cours saleya

even if there tends to be very little variance between each other, hitting up the local markets is always on my list of things to do when i'm visiting a new city.  also, as i mentioned there isn't all that much to do in nice besides lie on the beach, and i was starting to look a bit freakishly tan (yes, there is such a thing), so i decided to take a day to check out the local flower and food market, also called cours saleya.

the market is a mish mosh of different offerings.  there are rows upon rows of flowers to purchase, handmade soaps, a section of different types of olives and olive oils, and then the produce sections.  the produce sections were really what stood out to me, though not because there was anything new and different to see. it was all the usual gatherings of a typical farmers market - tomatoes, apples, grapes - except for one tiny difference.  all the produce was ENORMOUS.

i mean really enormous. like grapes the size of golf balls and tomatoes that were so big i'm pretty sure i could make salads for a week with just one. i'm not sure what they are putting in their fertilizer, but take note farmers of the world. they're doing something right in nice.

cours saleya.

no, these are not plums. no, this is not a photoshop trick. these are grapes.

one of the many flower stands.

after i was done perusing the different stands in the market, i turned a corner to head back to town and ran into yet another market of a different variety.  this was an accidental run in, so i honestly have no idea what the name of the market it, but it didn't seem as though it was intended to be a part of cours saleya.  

this market was a used and vintage book market.  books of all sorts spanned the different tables, from used english michael crichton books to cutesy french children's books to a vintage copy of hemingway in french that i drooled over. until i checked the price (170 euro - do i have good taste or what?).

i've got this new secret idea in my head (which i guess isn't so secret since i'm sharing it here) that once i settle down wherever that is, i'd like to have a bookshelf full of vintage copies of my favorite books.  i've been trying really hard no to purchase souvenirs, as i didn't build this into my budget and have been convincing myself that the experiences are the souvenirs.  it took almost everything out of me, and believe me if that hemingway had been reasonable it would have been mine, but i walked away empty handed.

hopefully once i'm back, i can just search for "vintage french books" on ebay, and i'll use the old "it would make my backpack too heavy" excuse until then to cope with my loss.

some of the lesser expensive books.

it took a lot for me not to buy this one.



i've been sort of weaving tid bits about my horrible eating patterns throughout these french blog posts, so i may as well come out and say it.  i am addicted to gelato.  the first step is admitting you have a problem right?

not that this should come as a huge surprise.  gelato is good (show me someone who doesn't like a good ice cream!) and i've always been a fan of the sweets genre.  usually, i can maintain some semblance of self control with my treats.  when it came to my trip to france, however, gelato became like my after dinner mint.  or should we say my after meal mint? ok, i didn't have it after breakfast. everyday...

when in nice, i decided to look up the best place to get this tasty treat.  if you're going to indulge, might as well make it worth it, which is how we discovered fenocchio.

located in a highly populated square, this gelataria has been doling out delicious scoops since 1966, which earned it a spot in my lonely planet guide book. there are gelato stands on every block in europe, almost as frequent as the number of mcdonald's there are in america (so, why aren't they fat again?). the point that drew us to make a special visit to fenocchio, however, was that they offer almost 100 flavors of gelato.  

i couldn't even think of 100 different flavors of ice cream at the time, which actually makes sense when you see the list of flavors offered.  of course there are the typical staples - vanilla, chocolate, strawberry - and a few of the fancier variety - mint chocolate chip, orange chocolate, rocky road.  alongside these, however, were flavors i would never imagine as ice creams.  flavors like "tomato basil," "beer," and "rosemary." there was even a section of what sounded like more of a garden than an ice cream shop with "rose," "violet," and "poppy."

there was a huge part of me that wanted to get tomato basil just to try it, but since i'm on a budget and actually was craving some cold sweet deliciousness, i got a scoop of something i couldn't pronounce that had a lot of caramel woven through it, and almond.  sounds plain, but almond was actually my favorite and became a flavor that i sought out in future gelato shops.

after my regular gelato habit was formed, i was compelled to take advantage of my proximity to the foundation of the dukan diet and picked up a few "detox" items at the grocery store.


cannes you dig it?

