Tag Archives: france

My Top 5 Favorite Travel Destinations

21 May

So at this point in my life, I have been lucky enough to have traveled to over 15 different countries around the world (more if you include Caribbean Islands)! And people always ask me, “What’s your favorite place? & “What do you recommend?” or even the most flattering of all–“Will you plan a travel itinerary for me/book my flight?” Side note: YES! Please ask me these things! I really do enjoy helping people plan the perfect trip!

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(Easy to navigate with so much to see, Vienna was a great solo travel destination!)

But sometimes the most wonderfully overwhelming aspect of planning a trip is deciding exactly where to go! When making this decision, I suggest you break it down to 3 questions:

1. Who are you going with? (family, friends, children, solo?)

2. How long are you going for? (A couple of days, a week or several weeks?)

3. What kind of trip do you want to have? (a cultural city excursion with art, museums, monuments or a beachy/relaxing holiday in the nature?)

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(Though a bit pricier, Copenhagen was a beautifully refreshing city )

While most international cities can be quite accommodating, it is important to narrow it down as much as possible. **And remember: a well-planned itinerary booked a few months prior will save you much more $$$ than vague plans thrown together at the last minute**

If you still need some inspiration on where to take your next vacation, here is a list of my Top 5 Favorite Travel Destinations…

#5. Florence, Italy & The Tuscan Region

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Why You Should Go- Italy in general is a great country for rookie travelers. There is enough English spoken & hospitality for you to get around, there are plenty of cultural activities & the food alone is enough to satisfy any type of traveler

Times Traveled- 3 (two times with friends, once with my mom)

Best For- museums, culture, shopping for authentic leather goods, wine, FOOD!

Travel With– family, children, friends, solo (but if solo female, be weary of sometimes aggressive catcalling Italian men)

Must See- Climb to the top of the Duomo! It is a daunting 463 steps, however, a beautifully epic hand-painted mural on the inside of the dome & a breath-taking view of the city await you at the top! If you are a wine-lover, then schedule a wine tour in the Tuscan countryside! The sights alone are well worth it.

Must Eat- Pizza, gelato & all your other dream Italian food can be found all over the city! I especially recommend the famous Gusta Pizza.

Where To Stay- In the city center! Since there is no metro in Florence, things are quite walkable since the city is not that big. If traveling solo or with a very small group, I recommend Dany House, a small b&b run by the fabulous Jonathan!

Things To Know- 1. There IS a small airport in Florence, however, flights may be more expensive to fly into the city. A cheaper option is to utilize the Pisa airport, which accommodates more airlines. Fly into Pisa, take a photo with the Leaning Tower, then hop on the train for a cheap (10euro, I believe) ride through the countryside into Florence. You will be dropped off at the main station.

2. To purchase Duomo tickets, you must visit a nearby visitor center. Make sure to do so before standing in the massive line awaiting to climb to the top of the church!

3. Always check what days museums/attractions are open! Italy can be very traditional in having shops closed early in the evening/on Sundays!

#4. Hong Kong

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Why You Should Go- Hong Kong is the perfect city of East meets West. While extremely modern, it is quite easy to also find authentic Asian culture in the city. English is one of the official languages, so signs are often bilingual. Plus the city is located along the beautiful Victoria Harbor, which presents a nice breeze in the sometimes humid city.

Times Traveled- Once with my grandfather

Best For– culture, theme parks, shopping, food

Travel With- friends, older family members (parents/older siblings), children (there are several theme parks, including Disney HK), solo

Must See- Lantau Island/Ngong Ping Village! This is located at the end of the metro line, then a 30 minute monorail ride over the mountains! But it was the absolute highlight of the trip! Here you can visit the remote Ngong Ping Village, complete with a Starbucks & Subway (sandwich shop), but no atms & wild cows/dogs/cats wandering around! Climb to the top of the stairs to see the Big Buddha aka: the largest outdoor seated Budda in the world!

Must Eat- Hong Kong speaks the Cantonese dialect of Chinese, therefore, most authentic cuisine is Cantonese. The most notable of Cantonese food being Dim Sum! Travel over to HK Island to sample some extremely authentic dumplings in a very “no-frills” dining experience.

Where To Stay- Though it is definitely not the cheapest option, you HAVE to stay nearby or overlooking Victoria Harbor! The buildings light up interesting colors/patterns at night & reflect off the water. Plus beautifully strange ships with bright red sails can be seen all night.

Things To Know- 1. Like most Asian cities, HK’s public transport system is incredible. Buy a rechargeable Octopus Card, which can also be used on all transport mediums (including the ferry!). Grab a metro map from your hotel or a shop & feel free to navigate the city yourself as taxis can be quite expensive & the city is too big to walk.

2. There is an obvious difference between Mainland HK & HK Island. While the Mainland is incredibly modern, the island is insanely authentic. Take the ferry over to the island to explore the large open food shops, but do not be surprised if you experience so very interesting sights or smells!

3. Like most large Asian cities, the air quality in HK is not the best. Buy yourself a mask if you have any respiratory problems as smog levels can be quite high.

#3. Dubrovnik, Croatia

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Why You Should Go- Feel like you are absolutely visiting a post card! Dubrovnik is rather less known for Americans, but has long been a vacation destination for Europeans & it’s clear to see why! The beautiful Old Town is actually a fortress (complete with a draw bridge you must walk over to enter the city!) located on beautiful azure waters & is a much more affordable seaside getaway than other Southern European cities.

Times Traveled- Once with my mom

Best For- relaxation, water sports/swimming, nightlife, food

Travel With- friends, family, teenagers, solo–anyone really! (Since the Old Town is a series of winding streets with cute shops that are easy to navigate, I would have no qualms allowing a novice traveler to wander them solo)

Must See- Hike around the Old Town walls! These were used to defend the fortress & you can still see several look-out stations & cannons! However, be weary that climbing these stairs is QUITE the workout! Avoid going during the hottest part of the day to avoid sun burn, but also keep in mind that there are a few outdoor smoothie pubs built into the wall along the trek!

Must Eat- You will never get fresher seafood than that in Old Town Dubrovnik! Dishes consisting of prawn & cuttlefish are common, while I recommend sampling some Calamari or, if you’re more adventurous, Black Squid Ink Pasta! Wines are also proudly bottled all over Croatia; ask your server about local specialties to pair nicely with your seafood.

Where To Stay- While staying in the fortress of Old Town is convenient, you must decide which is more important for you on this trip: to sleep or to party. If you want to party, stay in Old Town. I was blown away by how LATE things stay open! We went in October (off-season) yet souvenir shops, restaurants, gelato stores & bars were still open past midnight! If you want to sleep, stay outside of the fortress of Old Town as it is much quieter. We stayed at the fabulous Edi’s Sea View Rooms, which is a house run by a fabulous man named Edi. His rooms not only have breath-taking ocean views & are insanely affordable, but Edi knows EVERYTHING about Dubrovnik! …& everyone in Dubrovnik knows Edi! His recommendations of the city were always spot on & I will always stay in his house whenever I visit this city!

Things To Know- 1. Dubrovnik is a rather small city, therefore during high season (summer) it gets insanely crowded. Plus this is also when temperatures are upwards of 80 degrees daily. I recommend visiting in September or October, like we did. It will be much more affordable, less crowded, but the weather is still nice enough to swim.

2. Dubrovnik is in a unique location where it is nearby to other fabulous places such as Montenegro & Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina. If you have the time, I recommend taking a guided tour to a nearby country for a different culture!

#2. Prague, Czech Republic

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Why You Should Go- Ah, my second home! Prague is EXTREMELY underrated, but is thankfully, a very up-and-coming tourist destination for Americans! I mean, it has everything you could ever want: enchanting architecture, exciting nightlife, ample history & very uniquely delicious food! A lot of people I know travel to Prague with virtually no expectations & are absolutely blown away by how awesome the city is! So put it on your bucket list right now.

Times Traveled- Lived here for 1 year, was visited by several friends & then returned for a solo trip & also another time with my mom

Best For- nightlife, culture (the city was freed from Communism less than 30 years ago), shopping (it’s insanely cheap city), food, BEER!!!

