Tag Archives: backpacking

Paris, France: Catacombs

Today I wake up really early.  I go to McDonalds for breakfast and wifi.  One of the breakfast options is a croissant and coffee.  This is what I want.  This is what I try to order.  No one behind the counter seemed to understand me.  Pointing gets me nowhere.  I get annoyed and leave.  Around the corner is a Quick, which is like McDonalds only not like McDonalds.  I get a coffee and croissant no problem here.  They advertise WiFi.  Guess what, it doesn’t work.  The WiFi.  Guess what else?  I spilled my entire coffee all over myself.  I want to cry, I really do.  I go back to my room and decide that if this is what today is going to be like, then I am not going to try a combo of Versailles and Catacombs.   I will go just to the Catacombs to be safe.  Good thing I did since the line was way over two hours.

I walk inside and slip twice.  The first time was no big deal.  The second time, I now fear that the rest of my time in here will be me trying to not fall.   The third time I slipped, I went to grab the wall to stop myself.  Only now, we are at the skulls.  So I am grabbing human skulls and bones to balance myself, it was awful.

Later on, we get to where water is dripping and the floor is now wet.  I start walking like a 397 year old woman because I am deathly afraid of falling.

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The Catacombs are incredible.   When I look around at everyone else inside, I can’t help but wonder what thoughts they are having.  These aren’t props. These are actual skeletons.   These are real dead people.  It will never not be amazing to me that someone can propose to create this and not be institutionalized.

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paris france catacombs

Leaving the Catacombs, it is 83 steps back outside.  I knew this, and 83 steps isn’t that big of a deal, right?  Well they are when they are steep and spiral and narrow.  I had to stop and catch my breath around step 60.  Luckily the couple that was trapped behind me since the steps are too narrow for anyone to pass, were really nice about it.  They were also much older so I am sure whoever was stuck behind them thought it was them causing the traffic jam, despite that they seemed absolutely physically fine at this point.

After the Catacombs, I wandered around Paris a bit taking pictures and just looking at everything. I took random breaks and sat on benches and did that thing that I love to do so much.  Just look around and think of how great it feels to be so independent and to end up anywhere in the world all by myself.
arc de triomphe, paris france

By this point in my trip, I was an expert at the Metro.  The Metro smells horrible.  The entire system needs a power wash.  I also loved the station announcements.  The automated voice announces each stop two times.  The first announcement was in a tone that ends in a question mark, the second in a tone that seemed to have an exclamation point at the end of it. The more syllables the station had, the funnier it was to me.  St.  Germain De Pres?  ST. GERMAIN DE PRES!   It totally sounded like there was a silent “asshole” at the end of it.  St. Germain De Pres?  ST GERMAIN DE PRES, ASSHOLE.  At one point I started to make noises while trying to conceal my laughter.  I am so twelve years old.

Bed time.  The night time weather was perfect sleeping weather.  It was so cold outside but in my room the fresh cool air made my sleep so perfect.

Part One: Flight of Death into Friends and Beer and Happy

April 25, 2013 – The day we all have been waiting for.  The day I leave for Europe!!  I had a typical bad day at work, made even worse by it being “Bring Your Kids to Work Day”  Finally the day is over and I am FREEEEEEEEEE!!!!  Europe here I come!!

Well it seems that in addition to being “Bring Your Kids to Work Day”, it is also “Bring Your Kids to Belgium Day”

Whenever I book a flight, I pick my seat.  Last row, window seat on the right side of the plane.  Last row because it gives you the best chance of having a row to yourself.  Window seat because i can not breathe on planes.  Having the window next to me is psychosomatic and makes me feel like I have more oxygen.  Right side because that’s the way I lean when I fall asleep sitting up.

Tonight I get on the plane.  I am still at the door and I can hear the SCREAMING kid.  SCREAMING.  Now let me stop and explain a bit here.  Usually when someone talks about a screaming kid on a plane, it’s about a kid having a meltdown and just scream crying.  That was not what this one was doing.  It seemed to have having the worlds LOUDEST conversation with itself in a language only it spoke.  Lots of “BEEEEEEEEEEE BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP” just nonstop.

I make my way to the last row for my seat and this SCREAMING kid is in my seat.  Not in my row, not next to my seat, but IN MY SEAT.  Screaming away IN MY SEAT.  Not only that, but it looks like it is in for the long haul.  It is standing on my seat, BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP-ing away, with all its stuff all over the place.   All over my seat, the floor, the seat back pocket.  It has a bag under the seat in front of it.  I recheck my boarding pass because surely I am at the wrong seat?  I’m not.  So my next logical thought is that this thing is in the wrong seat.  I try telling it that it’s in my seat and all I get back is “BEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP”    Finally, the father surfaces and asks me to switch to a middle row aisle seat.  Oh Hell no.  Don’t tell me you got on the plane and completely unpacked your kid in my seat, just expecting I would agree to switch because I won’t.  I tell him no, I need the window or else I will vomit.

