Nice Day Trip 1: Monaco

From Nice, many tourists hop on one of the many buses or trains to get another look at the southern coast. Small towns like Cannes and larger cities such as Marseilles are perfect for day trips and change of scenery. I explored Monaco (quick 30 minute train ride) and Eze Village (by bus). P1020780

Monaco- Monaco has many reasons to be one of the smallest countries everyone has heard about. The Monte-Carlo Casino has been featured prominently in James Bond movies and car enthusiasts love to watch the Grands Prix races boasting the fastest single-seat auto racing cars in the world. To this day, Monaco is a monarchy under Grimaldi family rule for over 700 years. What this country lacks in size, it more than doubles in family history and excessive displays of wealth.

Monte-Carlo Casino-There is a dress code so make sure you are not wearing ugly sandals or look like a slob before trying to climb the red carpeted stairs. For sandals that would not be appropriate, please look up Chaco’s since that was the footwear I had on that day. Accounts from other people have indicated the interior of the casino is quite extraordinary but I was having a glaring contest with the “bouncer” from my place outside. If you’re visiting at night to try your luck on blackjack or roulette, make sure to wear a dress or suit and tie.P1020773

Oceanographic Museum- This aquarium is built on the cliffs facing to the ocean with a beautiful view of the water along the curve of the rocky coast. It is a great stop for families and children to view the 6,000 specimens including tropical fish, sharks and Mediterranean tanks.

P1020793The views from the palace, botanic gardens and boats moored in the port are reasons to visit. Staying outside the casino however, I watched luxury cars drive around the front entrance clearly displaying the wealth of the drivers inside. Many tourists, mostly males between the ages of 10-60, would pose next to these cars as if they were celebrities.  The famous names: Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, and Ettore Bugatti. There was money here most of us only dream about and I couldn’t imagine a life focused so exclusively on external displays of opulence and greed.

Slide1My feeling can be summed up in this one picture. While walking down toward the water from the train station, my friend and I spotted a man on board his yacht. We watched him pump his legs back and forth on an elliptical machine located on the second story while two women sunbathed outside on the boat’s main deck. This man, with calories and money to burn, had no problems simultaneously showing off his extravagant ship while burning off that beer gut. It seems preposterous in a way I can’t fully put into words.

With that kind of money, I would trade any amount of yachts in the world for a chance to visit another place I’ve never been…while contributing to charity and buying myself a really pretty dress.

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Nice, France: A Picture Look

I left you, dear reader, in my room back in Nice wondering how I was going to embrace my solo journey. The following day (and every day since) I met new people who were nothing but warm, welcoming and world travelers. I have a lot to learn from each of these people. 

Since I am heading off to bed after many hours of attempted planning for a reasonable way to get from Venice to Croatia, I’m afraid my brain is a mess of ferry schedules and hostel names. But due to my increased access to the power of Wi-Fi, I thought it was only fair that I pass along a couple of Nice beach pictures to satisfy any desires to view the sunny perfect coast of southern France. 

P1020724 P1020751 I met this lovely gentlemen Stefan while eating my very French “salad Niçoise” in sandwich form, which is to say all the deliciousness of the salad packed together between two large slices of thick spongey bread. Both of us had independently sought out the shade to escape the Nice sun and eat our little meals in silence. My friendly comment about our similar sandwiches started an entire conversation leading to a guided tour and gelato treat. Stefan lives and teaches in Germany where he is a French professor. He has family and friends in the area and has visited Nice consistently for over 15 years. He wasn’t very comfortable speaking English so we conversed in French and I did my best to channel every verb, noun, and other phrase from my high school vocabulary. We were patient with each other and I got a tour of the city I never would have received otherwise. In this particular photo, Stefan has requested a candid shot. I have absolutely no idea what we were trying to convey…but if confusion was our end goal, I would say we succeeded quite well. P1020744 The harbor. Down to the left you can make out smaller boats behind the sailboats in the water. A closer picture from the shoreline shows off the color and detail of these adorable water navigators. It’s a stark contrast from the number of large ferries taking passengers to Corsia and Sardinia every day. 

P1020823See how cute they are?
P1020828All the beaches in Nice are made of pebbles, otherwise known as smooth rocks. In my humble opinion, sand here is incredibly under appreciated  although the stones do make a pleasant sound as they tumble over one another pulled by the receding waves. 

 

[Where in the world is Katelyn update: I am currently in a hotel in Torino (Turin) having arrived in what is fast becoming my favorite city so far. I arrived this morning from Cinque Terre having the most incredible two days. Pictures and details to follow.]

