Underground World of Paris. Literally.

Visiting the catacombs of Paris was definitely on my to-do list. I was expecting to go on a nice tour with nice people and maybe we’d all be a little freaked out together about the dead bodies. And maybe I would even learn some nice things, even though I tend to forget 95% of everything I hear on a tour. I was really excited then, when I arrived at my first ever CS host’s house and he mentioned he was planning to go in a few days and that I was welcome to join. Perfect!

The day before we (me, my host and his girlfriend) were planning to go underground he gave me the scoop. He took out this huge map of Paris that showed the catacombs with one tiny little section darkened in the south that is where the tours are. Then he gestured to the rest and said, ‘This is were we go’. ummm what? I just met you 3 days ago how trust worthy is your map…

Well apparently there is a whole community of people who are trusted with these maps. In these endless miles of tunnels they have found a few places to join to together to hang out, cook food, drink, watch movies on a big screen and even have music concerts. Sometimes they steal electricity from the city to have rock concerts. My host had tons of videos to show me. I was shocked to say the least.

So it was finally time. The three of us put on our adventure outfits, wrapped bandanas around our heads, strapped on headlamps and filled our backpacks with snacks and beer. Around 11 pm we drove to some area of Paris no tourists go, climbed over a brick wall onto abandoned train tracks, through a tunnel and down a tiny hole into the never-ending, multi-level, pitch black tunnels under Paris.

The super crazy part about the whole thing was that, as my host warned us, we had to follow his steps exactly. Why you ask? Well, aside from the fear of getting lost, occasionally there are holes along the paths that drop you to oblivion and when the water is coming up to your waist, well, you don’t want to slip. Let me try to paint the picture for you- think of visiting the 5 most confusing cities you’ve ever been in at once-that’s what the tunnels are like, it’s pitch black except for the 3 head lamps, the paths are on slopes so you have no idea how far below ground you are, and you have knowledge that people have gotten lost and never returned from going down there. It’s also impressive to mention that if you go around a corner you lose the sounds of those ahead of you…you become completely alone in a matter of seconds. It. Was. Wild.

After a few hours of walking, the girlfriend and I are helped up through a hole in the wall to a room so small we had to crouch down. I found a stone to sit on…look down…and I realize I am sitting on a pile of human bones. Yuuuuup. Creepy hardly even begins to describe it. I was stunned at first, gave a moment to respect what happened to these people… and then the small science nerd inside of me came out and I was naming the bones I found. I was lucky enough to find a femur someone had made into a candle torch (see photo).

Anyways, the night was only just beginning. We settled in a room for a drink with a castle like structure carved in the middle where other adventurers have left little figurines or candles. In another (where the films are usually watched) there were murals on the wall of famous movie characters and super heros. There we saw another couple cooking some beans on a small camp stove. No big deal. In another room full of bones we met a group of Dutch people and continued through the tunnels with them. Throughout this whole time I  like to point out that with the uneven ground and low ceilings I managed to bash my head.. too many times to count. There was literally a cartoon-like bump on the top of my head the next day. Sadly, I was not able to just push it down and make it go away, it was really quite painful to do that, I tried.

I had completely lost track of time, but we finally started to make our way out. Did we have to back track? No, of course not. We squeezed through a hole so small we had to climb through one at a time with our backpacks handed to us afterwards and climbed up a ladder at least 4 stories high out through a manhole cover.  It was 7:30 am.

After we found our way to civilization, said goodbye to the Dutch group we were able to head back home. Quick showers for everyone followed by a day of sleep. I know this was a super long story, but it is one of my greatest travel stories and it came from couch surfing. The next night was followed by another epic all night adventure that maybe I will share another time.

Moral of the story, try couch surfing.

under Paris!
Under Paris!

Making Pumpkin Pie in Munich

I arrived in Munich in November knowing I wouldn’t get my traditional American Thanksgiving Dinner. There was no way I was going to attempt a turkey, especially with a family I had just met (hellooo disaster!). So instead I decided on a pumpkin pie. I can handle that. Plus it fits into my skill set of only being able to cook breakfast foods and desserts.

Staying true to myself, I didn’t even attempt to make it until a week AFTER Thanksgiving. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to find the heaven in a can that is 9 out of 10* American’s pie filling. And while there is probably a pre-made pie crust here, if I’m going to puree a pumpkin I can make my own crust. I think…

So I easily enough found a recipe from an American expat in Germany who did most of the hard work with the recipe- conversions and translations of ingredients done. Now it’s up to me to FIND these ingredients.

