Saturday, October 26, 2013


Hey everyone! I decided to move my blog over to WordPress. All of my posts have been imported over there, and that's where I will continue to write. So please click the link below to continuing reading what I have to say. :)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Halloween Double Features

Ah, October. One of my favorite months. The air gets a little more crisp, the leaves turn beautiful colors, and it's finally time to start preparing for one of the best holidays ever...Halloween! Halloween is so much fun for so many reasons; whether it's embracing the dark mysteries of the afterlife, or dressing up in costumes and pulling pranks and getting candy, it's a holiday that can be celebrated by all ages in very different ways. When you're younger, it's all about getting decked out in a fun or scary costumes and collecting all the candy your pillowcase can hold. When you're older, it's more focused around alcohol...which seems to be a recurring theme with adulthood.

But no matter if you've grown out of trick-or-treating and are now more concerned where the best and booziest Halloween party is going to be, other Halloween traditions will never go out of style. Going to haunted houses, carving pumpkins, and of course, watching scary movies. These are all essentials to celebrating Halloween, and I don't see myself refraining from partaking in these festivities anytime soon.

The horror genre has always had a special place in my heart. I'm more of a fan of the older, more established horror movies, but I'm always on the lookout for new movies that are bound to become classics in due time. I love compiling a list of movies to watch around this time of year... There's nothing better than curling up on the couch on a cold, rainy October night with hot cider and whiskey while watching some good horror movies. Below is a list of double features to watch on the nights leading up to Halloween.


These two movies are staples when it comes to watching movies on Halloween. With a masked boogeyman terrorizing neighborhood teenagers, John Carptener's Halloween set the tone for modern classic horror, and Scream pays homage to this formula. Both movies are great fun to watch.

Psycho/The Shining

Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick are two of my favorite directors because of their extreme care and attention to detail in each and every scene. Hitchcock's Psycho is known to have validated horror to be taken seriously as a film genre, and it's not hard to understand why after watching it. Kubrick's The Shining is one of the greatest and scariest movies I've ever seen. It's one of the only movies that truly instilled fear in me (and still does) when I first watched it.

I think these two films are great to watch as a double feature because they both take place in a lodging of some sort (Bates Motel in Psycho and the Overlook Hotel in The Shining), and the main characters lose their mind due to extreme isolation and are haunted by ghosts; Norman Bates is haunted by his mother and Jack Torrance is haunted by the ghosts of the Overlook. Both movies also feature some of the most classic and infamous scenes in cinematic history, with Pyscho's shower scene and The Shining's "Here's Johnny!" scene. Although, I think the twins scene will always be one of the scariest scenes in all of movie history...

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre/The Silence of the Lambs

One is a slasher film, while the other is a psychological thriller, but both feature diabolical cannibals who have a penchant for wearing human skin. Leatherface is the main terror in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but The Silence of the Lambs features both Buffalo Bill and Hannibal Lecter. All three characters have left a legacy in movie history. Both movies feature a number of disturbing, gory scenes, but I think Hannibal Lecter's escape scene is the best.

An American Werewolf in London/Shaun of the Dead

Two great movies that take place in London. Both movies do a fantastic job at combining scares, violence, wit, and humor to make enjoyable movies to watch around this time of year. An American Werewolf in London has its classic transformation scene, however I'm more partial to this perfect scene in Shaun of the Dead as being branded an instant classic...

Rosemary's Baby/Carrie

Two equally creepy movies that both feature a mother who bore children with demonic qualities. Rosemary is pregnant with the spawn of Satan, whereas Carrie develops her telekinetic powers after years of being taunted and bullied by her Christian fundamentalist mother and mean classmates.

House on Haunted Hill/Night of the Living Dead 

I don't think it's officially Halloween season until you've watched a Vincent Price movie! House on Haunted Hill is undoubtedly a classic, despite if its thrills and special effects are extremely outdated. But campiness and familiar scares is part of what makes Halloween an enjoyable holiday to so many well after childhood.

Then there's another black and white classic, Night of the Living Dead...the starter of all zombie flicks. I think the zombie flesh eating scenes still hold up to today's standards in grossness, and it still has one of the most surprising and disturbing endings even after all these years. Do yourself a favor and watch it if you haven't yet seen it...

Beetlejuice/Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Even if you're a big fan of truly scary and creepy movies like I am, you've gotta throw in family-friendly, fun movies around this time of year. Both movies are classics! Beetlejuice exemplifies Tim Burton's ability to seamlessly combine creepiness with his twisted humor, making Beetlejuice a good movie to watch at all ages.