Travel With- Anyone legal drinking age (18 technically but they don’t really care) who likes beautiful buildings

Must See- Old Town Square needs to be your first stop. Here you have Church of Our Lady Before Tyn (3rd photo), the oldest Astronomical clock in the world (!), the clock tower which you can climb up, & usually some cool festival/vendors selling treats depending on the season. Plus this is not too far of a walk from Charles Bridge & Prague Castle!

Must Eat- Well, first off, get ready to drink beer 24/7. Czechs consume more beer than ANYWHERE else in the world! You can find several classic Czech brands such as Pilsner Urquell, Kozel & Staropramen. I recommend the addicting Kozel Cerny, a dark beer that literally got me through my time living there. Pubs & beer halls are around every corner.

As for food, Czech dishes are incredibly hearty. Gulas, Schnitzel & Kolbassa are classic meat served with either potato or bread dumplings, however, if you’re more adventurous then my favorite, Svichkova (Google it now!) is worth a taste! Dessert wise, try the delicious trdelnik (aka: that awesome fried cinnamon thing in everyone’s Prague insta photos)

Where To Stay- Near Old Town there are ample hostels that are very affordable for travelers of all ages. I recommend the beautiful Dahlia Inn which has affordable rooms for families. As for where NOT to say, avoid Zizkov or Karlin as these are the “rough” parts of the city. Personally, I don’t find them to be that dangerous, however, it is best to stay near more touristic areas of the city if you’re a first time traveler.

Things To Know- 1. Prague is very much a walking city due to it not being very big. However, there are fantastic public transport options! The metro has only 3 lines (you will not be able to pronounce any of the stops/they will not be in English so pay attention!) that are easy to navigate. The tram goes all over the city & runs nearly 24/7. And for more remote areas, you can take a bus. If you are using public transport, be sure to purchase a ticket beforehand in either a machine in the station, or a tobacco shop nearby. Once you have the ticket be sure to STAMP it in yellow machines at the entrance of the metro. These tickets are monitored by time. Some are 30 mins, 60 mins, 90 mins, 1 day, etc. Make sure you hold onto this ticket as there are typically ALWAYS ticket checkers. If caught without a ticket you risk paying a large fine.

2. Czechs do not speak much English & are not always the friendliest about speaking English. Keep this in mind. Learn some basic phrases like dobry den (good day) & dekuji (thank you). Do not expect anyone to speak English to you in grocery stores or normal shops that are not directed to tourists.

#1. Paris, France ! (obv)

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Why You Should Go- Are you KIDDING me!?Paris is one of the most iconic cities in the entire world & the most magical place I have ever been. There is so much culture, history, delicious food, pastries & wine & you will be absolutely blown away by the landmarks around every corner!

Times Traveled- Once in 2006, studied there for 5 months in 2012, once in 2013, once in 2014 & once in 2015! I cannot stop going back!

Best For- history, culture, museums, art, food & wine, nightlife, shopping

Travel With- ANYONE! Paris literally has activities for all ages! However, solo female travelers should be weary of catcallers in the northern parts of the city

Must See-Eiffel should be your absolute first stop. It will be the most beautiful thing you ever see in your life. Make sure you go see her at night as well! (The tower ‘sparkles’ every hour on the hour after sunset). As far as museums, I recommend Le Musee D’Orsay over Le Louvre (more do-able in a reasonable amount of time), & NEVER count out the fantastic parks of the city to have a relaxing picnic with some wine!

Must Eat- French food, even when dirt cheap, will always be well-cooked. Try classic dishes like confit canard, boeuf bourguignon, les escargots whether you’re at a five star restaurant or at a hole in the wall cafe. I recommend going to the Latin Quarter near Notre Dame for a fixe prix 3-course-meal at a set price!

Drink as much wine as possible & eat all the pastries! Crepes are classic staples, however, never discount a delicious baguette & some cheese. No matter what food you eat in Paris, it will most likely be delicious.

Where To Stay- If you look at a map of the city, you will see it is divided into arrondissments or numbered neighborhoods. I would suggest staying more towards the center, so the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7th arrondissments. Arrondissments 12-16 seem to be alright as well, however, I personally avoid anything north of the 2nd arrondissment. These neighborhoods can be a bit more dangerous, especially for female travelers.

A key to finding a hotel in Paris is READING REVIEWS. Unfortunately “you get what you pay for” seems to be true in this city, however, there may be some hidden gems!

Things To Know- 1. You must take the metro to get around since this is not really a walkable city. The good news is that the Paris metro has 14 lines & can get you basically anywhere in the city! There are ticket machines in English at all stations & workers in booths who mostly speak English to help purchase your tickets. Like in Prague, save your ticket/pass as there are sometimes ticket checkers waiting for you at station exits.

2. Beware the scammers! Since Paris receives such a high volume of tourists year round there are people literally lurking everywhere to scam you out of money. BEWARE anyone approaching you! I hate to sound negative, but in most places in Europe, if someone is approaching you, they either want to scam you or are going to pickpocket you. ALWAYS be weary! Be weary of someone asking you to sign a petition, be weary of someone trying to tie something around your wrist, be weary of everyone!

3. Your experience will be 100x different if you learn some French. Unlike the Czechs, most Parisians speak English well, however, reluctantly at times. If you say a simple bonjour (good day) upon entering a store/restaurant, & then merci, au revoir (thank you, goodbye) upon leaving, the service you receive will be much better.

4. Check the local city calendar before you arrive! Certain days museums are free, festivals take place, local markets are open! This will save you so much more $$$ if you plan ahead before your trip!

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(The Netherlands is DEFINITELY an honorable mention! Especially Amsterdam, a place where your mind will be blown)

So there you have it! A few tips for your next vacation!

As always, please let me know if you ever have any travel questions! I think the best part about venturing somewhere new is trying out all the recommendations of past travelers, while also exploring new places on your own…& then recommending them to the next traveler! Then we have a never-ending cycle of adventure seekers 🙂

As for me, I will officially be traveling with my family to Nice, France & Lisbon, Portugal this upcoming fall, two places I have never been. So please, give me some tips!

Venture on!

JG ❤

 

 

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Toujours

14 Nov

I am just so in shock right now.

I am hurt, sad, angry, but most of all I am mourning. It doesn’t feel real, it feels like a terrible nightmare that an Atlantic ocean’s distance could allow me to ignore. Because I’m here in Boston, & it’s sunny & I have to start getting ready for work soon, like any other day. But I can’t pretend it didn’t happen–because it did. It’s all over the news, it’s all over the internet, it’s all over social media. And my heart keeps breaking over & over again.

Paris, I have no words, only tears for you right now.

If you have been following my blog for a while, you will have noticed that I have a bit of an “obsession” with the city. Yes, while I love to speak French, own anything Eiffel Tower related & reminisce about that enchanting place–this obsession is much deeper. It’s love. Love I actually cannot describe because I have never felt it before. Love for a place, a technically inanimate object, but for me, I am always able to personify.

Love that is built around experience & atmosphere.An atmosphere that you will never be able to understand unless you’ve been there too.

(First visit: a school trip in 2007 with EF Tours, which is actually the company I currently work for!)

It’s funny, because people always have such polarized opinions about the city. They truly either love it or hate it. They either come back saying the French are rude, the streets are dirty, & they just don’t understand what all the fuss is about or they come back feeling exactly like me. 

Personally, I believe that there are only two types of people: those who love Paris & those who haven’t fallen in love with her yet. 

Like in most literature, Paris has been referred to in feminine pronouns, which is something I have always believed myself. She is undeniably beautiful, but at the same time, she has a sense of pride & sharp wit that can take some time to warm up to.

Parisians themselves, can be a bit like this. They can be “rude” or “rash” but I have always really admired them; they’re proud. They don’t suck up or kiss ass & defend themselves when they’re right. On top of this their culture is centered around so much passion. Passion for good food, passion for quality clothing, passion for fine perfumes, passion for love-making. They truly believe in quality over quantity. This is something I feel can be lost in my own culture at times. Indulgence is for the rich & presentation is not always important. In Paris, I feel that these are things that can be available to anyone. 