Let me try to explain how these few days went. Start with googling where to buy American products in Germany. Look up directions. Write them down. Make plan of action.

Day 1: Go to new area of town, search for 30 minutes. Don’t find it. Go to another store in city center- don’t find what I need. Go home empty handed.

Day 2: Go to about 8 stores. Almost give up. Find baking soda. Go to about 5 more stores. Ask for help, no one knows what molasses is or where I can find it. Almost give up again. Decide to go to the store near my house after HOURS of running around town. Ask for help again- find everything else I need (are you serious??!).

For the record, molasses is near the honey in a container that looks like a pint of ice-cream, no wonder I couldn’t find it on my own. And baking powder comes in tiny little packets like what a wet-one comes in. Impossible. Go home. Bake until I almost lose my mind.

So basically it took me near 7 hours and 2 days taking the U-Bahn and ransacking every store I saw to find everything for this stinkin’ pie. And guess which genius didn’t keep track of where everything came from? This one. Sorry, this is not a post about Where to Find American Groceries In Munich. I have no lists or suggestions about where to go. In fact, I am probably the least helpful person you could ask about that. All I can say is good luck with your own baking adventures!

In the end, the crust was a bit crumbly, but everything tasted delicious. I’m proud of myself. I might even make it again soon just for funzies:)

Pumpkin Pie

*I made those numbers up, but come on, that stuff is goooood

First Time CouchSurfer

Image

Couch Surfing is a (relatively) new and incredibly amazing tool when it comes to travel. If you don’t know, it’s a community of people around the world that offer their couches to travelers as a free place to stay. On top of that, there are forums and events for each city you are in so you can meet other travelers or locals and explore/party together. Free to join and there is even an app for your phone. It’s pretty neat.

For first-timers, don’t be scared. Remember that if you feel uncomfortable you can always say no and leave. You can request to meet with your potential host before going straight to their house. Use your gut. I’ve sent out requests and gotten responses from people that just sounded shady, liiiiike:

“I only have a big king sized bed we would have to share, but I’ve hosted friends before and it hasn’t been a problem”

and..

“Oh and I’m really into message therapy and have a large collection of oils and lotions if you would like me to try any of them on you”

No. Aaaaaand no.

I kindly replied with ‘I found something else but thank you for your response. Cheers’. No biggy. The main thing I do after checking out what they have to say for themselves, are the reviews other Couch Surfers have left about them, it’s always insightful as to what you are getting yourself into. So on that note, make sure to be thorough with your profile and get your friends to write nice things about you!

If you don’t need a place to stay or are not currently traveling, CS can still be helpful. There are monthly or weekly CS Meet Ups hosted in all major cities for anyone who wants to hang out and make some new friends. They are usually at bars and it’s basically one huge party. You can also make a post looking for someplace to go clubbing, or to find people to sit in a park and have lunch with or to join you on a day trip to a nearby city or whatever you want! There are always people looking for something to do and open to your ideas.

If you are a local in a city- offer up your knowledge! Show someone around town or take them to your favorite watering hole. Make connections with people from around the world, help out a fellow traveler, share your stories. Some of my best/ridiculous travel stories come from the nights I used CS. You never know who you will meet and what they can show you about that city.

For instance, that photo was taken in Paris with my first CS host and his girlfriend. We went to the opening of the Magnum shop- they made those treats individually for each of us. We chose the type of cream, the hard chocolate on top (dark, milk, white) and the candy to cover it. I never would of found that place on my own and it was followed by an all night adventure through the catacombs…but more on that in my next post:) I will share the full stories of my CS adventures with continuations as I use it more and more in the hopes that it will convince everyone to give it a shot at least once.

Kids Are Gross

Especially when you are living with kids that aren’t yours. I’ve been a nanny for years and am now an Au Pair which means I live in the same house as the family. It’s a whole new ball game.

There is nose picking, flicking, and eating. There are little naked bodies sitting on anything and everything without care. The other day after asking the nearly 5 year old to wipe the toothpaste from her mouth after brushing, she promptly came up and used my shirt. Uck.

Ezra

Having a 9 month baby means drool and slobber and spit up. Everywhere. And I mean that literally. He crawls and drools. He stands up using the chair/couch/bed/drawers/stairs/my leg and puts his drooly mouth on it. On top of that literally everything goes into the mouth; I happened to start working at the fun teething stage. And I won’t go into details, but I’m sure you can imagine the other fun stuff that comes with having a baby in diapers. meh.

