Very recently a friend and I decided to take a comprehensive trip visiting the Mediterranean coastline of Spain, France, and Italy.So,I’m going to talk exclusively about our trip through the south of France in this post because, full disclosure, I always anticipated that France was going to be unbearably bourgeois/pretentious, and I’m the least classy person ever. So, I entered the country feeling a little unnerved and guarded. I do partially believe that this misconception lies purely in the “Parisian” experience of France and most part we were welcomed with open arms and we learned that perhaps after all “southern hospitality” really is ubiquitous phenomenon anywhere you go.
1. Aix en Provence
The first place we landed in France was a university town about 30 minutes north of Marseille in the Provence region called Aix en Provence. It had this charming college town vibe and was bursting with energy but unfortunately at this point during our trip we had hit a wall. We had just finished a week in Spain with friends and avoided planning our next moves and suddenly realized with 2 1/2 more weeks of travel we had better get our shit together. We arrived at an AirBnb that positively wreaked of college student desperation to make some $$ because to our dismay there wasn’t a shred of toilet paper, a hand or body towel for either of us, or normal pillows. After 5 hours on a train ALL we had wanted was to shower… and we couldn’t. We decided to leave the next morning after a grueling night of mapping out France, rented a car, and hit the road. For the record, renting a car is the best thing we could have done. I think that for 4 days it ended up costing up $300 total which we split. The freedom of a car was a necessary and my recommended vector for seeing off-the-beaten-path spots!
Ah, with the wind on our backs we decided to first drive and visit Cassis. No, it’s not pronounced “Kah-sees” but more like “Kah-See”, and of course we didn’t know this until we were well out of France and in Italy. Typical. Cassis was a great stop in southern France and I *highly* recommend you make the trip there and enjoy the broad range of activities from beautiful pebble beaches with crystal clear water, an assortment of mom & pop restaurants featuring pre-set menus for cheap, well curated shopping at the pier, and probably our favorite, hiking to the Calanque d’en Vau. Hiking the Calanque is not to be missed! It’s hard, and a bit steep, but with enough coffee and determination you will make it and be thrilled you did so. Also there is parking from the hiking spot, a local tip we learned from the boarding house we stayed at.
3. Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur
After leaving Cassis we really didn’t know where to head other than east toward Italy. We found this next gem of a place through AirBnb. We were ultimately looking for an authentic experience with the opportunity to meet some French locals, and we were not disappointed. We found a small guest house on a family owned ranch with goats, chickens, dogs, cats, and pool. There was even an option for us to pay 20 euros to have dinner with the family. We exuberantly swigged our wine and enjoyed our fromage with the family despite the very strong language barrier and the adorable Grand-mère even washed our laundry for us, and hung our underwear to dry out on the line. Pure. Love. If you have the opportunity to do something like this I would highly recommend doing so!
Menton was our next destination, which was ultimately a bit backwards as it’s not far from the Italian border, but it made more sense for us to drive here and double back to fly out of Nice. We stayed at an AirBnb tucked away in stunning green mountains! Just a fair warning: The roads in Menton are very winding and narrow and the locals tend to zoom by at 45 mph like it’s no big deal. Meanwhile, we are crawling up this mountain at 25 mph in a manual car the size of a FIAT. Phew. Although rather touristy at the time we went Menton won my heart with its architectural beauty and is allegedly one of the oldest cities in southern France.
Our last stop in France was the city of Nice nestled right in the middle of Southern France. We had a very limited amount of time here but we were still able to enjoy everything we saw. We walked through the local markets/vendors which carried locally grown herbal teas and some slightly bizarre items that reminded me of my grandmothers house when I was a child like dolls made out of panty hose hot glued to a wooden sign that says “home is where the heart is” and those strange little velveteen plastic teddy bears… ANYWAY it was still nice. We dropped out car at the airport and bailed off to our next destination: Rome!
A couple of years ago I was living in a studio apartment by myself in a new city and my urge to travel was so irresistible that I bought a ticket to Amsterdam without a fleck of hesitation and decided I was going to hop around Europe for 2 1/2 weeks aimlessly. The memory recall is definitely far from fresh but I’ll highlight some of the basics.
PSA: This is not always a good or enjoyable experience if you are dealing with shit in your life (like I was) and you think that traveling will put everything in perspective for you or solve your problems. I’ve been told before that I have a syndrome called “destination addiction” and that I am unable to live in the present because I am constantly worrying about where I am going to be in the future or that somehow things are better elsewhere. I will admit that while spontaneous travel has worked for me in the past sometimes the desperation and yearning for experience coupled with inappropriate timing or circumstance can leave you feeling befuddled and grasping at straws on your trip. SO GET YO SHIT TOGETHA’.