Of course, I only realized these things after experiencing some culture shock.

(Second ‘visit’: Spring semester 2012 I studied abroad in Paris)

I have been learning French since I was 8-years-old & after my first trip abroad to the city it was clear where I wanted to go when the time came to study abroad. People asked me, why don’t you go somewhere else? And I considered that, of course, but at the same time, in 2007, I had only gotten a mere taste of Parisian culture, I wanted more.

Paris has a funny way of seducing you like that.

Of course after a few months of the initial “honey moon stage” of culture shock wore off, we were soon at each other’s throats.
“Why doesn’t anyone smile?”

Why do people stare at me all the time/why am I the only blonde here?”

“Why do people glare at me when I speak on the metro?”

“Why do shop employees follow me around in stores?”

“Why do they just let their kids do WHATEVER they want?!”

“Why do people want to debate politics with me?! & Attack me for being American?”

“Why do men feel it’s okay to grab my butt casually on the streets?”

“Why is customer service so obviously NOT a thing here?”

“Why do the Scammers near Eiffel/Sacre Coeur always target me?”

“Does my host mom hate me?! She keeps scolding me!”

Oh yes, this love story was definitely not perfect. There were so many ups & downs & I felt a lot of disconnect. Luckily with 3 of my 5 classes being completely en Francais & my host mom speaking virtually no English, my French was rapidly improving.

*Pro tip: in Paris (& also MANY other cities) simply just attempting the language will get you a drastically different experience*

Parisians are proud, they love their language & culture, they also have to deal with being the TOP tourist destination in the world. Millions of demanding, rude, loud, dirty tourists who sometimes have no respect to their culture or language visit them in droves year round. So if someone has been rude to you on your trip to Paris, please think about what it might have been that you were doing. 

(Third visit: In 2013 there was no other place I would rather celebrate my 23rd birthday. I was living in Prague at this point)

Another great class I was taking while studying abroad was an Anthropology class that compared French & American culture. Soon class by class, each of my previously culture shock questions were slowly answered. I learned to distance myself from my American perspective & instead tried to understand things from a French viewpoint. It’s not easy to do but it certainly helps when you have an awesome host brother & friends to explain along the way.

And slowly but surely, my generalizations turned into understanding & acceptance. 

And this is truly only something that could happen after spending a significant amount of time in another country & also being actively open to walking in someone else’s shoes. It’s not easy, it’s not always comfortable, it maybe feels strange, but I promise at the end you realize just how much we all have in common.

Which is hard because Americans & Parisians are so different, maybe even opposites. Which CAN lead to miscommunication & disagreements. The best analogy I heard in my class in regards to how Americans & the French generally form relationships:

Americans: like a peach, soft & easy to confide with. Makes vague future plans (oh we should totally hang out!) & asks how you’re doing (Good! And you?), but has a hard, hard pit for a core. Very difficult to get in the inner circle of trust.

French (& a lot of other European countries I’ve noticed): like a coconut, hard shell & tough to approach at times (How’s it going? Everything is shit, piss off!). But once you get past the shell, the center is soft & not mention extremely loyal. Every time I travel, I have been amazed again & again of the hospitality of my international friends–even if they’re not my ‘best’ friends! They feed me, let me stay with them, etc. …American friends on the other hand, not exactly the same.

(Fourth visit: stopping by my old school 2 years later in 2014)

Once I got to really know Paris past all the infatuation, it truly did become a deep love. A love that was so strong that it actually began to cloud future relationships.

Upon moving to Prague, I actually really didn’t like it for the first few months. It wasn’t what I expected. Most people had no style, cuisine was so much different & a fun night out was not in some swanky cafe but in a smokey pub. & It wasn’t even Prague’s fault! It’s just that deep down I knew I felt like this because Prague wasn’t Paris. 

I even wrote a post on here “breaking up” with Paris because I felt that it was making me so miserable in Prague. It was like an unhealthy relationship with an ex that was ruining it for me with all future romances.

It sounds cute how I’m wording this but I am 100% serious. This is truly how I felt about this city. So much that when I was beyond broke living in Prague, with limited opportunities for travel, I chose to visit Paris not once but twice. I literally could NOT stay away!

It’s because I don’t just love the city & everything about it–I love who I am when I am there.

I have a level of confidence & courage that I don’t feel anywhere else. I feel comfortable with my body, my directness & sass–things that I don’t always feel at home. I feel a bit invincible.

An example of this would be while studying abroad whenever me & my friends would go out, guys would make a beeline for me (it’s the hair) & I would ask them to buy me a shot (guys don’t even really do that in France!), they would agree & then I would say Non, est pour mes filles aussi (No, & for my girls too). The guy would give me a bit of a wide eyed look, glance at my friends Meaghan & Sam & nod.

Like WHO did I even think I was?!

I am a whole other person in that city, & Paris, it’s all your fault.

(Fifth visit: It was my mom’s second time in the city, but on 10/8/2015, during our Euro Trip, I purposely made us have a 23hr layover here)

Paris has shaped me as a person, & is ingrained in my character. My room is decorated in all mementos & I have literally made a point to travel there once the past four years in a row. And every time I’m there, the feeling comes back. The nostalgia & familiarity of the streets, the beautiful phonetics of the language rolling off my tongue, the scowls & groans on a late metro, the beautiful well-dressed men walking the streets, the delicious food nourishing my palette & I feel home. 

It’s a different home than Prague, a different home then Boston & a different home than my original town of Sutton. But it is definitely a home. 

It is the toughest act to follow, the day dream that is always in my head, the city that strengthened my bond with some of my best friends. Paris is the city where I first found myself & to that I have a fierce loyalty. A loyalty that will always have me sharply defend the stereotypes & plan lengthy itineraries for anyone wishing to travel there.

There is a French word that has always resonated with me: toujours. It means “always” or “every time”. It conveys an idea of permanency; something that never changes.

It’s a difficult & scary concept for me to understand, because I feel I am always changing & have especially changed the most after being in Prague. The idea of staying in one place, making long term binding plans, makes me nervous because after you fly away once, you never want to clip your wings. I have no idea where I will be in 10 years, 5 years, even 1. And I feel foolish or trapped when I’m forced to predict such things. 

Especially with love.

I know that someday I would like to be married, but the fear of permanency makes me apprehensive. But then I realize, I already am in a permanent state of love…with Paris.

And that’s what gives me hope, I say “Paris, je t’aime toujours” (Paris, I love you always) & I know down into the core of my heart that I always will feel this way. And if I can ever hope to find someone else who I feel this type of love for–then they are the one. 

Today I mourn for those lost, those affected & those who love the city just like me. But Paris is proud & Paris is strong. Je suis une americaine, mais aujourd’hui je suis une parisienne. Nous sommes tous parisians.

& I will never stop thinking of you ❤

JG

It’s Never Too Late…

19 Oct

Hello, dear readers! I’m back again to normalcy after a bit of jet-setting, only this time, I wasn’t alone! No, my adventures overseas were accompanied by a very special person–my mom (or as I like to call her, “Mama G“)! Yes, we spent 11 glorious days frolicking around Europe having the BEST time!

As you know, travel is my favorite thing; I love to explore, try new things, meet new people & have life-changing experiences! And while some people think of travel as simply a hobby, I can honestly say that travel is much more than that–travel is my passion. 

Ever since I got on my very first airplane at age 7 to go to Aruba, I was hooked. I loved that feeling in your stomach, comparable to a high speed roller coaster ascent, of the take off; when objects outside the window quickly get smaller & smaller until you pierce the horizon & coast above the clouds. It makes me giggle like a maniac because I am in my element. I am truly happiest at 30,000 feet.

(Although I was also quite happy re-visiting my Prague pub & drinking my beloved Kozel Cerny. Only thing missing: Gillian)

But my love for travel does not stop at flight; no, boats, trains, subways & even buses make me quite happy! I’m serious, I love a good metro system. I guess it’s just the idea of a mini bout of travel paired with some awesome people watching opportunities that makes me content.

