Whirlwind

Can it be? Have four, almost five, whole months passed since my last post?!

Where should I even begin? I have too many tales to regale. Like the time a 10-year-old French ‘player’ (yes, 10- apparently they’re starting younger and younger) shyly professed his love for me on the last day of camp. Or the time I got involved in a Game of Thronesesque pranking war that divided all the counselors against each other in untrusting good fun. Or the time I had a break (pun intended?) from camp,  went on a nice birthday-weekend-kayak-trip, and proceeded to bash my head and break my nose on said kayak. Pros- I got a cheap nose job, a badass story, the reassurance that I can communicate in drug-induced French, and a more solid appreciation for life. Cons- rapids still traumatize me…just a little.

Proof

Proof

And I haven’t even started on summer.

So now that I’ve proven I am alive (and for the moment well) I hope to recount some of the adventures in more detail. Hopefully to come: the misadventures of traveling with one’s mom, the pros and cons of the group tour, the vegetarian guide to Spain, becoming a flamenco addict, hiking Cinque Terre in less than 24 hours, understanding Pisa’s charm, and even a pretty picture or two.

But for now let me summarize the whirlwind in a few photos:

 

La vie est belle. 

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Oh the Travel ‘Companions’ I’ve met

Most of the time I relish in flying alone. Despite the stress that usually accompanies flying- waking up at the ass crack of dawn, dealing with power drunk security officials, eating god awful food at jacked up prices- in spite of all of this, airports can actually provide a wonderful source of solitude, or much-needed space. I have time to write, ponder, read that book I’ve been dying to finish, observe the various interesting human interactions, and catch up on my latest trashy magazine (yes Cosomo is my guilty travel pleasure).

But then there are times when I wish to all-that-is-holy that I was traveling with a partner, or friend, or anyone who I could comfortably tell to “move their damn arm because it is popping my personal space bubble!!” On my way home this past Saturday, as I sat getting far too personal with the frosty airplane window, because Mr. ‘Unaware of His Surroundings’ just had to take up the entire arm rest, and even some of the skin between my ribs, I thought about the travel “companions” I’ve had the pleasure of knowing throughout the years.

I present to you only a few of the character’s I’ve met.

1. The Talker
This companion can actually be quite fun- if you’re in the right mood. Usually they’re excited about their destination, and want to hear all about yours. But mostly they want to tell you about their life’s story. I’m from Texas, so it’s kinda protocol to engage if someone talks to you. We’re talkers too. However, if I’m sleep deprived, or travel constipated, or still pissed off by the TSA jacking my favorite key chain, (true- it was a tiny pocket knife, but it’s honestly so small that even a fly would roll their eyes at it), then the last thing my sweaty, frazzled self wants to do is exchange in social pleasantries. Which leads me to #2. Continue reading

Pictures from Portugal

It’s especially cold and dreary outside today as winter (and a seasonal cold) are creeping up on me. But in an effort not to let this grey day get in my way, I thought I’d share some more Portugal pictures, because I took far too many, and plus they’re colorful and reminiscent of happy times. (Take that starter seasonal depression!)

Faro’s proximity to the lagoon made for some excellent bird sightings. Plus Lisbon was right by the coast, so here are a variety of birds- coastal birds, city birds, birds overtaking a statue and even birds trying to operate a boat…

I fell in love with the colorful and rustic doors in Portugal. Especially their knockers.

Sunny days

And finally some people (and a freaky mannequin).

Also- I officially have over 100 followers!! This is very exciting and much appreciated! Thanks to all of those who have followed, read, and shared words as I’ve gotten lost and explored.

Happy Hump Day! 

The Portugal Diaries

Since I didn’t have wifi for the majority of the trip, I took to writing notes on my iPhone (starting to understand the beauty of these devices). So here are The Portugal diaries:

Day 1: Getting There (Grenoble-Munich-Lisbon-Faro)

Is this a day? It feels like 5 rolled into one. We’ve been traveling since 3am this morning. Bike to bus to airport, to another airport, to another bus, to a train we missed because our flight was delayed, to finally waiting in the dark streets for our airbnb host to let us in. We’ve feasted like hobbits having a meal or snack every few hours because our internal clocks are askew and as a hobbit might think, eating helps pass the time. 18 hours of travel. Antoine and I have been through something like the seven stages of grieving- denial of how long this day would actually feel, anger, and then guilt, from being grumpy with each other, and ultimately acceptance and hope that in spite of missing our train we might actually make it to our destination. Reminder- if possible avoid insanity-inducing long travel days like these.