So I flew into Amsterdam initially and planned to meet up with a friend who had just embarked on her own personal journey as a student abroad! I hate to admit that she definitely held the burden of my earnest bewilderment regarding the reason for my travel and I wasn’t as easy going or flexible as I wish.
1. Don’t stand in the bike lane
I’m dead effing serious about this one. If you are a tourist and are not sure where you are going, if you do one thing and one thing only, GET OUTTA THE BIKE LANE. You will know when you are in it because suddenly you will be disoriented by the dinging of bells, garbled voices of people yelling, and the colorful blur of being ambushed by thousands (okay not thousands) of people on bicycles.
2. Be careful at the smart shops…
So if you don’t know what a smart shop is I will give you this opportunity to look it up and sit quietly with your jaw dropped for a brief moment. Are you finished? Okay good! So my friend and I went to one of these, purchased AND ate the recommended amount of a legal substance and holy absolute mother of all deities… I was already in a funk of a place with my emotions and this sent my teetering over the edge into an abyss of anxious uncertainty about everything in my life. We got held up in Vondelpark for something like 5 hours lying in the grass contemplating existence. Yup. By the way Vondelpark is like being on another planet. The exotic foliage, swamps, and beautiful people everywhere can keep you entertained for countless hours. Go have a BBQ or something.
3. The Red Light District
Yes, we went to the red light district. I will be 100% transparent that I don’t remember a lot but I did have the chance to see the silhouettes of the women through the hazy lit booths, moving their bodies slowly and enticingly waiting for bystanders to become intrigued and approach. As someone who supports sex workers choice to use their bodies and believe they should have resources available that keep them safe, I can’t help but wonder what circumstances led some or the vast majority of these women to Amsterdam specifically. While many women choose to and LOVE performing these jobs there is still a lot of sex trafficking happening in the world, especially in Europe. I did not take, nor will I post photos of the district.
4. You don’t have to eat the herring.
Say it with me now! Of course, because I am disgusting and actually quite like herring I had to try it. It wasn’t…great. I mean I bought it in a plastic tray from a random grocery store simply because I HAD TO and my poor friend eyed me with disdain the entire time curious as to why I brought that shit into the house.
After struggling through the condensed streets of Amsterdam I flew to London and spent a few days at Wombat Hostel, which I totally recommend because of the awesome “pub” in the basement and the central location to the metro. I met some amazing people that gladly explored the city with me! My only regret is not doing much for night life.
1. Notting Hill Carnival
While I was in London an absolute shit storm of a festival was going on called Notting Hill Carnival. It’s a Caribbean festival that’s widely celebrated, but this is London’s version. The reason I call it a shit storm is because it becomes so apocalyptic that for 2 days straight businesses purchase plywood and BOARD UP THE STORE FRONTS because apparently British will unleash and destroy everything. It was a sight to behold. For 2 days graffiti festooned plywood decorated the streets while crowds large enough to give you panic attacks undulated through the streets. I don’t think these photos do justice by the way. An aerial view would be much better.
We literally saw a girl that had been stabbed (allegedy) walking through the crowd with blood soaked t-shirts clutched to her abdomen trying to find a landmark for paramedics to meet her.
I also had to pee in someone’s courtyard because port-o-potties aren’t a thing apparently along with garbage cans, and pandemonium just ensues for two days… I’ve definitely grown out of these things now that I think about it.
2. Camden Town
Camden Town was the only other real London experience I was able to get with my short time there, but it was worth the entire trip in my opinion. The Camden market has everything handmade, vintage, or new that you could possibly ever want and the food stands at the public market featured a plethora of different ethnic foods I hadn’t tried before. We ambled around Camden Town with a pungent and funky hard cider we purchased, people watched, and enjoyed the sunset. NEVER. BETTER. No photos to share on this one… But please check out CyberDog. It’s a rave clothing store and now even you can look like a fashionable version of the Jetsons and glow in the dark.
3. Windsor Castle
Since I had such a short time in the UK I had to decide to capitalize on a couple things and one of those being seeing a real castle. I grabbed my sock holder-uppers, put on my tourist pants and got on a bus with a bunch of strangers Windsor Castle-bound. I didn’t think I would be as interested as I was seeing knight’s armor, elaborate décor, beautiful gardens, and an eccentric doll house (The Queen’s prized collection). Not far is a village called Old Town which was easily walkable and featured some fancy shops and food joints.