I don't think I need to go too in depth as to the fame of the Harry Potter franchise. I chose Prisoner of Azkaban over the other movies because I think the movie is wonderfully whimsical and pretty dark; the terrifying Dementors are introduced and a werewolf is also featured! I think this is one of my favorite Harry Potter movies out of the eight adaptations, and that largely has to do with Alfonso Cuarón's direction and John Williams's score.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Travel Porn

 Conversation with my good friend, Kim, another avid traveler.

Ah, yes. The desire to travel and see the world is something I've had my entire life, and for the most part, it seemed like such a fantasy world to live such a life. Being tied down with school, work, and crushing debt really puts a damper on those dreams, yeah? So what did I do?

I became a person with an obsessive desire to pore over maps, globes, travel magazines/websites/blogs, and everything else I could get my hands and eyes on. and became my havens. Not only would I use sites like TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet to research cities and countries I was interested in, I would then go to to find flights. It wasn't enough to just see when and where these flights to my desired city were taking off, I went as far to look up what kind of plane it was. I looked up how long my layovers would be.

Once I reached my destination, I took to TripAdvisor to see where I would be staying. Where is the nearest train station from my hotel/hostel? I'd google subway maps in each city to try and familiarize myself with how each system works and what station I would get on and get off at depending on where I wanted to go. With the amount of time I've spent looking at street views via Google Earth and looking up public transportation maps in other cities, I'm surprised the NSA hasn't contacted me yet for a job.*

By the time I went to London in July, I was already pretty familiar with how the tube worked and I already knew how to get to certain places I wanted to see. I was setting out for a specific location in London with a group of girls on my trip, and I was leading the way and explaining what station we were to get on and off at. I remember having this exchange with one of them:

"I thought you've never been to London before?"
"I haven't."
"Then how do you know how to get there already?"
"Oh, I looked up the London Underground map way before our trip and looked up stations and stuff."

Hey, I never said my obsession was normal...

I know from the outside it seems like I must have OCD or I'm just super detail-oriented and I need to make sure everything is planned out perfectly, but honestly I'm not like that at all. I'm actually a pretty laid back, go with the flow kind of traveler. I enjoy doing these things and looking up these tiny details because it provides me comfort when I'm sitting at home daydreaming about when I'll be able to travel and go places I've longed to see for my entire life.

It's one thing for me to sit there and say, "Someday I'll get to Japan." But it's an entirely different thing for me to imagine taking off in a Boeing 777 at 5:35 PM at JFK, finally landing in Tokyo 14 hours later, then knowing which train I need to take to get to my affordable and clean hostel located in the heart of Tokyo.

Sometimes looking up the specifics of my fantasy trips are the closest things I have to actually getting there and experiencing it in real life. Knowing the ins and outs of a city's subway system, looking up Google street views of areas I'd like to visit, finding the booking availability of hostels, these are things that make it real to me when I'm sitting at home wishing I could just get up and go to the airport and be somewhere else in the world.

So while I'm not in a position in my life to have the ability to travel to these places, at least I can always rely on these travel porn sites to help curb my travel addiction. ;)

*Seriously though, don't spy on me. I'm sadly really boring. You'd just be wasting everyone's time.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Favorite Travel Songs

There's something so calming and peaceful about being able to put in your headphones and get lost in your own private world that your personal musical playlist gives you.

We all have our favorite playlists to listen to depending on what we're currently dealing with; whether it's dealing with heartache/a break up, a playlist for working out, a playlist to motivate and inspire yourself, or a nostalgic playlist filled with old, cheesy songs from your youth (you know, before your music tastes had a real chance to evolve).

When I'm traveling, I've got a handy selection of go-to songs I like to listen to. The combination of listening to familiar songs coupled with being in a strange, new place is very comforting to me. I found that listening to my music in certain situations really helped ease me and enjoy my travels so much more, especially during uneasy or restless moments that everyone is bound to experience when traveling. During long stretches riding on the bus, sitting in crowded and hot subways, or times when I was in a crowded hostel room and I just needed "alone" time. Listening to music helped me relax and instead of me thinking, "Are we there yet??" or "Get me OFF this fucking subway", I would think, "Hey, I'm en route to Italy right now...I can't believe I can actually say that." or, "I'm in London riding the tube...this is AWESOME."

Below is a list I've compiled of my favorite travel songs. Some are songs very specific to my most recent trip to Europe, but some are songs that I will always love to listen to, no matter where I'm traveling.

This Time Tomorrow by The Kinks

Well this one is a bit obvious, isn't it? The song is about traveling on a plane and wondering what will come tomorrow, after he arrives to his destination. The song even includes sound effects of a plane engine! How could you not enjoy this right before you're about to embark on an adventure?

Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) by Arcade Fire

The opening verse is my favorite of the entire song:
They heard me singing and they told me to stop,
Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock,
These days, my life, I feel it has no purpose,
But late at night the feelings swim to the surface.
'Cause on the surface the city lights shine,
They're calling at me, "come and find your kind."

Sometimes I wonder if the world's so small,
That we can never get away from the sprawl.
The lyrics reminds me of someone who is a bit of a wandering soul, someone who doesn't want to be tied down to the typical, corporate 9-5 lifestyle that we are often fed into believing is the only way to thrive... I think the lyrics are about someone looking for something more out of life, although they aren't totally sure where or exactly what that is. Reminds me

We Own The Sky by M83

The title says it all. This song is about freedom and independence, things I've found the most in myself when traveling.

LDN by Lily Allen

This song falls into the category of songs specific to my last trip. Lily has been one of my favorite singers since her debut, and I still listen to her music pretty much every day. I got unbelievably giddy on the bus ride from Wales to London, and as soon as we were within city limits of London, I could barely sit still in my seat. I was so excited to be seeing all of London's famous sites in person, and listening to Lily, a Londoner, while looking out the window and taking in London for the very first time was spectacular.

I Follow Rivers by Lykke Li

Another song that speaks to my wanderlust. The song is about following someone who is wild and unpredictable, like a river. Whomever, or whatever, you may be pursuing might be impossible, but there's still the journey, right?

Going to California by Led Zeppelin

Probably my favorite song of all-time. I've never been to California, but the message still remains the same. Going somewhere that you've romanticized and idealized about, even if your fantasies about the destination aren't always realistic or what they turn out to be. Took my chances on a big jet plane...

The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel

Another beautiful song about a lost and wandering soul drifting about...

Time To Pretend by MGMT

I'm feeling rough, I'm feeling raw in the prime of my life. A coming of age song reminiscing about simpler times in childhood, and the uncertainty of growing up and making your way in the "real world".

Such Great Heights by The Postal Service

Yeah, yeah...say what you want. But it's a great song, and remember this was probably your favorite song at some point in your life.

In My Life by The Beatles

Pretty self explanatory, just listen to the lyrics. Gotta love The Beatles and their beautiful and simple music.


Je T'aime... Moi Non Plus by Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg

This one is most definitely specific to my time in Paris... I was laying in bed sleeping one night with the balcony door open to get a nice breeze, when someone driving was stopped at a light and this song was BLARING from the car. It woke me up instantly, and I laid there in dark, in my little apartment in Paris, listening to Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg serenade each other in French. C'était magnifique!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Saying Goodbye and Decompressing

In my very first post, on the eve of my departure, I wrote about how I knew I'd be making strong bonds and friendships with the people I'd be traveling with. Little did I know how strong and powerful those bonds would be, so soon into my trip. It sounds so cliché to say, I know, but truly, my life has been changed from the 25 days I spent abroad. And most of it has to do with how I did it, and who I traveled with.

The night of our farewell dinner started off in the hostel bar where we all had some drinks before walking to the restaurant. One by one, we all eventually made our way down there and we started talking about our trip, our favorite memories, and our flights home. I didn't want to believe that this really was our last night together, I was having so much fun chatting with everyone but it was hard to ignore the fact because it was the topic of our discussions.

We made it to the restaurant, and the dinner went by as fast as the trip! I remember talking to my table about what our favorite cities were, how much we enjoyed our group, and everything else you would talk about at a farewell dinner. Later in the night a lot of us got up and mingled at other tables, then we walked back to the hostel. The night was still early (especially for Barcelona), and I know none of us wanted the night to end, so we ended up straight back at the hostel bar! The bar was a lot more crowded than it was when we left, and we all just hung out and drank some more.

The night was winding down, and my heart was getting sadder. I had been dreading our last night for at least a week, and I tried my best to shove it out of my mind and to live in the moment, so when the actual moment came for our last night, I had no choice but to live in it. I started crying when two girls, Gabby and Carly, left for the night. I really did start to lose it when I was outside with Megan, Darren, and Kevin. Kevin was being so cute and sweet and was telling Darren how much fun and amazing our trip was, and as I was listening to him talk, I started crying more and more. It was one of the very few times in my life that I've cried in front of people, but I didn't care. I just had to.

I eventually made it up to bed, I had to be up really early for my flight home the next day. I woke up the next day feeling as depressed as ever, but I can only chalk that up to being a good thing because it meant that I had the best time of my life. We all said our goodbyes at the airport, which was honestly a blur and I don't think I said goodbye to everyone which I feel bad about. Luckily, Ashlee was on my flight to Atlanta, and we both had long layovers there, so we hung out for a bit before we had to part ways for our flights home.