I understand that they are kids. And in general I knew what I was getting myself into, but actually LIVING in the house and having to use/touch these things on a regular basis is kind of grossing me out. If you are thinking about becoming an Au Pair, really think about what you are getting yourself into. 

I found this other post hilarious and seriously true, check it out.

**UPDATE** woke up this morning to discover the kids have head lice which means I’m oiling up my head too, and one has the stomach flu. fun, fun day ahead.

Things to Pack

I realize there are a ton of blogs about this. As someone who is still figuring how to travel best, I thought it might be nice to hear from a newbie. I did my research before my first trip about what to bring and how to pack, and in my experience these were essential. Either I was super glad I brought them/did this or really wish I had.

    • bags to sort clothes into for easy access. ziploc freezer bags  work great,bring extras to keep dirty or wet clothes in too
    • quick dry towel!!
    • bandana/scarf. you never know when you will want to cover your head or need an extra layer for warmth
    • simple outfits and making sure everything matches everything
    • frebreeze
    • bug spray for summer- how did I not think of that??!
    • sleeping bag- my original plans did not include needing one, but on a whim ended up going camping. if you’re staying in hostel you can also use it to save from having to buy linens
    • tissues! sometimes you go camping or are in an desperate situation without TP. keeping a little pack of tissues comes in super handy! I’ve also heard that scrunching/softening up a page from your travel book could work in a pinch;)
    • face wipes for long days of travel when you can’t get to a bathroom to freshen up
    • advil/ibuprofen. I’d prefer other methods to relieve aches and pains, but if you’re on a time crunch you don’t want a whole day wasted because of a headache or sore ankle
    • bandaids- can be used for minor cuts and to help with blisters on your feet
    • headlamp &/or flashlight- comes in handy if you are staying in a hostel and come back to the room late at night and need to get into your bag
    • an extra battery for your computer/phone/camera- this way you won’t be stranded without at the worst possible time
      Packing

Please share any input you have! This is not a complete list of things you should bring,  just maybe some ideas not always considered. Certain types of trips require different ‘must haves’ so keep that in mind too.

How to Know When it’s Time to Travel

(….or make any other possibly life changing decision)

In my experience there are signs in any decision making process where you already know the answer but are too afraid to admit and accept it. Things always get reeeeallly messy for me before anything is decided. It’s at that point, the most confusing, frustrating jumble right in the middle that I usually end up just doing it- whatever it is. I’ve made my bed and now I have to sleep in it.

Here is my guide to understanding the signs that it’s time for YOU to take that trip you’ve always wanted:

….If you’re at the point of asking questions like ‘how do I know if it’s the right decision’ or ‘how do I know it’s not a mistake’ on your twitters, face page or insta-g (..did I get those right?), you’re just looking for reassurance from friends that it’s a good idea. Whether it’s a 2 week vacay from work or quitting your job to spend a year abroad, it’s a good idea. If you’re going to look back with regret about NOT going, then you need to go. Do it.

….If you find yourself home alone sitting on Kyak.com with tabs open to possible flights, bus and train schedules and you’ve just updated your CouchSurfing profile (because you’re THAT excited)…you should probably book it.

….It’s literally on your mind all the time. Or Figuratively. Either way, it’s on the brain and it’s important to you. Will you be satisfied if you stay where you are? Ok good. If not, then go.

….If you’re a super intense list maker and in trying to figure out what to do with your life make lists about possible outcomes that turn into flow charts** even though half of what’s on there is out of your control, then you need to get away.

(**true story- I was so stressed about deciding whether or not I should move abroad that I actually made flow charts. Somebody was wearing their crazy pants that day.)

….Your excuses for NOT going are time/money/something else really stupid like that. UM HELLO!! If you can’t find one weekend to travel to a new city even in your own country, then there are other issues at hand here. It can be so cheap to travel that it shouldn’t be that big of an issue. Work a few extra shifts or find another small gig for extra cash flow to cover the costs if need be and just make it happen. And I have seen more than enough families/single parents traveling with kids to know it’s totally do-able and acceptable.

I always forget how much better it feels to just actually make a choice. Worrying and stressing out about anything is not healthy, or helpful. Once you make a decision, things will work out I promise. You’ll be all the more determined to succeed if it really is that important to you. Ask for advice from friends if you’re anything like me and tend to have your head up in the clouds. Read blogs and other online sources because someone has probably already done what you want to do. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Get freakin excited.

Meet Awkward Girl

I’ve been wanting to start an actual travel blog for some time now. My present blog is mostly a journal of my travels to keep family and friends updated while I’m out and about. Now I want to share my experiences of what it’s really like to travel (the awkward and un-glamorized version), my process of deciding to quit my jobs and move to Europe and of course other fun tid-bits along the way.

