Posts about International travel

[Chateaus, Macaroons, and Hidden Doors: Paris!]

Posted by: Updated: February 28, 2012 - 10:04 AM

If you have happened to stumble upon my posts in the past, you may be experiencing déjà vu: yes, I was in Paris in December as well. I firmly believe, however, that it is just not possible to visit Paris too many times! So I was not about to pass up the chance to visit a dear friend of mine from (from Wayzata High School as well) during her own exciting abroad adventure in Paris. And I am ridiculously glad that I did.

How I Got There: I flew from Dublin into Paris Beauvais on the popular European budget airline, Ryanair. Since it was Ryanair, Paris Beauvais was an airport a little less actually in Paris then the name would lead you to believe…the shuttle from Beauvais to Porte Maillot, a metro stop in Paris, cost thirty euro round trip and took about 1h15. So if you’re willing to make your journey a bit longer, it’s not an awful way to save around a hundred euro that you might have paid to fly into Charles de Gaulle! If you enjoy convenient, easy, and non-stressful travel…Beauvais is a hundred percent not a place you will want to step foot in.

Things to Do, People to See: Luckily on my last Paris trip, I was able to do much of the sightseeing that was my priority so this trip was more to enjoy the city itself. On recommendation from a friend, I visited Laduree on the Champs-Elysees for macaroons and it was absolutely, fantastically, FABULOUS! The restaurant was closed, so we picked up our macaroons and ate them on a bench while people watching (which is hands down one of my favorite hobbies anywhere abroad). I also visited the Louvre for the second time, and found a few new areas I had missed previously- make sure to walk through Napoleon’s apartments. Especially if you won’t have time to visit Versailles, they are a perfect example of luxurious French opulence. Those chandeliers, man….

blackcurrant, citron, coffee, and pistachio....YUM.

blackcurrant, citron, coffee, and pistachio....YUM.

coming up the escalator from the louvre...

coming up the escalator from the louvre...

Napoleon's apartment

Napoleon's apartment

Chateau Thoiry: ALERT: ONCE IN A LIFETIME EXPERIENCE AHEAD. My friend Maari, currently abroad in Paris, was kind enough to invite me to visit her relatives at their family chateau, Chateau Thoiry (which is about a half-hour train ride from Paris Montparnasse). The chateau has been in their family since it was built in 1559, and currently houses a museum on the first floor and a zoo, opened in 1968, in the backyard. We were able to stay for a night and experience the absolute beauty and splendor of the castle, as well as the kindness of the current occupants! The chateau can only really be explained in photographs, so hopefully the images below will be able to show how absolutely amazing this place is. If you ever have a spare day in France, I absolutely encourage you to take a trip out to a true example of French history; the train ride to Thoiry is also through the rolling French countryside which is not a bad way to spend a half hour! The museum is completely gorgeous, and the zoo is a lovely and natural environment- like, the animals LOOKED HAPPY. It was an unreal experience, and I am so grateful to the family for allowing me to experience it.

Our room at the chateau

Our room at the chateau

Grounds at the chateau

Grounds at the chateau

Giraffes at the zoological park

Giraffes at the zoological park

The secret door in the library!

The secret door in the library!

Basics: The metro is extremely easy to use, so you won’t really need to worry about cabs or buses during your time there. Since I knew I’d be there for a few days, I bought a carnet of tickets (ten tickets for 6e35), and individual rides are 1e70. Eating out in Paris is EXPENSIVE, like Ireland expensive, but buying food in grocery stores is surprisingly cheap and they have a pretty large selection!

Why to Go: Paris is a beautiful place to be, even if you can only stay for a few days. I distinctly remember the moment when I was walking through the Tuileries, passing French men with long baguette loaves in their messenger bags, being able to see the top of the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and smelling the musty, fresh sod from the gardeners re-planting the lavender flowers. And those are the type of times I will remember about Europe- walking, soaking up culture through every pore, and living in the moment.

 

 

Travel tips for the passionate penny pincher, or adventure hungry

Posted by: Updated: February 24, 2012 - 1:59 PM

I have come across most of these tips by accident.  But in general that is precisely what travel is; a bunch of unpredicted experiences that can stir you in ways you never knew possible, good and bad.  Travel can make you rich and is something I would suggest to everyone for I have grown more in the past 5 weeks than one year of my life (except for my first year of life.  That was a pretty major one.  You know, walking and being born and stuff.)  But yes, we are in college and we do not have the largest disposable income despite the fact that you managed to score that debatably sweet parking attendant job where you can surf Facebook for hours.  I hear you, and I am here to say: a few minutes of reading between the lines of reviews on hostelworld can end up saving you a lot of money in the long run.  And sometimes the experiences you are going to treasure happen when you are too engrossed with your first sight of the Collosseum to understand the map and find your way to your apartment or on the bus from the Eindhoven Airport to Amsterdam where you get to take in many sights of Holland that you would have missed with a simple flight and taxi ride to your hotel.  So without further adieu, here are a few tips to help you save some loot.

