May was by far my favorite month of 2013.
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With some help from Ashley’s questions, I was able to tell her more specifically about my feelings about Paris. Mostly that it was amazing. I know my travel experiences are still so very limited, but Paris is the most beautiful city I’ve ever had the pleasure of exploring. I’ve seen the sights through blogs and photographs but it just didn’t prepare me for how breathtaking it would be in person. I could people watch and architecture watch all day everywhere in the city. I already want to go back so I can feel small around churches that are centuries old and eat ice cream while walking along the Seine and admiring the twinkle and the sparkle of Paris at night.
While we were there, Kim said, “Everything in Paris is so small except for the crepes!” And it’s true. Especially the apartments! Tiny living area and no storage are popular complaints you see on housing websites about apartments, but it’s something I actually really admire. The people are minimalists and I wish Americans were less consumed with things that take up so much space in our homes. I’ve been really drawn lately to minimalism and what I’ve seen in Paris really embodies that philosophy.
There were a lot of singular amazing experiences that happened in Paris and Amsterdam. We saw the Mona Lisa, we peered at Paris from the Eiffel Tower, I rode a bike for the first time in twenty years, we ate at our first Michelin rated restaurant, we set foot in three different countries in one day, we visited Ann Frank’s house, and more. All of these individual experiences were monumental, but it’s really the sum of these experiences that really changed me. I am now feeling quite restless and a little sad. I told Ashley that I really want to take more long vacations abroad and this compulsion can only be indulged so often with how much it costs in PTO and money to get myself abroad. What she said in response rang so true. “That’s the most annoying thing about travel. You think it’s going to satisfy your wanderlust and it only makes it worse.”
So here I am. It’s a little over a week since I’ve been back in Texas and I have been feeling nostalgic for Paris ever since. I am mulling over what to devote my energy towards now and what trips I want to dream up and plan for next. In the short term, I have a $17,000 student loan debt I’m focusing on and a long weekend planned for Portland, Oregon in a month. In the long term, I’m considering what I need to change about my current life to afford myself more travel. And for the rest of my days, I will think fondly of my first trip to Paris.
It’s the last week of the month which means it’s free topic week at Totes Awesome Channel! However, I missed out on last week’s. I thought it was free week so Kim and I recorded free topic week while at the airport in Istanbul but wireless on the plane was too splotchy to upload. Last week’s topic was actually to talk about Totes Awesome Channel in celebration of our two year anniversary. So today, I present to you last week’s vlog and this week’s vlog topic combined.
One of my oldest friends got married last weekend. It was quite a whirlwind. As soon as I got off the plane from Europe, I was rushing to go celebrate with her. I read somewhere that the average friendship lasts about 7 years. This one here has spanned a good fifteen years. I love that as I reflect on her life, I can remember her learning how to drive as a teenager and now she’s married! God willing, if we remain friends for another fifteen years, I cannot wait to see what other milestones I will have the honor of witnessing as her friend.
Also, this may the first time I’ll be able to wear a bridesmaid dress again. Ha!
More about Paris and Amsterdam next week!
It took us almost a year to plan and save for Paris and Amsterdam. Now that that’s done and over with, I’m feeling a little lost without an audacious goal. Currently I’m using my restless energy to tackle my student debt. At the beginning of this year I had a little over $19,000 and am currently sitting at just under $17,000. I’m halfway towards this year’s goal of paying down $4,500 but my audacious goal is to pay it all off as soon as possible.
Currently reading: War World Z
I never thought I’d read a zombie book!
A lot of my reading list I get from Ashley. She told me about Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck. I read it while I was in Paris and I enjoyed it so much. I have highlights in my Kindle version that I plan on moving to a blog post or my reading journal, but here’s a passage I highlighted.
This week’s moments of bliss: ♥ impromptu Fast 6 date with Alan ♥ I’m back in Texas! Back in my bed! Back with my dude and pup! ♥ a phone date that happens once a year happened ♥ making extra payments towards student debt ♥ brand new desk at work ♥ staying connected ♥ eating lunch with mom ♥ filling up my calendar with girl dates ♥ catching up on Mad Men ♥ noodles ♥ puppy cuddles
The train we took from Paris to Amsterdam also had a stop in Brussels. Naturally, we scheduled a five hour stop in Brussels on our way to Amsterdam so we could eat another country. It ended up being a very convenient and delicious day trip. It just took one train transfer to Centraal Station and a short walk to Grand Place.
