07.28 an almost mini-breakdown in madrid

3:53pm at Madrid Atocha Station

Talk about a roller coaster of emotion.  Despite the times I absolutely love what I am doing and where I am, I often question why I decided to do this alone.  I hate that I cannot understand what anyone around me is saying. I hate that no one is friendly. I hate that they talk to me like I am a complete incompetent person.  I hate that no one is helpful despite my desperate pleas with broken French or Spanish.  I hate the train systems and how it is not clear to any English speaker what to do or where to go or where to get off. I hate that I have no one to vent my frustrations to. I hate walking around with my heavy luggage. I hate that I am spending all this money to feel like absolute shit when things do not go well. I hate that I just spend 9 euros on a 3 course meal at a cafeteria because I am an idiot and ordered incorrectly. Now I have to force this gross food down my throat so I am not wasteful and so I won’t have to buy dinner when I get to Granada.  I hate that the lady who I reserved my Eurail tickets with is giving me attitude when I ask essential questions like – where do I catch the train or how long is the journey from Seville to Barcelona, why is that a stupid question???  I hate that people glare at me when I try to store my little suitcase in the overhead compartment – everyone else is doing it! With even bigger suitcases! I hate that I get stared at wherever I go.  I hate that no one smiles. I hate being a complete outsider. I hate being that foreigner that no one has patience for.

… 30 min later…

WOW. May I just say (without sounding like a complete crazy person), somebody or something is definitely watching over me.

I cannot believe what just happened.

So I am sitting here on the verge of tears writing about all the negative feelings I have (as you just read), and these two beautiful Spanish kids start peeping from the partition behind me.  The girls are giggling and smiling at me. I turn around and I am at first annoyed, understandably with my current grumpy state of mind but I decide to say hola and smile back.  The girl’s names are Maria, age 7 and Lucia, age 5 and they are with their grandparents who are having their meal a few tables away.  They do not seem to be bothered that their girls are chatting a stranger up. They are intrigued about what I am writing and insist that I keep writing so they can watch.  I can barely understand them and they can barely understand me, but the three of us laugh together at random things.  I show them photos of Charlie.  Maria can speak a little English so they are trying to teach + correct my Spanish, while they ask for me to do the same for them with their English. Their abuelos call for them, as it is time to catch their train. They say adios and give me the biggest smiles as they run off waving.  I still feel like crying.  A little because I am still frustrated and a little because of the glimmer of hope from these girls, to remind me of something that I have forgotten… that its really not that bad!

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07.28 san sebastian

9:27am on the RENFE Train: San Sebastian to Madrid

My first cities completely solo – done! San Sebastian is as breathtaking as everyone promised it to be. It is a small laid back town in Basque country (filled with rich Spaniards who summer in this town) with amazing tapas or pinchxos. They have three main beaches, even one surf beach; a big Jesus looking down over the city; a beautiful old section called Parte Viejo; a couple mountains to climb up for amazing views; and some really great and cheap shopping!

I was a little nervous at first to be alone and arriving at 11pm, walking by myself in the streets (after a nightmare of a train experience) to find a little hostel called Pension Amular. After cursing at the directions given to me, I finally find the place and meet a man named Miguel. Miguel is in his 50s. He is tall, bald, stocky, and does not speak a word of English. The hostel is creepy at first as it is dead quiet + I questioned why it got such good reviews online. Now that my stay is over, I know why. Miguel is one of the nicest people you will ever encounter. He will go out of his way to make sangria and paella for everyone in the hostel just because! He even bought me my first meal and drink after I checked-in (we ended up in the same resto and I suppose he felt sorry for me being alone). He would greet me in the morning calling me his sonrisa and fake baby cry when I departed. He makes everyone feel at home and welcome anytime. He even changes your sheets + gives you fresh towels every day! Not bad for 20 Euros a night.

