a little nuts, I woke up early ready to shop and wander Venice. This turned out to be the best solo day of my trip.

IMG_3736I started out coming off the train pretty early, 9:30am, by Italian standards so I just strolled the streets waiting for shops to open. I came across one of a thousand Venetian Mask shops and decided to go in to check them out. I think I was in there an hour trying on 30 masks yet only scratching the surface of what they had. I also tried on a cape, it was all so magical, the promise of intrigue at Venetian Carnivale. I ended up buying WAY too much but I think come next Halloween, it’ll be totally worth it. I wandered a little more and found more shops to buy presents for my Italian-American friend who was excited to get some legit Italian goods. Somehow, I found myself walking down a street along one canal and I saw a professional costume shop with custom professional Carnivale stuff in the windows and decided to check it out. I went in and browsed the vintage costume jewelry, finding a wonderful pearl bracelet that fit perfectly. The mama of the operation (who spoke no English) followed me around, finally forcing me to try on a handmade bronze embroidered cape they had made. I tried to take a photo but mama would not have it. Even though it was 70euro (reasonable considering) I couldn’t justify two capes. However, I left that shop thinking that experience of being bubbied by an Italian mama was priceless.

IMG_3744I kept on wandering headed leisurely toward Piazza San Marco, ended up in Furla and made more unnecessary but fabulous purchases from an adorable guy, Alexio. I forced him to allow me a photo for my records. I have left a trail of embarrassed men behind me on this trip. Then decided at 2:00pm, maybe it was time for some sustenance. I hadn’t eaten all day but was running on a shopaholic high. I stopped into Caffe Florian, a place a friend had Pinned for me when she heard I was going to Venice, and it did not disappoint. It was expensive but the environment, place setting, and service was well worth the price. After my light meal I decided to check out Marina Rinaldi, the only Italian designer catering to the curvy lady (Italian women are TINY). I had personalized service, bottled water, chocolates, a shop girl catering to all my needs. Of course, I’m not used to this kind of thing so I probably said “Grazie” five thousand times. I ended up buying two tailored dresses that were classic and gorgeous plus an off the shoulder sweater that I’m currently wearing while I write this. Worth it!

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If all this consumerist glut wasn’t enough, I had quite a ride home. I eventually made my way back to the train station, a little earlier than anticipated but ready to unload my insane bags. I buy my ticket and the train’s platform has not been announced so I need to find a place to lounge while I wait. I look around and see this group of benches near one of the displays, as I’m walking I see this really cute guy sitting at the end and no one else is seated near him so I make a B-line. I ungracefully place my bags around me as I not so subtly check him out. I look at him, he looks up, I look away – repeat. I keep telling myself to not be a chicken and just ask him something completely inane to start a conversation. He’s editing a paper of some sort but I can’t will myself enough courage, instead I take a sneaky photo. Soon after, he gets up and leaves. I look at the display and my platform has been called so I grab all my bags and head that way. When I start to walk down the platform I see him getting on the same train. Yes! IMG_3760I engaged in slightly stalkery behavior by boarding the same car and following him to the same area of the train but sat a few rows away. I sit assuming the likelihood of anything happening at this point being slim to none. Out of nowhere, he appears in the stairwell directly across from my seat and I can’t help but smile at him. Out of reflex shyness I make eye contact, smile, then look away. He stops and asks, “Where are you from?” I may have been a little exuberant in answering but this started a conversation. I’ll spare you details but I told him I’d be in Milano (where he lives) on Monday and he suggests that maybe we grab a beer while I’m there. Winning!!!!!!!!! Best. Day. Yet.

IMG_3793The remainder of the weekend was chill, full of amazing food, wine, and toddler time. I was so happy to see some parts of Italy that I never would have seen if it weren’t for my friend, Nikki. I did the whole Romeo & Juliet experience including their castles in Montecchio and the balcony in Verona. It was wonderful and I loved every minute. It is now Monday and I’m sitting in Milano writing this post and I’m sad to say my drink date with Rias, the train guy, did not pan out. He had a busy day and couldn’t find a way to see me during the short hours I am here. :( Nonetheless, we’re connected on WhatsApp and you never know what may happen.

IMG_3785Italy has been pretty magical and I do enjoy the culture molto. I have more stories but these are the best ones. Nikki and her husband are often gone for two months during summer and need a house sitter for the dog…thinking of how I can make that happen. Living in northern Italy would be beautiful thing. I can’t wait to come back!

One note: Italy has a bad reputation for being unpredictable and often late with its transportation. I was lucky enough to not experience this at all until my final train ride. The train to the airport from Milano Centrale was a complete clusterfuck. Every train headed for Malpensa was canceled or severely delayed. I finally boarded a train that I technically didn’t buy a ticket for (I bought for Trenitalia but boarded Trenord) just to ensure I got to the airport in a reasonable amount of time. Thank God they didn’t check tickets but I’m sure I could’ve played the ignorant American card – I wonder how many people never made it in time. I only managed to arrive thirty minutes before boarding and my flight was half full. Ugh. Ciao, ciao!