our next stop after monaco was to cannes, which for being in the same country was surprisingly further away.  since we were coming from monaco, the trip was about 45 minutes on the train and about 8 euro one way. unfortunately, there were no ticket windows with actual people to purchase tickets from, and none of us had change enough to purchase said 8 euro ticket. fortunately, we decided to press our luck and play "dumb tourist" on the train, purchasing tickets from the ticket checker.  no such person existed on our train, so i'll consider this france's thank you for my participation in fueling their pastry economy during my stay. you're welcome, france.

i knew that cannes and nice were sort of close, but i was surprised by the ease with which we got from place to place this day.  this visit we had just missed the infamous film festival, however, i can remember regretting not planning cannes into my trip 5 years ago as the festival was on at that time. had i known it was so easy...

to be honest, all that's running through my head is rihanna song lyrics.

cannes without the film festival, was pretty much exactly like nice in my mind. nice beaches, nice shops, great little cafes on the beach to eat - a great city to relax in.  while it was beautiful, after seeing monaco nothing could compare, so i actually ended up not ticking any major to do's off my list.

FRENCH bulldogs in FRANCE!

we walked around, shopped, took a few photos, and stopped in a pastry shop. it feels pretentious to say this, but it was sort of underwhelming.  i'm sure it's much different during the actual film festival when the streets are littered with stars and the town likely livens up.  cannes without the festival, however, is nice (both the mildly complimentary adjective and the place).

purely trying to rack up a few more photos to prove i actually was in cannes.

beauuuuutiful pasteries.


the princess grace diaries

it's a good thing we didn't end the night with another trip to wayne's, as the next day we decided to set off early to explore some of the towns within the vicinity of nice.  the first stop? monaco.

only 3 euro and we could catch the 20 minute train to monaco.  had i known it was this easy before, i may have visited the last time i was in the south of france.  instead we ended up spending a few extra days in marseilles doing all that marseilles had to offer - which was almost nothing.  i wouldn't say monaco was a big crazy happening place either, but it was incredibly beautiful.  worth the day trip and worth WAY more than 3 euro.

yachts. everywhere.

a bunch of grace kelly lookalikes.

one of the things on the short list of to-do's was visit the monte carlo casino, or as most of you probably know it "the casino from james bond." we were torn on whether to do this first or to do the walk up the hill to see the palace first, so we stopped to ask a tourism office for advice/directions.  the woman told us in broken english to make sure to be at the casino before 2 pm, so off we went.

unfortunately, what she must have meant was that the casino does not open until 2pm.  while we were allowed entry to the first room in the casino when we arrived, gambling is not allowed in the casino until after 2pm.  likely, this was a good thing, as i was "feeling lucky" and had decided i was good at craps based on my experiences during a weekend in vegas a little over a year ago. totally forgot for a minute that even betting and losing $20 could potentially mean not eating for a week.

the infamous casino.

a photo i took of the inside that another woman near me was scolded for.

view of the casino through a clever little sculpture outside.

after a quick trip to chanel to drool over things i could never afford, we headed over to the other side of the port where the royal palace of monaco was located. this meant a steep 20 minute walk uphill in extreme heat, which for us meant accepting the disapproving glances of others on the bus that we took one stop to get up said hill. i don't regret it.

i'm not sure what i was expecting from the palace, but it was actually quite plain looking for monaco standards.  even the post office in this place was something to gape at, so when the "royal palace" turned out to be just another peach building with a guard in front of it, i was slightly disappointed. 

the view from the palace, however, was spectacular.  i have about 400 of what looks like the same photo (trying to get the perfect angle?), and still i feel i haven't been able to capture how beautiful it was up there.

the royal palace - not exactly what i expected. where are all the diamonds?

wishing i also got a photo of the giant baby statue that was outside this museum.

view of the port from the royal palace.

about 1,000 photos and a tuna sandwich later, we headed down the hill to catch the train to our next location for the day. my only disappointment in monaco? i didn't get a stamp in my passport for going there.  with a country that rich, i was totally expecting to receive a gold encrusted stamp or something fancy in my passport that i could show off with later...


tabletops and oysters

one thing i hadn't really experienced in nice the last time i was there was the culture/night life aspect.  actually, pretty much the only thing i "experienced" my last time around was the beach, so it's probably safe to say there were many things i didn't experience, but as food is of great importance in my life this was top of the list of my priorities on my second trip.