How Nice It Can Be

I think it’s the only time I will be able to say, 

Oh France? Yeah, it was a last-minute decision.

P1020678And it was. Jesse, one of Sandeep’s friends, had recently spent a weekend in Nice and spoke fondly of the beaches and sights in Côte d’Azur. From her description and the location, the southern coast of France seemed like a perfect place to visit before heading east into Italy for cobblestone streets, pizza and espresso. Booking a train and a hostel online the night before however, proved to be seemingly impossible but after some hair pulling and a very expensive 1st class ticket, I was headed to Nice.

I spent the majority of the train ride watching the landscape blur past my window. The rusty-red soil in France quickly replaced the fertile Swiss ground and trees withering under the coastal sun seemed seasons away from the cool and windy Alps just hours before. As we passed Marsailles, I spotted large white yachts floating in the ocean and sunbathers scattered along the shore. It was then that I realized the challenge of my first solo city adventure, a place many diehard backpackers try their hardest to avoid—high seasonP1020687

I arrived in Nice, tired and slightly disoriented. The streets, tourists, and general buzz outside the train station had none of the reserved order of Geneva’s downtown. I walked past restaurants boasting a variety of cuisines in bright neon lights and jostled my backpack between the crowds of couples, families and travelers on the sidewalk. A flurry of young travelers filled the hostel with laughter and bottles of beer as I checked in. I hurriedly dropped off my bag and found my way to the ocean, illuminated by lights from restaurants, casinos and freshly lit cigarettes. High-rise apartments and hotels stretched as far as I could see while a bloated orange moon floated slowly above the din. Does can a person feel so lonely in a crowd of people?

I sat on a bench and watched Nice pass by: shirtless joggers, women in high heels and miniskirts, families and groups of college-aged friends. The challenge of navigating this new city seemed suddenly quite overwhelming and I watched the moon rising, wondering what I was doing on a trip to Europe so utterly alone.

P1020693
Notice the leaning tower of Pisa eating pizza in the bottom right corner.

I returned to my room to find the five empty beds occupied with a group of young college students traveling from Taiwan. The organizer of the trip described their travels and showed me his scrapbook filled with cutout maps and miniature drawing. One girl joined the conversation to fill in place names and smiles in halting English while the other girl offered me orange slices as we sat in a circle on the floor. The young man had traveled about a month by himself before meeting up with his friends and I asked him if he ever got lonely on the road. “Sometimes,” he admit, “but when you are alone you can…go deeper in the culture and in yourself.”

His words couldn’t have been more true or come at a better time. 

 

Geneva: Part 2

Geneva is the farthest westernmost point of Switzerland extended into France. It looks like France tried to bite off the little city and got stuck with jaws on either side. So when Sandeep announced our plans for a trip over the French border to Salève, I didn’t bat an eye. Despite the grey skies in the morning, I packed up my very ugly and very functional poncho and we fearlessly boarded the tram into the city. Our first destination, a flea market near the center, was postponed when Sandeep spotted a farmer’s market lined with colorful stalls selling vegetables, fruit, mushrooms and bouquets of flowers. We walked up and down the aisles peering over the shoulders of local shoppers as they compared heirloom tomatoes and varieties of bread. P1020565

After the flea market, we caught a bus with the rest of the group and rolled up the mountain to the French border. I watched as our little group breezed past the empty border checkpoint, having forgot the casual nature of traveling between countries in Europe. Up ahead, a small red gondola climbed up the steep 1,100 metres to the top of the mountain. This Mont Salève cable car carries (15 euro for adults) passengers up and down the sheer rock face, suspended by wires and held captive by breathtaking views. Braver souls than ourselves often choose to climb up the steep uphill trail instead, which takes approximately 4 hours from the base to the summit. Additional hiking trails and a full restaurant with views overlooking Geneva await newcomers and regulars alike. 2-DSC_0592

We had lunch at the top, munching on our farmer’s market purchases (baguette, fresh goat cheese and fruit). I don’t know exactly how long we stayed on the grassy hill at the summit, taking pictures and napping in the sun, but I couldn’t get enough of the incredible view. I recognized buildings I had walked past the day before, now just miniature versions of themselves scattered in near proximity to the lake. The pictures on my camera paled in comparison to the wonder and magnitude of the picturesque landscape. I took it as a sign that I should stop trying to document everything and simply basked in the gratitude of being in this place. We took a leisurely walk and stopped from ice cream before descending back down the mountain and home to prepare for the firework festivities. P1020618