Bath is a city near the border of Wales that is old as shit. I took a day trip here and marveled at the 18th century Georgian architecture and Roman baths that are centuries old. It’s known for it’s hot springs and has been a destination of wellness for a very long time. We didn’t get a lot of time to spend here, but we did get to see Johnny Depp’s house there. Cool.
Mannn. I had wanted to see this place since I could remember and I thought I might have felt a strange wind or a chill move through my body as aliens tried to contact me telepathically… but I felt pretty normal. Bewildered, but normal. Even so this place had a remarkable feel to it. It lies in the middle of a large pasture which appears very unassuming at first, then BOOM there it is. I was happy to see it. Of course nearby is a gift shop that offers every extraterrestrial novelty item you could envision, which can be a little tacky and over done at times. But hey! STONEHENGE.
Okay Berlin is the shit. I had no idea what I was in for when I landed in this city. I intended to visit a good friend here but he had a personal emergency which left me to fend for myself and pioneer my own experiences. While I was here I did a few different tours. Berlin amazed and frightened me with its dark history surrounding the Holocaust and the walking tour I took of the city center left me with worms in my stomach. I actually stood where Hitler “allegedly” was buried (c’mon we all know he lived out his years on a tropical island somewhere) and it was fulfilling yet curious to see that the place had ABSOLUTELY no mention of his existence whatsoever. No recognition. Good job Germany.
One of the favorite things I did in Berlin was a street art tour through Alternative Berlin. Walking through Berlin you would never know that graffiti is not legal. Every building and window as far up as a ladder can reach is ornamented with tags, murals, and glass etching. I actually learned that the penalty for vandalism is nothing like it is here in the states. They actually measure the size of your tag (or whatever) and there is a predetermined scale of how much you owe based on the size of your damage. NEAT right? Why send people to jail for years for tagging? After the street art tour we were lead back to a studio and taught how to make our own stencils and some basic spray paint technique. I think I made a french bulldog with a part hat? Yas.
The other important thing to know about Berlin is that the nightlife gets absolutely wild and the music is phenomenal. I became friendly with one of the tour guides, a young Portuguese man who fell madly in love with Berlin and had a flat with friends not far from where I was staying. So in Berlin you don’t start going out until at least 2-3 am. We went to this club called aboutBlank and I don’t think we left until 8:30 in the morning. There is something to be said about line etiquette when waiting to get into these places. Always go with a group. Never look bored. Keep it chill and easy, and you will likely get it. DO NOT BE WASTED. You will be turned away, possibly at the expense of your whole group. This place was apparently an old hotel and had loads of empty graffiti strewn hot tubs in the back that you could chill in all night.
I always regret not taking more photos after a trip… But ultimately there needs to be a good balance of living in the moment and viewing the world through a lens!
Lucky lake sounds like an adorable imaginative land featured in one of the CareBear movies and it most certainly lives up to that. I first discovered Lucky Lake when I was planning my trip to Amsterdam and I instantly knew I had to witness this winsome pastel trailer park and so I made the arrangements. Lucky Lake is a hostel that features private rooms inside each teensy weensy trailer, or they over shared bunks in some other converted vehicle or box (I don’t remember).
IS THIS NOT THE CUTEST THING YOU EVER SAW? Don’t lie to me.
Staying here was an absolute BLAST. There are people everywhere running around embracing their childlike curiosity and exploring the channels and lakes that are abundant throughout the area. The hostel itself offers boat rides, yoga, community dinners, and bike rentals. We got lucky and paid some locals to take us for a boat ride. Cute locals. Teehee.
I am not going to lie. This area felt so much like the great lakes in Wisconsin in the summer time I was confused that I had flown half way across the world to behold the same scenery with different architecture. The party vibe and friendliness was ALL the same though.
Not far lied an older village named Abcoude that we biked to on conveniently paved bike trails while waving at absent minded sheep and picking daisies along the way. The village has an old ferris wheel and a quaint old-fashioned vibe.
AND DON’T FORGET TO EAT BREAKFAST ON THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS YA’LL. Miss Frizzle wasn’t there (huge bummer) but she was in spirit. While most of this is my own original photography, this photo is from the website, but needed to be shared.
So I think you pretty much get the excitement surrounding the place. If you are visiting Amsterdam and are sick of accidentally standing in the bike lane and getting dinged at by bike bells, hop on over to lucky lake and check it out!