As much as I love getting to my destination I always really like being there. In my 24 years of life I have been lucky enough to travel to 13 awesome countries/islands! But for me, this is not enough–I need to see the world.

My mom was a lot like me when she was younger, only she explored the various islands of the Caribbean like I have Europe. She took cruises & went to beaches & just had a great single life. Then she got married. And had kids. And it stopped.

Not going to lie, this is my absolute worst fear right now. To have my wings clipped by pressing responsibility; to lose my curiosity & sense of adventure because of a family.

Luckily for me though, my mom was the one who first gave me these wings.

She fought every ounce of her normally helicopter parent-like tendencies & allowed me to travel when I was 16 to Paris & London on a school trip. Then she allowed me to spend a semester studying in Paris. Then she (very hesitantly) allowed me to move to Prague for a year on my own.

While I love my mom & my family, this love is not enough to keep me forever in one place. But I realized that wherever I traveled to she really was always with me. I thought of her when I saw the beautiful gardens of Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, I made a note to someday show her the picturesque canals of Amsterdam & I really, really, really wanted her to see my new second home, Prague.

Upon returning back home I vowed to someday show her the beauty of Europe, the beauty that I had become so familiar with & grown to love so much. But I didn’t get a chance until this year when fate stepped in & allowed me to share my passion with loved ones forever. 

I knew the first person due for a dream vacation was Mama G. I mean not only has she always been there for me, but she was especially there during this whole dog bite fiasco, so I figured she should be the first to experience the positive effects of a terrible experience.

So I had to plan a special trip, just us two ❤

(We flew on a total of 8 planes in 11 days. Luckily we had our neck pillows, which we wore backwards because that’s 100x comfier) 

Fast-forward through months & months of endless flight planning & accommodation hunting (which I complain about but secretly LOVE to do), I was ready to give her a surprise of a lifetime. I hid various clues over the house & my mom spent her birthday crying tears of joy & disbelief because she would no longer have to live vicariously through anyone anymore.

Soon the day arrived: our trip. We headed to the airport; I had our passports, credit cards, emergency cash, currency converter, camera, basic to intermediate level knowledge of 4 languages, & screenshots of all directions…& my mom had a smile. A smile that did not leave her mouth for the following 11 days & one that I hope doesn’t soon leave her now.

(Mama G approves of the view of our room in Croatia)

We ventured to Dubrovnik, Croatia, & tried black squid ink risotto then swam in the cobalt blue Adriatic Sea (in October!). Then headed up to Prague so I could FINALLY introduce her to my second home (which she loved) for dark beer, strange Czech cuisine, meet ups with friends Brandi & Petr & a fish pedicure (which she didn’t love so much). Then we had a 23 hour layover in my absolute favorite city ever, Paris (I honestly cannot help myself, if I’m in Europe, it’s my guilty pleasure) & slept over in the apartment of my French host brother Simon, who Mama G had never gotten the chance to meet before! We also had lunch with Apolline, (the adorable French girl who allowed me to spend Xmas 2013 with her family since I was too broke to fly home)! Then we concluded the trip in Florence, Italy, aka: Tuscany aka: my mom’s ultimate dream destination! Here we ate our weight in carbs, climbed up the duomo, & had a 4 course gourmet meal in a countryside villa!

(Touching this statue means that she will be back to Prague someday!)

I ended the trip sick as a dog, exhausted & in so much physical pain curled up in the fetal position on a 7 hour flight home. But deep down I was so happy. The trip was SUCH a success & I feel like I gave my mom a new perspective of life–that being that it’s not over for her yet. 

There is a saying she always says: “It is never too late to be what you might have been…” & I feel like this was the motto of her trip.

(This is actually her SECOND visit to Paris! Her & Grampy briefly visited in 2012 when I studied abroad)

Me, I have seen it all before & I will see it again. I have that ambition, that drive, that passion. But I wanted her to know that she can too. She can go anywhere in the world & cross many more items off her bucket list. Anyone can, dear readers. Adventure is literally waiting around every single corner. I believe you just need to be open to it; you need to believe it still can exist for you. 

(‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ is one of Mama G’s fav movies. & Here she is, quite literally, under the Tuscan Sun)

So thus, I have vowed that my future travels will be adventure for me, of course, but also for someone else. Each year I will bring a lucky loved one to a bucket list destination & design a trip just for them. Because for me, dear readers, I know that feeling. The feeling of disbelief when you literally cannot believe you are living out a dream; so what better gift then sharing that experience with someone else?

Up next: Asia, Spring 2016. 

My amazing, youthful, hilarious, loving Grampy has a birthday February. He has always wanted to go to Hong Kong. So guess where he found out this past weekend he will be soon traveling to? We’re also heading to Japan & Thailand along the way!

It will be his 78th birthday & he will finally get to cross off his bucket list dream destination. See, it really is never too late to be what you might have been.

JG 🙂

Our Constant Pursuit of Constant Happiness

22 Feb

I read a quote a little while ago that absolutely shook me to the core: “Don’t let your happiness depend on something you may lose.”

Think about that for a second. It’s terrifying.

It made me so upset because I realized that a lot of my immediate happiness depends on things I can, & typically do, lose. People leave, experiences end, & moments fleet. And then I am left alone again, typically with a dull pang of sadness.

I guess the only real way of explaining it is considering Christmas Day. You plan, decorate, invite, bake, & get so excited. And then the day finally arrives & seems to go by so fast. Then suddenly, it’s December 26th & you have nothing left to look forward to anymore. The magic has disappeared.

This is how my life has been feeling lately. A roller coaster that builds & builds planning the next party, date, or hang out, only for the steep descent down to rattle me back to normalcy.

In all honesty, I feel like a has-been. Like I used to be so cool. When I lived abroad I had all these wonderful experiences, met so many people, did so many exciting things…& now my life has no true meaning. I wake up, commute, work, commute, sleep.

I know, you probably do the same thing too, right? Well, doesn’t it suck.

How are we expected to live in a state of constant happiness when our lives are so completely bland. Maybe we’re all a little depressed deep down, but we just don’t call it that, instead we brush it off as the average & accept it.

But do me a favor & ask yourself right now: Am I happy?

Personally if you have to think about it chances are you’re not. 

But shouldn’t you DESERVE to be?

Happiness is a strange thing. We are all expected to be it, but in the long run, we don’t really value it. We choose money over happiness, we choose stability over happiness, & we put other’s happiness before our own.

Happiness comes in waves for me. It’s a rush of euphoric emotion that is completely overwhelming, but then the squall dies down & all is still again. And I keep trying to get the rush back. I keep trying to cut corners & mimic previous actions, hoping to get the same effect. I just want to ride that wave forever. But that just doesn’t seem to happen.

Look at this pie chart that represents this idea. For a society that strives for perfection, we sure as hell settle with ‘average’, ‘normal’ & in this case ‘pretty happy’ real fast. It’s a strange concept. Is it truth, or just modesty? Did 50% of the people surveyed mentally negotiated to themselves before responding? Negating out things like crippling debt with young grandkids before shrugging & saying “I guess pretty happy”.

Is that really acceptable?

Maybe it’s just American.

It wasn’t until I visited Europe that I realized the belief of constant happiness was a very American concept. We are the unwavering optimists of the world. We do promote that good old ‘American Dream’ after all! We are told at a young age to try our best & we will be victorious, that we can be anything we want if only we push ourselves hard enough.

Well, what is ‘enough’?

Where does the line between our capabilities & incapability begin? And is it ever okay to accept that? Can we just be content with progress or growth instead of always pushing the limits to be ‘the best’?

Let me tell you, spending time in some fairly pessimistic countries is rough for a born & bred American optimist. People don’t automatically say ‘good’ when you ask them how they are & a plastic smile is certainly not the best remedy for a broken heart.

And it’s pretty off-putting. So we label the French as “rude” or Czechs as “unhappy”, but America, how many of us, the great nation pumped with smiles, high fives & gold stars just for participation right out of the womb are really not as chipper as we seem?

