On being alone

Living away from home is one thing, living away from home ALONE is an entirely different thing. For me its the difference of living in a hostel, or living in this tiny apartment. Both of which have their benefits, but I’m realizing how much I need the human interaction and social tendencies of a hostel. I’m very productive here and truly my life is very simple and relaxing, but I have too much time and not enough people to fill the gaps. I encourage anybody traveling to not spend more than a week staying somewhere alone. I’m staying here a month but my best friend arrives in just two days so really I will only have been alone for two weeks. Still I’ve decided that was too much. I’ve been very lucky to have an incredible airBnB host who has invited me to do multiple activities with her and her family. My favorite times here have been spent playing board games with her 4 sweet kids. Or baking with her daughter, Lina. Being alone is exhaustingly hard, my day tends to be over around 4 pm and that point I frequently find myself unable to keep from crying. On the surface, it feels like its just out of a dreadful homesickness, but deep down I know it is only the result of loneliness and boredom. I’m learning how to be alone and I’m doing pretty well, the key is too keep busy. So, if you are planning on spending a month alone, PRIOR to arrival, schedule language classes, find a job, or an organization to volunteer with. something that will get you out of your house for a good couple hours every day. Facebook is a wonder when it comes to finding different groups in new cities. I also think that the haute savoie region would be a fantastic place to do WWOOF or similar programs. There are so many families with absolutely beautiful houses and gardens.

I started this post while I was still in Annecy, I have now moved on and am moving through Italy. Even though I move every few days, the topic of loneliness is still relevant each day. Visiting Italy in November means a never ending rain, and I spend much of my time actively seeking out the sun. I’ll speak more to loneliness in Italy in a new post, but i did want to just finish up how i dealt with it in Annecy. The simple fact, is that I didn’t deal with it in any particular way, I just let it come and waited it out. I have found that I seeking out people is not a particular skill of mine, nor is it something I feel the need to learn. Though I’ve gotten exceedingly better at starting conversations with strangers, i find that i often wish to return to my own thoughts after a couple hours of talking to someone. Being alone is something I’ve gotten so used to that its now something I even seek out when I’m in a hostel. The trick is to find the balance. Annecy was too much time alone, and often hostels can be too much time with people. In both cases, Books and my journal have been my quick go too. When I feel all too alone, I can easily escape into a book and allow the characters to provide company, similarly, my journal is my form of talking to somebody (luckily i have reached the point of talking to myself outloud). Reading and writing are also my way of showing others that I don’t want to be interrupted and I use it frequently in hostels when I’m feeling exhausted. So to get to the point, I now never leave the house/hostel/apartment/airbnb/whatever other lodging i have found without one the two. I leave books wherever I finish them and pick up new ones when i can find them. They are, without any pause, my most prized possessions while traveling. And of course my mother, who somehow still allows me to call her for hours on end. So books, journals, phonecalls, and finally the simple act of sitting in a busy sqaure filled with people. That is how I’ve dealt with being alone for so many days on end. Not to say this makes it all go away, but it does help at least.

A few of the books I’ve read so far

  • The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo AND The Girl Who Played With Fire (dangerously addictive)
  • City of Women (picked this one up in Annecy)
  • The patron Saint of Liars (found at the farm in Ireland)
  • Tigers in Red Weather (terrible, but easy, 3 euros at a bookstore in Galway)
  • Major Pettigrews Last Stand (brought from home)
  • The Signature of All Things (left to me by my friend Hila when she visited)

Back in France!

