Happy May! Even as I am buried in outlining for final exams, recovering from strep throat, and preparing for a summer abroad in Uganda (!), I find myself reminiscing hard about this week last year–when I left NYC for 3.5 months backpacking around the world!
As part of my frolic down memory lane (and exam procrastination…) I’ve put together my top ten list of A Southern Yankee Abroad posts from last summer. Enjoy! ❤
#2- Being lost on the back of a motorcycle in the rain surrounded by people who don’t speak English in Ho Chi Minh City is a memory I could never have planned, but will always treasure. Adventures in Saigon
#1 – I turned 27 years old on top of a rainbow in Peru…literally! This trek up Vinicunca Mountain with Sarah, Rachele, our guide Abel, and Rainbow the dog was the highlight of the entire summer. A Birthday Trek to Vinicunca Mountain
I have grappled with a big question my last couple of days in Paris- do I stop writing my blog a month shy of the end of my trip, or do I continue writing? This question was thrown on me when my Chromebook charger died unexpectedly about a week ago (yes, it’s only a few months old…so frustrating!). I searched in Dublin before I left, and high and low in Paris the last couple of days, but apparently they do not even sell that model in Europe. Normally I would just order a new one from Amazon, but traveling around for the next few weeks makes coordinating the shipping nearly impossible. So, without a charger, my dead Chromebook is rendered useless. What to do?
This situation made me start thinking of bigger questions.Something about the streets of Paris has opened something inside of me. What am I looking to find over these few months traveling the world? Do I even need to really find anything?
Yesterday, I posted a picture on Instagram saying I was excited to start law school at NYU (which is true…I worked hard for that!) The truth is, though, I feel uncertain. As a disclaimer, I always feel some degree of uncertainty about every big decision I make in life…it’s just part of my nature! Choosing a path means turning away from so many other paths. Those other paths may not necessarily be better, but I am curious all the same. I thought that seeing as much of the world as possible this summer would lead me to a sense of peace and groundedness, but I have only found more questions.
In my travels, I’ve wavered between being completely surrounded (and sometimes smothered) by people and being completely alone. Today I was completely alone with my own thoughts. As I laid in the grass of the Luxembourg Gardens, it struck me that maybe I am not ever supposed to find “anything” in particular, in this trip or in my life, but that it’s about asking more questions along the way. Questions that keep changing as I change, and leading me not to answers but to even more questions.
I am in love with Paris, because in a way, it reminds me of life. I’ve spent many parts of the days wandering the streets, having a general sense of direction yet not ever knowing where I was specifically at any given moment. However, each turn in the street led to another lively cafe, a museum, a beautiful storefront, or just a picturesque scene of Parisian architecture. I don’t have to know exactly where I am going, but I trust wherever the turns take me, it will be lovely and exciting, just like Paris.
A few months ago, my dad wrote his weekly column about my so-called “quarter-life crisis.” I really liked the article and its amusing tone, but I would now dare to reclassify “this” (whatever all these gear shifts and changes are in my life) as a quarter-life “enlightenment”- staying true to the history and spirit of Paris.
So, I went ahead and bought a tablet at the end of the day, and I decided to save the blog from early retirement. I appreciate all the feedback and responses I’ve gotten from readers, but I realized today the blog is really a way for me to spell out the questions I am finding, even if not directly. So, I will continue this exercise as I travel on to Amsterdam in the morning!
Also, I promise I did more than wander around and go to computer stores in Paris, so I will detail this in my next post.:-)
“But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.” -Ernest Hemingway
Paris has surprised in me the best way possible. Before arriving here, I had several American friends warn me that the French were rude and generally do not like Americans. However, I have found this to be far from the truth! In fact, one nice man helped me with my backpack on the subway and another lady has walked me to a subway stop I was having trouble finding. Everyone I have met has been extremely friendly and welcoming. This is simply an added bonus, as I was already so excited to finally visit Paris and experience all it has to offer. I am loving Paris, the City of Light! I have already booked an extra night here (but just one night as the city is so expensive…even more expensive than NYC, if that’s even believable! SO far, I have paid the equivalent of $11 for a beer and $9 for a plain coffee here…yikes!)
I arrived Saturday night at the airport in Beauvais (which I learned is like the Newark airport of Paris! haha) The airport transfer required a 1 hour bus ride into Paris. My phone had died by this point (as well as my portable charger…ugh!), but fortunately I had written down directions via the subway to my hostel in my notebook based on the maps Nat had sent me (thanks again, Nat!) I drifted off to sleep on the bus, but randomly woke up just in time to see the lights of the Eiffel Tower over the horizon on the highway as we came into the city. I felt the same thing I felt the first time I saw the skyline of Manhattan from an airplane…sheer excitement!