Now that I've had a few days to decompress and reflect on my trip, it absolutely was, hands down, the best time of my life. Every single day I felt happier than the last, and I found myself laughing at new memories every day. I've yearned to travel for as long as I can remember, and most of the time it felt impossible, especially the past few years. Having finally got the opportunity to do so, I honestly can't imagine it could have been any more perfect than it was. The trip fulfilled every thing I could have possibly wanted it to, and then some. It sounds so lame, but there were so many times in my trip where it felt like the stars aligned and things just seemed too perfect for me.

Obviously visiting so many amazing places was what made my trip so magical, but I feel so grateful and lucky that I got to experience those moments with the people I was traveling with. I completely underestimated how great it is to travel and bond with a bunch of strangers and become so close to them in such a short amount of time. I decided to travel with a group for the convenience, little did I know what a great decision it was because I made so many new friends.

Many of us were traveling solo, and it's funny how quickly you will bond with people when you are forced to. I am normally a pretty guarded person when you first get to know me, but I felt myself getting so close and comfortable with everyone really quickly, and it felt like we had known each other for years and years. I was telling and sharing things with my new friends that I haven't even shared with my friends back home. There were so many different personalities in my group, and we all came from very different backgrounds, but we all got along together so well and I loved spending time with everyone. I didn't feel weird or out of place with a single person in my group, there was always someone to talk to or hang out with. During our free time, it was always so easy to find a person to go out with because there was at least one person interested in doing something that you wanted to do.

There were times where I thought it was just too crazy how similar I was with certain people in my group and how, by chance, we ended up signing up for the same trip and ended up traveling together. Ashlee and I were roommates together in Dublin, and we roomed together in every other city after that because we just had so much in common and we got along so well. We were always on the same page, and we were just great travel companions. I don't know how it worked out so well, but it really did! It just felt like the stars aligned and we were supposed to meet and become roommates in our first city. I had so many of those "We were supposed to meet!" moments on my trip with many other people, I don't know if I believe in a higher power, but it's times like that where it's hard not to.

Another reason why my trip was so great was because of my tour director! Darren was just so awesome! He was so funny, cool, and he really made sure we were all prepared and ready to take on each city. It felt like we were traveling with a close friend, rather than a chaperone taking us around place to place. Darren made sure we were always at the right place at the right time for certain events, and was always so patient with us when he was explaining important details like public transportation, directions, meeting points, etc. He was so casual about everything, but he worked really hard behind the scenes to make sure everything was seamless for us. He would circle important points on all of our maps, write down the addresses of our hotels on the maps, and he always had interesting facts and anecdotes about each city or monument we were visiting. He also set up some optional excursions for us in each place that were so much fun and a lot of them were the highlights of my trip. Going to Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris was definitely one of my favorites, and Darren read us quotes from Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde, which was a real nice touch.

Darren was also such a good sport with our crazy group too, dealing with us messing with him on a constant basis, whether it was hijacking his phone and updating his Facebook status, trying (and failing) repeatedly to impersonate his English accent and British speak (swimming costumes?), or all of us wondering why the hell he was so obsessed with Notting Hill... But Darren also had his fun at our expense too! Making fun of our American accents (Feck off! Ehkwerddddd.), constantly pulling pranks on us and messing with us with his straight-faced sarcasm. I've never been on an EF tour before, but it's hard to imagine there are any better tour directors than Darren!

The memories made on this trip will stay with me forever, and going on this trip only solidified what I always knew, that I need to travel and see the world. I know my traveling adventures are far from over, and new memories will be made, but I don't think anything I will do will be able replicate how amazing my first time overseas was, for the reasons I just wrote about. Yes, seeing the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and going to the top of Mt. Pilatus were amazing and life changing, but the small moments of me getting to know everyone on my trip and having intimate conversations with them was what set this tour apart from any other tour across Europe. Whenever I told people back home that I was going to Europe for a month, everyone responded the same way, saying that I was about to have a life changing experience. Of course I believed them, but it was hard to truly grasp what they meant until I came home and realized how much my life has been changed and enriched. I fell in love with so many things while I was there, and learned so much. Now I just can't wait to move onto the next chapter in my life which hopefully includes a lot of traveling, and coming back in contact with all of my new friends.

Message from our hostel in Barcelona

 Our trip's theme song! 