my first night out in nice was unexpected.  i arrived to my hostel completely shattered as i had taken the overnight bus from paris with a couple of families who children enjoyed screaming their abc's at the top of their lungs at 3 am. cute.  my plan was get to my hostel, drop my things, go to the beach and pass out.  all of the above happened, but when i returned to my hostel hours later (and a gorgeous new shade of crimson might i add...), i was still tired.  cursing those strangers who chose to ignore their children's disregard for other passengers, i crawled into my bed and closed my eyes when one of my hostel roommates arrived.

i'm only saying this because i'm 300% sure the chances are slim he will ever be able to find and read this blog, but i actually don't really remember his name.  i think it was mike though, and he was from the uk.  it was also his birthday and he made it clear that everyone in the room was coming out with him that evening for it.  it was also his last night in the hostel, so i decided i would catch up on sleep the following day/night and left with him, our two other canadian roommates, and two american girls from down the hall to go to wayne's - a popular tourist bar in the area.

we drank cheap wine and beer at the hostel beforehand, so there wasn't any real need to get drinks while we were at wayne's, but there was a clear need to get up on the tables and dance.  don't worry, we weren't alone.  apparently, that's what you do at wayne's, or at least it was what everyone was doing.  

my second night out in nice was slightly calmer, as it was the night that my friends from new york arrived.  we decided to meet for dinner at a place in the old town that was recommended in my guidebook called cafe de turin.

this infamous seafood restaurant has been in nice since 1908, and actually was one of the top things listed on trip advisor to do in nice, so we decided to give it a go. of course i was slightly hung over, so this was one of my eat-a-whole-baguette-and-nutella-like-you'll-never-eat-it-again days, and i wasn't that hungry when we arrived.  that didn't stop me from ordering a glass of rose (for only 2.50!) and some oysters.

like most restaurants in france, cafe de turin had an english menu. the menu, however, was so poorly translated (google translator?), that it was almost easier to read the french version.  even with both versions in hand, it was still difficult to choose what sort of oysters were available to us, so we decided to give up and ask the waitress what our choices were.  she responded while pointing "smuhll, mehdium, et lahhhrggg." the greedy part of me debated large, but in the end i went with medium.  which actually ended up being about the size of my palm.  so, what was large? the size of my head?

the "medium" oysters.

it was great to catch up with some old friends, particularly since i hadn't really seen anyone i've known from the US in a few months, and i haven't seen most of my friends in over a year now (weird!).  i'm still excited about the rest of my journey, but i'm almost just as excited now to go home.

posing with my meal - standard chick photo.


nice - an adjective and location

so i didn't really have much planned out after paris. though i'd like to play it cool and pretend like this didn't matter at all to me, with my last day in the hostel i had booked fast approaching and the knowledge that it was no small feat to find a place to sleep in paris, i was slightly nervous. ok, i was freaked out.  as luck would have it, i had another friend who was in a similar situation.

she wasn't exactly stranded in a foreign country with no where to sleep the next night. actually, she was in london living comfortably in her flat and going into a 9-5 every day, but she was "freaking out" in the sense that she had just moved to london from NZ and was wanting to travel around europe. so since i had nothing going on, we decided to meet up in spain and go on a mini holiday together.

as you can tell by the title of this post, however, this is not going to be about spain. rather it's about my journey TO spain, through the south of france - starting in nice.

le plage.

garden outside of the musee des beaux arts.

again, this wasn't exactly a part of the plan, but i knew that i had to be in spain in a little over a week and i also knew i couldn't afford to spend that much more time in paris, so i started to think of places i could go in between.  i had been to nice before on the same trip that took me through paris last time.  we had only stayed for one day, but all i can remember is that i really liked that day and i had wished at the time that we had more time there.  so i decided to make all my wildest dreams come true and booked an overnight bus to nice.

most people dissuaded me from doing this - it isn't exactly on the way to spain as you have to go a little further west rather than east, and they also made it clear that they felt a week in nice would be slightly on the boring side.  since i'd been running around in a few major european cities pretty much nonstop for three weeks at this point, i though "boring" might be exactly what i was looking for.

eglise st. jeanne d'arc. boring, right?

a really boring looking casino.

notre dame de nice - totally boring.