The hostel only had a handful of rooms, so there was a small group of us who stayed there and became quite close after just 24 hours. But seriously, they were ALL AUSSIES! I didn’t understand half of what they were talking about most of the time – but at least it was English! It was nice because we were all about the same age too. Except for little Sam Levy, my 21-year-old racially ambiguous buddy from Melbourne who was the only other person there traveling solo. We became quick BFFs as we frolicked around the beaches by day and joined the rest of the Aussies at night for drinks + dancing. I was sad to leave this morning as I felt a good bond with these people I have only just met.

Unfortunately, I did not take any photos of the CRAZY WONDERFUL pinchxos and paella I had! I chose not to take my SLR out in the evenings, as I did not want to risk my drunken self to lose or break it.

A couple things I found weird:

– Where are all the Asians? And the Filipinos?? I thought we were everywhere?! The only two Chinese people I saw here were at the night clubs selling sunglasses/swords/flowers that light up and glow in the dark. WTF?

– Why is Mcdonalds still the busiest place in San Sebastian when we are amongst all this wonderful Spanish food?

– Why did the Swiss guy in the club judge me when he heard I was 29 from someone else and call me an old pan? Is that a Swiss saying?Does it have something to do with him being only 19 and trying to hit on me?

– Why do shoe stores display their shoes in their windows only and you have to take the sales person out and point to the one you want to try on? And why do they ignore you when you want to get their attention for another size or style? Don’t they want to make a sale?

– Why does everyone dress to the nines walking around town straight from the beach? Everyone puts on beautiful dresses or outfits from the beach and wear gourgeous gladiators, wedges, heels, etc. Seems like only backpackers sport the boring havaianas.

– Why are there Aussies everywhere? And why are they all from Melbourne?

– Why did that Spaniard man carry me out of Clab Tas Tas to try to convince me to go home with him? Is that how these strange Spanish men hit on women?  They literally PICK them up? Why did he think that would convince me to go with him?

– Why did that man from the paella place last night tell us we could not order appetizers? Yes, the paella was huge but what we really went there for was also the mussels. Who cares? It’s more money for him.

– Why is alcohol so cheap here? Yesterday, Sam and I bought 2 bottles of red wine + 2 litres of coke paid only with our coins. A whopping 5 euros! Apparently it’s the thing to drink here. yes, wine + coke together is actually quite nice. On a side note, a box of Don Simon sangria is 1 euro. Another WTF?!

– Why is it ok to be buck church or topless on a regular European beach? It’s not even clothing optional!

Now I am off to Granada via Madrid! I booked myself an Alhambra tour tomorrow morning, which should be amazing. Then on Friday I meet Lucie in Seville for 3 days then together we are off to magical Morocco. I still cannot believe I am here. I need to pinch myself sometimes to realize this is not a dream. It’s my reality!

07.25 paris paris paris!

PARIS: 4:09pm on the TGV (Paris to San Sebastian, via Bordeaux + Irun)

So… I was supposed to be in Paris for 5 days.   It’s now 10 days later and I am just now leaving the city of lights. Yes, I again have officially been seduced by a city. As cliché as I may sound right now, I am joining the hundreds of people this statement. I love Paris! It’s my dream to move here! I cringe at saying that, as it seems to be the dream of every Westerner.  But I suppose there is a reason why. And I have fully experienced those reasons to the fullest.  Because I only have so much time and space in this blog (in which I can keep your attention), I will sum it up.  So here you go; a few reasons why I love Paris.

Meet my friend Caitlin.

Gaga over the Three Color Drink

I’m not only saying this because she is my other bestie, but because she is ACTUALLY one of the most wonderful, amazing, and beautiful people I know.  She is fully responsible for this Parisian seduction. But what better way to get to know a city but to be introduced to it by someone who lives + breathes + loves the same silly things you do.  Caitlin is a Pilates/yoga teacher in Paris; who learned French in the 3 years she has lived here (ce’st magnifique!). She’s a vegetarian (who will eat anything including “three color Vietnamese drink” and mysterious Asian candies), loves Marc Jacobs + Repetto (who justified, rightly so, me buying 3 pairs of ballet flats and many more), anything Japanese (hell, anything Asian and weird), reading blogs, circle lenses, Russian babushka dolls, goes to little India + Chinatown for facials/mani/pedis (thanks for one of the strangest Indian facials, not to the best pedi I’ve ever had!) and has the most wonderful cat I’ve ever met called Marcel.  Her boyfriend Alex is equally fun + crazy, even giving me my first vespa experience in a romper complete with Repettos and Longchamp.  Together they have the cutest apartment in the 18th and live a life most everyone dreams of. Living happily ever after… in Paris.  Thank you Katie for making this visit so special!