To start, I want to clear up any misconceptions that I- as a solo traveler- become this amazing, super confident, coordinated, good-at-planning-things person while traveling. Because I am clearly none of those things the rest of the time. People are always like ‘oh I could never do what you do’ or ‘I’m so jealous of your awesome life’. I don’t want to downplay all of the awesome-ness that comes with living abroad and traveling, but there are a few things I would like to point out to everyone about what my life is really like.

1.- My backpack. It’s big and in everyone’s way all the time. Trying to get on a bus. Walking through the airport. Or a street. Or trying to sit in a tiny cafe to get wifi. I’m sweaty and crashing into everything (and everyone) in site. The first word I always learn in a new language is ‘Sorry’.

2.- Figuring out which bus/train to take. I think I usually walk back and forth across the station or platform on average 4 times before getting it right. Or it’s the time I finally just suck it up and ask for help- I ask for help from someone who has obviously just been watching me for the last 15 minutes be really confused…oh that? no, no I just really like walking with about 50lbs on my back.

3.- Clothes. My wardrobe was less than coherent when I had my full closet back in California, now I live out of a 45L backpack. I pack for convenience, not partying. I’d live in sweats if I could. People are going out at night in their cute little ‘I’m only traveling for a month’ outfits and then there’s me… worn out blue jeans, a v-neck tee and hiking boots. ummmyeah

4.- Photos. Traveling alone means if I want a photo of me in it (which I usually don’t) I have to ask a stranger to take it. No biggy. Unless you’ve been studying ballet your whole life and want to do an attitude derriere in front of the Paris Opera House.. “Do you want your whole body in it?” No, I thought I’d just stick my leg in the air in the middle of a crowded street so you can take a picture of my face.

5.- Hostels. I hate when I get sucked into it, but it happens: everyone plays the “I’m pretending to listen to you but really im just waiting to tell my more awesome travel story when you’re done” game. The worst kind of one-up game. It’s an easy way to start to feel like my trip/adventures aren’t as good as everybody elses. Not exactly how a girl wants to feel after so much went into getting where I am. So I haven’t done any of that cool stuff you’ve done, whatevs, I’m just doing me.

…Or how about when I’m alone cooking a dinner of plain noodles with an egg and maybe some avocado (if I’m feeling rich) and then probably drinking some beer/wine in the corner while everyone else has yummy veggies and sauces and friends to go with their noodles?

6.- Popping/cracking/stretching every single part of my body after a long day of travel. The looks of disgust and confusion I get from others makes it a bit awkward, but hey a girls gotta do what a girls gotta do. I feel better doing these things when I’m near my big ol’ backpack because then in my head I’m like ‘whatever I’m a backpacker you can’t judge me’.

7.- Friends. Traveling alone has it’s ups and downs, and along the way I usually make some friends to spend my days with. The worst part about that though is when it’s time to eat. I love eating and am almost always hungry. You don’t even have to ask just say food and I’m there. I recently met some girls in Scotland who after eating a bowl of soup were like ‘omg I’m so full’ and there’s me like ‘uhh how about a real lunch now?’. But we just met and I don’t want to seem like a fatty. 

8.- Getting pooped on. By birds. Twice in 2 days when I was in Italy last year. Sweet.

Woo Hiking!

9.- Singing. After I’ve been hiking for a few hours by myself I start to sing to stay entertained and motivated to continue onwards. It’s almost always Disney or a show tune. And it almost always results in me busting out my best moves and facial expressions  (how can you not to I Just Can’t Wait to be King from Lion King or Colors of the Wind from Pocahontas??)…and then suddenly there are other hikers right in front of me. The show mustgo on!

10.- Crying. I’ll end on a funny/awkward/sad note. Traveling is exhausting. The planning itself is enough to make anyone start drinking heavily (which airline has the best times/prices, or maybe I’ll take the train, or bus, or what if I go to this other city first then to the next ect.). But since I’m alone I have no one to lash out at and that usually keeps me in check- I tell myself to just do it and I do (though it usually takes twice as long as it should and I probably did it the more expensive way). This has only happened one time while traveling, it was a loooong few days on no sleep, loosing my phone and missing my train, but Istarted crying at the ticket desk at the train station. The poor woman didn’t know what to do and I just pretend like nothing was wrong, tears streaming down my face. Cool life, yeah?

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's… awkward

%d bloggers like this: