La Playa Part I - Barceloneta Beach

The pivotal turning point in our trip was the beach. It was the highlight of the overall experience. To finally get there meant the start of actual recreation. Imagine being in France among people and just being exposed to what we're supposed to like. Spain was about tying to find what we didn't know we liked. At least that was what it became for me. 


Travelin' Hygiene - Do "Other" People Use Washcloths?

What person gets excited about going to a strange place and showering? I don't. I am plagued with anxiety about it. Why? Washcloths. Yes. I said washcloths. That miniature towel to wash ones parts with. Sometimes it is folded over. Other times it becomes that warped "rag" laid across the faucet. I'm more of a fan of fluffy rolls or bundled stacks. I'm a tad more classy about mines. I also like to conceal them after use. Then I boil mines with bleach and repeat. So when traveling I do wonder how am I going to stay clean? 


Bebidas Buddy System

I dare anyone to go to Spain and not drink. I bet serious money that it will be impossible. You may involuntarily consume vermouth soaked olives or sherry bathed shrimp. I'm not saying you will get drunk and wind up in jail. I'm just saying you won't be able to avoid the temptation and allure of the Torres winery. Cruz Campos on tap. Shandy on the beach. I would even be as bold to say a non-soda drinker would be screwed. There will be days so hot the stores are out of bottled water but the Coke is ice cold. So is the Fanta and the Postabon. In my case, I'd been advised. I took an oath. I forgot the advice. I broke the oath. This while in the company of someone who was supposed to deter me from my faults. 


Fuck Tapas!

Now I know people travel to eat. It is the best way to know more about the culture of where you are visiting. However, it never occurred to me to travel for food sake. I didn't think about the opportunities in exploring a country through cuisine. I've always been rather open minded about food even calling myself a selective foodie. However, I do have issues. My nose is sensitive. I have redundant colon so I should be choosey. Texture is a problem for me so I may eat sushi one day and be completely turned off by something as simple as tomato seeds the next. Tapas was supposed to be an unintentional, easy way to explore Spain. It was also the most unfulfilling, expensive and nauseating way to explore Spain. I don't regret tapas. I'm happy I tried it once, twice ... four total times. After that I just wondered the streets hungry looking for any alternatives. One could never imagine how difficult it is to just find a decent burger in a world of Iberian ham and funny colored olives. Seriously, there are only so many things even a foodie can tolerate.


Money, Euros and Banking While Abroad

This is probably a little too far in the blog but that is what labels/tags are far. I hope you skipped ahead and found this gem of vital information. Sadly, I didn't get a lesson in world wide currency until abroad and two countries later. All I knew was my own countries money. I have only been mildly fascinated by the color & variety of international bills. My ignorance to currency exchange and the value of the U.S. dollar seriously hurt my spending ability while in Europe. I would encourage anyone embarking on a trip outside of their realm to research the comparing dollar before making any financial moves. Such moves do include any bookings of travel, accommodations or getting funds to spend while on your trip. Of course, I did make some specific financial moves well before I left but I'm afraid I didn't ask all the right questions regarding them. In order to save you precious time and a fair deal of money - here is what to do, say and ask BEFORE you leave.


Oh, Barcelona!

We booked a total of five days in Barcelona. It was the first week of July and the weather was right for it. Most every day it was 80 degrees with a slight overcast. By the afternoon the sun was out and sunglasses were a requirement. Barcelona teemed with an expected fashion sense. Totally unaware that Barcelona is a fashion capital and the epicenter of all things Spain - there was definitely something in the air. Women were well dressed, men were absolutely gorgeous, shops had guards and things just moved - fast. With the hustle and bustle there was pollution and noise, a lot of it. I found myself trying to process a vacation in a big city with so much going on. If you're looking to escape or relax, you would need a car or a spa appointment in Barcelona. There was plenty to do and see but you had to travel out a tad to getaway within one of Europe's largest cities.


Spain 101

Spain is an interesting country.There are beaches, mountains, deserts, valleys, gardens, forests, ghettos and suburbs. Surely, every country has a mixture of this but every city in Spain is so different. There is no east coast or big south that boasts the same everything. From the train on I found completely new weather, customs, foods and there was always something brand new. This is utterly confusing because you arrive with misconceptions. You expect for everything to be revolved around windy, rocky beaches and bullfighting rings. I didn't think tapas would be as primitive as it was. I didn't expect Spain to be as modern as it was. I truly didn't know what it was to be Spanish. There are really no parallels in North America. Surely, there are concepts and traditions that we have taken but we have diluted most of them. Honestly, Spanish culture is more than olives and flamenco. Spanish culture is about relaxation, luxury, high art, design and love. All the infusion into Hispanic, Latino, and Caribbean culture as we know it cannot even begin to compete.


