Back in business!

Better late than never, right?

Our return from Europe was uneventful (but I will say: a 10.5 hour flight home is enough to make you really glad you spent a while on the continent instead of going both ways in a week).  But when I got home, I found that my laptop had decided to retire in my absence.  I don’t blame it – I bought it before I moved to Boston more than five years ago.  Luckily I backed up everything before I left.  Unluckily, my new computer had to see more of the world even than I did before it finally made it to my hands this afternoon.  (And no, mom, it unfortunately did not arrive with stickers all over it like some ancient suitcase.)

But now I’m back!  Look for some post-travel reflections, more specifics on what I saw/ate/learned, and how I’m going to make 2015 the best year ever – all coming up soon in this space.

Best layover ever?

The sun is shining over the Bosphorus River, reflecting right into our sweet little room at the hostel in Istanbul.  When we signed up for this 22 hour layover on our way home to Boston, it sounded like a great idea – but then the plane was late and it took us almost two hours to leave the airport and get into the city.  As we zipped past wholesale clothing stores on the train, we worried that we were wasting our time.

But then we got off the train to the sound of the evening prayer, and started looking around.

This place is amazing.  I’ve still only seen it in the dark but I absolutely love it.  In the few hours before bed, we shopped at the Arasta Bazaar just down the street, buying scarves and pottery and looking at the colorful tea options.

We sat in front of the Blue Mosque eating freshly roasted chestnuts and watching the colorful fountain.

Then we ate dinner at an open-air hookah bar, where we sat on velvet-covered benches, eating kebabs and meat and vegetable pancakes cooked by women sitting directly behind us and watching a Turkish dancer twirl to the sound of live music.  By the end of the evening, we drank every tea on the menu – and were rewarded with a free cup by our friendly waiter, who delivered us a mix of every type of tea plus ample amounts of sugar.  It was sweet perfection, new and welcoming and just lovely in every way.

Now we’re off to the spice market before leaving for the airport around noon.  See you on the other side of the Atlantic!

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Dessert and tea in Istanbul

Goodbye Barcelona!

We’re at the airport, about to wish Spain goodbye.  We’ve already bid adieu to Sara and Kate.  It’s been a warm, wild, and wonderful weekend in this seaside city – we ate, saw, and drank everything.  From visiting the Sagrada Familia to collecting rocks on the beach to eating tapas at midnight and drinking at bars with the city lights belong, we’ve had a grand time.

Now, onward for one night in Istanbul and then home in time for midterm election results.  We were even able to check our bags straight through so now we only have our backpacks for the next 24 hours of adventure.  Huzzah!  Happy Monday!

The art of getting lost

Turn left. Turn right.  Carry on straight ahead.

Follow the sound of music or filtered sunshine or a smell that makes your mouth water.  Walk until you find the source, even if it’s never.

This is the art of getting lost.  Of looking at street signs out of curiosity instead of necessity.  Of going down roads and finding either dead ends or the world’s wildest adventures.  Of measuring your days in miles and blisters and which shoes you can’t bear to wear again tomorrow.  Of getting hungry because you forgot to eat before you ventured out of the area full of cafes, or being weighed down by souvenirs because you can’t bear to head home, not yet, not until you’ve seen what’s over here… there… that way.

And at the end of the path, finding a reason to pause, recharge, and then… head out again.

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(Written on the beach in Barcelona, Spain)

My day at Versailles

Last Saturday, Katie and I took a day trip from Paris to Versailles, home of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (and you know, the entire French royal family while it existed). It was beautiful – you could picture her receiving (or rebuffing) people in those rooms, strolling through the hall of mirrors, dealing with the extreme dressing ceremonies each day. But the state rooms overall were exceptionally crowded. We preferred the gardens, where we watched dancing foundations along with ancient statues. Parfait!

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The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles

This was my favorite part of Versailles, by far – the fountain at the end of the Grand Canal.

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My overall thoughts on Versailles:

  • If you do the palace tour, make sure to get the audio guide, but reconsider doing it at all and head straight to the gardens where you can actually enjoy your visit.
  • Leave time for the many parts of the estate, which are very spread out but all amazing (like the Petit Trainon and the hamlet).  And note that the tram will get you there without walking but it – and the line to get tickets – is excessively slow.
  • Eat before you go or at one of the tourist shops on the way back to the train station – not a lot of good options at the palace.

Overall, it was an easy day trip from Paris and a beautiful, historic setting – I just wish we could have had it to ourselves!

The state of things in France

Internet connections: lacking.

Baguette consumption: never been higher.

Wine drinking: see above.

Castle satisfaction: through the roof.

In short, we’re having such a good time out and about in France that I haven’t had a chance to update this blog in a bit – and the posts I’ve tried to write on the go haven’t come through.  Blame the lack of French internet infrastructure… Sara (who is going to cooking school here) told us that it was bad but it’s even worse than expected.  I’d almost prefer the sweet, old-school sound of dial-up some days when it comes to trying to check my email.

Still, we haven’t let that rain on our parade, only our posting frequency.  We have been zipping all through France.  First, three nights in Paris, then two in Montpellier, then here in Toulouse.  Along the way we’ve dealt with train delays, menu indecision, and weather that changes from street to street – it’s exactly the travel adventure I imagined.

More about the individual aspects later – we just finished a home cooked dinner made by our chef in training (salad and french onion soup!), now, onward to see what this city has to offer for nightlife!

In praise of markets

When I think of London, I think of big red buses, afternoon tea, and markets.  You never know what you’re going to find in the city’s markets – some contain poorly made junk, which others feature works of art or the best cheese you’ve ever tasted.

I visited three markets during my time here: Borough Market, Portobello Road market, and Camden Market.  They each have a totally different vibe.

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Sweets at Borough Market

Borough Market is a food market under London Bridge, and it’s a perfect lunchtime destination.  For a few quid, you can get a steak pie or a curry or my favorite, raclette (cheese on top of potatoes with a side of mini pickles).  You can also pick up sweets as big as your head, small nuggets of fudge, fresh cheeses, truffles, whole rabbits – anything you could possibly need to eat.  There’s even a stall that sells nothing but cider!
When to go: on a weekday before or after typical lunchtime.  It’s a zoo on Saturday and closed Sunday.

Camden Market is more of a craft fair, with halls and courtyards of wares.  Some are handmade and some are clearly mass produced, but still not junky.  The food here is also incredible, but can get extremely crowded.  The nice thing about the market overall is that it’s so compact – if you like something and don’t buy it the first time, it’s not that hard to get back for another pass (the opposite is true at Portobello Road, for example).  And when you need a break from the crowds, you can watch barges pass through the locks.
When to go: on a Sunday, because it’s the only market open this day!

Portobello Road market is another adventure altogether.  This is where you can buy silver, crystal goblets, old jewelry, books older than our country, and more.  This is the best market for spectators – my friend and I kept dipping into random stores to look at ivory canes, french wardrobes, stuffed hunting trophies that had seen better days.  Once you get moving here, you basically get swept downhill, so you have to make sure not to pass anything by because you’re NOT coming back.  I already had a silver chalice from my last trip so I kept my wallet in my pocket this time, but am still pining for the perfect silver tray.  Next time…
When to go: Saturday, as close to 10 as possible.  It gets crowded quickly.

When I leave Europe, the markets are one of the things I miss the most. Luckily, I still have market adventures in Paris, Barcelona, and Istanbul ahead of me (all in the next week!).  Adventure, ahoy!