Currently I am in Annecy, France (pronounced Aaancy), sitting in my Airbnb apartment where I’ll be spending the next entire month (can you believe it). I spent my day in quite possibly every grocery store within 5 miles, looking for two seemingly simple ingredients – black beans, and salsa. What I forgot was the french’s lack of desire for Mexican cuisine. Or anything with spice. There is one brand “El Que Pasa” which is basically the equivalent of Dorito brand Mexican condiments. however, even this brand is nearly impossible to find, finally after health food store, budget stores, bulk stores, regular ole stores, I found a precious jar of El Que Pasa salsa (medium flavor, because the french wouldn’t dare put their taste buds through the torture of anything hotter than “slightly mild”). Unfortunately my search for black beans in ongoing and I hope to have further positive updates on it. For a quick general idea of what its like to travel alone, its long periods of monotone feelings, and big smacks of intense sadness/stress/worry, BUT hold out, because the next big smacks feel like your dreaming, and they make every step of it worth it. I’ve just finished a good spurt of crying and decided that validated a post. The salsa stress was just all too much, it’s been pouring all day and the cherry on top – my bank wouldn’t let me withdraw 250 euros to get a bike (meaning I walked all day in the rain carrying a giant bag full of groceries). After hours of my precious mother making phone calls, waiting, emailing, etc, the bank finally changed my withdrawal limit, WOOHOO thank! you! mom! SO I got my bike, and could finally lug my groceries back home. Getting home, I was so completely depleted from the day and soaking wet that I just collapsed and cried. Which I find I do often, mostly on transition days, but its not always entirely bad, many times I just find myself so overcome with emotion and overwhelmed with all the beauty in new places that I cant hold it in. I’ve also found that anxiety almost completely disappears after a good cry, so I am in full effect, an utmost supporter of a solid cry. and you should be too.

Marseille

Thats enough dreariness, the past week has actually been maybe one of the happiest weeks I’ve had since traveling. Last Wednesday, I arrived back in France from Ireland, which was possibly the best thing to happen yet. Felt a bit like coming home, I cant explain how much I had missed the sun. I flew into Marseille, on the coast of France, where I would be meeting Abby! We had roughly thrown the plan together just a week in advance and splurged on an AirBnB together. Before I go into the positive parts of Marseille, I want to state that it is simply not a safe city if you are a solo female traveler. The city was essentially founded by the mafia and some streets are still completely run by herds of dangerous men. Even in the main port tourist area, men still lurk in corners and have no issue calling or grabbing at you. Having said that, please try to go, just find somebody to go with you. The old port is stunning, as is the architecture, especially in Le Panier district. I was there for three full days, the first I spent with a german girl helping her get her phone fixed in an apple store (long story) and patiently awaiting Abbys arrival. The second day was by far the best. We took the bus (line 58) from the Castellane Prada stop to cassis, I’m telling you that because if you ever go, getting to cassis is weirdly hard to navigate. Take the bus, 100%, not the train. Its cheaper and a much prettier ride. Once in cassis we hit the Friday morning farmers market to stock up on picnic goods – bread, olive tapenade, cheese, fruit, tomatos, and a cucumber. Then we hiked into El Calanque national park, the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. We walked through giant cliffs, ports and Calanques or little coves filled with water so blue, I don’t even have words for it. Do not miss this. Wherever you are in France, make sure you take a day to spend in El Calanque. The third day we explored the city of marseille, primarily the Cours Julien area. Its an upcoming and super cool little area of marseille thats filled with street art, lots of different cuisines, and so many vintage stores. Theres also a little market in the main square. We did most of our eating at the apartment but we did have a few spots that I’d recommend. For cheap and good pizza – pizza charlies, for the best navettes (little orange blossom flavored biscuits) – Les Navettes des Accoules, and finally for super reasonably priced but delicious espresso – Maison Geney in Le Panier. The best thing to do is wake up, buy your navettes, and walk right around the corner to get a coffee (I like cafe allonges) to dip your navettes in. Then if sitting outside, literally reach over to your right and buy a grapefruit from the fruit and vegetable stand to wash down the coffee/navettes. To sum up, I loved marseille with all my heart, its so beautiful and the surrounding places are incredible, but just be safe and don’t go alone. In terms of safety, I will note that the train station/bus station is not a safe area at all, especially while its dark. So when planning your trip, make sure you arrive and depart in daylight. we had some complications on the last day and abby ended up having to take a taxi for 70 euros to the airport at 4 am, which scared me and all the parents (especially because something was wrong with her phone so she could never let us know she had made it). My last thing to say about my time in marseille, is just what a difference having a friend can make. Being able to share experiences with somebody is just as important as doing things solo. I’ve so missed close company, and it was very needed, and to give myself some credit, I think it was very deserved.