Since this was the last weekend of Fêtes de Genève, a large fireworks display was planned for Saturday evening as the month-long celebration’s big finale. Sandeep and I headed to an apartment in the center of town and rode the elevator to the 9th floor for a balcony view of the lake and mountains beyond. Adam and Kevin, the hosts of the party, were attentive and kind providing both intelligent conversation and bottles of wine depending on current need. The fireworks began around 9:30pm and lasted for almost an hour with a variety of musical interludes. Prior to that evening, I had always watched fireworks from a picnic blanket or lawn chair. Never before had I witnessed such a display from a top floor view. From the balcony, I felt myself floating above the city alongside the burning embers exploding into the night. There was just one more day left in Geneve and a perfect ending to my first destination on this backpacking expedition.

*The Internet here is incredibly slow. It will only upload one or two pictures so please stay tuned. I hope Wi-Fi will pick up soon!**

Thanks for the photos Sandeep!
Thanks for the photos Sandeep!

Geneva: Part 1

Part 1 (That’s right, folks. There’s gonna be a sequel.)

Geneva is located at the western tip of Switzerland built around Lake Geneva. It is the most populous city of Romandy, the French-speaking part of the predominantly German speaking country. En route from Milan to Geneva, I met a talkative college professor who informed me that Switzerland is also home to a variety of unique German dialects that, until recently, did not have a written language of their own. The mountain and valleys kept these unique dialects in tact; a fascinating piece of linguistic history coming from a country primarily known for banking, chocolate and multi-functional pocketknives. Geneva is also home to the UN, located in Palais des Nations (Palace of Nations) located near the League of Nations after the First World War. This international hub cultivates a palpable importance within the city and having arrived directly from Milan, Geneva seemed to rise from the lake as a respire from the Italian city’s obsession with fashion and power.

P1020474I spent four days with my friend Sandeep, a current UN intern, who I had met years ago while interning in Washington, D.C. He surprised me at the train station and brought me to La Terrasse, a popular lakeside bar, for a drink while he finished up with work. Thursday was the last week of Fêtes de Genève, a month long summer festival, and we walked past amusement rides and food stands selling crepes, sandwiches and ice cream. During the day, children waited in line to try their luck at one of the many carnival games while at night the streets were crowded with young adults in their teens and twenties who flocked to the lake for live music and DJ beats. From my seat at La Terrace, I could see the Jet de L’eau, a large fountain and one of the main tourist attractions in the city, shoot a plume of water high into the air (459 ft), arching in a white mist as it fell back to earth against the serene backdrop of the French Alps. I sipped my beer as the moored boats rocked along the shore. 

P1020495In the evening, we stopped for some picnic supplies and walked to the park for the outdoor showing of Invictus, another free event as part of Fêtes de Genève. I met a variety of interns who work in various departments of the UN. These young intelligent students came from all over the world but shared a unified passion for a better and more peaceful world. Many were focused in human rights and international work, having recently come from the academic background of law. And so, it was fitting after meeting each of these individuals, that I started my Friday with a guided tour of the UN headquarters. The tour guide provided a wealth of information including the historical relevance of the original League of Nations and impact of the UN entity in the world today. After perusing the bookstore and sending my first postcards, I wandered down to the beautiful Jardin Botanique, part of surrounding grounds known as the Cultural Trails*.

The greenhouses were exquisite and each pond, rock and palm tree was meticulously planted and cared for. I walked along the water stopping to take pictures, sit in the shade and read in the grass. I stopped once to watch a group of older men and woman sitting on a bench watching the water. They seemed so peaceful silhouetted against the lake’s blue water. I imagined them as young Swiss couples, laying in the grass and falling in love. These five strangers completed a feeling of peace and tranquility I couldn’t describe in any other way (picture to follow). P1020548

[Cultural Trails* include the botanical gardens and five museums: the Swiss People in the World museum, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, The League of Nations, the History of Science, and the Ariana Museum. Prices for entry vary with location.]

Day One: Milan

On my first evening in Italy, I sit outside my room on the 3rd floor balcony that overlooks the Viale Andrea Doria. Straight ahead, a neon yellow sign proudly displays GRAND HOTEL DORIA high above the old stone rooftops. The moon is almost full. It is the same moon that will shine down in America, hours from now and miles away. P1020438

I sit here in comfortable solitude as I piece together the events of the day. I remember my seat mate on the airplane, Chelsea, who drinks a glass of red wine while finishing the last tantalizing chapters of Gone Girl. She is kind, a graduate from UVA Law, who just finished the Texas bar exam and is finally taking a well-earned vacation with two of her law school friends. She is the kind of girl who saves her brownie from dinner for a late night snack and asks me questions about my upcoming trip. Chelsea and her two friends will later “adopt” me into their friend group as we navigate the bus system, train station and correct destinations. Thank you to those young women. And thank you to the New Jersey father who used his precious cell phone data to look up the directions to my hostel and allowed me to write each one down so I wouldn’t get (too) lost.