Switzerland: the stop of disappointments

First off, let me apologize that my blogs are going to be heavy on man commentary. Most of my readers know I’m single and when you travel alone it’s kind of high time to put yourself out there for adventure/dating. 2015/01/img_0046.jpgSo, pardon all the wink-wink-nudge-nudge content but you’re just gonna have to deal or stop reading. #sorrynotsorry

I arrived in Basel after a short flight from Barcelona to find a grey cute germanic town that I honestly didn’t have much desire to explore. Nonetheless, I decided to find a place for lunch so I could take my pack off, relax, and write my Barcelona post. While taking the bus to the train station I kept my eyes peeled for spots while simultaneously trying not to stare at the handsome guy next to me. He was an older Swiss version of Andrew Hozier-Bern – swoon! We arrived at the train station and I walked back to a place I had spotted – Tacoteca. First I checked out the Marktplatt but it was not as promising. So, my first meal was Mexican in Switzerland…well, Basel is on the border of Germany, France, and Switzerland but technically I was in Switzerland. The south of the border cuisine seemed fitting in an ironic way.

After eating a relatively good, albeit not authentic, Mexican meal – I met a nice American ex-pat living in the area. He told me his name but I can’t remember it. We had a long talk about living abroad and he gave me some tips and hints about Switzerland including warning me of the awful prices and exchange rate for Americans. He also gave me a pep talk regarding prospecting European work via international companies – he also guessed my age at 25 or 26…winning! While we were discussing family, taxes, etc. he tells me that his son is an undergraduate in Germany and the tuition is…free.

2015/01/img_0044.jpgThe next morning I woke up with a start, in the midst of a dream I had forgotten where I was and rolled over as if I had more bed to utilize. Instead, I ended up with a chair corner jabbed into my clavicle. It was unpleasant and I can still feel it. Later in the day, I realize that I could never live in Switzerland, especially the German side. It was a yawn fest and EVERYONE smokes. It’s gross. I explored Bern in a matter of hours on Tuesday, it was a beautiful city but there is not much to it. Parliament – check; Barengraben – check; Zytglogge – check; Old Town – check; Rosengarten – check. Since the exchange is abominable I didn’t shop at all and only bought lunch, otherwise ate food from the grocery store (Coop) I had stored at my host’s apartment.

2015/01/img_0043.jpgRather than complain like some ungrateful bastard, I should say that I am so lucky to have friends that are willing to help me find free places to stay. Michal is a friend of a friend’s mother and he allowed me to stay in his apartment alone while he was in Poland taking care of his parents. Since he was unable to be home to host me, I didn’t have access to the mountains and skiing but I’m extremely thankful for his generosity.

I packed certain base layers and socks assuming I would be able to ski or do some winter activity while I was here in the Alps but now they are dead weight. Ugh, totally bummed especially since that’s the only exciting thing happening around here during this time of year. When Daniel, Michal’s son, met me at the train station to show me the apartment and give me the key he told me that a store staying open until 8:30pm is late for Bern. Yeah, I stayed in the apartment binge watching Netflix (thank God, it works in Switzerland) at night…exciting. Also, Tinder tourism in this area is pointless. Not enough attractive men – one on a bus is not enough.

On the up side, I was able to do some laundry in the community washer then line dried (yep, they don’t have dryers) and now I smell like a flowery European. I was also mistaken for a French woman a couple of times, no one had a clue I was American until I opened my mouth. The two dominant languages in Switzerland are German and French so most people saw me as probably a French speaker…maybe I should finally commit to learning it. I do feel like I connect with that culture and the men seem to like me.

Down side, my Spanish hair dryer doesn’t work in the Swiss electrical sockets. A girl just wants nice hair, is that too much to ask?! Luckily, I needed to wear a hat the entire time since the temp was around freezing the entire time and it was lightly snowing which was nice. Now I’m headed to Geneva to do a bit more touristing until I head to Nyon to bunk with another friend of a friend – Joanna until my flight to Italy!

2015/01/img_0042.jpgGeneva was much more my speed: urban, amazing shopping, lots of interesting people, and things to do. I was able to see the site where my favorite movie was filmed – Trois Couleurs: Rouge. It was such a thrill to walk Valentin’s steps considering I had thought of it so many times when watching the film. Within easy walking distance was the Grand Theatre, Old Geneva, and the Lake. I often forget how close together everything in Europe is so I end up buying a one-day transit pass but only use it once because I can walk the rest.

One cultural observation from Switzerland: trust. It seems as though the Swiss (or at least the Bernese) don’t worry much about crime and/or dishonesty. The transit let’s you on without checking your ticket, the neighbors leave their bikes and baby carriages in the stairwell. Unfortunately, they aren’t exactly warm people but they are honest and forthright. This sort of explains Michal offering up his apartment despite the fact that he has never met me. Staying with Joanna was interesting since she is a French/American expat – she grew up in France but lived a large part of adulthood in the U.S. until the economy tanked then moved with her hubbie to Switzerland. Her unique perspective was really fascinating to listen to especially since she was quite the exuberant talker.

I can’t say I connected well with the Swiss culture but I guess that is probably for the best since, according to Joanna, Americans aren’t exactly welcomed with open arms in Switzerland. Something to do with our banking laws…

A huge THANK YOU to Michal, Daniel, and Joanna for providing me free places to stay during a time when the Swiss Franc was destroying the American dollar. I am forever grateful!