Apparently a whole lot. I mean why else would there be a multi-billion dollar anti-depressant industry? Where a simple pill, the quick flick of a pharmaceutical switch, can have those chemicals balanced again in no time! And before you know it you’ll be dancing & smiling like all those actors in the commercial & so hyped up in a chemical fog that you will never feel down again! (Note: this is only if it WORKS. Some people experience all those pesky side effects including nightmares & increased suicidal thoughts, but you don’t really hear the narrator mention those over all that cheerful music!)

^This is telling you to add more anti-depressants to your anti-depressants in order to cancel out side effects…makes sense.

So while most Americans seek solace in medicating their unhappiness & most Europeans prefer to just wear it on their sleeves sometimes I wonder who is truly happier?

A.) Those who set high expectations & are devastated when they’re not met

B.) Or those with lower expectations who are pleasantly surprised when things go extremely well

Guess it goes back to the age old glass half full/half empty debate.

However, who is even allowed to be unhappy these days? Wide spread anti-depressant access wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t some sort of stigma associated with unhappiness in this country. Personally, I believe there totally is. Self-help book readers receive sympathy, therapy attendees receive judgement & no one truly wants to hear how you actually are today.

Let’s face it: Unhappiness/Depression/Long periods of sadness = weak. 

You are admired more for putting on a brave face & living an absolute lie no matter how much you may hurt deep down. You’re strong, actually. And this polite game of sweeping one’s dark emotions under a socially accepted rug is all fine & well until it becomes deadly. 

This is 17-year-old Draven Rodriguez.

He gained fame for his laser cat yearbook photo, something that he insisted be published to mirror his unique sense of humor.

Draven Rodriguez killed himself this past Thursday.

The details are still unclear, but it was definitely suicide. However, family & friends do not paint him as those gloomy ladies moping around in anti-depressant commercials. He was “vibrant” & “made friends everywhere he went”. He was a member of anti-bullying campaigns & had “an incredible mind”.

He was also, like most suicide victims, quietly suffering. And now he is just another statistic. Another story that will never be told because there was no one to listen or possibly no one he thought would listen. 

Although this is an older graph, it does show an interesting trend. In 2007, the most populous demographic killing themselves was arguably the most privileged in U.S.A.: a white male, ages 45-59/30-44. Each instance is different, but what could have been the cause of this? Was it the pressure from their jobs? The stress of being a father? Or was it because these are people who are least allowed to be ‘depressed’ in our society. I mean afterall, I don’t see too many anti-depressant commercials depicting an attractive 30something buisnessman who needs to be wound up again.

Maybe it’s because this is when a man reaches his prime, & is expected to be his strongest. He is typically settled in his career, & a real family man or provider of a household. But it is a demographic that is also anticipated to feel the most pressure & unhappiness.

Do you know who else fit this demographic?

And just like Draven Rodriguez he would also be described by his sense of humor, uniqueness & overall big personality.

But Robin was sadly so much more than what we all saw. He battled a dark side that society did not allow him to express. So he hid it with a smile & humor until it tragically consumed him. And this seems to be happening all too often. 

We need to realize that happiness is just not an everyday thing.

It comes in moments & experiences. In little exchanges or encounters. In warm breezes, or yummy meals, or laughs with friends. And then, just as soon as happiness comes–it can leave.

As is sadness. It is real & painful. It causes tears & anger & emotions that cannot constantly be pushed to the side. Humans are designed to experience a wide spectrum of feelings, it is our nature. It is healthy.

However, we need to create a society where we can express all of these emotions in a safe environment. Instead of prescribing & diagnosing, we need to learn to speak & listen. Instead of shaming others we need to SUPPORT others. Then watch how much the suicide, mass shooting & bullying statistics go down.

So yes, right now in my life I am not jumping up & down 24/7 with happiness, but I am not crying myself to sleep every night with unhappiness either. I realize that happiness can only truly exist if unhappiness does as well. There must be a balance. Unhappiness must exist in order to appreciate fleeting moments of happiness. And happiness must exist so it gives us hope that this life really is worth living. And only then is when we can find inner peace.

JG 🙂

The Final Curtain Call

6 Jun

So as my adventures in Prague come to a close, I have been experiencing more emotions than ever before. I still can’t believe I only have about 5 days left in this wonderful place.

I can remember getting on the plane at Logan Airport in Boston on July 30, 2013. Dragging my 2 giant suitcases behind me & slinging my 2 overstuffed carry-ons over my shoulders. I hoped I had everything I needed, but there comes a time at those moments when you realize it’s too late to turn back & if I really did forget something I would just have to deal. I said goodbye to my family & my pets & my room & my house. It was so weird, not knowing the next time I would be back there. I mean, I had a rough idea:

-Fly to Prague

-Get my TEFL Certification throughout the month of August at TEFL Worldwide Prague

-Find a job/apartment/new friends/new life immediately after 

-Stay for 1 year & then come back home

There’s a saying that goes “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” And while there were certainly a few curve balls that were thrown at me along the way, mostly everything went according to plan. 

And now, here I am, with 5 days left, living out of my suitcases at Gillian & Filip’s houses, trying to take everything in. Trying to formulate goodbyes that I swear are not permanent but then again, you never know. I am down to my last $10, have quit my job & moved out of my apartment. It’s the final curtain call.

And everyone is asking me, “Oh you must be SO EXCITED to go back!” but for a long time, I didn’t know how I felt. & Still don’t.

I feel stuck. I feel afraid. I feel worried. I am stressed out about undergoing another culture shock. Where things are completely different. Where doors always have to be locked, prices are ridiculous, & everyone around me may not like the new Jessi. 

I have changed so much throughout this experience. I am more open-minded, I am more introverted & have learned to listen a little more than I speak. This is such a stretch for a girl who would never shut up & always craved human companionship to now be able to travel alone & at times go hours without speaking. 

This change is not a bad thing. I just had to adapt to my new climate. 

And now I am scared to have to adapt again to the climate of USA, where people panic over not having a wifi signal & are going to talk behind my back about my weight or long distance relationship. How upsetting. 

One of the most freeing things for me during all this was having a crappy pay-as-you-go phone & getting my iPod stolen in November. Why? Because I was disconnected. Instead of scrolling through newsfeeds over dinner I actually made eye contact with the person sitting across from me. Instead of instagramming all my food, I actually ate & savored it. Instead of Google Maps, I read real maps & if I got a little lost, asked real people. It was refreshing. 

And now, after all the progress I have made & all the lessons I’ve learned over here in Prague I am terrified of reverting back to the way I was. Because then this would have all been such a complete waste of time. It would have just been like the vacation/escape from responsibilities some assumed it was.

Oh, & then there’s that huge elephant in the room everyone interrogates me about next: where will you work? 

Hey, guess what, I have no idea! And I am not worried about it at all. 

It is unfortunate how much your job is a form of social status. It must be, because it’s something we are all either ashamed of or bragging about these days. Personally, I think work ethic & happiness is more important. Yeah happiness won’t pay the bills & blah, blah, blah…but I just paid my bills for the past 10 months while being relatively happy over here, so what’s your point?

Chill everyone, I will find a job. Happiness though, I am a little more worried about finding that.

Image(Above: One of my favorites in the cemetery)

While in Paris, since it was my 4th visit & favorite city, I wanted to just basically chill & explore some things that I had never seen before. Somehow I had never been to Pere Lachaise. Pere Lachaise is the largest cemetery in Paris & a tourist attraction because of some of the famous people who are buried there. Musicians like Jim Morrison, singers like Edith Piaf & writers like Oscar Wilde all rest in Pere Lachaise. 

Since Zach was off exploring the Louvre, I basically had this huge window of time to explore Pere Lachaise alone on my second to last day in Paris. And I’m so glad I did. It sounds odd to say but wandering aimlessly around a giant cemetery for a few hours is eerily therapeutic. I walked right in, not even bothering to grab a map, I just didn’t care. I wasn’t there to go take a few quick selfies with the graves of people who had never affected me. I was there to find something else.