Grand Place, even under cloudy skies and drizzle, took my breath away.
First order of business once we were at Grand Place was waffles and coffee.
Then we just walked around the area in search of Belgium chocolates til it was time to eat mussels for lunch.
We had mussels from Chez Léon. I could have slurped up that broth all afternoon. Mussels were fresh and made us very happy girls.
I loved the ease of this pocket trip. Visiting Amsterdam from Paris and vice versa is a pretty popular route to take when visiting Europe. May I suggest a small day trip in Brussels? It’s on your way and you’ll have so much fun boasting that you’ve had mussels in Brussels.
Hello from Europe! If all goes well, when this post goes live, I should be day-tripping in Brussels on my way to Amsterdam. I thought I’d host a few travel related guest posts. I approached Ashley Riordan because she really impressed me when she went to Germany by herself without a plan. I’ve always thought I’d be comfortable vacationing solo because I’ve gone on business trips alone. I had days and nights where I was really comfortable dining and sightseeing on my own. One of my memorable moments from these trips was going to the San Diego Zoo by myself. However, I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to go to a different country where English isn’t the primary speaking language. I’ve fretted enough about Paris and not speaking French and I have Kim to lean on!
Well, enough from me. Here is Ashley on traveling to Germany on her own.
It’s Ashley from Ashley Riordan. While Linda is off in Paris having more fun than the rest of us, she asked me to write about traveling to Germany alone and without a plan, which I did last September. I had the idea to go to Germany for a couple years before it became a reality. When people would ask, “Why Germany?” I would give plenty of good reasons, but the real reason was that I just wanted to. At first I reasoned that I would probably have to go alone, because I couldn’t think of anyone I could talk into going with me, but soon going alone became an important part of the trip. This was something I had to do.
I didn’t intend to go without a plan. Or, at least, going without a plan was not part of the plan, as much as it seemed that way to other people. I had been thinking about going to Germany for a couple years and even declared that I would for sure go in 2012, but it wasn’t something I thought about very practically, and by mid-2012, it didn’t look like it was going to happen. Suddenly in late August, the money came through, and I had always wanted to visit Germany in the Fall, so I started looking at flights and found a good deal, and then I talked to my boss about getting the time off, and then I purchased a ticket, and that’s how Germany became a reality in a very short period of time.
I had three weeks to plan, but I was busy and terrified and had never really planned a trip before, so I kept putting it off. I decided on the cities I would visit, but I wasn’t sure how practical I was being, since I had never been to Europe or traveled much by train. A week before leaving for Germany, I took a trip home to Washington with a couple friends of mine. I would periodically mention how terrified and unprepared I was, and they assured me that all I needed to know was where I would stay the first night and how I would get there from the airport. That felt manageable to me, so that’s what I did.
I was terrified until the very second I landed in Berlin, and then I immediately put aside all of my fears and faced what was right in front of me. Traveling alone and without an itinerary means that you are faced with constant decisions, and the only way to address them is one at a time. I had booked a bed in a hostel in Berlin, but I had never stayed in a hostel before and by the time I landed in Berlin, I had been awake for more than 24 hours, so I saw an advertisement for a hotel on the wall in the airport, borrowed some wifi to see how far away it was, and then took a taxi there.
My vague geographic plan turned out to make a lot of sense. I was able to visit Berlin, Munich, Füssen, Heidelberg, Cologne, and Amsterdam in only a week. I wanted to see as much as I possibly could, and with only about 24 hours in each city, I developed clear priorities. For a girl from the West Coast of the United States, it’s completely ridiculous to think you could just walk out of the train station and run right into a site you have only ever seen in pictures, but that was true in Germany. I was able to see almost everything on foot, and get a sense of each city. I hoped this trip would help me narrow down where I might want to return on another trip to Germany, but I loved every city so much that I want to see them all again.
