Brooklyn, August 2016
It’s crazy to think that just last week I was wandering around London, and now I’m back home in a weird space between awake and asleep- jet lag has been rough! My friend Valerie and I signed up for the EF College Break London and Paris trip on a whim. I have traveled with this company before and it’s really the way to go if you don’t have the time (or the money) to plan a trip yourself. You pay a relatively low cost and EF books all of the hotels, most activities, like museum visits and bus tours, and provides money for transportation-even metro cards! With EF you travel with a large group of people, usually around 30, which definitely has its pros and cons. It’s great to meet new people, but a group that big can also slow you down, which isn’t great when you’re trying to see so much in so little time. Valerie and I went back and forth between hanging out with the group and exploring on our own – it was really the perfect balance!
Day 1: Operation Stay Awake
We arrived in London bright and early…but check in wasn’t until 2PM, so we had to keep ourselves awake and occupied until then. While eating at a coffee shop near the hotel with a few of the other early arrivals, Operation Stay Awake was born. One girl suggested that we should all go to Covent Garden, a semi-outdoor market in the center of London (<– a “pro” to group travel, Valerie and I would have never thought of this place on our own!). We all agreed and then somehow made our way to the tube station, despite being half asleep.
Covent Garden was a lot of fun and something I hadn’t seen on my last trip to London. We each bought a few souvenirs, and then found some place to eat real food – at an English pub of course! Later, we checked in to the hotel, met everyone else in the group at a Welcome Mixer in the lobby (food and drinks paid for by EF!), and then went for a bit of sightseeing with the group director. Operation Stay Awake was a success!
Day 2: Shopping and Side Streets
In the morning we went on a sightseeing tour of London with the group. The tour guide was really entertaining and very knowledgeable. The tour ended at Buckingham Palace, where we got to watch the changing of the guards – very cool.
Before the tour and on the tour, people kept suggesting that Valerie and I go to Harrod’s. I didn’t understand this. I kept thinking, it’s a department store how cool can it be? However, with all of the suggestions, we decided it was time to check it out, and upon walking in we immediately understood why it was so much more than just a department store. It really can’t be put into words, so all I will say is: if you’re ever in London go to Harrod’s.
Besides Harrod’s and going to King’s Cross Station, one of my favorite parts of the day was all of the walking we did. A bus tour is great for getting an idea about where to go and seeing everything at once, but absolutely nothing beats just walking around a city. It’s so much fun to walk through side streets and find yourself in places you have never planned on going, or even knew of.
Day 3: Off to the Country!
Valerie and I have both been to London before, so although there was still tons of stuff we could see and do in the center of London, we wanted to do something different this time. We had signed up for the excursion to Oxford that EF College Break offered, but it was cancelled a few days before the trip, so we decided to go on our own. After sleeping in just a bit (much-needed!) we took a train from London to Oxford, which only takes about 54 minutes! Oxford is one of the most picturesque places I have ever seen. It’s a quiet town filled with beautiful architecture, cobblestone streets, and bikes at every corner – it is exactly what I picture when someone mentions England. I couldn’t believe that people actually went to school there, it just didn’t seem real!
Day 4: Goodbye, London! Bonjour, Paris!
Valerie and I both have not-so-fond memories of Paris, but we wanted to give the city of lights a second try. Unfortunately, the bus ride to the hotel from the Gare du Nord train station almost solidified our first impression (the area around the train station is not somewhere you would want to find yourself at night). Thankfully, the rest of our stay in Paris would prove that it’s not so bad after all.
Before I get into the day itself, I want to mention where we stayed. In London we stayed at a hotel, which seemed to be mostly filled with people on business trips, but in Paris, we stayed at a hostel. For most people the word “hostel” might bring up an idea of someplace dirty and maybe even unsafe, but this place was anything but. It was the first hostel I have ever stayed at and it really made for an entirely different experience (in a good way). Rather than being surrounded by middle age men and women in business attire, we were now surrounded by people our own age, here for the same purpose that we were – to have fun in a new city. Not only was the hostel clean and safe (security right at the door), but it also had its own club, cafe, and rooftop bar! It was so much fun, and very convenient! If you’re ever looking into a trip abroad and need somewhere nice, but inexpensive, definitely look into Generator Hostels.
On our first day in Paris we took a cruise along the Siene. It’s my second time doing this, and in my opinion it is the best way to see the Eiffel Tower. After the cruise we went out to dinner with a few of the girls and then went up to the hostel’s rooftop bar!