Friday, August 2, 2013


After spending a lovely two days in Cannes, it was time for us to head to our last stop on the trip, Barcelona. I had a lot of mixed emotions heading to Spain, part of me was extremely excited for obvious reasons, but a cloud loomed over me because I was so not ready to be closing out my amazing journey.

Once we made it to Barcelona, we checked into our AWESOME hostel, then made our way to the beach to find dinner. I ended up at a restaurant right along the pier with Ashlee, Kevin, Courtney, and Hillary. I ate the best dinner, there was so much food for only 26 euros! We got four tapas to share, a main course, and a dessert. My main course was lobster and potatoes. And the tapas were huge! I was expecting really small plates, but the portions were quite large and we weren't able to finish any of the dishes. We were so surprised with how much food (and how good it was) for the low cost. After dinner, we made our way back to the hostel, which had a great bar with cheap drinks.

The next day was packed with fun activities. First we took a tour of Barcelona, we first ended at Park Güell, a park that was designed by Antoni Gaudí. My favorite architecture in the cities we visited was Barcelona, thanks to Gaudí. Very whimsical, nature inspired, and dream-like. You could honestly stare at one of his designs for hours.

After Park Güell, we made our way to Sagrada Familia, a famous Roman Catholic church also designed by Gaudí. This church is still under construction, and hopes to be completed by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudí's death. The church is absolutely breathtaking, so intricate and it's nothing like you've ever seen before. After the church, we cruised by a few more attractions, and then made our way up to see the best views of Barcelona. We were on top of a hill and saw the entire city below us, it was so massive and beautiful.

After our tour, Darren arranged for us to attend a paella cooking class, which was so much fun. We were all cramped in a small and very hot room, but that didn't matter once we got some tapas and sangria. Watching the demonstration and learning about the history of Spain's most classic dish was really interesting to me as well. My grandma was born in Spain, so it was special to hear about how important family and coming together is to cooking and eating paella. I'm sure my Grandma Jeanne was pleased to know that I finally made my way to Spain and got to eat true authentic paella in Barcelona. :) We also got to make our own sangria at the bar, which may not have been the most authentic experience as none of us had ever made it before and we were already a few glasses deep, was fun nonetheless.

After eating paella and drinking sangria, we had a chance to roam around Barcelona a bit more. I stopped at a cafe with Ashlee, Megan, and Jordan to get a cafe con leche. Darren told us how good Spanish coffee is, and if you couldn't tell from the name, cafe con leche is just coffee with milk. But how good it is! Dare I say I like it better than the many cappuccinos I drank while in Europe (sorry, Megan!)?

After our little coffee break, it was time to ride bikes throughout Barcelona! I was so excited to do this, I really wanted to do the countryside bike riding excursion in Amsterdam, but decided against it because we only had such a limited time in the city. When I heard we were going to have the chance to bike in Barcelona, I felt so much better about my decision because I loveeee bike riding and was glad that I was going to have a chance to bike while in Europe. 

Biking in Barcelona was intense! We biked through the city, which included tiny alleyways and streets, squares congested with people, crossing busy intersections, and anything else you could imagine you would find in a busy city. But it was so much fun! It was so liberating to see Barcelona while biking, we biked through Parc de Ciutadella where we went by a zoo and a beautiful fountain. We made our way to the beach and stopped there for about a half hour for a breather. Then we eventually made our way back to where we started from, but not without weaving in and out of all the traffic and chaos, which I liked.

After biking, we made our way back to the hostel to get ready to go out for the night. I wasn't very hungry after all the paella we ate, so I just got some patatas bravas at the hostel bar and some vino tinto. Barcelona has a huge nightlife, where people don't go out until very late (around 12 AM or 1 AM) and don't get back until the very early hours of the morning. It reminded me a bit of Buffalo, with it's late nightlife, and I really wasn't feeling it after such a long day. I decided to hang back at the hostel bar with a few people from my group and had a few glasses of wine and also caught up with some people back home.

The next day, Ashlee and I decided to head out to see Casa Balltó, a house that was designed by Gaudí that has since been turned into a museum. Each and every room was so interesting and different from the last, even though they all had Gaudí's signature elements. 

I heard that going Casa Balltó at night is a great experience, and I could tell with the lighting and all stained glass that it must be, but we couldn't go at night because that night was our farewell dinner...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Italy and Cannes

Leaving Switzerland was tough, but I think we were all excited to make it to Italy! We arrived at our hostel in Florence in the early evening, and then we set out to one of the main squares to explore and grab some dinner.

I got some dinner with Ashlee and a girl from our group named Courtney, and our first Italian meal was a success! We had good wine and pasta, then finished it off with some delicious tiramisu. So good. This time of year, Florence is filled with tourists, so Darren took us all to an American karaoke bar for the night, and that was FUN.