 

WHERE YOU'LL STAY

Yes, it would be awesome to stay in a 5 star hotel with a breakfast buffet and pool, but honestly do you need it?  No.  Because all you need is a place to lay your head at night after you've walked 20 miles around a foreign city, which is probably 10 more than you needed to because you got lost.  So keep it simple because you're going to pass out whether the pillowcases are silk or scratchy cotton.  Therefore:

 Look into hostels.  Websites like hostelworld.com and tripadvisor.com are great resources as you can adjust the search to fit your needs.  Find hostels with a high rating and more than 2 reviews.  In the end all you are going to want is clean sheets and a place to go to the bathroom.  You can live without privacy for a few days.  Though some hostels do have the option to get a private room with a few friends in which case you can feel free to let it all hang out, if you so please.  Generally hostels will have lockers where you can keep your valuables.  If you are extremely concerned you can bring your own lock for some peace of mind.

 Research apartments.  This is something that is extremely overlooked but definitely a great option!  If you are traveling with more than 5 people, you will save a ton of money by getting an apartment together as you will be able to go to a supermarket for enough groceries to last your trip and save yourself from the overpriced restaurants us tourists fall prey to often.  (Not that you shouldn't eat out.  Definitely treat yourself to the countries native food at least twice.)  If you just Google "apartments" in whatever city you will be traveling to a ton of options will come up, and once again you can change up the search to fit your needs.  Do keep in mind that you will be splitting the price between however many people are staying there so the price is not as intimidating as the big red numbers you see on the right hand side of the listing.

 

TRANSPORTATION 

When it comes to transportation, I tend to just make sure I can get to the country/city and then go from there.  When traveling within Europe it is pretty simple to find cheap airfares on ryanair.com and easyjet.com but after some frustrating minutes with your friends where everyone is making the "that's-too-expensive" face you just have to bite the bullet.  If you want to go to London and the first weekend in April is your only option then go!  Just get there.  But of course, there are ways to save once you find yourself starring dumbfounded at Big Ben:

• Walk!  Plenty of cities are small enough to walk around.  It may take you about 40 minutes to get across all of Edinburgh but then you can get in enough pictures of the sights!  I'm learning more and more each day that it is just part of European culture to walk.  The streets aren't built for your average SUV, plus traffic in general is crazy.  It isn't that difficult, you just need to plan accordingly.  Take the bus/metro/tram out to the part of the city where you're going to spend the majority of the day and finish activities there, and then move on to a new area the next day.

 Public transportation.  I cannot stress this enough.  Taxis are ridiculously overpriced.  They do make sense to take if you have a ton of luggage or your heel is bleeding, but try to use them sparingly.  Do as the locals do, as it is much cheaper otherwise they wouldn't do it.  Cities like Paris and Rome have extremely convenient metro lines that are very easy to use once you figure them out and if you purchase a pass for a few days at a time you'll save in the long run.

 

SAFETY

• Safety first.  Seriously.  Even if you aren't a travel novice it is smart to always be aware of yourself and your belongings.  Where there are tourists, there are pickpockets.  Believe me, I learned the hard way.  And I was completely aware of my bag and belongings during the moments leading up to it.  That being said, I probably could have thought things through a little more.  If you have a credit card be sure to bring a backup and keep it in a different place than your original.  That way if you lose the latter you won't be without money for 2 weeks in a foreign country while you wait for your replacement to be shipped across the sea.  Also, consider getting a money belt.  You might feel silly with a pouch under your shirt but at least you know your belongings are close.

• Always have a map on you.  And memorize the address of your hostel or apartment.  That way if you do end up getting separated from the group you're traveling with (as I did at a very large Dutch market) you will have a map and thus knowledge on how to meet back up with them.  Maps really don't cost that much as plenty of airports, train stations, and souvenir shops have them but if you're really feeling a hole in your pocket I have learned that if you go into a hotel and say you're lost and trying to find a certain landmark, you may end up getting a free map.  Of course don't expect to be treated like royalty or even receive one, but it's worth a try.