Day 5: Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame
Today was filled with tourist destinations! We started the day off with a group trip to the Eiffel Tower, but we couldn’t get close to it as it was being blocked off due to a suspicious package. Despite feeling a bit shaken from all of the commotion at the tower, we made our way to the Louvre. Museums are my second favorite place to be (bookstores are first); I love the quiet and the feeling of being surrounded by knowledge and history. Before walking around, we had a bite to eat at Starbucks. I know it’s silly that it’s a chain “restaurant”, but Starbucks abroad is so different – I had pancakes with my coffee! We took in the peacefulness of the Louvre (note: it’s the opposite of peaceful if you make your way towards Mona Lisa), attempted to read the labels next to the art pieces (they’re all in French), and took a lot of pictures!
After the Louvre, we went on a bus tour of Paris, and again the tour guide was amazing! We were able to see so much in a short amount of time and even got to stop at a small cafe for an espresso! The bus tour dropped us off right near Notre Dame so we were able to check another must-see destination off of our list before heading back to the hostel! Once we were back we went out to eat at a nearby restaurant. Paris was filled with going out to eat- I loved it!
Day 6: Act Like a Local
We started the day by heading to Shakespeare and Company bookstore, a must on my list (remember bookstores are my number one favorite place)! It was great to get away from the city for a bit and wander around the bookstore. I ended up buying a book about Ernest Hemingway, one of my favorite authors. Then we found a cafe and had lunch while sitting facing the street (Parisians often do this so that they can talk about the people who pass by). It was a beautiful day and the lunch was delicious!
At around three we went to the outskirts of Paris to meet up with Valerie’s cousin, Gina, who has lived in Paris for the past eleven years. She took us to several different restaurants around the canal, one of which looked like a house, but was actually a bar (we walked upstairs and people were having a drink in a bathtub!). We then went to pick up Gina’s daughter from the nearby daycare. It was really interesting to see a Parisian daycare! We walked in and all of the kids were sitting quietly, eating a piece of baguette (can’t make this up). Then we all headed back to Gina’s apartment and had our own baguette with cheese and radishes with butter (so French!). It was so, so nice to see things in a new perspective (a local one) and to just sit and talk with Valerie and Gina over good food in a home setting!
The last event of any EF trip is always a farewell dinner, and ours happened to be at Montmartre, another place we really wanted to see! We met the group at the restaurant, had a delicious meal, and then walked the 270 steps to Basilica de Sacre-Coeur (after meal workout?). The steps were worth it, because the view was amazing! Definitely put it on your list of things to go and see if you are ever in Paris!
Overall the whole trip was unforgettable! It was my second time in both places, but a completely different experience. Despite all of the fun Valerie and I had, it was really nice to come home. I have been feeling sort of disheartened with the state America is in right now, but going away really put things into perspective. Every place has its own set of problems, the grass isn’t greener on the other side. There may be a lot that needs to be fixed, but I’m still proud to say that America is my home.
Note: The EF College Break trip is actually called “London and Paris in 8 Days“, however the two extra days were complete travel days due to the time difference.
Okay, so maybe love at first sight isn’t the kind of love that lasts forever. While I’m still completely enamored with the outskirts of San Francisco, the city itself didn’t “wow” me (New York City wins again!). At the start of Day 2 we made our way to Fisherman’s Warf and immediately thought to ourselves: “Why did everyone tell us to come here?” There are people everywhere (Think: The Garden State Plaza Mall on a Saturday before Christmas) and it looks like any other boardwalk; i.e. nothing to get excited about.
We instead made a stop at Gihardelli Square, which was quieter and very New England-esque with it’s brick buildings. We grabbed some Gihardelli ice cream and enjoyed the view.
The rest of our day consisted (mostly) of looking for parking and figuring out how to park. We were used to the looking part, but what is the deal with the parking meters in San Francisco? So confusing! Besides driving around for hours, we also stopped at Alamo Park to see The Painted Ladies (Full House!!!), wandered around City Lights Bookstore, and made sure to drive up a really steep hill- just to say that we did.
On Day 3 we got up early and made our way to Muir Woods, little did we know what was ahead. The roads to get there were winding, steep, and scary so we made ourselves feel better by resolving to find a different way back. The woods themselves were amazing. Standing among the ancient redwoods gives you an indescribable feeling of peacefulness. We were lucky to get there early when there were only a few visitors and the park was quiet. By the time we left at around 9:30 AM the parking lots were full and the pathways in the forest were crowded. I don’t think I would have enjoyed the forest as much had I been admiring it as someone next to me discussed what they wanted for lunch.