Nice

The first day I arrived in Nice was hard, transition day, and saying goodbye to abby made it especially rough. So I’m skipping the details of that day, except that I did see Matisse’s house and its spectacular, as are the surrounding areas. It’s Colorful, covered in plants and the weirdest mix of english/roman/Mediterranean architecture. I had one full day in Nice and I think I physically radiated happiness. I lucked out being there on a Monday because the daily produce market gets turned into a giant flea/antique market. Everything was beautiful, but my favorite stalls were the linen and cloth ones that were filled with white fabrics swaying in the wind. I treated myself, and bought a nice little wooden pocket knife for baguettes, tomatos, etc and a french print of three woman. I love them both. I spent the morning walking around the old town of Nice which is filled with boutiques and most importantly – street food. My personal favorite was Socca. It is hands down one of the best things to enter my mouth. Its so simple too, just a thin pancake made with chickpea flour and ALOT of olive oil added throughout the baking process. Its served hot and fresh in a white paper sack (to go) or on a plate as a appetizer (to stay). I chose to grab a tomato and socca to go and ate it in a square. Tomato + Socca = perfect pair. The last thing that made the day so wonderful was a stop at Pizza Pili which is just a little hole in the wall selling 7 euro giant take away neoplolitan styled pizzas. I got a pizza and walked it down to the pebble beach right in front of old town Nice and watched the sunset. It can be hard to be really super ecstatically happy alone, but this was one of the times where I just beemed with contentment. Everything was perfect in just that moment. Oh also, icecream. Specifically dark chocolate sorbet from Gelateria Azzurro.

Ireland (ft a mention of London)

I had intended for my second post to be about Bruge and Paris but I’m realizing that was almost 5 weeks ago and so instead of writing a full post for them, I’m going to have a separate portion on strictly the logistics and planning of them. This post is instead going to be directed at the past 2 and a half weeks (essentially Ireland). Which have been rocky at times to say the least, but also filled with lots of good things too. I’ve realized that everything I thought I knew about myself is probably incorrect or at least doesn’t apply to me when traveling solo. I encourage anybody who is thinking of traveling solo to complete forget any ideas or thoughts you had about yourself. They are probably wrong. Other important revelations I’ve made are that my Mom is undeniably the best being to ever walk the earth, Ireland should be visited with friends, and spanish canned mussels are delicious, despite the unappetizing resemblance to rotting genitals. There is simply no better way to describe them, see picture below for reference.