Too early

Too early

Although I must admit- seeing the sun rise over the Swiss alps is pretty stunning.

IMG_6309

Day 2: Exploring Faro

Good news- we didn’t sleep on the streets! Even better, we met our German host who let us in to our cute little Faro apartment, and informed us that there’s a fall fair starting tonight in our honor! Well…there’s a fall fair on the day of our arrival. Coincidence? I think not. But it’s a gorgeous day- there’s a semblance of summer lingering just outside of my window! How can this much sun and warmth exist in October? I won’t waste my time asking questions- time to explore the old town, take a boat ride around the lagoon and go enjoy the beach. Finally a real vacation with Frenchie!! Continue reading

I’ve Missed The Wildflowers

Bike riding down dusty paths, exploring cobblestone tops of old castles, seeking warmth under the sand with my bare feet, and stopping to smell the wildflowers. Amazingly enough these are not memories from my childhood, but rather the foundation of my quarter century start.

I was fortunate enough to celebrate my 25th birthday in the South of France. The remaining assistants and I stayed in a big local house (thanks to airbnb) in the quaint, but difficult to pronounce, town of Villeneuve les Maguelone. Situated close to protected beaches and accessible to Montpellier, it was the perfect introduction to summer in the South (hoping to have a whole Southern France section of this blog later).

villeneuve-les-maguelone

The tiny town was quiet and not accustomed to seeing non-French tourists, which made for authentic experiences. The roads were bikeable and the old church by the beach was intimate with it’s vineyard, medical services, and sweet scents of jasmine wafting from the botanical garden. The beaches were not overcrowded, and the inhabitants moved slower through the small, interwoven streets and smiled more often than the non verbal Montbeliardans I’d become familiar with. It was a welcome change.

The area made it convenient for day trips to France’s 8th largest city and an old Medieval town- Montpellier and Aigues-Mortes. Though my time in Montpellier was short, it took only a small sliver time to make a big impression. I will definitely be returning.

Containing an old Medieval town within its walls and a colorful salt marsh just outside, Aigues-Mortes was unique to say the least. Winding through the old streets, observing with intrigue at the Medieval festival, and climbing through the castle brought back a rush of delightful freedom and a sense of wonder.

Wonderfully enough this trip entering adulthood sent me back to memories from my childhood. The warm weather, the smells of spring, and the simple pleasures of hearing waves rolling, or tasting hard-boiled eggs in a homemade sandwich were refreshing. And then there were the wildflowers. Oh how I missed the wildflowers. As we drove away from the Alps of Grenoble and the terrain became increasingly more flat and dry (reminding me more and more of Austin), I was surprised to feel my heart swell with childlike glee at the sight of wildflowers. I can’t believe it’s been years since I’ve seen them like that. Years since I’ve seen them in full bloom, taking over masses of earth, and tangling with each other in bursts of colorful confusion. No wonder the painters headed down South. Oh I’ve seen flowers. I might have been deprived of Spring in the spastic Boston weather, but I’ve still seen flowers. But there was something particularly breath taking about seeing the wildflowers- to see their color dominating fields, sides of roads, and cracks of walls. Or maybe it was because encapsulated in their passionate forms, they held pieces of home, of familiarity, of a time filled with innocence and memories of simple pleasures.

Or maybe they were just on my mind because of my Grandma’s quirkiness. During one phone conversation prior to the beach, she blurted, “The bluebonnets are blooming.” To which I responded, “Oh. That’s so nice. I miss the bluebonnets.” As images of their blue bodies floated through my mind and I realized just how much I missed them, my grandma interrupted with West Texan urgency, “No, no, no! That’s our code word.” “Our what?!” “Our code word. If anything happens. You say ‘The bluebonnets are blooming,’ and you’ll have a ticket home!” “Grandma. What would I need a code word for?” “I don’t know if something were to happen. If Antoine were to go bad or you were in a situation that required a code word.” As if I’m living in some hostile territory or dating some operative that could turn on me at any moment.

Needless to say that took the innocence out of the moment. My grandma is worth a blog post of her own- several for that matter. She is a character, a force to be reckoned with, and a whole lot of crazy who I completely admire.

Code words aside, it was nice to be reminded of simple things. It was nice to recharge with spring, with sun and especially with the wildflowers.

Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

Buongiorno from Italy!

The Texan Holiday Ambassador (or in other words, my father) finally arrived! With him descended madness, much laughter, thoroughly missed Texan cuisine (re-fried beans and tortillas!!) and a gift bag stocked full of goodies from ma mere (which I have been diligently waiting to open until xmas…well most of it anyways).

Some how relaxing took a back seat as dad and I ran around trying to prepare for our trip, fighting with gps technology (or lack thereof), and printing out last minute maps. We made a snap decision to cut our trip in “half” (if only we knew), crash at Antoine’s in Grenoble Wednesday, and brave the snowy French Alps on Thursday all to avoid Swiss tolls and make it to Como, Italy. After the 4 hour drive turned into over 10, and as sanity, patience, energy, and motivation to make it to our remote mountain villa faded, it seemed as though we would not arrive at our final destination in one piece. But we finally arrived and the sight of our beautiful (and GIANT) lake view villa was enough to breathe new life into us. We couldn’t believe that such lavish accommodations were all ours! But lesson learned- sometimes your time IS worth the money.

The past few days have been dreamlike, or as Dad keeps calling it “Disneyland!”. We took ferries around the pristine lake from Menaggio, to Bellagio to Como and caught the funicular in time to watch night fall over Como. (Fun fact: for those of you who don’t know, George Clooney owns a villa in Como. Unfortunately no sights were made). Today was just as surreal, as we popped across the border and took another (much bigger) funicular up Monte Bre in Lugano, Switzerland. While I might have an ever increasing personal annoyance with Switzerland (their “neutrality” is a little too convenient, they hold most of the world’s money, they’re surrounded by EU countries all sharing in currency and border privileges and yet remain their own little island of superiority AND charge out the wazoo to pass through their little island…), I cannot deny the breathtaking beauty that is the Switzerland. Layers of snow capped mountains stacked upon steep rolling hills with crystal waters and cozy villages nestled in valleys is pretty hard to scoff at. As we ate our pre-packed sandwiches, we stared in awe at the fairy tale scenery before us. Sometimes I really have to stop and remind myself of the amazing experiences I am having. I truly am lucky.

That being said, I must reaffirm what I already learned through my travels (especially during my East Europe trip) as well as some new insight.

1. Maps- always have them. Especially detailed ones. Don’t rely on technology (namely stupid Garmins!) to help you.

2. **A little planning goes a long way** I’m staring this one because as much as people like to write my desire to plan trips off as just another anal tendency, there are certain factors that, when planned, can alleviate stress and insanity.

  • Knowing where you’re going and having a general time frame helps avoid hunger, night driving, tolls and delirium…
  • It also helps to think about when to leave (especially by car), when to pass through, and when to arrive in big cities. Will you hit traffic? That goes for small cities too! Will you get lost if there is a detour? Will you be able to find your way at night?
  • Having detailed maps for leaving one location and arriving in another is always good. Surprisingly enough, the highway roads are not as easy to find the next day.
  • And I have learned that roads always take longer in Europe. They’re windy and you don’t know they way and maybe even the language. Prepare to get lost. Prepare to smile.

As Dad likes to quote from Peepaw, “Prior planning prevents piss poor performance”.

3. There’s something to traveling off season. True, things might be more dead than usual and you might miss out on some experiences due to off season closures, but there’s a tranquility, a peace that you don’t normally get to have when travelling to hot spots. During off season, you’re not battling the crowds, the jacked up prices, or the stress of “gotta see it all quickly!” You have time to set up the shot that you want to take, to breathe in the air, to listen to the sounds. Most of these places are beautiful in their own right- because of the area and not necessarily the tourist attractions set up around them.

4. And finally shoulda/coulda/woulda doesn’t ever really help. It’s tempting to pull them out during times of frustration, but it never changes your situation or predicament. And most of the time you don’t really look back and think of the bad things. I won’t resent the traffic jam in Milan, or the scary snow/ice covered alpine roads, or the expensive tolls because they led me to the good. And they helped pave the road for future travel knowledge. Instead of lamenting the things that should or could have gone better, it’s best to keep our eyes on the road, the final destination and learn from our mistakes- our experiences.

Here’s hoping I can apply these things to Nice! Tomorrow we bid the mountains arrivederci  and make our way towards the Cote d’Azur!

Ciao ciao!