The bar was filled with mostly Americans and Australians, and while there certainly weren't many locals, it was still fun to meet others and hear about their traveling adventures. It was also a blast to sing along to the karaoke; the highlight was definitely Bohemian Rhapsody, Sir Mix-A-Lot, and the Spice Girls (naturally).

The bar definitely had a Chippewa vibe, which usually isn't my scene, but it was a perfect night and it was great to be out with my group.

The next day, we had a walking tour of Florence, and we were able to go inside the Duomo, which was stunning, however, the outside is much more beautiful than the inside. We went around the city a bit more, and everything was so beautiful and just seemed like classic Italy to me.

After the tour, Darren took us to a leather shop where we watched a demonstration  and we were able to do some shopping. We got a small discount because of our group, and we were able to get free gold embossing of or initials on our products. I bought a small suede purse and got my initials embossed on the front, the gold embossing looks great against the deep purple! 

After that, a lot of us went to a wine tasting excursion in San Gimignano. On our way there, Darren and our bus driver Carlos let us off to get a glimpse of the best view of Florence, and it was quite the view, that's for sure. Just gorgeous and very...Italian. We then set off to San Gimignano!

We were able to explore San Gimignano for a little over an hour, which gave us some time to eat some gelato and do some shopping. The gelato I had was unreal! I got a scoop of saffron flavor and a scoop of sparkling grapefruit wine flavor, and they were both divine! I did some window shopping after that, then it was time to head out to the wine tasting part.

The guys hosting the wine tasting were a trip. Just the typical flirty, attractive, charming Italian men that every American girl imagines. It was clearly part of their job, and I doubt they are REALLY like that when they are off the clock, but it was still entertaining.

The wine tasting was a lot of fun, we sampled about nine different wines and then got to purchase some. I bought a bottle of my favorite red wine, I think makes for a nice souvenir! 

The next morning, we set out for Pisa before heading to Cannes. The only thing that's really at Pisa is the famous Leaning  Tower. I got a kick out of all the tourist there doing the typical pose of trying to prop up the tower. 

After Pisa, it was time to head back to France! Unfortunately, we had a little hiccup traveling to Cannes because there was a car accident in a tunnel on our way there which left us stuck at a rest stop for a few hours. And it was HOT. And pretty miserable. But I guess it was better than being stuck on a bus for hours without being able to use the bathroom or get something to eat or drink.

When we finally arrived at Cannes, we almost instantly forgot about the horrible ride there, because we were staying at a freakin' resort! It was so beautiful, and our suite had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, kitchen, and a giant balcony. The suite I was staying at was called Niagara, which was cool for me!

Because we got in much later than was planned, all we had time to do that night was get dinner at the hotel and get some sleep.

The next morning we set out for the beach, which was unbelievable! We stayed there for hours just basking in the sun and swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. I had such a wonderful time, but despite applying and reapplying sunscreen several times, I still got killer sunburn. 

After swimming, a few of us walked around town a bit and did some shopping. Cannes was a just so beautiful and posh. The beach we went to was right next to the area where the famous film festival is held, so that was fun to see.

After shopping, we grabbed a cab back to our resort and had dinner. While eating, private jets were roaring over our heads either departing or landing nearby. Ah, the life of the rich! We stayed out for a few hours and had some great conversation, then we headed back to our room to have some wine on our balcony. While on the balcony, a fireworks show went off! What a perfect ending to a glorious day in Cannes.

The next morning we set off to Barcelona, where I am currently writing this entry in our really cool and trendy hostel. I cannot wrap my head around the fact that this is our last destination and I leave for home in two days. I am so, so sad to be at the end of my amazing adventure, but I guess all good things have to come to an end, and I think it's a good thing that I am sad to leave as opposed to yearning for it.

Barcelona has been magical, and I still have one more full day and night to experience it and enjoy this crazy journey until it's time to go home and back to reality. There are many complicated emotions whirling through me right now! Part of me wants this to go on forever, just to continue to travel the world, where each day is packed full of unbelievable moments, but another part of me is excited to see my family and friends and reflect on what I just experienced in three short weeks. And sleeping in my own bed will be nice...

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Beautiful, peaceful Switzerland

In my previous entry, I mentioned how Switzerland was one of the countries I knew the least about on my trip, but after visiting, it's definitely on my list of places to return to. 

Switzerland was the perfect the place to go to after the hustle and bustle of Paris. The air was the freshest air I've ever breathed, the water was so cold and refreshing, and wherever you looked there were astounding views of the beautiful Swiss mountains. I woke up and just laid in my bed for about fifteen minutes staring at the view outside my window.

