Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Nice is Nice (see what I did there?)

Amazing antique shop in Nice
After my adventure in Turin/Torino (really, I'm not sure if it's polite or pretentious to call the city by it's Italian name... help?), I spent most of Spring Break being lazy. It's funny how normal/boring life can be here. Wake up early, go to work, grocery shop, head home to make dinner, do laundry and watch Game of Thrones, go to sleep, then do it all over again. Sometimes I get caught up in how overwhelming it all can be. Starting my career and adult life over 4,000 miles from home is stressful, and then throw in the fact that I don't speak the language and can't be completely independent with how much I rely on the school... I'm not going to lie, it's a challenge. But then, within a 3 or 4 hour drive, I can be laying on a stone-filled beach along the Mediterranean Sea. It's difficult to explain; much of the time life just feels normal, but then I really look at what's happening and feel like it's some amazing dream that I never want to wake up from.

Anyway, rambling took over my attempt to share my most recent trip. 

After Torino, as I said, I spent most of the week hanging around my apartment, but late in the week took a road trip to the French Riviera. Two friends and I rented a car and drove from Milan to Nice; even before arriving, the trip was amazing. Most of the drive was along the Blue Coast of the Mediterranean, and the view out the window was full of colorful Italian and French seaside towns, and villages nestled in the hills. There were approximately a billion tunnels to drive through along the way (Mom, you would have hated that part) but emerging from each one was like driving straight into postcard-esque scenery.

Plaza where our apartment was
When we finally arrived, we set out in search of the apartment we'd rented. Renting apartments for travel is always a little nerve-wracking as you can never be 100% sure what you're really getting. As we drove through the slightly seedy area that definitely did not look like the pictures from the website, we were a little worried. Luckily, our apartment was on a pedestrian-only street that couldn't have been a better location. We were directly outside of the Old Town, right next to Plaza Garibaldi. We started out on maybe not so great a note when the key didn't work to our apartment. When we were finally asked to come back, it took our very sweet hostess a good 20 minutes to teach us the "trick" to opening the door. But even with this tiny bump in the road, I loved where we stayed and would definitely go back. If you're looking for a place to stay, check out we stayed in the Bonaparte apartment! 

Most of the trip was walking, eating, and drinking rosé wine, all in the most wonderful way. 

Walking involved meandering through the Old Town markets, which had a very medieval feel to it. It reminded me a little of Bellagio with it's tiny shops and restaurants, as well as the curving, cobblestoned streets. I haven't quite figured out this atmosphere yet; I had thought it was a very Italian ambience, but now I'm wondering if it's all of Europe or maybe the Mediterranean. Either way, I love it! Walking also meant strolling along the coast, searching between the stones for sea glass. At one point, one of the girls stopped looking and drew my attention to the most beautiful sound: as the waves rolled back out to sea, they carried the stones with them, softly rattling against one another as they went. It wasn't exactly swimming weather, but this walk along the beach was unforgettable, and even though wading to your ankles isn't really a swim in the sea, I'm going to check it off The List all the same!


Cute little sign on our table at Papayou

In Paris, I really hated most of the food, but I've heard Parisian food is amazing so I'm going to just go with the idea that maybe we didn't choose the right restaurants. I had chalked it up to disliking French food, but have been proved wrong. 

Every meal was heavenly: 

Appetizers at Ark on a terrace overlooking the sea, traditional "Niçoise" beef stew with ravioli and creme brulée at Papayou, and spinach pasta with artichokes and sausage at olive&artichaut... Every bite was beyond wonderful. And don't even get me started with the paella in Monte Carlo

One of the best parts of where we stayed was that it wasn't in a tourist area. 

After dinner one night, we headed back to Rue Bonaparte to check out the bar scene. 

We went to an interesting little place called Le Comptoir Central Électrique, which I loved! The decor was eclectic, with lightbulbs hanging at different levels from the ceiling and exposed, chipping cement on the walls. The bar closed much earlier than we wanted to head in, so we asked one of the adorable bartenders where he'd suggest next. He sent us to Gossip Bar, a dance club playing cheesy English and French 80s music until his shift was over, then met us to take us to his favorite bar. I wish I'd written down the name, but the house music and younger crowd gave this one a more underground feel. It was so much fun to meet a local and get to see a few places we wouldn't have otherwise found. 

On our way out of Nice we stopped in Monaco, a tiny country that I'm embarrassed to say I didn't realize was its own country until trying to look up the "city's" weather the night before our trip. 

Laura and I are already talking about a trip back in June. The little we saw of Monte Carlo was beautiful. It had a much more ritzy vibe than Nice, possibly due to the presence of the legendary casino, port full of yachts, and countless windows displaying fabulously gaudy and ridiculously expensive jewelry. We didn't spend long in the lavish little nation, but it definitely left an impression. I am officially obsessed with the French Riviera. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Taking Candy from Strangers

Rainy day in the park

Another item checked off The List, and my first "Get on the Next Train Leaving the Station" trip under my belt. 