So the kid is then moved to the available aisle seat next to mine. This is an enormous production since it had so much stuff unpacked and all over the freaking place.   Even though we are at the back of the plane, there are still people trying to get by so now we have a traffic jam.  The kid is still screaming.  Never once did its father try to get it to be quiet.  Not once.  Finally its out of my way and I am free to take my seat so I do.

I get settled.  Get my stuff out. Notebook, pen, gum, MP3 player, headphones.  I now have everything in the back seat pocket, I am ready to go. Now that I am all settled, this guy now goes all over the plane trying to find someone to give up their window seat to me, so that I can move and still have a window seat.  Then this SCREAMING kid can have my seat and the new person can take the middle aisle seat.  He finds someone.  I am tempted to still say no.  I never actually said I would move if he found me a new window seat.  Everything about this is obnoxious.

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However, logic now takes over and I now have an opportunity to move to the other side of the plane and a few rows away from this SCREAMING kid, that is still screaming, and who has still not been told by its parents to be quiet.   So now I have to unsettle myself.  How annoying. I was all ready to go.  Now I need to grab all my stuff and move.  In the process of trying to repack, I lose my headphones.  Now I flip out.  I start yelling over the screaming kid who is still screaming “THIS IS RIDICULOUS.  MY HEADPHONES ARE GONE.  I NEED MY HEADPHONES”

The father tells me he will keep an eye out for them.  “NO GUY, THAT’S NOT HOW IT WORKS.  I AM NOT GOING TO SPEND A SEVEN HOUR FLIGHT WIHTOUT MY HEADPHONES, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOUR KID WONT SHUT UP”  I now feel every eye on the plane, now on me.  He looks around and finds them. SCORE.  I get to my new seat and SON OF A BITCH my pen is in the seat back pocket of my old seat.  Now the seat belt sign is on.  I can’t get up.  I try to explain this to a flight attendant, it gets me nowhere.  Even when I explain that “My pen is in the back seat pocket of that SCREAMING kid.  I had to move so it could have my seat”  The nice man next to me comments “that’s not your family?”  to which I say “Absolutely not”

I mourn the loss of my pen for an irrational amount of time.  I have a diary raring and ready to be filled with tales of my Eurotrip Extravaganza. I have to rant about this SCREAMING kid DAMMIT.  But I also have a new laptop type thingy.  Hmm.  I guess it’s time to make the transition.

My flight leaves 90 minutes late because there is an FAA furlough that is screwing up air traffic all over the damn place.  I think I knew this before I left home and just blocked it out.  The entire time, this kid is SCREAMING.  We are still not allowed to have electrical appliances on.  I am trying to watch a movie.  The pilot keeps making announcements.  Have you ever noticed that pilots are stereotypical slow talkers?  So much dead air between words and even syllables.  And right now, every dead air moment is filled with this kid SCREAMING.  Since this is an international flight, everything has to be repeated in other languages, with this kid SCREAMING between every syllable.

Then some idiot gets up and opens the overhead luggage bin.  OH COME ON.  Here comes more announcements about how the seat belt sign is on, don’t get up, more movie interruptions, more SCREAMING kid.  This is so painful.  I want my pen, I want to jam it into my face and end this. I want to take off.  I want to get to Brussels.  I have such a ball of burn inside me that im sure is my uterus self imploding after being subjected to the SCREAMING kid that is STILL FREAKING SCREAMING. My flight is 6 hours and 35 minutes.  I’ve been on this plane for almost 4 hours and there are still 5 hours left.  I bet that kid is still screaming too.  I long for the day when I don’t fly to places any longer because I’m already there.

After the flight of death, we arrive in Brussels. I have slept a grand total of zero minutes and I feel  like I am going to fall over.  We arrived late, the luggage was delayed because of some stupid reason that I can not remember since I was sleep walking my way through this.  I finally exit to find my friends waiting for me.  HELLO!

My friend Gert had come to pick me up to take me to my hotel.  Kindest gesture ever.  With him are my friends Rachel and Foz who are going sightseeing in Brussels for the day.  We say hello and good bye and then Gert and I are off.  The exact second I finish saying “I want to stay awake for the car ride so I can fall asleep all at once at my hotel”, I fall dead asleep.

Check into my hotel.  I have five hours before Gert comes back to get me to take me to see Kid Dynamite.  I slept only for two because I was too tired to figure anything out.  All I really had to do was put on my pajamas and lay down, but this was such a huge ordeal because I could not think straight.