Our hotel was located in a small ski resort town, and we ate dinner a sports center in town that had an ice rink with hockey players practicing! It reminded me of home; the sounds and the smells of an ice rink. The hockey players inspired me to wear my Sabres shirt the next day. 

We left for Lucerne the following morning,  we first went to the Lion Monument. The monument is to commemorate the bravery of the Swiss soldiers from the French Revolution. Darren told us that Mark Twain once said that the monument is the most moving statue ever, and after seeing it, I can see why he said that.

We then had a few hours to wander around town, then a bunch of us went on an excursion to go to Mt. Pilatus. We first took a boat ride across the like, which was amazing. I like being on (and in) the water, so I enjoyed being on the deck and again, witnessing all of the beautiful views.

We then arrived at Mt. Pilatus, and it was time to go up! We had to take a train up to the top, I learned from Darren that the train is the steepest cogwheel rail in the world. It felt like being on a roller coaster when its climbing its way to the top of the  first drop.

Once we made it up to the top, we got to wander around and explore. It was so humbling to literally be on the top of the world; a recurring theme on this trip (aside from the heat), has been me saying, "Is this really my life?" Being on top of the Swiss Alps was definitely one of those moments. Completely breathtaking.

After exploring, we had to go back down obviously. I'm actually pretty afraid of heights, so the gondola ride down was making me really nervous. The first gondola was sooo scary, but I made sure to stand up front because I wanted to take it all in. We were going pretty fast and it was so steep, I had a few internal freak out moments, but it was also exhilarating.

The second gondola ride wasn't so bad, it was smaller, but it felt slower and I got more relaxed as we were going down. There were only four people to each gondola, and it was Ashlee, a girl on our tour named Lisa, Darren, and me. We all had a nice conversation about the trip and about where we all lived, so that was nice, and it took my mind off my fear of heights.

After Mt. Pilatus, Ashlee and I found a marketplace along the lake and we did some shopping and then grabbed a beer and sat by the lake. Eventually we slowly started seeing people from our group and then we all got some food from some stands and then made it back to the bus to head back to our hotel.

Ashlee and I then took a long walk around town, which was so pretty and relaxing. We went on some walking paths and found a creek, then walked around town a bit more and admired all the beautiful homes and watched people dining outside of various cafes and hotels. When we made it back to our hotel, it was thundering and lightning in the mountains, it was so neat and peaceful for me to sit outside and watch the storm in the distance.

The next morning we had to leave early for Florence, and while we were all looking forward to Italy, I think there was a general consensus that we all wanted to stay in Switzerland a little longer. Everything about it was just so lovely, the sheer and overwhelming beauty. We've seen so much on this trip and so many different cities. I'm a city girl at heart, but it would be hard for me to pass up an opportunity to live in Switzerland, that's for sure.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Paris, Oh Oui Je T'aime

Ah, what else can I say about Paris that hasn't been said before? It's got to be the most romanticized city in the world, and now it's another city I can cross off my list of places I've been.

Our hotel rooms in Paris were more like apartments; equipped with a bedroom, living room, kitchenette, and a small balcony. 

For our first night in Paris we took a cruise down the Seine River and it was magnificent! Paris at night is so beautiful, especially along the river, with the lights reflecting in the water. The sidewalks along the river were lined with people picnicking and watching and waving at the boats passing by. We got to cruise by some major Parisian attractions like the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Louvre. 

The next day we got up early and took a sightseeing tour around the city. We saw other major Paris sights such as Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe. After the tour, many of us went on the optional excursion to the Palace of  Versailles. I couldn't wait to finally see it in person! When I first learned about Versailles in high school, I knew I had to see it one day. I also read a biography about Marie Antoinette (Marie Antoinette: The Journey), so I also had a heightened interest in seeing Versailles because of that.

The sheer luxury you experience when you are in the presence of this wonderment is hard to explain, or justify with pictures. We got to get lunch and eat it in the gardens before heading into the palace, and I could have spent an entire day exploring the gardens alone. So beautiful, intricate, immaculate, and vast! Everywhere you looked it seemed there was an endless stretch of more beautiful gardens.

After exploring the gardens, we were able to go into the palace, I kept having to touch the walls and the marble, because I think it's always so neat whenever I'm at a place that has so much history, knowing that I'm at a place that I've learned and read about for years.

The palace itself is intense. It is HUGE. Our guide said during its time, thousands of people llived there, and no one knows how much it cost to build it. For measure, I remember my professor in college told us that if Steve Jobs and Bill Gates got together to try and rebuild it, they would both go bankrupt. 