Elipsos 477: The Overnight Trainhotel To Spain

We both found out about the Elipsos in May. Before then we both believed that travelers would get a train pass that allowed for travel all over the European Union. This pass does exist with some very important exclusions. France has a wonderful train system ran by SNCF and trains leaving France are considered apart of the TGV system. However, France's train systems do not have to play nice with other countries regardless of the pass. When going to the SCNF and Eurorail websites, which coordinate tickets for international purchasers you will find a short video about the stipulations. Spain has Renfre/Adif and Italy has Italo so there is no way to interconnect from France even with a pass. The video explained how there was only the Elipsos for travel from France to Spain and alternate means like ferries and flights to Italy. This is why we had to reverse our plans from Italy first to Spain. We also had to forgo the global or Eurail pass and stick to individual train tickets. We would head out to Barcelona, use Renfe within Spain to travel Costa Del Sol figuring out Italy later.

Hello From The Distance Future ... The Elipsos/Trenhotel took its final journey that December in 2013. If you want to do anything remotely like it there is now a friendly six hour train connection between SCNF and Renfre. You can also take a Flix Bus or fly. 


Being The Bigger Person (Looking Back)

Only now can I find a solution to every problem. Only now can I turn every scenario around. Isn't that how things always wind up? You have an altercation, make a mistake or take the low road and then find an alternative to avoid whatever just happened. In our case - bitchiness, immaturity, excessive travel and money issues just heightened everything. There was no time to settle, own up to things and properly react. Well, no one decided to be the bigger person and make the time. I expected for us to "quarrel" for lack of better words. I knew being in close quarters and under the stress of travel would create disagreements. I was ready for that. I was also open to discussions and compromise but that never happened. My biggest mistake was taking my feelings elsewhere than to her. Her biggest mistake was resenting me up front for merely being there.


City Highlight: Nantes

Let me spring back to my stay in Nantes. Having stayed there just short of a month I had plenty of time to explore and learn about the city. First of all, Nantes is pronounced nahnt. The city is an amazing mix of Medieval old world, Britagne rule and French moderne. I've mentioned how Nantes appeared to be a mini Paris and in actuality it is far from it. Surely, Paris has neighborhoods, historical landmarks and cultural spots but it isn't moving like Nantes. Nantes is bustling yet small. The city is constantly working to NOT be Paris. Nantes boasts an epic public transportation system, a city-wide green campaign and a supportive arts community. The outcome is a city on the brink of next all the while keeping it extremely real and very old French. 


Things I Left In Nantes - Rewinding Back To w/e June 29th, 2013

That last week in Nantes was an evaluation. I'm strumming through my things and packing up a myriad of mementos. I'm checking all the drawers in the room, finally strumming through tourist books and hoping I haven't missed anything - be it a stray sock or an art installation. Meanwhile my friend and I are going in opposite directions. I found myself in that apparthotel a lot. The weather was seriously the worst. It was always raining, with a nasty overcast and ending with a bitter cold. Pretty much the good days were over. Fete de Musique was last weekend. The BBQ was that Sunday so all goodbyes were had with the dancers. I'd also sat most of that night playing Candy Crush Saga. I did this while everyone was enamored with watching a tour video. That night I think her friend was finally over me. She gave me several looks of death during this BBQ now turned viewing party. Seriously, I didn't understand why someone would enjoy watching themselves unedited for nearly two hours. I was rather full, extremely tired and it was better for me to play a game on silent mode then fall asleep. For that I think I was punished. My friend claimed that she needed to bond with them. Then she had several dates lined up with him. So I was left to my own devices which were always flukes.

One day I walked to the Paradis mall hoping for wi-fi. It had no air conditioning and a wi-fi network that lasted about twelve feet. While walking back her friend claimed she saw me as she was driving past. I guess I was walking too fast for her to bother offering a ride. Another day I took the tram as far as it would go. I then walked an overgrown park looking for this rose garden the one dancer had told us about. Instead, I found several old bag ladies and graffiti. I wanted to get my last croissant amande and the bakery I liked most was closed over two days straight. I finally decided we could both go see the chateau. She asked could we wait for warmer weather so that took a few more days. When it was finally sunny I was asked to meet her over their house to do our last loads of laundry and bring over the "not taking" bag. Since her friend had the luxury of owning both a washer and dryer we could go castle hunting that same day. Their silly washer took nearly two hours to wash and the dryer an additional two hours to "steam dry". I figured we could easily do a load and be back by the Electrolux chime. So I got all dressed up and did my hair and makeup. I then schlepped all the way to her friends house with both my laundry and my bag of unnecessaries. 