turns out, it wasn't so boring after all as my trip yet again surprised me with some serendipity.  i'm not sure if i'll regret using that word for it's romantic movie connotations, but three of my girlfriends from new york were actually traveling through the south of france at the EXACT same time. and were going to be in nice at the EXACT same time.  all of which i found out when i went to wish one of them a "happy birthday" on facebook and saw a few people had posted "have fun in france!" as an addendum to their birthday wishes.

it was the perfect trip - the perfect amount of solo beach time (in an attempt to pretend like i'm french and remove a few tanlines), nice catch up dinners, and gelato.  ok, maybe there was a bit too much gelato, but i left nice last time with the feeling that i would like to spend more time there, and my feelings haven't changed.


ou est des toilettes?!?!

hope you're not getting to sick of my franglais in these posts. bear with me and i can certainly promise that once i leave france the semi-dual language posts will cease. especially since i don't know how to say much more than "i don't understand (insert language i'm speaking in here)" in other languages.

it goes without saying that beyond the language barriers, there are many a comfort typically found in the US that tend to be lost in europe. while i can handle things like mayo replacing ketchup and drinks without ice cubes, there is one comfort from home that i find it really difficult for me not to complain about while abroad - the toilet situation, or lack thereof.

seriously, i'm pretty sure there are about 5 toilets in all of france. apparently, the french never have to pee, and this behavior dates back to the 1800s. back then when women had to go number one, they would let their ladies in waiting know by saying, "i am going to go pick a flower." upon receiving the code phrase, the ladies in waiting would escort her to a secluded place outside in the garden and form a circle around the indisposed lady, while she completed her task in a special pot brought outside for the occasion. and how do i know all this? clearly my frustration was so deep, it lead to actual research.

on a fictional note, apparently since that time, the french never spoke to each other in depth enough to realize that everyone does it, and alas peeing has become some big secret. i can understand how the american way of announcing where we are going and what we plan to do in there isn't the most refined, but could we at least be a little less secretive about the location of the toilets, france?

it actually started to become something of a joke that i felt france was playing on me. having devoured a large bottle of evian in the blazing heat, i would walk around and look for a monument or somewhere that i thought surely there would be a good chance for a large population of those who had to "go." sure, there were plenty of signs pointing me in the direction of toilets, but following them lead me down a labyrinth of other signs with directional arrows that just seemed to end up right back where i started. it must be a tricky game the french have put in place, hiding their toilets to force tourists into an unpleasant game of would you rather - would you rather walk 3 kilometers to the next toilet, or have to attempt to announce your bodily functions to a perfect stranger in broken french? it's actually a tough call in my book, particularly if all that seems to be around are beautiful french 20-something men...decisions, decisions.

as you may know, once a toilet is finally discovered in france (and in europe in general), there is usually a fee to use said toilet ranging from 0.20€ - 0.50€. once again, another punishment for being human.

don't get me wrong, i didn't mind paying in a few of the toilets which were beautiful and clean enough to make me confident that the money was going to a good cause. it's the situations where i was forced to balance my huge pack in my back and purse around my neck for fear of my bags contracting a permanent smell of hobo urine, however, that i had a little trouble with the fee.

an example one of the less desirable options in france. if only i could bear taking a photo of the inside..

think i'll stick to finding the closest mcdonald's from now on...


the many faces of la tour eiffel

you can't very well go to paris and not go to see the eiffel tower. first of all, it's huge, making it pretty impossible to miss even if you're trying desperately not to see one of the world's most famous attractions. secondly, i'm not sure there's any reason not to go see it. even if you're one of those travelers who prefers to avoid the stereotypical, the eiffel tower is just one of those places that's so breathtaking in person it's a must do. besides, you can still go and not feel like a total typical tourist. it's not like you need to go several times (though i did) or take a photo jumping in front of it (also did this).

maybe it is a one time sight for some people, but i felt that seeing the eiffel tower again years later was almost just as different as my experience with the monument hours later. so since it's possible the only redeeming quality of my hostel (aloha hostel - just as clean as it sounds) was the extremely close proximity to the tower, i visited several times during my stay in paris. pretty sure that was obvious from the previous paragraph, but i really needed to get that dig at my hostel off my chest.