The drive down is when things went…uh..downhill (excuse the pun). We asked one of the park rangers for a less scary route back and she gave us directions confidently, explaining that this way was much better. We were relieved. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before we realized that “less scary” to someone that has lived here all their lives means winding roads along the cliffs with guard rails, rather than without. It took us awhile to get back down to civilization because I may or may not have had to pull over a few times to take deep breaths.
We were happy to make it back to our Airbnb on ground level. Rather than staying right in San Francisco we stayed in Mill Valley (about 15 minutes from SF), and I’m so glad we did! I would never know this charming little town existed. After recuperating from The Muir Woods Meltdown (Starbucks and junk food works like a charm) we ventured back into the city, but this time we made sure to leave the car behind. Hello, San Francisco Bay Ferry!
We wandered the city free of parking meter worries and found the infamous Lombard Street! It was definitely nice to walk and get a better feel for San Francisco, but to my disappointment I still didn’t understand what all the hype was about. Why wasn’t I loving San Francisco like everyone said I would? I guess I will need to come back someday and stay longer!
See you later, San Francisco
This past Mother’s Day I bought my mom and I tickets to California. I planned a mother-daughter road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and today we were finally on our way…with a really early flight. Waking up early was tough, but the airport brought new obstacles. We were at the gate getting ready to board when my mom realized she couldn’t use any of her favorite websites on the flight. “Why can’t I use Youtube on the flight?” (There’s no WiFi), “Can I use HBO GO?” (No), “Can I use Showtime on Demand?” (No), “Netfl…” (NO!). After an attempted explanation as to why we can’t watch Hozier music videos at 30,000 feet in the air, my mom fell asleep before the plane ever left the ground. Let the adventure begin!
Five and a half hours later, we landed in San Francisco. It was love at first sight. We hopped in our rental car and began our journey through San Francisco towards the first destination: Sonoma Valley. “How much do you think it costs to live here?” I questioned aloud, already planning my move. The fog rolling over the mountains, the Spanish style homes, and the sailboats in the bay- it’s all so beautiful. I couldn’t believe I was really here! (Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge was especially surreal).
Halfway through the trip we decided that we needed some Real Food (fake food = the cookies, donuts, and pretzels we ate on the flight). As if by magic, a right turn appeared that led us to a place called Cornerstone Sonoma. It was as if someone took everything I loved and put it all together in the mountains of Sonoma Valley. Cornerstone Sonoma has stores filled with cute and overpriced home decor, a coffee shop, beautiful gardens, and a cafe with more than one dish containing fresh vegetables. We had a delicious lunch, wandered the gardens, and then continued our trip to the Airbnb in Glen Ellen. We arrived to find a small but spacious cottage with a lot of character (the owner is an artist!) and a spacious backyard. Staying in a local house, rather than a hotel, takes away from that awful touristy feeling and replaces it with a feeling of belonging. You get to pretend, even if just for a night, that you live in a place much different from your own. I definitely recommend giving it a try.
Day 1 was a success- a busy morning and relaxing night.
Until next time xx.
Checked one off of my Thirty by 30 list at the very start of the new year!
I can’t believe how long it’s been! Work is keeping me very busy! I have several lessons in my drafts that I am anxious to share with you, but since they’re lengthy I still have to make a few adjustments. So as a quick, but worthy update, here are three things I love this week:
Insurgent. I read Divergent back in January and loved it, but for some reason I never had an interest in pursuing the rest of the trilogy. Something caused me to pick up the second book this past week, and I couldn’t put it down. I just finished it today, but I wish I hadn’t…it’s that good! I love the multiple layers of the story and the plot is so filled with so many twists and turns that you are constantly kept guessing. I can’t wait to read Allegiant!
This site that I stumbled upon on pinterest. Ah, buzzfeed. It can always be counted on for good, but sometimes overwhelming, lists. This list is definitely overwhelming…but in a “Wow I can’t wait to look at all of these. When will I find the time?” kind of way. So far I really like Trover – which is a lot like instagram, but geared towards travel and discovering new places. It even has an option to save pictures to a list of dream destinations!
Peter Pan Live! Peter Pan is my absolute favorite character. (Staying young forever, flying, and fighting pirates? Yes please.) When I was younger I would watch Peter Pan every time I was upset, so when I saw that they were making a live version, I couldn’t wait! The whole production was so well put together and I really felt as if I was at a live production. But this might have been even better, because I was actually home in my pajamas with a cup of hot chocolate. The set had a very fairy tale feel and the actors were amazing– it was especially cool to see Allison Williams in such a different setting!