When I arrived she wasn't even dressed. Yet I was wearing some statement necklace and had did my nails. I started our clothes while she looked at my huge duffle. Then she went to take a shower and upon her return I realized my whites were pink. They were pink from an orange scarf she had gifted me. Well not gifted me - she donated to me. She loved to donate things she didn't care for anymore. I typically re-gifted to my roommates and whatever they didn't want I officially donated without telling her. So I began to wonder could I go get bleach and get back in time for us to do anything at all. However, somewhere in between her judgement and my mistake she had mentioned that she wasn't going with me anywhere. That was the same night as her dinner and sleep over. So now I was dressed up with nowhere to go and being asked if I could hurry with my laundry so she could get to her date. I rode all the way to the store and got bleach and a sandwich. I ate my jambon & butter on the tram back because lunch and the chateau were now out of the question. Once back she left me to the laundry and I pretty much sat there for the next four hours. My clothes never got back completely white in the wash, so I put the clothes to soak in the sink and there in the kitchen I found a bottle of perfectly fine bleach in the cabinet. Once done with my laundry I put what I wasn't taking with the other stuff, packed the keepers in my new reusable bag from my unduly bleach trip and left the key under the mat for her friends. I then schlepped all the way back but now waiting for one of the last trams while cold in a sleeveless dress. 

The next day I met her in front of the chateau. We went to see some other temporary exhibits and then entered the castle itself. We then left abruptly and later I realized we'd missed half of the chateau due to some haste on her part. She had already woken up at his place. Then she accompanied him on his way to work. Now she was with me and could not stop talking about him. I asked could we have lunch and she informed me she was meeting him for lunch. Then when he said he couldn't meet her we went to a burger spot. However, now she was asking me should she get him something. When he declined that too she seemed pissed off. He said he was going home to eat and I think it bothered her that he wasn't willing to come out or take her hand outs. So we left the burger spot abruptly so she could catch him at home. We were leaving in the morning and in my eyes there was still so much to do. I'd forgot certain things at the hotel that should have been in my leave bag. She was also now responsible for money I had transferred to her and I needed some cash. So we're walking down the street and she's scolding me. Why did I need money? Why was I trying to add stuff to the bag? She then handed me a 20 from her wallet and proceeded to walk away from me. Her last words were "is that enough?" I think I walked the streets for all of an hour before going back to my hotel. I didn't even have enough change to take the tram legally. So I wound up dodging controle for a bit. Then it occurred to me to break the 20 in a nearby kebab shop. So two French Coke liters later I was schlepping again.

Once back at the hotel I realized I hadn't left much out. I just had some multi buy things like these Christian LaCroix tins and French Tic-Tac boxes I didn't necessarily need in Paris. I also had makeup I'd bought and I just didn't want to travel with loose pigment in glass jars. Besides all the major stuff like my Tous cross body purse, all my H & M skirts and long sleeved things were at her friends. Those were all things I wouldn't need. I didn't bother to double check. Besides she made sure to tell me how she'd already went through everything and merged it into her stuff. She didn't want to burden her friends with a lot since their flat was small and quite messy. All I got was an image of everything stuffed into my backpack which was originally inside of my duffel. So I ignored her for the remainder of the night, got drunk on French Coke and attempted to eat everything in my kitchenette. Anything left over including eggs and ramen noodles were placed in a donation bag for her friends. On the way to the train station I reminded her friend several times to make sure she got it out the backseat. In the back of my mind I imagined her stopping just outside of the train station and catapulting it all into trash. One could hope she'd forgotten and found garlic salad dressing and rotten eggs well after we'd gotten into Spain. I'll never know. 


Friends Are For Long Walks In Paris

In Paris, we waited over an hour for a cab to our first hotel. Then the cabbie pretended to not know St.Germain. Upon arrival the lobby was filled with a fashionable bridal party. Every single girl was rail thin, over 5 ft 8 and wearing a unique couture cocktail dress. Lets just say we were underdressed having traveled for two hours by train. We were supposed to have a champagne toast but were given a voucher to go get it. The room was gorgeous but we were afraid to open things assuming we would be charged. So we didn't wear the robes and no one touched the glass Evian bottle. We took a lot of pictures, connected to the wi-fi and took to the streets for a meal. Up the block we found a string of brasseries and cafes. We even sat at one that offered "American" food which consisted of awful sandwiches and breakfast all day long. I know someone told me about this magical pancake place but we weren't interested. We opted for a normale spot next door for baguettes and frites. However, this is where I experienced my first $10 USD soda and a true thon sandwich which was just tuna... seriously nothing else. There was a loud group of Americans discussing cloud computing and a Russian couple arguing over avocados. The ambience was a no. Gladly, the Seine was just across the street facing the Musee D Orsay. We waited for over an hour to get in just to be kicked out in less than two. Surely, we saw Degas but that was it. The place was hot, crowded and full of flash happy tourists. We walked the Seine, passed the Louvre and walked parallel to the famous jardins. Gladly so because they were all lined in dirt not moss and mazes like you imagine in story books. My friend had already been so she walked twenty feet ahead while I peered into shops and boutiques. I saw enough limoges to make me second guess the authenticity of my personal collection at home. We finally landed at Angelina's. She hadn't shut up about the place since visiting in May. It reminded me of that bakery in Disney's Magic Kingdom complete with white counters and snooty people scraping their plates. We got some little cakes and macarons to eat in the nearby park. There we were serenaded by a ferris wheel and a one legged pigeon. Thankfully, our hotel was just across the river and champagne seemed like it would complement our meal. 