Irelands best (and some of its worst) parts

Prior to being in Ireland, I thought I Lily McDonald love the rain. I can fully indulge myself in days of clouds and rain without any bit of unease. I was sorely mistaken. Past me was so far off, you wouldn’t believe it. On September third I left the southern sun and wine in Bordeaux and smacked myself right down in dreary Ireland. To say it was a shock is an understatement. For starters, I was welcomed to Ireland by possibly the only grumpy man in all of Ireland, the border control man. He grilled me with questions for 15 minutes on exactly what I was doing there and then continued to demand that I prove to him that at some point or another I would be leaving his precious country. So be wary of Irish border control, they’re very protective. I also made the mistake of saying that I would be “working on a farm”, note to self: never say the word work in front of border control. Rather tell them your in Ireland for the guinness and nothing more, others have had better luck with that one. I headed from the Dublin airport to a town called mallow on a bus (because irish trains are terrible, so always use the bus system). In mallow I was picked up by the farm manager Maria, and her beautiful brown lab Lola. The next three days were the worst I’ve had since traveling so I’m going to skip over the painful details and just give you a summary. The accommodations: muddy, cold, lonely, and no wifi. The farm: absolutely beautiful, every shade of green you could image. and the yummiest of vegetables. The people: In the “volunteer house” (intended for 15 people) there were two french boys around 22 who rather disliked having to speak english and me. There was Maria, who lived next door with Lola, and finally in a gigantic farm house was the family – Patrick, Judith, and their three kids. It could’ve been perfect, except, the family spent no time with the volunteers, my phone didn’t have any service or wifi, and my only company were two sausage obsessed, french speaking men. I have never felt so alone and heart broken in my life. So after spending three days crying until my body ached I found a pub, called my mom, and immediately booked a plane ticket to London for the following morning at 6 am. Fortunately for me, Irish people in pubs are the world’s kindest grouping of people, especially when it comes to directions. After much discussion, it was decided, a man named Pat who drives a concrete pump truck would pick me up at 4 am and drive me an hour to the Cork airport. So that’s that, I will spend more time on London later but for now fast forward a week to saturday, September 14th. I’ve traveled back to Ireland, to stay at the same farm, but only for a week. The universe is on my side this time, the sun is out and will stay out for almost the entire week I’m at the farm, and a french girl has also just arrived. We become close fast, mostly out of a shared homesickness and desperation for company. we made lentil soup for dinner and went to bed, eagerly awaiting the arrival of two spanish girls on Tuesday. That was a truly fantastic week, I worked hard every day, picking tomatoes, and scouring fields for lost onions. The best part though, was the cooking, I had access to any vegetable I wanted and had hours upon hours to cook. I even made an apple and blackberry crisp one day for an after lunch treat. The spanish girls were amazing, they instantly brought energy and warmth into the house and each night I laughed, like I really really laughed. Something that is hard to achieve when traveling alone. I had such a good week, that by the end I was even a bit sad to leave. A massive difference from my initial experience on the farm. It’s amazing how good company can completely alter an experience. A week after my arrival, I headed to Galway, Ireland. Which is where I am now! I will start out by saying it is sleepy, and would best be enjoyed if you had somebody traveling with you. That applies to all of Ireland actually. The weather is rainy and cold and there’s lots of time for reading, sleeping, and most importantly, drinking beer. Galway is filled with two things, wool shops, and pubs, both of which are best enjoyed with money and friends, two things I happen to not have with me at the moment. so to say the least, Galway is beautiful, as are the surrounding parks and cliffs, but to really truly make the most of it, go with friend. Making friends in hostels is not as easy as you’d expect (although I did go get a pint with two swiss girls last night). If you do decide to go alone, here are my recommendations: a long run along the coast, fish and chips at Mcdonaghs, buy a book from charlie byrne’s book shop, go to a pub (but go on the later side if you want more people and live music), take the ferry to the aran islands, check out the Irish craft market during the weekend for giant warm crepes, and lastly, Galway is a perfect place for a rest day – read, write, clean your suitcase, cut your toenails, etc. If your traveling alone, enter Ireland with caution, it can be extremely gray and extremely lonely, so try your hardest to find people to go with. I have not tried it, but the app couch surf seems to connect a lot of people wanting to travel around together and I’ve met a few people in hostels who found each other through the app, so give it a try! I leave Ireland tomorrow, and although parts of it were wonderful, I could not be more excited to be back in the french sun. I’m going to try to get a logistic post out soon for those of you wanting to know about accommodations, transport, food, etc, but that’s about all for Ireland! If I do come back, it’ll be with friends, a hat, and wellies.

A Beginning

A bit of an introduction and time in Amsterdam

I did it! I finally figured out how to make a post! I’ve been traveling for almost two full weeks now, though it feels like just a few days, and I have lots to share! I started in Amsterdam, worked my way down to Bruges, Belgium, and then headed down to Paris. Currently I’m writing this from a sweet little Air BnB in Tours, France. Which is the main city of the Loire Valley. I’m not quite sure where to start, so much has happened. Before going into all the logistics of what I’ve been doing, I want to put emphasis on the biggest realization I’ve had since traveling. Its hard work! I know, everybody told me this a hundred times before I left but I didn’t truly think about all the luxuries I would be without. The one that comes to mind first is bathrooms. Seems simple, right? No. If I’m in the city for the day finding a bathroom is something Ive learned to actively plan ahead for. Museums and cafes all have bathrooms but its an expensive price to pay just to go to the bathroom. Often I’ll find a McDonald’s to sneak into but even then some of them have codes on the bathrooms! and in addition, I don’t have data or service, so I’ll wander around for a good hour just hoping that somewhere along the way I’ll see that glowing yellow M in the air. Point is, the things you don’t think about end up being the hardest. And everything requires an additional hour of walking time which I’ve learned to account for, meaning if I want breakfast at any reasonable hour, I should leave by 8 am. Moving on to other more entertaining subjects…