I'm so grateful I was able to see this amazing palace in person; it was so fun to imagine the halls filled with royals and servants alike from centuries ago, instead of all the tourists.

Later that night, Darren organized a dinner for everyone at a nice restaurant in the Latin Quarter. For €45, we got a three course meal, a glass of champagne, and unlimited beer and wine. There was also two men playing live music and singing. They played a few songs from one of my favorite movies, Amelie, so that was really nice! They also played a song called Aux Champs-Élysées, and all the locals were singing along to it, so I felt special that I knew the song and got to sing along as well.

Our table decided to get a bunch of appetizers and share them. I was most interested in the frog legs and escargot. And they were both really good! Frog legs had a similar texture to fish, and the escargot was similar to clams or mussels. I also got some duck and a peach dessert, all really good. It was such a fun evening, the restaurant was really small so the atmosphere was really intimate, everyone was singing, clapping, and dancing to the live music. The ride home was also a good time, two of my roommates and myself caught a cab with Darren, and I think I remember singing a not-so-sober rendition of Michael Jackson... 

The next day, my roommate Ashlee and I set out to the Musee d'Orsay. The museum was huge, the first floor was loaded with amazing sculptures and paintings, but we were most interested in the top floor which was filled with paintings with artists like Van Gogh, Monet, and Pissaro. So many paintings to feast your eyes on, many that I've never seen before! There was also a terrace at the top, with stunning views of Paris.

After the museum, we stopped at a cafe for some lunch and then walked along the Seine on our way to Notre Dame. There were many stands selling souvenirs and other neat trinkets along the way, and I bought some really neat posters and prints. When we got to Notre Dame, the bells were going off just as we arrived, so that was cool!

Later in the evening, we met up with a few other people from our group and had a picnic right outside the Eiffel Tower. We had crepes and wine, we all felt so Parisian (okay, and also kind of touristy, let's be honest...). Eventually, Darren and other people from our group found us and we all just sat and chatted and drank wine and had a great time. Every now and then I had to remind myself that I was sitting in front of the freakin' Eiffel Tower. So amazing. Then it was time to go up!

The views were amazing, and it was really windy. Again, I made sure to touch posts and rods just to remind myself that I was on the Eiffel Tower! Sometimes you get so caught up in the chaos and excitement of it all that you really forget what you're doing and where you are.

The next day, Darren took those who were interested to Pere Lachaise to see Jim Morrison's and Oscar Wilde's graves. The cemetery itself is very massive and very beautiful. Jim Morrison's grave had barriers around it because people used to party and have sex by it (although as Darren aptly pointed out, that's probably something Jim Morrison would have loved). Despite the barricades, his grave was still loaded with pictures, notes, and other mementos left by fans who had jumped the barrier.

We also visited Oscar Wilde's grave, which had a glass protectant surrounding it because women would kiss his grave and leave lipstick marks. But even with the addition of the glass, women still left their mark on the glass and there were also a bunch of mementos left.

After the cemetery, we head out to a perfumerie to learn how perfume is made, how to properly apply perfume, and what the different notes are. I was tempted to buy a bottle, but I can't stray from my Coco Mademoiselle!

After that, I stopped by a cafe near our hotel to get lunch. I don't think our hotel is located in a very touristy area, so I think most diners were local. Our waiter didn't speak English to us very much, and the menu was entirely in French. I enjoyed the challenge, I think that's the fun of visiting a foreign country. We were also convinced the people around us were annoyed with our lack of French speaking skills, but one young women sitting next to us smiled sweetly at us as she was leaving at said, "Bon Appetit!" which we thought was really nice of her.

After lunch, we all went back to the hotel to shower and pack because it was our last night in Paris. For dinner, a lot of us got some wine, bread, and cheese and sat along the Seine to people watch. It was a great end to our Paris adventure.

Paris was so exciting and beautiful, but it was also really HOT (have you noticed that's an ongoing theme in every place I've been?) and tiresome. Some people in my group were turned off by Paris because of the language barrier and the French being the least willing to speak English to us (opposed Amsterdam). But that's part of the fun of traveling, and I do wish Americans had a stronger grasp of foreign languages. I honestly didn't come across too many rude people, maybe some who were a bit short, but they still accommodated me by speaking in English. It was also a fun challenge to see how many interactions I could have with people with barely any words spoken at all; just facial expressions, body language and gestures.

All in all, Paris was amazing, but I know I barely scratched the surface of everything it has to offer. Just more incentive to keep traveling so I can return.  Paris was definitely exhausting though, and it look a lot out of me. Luckily, we were heading to serene Switzerland next.