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!

turkish dinner

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.

street photo

(Written on the beach in Barcelona, Spain)

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!

Things I forgot I knew about London

In the last seven years, some things about London have changed.  They hosted the Olympics and adjusted the traffic pattern on Oxford Street. They closed some tube stops and opened new ones.  Harry Potter ended and Sherlock started, and the fan zones adjusted accordingly.

But some surprising things stayed the same – small but important things I totally forgot about until I got back into the hustle and bustle of this city:

  1. English isn’t the most common language.  Everywhere I go, and I’ll admit that I tend toward touristy spots, people are speaking languages other than English.  French, Spanish, Russian, Italian, dozens of other languages I can’t even recognize specifically enough to name, fill the air.  And the people speaking them aren’t just tourists – they live here, in the melting pot of the UK.  It’s fascinating, and adds to the international vibe of the city, as well as making my American accent stand out a little bit less.
  2. Food is super cheap.  Sandwiches at local grocery stores are around £2.10 (less than $3.50) and way too many sweet treats cost less than a pound.  Obviously this balances out because city restaurants are quite expensive, but it’s still nice to see that you can get a solid meal for a reasonable price at a grocery store.
  3. Escalator rides are a form of entertainment.  They have these posters and video boards on the side with all sorts of coordinated ads that play off each other. I seriously used to use them as my newspaper when I was here before, and the memory came back like a flash when I got back on the tube at Heathrow and saw them again.  Also, EVERYONE KNOWS TO WALK LEFT AND STAND RIGHT. Which is ironic, because that’s not even the way traffic moves here, and yet people are better about it than in most cities.
  4. The bus system is AMAZING.  I can get basically anywhere in London within 40 minutes thanks to a combination of the bus and tube, and since I bought a monthly pass, it’s super cheap.  Plus, the routes are so scenic – my ride home goes straight past Parliament and is worth the entire trip in and of itself.
  5. Cars are confusing.  It will never not freak me out to see someone stopped at a light just hop out of what I think of as the driver’s side door.  I can’t rewire my brain quickly enough, so it just seems like all cars are being driven by ghosts.
  6. Gambling is everywhere.  Seriously, everywhere.  There are betting shops on every corner, and ads all over the place.  What could possibly be worth spending your money on like that?  I’m glad we don’t gambling and mini casinos in the US like they have them here, they add nothing of value.

Now I’m off for a morning of adventure and planning a fun long (birthday!) weekend.  More later!

Cheers from London!

Ahoy from the other side of the pond!

I made it here all in one (sleepy) piece, including all my luggage.  My flights were easy and somewhat boring – Icelandair is not a fan of free things and hence only had paid food both times, though I was riding for more than 8 hours.  (A little rude if you ask me!)  Here’s hoping that Turkish Airlines has a better deal on the way home, but I’m not really worried about that yet.

Mostly because I’m having a BLAST here.  In the second half of day one, I unpacked every so slightly, then decided to prove to myself that I was really here by seeing a local (no, national… no, international) landmark with my two eyes, so I walked all the way to Big Ben.  It was even better than I remembered – this tower is quickly becoming my favorite thing in the city, now that I’ve seen it in all weather (helloooo London fall!).
IMG_5472I also wandered around Westminster a bit, trying not to get hit by a car.  More on that later…

Today, I did even more.  I started my day with the local tapas bar’s version of a vegetarian English breakfast – all for £4.10, including the coffee (and the required British side dish of secondhand smoke – coughcoughcough).  Still, it was delicious, though I don’t think I need to eat mushrooms for breakfast every single day.
IMG_5509Then I walked around my ‘hood a bit to see what was up. I discovered that Oval “park” is a cricket pitch, not a place I can sit and read a book.  Good thing there are enough other places that meet that criteria!

In the afternoon, I explored Covent Garden, Charing Cross, etc. taking in the sights and trying to stay out of the rain when possible.  No matter where I went, it was just so good to be back in this weird and wonderful land.  And then the ride home was incredible, as it took me past Big Ben.  I don’t know if I’ll ever take the Underground if I can help it, the bus is so great!IMG_5510Finally, because it was Mountain Day, I met up with some MoHos for ice cream and college reminiscing.  Perfection!

So far, everything is great, but there are definitely challenges ahead:

  1. Not walking too much – I logged 16,000 steps today aka 7.5 miles!  Great, but also could be extremely exhausting on days when I actually have to do something, so I need to find some activities that don’t all involve walking or standing.
  2. Remembering to eat – I got so excited today that I kind of forgot to eat for way too long, which doesn’t go well with #1 and resulted in getting a bit lost.  Snacks all the way, and just generally eating good food when I find it.
  3. Not spending all my money - I WANT EVERYTHING!  Seriously, everything.  I didn’t even stop walking at Jubilee Hall because I knew if I did, I would spend all my money.  I have a while to be here, so I have to remember to pace myself.
  4. Not getting hit by a car – this one is non-negotiable, and it’s slowing me down but I’m never crossing without a light because the traffic here is making my head spin.  Sidewalk – sorry, pavement – traffic is rough enough, but the streets are out of control.  I saw a grown man almost get hit by a bus but his friends pulled him out of the way by his backpack just in time.  Not I – I would rather be the silly person waiting at every light while others run just to be on the safe side (literally).

I think if I can do those four things (and maybe also remember to sleep), this adventure will be top notch.  It’s certainly off to a smashing start! Stay tuned for a few more updates this week!

(All photos are my own)

One week more

One week – 168 hours, or 10,080 minutes – is all that separates me from adventures across the pond.

In this last week, people keep asking: are you ready?

The answer: as ready as I’ll ever be.

I’ve already packed my bag twice “just to see if stuff fits”.  My list has been made for months.  I have my passport next to my bed, my peanut butter stowed away in my suitcase (American > British), my itinerary printed and confirmed with my hosts.  I’ve joined my alumnae organization’s London network on Facebook and confirmed that the exchange rate is where I budgeted for it to be.

I’m trying to be realistic while keeping my usual optimism about – sure, I’ll be tired when I get off the plane at Heathrow.  Sure, I’m going to miss being around my Boston friends on my birthday. Yes, I’m positive I will get sick of these clothes.  But all this planning and dreaming has put me in a place where I’m so ready for this adventure, no matter what shape it takes.

Keep following my blog to see what happens next – I’ll be posting at least every few days while I’m in London!