It is both a blessing and a curse of traveling alone that you make every decision yourself. Where to eat, where to sleep, where to go next, and what to do when you get there are all up to you. I like being alone and I’m used to making most of my decisions on my own, so this wasn’t a big deal for me. It was sometimes nice that there was no one around to witness my failures; I got to figure everything out for myself and at my own pace. My friend Nicole emphasized the benefits of traveling alone, and I no better understood them than when I was in Cologne and I wanted to do nothing but stare at the cathedral. I was staying not far away, and I kept walking back just to stare, because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. That was strangely also the only time I regretted being alone, because the beauty of it caught me so off guard that I almost choked on feeling, and I just wanted to look at someone and say, “Are you seeing this?”
I never felt unsafe while traveling alone, but I did take some precautions. Before I left, I gave my parents an itinerary of where I thought I would be each day, and I gave a couple friends the contact information for my parents in case they were ever concerned. I had very limited access to the internet, but I could turn my phone on if I needed to, and I tried to email someone every day just to say where I was. The one mistake I made was in emailing a friend humorously to say that I was talking to a guy in the Munich train station just so she would know in case I was never heard from again. And then I got on a train and went toward the mountains where I had no internet access for more than 24 hours. The first email I sent when I finally had access again was to say that I was perfectly okay.
In dealing with my fear before I left, I kept asking myself, “What’s the worst case scenario?” What I imagined after asking that question was always me sitting on the side of the street crying and with nothing to eat and nowhere to sleep. I worried that I would be too afraid to ask for help when I needed it, because I’d be invested in playing the cool traveler who gets it. But all of that turned out to be so unfounded. I always found a place to stay if I wanted it, I never went hungry, and I was so far out of my normal world that I thought nothing of looking stupid or asking for help. I didn’t even care when a German man yelled at me for not opening the train door fast enough, because I only understood half the words and this was a brand new situation.
That’s the beauty of travel for me. I become a different person. One who doesn’t freak out over inconveniences and doesn’t mind looking like an idiot. I forgave delayed flights and trains, as well as a lack of food and sleep, by just picking up my book and reading or my journal and writing. I spent a night in the Munich train station during Oktoberfest, and I was still so happy for the experience that what I wrote in my journal was, “Remember this night? It was the one I spent in the Munich hpf.” Everything that happened, both good and inconvenient, was part of the story for me.
The reason I spent the night in the train station was that I arrived in Munich at about midnight during Oktoberfest and saw what I described as “Vegas in lederhosen,” and I just knew that wasn’t where I wanted to be. The beauty of traveling alone and without a plan was that I could make that decision within two seconds of getting off the train, book the next train to my favorite castle, and then drink some beer and talk to some strangers until it was time to go again. It was my decision, and I made it quickly, and it was the right one.
Speaking of talking to strangers, a lot of the talk about traveling and doing things alone emphasizes, “You will meet people!” And that is so true, whether you’re hanging out in a new country or your hometown, but I just want to emphasize that you don’t have to. Meeting new people doesn’t have to be the point of traveling alone. It wasn’t for me, though I met some lovely people. I made a point of not spending time on the internet, even when I had access. I wanted to spend all of my time writing and reading, and I did and it made me very happy.
There are all of these expectations on traveling that you can just drown in. I discovered pretty quickly that I’m still not a foodie, even when I switch time zones. I nearly went hungry a couple times before I just said, “Who cares what you eat, you need food!” So I did have KFC, which I don’t even eat when I’m home, at 2 am in Munich. And I did eat pretzels for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and when I finally found a sandwich I really liked, I ordered it everywhere. I can’t speak to the culture or people of every city, because I spent less than 24 hours in each. Even when I travel in the United States, I very often see the most touristy places, because they’re interesting. There are many ways to travel, and plenty of compromises to make, and you have to decide how you’re going to do it.
The bottom line of traveling alone and without a plan in Germany was that I had an amazing time, saw more each day than even seemed possible, and I came home with the kind of confidence that made me think I could do anything.
While I’m away vacationing in Paris, I thought this would be a great time to host travel related blog posts and essays from my friends. Danielle submitted this piece to me and after reading it, I found myself googling Camino de Santiago. Reading her piece reminded me a little of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. I’m starting to see that taking on a long and strenuous walking journey is a renewing experience for people. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did.
When you walk the Camino de Santiago, you meet people. You meet Vim from the Netherlands, a 69-year-old man who is not too steady on his feet and can’t seem to keep his clothes on in the albuerges. You meet Meike, also from the Netherlands, who is writing her dissertation about the Camino and is walking in love with a man she met on the trail. You meet Julie and Etienne, a Canadian couple who speak French but are not from Quebec, but New Brunswick thank you very much. You meet Marxi, a German walking with his dog, Funky, who never pays to stay anywhere, sleeps outside underneath tables and fishes in the rivers for his meals. You meet HuiYoung, a young Korean who wants to be a nurse and is always elected head chef for dinners because he was a cook for the army. You meet Bill, a Canadian who makes you laugh so hard you can barely stay on your feet. You meet Dorothea and Dan, a couple walking for the second or third time who always have Breathe Right strips for snorers and warmth for young pilgrims needing encouragement and a kind smile. You meet Alessandro from Italy, with an accent that tickles your ears and a spirit that pushes you up steep hills. You meet six horses standing in the middle of the road on the way from Roncesvalles to Zubiri.
And when you come to the end, when you are finished with 6am breakfasts, 24 kilometers of walking a day, washing your four pairs of underwear in the sink, and eating hard, crusty bread at almost every meal, packing your bag in just the right way (sleeping bag at the bottom, people), learning to sleep through storms of snoring that defy earplugs, and rubbing menthol into your legs and feet just so you can move when you open your eyes in the morning- when you are finished with all that and you stand in front of the cathedral at the end of your month-long journey- you meet yourself.
You did not plan to meet yourself. You planned to prove to yourself and your husband and all the people who formed the sentence, “You really want to walk for a month carrying all your stuff on your back?” that you could do it. Because you weren’t sure that you could. But you did so much more than survive. You walked yourself right out of that debilitating self-criticism that supposedly knew all the little ways in which others were judging you. You walked into a new kind of validation, where you looked deep in your guts and whatever was there, you decided it was meant to be there. You walked out of thinking comfortable was a worthy goal. You walked out of neurotic circles of self-doubt and into the warmth of just enough self-awareness.You met yourself. You are surprised that yourself has met you here after almost 500 miles of taking one step after another. Because yourself is not the you that slept that first night in the Refuge du 55, Rue de la Citadelle, bed number 114, top bunk at Saint Jean Pied de Port. Nope. Rather, you run into the you who was walking from Palas de Rei. You thought you were in front of your husband and Julie and Etienne (NOT Québécois, but Acadian, and true friends) but somehow you end up behind them without realizing it. So you come to a crossroads and you decide to sit down and wait for your friends because surely they aren’t that far behind you. You sit under a tree and watch the road, watch some ants, kill some unfortunate ants that got on you, said sorry to the brother ants that had the good sense to stay off of you, and wondered where your friends could be. And your husband walks quickly. How could he be that far behind you? So you begin to wonder if they didn’t decide to go on to Arzúa to spend the last night on the Camino a little closer to Santiago. Did they decide to keep going? Did you miss that? Or did you hear it and just forget? So you begin to consider your options. And you stand under the tree. Then you walk out to the crossroads and talk to some people who know no more than you do. You walk back to the tree. You decide to wait. And now you watch both ways: the road coming and the cross where the decision has to be made.
You see a man running past the cross in the road. It is your husband. He thinks you’ve missed the turn and have kept going. He is running after you. If that was true, if you had kept going, he would have to run a long time to catch you. He is running fast. And in that moment, when you see that man running after you, see his body hurrying to wherever you might be, you know. You feel the most loved you’ve ever felt in your life. And you are yourself now, so you feel the most loved and you believe it. It is so wonderful to meet your love and yourself here in this moment. So you scream, you yell, you wave your arms and that swift, searching love turns around and sees you. You in all of yourself. You that has turned into you over the Pyrenees, through Navarre, across the terrible, flat meseta where you could see your destination for miles and miles before you arrived, up into the beauty of Galicia and finally here. At this almost-the-end crossroad. Under a tree. Pursued by a man who loves you.
When you walk the Camino de Santiago, you meet some interesting people. Yourself included.