Thanks Ma

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Much of this I’m going to pull from my journal, which has been the best possible thing I could imagine while traveling. I’ve become obsessed with writing, and surprisingly fast at it. In addition, Its a great way to not look so alone despite how alone you may be in social settings. Back to the point, I arrived at the Amsterdam airport on Thursday. I’d been on 4 planes in 24 hours and had slept on not a single one of them. I expected my first day to be absolutely miserable, I had prepared myself for the worst, thinking for sure I would cry throughout every move. But nope, I moved through those first travel days with hardly any emotions at all. I don’t remember much of it, almost like I was in shock or some sort of dream state. All I wanted once I got off my plane was to be at my hostel so I could put my bags down. Luckily from the airport all I had to do was take a quick tram to the train station and then right outside of the train station is a little ferry that took me to Amsterdam Noord. Amsterdam is nicely organized into little neighborhoods and divided by the IJ river. Amsterdam Noord is just across the river from all the bustle of the city, including the red light district neighborhood. I stayed in a hostel called CLinkNoord, which was absolutely fantastic. The check in area and common space is bright and colorful and almost always full of travelers. I always felt relieved walking back into my hostel after having been out all day. There’s also a great little outdoor area where they do yoga some mornings. After checking in, I went for a little walk around Amsterdam Noord just to get myself oriented. I cannot stress this enough, orienting yourself as soon as you arrive at your destination is the best thing you can do for yourself. It makes your space feel familiar and any hint of familiarity can completely change how traveling feels, especially when traveling alone. I’ve religiously been going for a walk every time I get to a new city, and I’ve discovered if I do this, it only takes 24 hours for me to feel fully comfortable. That first night in Amsterdam however was when it all hit. All the emotions I’d been holding in came flowing out as I was going to sleep. I knew it was because I was exhausted, but due to the time zone and my mind being so wildly awake, I couldn’t fall asleep until 3:30 am! Luckily, that’s been the only time so far that I’ve been so upset. Of course I have periods of being down, but they usually are pretty small and pass quickly. I find food, walks, and sleep helps the most. And reading. The first day was incredible, I rented a bike from a place right next to the train station and went on a 6 hour bike ride up towards the northern villages outside Amsterdam. I downloaded a free audio guide/map on my phone which was fantastic until it took me onto the highway at the very end… In the beginning I biked through little villages all with cobblestone street and sweet little houses and cafes. Then it took me through endless green pastures, the views made up for the hours spent wafting cow manure. That evening I ended up going out to dinner with a girl I’d met the night before from Copenhagen, Denmark. Her name was Birdy and she was fantastic! She was studying textiles in art school and had dreams of starting her own sustainable clothing brand. Not to mention all the bags she was carrying, she made herself, they were beautiful. We spent hours walking around Amsterdam, mostly in the Joordan neighborhood and then got dinner at a place called SLA. Big ole yummy salad bowls. Since traveling, that night has been one of my highlights. Its unbelievable how comforting having company can be. I’m slowly learning how to entertain myself alone though, the most difficult thing I’ve found is that I haven’t laughed really hard since being home. The next day was my ultimate Amsterdam tourist day. I started off by going to a market in the morning. It was huge and right along a canal in the Joordan Neighborhood. I bought a few fruits and a croissant that I happily enjoyed as I walked towards the museum district. I went to the Rijkmuseum, the Stedelijk Museum, AND the Van Gogh Museum. I was exhausted afterwards, there was no way i could look at any more art. I stopped in a grocery store on my way home and got some salad stuff and beans to make a little dinner with back at the hostel. Most hostels have a kitchen that the guest can use and I didn’t realize how much I utilized them until I spent 5 nights in Paris in a hostel without a kitchen. That just about covers Amsterdam, I’ll get to Bruges and Paris soon! I know this was a long one! I think future posts will be shorter, I’m still figuring it all out.