The food.

Words cannot even describe it.  I do not think I even took enough photos of everything I ate. But Pierre Herme macaroons completely changed my life! Don’t even get me started on the wine and cheese.  May I just say I am completely shocked at how wine and cheese here is so effing cheap??? Katie and I had a feast at home with cheese, baguette and steamed veggies (which we did not finish), got absolutely trashed – it only cost probably a whopping 15 euros! Thank goodness my tummy has been cooperating with me.

Pierre Herme macaroons

italian bliss at bon marche

Dessert after every meal. Yes, I can get used to this!

Parisian style + shopping

I am fully embarrassed to admit how much I have actually bought (so I won’t).  But here are photos of some of my highlights.  I also may or may not have sent a package home with some purchases that cannot fit in my luggage. Don’t judge! As for French fashion, lets just put it this way… if I lived here, I would carry a camera around with me, take photos of all the cute French women in their outfits and blog about it. I’m currently trying to get Katie to do this for me to get my fill of it so I do not rot in my staple Vancouver lululemon.

Repetto Heaven

Marc Jacobs - a quarter of the price!

Longchamp. From Paris. Not Greenhills.

My special 29th birthday.

Gila have me the best present EVER and came to spend my birthday in Paris with me! I decided I wanted to have a low-key birthday. So… Gila + I decided a day touring Notre Dame and the Louvre, having macaroons in a café, and then finish off the day with a nice dinner with Katie and Alex (complete with fois gras, sable fish, and crème brulee).  No big! The rest of Gila’s stay was filled with the regular tourist must-dos.  The Eiffel tower, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysse, Museo D’Orssey, cafes, baguettes, steak frites, French pastries – you name it.  Wonderful!  I was actually quite teary eyed to see her go, despite knowing that I would see her in September. Maybe because the solo part of my trip was getting closer and closer… and I was (am) actually terrified.

Gotta love being a tourist

The French Language.

It’s completely beautiful. I am making a promise to myself (as you all as my witnesses) that I will learn this pretty language.  I am not sure how useful it will be in Vancouver but all of a sudden it is something I am determined to do.  Seeing and hearing Katie speak and learn so quickly is so inspiring.  I think I will take French classes when I get back home. So when I move here I will have no problem.  Now all I need is a reason to come here….

They have yoga too!

So I attended a couple yoga classes and one of Katie’s Pilates class.  To be taught in a completely different language is actually really refreshing.  Granted, I had no idea what the instructor was saying but because I know the practice well it was not so hard for me to follow. Honestly, it was one of the best ways to “be in the now” as I was constantly concentrating on what she might be saying that I felt fully present in my practice.  See? My yoga has even improved while on vacay! (Rassa Yoga by Notre Dam)

By the way, if you are reading this and live in Paris, you should definitely go to Katie’s Pilates class at Element (near the metro stop Vavin).  She will kick you’re a** and your core will be sore for days after. If you are nice to her, she may even take you for macaroons in her client’s trendy boutique hotel across the street!

Belly dancing may also be something I might take up again, actually.  Katie’s friend, Erin, who teaches Pilates and Belly Dance gave me a quick lesson after Pilates one day.  So much fun!!! Anyone interested in finding classes to take with me in the local Vancouver area?

Other highlights were seeing Vavi Heussaff (it has been 10 years maybe?!), the Takeshi Kitano exhibition at the Cartier Foundation, Parisian street graffiti, and I am sure I will realize I have forgotten way more that I have written about here. The list is endless!

So, that is, in a nutshell; is my Parisian world.  I hope for more Paris in my life. Bisous!