Having been to a few cemeteries near my hometown, I can honestly say that Pere Lachaise is magnificent & unlike any place I’d ever been before. The graves were not just simple headstones but intricate tombs, old stone supulchres & breathe-taking murals. I walked alone, away from the tourists. Trees shrouded the cemetery in eerie shadows even though it was a fairly sunny day & the only sound were the birds chirping high above. I was in a trance.

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I scanned the hundreds of graves reading the names of the families buried there. The tombs were lined in little winding paths that lead you deeper into the cemetery. I came across sculptures of famous deceased play-writes, actors & writers who I had never heard of. I felt a power & energy coming from Pere Lachaise. It was indescribable. All those lives intertwined, some recently departed & others long forgotten.

And this was the thing that shook me the most.

Some tombs were carefully preserved. Clean, manicured & covered with flowers, plaques & other offerings. But others were mossy & crumbling, either from age or lack of preservation. It made me so sad. Who were these people buried here? Did anyone care about them? What were their stories? Unfortunately, no one would ever know, because now the only object dedicated to this soul’s existence was rotting away just like the skeleton buried deep below.

I was so humbled.

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I really respected how most of the plaques, statues or monuments dedicated to the deceased were in no way joyous. They were honest. Death is painful, death is sad, but death is inevitable. Most of the marble plaques etched in French read things along the lines of “Farewell, Mama” or “Until we shall meet again”. My favorite was, morbidly enough, sculptures of grim reapers hovering above. A fearful creature, but in fact, one that will catch up to all of us eventually.

But why do we fear death? Personally I think it’s because we will not make enough of an impact in the world before we go. That way, just like the old warning in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, we will be buried at an empty funeral & our name or legacy will go right along with us.

But as sad as I was seeing the crumbling old no-name graves, I was amazed by the very preserved ones. 

Although it was true that most of these graves were of those whose deaths were much more recent, some were really not. Some spanned generations. Men & women who passed away decades ago who still had brightly colored fresh flowers resting on top of their tombs. & These names were ones I had never heard of before. 

I wondered why at first but then I realized it’s because even if they possibly died too soon, their time on the Earth made enough of an impact that it was not only not forgotten, passed down. Parents told their children & their children told their grandchildren. The story lived on until it because a legacy & this is a rare occasion when one experiences life after death. 

& Who knows, maybe some of these mossy overgrown tombs were once great people too. They just reached a generation where their light could no longer shine & it was distinguished. From ashes to ashes & dust to dust, is what they say after all.

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During my solo walk around Pere Lachaise while contemplating all this meaning of life, I realized just how lost I felt with my own life at the moment. I had no permanent address & was unsure about my future. I felt like my heart was about to be stretched across to two places. I was about to reunite with the people I have always loved, but in order to do that I had to leave behind all the new people I have since fallen in love with. It’s a tough feeling. 

So it was there, that I asked for a sign. For an indication of where to turn & what to do.

Immediately, a ray of sunlight poked through the trees & illuminated a single grave. I walked over to it & saw it was one of the cutest couples I have ever seen. They were born just a year apart & died a year apart too. Portraits from their youth were presented right above their dates. I instantly felt tears welling up in my eyes. This was it.

The answer was love.

This couple was born around the same time & probably got married at a young age (just like my own grandparents). They survived decades of wars, changes & hardships. But they survived them together. And then, when the woman died in 1997 at the ripe age of 89, her husband soon followed one year after. He could have gone due to complications the body experiences at this age, but I honestly believe it was because of a broken heart. 

How do you go on living without someone who has been your other half for so long? Someone who you grew up with & survived with for so many years. Most of these couples couldn’t. I soon noticed a pattern of most of the couples who were buried side-by-side in Pere Lachaise–they all died within 3 years of each other. Say what you want about medical complications, but like in The Notebook I think it was divine intervention. True love is eternal. 

Since coming to Prague, I thought I knew true love with another. I thought it was fairly one dimensional & something that would eventually fade. I was skeptical & logical & always felt I would just grow out of the other person. 

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But then I met Filip.

I have never experienced emotions so powerful with someone else. And as foolish as anyone may think I sound for feeling this way about someone I have been with since January, then please, tell me about your own love story? Are you settling, sometimes unhappy & think in the back of your head you could probably do better? Sorry, dear readers, but that isn’t true love. 

True love is my grandparents celebrating their 54th wedding anniversary & still holding hands & acting like teenagers. True love is all these beautiful couples in Pere Lachaise buried next to each other to be together for all eternity. 

And regardless of who knows what will happen, I feel like I have found something so real right now. Something that time or distance cannot alter. It was destiny. Because I am a huge believer in fate & when the universe sends you someone who makes you feel like I feel right now it’s a sin to just throw that all away. 

Before I left for Prague my mom joked that I could go on one condition:

“When you fall in love with a Czech boy, you have to promise me you will come back home.”

I laughed because I always thought Europeans were players & I just wanted to be single & enjoy the experience.

But isn’t it funny how life works out?

So now, Mom, here I am, I am head over heels in love, but I am getting on a plane in 5 days to come back to you. We will do the long-distance thing for 4 months & then Filip will come visit me in USA. But who knows about afterwards. 

They say that, “Home is where the heart is”, & my heart/home is about to be in 2 locations. But planes will always exist & I will always be welcome back…

…& You would always be willing to read Czech It Out Blog Pt 2, right? 😉

-JG 

 

Euro Trip 2014

5 Jun

Just got back from my European vacation yesterday &, let me tell you dear readers, what an adventure it was!

It was my friend Zach’s very first time being in Europe, so I was very excited to show him this wonderful lifestyle. During his 2 week visit we traveled around Prague, Rome, Firenze, Pisa & Paris! There’s no way I could possibly tell you about every single one of our adventures, but I will try & name some highlights!

Prague

-Zach tried every strange Czech delicacy I threw at home & actually enjoyed them! Normally a dedicated wine drinker, he tried the top 3 most famous (& in my opinion best) Czech beers: Kozel Cerny, Gambrinus & Pilsner Urquell. After trying to convert him to my obsession Kozel Cerny or a dark bitter beer (that is said to make certain female body parts grow bigger…), he crowned the light colored Gambrinus (Filip’s favorite) as the beer he liked best. 

-We also made Zach try some of the bizarre Czech cuisine. He left Prague having sampled Smažený sýr (FRIED CHEESE), beef Gulas, & my beloved Svíčková aka: steak with vegetable gravy topped with cranberries, whipped cream, lemon & served with a side of bread dumplings! Although most Czech food can sound scary, I was proud of Zach for keeping an open mind & he even ended our time in Prague ordering Svíčková as his own meal! I was so proud! 

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Image( Above: Don’t knock Svíčková, Smažený sýr or Kozel Cerny until you try them!)

-After we did all the touristy Prague things like Old Town, The John Lennon Wall & climb up to the castle, we did some favorite local activities. This included spending hours in my favorite neighborhood pub, dancing until 3am at the 5-story Karlovy Lázně club, & experiencing ‘The Nature’ of beautiful Divoká Šárka. As much as I love seeing all the big sites again when friends visit, I also really enjoy showing them all the hidden gems of the city that has become my home over the past 10 months. 

Rome

-I was excited to go here because Rome was the one city on this trip that we both had never visited. And it was overwhelming. There was soooo much to see. As much as I want to say that the ancient monuments & streets were my favorite–that’s not true. It was the pizza. Having gotten a recommendation from an American girl who studied in the city on our plane, we took her advice for dinner that night. And I am so glad we did! Although I have no idea what the restaurant name was, we ended up going there 2 nights in a row! It was jam packed with Americans but also so many friendly Italian workers. Sitting at tiny little wobbly tables with red checkered tablecloth noming down on my giant mixed veggie & sausage pizza was the highlight of Rome. 

-Another great thing about revisiting Italy was immediately recalling the extreme sense of welcome that Italians make you feel! Having spent 10 months in a city with silent metros, constant frowns & an overall sense of quiet it was nice to talk again. And Italians don’t just talk–they yell. So much that when they’re conversing with all their hand motions and facial expression you cannot tell if they’re angry or just telling a really good story. I loved it! 