my first visit was in the middle of the day and what i imagine would be a typical visit for me if i was lucky enough to live in paris. i picked up a baguette, a wheel of camembert, and some pâté (try not to gag - i was being parisian!) and headed to the park to have some lunch while taking in this amazing sight. it was really simple and not exactly a unique idea - lunch in front of the eiffel tower - but for me it was one of those "wow i'm really here and i'm doing this moments." the weather couldn't have been better, and neither could the baguette. my life isn't always played out like a movie in my head, but in this instance i'm pretty sure there was background music and credits may have even rolled.

just a simple girl, living a simple life.

the second time i went was a few days later, again in the afternoon though this time i had already eaten my baguette (which was pretty much my every meal in france). i have already been to the top of the eiffel tower on my previous visit, so i decided it would be a smart budget move for me to consider this an unnecessary expense and decided not to go up a second time. plus, the first time around i vaguely remember a mini fear if heights panic attack in the elevator. anyway, this visit instead of just eating lunch and enjoying the site from afar, i got in closer to take a proper look around. and of course to take about 3477448844 photos including the jumping one. imagine how great it would have been to witness watching me try to work out which stranger it would be the least embarrassing to request this photo from...

up close.

and alas, you'll never have the chance to see the finished product of the jump shot request.

there were of course quick visits in between to and from my hostel and around town, but i'd say this trip i made 3 official visits to la tour eiffel, and the third may have outdone the rest.

i made a group of friends at my hostel, who if course turned out to be all guys, but we hung out together most nights after we were all done with our separate ideas of sight seeing during the day. on my last night in paris, most of the group had left, however, and it was down to me and a guy named james from NZ. as it was both of our last nights in paris, we decided to splash out and go to a fancy french dinner and then head over to see the light show that happens at the eiffel tower every hour. we went to dinner at a little cafe in our neighborhood so to speak, where i pretty much ate what we call a "burger" in the US (so cultured) and we headed over to see the lights at midnight.

there weren't as many people there as we expected, which was great because we were able to find a prime patch of grass for viewing the spectacular show. after about 23 refusals to buy cheap champagne from random men in the park, the light show started and it was amazing. i swear i didn't breathe the whole time it was happening. i took a few photos, but it doesn't nearly stack up to how impressive it was to see the lights. again, it was a really simple idea (sparkling lights on a large monument), but i couldn't help feeling really lucky to be there.

the lights.

and the light show at midnight. see if you can spot the difference.


le couch surfing, part deux

so this whole freewheeling fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants travel thing has been pretty great so far. you can't deny that there is a certain cool factor that comes with being able to say things like "eh, i guess i'll head to amsterdam tomorrow." plus, everything just kind of seemed to be falling together for me. until i was on my way to paris with no accommodation booked in the middle of high season. brilliant move, i know.

i was aware that it would be difficult to find a place to stay in paris in a budget, but i figured it would end up being more of a sacrifice of comfort than anything else. when i did a search the night before for places to stay while i was in town, everything was booked up for the first night i was going to be there. not just everything "decent." i mean there were no hostels that had one bed inside the city and under 60€ a night. enter panic mode.

trying to take some advice from another friend of mine who had done a similar trip, i decided there was nothing i could do except decide not to worry about it. i would get on my bus, head to paris, and see if i could find a tourism office that would help me. otherwise i'd just have to bite the bullet, find a best western, and regrettably shell out my food budget for two weeks on a one night stay. on the bright side, it could be a new diet plan! (oh, girls...)

as i mentioned before, everything seemed to be falling into my lap on this trip, and once again it seemed luck was on my side. i had posted on couch surfer that i was going to be in paris on a whim, pretty much expecting the same level of response i have gotten in the past without actively seeking out a host: none. the afternoon before i left for paris, however, a host contacted me asking if i wanted to stay with them as they had just received a cancellation.

despite my only 74% positive experience with couch surfing (no, i didn't actually do any qualitative math here..), i decided to have another go. particularly because i didn't really have another option available to me. i was slightly hesitant because this someone who reached out to me was a 28 year old male, and i would have to be completely naive not to wonder if there might be any potential for him to try to have a few string attached to the deal.