The subways were easy to navigate, and I found my way into the city from Porte Maillot. After accidentally wandering into an abandoned building I thought was my hostel (oops!), I found my way into my hostel and settled into the smallest room I have rented so far. Despite the tight space, I was happy to find my bed on the top bunk has a beautiful skylight right over it. So, I drifted off looking at the few stars that I could see from here.
I woke up early the next morning to meet my good friend Jess from NYC at the Palace of Versailles, which is about an hour subway ride outside of Paris. Jess is one of my closest friends in NYC and happened to be traveling through Paris at the same time I was. I was so excited to see her and catch up on everything that has happened in both of our lives since I left the city 2 months ago. We planned to meet at our guided tour at Versailles, but by a stroke of serendipity, we ran into each other at a random subway station underground!! After a lot of shrieking, hugging, and catching up, we were on our way to Versailles, along with her brother and his girlfriend with whom she is traveling.
Visiting Versailles was truly a childhood dream come true for me. When I was 9, my mom took me to an exhibit of Versailles artifacts that happened to be traveling through Jackson, Mississippi. Ever since then, I have wanted to see this place in person, and it happened on Sunday! We booked a general admission ticket for 25 euro, as well as a guided tour in English of the King’s private chambers for 7 euro. This was money well spent, as we saw and learned so much during the day!
Whenever I think of Versailles, I always think of the Tolkein quote, “All that is gold does not glitter.” I think this quote applies to just about everything except Versailles, where everything is in fact gold, and it glitters! Versailles became the center of the French kingdom in the late 17th century, when Louis XIV moved the royal court there. Louis XIV was known has the “Sun King” and ruled France for 72 years until 1715. He was the ultimate monarch, and everything in Versailles (and France for that matter) revolved around him and his wishes. On the tour, I learned he even had a ceremony everyday when he got out of bed, called the lever. His ornate bedroom in Versailles faced the rising sun, and he woke up with great fanfare to a crowd of attendants each day. He gives a new meaning to Beyonce’s expression, “I woke up like this!” He also had a crowd that watched every meal he ate in the dining room…I find this to be quite awkward, but he was really into himself so it worked for him!
Versailles was inherited by Louis XV and then Louis XVI, who was married to the famous Marie Antoinette. Marie Antoinette built her own estate within Versailles, which we explored along with the rest of the gardens. This place is the size of the small town, and Jess’s FitBit reported we walked over 8 miles during the day!
One of my favorite things we saw was the table and room where Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin negotiated the terms of American sovereignty with the British and French following the American Revolution.
After a busy day at Versailles, we grabbed dinner (I had a crepe, a cheese plate, and wine…very French!) and watched France defeat Iceland in the Eurocup semi-finals at bar. The atmosphere was electric!
This morning, I woke up early once again to meet up with Jess and the crew to visit the Eiffel Tower. I got some good views of the tower, but decided the line was too long today to visit the top as I had plans to meet another friend at the Louvre. After saying goodbye to Jess, I met up with my friend Chris (also from NYC and visiting Paris for the day!) at the Louvre. Chris and I had a nice, relaxing day wandering around the city, eating amazing food, enjoying good wine, and catching up on all of our news in life!
We ultimately wandered upon the Sacre Cour in Montemartre, where we decided to climb the 300 steps to the top of the dome. There was an amazing view of Paris from here!
As Chris had to catch a train back to London, I said goodbye and explored Montemartre a bit more before heading back toward my hostel. There is so much of Paris I want to see and too little time. One thing about long-term traveling is you have to find time to do mundane things like laundry and buying a new computer charger, so I am going to try to tackle this tomorrow while seeing more of the city. I also booked a ticket to the Louvre on Wednesday and plan to spend the entire day there…stay tuned!
Hi, I’m Gracie, a 28 year old New Yorker, native Alabamian, law student, and lover of travel. I’m excited to share my journey with you.
I started this blog to encourage and inspire people to travel, no matter their age, background, or prior travel experience. I left the US for the first time just a few years ago, and recently I’ve had the opportunity to travel across 5 different continents–just me and and my trusty backpack! I hope the information and stories I share will help readers travel with confidence and purpose. I also look forward to using this blog to share my thoughts about current events within the US and around the world in an effort to promote dialogue and understanding across the political spectrum.
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” – Sylvia Plath