At 5:00, Gert is back with Rachel and Foz.  We go to the show, get stamped, find out they only have Stella. We are horrified by this and end up pre-gaming at a tavern that has Duvel.  I drank four.  They were delicious.  Back at the show, Rachel magically manages to get us more Duvel from a stranger who made my night by giving us Duvel at a show that only sold Stella.

After the show, I am dropped back off at my hotel where I am just dying to be in bed.  I feel like I slept one hour before Gert was back to collect me the next morning.

I am honestly completely unsure of what time I got to bed.  I was however, dressed and ready to go when Gert showed up to collect me at 11:30 am.  I am still exhausted.  Between the flight and lack of sleep into standing for a few hours watching bands play, I am completely drained.

Gert’s wife Elies is a fantastic cook.  She was kind enough to make lunch for us.  As soon as the first bite hit my stomach, I realized this was exactly what I needed.  I felt much more like a human being after that meal.

Gert’s neighbors have sheep.  Every trip I take here, I have to go out back and say hello to them.  Living in New York City, the concept of having sheep next door to you is so odd to me.

sheep

On the other side, there is a goat.  It is so adorable.

goat

After our bellies were full, we sat around and relaxed a bit before heading to the fest.  Once we were there, it was beer time.  I love beer, it is delicious.

My entire night into day and then back into night was spent with incredibly generous people, who go completely out of their way to make my trip overseas as wonderful as it can possibly be.  I also got to drink beer and watch bands I love while spending time with the people that I love.  Excellent day/night all around.

Afterwards, Gert dropped me back at my hotel where we said good bye until next  year.  I will definitely be back.  I am just going to look into teleporting before I leave.

Up next: Brussels.

Three Weeks Until Euro Extravaganza!

This morning I got up for work.  My first thought was “THREE WEEKS UNTIL VACATION!!!!”.  While getting my morning iced coffee out of the refrigerator, I noticed a fortune cookie that was leftover from last weekend.  I opened it and got THIS:

goningYes misspelled fortune cookie, yes I am.

My trip is so soon and I am still not ready.  Today I have decided to redo my itinerary again.  This is all because I can not find out if the Nis, Serbia bus station has luggage lockers. I had planned to stop there for a few hours between Sarajevo and Sofia.   If i take a chance and leave my trip the way its been cemented in for weeks now, I may find myself carrying my bag around sightseeing.  The internet tells me nothing.  So here I am right now taking a break from going  nutso and redoing my itinerary to switch out the “stop there for a few hours” part with “spend one night in Nis”.  Then I have to find a night in Bulgaria to give up so that I have a night to spend there.  I really need to consider booking more flexible trips, where I don’t insist upon seeing so much at one shot, so that I do have spare days.  But I dont want to, because I want to see every inch of planet earth right NOW.

So my updated upcoming travels are now:

April 26 – May 20 – Europe

May 22 – May 27 – Seattle, WA

May 29 – June 3 – Austin, TX

June 6 – June 9 – combo of Chicago and Toronto.

I am the opposite of a fan of my job.  But I will admit that I am in love with both the amount of vacation time I get, as well as the fact that they let me take it all in a row like this.  Most places would not.

 

 

How My First Trip to Europe Came to Be.

I have always wanted to go to Europe.  Even before I really understood what that meant.

Two years ago, I had this conversation with a friend:

Me: I want to go to Russia

Her:  Me too!  Where do you want to go?

Me:  Uhhhhhhh, Russia?

Her: I want to go to Moscow, St.  Petersburg and ride the Trans Siberian railway.

OH.  I see what you mean.  You don’t just pick a country, you pick destinations within a country.  I was so not even close to being well traveled outside of America that even that had never occurred to me.

I had always wanted to see the world, but had a million different reasons that were stopping me.  I’m scared to go alone, I can’t afford it, I’d rather take an easy vacation instead…and so on.

Then it happened.  I was staring down the barrel of age 40. I was only two years away from the age my mother was when she was diagnosed with the cancer that eventually took her life.   I started panicking that I had done nothing in life that I had ever truly dreamed about.   In a way it was kind of like a midlife crisis.  Although as a good friend of mine once told me it’s not because “mid life crisises are for boring people who wake up one day and realize they are boring.  You just woke up one day and decided to be even more interesting”.  Either way, its time to go.

There are so many ways to travel in Europe.  I don’t mean just transport options, although that exists as well. I mean the whole “Where do I go?!?” and so on.  There’s so much to see in this world, how can you possibly narrow it down to ONE destination??