Image(Above: This is essentially the typical Italian pizza. Notice how it is just out of the oven fresh & can barely fit on the plate? Yup.)

Firenze

-I first went to Firenze 2 years ago when I was studying abroad to visit/stay with the roommates of my friend. My time was filled with amazing food, drinking wine in piazzas at night, beautiful landscapes & a few scandalous adventures! Needless to say, I was extremely excited to show Zach this awesome city! One of the greatest things about Firenze besides the gelato shops, all the churches & duomo & restaurants is the openess. Most streets are cobblestone (reminded me of my Praha!) & don’t allow cars to drive down them. This gives the feel of genuinely being in Italy where you can walk in the streets freely–just look out for a vespa or bicycle whizzing by! 

-We were only planning on staying one night in Firenze so I knew our accommodation had to be good. After consulting the always reliable Hostelworld.com, I found the perfect place! My advice to anyone traveling is to READ THE REVIEWS! Sure the pictures may look cute & the price may be great…but it could also be 1 hour outside of the city & infested with bed bugs! The reviews are always honest &, in our case, these reviews led us to Danyhouse! A tiny section in an apartment building with only 3 small bedrooms & 2 bathrooms, the amenities were good, but it is the owner, Jonathan, who made our stay great! He immediately greeted us at the door knowing both our names & gave us a map of the city which he labeled completely. He showed us where all the sites were, as well as many places where we could get discounts for simply mentioning his name! Jonathan made us feel like treasured house guests! And after a night of political/current events discussion with the other 4 people staying there (2 Australians, 1 Welsh & 1 Brit), then a big breakfast together, I felt like we were a little family. I recommend Danyhouse to anyone traveling to Firenze! You will not be disappointed! 

Image(Above: This fabulous tan friendly man is Jonathan taking a selfie with another traveler. He took a selfie with us too before we left & I can’t wait to see how it came out!)

Pisa

-Having been to Pisa before, I knew that it would be doable in a couple of hours. So after our quick one hour train ride from Firenze, we made a move to the leaning tower & duomo. Even though there is not as much to do in Pisa, it is still so awesome to be lounging on a grassy yard a few meters away from one of the most famous monuments in the world! And of course we took those super touristy pics where to the camera is looks like you’re pushing up the leaning tower…but to everyone else, you & everyone around you look like you’re doing MJ’s ‘Thriller’ choreography!

Paris

-Although Zach thoroughly enjoyed all our previous destinations, I assured him that the best was being saved for last. I know I am super biased here; having first traveled to the amazing City of Lights when I was just 16, then spending 5 months studying there in college, & then just being there last December to turn 23–I knew my 4th visit to Paris would be just as special! By some stroke of crazy luck, our entire trip had beautiful weather! And our first full day in Paris was no exception (something extremely rare for a city that is usually cloudy). We saw all the main sights: L’Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, Louvre, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur & Montmartre, Les Jardins des Tulleries, Musee D’Orsay, Le Defense, & of course, my girl, Eiffel. Seeing the look on Zach’s face every time he saw a new monument was priceless & actually not too far from my own expression. Paris is my ultimate happy place & even though I have been there several times, I will never stop being breathless at all that beauty. Paris is not a city, dear readers, it’s a mindset & lifestyle.

-Unsurprisingly, the food we ate here was also delicious. Confit de Canard (fried duck), crepes, all kinds of cheeses, wines & a home-made Granny Smith apple & Brie baguette sandwich I made for myself while watching a match of the French Open. Speaking of the French Open aka: one of the biggest tennis events in the world, it was taking place only a few blocks over! How Paris. There is always some event, concept, festival, exhibition going on in this city–but at the same time, the French lifestyle is all about relaxation. I made sure during my trip to Paris I took some time to chill out & enjoy the experience. 

-Another GREAT thing about being in Paris? I speak French! And even though it has been wayyy too long since I have spoken the language, I was surprised at how much immediately came back! The first bout being when we arrived in this random airport ‘Paris’ Beauvais

(Note: never fly Ryanair! Yes it’s cheap but it’s so unprofessional, the staff is rude & they only fly to airports 1hr from the actual city. Our flight was delayed over an hour with NO EXPLANATION. Spend a little more for EasyJet, it’s worth it). 

Anyways, we got off the plane & knew we had to take a 34euro bus into the city. There was a machine to buy tickets for this bus that took credit cards only. But surprise, surprise, not American credit cards! 

(Another note: Unlike European/other credit cards, American credit cards have no computer chip on them, therefore, they are not accepted at a lot of places over here. Sure they will be accepted at big chain stores/restaurants, but always ask before at smaller places & always carry some spare cash around!) 

It was alright because there was a shuttle bus, which we soon found out was full. Immediately there was a herd of nervous Americans in the airport being addressed by a girl who spoke barely any English. I sprung into action. I explained our cards didn’t work and she informed me that there was a cash desk for tickets outside–boom, day was saved! (And the bus was actually only 17euro–win!)

Image(Above: Any true Parisian knows that the best view of the city is on top of Les Galeries LaFayette shopping mall!)

Although most Parisians speak some English they 9 times out of 10 would rather speak to you in French. It’s a respect thing, much like in Prague, people value you 100% more with your broken Czech than if you were immediately resorting to only English. However, in Italy, I got the vibe that speaking English was no problem & Italians gave no attitude about the language switch. Anyways, it was nice to speak a language & have someone respond & I actually understood them. It’s a powerful feeling, one that I have since felt was forming a wall between my acculturation into Prague. This is why if I ever move back to Prague, or anywhere else, I will actively learn the language. 

So that was our trip in a nutshell! Thank you to everyone who helped us, partied with us, let us stay with them (including my awesome French host brother Simon & the cooler older sister I never had, Gillian!), & Mama G/Grampy for allowing me to take such a wonderful trip!

Now I only have 5 days left in Prague, but this trip was certainly ending this amazing adventure with a bang! 

děkuji moc

grazie

et merci beaucoup!

-JG 🙂 

 

 

Away From Home for the Holidays

4 Jan

Sorry it has taken me so long to write this post, dear readers! I just got back a few days ago from one of the BEST winter breaks of my whole entire life. I was finally reunited with my girl, Meaghan who took a break from her teaching life in Soissons, France to come on this crazy adventure with me!

We first began with the necessities of Prague: Kozel Cerny, fried cheese, Svichkova & climbing up the castle.

Image(Above: Meaghan & I in front of the Christmas tree in Old Town Sq., Prague)

Then, WE WERE OFF. The following 10 days were absolutely amazing. We flew to Lyon, France for one night, then took a train to Montbeliard, France to spend Christmas with my friend Apolline. Then we took a train to Paris to celebrate my birthday in my favorite city! Along the way I learned a few things…

1. You will never stop being blown away by the kindness of others

Meaghan & I began this trip by saying: “Where should we go?” Instinctively I knew France. Although Prague is growing more & more on me as the months go by, I really just love France. France is my happy place. Awesome food, beautiful scenery & I can actually communicate with people–what more could you ever want in a country? 

Once this was established, I racked my brains for our accommodation: where would we stay? Apolline graciously offered to let us spend the holiday with her & my host brother, Simon said we could stay with him in Paris. Boom. I knew these were nice offers, but I didn’t expect these two to go above & beyond. 

Image(Above: Apolline, me & Meaghan in Montbeliard for Christmas!)

Upon arriving to Apolline’s ‘tiny’ 30,000 resident town (Sutton has 8,000 & there’s no castle…) Meaghan & I were treated like queens. We ate escargot & country ham & smoked salmon. We slept in Apolline’s bedroom & had our own bathroom. We had electronic shades that made the room pitch black. We were living the life! & We got to speak French!

Then when we went to Paris, we stayed in the beautiful (GIANT) apartment of my old host brother, Simon. Upon our arrival we were greeted with pizza, champagne & MARIOKART! Unfortunately Simon went on his own vacation the 2nd day we were in Paris, but he still graciously let us have the apartment to ourselves! 

