Archive For The “Exploration” Category
May 4, 2016
Under the Eiffel tower because where else?!
I have found my absolute favourite tree in all of Paris. There is nothing especially exceptional looking about it – it isn’t even a cherry blossom tree – in fact, it is pretty average-looking, but it provides the perfect location to view the Eiffel Tower and it comes with a backrest. I think my feet will keep returning to this spot many times over the next two months.
Today is my first day in the city and upon exiting the metro, I walked towards the tower, already feeling familiar with the path although it’s been seven months since I was last here.
I got my fist view of the tower when Julie was driving me to the house from the bus station on my first night. I got my second view when I was on the bus and happened to catch a glimpse of some tall shape looming in the distance out of the corner of my eye. Next I saw it when we were pulling up to a metro stop – this was the best one because it was so big and right above the river! My heart literally starts to race every time I see it and I’m convinced it’s because of love. I know Paris is not perfect but I love it anyway – that’s how I know it’s true love.
Anyway, I’m very happy to be in Paris. It’s actually a bit hard to believe that I’m actually here and that I’ll be here until July so I don’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn to see everything I want to see. I mean, do you know how wonderful it is to wake up on a Monday morning, in a rose-sheet double bed, and realize that you’re in Paris? Or to watch the sky turn pink from your bedroom window and then draw the curtains when it turns dark, catching one final glimpse of the moon shining over the city before you crawl into bed? It’s wonderful!
“Not Every girl’s lucky enough to go to Paris”
I’m happy because I told myself I would live in Paris one day (if two months qualifies as “living”) and what do you know, here I am! Now I would very much like to be Amélie. At the very least, I will go to her café. Oh, I wonder what adventures await me in Paris…!
Later – 19:49
Back at the Eiffel Tower but someone took my favourite tree so I’m at a different one. The sun is starting to set so I shall sit here and wait for it – I hope the sky turns pink! Oo, it is so nice to be back in Paris! France is different from Italy. Not only do the buildings and streets look different, but it feels different too. Something about Paris feels calming in the spring time. Maybe it’s the pastel coloured cherry blossoms, or the bubbles floating past my ear as some guy with a guitar sings “Stand by Me” or how elegant all the buildings look as I stroll along the Champs Élysées.
I love this guy with the guitar who decided to sing right now. I feel like I’m in a movie, leaning against this tree while the sun sets and the bubbles float. It seems to me that the Eiffel Tower is a lot skinnier than I remember it. Really, it looks like it went on a diet and slimmed down considerably.
I’m looking around me and I think it’s very nice that people still decide to have picnics or just sit on the grass and talk.
Yes, Paris is certainly lovely in the spring time.
April 18, 2016
Today is my little sister’s birthday, though I suppose I can’t really call her “little” anymore…I guess I haven’t been able to call her “little” for a while actually. Still, it’s not every day that your sister turns 21. Oh dear, we are all getting old, aren’t we?
Currently I am sitting with my legs hanging over the edge of a wall above the port in Capri. What a city and what a day! [Oh! Some little boy – maybe 10 years old – just said “attenzione” to me and pointed to the ground below me. I nodded my head and said “Si”. When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he looked up and waved at me. HOW CUTE.] Well, I woke up and had cookies, milk and an espresso for breakfast (the true Italian way) and then Roberto handed me the vespa helmet and we went cruising through the streets of Sorrento. It is official: I am head over heels in love with vespas! So far I have always been the passenger and that is a-okay by me, but perhaps one day I’ll be the driver. I think I’d be able to handle a vespa much better than a car. Although, I really must work on alighting from one in a more graceful manner. Maybe it’s because my legs are short, but I always nearly fall over trying to get off. I must also learn how to un-click the helmet button on my own instead of waiting there like a child for my driver to do it for me. Anyway, it was the perfect morning to wake up and cruise through the narrow, cobble-stoned streets of Sorrento, sliding in and out between the cars.
I waited in line to get my ferry ticket (the guy behind the booth reprimanded me for not stating upfront that I wanted a return ticket…oops) and then I nearly missed my ferry (at 9:25) because I was too busy dilly-dallying, admiring the view! Oh, I would have been so mad at myself if I had missed it! The thing was that I assumed everyone around me was also waiting for the same ferry and I was going to follow them as soon as they started walking towards it. But at 9:20, I glanced at the time and the people around me were not looking fazed at all. So I had to run down to the dock and basically jump onto the boat like a regular Jack Dawson. [By the way, I moved off the ledge because the little boy telling me to be careful felt like a bad omen and I had a sudden terror that someone would push me off from behind. So now I’m sitting safely on a bench.] The ferry ride was 30 minutes and stunning. We floated along a view of rugged mountains, dotted with trees and houses. The morning clouds were enchanting and it almost felt as though I had entered some ethereal universe. They were like a silk ribbon, creating a kind of wispy path – the kind of path you can run across in your dreams and somehow not fall through. We landed in Capri to blue skies and even bluer water. Everything about the scene promised me a lovely day and in short, Capri was a pure delight. It’s exactly like what you see in the postcards only it’s a million times better than the postcards because the postcards don’t have you in them and Capri does. It looked like this: a waterfront full of boats, mountains in the background, and streets lined with restaurants and shops selling summer hats and dresses.
I immediately went down to the water (of course I did) and waded in a bit too deep because the waves splashed the back of my dress, making it look as though I peed myself. I briefly spoke to an American girl named Brenna who actually got a big cut on her leg from riding a vespa (oh no!!) but that was because she was with a Swedish girl who didn’t know how to drive one. Then I waited in line for the bus to the blue grotto and looked at the people getting into their convertible taxis or private chauffeurs. Life must be very wonderful when you are rich, except for when it isn’t. I think I could have stayed on that bus all day long because the route featured spectacular scenery. There were lemon and orange trees everywhere you looked and houses with beautiful coloured tiles. I’ve never had such a strong desire to own a lemon tree or a rose bush. I’d actually like to have a rose garden, only the bushes wouldn’t grow in neat, even rows like desks in a classroom. They would be scattered, and wild and grow wherever they pleased – perhaps even up the side of my house. There was a man on the bus wearing a Vancouver t-shirt so I asked if he was from there, only I suspected he wasn’t because no one actually wears t-shirts from their home town (I don’t think). I was right: he was from France! Anyway, higher and higher we climbed and every corner we turned (it was a very windy road) seemed to reveal something even more beautiful. The streets were very narrow and many times we barely scraped by another bus. All the drivers had to honk their horns before rounding a corner because you never know who may be zooming down the other way (I’m talking to you, scooter drivers!)
Upon arriving at the Blue Grotto, we had to descend down a rather steep path to the water where the boats were waiting for us. I led the way because everyone else was quite old and walked slowly. The water at the bottom was filled with rowboats with Italian sailors shouting and yelling. And old couple from Holland said I could go in their rowboat with them so I did – how kind! Once in the boat (which rocked quite forcibly because of the waves), the Italian steered us around – while another sailor handed out wine to fellow sailors – until we were at the ticket boat. I was supposed to get a discount because I’m German and under 25, but it was really quite disorganized and chaotic. When there was enough space to get through the tiny cave opening, we all had to duck our heads and the sailor took us through. For the most part, the cave was dark despite them saying that the best time to go was between 12 and 2. Once your eyes adjusted, however, you could see how blue the water really was. The reason it’s so blue is because of sunlight, which enters the cave through an underwater opening positioned directly under the cave’s mouth. (I learned that from the flyer). Apparently in the olden days, local sailors used to avoid the grotto because they thought spirits lived in it. (Also learned that from the flyer). Anyway, we rowed around the grotto a few times while one of the sailors badly sung “Volare” and then we went back out and got off the boat. HUH?! That was it?! I didn’t realize it would be a mere five minutes in and out. I wasn’t the only one disappointed: the Dutch couple didn’t like it and an American family told me they thought it was overrated and wouldn’t do it again. Me neither!
I took the bus back down to Anacapri which is a quaint, little town mostly full of old people (from what I saw) and where I can imagine the sun always shining. All the stores were selling pastel coloured clothing that I can imagine myself wearing when I am a grandma. I wandered off the beaten track (I was actually trying to find villa San Michele but got lost) and then I had to ask quite a few people where Piazza Vittoria was. (The most important words you have to know in a foreign country are “where is”, “straight”, “left”, and “right”.) From Anacapri, I went to the town part of Capri. (By the way, the Italians pronounce it CAH-pree, not cah-PREE.) There are many nice walks you can take from here and you have to walk because the streets are too narrow for cars (except for golf-course sized carts which they use to transport supplies) and vespas aren’t allowed. I first walked to the Faraglioni rocks which had a lot of climbing up and down steps but it was overall very pleasant because all the flowers were in bloom and it smelled like my grandma’s garden. I then continued to the Natural Arch, which everyone I met along the way warned me about it being covered by scaffolding, but I decided to go anyway. It was a bit disappointing (especially after all the stairs I had to climb!) but the good thing was that it led me to another lookout point which was beautiful. From there, I walked back to the main piazza of Capri – past a man petting a cat, many lemon trees, and many flowers. I took the funicular back to the Marine.
The ferry shall be here any minute! Back to Sorrento I go!
October 9, 2015
To take advantage of the long weekend in Madrid, my friend Stacie and I booked a trip to Seville and Cordoba. Our bus left Friday evening and after saying good-bye to Jamie who was going back to Ireland (so sad!) I made my way down the big hill to the train station. Of course the train took forever to arrive. At last it did arrive and at the next stop, the announcer said something in Spanish. Most people got off but two other Spanish women stayed on so I stayed on too since it wasn’t my stop yet. All of a sudden, the lights turned off and the train started going backwards. I nervously glanced at my watch wondering if I was going to be stuck on this train forever. In addition, my phone inconveniently ran out of data and I had no way of contacting Stacie. I made my way towards the Spanish women and somehow got the message across that I needed to get to Atocha Station. They beckoned for me to follow them and we walked through the empty carts in the dark until we were in the very first one. I was ready to pull the alarm button at this point so security could get us out of there, but instead they pried open the door and indicated that we were going to walk on the track’s ledge until we could jump on to the platform. (What!?)
Thankfully we safely made it to the platform and then had to impatiently wait for the next train. I desperately needed to call Stacie but my phone was unusable so I asked the person next to me if I could borrow hers. She didn’t understand English or my exaggerated gestures. Feeling defeated, I sat there glancing nervously at my watch and looking very forlorn. That was when a guy asked me if I needed help (thank goodness he spoke some English) and I asked if I could borrow his phone. He looked at me sadly and showed me his phone. 1% battery life. Still, he began punching in her number…and then it died. (In your moment of need, I think you can safely assume that everything that can go wrong, will go wrong). Now there were about seven minutes until my bus left. He explained that as soon as we got to Atocha, I had to run up the stairs and then turn left. We arrived at Atocha. “Good luck,” I heard him call after me as I bolted out the door.
At the top of the stairs, I turned left and didn’t know which direction to go from there. I ran up to two policemen. “Sevilla” I told them breathlessly and they pointed to another set of stairs. (Why are there so many stairs?) At the top, I looked desperately around but there was no sign of Stacie. We weren’t able to get tickets on the same bus so hers left 30 minutes after mine and she had my ticket because her host dad printed them out for us. So without my ticket, I approached the security lady and tried to show her my ticket on my phone but she shook her head which was very aggravating to say the least. Then Stacie appeared behind me and we shoved the ticket under the security lady’s nose and ran as fast as we could to the platform but….the bus was gone.
If you’ve ever missed a bus before, I think you would probably agree that it’s one of the most hopeless feelings, especially when you don’t speak the language and it’s so hard to get help from people. Our first solution was to book the next bus which left late that same night but it was just our luck that they were all full because everyone was taking advantage of the long weekend by apparently going to Seville. Another man missed the bus as well and he told us we could potentially catch a bus at a different station. We followed him onto a squished metro. Stacie and I pulled our bags closer to us because the only thing that would make the night an even bigger disaster would be to get our wallets stolen. I took a leaf out of Professor Lupin’s book and offered everybody chocolate. I admit, it did make me feel slightly better.
The man behind the ticket book informed us there were no available buses going to Seville. We were in the middle of frantically checking if there were any blah-blah cars going that direction that night when suddenly we had the inspiration to reverse the order of our trip and go to Cordoba first and then Seville. There was another guy behind us who was also in desperate need of a ticket and he decided to do this as well. This was a genius plan – and we were so lucky that there was an available bus leaving in a few hours!
Over the next few hours of waiting time, we cancelled our couch-surfing request, made all the necessary alternate arrangements, and walked around to try to find a phone charger for Stacie’s phone because we would be completely lost without a working phone. By midnight we were safely on the bus; by 6am we were in the Cordoba train station. It was too early and we were too tired to do anything so we found a private spot to sleep…and by private, I mean that we climbed some stairs and stepped over a gate so that we weren’t in the general area where everyone else was sleeping. (A few hours later, the security guard found us and told us to leave).
Missing that bus could have ruined the rest of our trip. We could have ended up going home in defeat. But thinking fast and logically, we found a solution and ended up having a wonderful time. In fact, we were able to completely reorganize the details of our trip in half the amount of time it took us to plan it originally, and with unpredictable wifi to boot. (It’s amazing what you can accomplish under pressure) I think this is a good real-life example of “Describe a time you found yourself in a stressful situation and what you did to handle it.”
I hate missing buses, not only because of the inconvenience but also because of the wasted money on tickets. After it happened to me in Copenhagen, I swore that I would never let it happen to me again. But this is travelling, and sometimes things like this happen. As much as I plan and prepare, I probably will miss another bus in my life (God forbid, a plane) or maybe I’ll get my wallet stolen or maybe something equally as upsetting will happen.
This is travelling. It’s not a vacation – it’s travel. Vacation is comfy beds and 5-star hotels; travel is uncomfortable buses and floors of train stations. Vacation is nice meals every day; travel is budgeting, budgeting, budgeting. Vacation is relaxing – travel is frantically looking up the best deals and formulating an itinerary that makes sense. Travel is missed buses, and sometimes cold showers, and having nothing but peanuts for dinner at times. It’s being lost in the middle of the night where nobody speaks English and having to find your way back home, and it’s constantly finding yourself out of your comfort zone.
But travel is also random moments of human connection that restore your fate in humanity and discoveries that fuel your curiosity about the world. It’s also sunsets that you can’t capture the beauty of on your phone and sights that make you feel things you’ve never felt before. Travel is conversations that inspire you, and ordinary people doing ordinary things that somehow have the power to impact the way you think about life. It is realizing that the world is both big yet small, and discovering that you’re a lot stronger than maybe you thought.
And this is what I think makes travel worth every missed bus.