It can be completely overwhelming, which is another reason I had put it off for so long.  There are a million different ways to pick your destination.  How did I pick my first?

One night I was in Las Vegas, for my annual Christmas trip.  Before going to bed one night, I saw a Facebook event invite for one of my favorite bands (Grey Area, if you must know), who were going to be playing Europe for the first time, in Belgium.   I said “if I win enough to buy a plane ticket, I am going”.  Well……the next morning……

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cause every single justifiation I had was now taken from me.

My first trip was a very short one as it was a tester trip to make sure I could do this.  I believe I was gone six days.  I figured London was a great starter city because obviously English is the main language there.   I knew I wouldn’t have any problems with communicating.  It was also the perfect starting point for me because I have two friends who live in Liverpool who were going to the same fest in Belgium as I was.  They were more than happy to meet up and travel to Belgium together.  It was still scary, but it was made that much less scary by not having to do it completely alone.

I arrived in London, solo.  I was petrified.  I made a lot of mistakes.  I got lost looking for my hotel. I didn’t correctly bring helpful directions.  I had a map with me but I hadn’t blown it up enough to view smaller streets.  I incorrectly assumed that “making a left past the Google building” was a great landmark and it wasn’t.  I never found the Google building the entire time I was there, and no one, including the local police, had any idea where it was.

I booked a really bad hotel. I’m not talking about quality, although that was certainly part of it.  I never checked the weather before going; I assumed London was famous for being dreary so it would always be cool.  It wasn’t, it was hot.  I didn’t have an air conditioner.  I was lost for about an hour looking for my hotel.  When I finally found it, I realized it was maybe two minutes from where I started looking. But I had missing the tiny turnoff street because it wasn’t on my map. I arrived completely exhausted, sunburned, and miserable.

Stupid little things like that.

My flight had a layover in Iceland on the way there.  I had never even considered the concept of having to go through security a second time when changing planes in another country.  I then lost my water bottle I had brought with me and had no Icelandic money to purchase a second one after passing through their checkpoint. I was scared if I used my credit card, it would get shut off since I hadn’t alerted my credit card company I was going to be in Iceland.  I didn’t plan on using it there since it was just a layover.  I also didn’t have a cell phone with me because I thought it would be annoying to have with me.

There was so much that simply never occurred to me.  Even the idea that the Reykjavik airport does indeed accept American dollars didn’t occur to me to even look into.  Guess what?  They do.  All that dry cough for nothing.

Oh and just in case you are wondering “why didn’t you just empty the water bottle and keep the empty bottle and fill it at a water fountain?”   Well simply put, I didn’t think you were allowed.  Lesson learned:  DONT BE STUPID.

While we are on the topic of stupid mistakes, also allow me to add:  changing Euros into American dollars in London.  Stupid.  They first charge you to change your Euros to pounds and then charge you to change to dollars.  I should have done this while I was still in Belgium!

So back to that first day in London all by myself, making mistake after mistake after mistake.  Do you know what?  I’m so grateful for all those mistakes.  I went and I saw what it was like and I survived absolutely fine.   That was what I needed to see.  That was what I needed to realize “Hey, I CAN do this!”  Despite all the little annoyances that could have been prevented had I just spent less time freaking out in fear and more time doing basic research, it was a great experience.  On my second night in London, my British friends arrived and showed up at my hotel to collect me to go drinking, but I was out solo sightseeing.   I was actually quite proud of myself.  Look at me, being self sufficient, seeing LONDON BY MYSELF!!!

I recognize now that was I was SO petrified worrying about everything that I took no real time to pay attention to anything little because I was so scared of everything else.  For my second trip, I was so much more prepared.  I arrived with so much information all printed out and organized perfectly. I had maps and directions and every single thing I wanted to do was laid out with location and cost, including cost of public transit.  I also had every train schedule and intermediate stops printed out just so I could verify I was always going the right way.  I planned this trip perfectly.

I found that my time in each city was more than ample for what I personally wanted to see, because I did research to make sure I had enough time in every place I ended up.  A great tool I used to make plans were Rick Steves guide books.  He outlines so much information that makes it so easy.  It is crystal clear how to do walks in neighborhoods that take you to every tourist attraction. You find out accurately how much time you will need. It makes it so easy to figure out how much time you should spend in a city to see everything that you want to see.

As I start this blog,  I will be posting about my trip from last April/May, along with current plans for my next trip this coming April/May.  Taking trips involving many countries and train travel is a ton of work.   I realize there are people out there who arrive with nothing more than a train pass and just go go go.  I am not one of those people.  I over plan everything.  It’s the best way for me to get the maximum out of my trips, which is crucial when you are attempting to see the entire world on just vacation time from work.