Paris Isn't Burning But It Is Overrated

When it came time to go to Paris I'd already gotten used to the French mystique. So I was not as pleased with the major sites or turned on by it. I'd also grown so tired of French cuisine and longed for anything without butter, cheese or ham. I was also devastated with the amount of money I wasted within Nantes. I'd absorbed enough of France and didn't wager what I needed to enjoy other places. So after too many cafe au laits and tram rides I was lacking for Spain and Italy. Thankfully, there was enough money aside to enjoy Paris for what it was. I walked the same streets as Ernest Hemingway, Coco Chanel, Pablo Picasso and Kanye West. I had Laduree macroons, walked the designers in Le Bon Marche and visited the Lourve to see the Mona Lisa. I've had a 7 Euro sparkling lemonade, paid over 300 Euros for a single night in a boutique hotel and walked over a mile for a noveau vegetarian hot dog. Paris is quite aware of how naive an American can be. They know the majority of us are seeking thrills and amusement. They also know we will pay anything for it no matter how lackluster. It kills me to say this, but Paris is one big amusement park - a sideshow if you ask me. If you are not in it for romance, artistic exploration or spiritual sabbatical you may get what you are looking for.

Now What? : Check-In Do's and Don'ts

While abroad, I stayed at ten different places in less than sixty days. One might say that isn't a lot if they travel often but for me it was unsettling (no pun intended). Two of these places were homes of a friend of a friend, two Air BnBs, one apparthotel, one brand hotel, two boutique hotels and two four star hotels. In all of these situations, there has been a check-in. I've arrived at a set and expected time. I've been introduced to a new space with its own rules and activities. I've gotten acquainted and relaxed. Then I freshen up to either go to sleep or leave for the days excursion. I guess you can say there is an unwritten code or a check-in etiquette for all stays alike be at a friends or a five star hotel

Hotels 101

In my lifetime I have never had to book a hotel. Like ever. Every single time I have traveled domestically someone else did the bookings and I just showed up. In the past five years, I haven't went anywhere that required a stay other than camping; which is camping. I don't even like online shopping. That notion is a huge indicator that online bookings are not my forte. I didn't even bother booking accommodations for myself until about three weeks before my trip. I made so many mistakes. I booked hotels on the edge of town. I booked hotels that were the definition of sketch. Sadly, I was just competing with my friend who was well-versed on booking shit. Every time we sat down to eat or got online the boxing round began on who booked what. I just didn't want to admit how bored I was of it and how I just didn't know my resources.

Frenchy 101

France is a heavenly place. France is a bazaar place. We agreed early on that bazaar was the most ideal word for it. The country is immersed in itself, its people and its random yet welcoming culture. Words cannot describe some of the things I witnessed while within its borders. I can't be sure about the east or south but the north and west of France is nothing short of fascinating. There were quite a few things to learn and sort of get used to. Lets just say travel books and movies didn't assist. There is a sort of reverse preparation you need to handle France beyond the duration of a few days. Honestly, there is a refinement you go into France expecting and you may even hold yourself accountable to simple etiquette. However, just pure manners are all you need. You'll rely upon everyday manners way more than where to put your napkin. 

Preventative Planning For Shit To Happen While On Vacation

When asked to accompany my friend it was all about France. Our original travel plans consisted of Nantes, Paris and that castle on an island from that one movie. Over the phone we dreamed up this plan to conquer most of Europe. I had my plans of seeing Sweden and Germany. She had her plans of seeing southern France and Costa Del Sol. We both mapped things in our own way. She had all these lists and I kept an ongoing document. When we finally sat together in NYC we re-routed everything. We sat down with maps and online reviews. We created an itinerary sending us west to Spain, then to Italy and back up through Belgium to London. She would have already been to London and Paris but would save the popular attractions for my arrival. Now we had air tight plans to have a weekend in Paris and a week in Londontown. Everything was open to change and ultimately we decided it would be better to return to Nantes skipping Belgium. Doing this would allow a slower pace back through the south of France. We would pass through Lyon and Versailles and finally see Mont Saint Michel (the castle). We would also save money going back to Nantes. Hopefully, we could stay with friends and eat-in. Besides Nantes was bitterly cold and we hadn't really seen Summer there. We would return in the first week of August refreshed from our trip and actually enjoy it this time.