At first, my trip to Torino (Turin? I don't know which is right) seemed a little like a bust. Leaving the train station may as well have been just jumping in a lake. It was pouring! Not even an umbrella helped. I had decided on the train to book a hotel, and after a few wrong turns found Hotel Diplomatic. Not a bad place- I mean, not great, but inexpensive and comfortable enough for the night!

Wandering through the rainy market

At that point, all I wanted to do was spend the rest of the day avoiding the rain but set out to find Piazza della Repubblica and it's market. 

A beautiful day can make all the difference, and I'm sure that usually Torino's Saturday market is wonderful to walk around. Unfortunately for me, it was pretty wet and miserable; the kind of rain that makes it's way into your shoes and you end up not even trying to avoid puddles because there's no point. I spent as much time as I could wandering through the stands and drippy tents where vendors sold everything from socks to flowers to food. Much as I was ready to leave, I didn't end up making the decision for myself. A man came up to me as I walked behind the vegetable stands and said something to me. I gave him my go-to look of confusion and favorite phrase ("Mi dispiace, non parlo Italiano!"), and he grabbed my arm, started pointing at the vendors who didn't have booths (the ones selling umbrellas and iPhone cases and those types of things) and saying "bad boys!" over and over! He walked me over to the crosswalk, said "bad boys!" again, and waited until I went across the road. One of the men he had pointed at yelled at him a little but, needless to say, I have no idea what they said. Not exactly a confidence-inducing event for my first solo-trip!

Statue of Hathor, Goddess of the sky, love,
beauty, joy, motherhood, and foreign lands.
I knew there was a reason I was drawn to her!
I see no shame in taking
myself on a romantic dinner
date. I love me. 

Next was the Egyptian Museum, which was incredible. 

They had a room full of all the items found in a tomb of a married couple, and the things that they knew about this regular little family was amazing- they even had her wig! Anyways, at that point I couldn't really figure out what to do. It was getting dark but still wasn't late, so I tried shopping but set off the alarm going into literally every store I tried. I was kind of mopey and ended up just going to the Apple Store to buy myself a iTunes card so I could watch some movies that night. While awkwardly waiting to buy my card, the guy in front of me and I got to talking and he asked to show me around Torino. He had some things to do that night though, and I had a fancy dinner date to take myself on, so I spent the rest of the quiet night on my own, reading, eating, and generally relaxing.

Easter Sunday rose as beautifully as Saturday had been gloomy. 

Honestly, I wasn't a huge fan of Torino at that point and was ready to leave but got a call from Apple Store Guy and decided to give the city one last chance. He said he could pick me up and show me around, but isn't that how "Taken" starts? Yes. BUT it's also how many a rom-com starts as well. Though I wouldn't get in this stranger's car, I did spend most of the day walking through beautiful parks and gardens, sipping cafe macchiato, and sitting on the banks of a river with one. He walked me over to the train station when it was time for me to go, and rather than getting lunch or another coffee as planned, we bought a ton of candy and had a picnic in the park instead while I waited for 4:54 (train time). So I also took candy from a stranger- I'm living on the edge!

I don't know if it was the more appealing weather or seeing the city with a local as a guide, but either way I like Torino much more than expected! My first solo-travel experience was definitely one to remember.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


I'm a planner. I plan everything and tend to be uncomfortable when things aren't thoroughly organized, be it traveling, teaching, etc. I like knowing what comes next, and am one of those people who eagerly anticipates buying the perfect new planner each year. But even as a planner, spontaneous travel has always been on my bucket list. In middle school, Krista told me about her dance teacher who would head to the airport with a carry on, check the departure schedule, and hop on wherever was leaving next. She said that the woman would buy a bottle of champagne to split with whoever was seated next to her, and just enjoy the spontaneity of the moment. 

So, here I am. This morning I had a leisurely breakfast, locked up my apartment, and made the trek from Opera to Milano Centrale Station. I checked the train schedule and saw that a train to Torino would leave in 20 minutes and that's where I sit now. Already I've hit a few bumps; the museum that holds Leonardo DiVinci's self portrait closes in half an hour and won't be open tomorrow (Sundays!), and it's currently raining in my destination. But one of Europe's largest open air markets is open all day today, the Egyptian Museum won't be closed for Easter, and I'm doing something I've dreamed of doing for years! I'm not sure if I'll stay overnight or not but it's an option! I stashed a toothbrush, a pair of underwear, and a shirt at the bottom of my bag so I'm prepared I'm case I fall in love with Piedmont's capital.