 

GENERAL

• Stay positive.  Most of your time will be spent mesmerized and in love with the country you're in, but sometimes you'll come across situations that leave you confused or uncomfortable.  Don't panic.  You're just experiencing another culture, and it is completely normal to feel whatever it is your body decides to.  In moments like this though, just stay positive and keep going.  It's easy to get homesick or over-analyze the intentions of that street vendor but you don't want those moments to be the ones of your trip you remember.  So look up and realize where you are and that this may be your only chance to be standing in that spot.

• Be decisive.  It's easy when you're traveling with others to fall victim to the crowd and do the awkward dance that is "I don't know, what do you want to do?" "I don't care.  How about you?".  If you know you want to see something, don't be afraid to go off by yourself and see it.  Just make sure you set a meeting spot.  You're not going to please everybody, so sometimes you're just going to have to figure out what it is you want to do and do that.

Traveling can definitely be exhausting mentally and physically, but in such a great way.

 

Everytime I go home (or back to Italy) from a trip I feel so full of life, and I'm not one who normally attributes such a corny saying to myself.  But you can't really help it.  I kind of feel like I'm turning into my mom as I Google inspirational travel quotes, but I'm going to leave you with just that: "the world is a book and those who do not travel only read a page".

 

 

Climb Every Mountain

Posted by: Updated: February 21, 2012 - 9:30 AM

I have that popular song from the Sound of Music stuck in my head…I also strained every tendon, pulled every muscle, and overextended every joint on my way UP the mountain! This weekend, I climbed my very first mountain. As my Austrian friend would say, in Ireland the land formations are less ‘mountains’, and more ‘large hills’, but it doesn’t sound quite as awesome to tell people I climbed my first large hill this weekend. So we’re sticking with mountain.

If you like to hike or enjoy the outdoors at all (and you happen to be in Ireland), do yourself a favor and head to Killarney National Park to climb Mount Mangerton! Killarney National Park in general is completely gorgeous, full of waterfalls and the neon green wooded landscape that Ireland is famous for. Mt. Mangerton is about a four-five hour hike up and down the mountain, but was still fairly challenging for the average person!

 

We began at the end of the mountain with blue skies, sunshine, and all-around gorgeous weather. The ground was squishy and boggy (from the melting snow running down the mountain). And you can BET I made sure to get some mud on my hiking boots so that no one could doubt I wasn’t an expert hiker- they were looking a little too clean…So naturally since it’s Ireland, there was no possible way that weather could last! We made it up to the summit with the sun staying through, and stopped for lunch at the Devil’s Punch Bowl, a gorgeous lake in a dip between the hills surrounding it on both sides.

View as we approached the mountain

View as we approached the mountain

In front of the Devil's Punch Bowl!

In front of the Devil's Punch Bowl!

Before the snow arrived...

Before the snow arrived...

After a lunch of sausage rolls (Weird, right? I made a snap decision at the store and panicked), we headed up the rocky path towards the summit. As we walked up, fog started rolling in, and THICK- soon we couldn’t see anything but the path around us. Next up: my first snowfall in Ireland, as massive snowflakes began hurling themselves on us in full force and the wind tended to pick up around that time as well! It was completely insane- prickly cold stung our cheeks, and our hiking boots were covered in chunky clumps of snow melting their way into our wool socks. We took the obligatory picture up top, then started the slippery-slidey descent.

As the fog began to roll in over the lake...

As the fog began to roll in over the lake...

The chaos that ensued once it became snowy, rocky, AND slippery

The chaos that ensued once it became snowy, rocky, AND slippery

And back about halfway down the mountain, the sun came out, the snow and rain ceased, and we headed down to gorgeous views of the tiny white Killarney buildings and the lakes and mountains all around. Also we walked directly underneath a rainbow and I found NO GOLD. What a joke!

Look! Can you see the rainbow?

Look! Can you see the rainbow?

 

It was a fantastic hike, I'd recommend it to anyone looking for some beautiful views and fresh airs in Killarney!

Headed to Paris tonight to eat macaroons and look at art, so look for more about that next Tuesday!

Moving into Manawatu.

Posted by: Updated: February 20, 2012 - 3:29 PM

For being one of the most stunning places I've ever travelled, New Zealand does not make itself easy to get to. I started my journey leaving Minneapolis at 3:30 pm on Wednesday, February 15th and found myself in Wellington at 8 pm Friday, February 17th. After numerous flight delays, a cancellation and a very long walk to a hostel. I was here. 

New Zealanders are known as "the nicest people on earth" and coming from a state that prides itself on its niceness, I was skeptical. I worked my way up the hills in Wellington to my hostel and immeadiately collapsed from exhaustion, thirty six hours of travelling will do that to you. The next day though, I hit the ground running. Wandering aimlessly around a town you've never been to is incredibly relaxing, therapeutic even. About six blocks from the harbor, the road instantly shoots upwards and suddenly you're walking on what feels like a ninty degree incline. However, the views are stunning. 

View of Wellington from the Carter Observatory in the Botanical Gardens.

View of Wellington from the Carter Observatory in the Botanical Gardens.

Fun fact about Wellington, the Cook Strait, which separates the north and south islands is the perfect habitat for giant squid. I know this, because during my wanderings, I came across the Te Papa museum, which is a natural history museum centered on New Zealand. There, they have on display a female giant squid caught off the coast of Antartica near the south island. A male has never been sited, and likely never will be as the depths they live at are literally bone crushing. 

Once my wanderings had ended, I retired back to my hostel and prepared to leave town the next morning. The bus ride to Palmerston North, which is located in the Manawatu region of the north island, is a beautiful coastal ride, and slightly frightening if you've never driven on the left side of the road before.

Manawatu borrows it's name from the Manawatu river that cuts through the plains here, and Massey University is located just outside of town. Massey actually doubles as a botanical garden because of the vast number of plants the campus houses. 

For now, it's orientation after orientation, complete with three different farm trips. While it is exhausting, adrenaline has been fueling me for the last few days, and hopefully soon I'll find some downtime to wander aimlessly here as well.

The Fete.

Posted by: Updated: February 18, 2012 - 3:56 PM

Again I find myself awaking without an alarm clock, getting up, and eating a breakfast of fresh-baked bread with Nutella on it along with some tea and milk. I finish eating quickly and get dressed. Today is the day of the Fete, and we want to demolish a stairway on the hillside before we leave at noon. Keith has told me that the Fete is a large gathering arranged by the local hunters in order to share the meat they have gotten. Hunters have spent the prior week participating in the Chasse, (hunting in English), and killed a large amount of the excess wild boar in the area. I am very excited to participate in this cultural event.

I walk outside on this beautiful day and meet Katie over by the old ruin that Derek and Ben have been tearing down. She has already started to remove some of the decayed wooden steps from the hillside, so I get to work on helping her. The wood is damp and rotten, and there are a lot of sharp thorn bushes covering them, so it turns into a minor pain. I go into the shed and retrieve a set of trimming shears to get rid of all the nasty thorns so we can continue our work. With those cleared it doesn't take long to get the wooden steps removed and the rocks carried off that were underneath. Under those rocks though there is a pile of rubble that was used as a base for the stairs, so that needs to be removed next. It takes us until noon to get half of the rubble shoveled up and carted away. We walk inside the house and clean up. No lunch today because we need to save room for the big meal.

Everyone piles into the trucks once we are ready. We take both trucks since there are seven of us. Derek and I take the Hyundai and the rest of the crew loads into the Mitsubishi. The place we are headed is the town of Mouchan, and it is not far away. With me driving we take off following Keith in the other truck. The drive doesn't take long and we arrive at the gathering around 12:30.

I follow the others into the building where the Fete is held. Inside there is a large number of older French people mingling and talking with each other. There must be a majority of the citizens of this area in this one building. This is one of those times where I would love to have a good grasp of the language. Our group mingles around for a while and enjoys some of the Armagnac drinks they are giving out. Soon we make our way over to the tables and find a place with enough room for the nine of us. There are a lot of people here and long tables, but they are able to ensure that everyone has a spot to sit. Derek and Justin have started to have a nice conversation in French with the older couple next to them. I can't understand a single thing, but can pick up a small amount of intent based on hand gestures.

It is another hour before the meal begins. First course is a rather bland soup with noodles in it. Not really the start to the feast I was expecting. Still I eat two bowls worth of it because at this point I am starving. The soup is accompanied by some more wine. After the soup is finished the servers bring out more plates with a meat dish. I'm told that the center slice of meat is a wild boar pâté and there are sausages and lettuce around it. This in itself is very tasty and I enjoy it. The servers now have Armagnac and have been wandering around the tables filling glasses. Next dish up is a stew made from more boar meat along with some sliced baguettes. It is satisfying, but has a weird texture to it. Almost gelatin like. Thankfully they soon bring out the main course, which is sliced boar meat along with a very delicious bean soup. I eat two servings of this easily. At this point they switch Armagnac for a very sweet, peach white wine. The final course is dessert. They serve a peach pastry and it is delicious. I am quite stuffed, and so happy to be here.

After the meal they begin with a meat weighing contest. The mayor of Mouchan is walking around the tables with a haunch of ham and handing it off for guesstimate weighing. The fee to guess is 2€, so I pass. As it turns out a kid probably around the age of 12 wins the prize and gets a nice cricket set out of it. After the weighing a group of people start to gather on the other side of the building. I see a flicker of flame every so often from between the people and I am now very interested in what they are doing. The group and I walk over there and find an old man sitting in a chair with a long ladle looking device that is resting in a steel bucket in front of him. The bucket itself is engulfed in flames. I'm told that it is a tradition after the meal to take a bucket like this and fill it with a mixture of Armagnac, sugar, and lemon juice. Then they ignite the mixture and let it burn until a good amount of the sugar and alcohol is burned off. The man tending to it also uses the ladle to lift some of the mixture about six feet above the pail and then pour it back in causing a very beautiful stream of fire raining down. I'm entranced. For nearly 30 minutes I stand there watching the fire flicker up and down and the mixture slowly burning away. When the liquid is reduced enough that the flame goes out they pour the mixture into large pitchers and serve it up to the guests. I take a glass and sniff it suspiciously. The alcohol nearly burns my nostrils. One small sip and I realize just how strong it is. This is after they reduced it. I can't even imagine how strong the pure stuff is.

By this time we have been at the Fete for nearly six hours. Katie, Ben, and I want to go into town to get some cash from an ATM and try to find some groceries for baking. Derek and Justin have started to talk with the mayor and another fellow, who I later find out is the leader of the Chasse of the Gers, so I let them know we will wait out in the truck for them. Nearly 45 minutes of sitting outside in the truck goes by before we decide to go in and disrupt their conversation. When I walk in I see they have moved to a table and the four of them are in deep conversation. They finish and say good-bye and come out to the truck. As we drive off towards Condom, Derek and Justin tell us that they were invited to go along on the next hunt. That is a great honor in this area.

We arrive in Condom soon after only to realize that because it is now 7:00pm on a Sunday everything is closed. Oh well. We are still able to get some cash, and actually get a rather good picture of all of us on the musketeer statues next to the cathedral. On our way back to the house we get lost in Condom and basically experience the entire town through our truck windows. That provides endless entertainment for the crew.

When we make it back to the house it's only 8:00pm. We sit down at the kitchen table and spend a few hours talking about a wide range of topics from space and the environment, to politics and sex. Overall it turns out to be an extremely interesting evening. Around 11:00pm we all decide to get some sleep and rest up for the work ahead of us tomorrow. I sense more rubble clearing and car fixing is in my near future. As I climb into bed and lay my head on the pillow I think to myself just how great it is to be doing this kind of work and experiencing the French culture from this point of view. Soon after I am floating around in dreamland.

If you are interested in reading about my previous adventures through Europe please check out my other blog.

I'm on a first-name basis with a sculpture

Posted by: Updated: February 15, 2012 - 7:04 AM

If there is one thing I suggest to my fellow travel-enthustiasts out there it is to explore the art of the city you are in as much as possible. Of course I am spoiled here in Florence which is quite literally the birthplace of the Renassaince movement housing works like Donatello's Marzocco, Brunelleschi's architecture with the Duomo, Masaccio's work in the Brancacci Chapel and, of course, the statue that destroyed my emotions, Michelangelo's David. Now I wouldn't necessarily consider myself someone who is easily brought to tears by art (animal movies are something else entirely.  Homeward Bound?  I cried forever.) but as soon as I turned the corner of the Accademia Museum and saw David illuminated at the end of the hallway all the moisture in my body tried to escape through my eyes. I managed to keep myself composed while I decended towards him, not even glancing at the six unfinished Michelangelo statues on either side of me, until I was finally face-to-podium with this very symbol of the Renassaince. It is pretty overwelming as I, a mere 5'6", stared up at this 17 foot sculpture.

You can take a lot away from art, even if you do not know much about the artist or work. David, for instance, I only knew a bit about. Michelangelo is the artist, David is from the bible story of David and Goliath, and sculpture was Michelangelo’s favorite medium. But even if Michelangelo was not one of my favorite artists, and I was not aware of the celebrity-like status of this sculpture, I am pretty sure I would still have experienced an overpowering feeling of comfort. David is not only vast because of his size, but also because of his perfection. Even though his hands and head are disproportionate to his body, I find myself going to the Accademia Museum when I have an hour or two of free time and just sitting in front of the him because of how peaceful it makes me feel.

America does house a lot of beautiful works of art and I try to take advantage of that when I can by visiting local museums, but you cannot ignore the history that unfolded on these European lands both in art, culture, and politics.  Not to say that art found in America is inferior, but there is just something so surreal about looking up at the David, in the birthplace of Michelangelo, which is a block from my apartment.  I am a lucky girl.

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