Danielle Buckley Park walked the Camino de Santiago in the spring of 2011. She is currently living in Seoul, South Korea with her husband, 15-month old son, and dreaming of a full night’s sleep. She is also enjoying a visit from that very same Canadian Julie and missing that very same Canadian Etienne. When she writes, she writes at Wonju Wife (http://tuesdaysborrower.blogspot.com), tweets @wonjuwife, and posts ridiculous amounts of photos of her son on Instagram as wonjuwife.
While I’m traveling I thought it would be fun to post a few guest posts about traveling on my blog. This first one is from my friend and photographer, Thomas Chen. To see enlarged versions, click on the image.
This week on Totes Awesome Channel, we talk about our obsessions.
I vlogged about being worried about pick pockets to the point of obsession. Since recording that vlog, I rearranged my wardrobe so that it could hide a money pouch underneath my clothes. I feel a little better about the pickpocket prevention since I recorded the vlog! But…
I found a new obsession to be anxious about regarding our trip to Paris which is in FOUR days. We made a reservation for our first five nights in Paris through Airbnb. I tried to confirm the stay with the person we booked with but she hasn’t be in touch after three emails. This makes me worry! I called Airbnb today and they are going to try to get a hold of her. If they cannot by the end of the weekend, we’ll have to find somewhere else. Come on lady! Contact me and save us some stress!
Weekend To Do List
I’m taking off on Tuesday and will have limited internet access until I get back to Austin after Memorial day. I have at least three great guest blog posts centered around traveling that will post while I’m gone. Check in to see! The first one goes live on Wednesday.
I’ve been experimenting with plating my food. This meat and potatoes plate for last night’s dinner may be my favorite.
This week’s moments of bliss: ♥ impromptu Iron Man 3 date with Alan ♥ Double Chocolate Chunk Rice Krispy Treats ♥ Paris being FOUR days away ♥ Bob’s skip-pounce-run ♥ workday lunch date with Jamie ♥ emails with Ashley ♥ getting better connected with BFF (we were in a communication slump for a while) ♥ pretty lightening storms ♥ finally opening that jar of duck fat ♥ phone calls with mom and dad ♥ late night nachos on a work night
My 30th birthday is on the horizon and I have a few airline miles burning in my pocket. I’ve started thinking about how I want to celebrate my 30th. Here are few contenders I’m currently considering for a weekend trip.
Obviously no airline miles are needed for Houston since I live in Austin. I always have a great time in Houston. I’ve never been to Houston with Alan. Since we’ve been together for five years, I think the Houston introduction is overdue! Plus some of my closest friends are in Houston. We can spend Friday night eating take out with my parents since they work all day. Saturday, I can show Alan around and grab dinner with whomever is free. Sunday, brunch with whomever is around before heading back to Austin. If I don’t do this for my 30th, I definitely should drag Alan to Houston soon regardless.
I’ve been missing New York like something fierce. I take 2-5 trips a year and told myself that I should stop going back to New York City until I cross off more states. I’ve been five times and the last time was 5 years ago! Best Dudie Friend still lives there and it would be great to see him in his element again. The only two cons to this plan are that I’ve been here before so it won’t fulfill any travel goals, and NYC in July can be a bit balmy.
But man would I eat so good.
I’ve never been to Maryland. If I go to Baltimore, I can scratch off one new state and fulfill my visit two new states resolution! I can also revisit Washington D.C. and see the Smithsonian again. I’ve always wanted to go back.
My good friend, Jennifer lives in New Orleans. She just visited Austin last weekend and she told me I should visit her during her medical residency. Mmm. I love me some good Cajun food. The last time I was here was for New Years in 2006, pre-Katrina. Like New York, it won’t fulfill any travel goals but I salivate just thinking of the food in New Orleans.
I’ve never been to Tennessee. I very much want to eat Nashville and visit Elvis’s home and Dolly Parton’s park!
What do you think about these places for birthday weekend trips? Wouldn’t it be lovely if I could wrangle up a few people to meet me out of state? Until recently, my 30th has been a source of much anxiety. It wasn’t until I earned some miles from my new travel credit card that it’s become a source of fun daydreaming!