This strong feeling of gratitude remained throughout my entire vacation & I know it was all thanks to my wonderful hosts!

2. Time Changes Some Things, But Not Everything

It has been almost 2 years since I studied & lived in Paris. If you recall the post A Break-Up Letter To The Love of My Life you know that this separation has been difficult for me. Paris is my favorite city in the world. & It always will be. That’s why when I had the chance to finally go back, I had a lot of mixed emotions. I was super excited, of course, but I was also a little nervous. Would it all come back to me? Would I still feel the same way? Or had everything changed?

Turns out 2 years doesn’t change a whole lot. Sure there were a few new stores, but all the streets were the same. I still had all the memories. It was surreal. I visited my old school, celebrated my birthday first with dinner at my favorite restaurant & then at my 2 favorite bars, & then, the weirdest experience of all: I visited my old neighborhood! 

When I studied abroad in Paris, we did not have apartments or dorms: we were all assigned host families. I was really nervous about this. Would they like me? Would I like them? Would I be in a safe area? Luckily, I hit the jackpot. I was assigned to live in the 12th arrondissment (12 is my lucky number, so I instantly saw this as a sign) with a single mother who lived alone on the top floor of a giant apartment complex. All her children were grown up & moved out but would occasionally bring their children over (my baby ‘French cousins’!). & My neighborhood was adorable. Right near the beautiful Parc de Bercy (where I would go running) & Palais d’Omnisport (where I later saw a Drake concert haha)

Image(Above: Where I studied abroad Spring Semester 2012!)

Visiting my old neighborhood really made me reflect on how much I’ve changed as a person, & a traveler, since I lived there. I truly believe it was a chain reaction. I first went on vacation to Paris when I was 16 in high school. Without this trip I would have never chosen to live & study here. & If I had never studied abroad I would have never had the courage to move abroad. But no matter where I do live I will always have a soft spot in my heart for my old ‘hood, the adorable Cour St. Emilion.

Image(Above: Complete with tons of restaurants, shops & a movie theater, the Bercy area is a hidden gem in Paris)

3. It’s Okay to Break Tradition 

But it will be really weird when you do.

My past 22 Christmas seasons have consisted of Christmas Eve at my cousin’s eating delicious gourmet food with my whole family & then Christmas day at my house. It was so strange to not follow that ritual this year. I know I am lucky because I celebrated everything in Europe, but it was definitely hard being away from everyone. 

Meaghan & I just kept saying “Wow, it really doesn’t feel like Christmas…” because instead of Christmas Eve at my cousin’s house gorging on scalloped potatoes & listening to the men yell at the sports game, I was sipping champagne & eating hors d’oeurves in the most magnificent apartment ever. 

After Christmas Eve mass in a 400 year old Protestant temple (the oldest one in all of France, casual), we were invited to Apolline’s grandmother’s house. We were told everyone was going to be well into their 60’s and speak no English. But I was blown away. The night was awesome! All of Apolline’s great aunts & her grandmother were so lovely & welcoming. Over the course of the night we opened 4 bottles of champagne & were served more hors d’oeuvre courses than I could count. All while sitting in this AMAZING house (all mahogany tables, a fireplace, beautiful rugs & paintings with little lights underneath them like seriously).

Image(Above: Us with Apolline’s grandmother, the sweetest & cutest woman ever)

Christmas day was a little bittersweet, but I had no time to dwell on this. We woke up to a giant brunch complete with smoked salmon on toast & fresh pain du chocolat. Then Apolline’s whole extended family (& I mean EVERYONE) came over! I am used to having loud holidays with a lot of people so it was nice to spend the day with everyone. We nibbled tiny sandwiches & drank wine & just had a good time.

Image(Above: Us with Apolline & her sister, Violaine, on Christmas day)

But by far the best part of the day was when Apolline’s cousin, who has an AMAZING voice, got out her guitar & played some songs. This was the only really sentimental moment for me the whole trip. Back home, my friend, Molly, is also a very talented singer. Last Christmas she & her family came over & she brought her guitar & sang the song ‘Hallelujah’ which gave me chills. On this Christmas Apolline’s cousin sang the same exact song & my eyes welled up. It was a very special moment & made me feel like I was home in a strange way. I can’t really describe it.

After I was done being corny we took to the piano! Another one of the cousins could also sing & her husband started playing the piano. We started slow & shy but 20 minutes later the entire house had gathered around to hear these 2 strange Americans accompanied by the cousins & piano belt out the best rendition of Katy Perry’s Roar you’ve ever heard in your life! So much fun! We sang Alicia Keys, Adele & some motown classics! I am still anxiously waiting for the video to surface somewhere on the internet…but it was a truly unique way to end Christmas & made me feel so at home.

Then before bed I got to Skype my whole family! It was so good to see everyone & know that I miss you all very much 🙂

Image(Above: Mini study abroad reunion for my birthday at Truskel, my fav Parisian bar)

The day after Christmas is a very depressing day for most people. But for me, it’s just a quick break before more fun! My birthday is December 27th & people always ask me if I hate it. I don’t understand this question. Sure I have heard “Now this is your Christmas & birthday present…” more times than I can count, but I really love this time of the year so it’s always awesome!

Normally my birthday always consisted of a snowstorm (gotta love that New England winter!) & slick roads, people not being able to come to my party & every place being closed. But Mama G always scrambled to make it special. In our family when it’s your birthday expect to wake up to handmade posters all over the kitchen cabinets saying Happy Birthday! We love you! It was hard to not wake up to that this year…but instead I woke up in Paris!

I spent the day eating delicious croque monsieur & confit de canard, then went to my 2 favorite bars at night, after finally getting on the first metro back home at 6am, I spent the next day dying in bed. It’s safe to say 23 was a good one! 

Although it may not have felt like Christmas or my birthday because I wasn’t with my family or at home, this vacation was still the best. But I know it was only so special because of the people I was with. 

I first met Apolline when she studied abroad for the year at Roger Williams University. My work study job was being a Conversation Partner, which was basically being assigned to different exchange students & simply having conversations with them in order to help improve their English. I was assigned Apolline & instantly loved her. She is so kind, funny & a great friend. 

Image(Above: Apolline & I at my Auntie Katy’s house on Easter 2013)

She spent Easter with my family & I. & We had one action packed weekend! We went to the casino, got thai food, had a movie night, went shopping & then had all the holiday festivities! After this my family got a letter from Apolline’s mother thanking us & saying I was welcome to their home anytime.

One year later, I took them up on the offer.

Thank you so much Hospitel family. Thank you for making my first Christmas away from home, something that could have been awful, such a special experience. Thank you for welcoming me so much into your family & your beautiful house. Thank you for the awesome Christmas gifts of a macaroon cookbook & socks from Maman H’s boutique (which I’m wearing as I type this!) You are forever welcome to either Prague or Sutton, or wherever else I live.

Vous etes comme ma deuxieme famille maitenant 🙂 Merci beaucoup!

Image(Above: Me & Apolline’s parents Skyping my parents! Hopefully they can meet for real someday!)

And Simon, mon frere. Thank you so much for always truly acting like my older brother. I know your mom has hosted a lot of students but I just want you to know that I really appreciate all you did for me. I can remember you making me lists of the best restaurants & stores, & of course the neighborhoods I should never go in (rolls eyes). It cracks me up how you still continue to lecture me until no end (the keys! always think of the keys! haha). I am so glad that it’s been 2 years since we were together but last week it was like nothing had changed. Please keep weekly e-mailing me about all the juicy gossip in your life & I will continue to do the same. 

Thank you so much for basically giving us your apartment for 5 days. It was a great stay in Paris & same for you, anytime you want to come visit Prague…or the boring Sutton, Mass., you are always welcome! Bisousss :*

Image(Above: Throwback Thursday! With my host mother & Simon in Spring 2012)

So there you have it, dear readers. I had a truly amazing vacation. It was a nice way to break up the homesickness of Prague with some familiar faces. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season too! 

The promise of a new year is something that you must take advantage of. 2014 is your clean slate & blank piece of paper…now let’s start writing 🙂

-JG