P1020429Thank you to the Australian girl, Kelsey, who is occupying one of the six bunks in my room tonight. Dinner was great. Your 24-year-old confidence as a traveler and explorer of the world is inspiring. I hope you get to reunite with your Irish boy sometime soon.

Milan: 

“Few Italian cities polarise opinion like Milan, Italy’s financial and fashion capital.” Lonely Planet Mediterranean Europe (Travel Guide)

Milan is first and foremost an international city. I was surprised by my lack of culture shock, more closely resembling my slight discomfort in New York City than the more isolating awareness I usually feel in a foreign land. People of all races, heights and body types weave their way through busy crowds and frantic shoppers. English is written on signs and spoken by a number of business owners.The buildings here in Milan, however, have more character and less height than the Manhattan skyline. Piazzas with fruit trees or bike rentals are sprinkled throughout the city. Pedestrians, mostly women, enjoy their multi-colored gelato with long extravagant licks.

P1020446And the shopping! Go down Venezia Buenos Aires (located along the red line) to get an idea. I walked for 25 minutes past store after store selling shoes, sunglasses, perfume, clothing and more. Prices ranged from incredibly cheap to high-end luxury goods. It took all the willpower I hate to only purchase a pair of sunglasses. P1020452

For food, I suggest checking out Milan’s Happy Hours. These deals usually run from 6pm-10pm. For the price of one drink (cocktail, beer, wine), you have access to an all-you-can-eat buffet bar. Tonight I sampled a variety of dishes include seafood paella, pizza, pasta, salmon, roasted potatoes, olives, cheese, fruit and chocolate cake for dessert. The bill? Only €9.

For culture and art, Milan is probably most famous for Da Vinci’s The Last Supper and the Duomo di Milano, both located at or near the center of downtown. The Last Supper will require advanced reservations so book ahead.

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Leaving Home to Return Home

LIVE NEWS UPDATE: I have exactly six days left in this beautiful place they call Denmark. It doesn’t seem possible. I just communicating with the guy at grocery store, including oversized scarves with every outfit, and navigating my way around Copenhagen and its unpronounceable street names.

Things are becoming familiar. I can understand parts of people’s conversations on the street and have memorized the train schedule. I know the cheapest place to buy shoes and am beginning to grasp the concept of hygge. I feel like the folkehøjskole is my home and Helsingør my town. Did you every wonder how long it takes for you assimilate to a place? The same length of time to realize you now have to go home.

I went to the Danish Resistance Museum with my Danish class on Wednesday. We learned about the role of Denmark during German occupation in World War II. This interesting history lesson was followed by smødbrød and drinks. There were candles and good food. Our Danish teacher told us this story. It may sound familiar:

“A teacher comes into her 2nd grade class and has the children sit on the floor in the circle. She takes a large glass from her bag and places it in the center. “This glass represents your life,” she says. “And it is up to you to fill it.”

First she places large stones into the glass. “These represent your family and close friends. They are the largest, and most important things in your life. Is the glass full?” All the children agree that the glass is indeed full.

Next she adds smaller rocks to the glass. “These represent slightly less important things in your life: a good job, a comfortable income, good health. Now is the glass full?” The children nod their heads.

Last she takes a handful of sand and put it into the glass. “These represent the nice luxuries in life. They are cars, nice clothes, a summer house. Now is the glass finally full?” she asks. “Yes!” all the children shout in unison. The teacher smiles, opens a beer and pours the entire contents into the glass. “Remember no matter how full your life is, there is always room for a Carlsburg.”

A little Danish humor with a deeper reflection of the lifestyle of the Danes. If we all have time to fit a beer into our lives, to spend an hour catching up with an old friend, to wake up in time to see the sunrise, the world might be just that much better.

Snow in Helsingør

First Snow

Friday night, around 2:30am, I was coming home from København with some friends. Outside the window I noticed white flakes spiraling down from the sky. My first snow in Denmark. The Jul season is here.

Denmark begins the Christmas season around the middle of November as the daylight gets shorter and the nights get colder. However, the season is called Jul is much more connected to the celebration of family and hygge than the actual Christian holiday. Garlands are strung from streetlamps over the main roads and many stores begin selling ornaments, candles and wrapping paper with Danish flags. Tuborg released its Julebryg that is only sold during the winter season. Tivoli is open again. Halloween pumpkins and cobwebs have been replaced with winter decorations and Christmas lights. The Danes also celebrate with a couple large Christmas meals consisting of fish, snapps, and a Danish form of rice pudding. Upon coming back from my travel break, I was surprised to see how quickly Denmark had accepted the season. In my Danish class on tirsdag, my fabulous professor had placed small candles on all the tables and handed out traditional Jul cookies similar to gingerbread.

In my opinion, America starts the Christmas season much later. Although stores start selling wreaths and local radio stations play Frosty the Snowman on repeat, most of the holiday feelings wait under December 1st and the beginning of Advent. We wait until after the Thanksgiving turkey has been carved and the last piece of pumpkin pie has disappeared before we pull the large cardboard boxes marked “X-Mas” down from the closet.

Danes lack two things: sun and Thanksgiving. I think the combination of these two factors provides the perfect reason to begin the Jul mentality over a month and a half before December 25th. For me it’s been the perfect excuse to wear my warmest scarf, find a wool blanket and cuddle up next to the little fireplace reading a good book.

Month long blog hiatus with nothing to show…

I could make a list of all the reasons why I haven’t written a post in over a month. I think my most reasonable one is the fact that I was traveling for the first two weeks of November and had very limited Internet access. I know all of my loyal fans have been dying of curiosity about the goings-on in my life and so I will do my best to post more regularly from now on.

For my travel break, Eve and I went to Granada, Madrid, Barcelona, Praha and Budapest. It was a good number of cities for 15 days but I will admit jumping around from city to city can get extremely tiring. I saw a number of incredible things, ate a lot of great food, and met some very interesting people. I attempted to butcher the Spanish language but luckily Eve’s high school knowledge flooded back and I just followed along with the occasional Gracias. I have learned so many things about myself and the wild world of traveling. These are my top ten travel tips:

  1. Know what your PIN code is for your debit card. Because if you type your PIN number in incorrectly 25 times, your card will shut down and you will have no money in Granada for 2 days.
  2. It is worth it to book tickets for the La Alhambra in advance. Or you could choose to wake up at 5:45am and wait in line in the cold for two hours. Up to you.
  3. There is a certain sense of adventure associated with not booking a hostel. However, this sense of adventure does not occur when it is Halloween afternoon and you have no place to stay.
  4. Go to the Renia Sophia and Prado museums in Madrid. They are free most weekdays from 6-8 and house some of the most incredible artwork.
  5. Wait in the 1 hour line to get to the top of the Sangrada Familia in Barcelona. Primarily for the view at the top but also for the nice Canadian couple you will meet along the way.
  6. EAT TAPAS EVERYWHERE. In many cities in Spain, the purchase of an alcoholic beverage will come with a small plate of food. This ranges from delicious little sausages to actual ham and cheese sandwiches. Something the U.S. should consider adopting. Considering how Americans don’t eat enough…
  7. Visit the hospital in Praha. While the unattractive building is outside the main city, it has luke-warm staff who speak minimal English. Who doesn’t love describing his or her symptoms with hand gestures?
  8. Send postcards in the same country where you buy the stamps. Overwise your friends and loved ones will receive Madrid postcards and wonder why there are also postage markings from Budapest.
  9. Do couch surfing! It was one of the best experiences of the whole trip. I made lasting friendships with an apartment full of the friendliest Hungarians I have ever met.
  10. Make mistakes. Live life in new, scary places. Take pictures. You appreciate your home so much by visiting others.

Love from Overseas

Another post in the same day. It’s just one thought.

Being in another country and studying abroad is a great time to explore a new place and dig deeper into who you really are. It took me until this trip to realize that the people in your life shape you just has much as the places you’ve been and the things you’ve done. At the end of the day, thousands of pictures and new European boots do not change your personality or feelings of worth. It’s the people who really matter. Between the e-mail chain from the best Washington D.C. interns ever, my weekly updates from my Bucknell family (sorority, Smith 3C, BDC, or others), and notes from friends experiencing other fascinating places in the US and abroad, I’m grateful everyday for such amazing people in my life.

I’ve met a number of people since being in Denmark who I’m glad to know and can’t wait to visit when we all get back to the States. I want to thank each and every person in my life who realizes I’m thinking about them as much as they are thinking about me.