when i arrived, however, i found that this was absolutely not the case at all, and i even felt a little guilty for suspecting him of any ill intentions. he was at work for the whole day, but was nice enough to leave me his keys so i could explore the city a bit while he was out. when he returned, we had a nice chat, he made me some AMAZING pad thai (not exactly french, but a very nice gesture nonetheless), and all he wanted was to practice english with me and get to know someone from another culture. he even gave me an "insider's list" of things he loves about paris for me to go see/take photos of/eat. it was SO nice and totally regained my faith in the couch surfing system.

unfortunately, i don't have any sneaky pics of his place to share, but i hope if he reads this he doesn't mind me stealing a somewhat anonymous photo of him from his couch surfer profile so you didn't just get a 34954885 word post with no photos.

don't be fooled by the knife.


lock it up

first of all, let me start by saying i can't believe i actually visited paris with a boyfriend previously and didn't go to see pont des arts. i mean we took kissing photos in front of the eiffel tower (yes, it was THAT sort of trip), but somehow we didn't make it to a monument that epitomizes the cheesy romance that paris exudes? unbelievable.

pont des arts.

to be perfectly honest, and this is embarrassing, i knew this bridge existed, but i didn't actually know it was in paris. i'm not sure why i would have any inkling that it might be elsewhere. a bridge where couples go and put locks on the railing symbolizing their eternal love is so fitting for paris. but i didn't know to go last time, so i made a point to see this bridge as it was something in the city i hadn't seen before.

i ended up visiting pont des arts twice during my stay in paris. once during the day on my own and another time during a haphazard walk with a friend at 2 am which details i will likely save for another post or for more private conversations. i'd say it's much more spectacular to take photos during the day, but at night, without the hoards of tourists, we were able to really comb through and look at the different locks which was fun.

the locks seemed to summarize a multitude of relationship "levels" if you will. they ranged from the thoroughly planned and endearing (locks that were engraved, hand painted, or even included marriage proposals) to the more casual "eh, i guess we'll do this since we're here" kind of locks (locks that were all the same and clearly purchased from a kiosk on the bridge, high school locker style locks, and a few bike locks).

do we think sylvia still loves toni? with an "i?"

apparently, according to one of the locals i met, every so often the city actually comes to the bridge and has to cut off several locks as the bridge cannot support the weight of the locks. i realize this could be false information, but when i was reading through the locks, most seemed to be from 2010, so it could be true. hope that didn't burst anyone's bubble who locked up their love on pont des arts prior to 2010.

some of the locks that remain today, including an all important bike lock.


the champagne of macaroons

my first stop in paris? the infamous champs élysées, which clearly meant a visit to the famous french macaron shop, ladurée. of course nowadays, there are ladurée shops all over the world, including one in new york. still, as a dedicated dessertphiliac (new word!), i had to visit the flagship.

unfortunately, the actual shop was undergoing renovations, but there was a small trailer just outside the shop selling the desserts. but don't let the word "trailer" fool you. there might not have been much space, but that didn't stop ladurée from fitting in three gold and glass cases, two chandeliers, and other over the top decorative pieces. i was scolded for trying to take a photo, so you'll just have to use your imagination on this one.

outside the real shop. which wasn't actually open.

if you're familiar with the shop, they do several different types of typical "salon de thé" type desserts. being that they were one of the first tea salons to open in paris, they've certainly had years of experience to perfect their art. i had trouble ignoring the mini croquembouches they had as a monthly special, but i decided i had to go classic and get a box of the macarons they are so famous for.

there were many flavors to choose from, as there should be when you're paying a premium price for your tiny desserts. for my little splurge on a box of six (14.95€!! and totally keeping the box because it's goooorgeous!), i chose ghana chocolate, almond, pistachio, strawberry candy, citron, and salted caramel. and i'm glad to report that not one of the miniature cookies failed to please.


oui, oui! je suis à paris!

this is a story about a girl who went to france and basically ate her way through an entire country. luckily for her tight wallet, this eating mostly consisted of baguettes, which run about 0.50-1€ a pop. this however was obviously most unfortunate for her waistline. as she did not plan "going up a size" into her travel budget, she was eventually forced to leave the country. this paragraph is only about 86% true, but i'll leave it for you to discern the facts.

the next stop on my journey was to paris. i've been to paris once before about five or so years ago, but this time the circumstances were much different. last time i visited i was young, stupid, and with a boy. well, i guess i'm still sort of young and definitely still a little stupid, so the biggest difference as it seems is this time i went without a boy.

before you start awwwwing and preparing yourself for some sob story about how i wish i was in love, actually paris on your own as a single female isn't so terrible. that's an understatement. it's the best. i won't get into too many personal details, this blog is meant to be more about the journey than the actual traveller, but paris lived up to most of your standard romcom stereotypes and is a great city for single american women.

i met an american guy while i was in paris who was a self proclaimed "francophile." it made me throw up in my mouth a little bit so i won't say the same about myself, but i do love france. the buildings, the parks, the food, the people, the language, the food, the culture, the food. the food. i find myself enjoying every minute of it, particularly in paris.

notre dame.

un cafe.

the louvre.

champs elysee/arc de triomphe combo shot.

musee d'orsay.


my first couch surfing experience

i'm not sure how many of you are already familiar with couch surfer, but i'll give a brief explanation as i only recently learned about this myself. back in auckland, we had an american girl named julie who came to stay with us for a week on our couch. she was a friend of a friend of one of my flatmates, and was making her way around australia and NZ. anyway, obviously since she was staying in my house and she was from my country, we got to talking and when i started asking her about her trip she brought up couch surfer as one of the ways she was cutting corners with accommodation.

basically, couch surfer is an online community filled with travelers and hosts all over the globe. it's a little bit like facebook with a background check and slightly more intimate questions than "hobbies," where travelers all over the world have the opportunity to connect with each other. there are events, a messaging system, and of course the opportunity to search for someone who is willing to "host" you on their couch for free while you are in town.

being that i am a solo female traveler, you can probably understand that i faced a slight hesitation to using this site. after i heard about it from julie who was also a solo female, however, i started asking other people and reading up on it more in depth. it seemed to get positive reviews across the board, and even some relating specifically to women traveling on their own, so i created a profile and began my search for a couch in amsterdam.

one of the first profiles i came across really stood out to me. not only was she a 60 year old american living in amsterdam (read: safe), but she was also a travel writer, which is definitely something that interests me. though she mentioned in her profile that she receives too many requests to respond to, i sent my request and she confirmed that i would be able to stay with her for two nights while i was in town.

the only drawback to couch surfing is that you do lose what very little independence (if any at all) that you get by staying at a hostel. obviously since you are staying at someone else's home, you need to be courteous to their schedule and can't just go running off doing whatever you please and coming back at any hour. also, believe it or not, they may actually want to spend time getting to know you since you're staying in their home (shocking, i know).

so i was pretty glad that i had already squeezed in my space cake and other nightlife experiences prior to arriving at my couch surfing host's apartment, because actually as it turns out she had some pretty stringent rules. like a curfew of being back at her house between 8-9pm, even though she stayed awake until 11-12am every night. and the only shower was in her room so you had to ask permission to bathe and then only had about 2 minutes to do so in order to not flood the faulty bathroom. and that any questions about her job were ignored, but you were expected to answer her deeply personal questions at any time. and that pretty much she was expecting you to either make her dinner, buy her a gift, or find some way to compensate her for your stay. not exactly what i expected the "spirit" of couch surfer to feel like.

it wasn't really a negative experience at all, however, as the host i stayed with actually had other guests staying during the same time period i did. the first night there was a really fun couple from tallinn, estonia, who brought kama for us to try. kama is a mix of peas, barley, wheat, and rye that traditionally estonians mix with sour milk to drink. it was...interesting, but i finished my whole glass to really soak in the experience. we went out to the red light district together (returning before 9pm of course), and in the morning we made pancakes with heineken. a truly dutch breakfast.

the following night, a couple from taiwan came to stay. they were a lesbian couple, which is actually not generally accepted in taiwanese culture. it was particularly interesting to meet this couple, as their trip to amsterdam meant major milestones for their relationship, like holding hands in public and admitting to people that they were a couple and in love. it didn't hurt their "interesting" factor that they also gave me salted almond and almond and coriander flavored cookies from macau (which by the way tasted better than they sound).

unfortunately, i only have one photo to share from the experience of the balcony of the place that i stayed in. honestly, i was a little nervous to take any more as i wanted to respect my host's privacy. and be mindful of her mood swings. yikes!