25 x 25 (Five Cities I Visited)
My 24th year took me to Europe for the first time! But I also did some exploring on this side of the Atlantic making trips from D.C. to Boston to Nashville to Los Angeles.
June of 2017, I landed in the Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris thus beginning my first European excursion. After navigating the airport, a train, a bus, and walking several blocks to my hostel in one of the less savory quartiers, I was feeling less elated than I was exhausted to be in the city of lights. All of that was quickly overtaken by curiosity and joy as I explored what Paris has to offer. Even though people say not to get sucked into the tourist traps, you really can't help it. It's Paris! So yes, I soaked in the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay, the Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame, Champs D'Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe. But I also used a lovely little city guide from Anthropologie to explore shops and eateries a bit off the beaten path. On my second trip to Paris (in the course of the same trip to France), I made my way to Versailles. Incroyable is the only word to describe the chateau. Every room had a significance and a story to tell; every painting, a meaning to convey. I spent three hours just touring the palace and only glimpsed the gardens. I'll save those for Paris round three! Travel Tip: Say "bonjour" (buhn-joor) for a greeting and "bonne journée" (buhn-joor-nay) for a farewell. Also, go and see the Champs d'Elysées but don't eat there. Other than Ladurée, the restaurants are mostly overpriced and the quality isn't as good as other restaurants in the city.
I can't imagine a more delightful place to spend seven weeks studying French than in the south of France. Montpellier, a city that boasts France's oldest medical school, in operation since 1181, has a surprisingly youthful feel. There are layers of history from the Roman occupation to the Napoleonic era to the present day. Tucked in the medieval corridors are modern art galleries and strolling the ancient streets are young musicians exercising their craft. Cobblestoned paths lead as easily to boisterous music festivals in the city center as they do to ancient cathedrals with bell towers solemnly chiming the hour. Even as the 7th largest and one of the fastest growing cities in France, Montpellier has an intimate and charming vibe and was easy to explore via the city tram. During my first week there, I met two fellow travelers and French learners; a young lady from Brazil and another from England. Together we took in as much as we could that Montpellier had to offer from the nearby beaches to the wine, music, and art festivals that occurred on a weekly basis. Choosing to reside with a local was undoubtedly the best decision. Living with my mére d'accueil (host mom), Françoise made all the difference in terms of my language learning and overall enjoyment of the experience. She will definitely be a friend for life and I so look forward to a return visit. iTravel Tip: Get the 24-, 36-, or 72-hour city pass. In addition to discounts or free entry to many of the citiy's cultural offerings, it comes with a built-in tram pass and most of the city is accessible via the public transportation.
Barcelona is one of the most beautiful cities I've seen. Since it was only a three-hour train ride from where I was staying in Montpellier, my friend Natalia and I made a weekend of it. The city is so vibrant and alive, especially at night (not least because in July it is approximately a million degrees during the day). The architecture is so diverse and intricate revealing the history of the city with one quarter belonging to one artistic era that blends into or conversely contrasts with the structures belonging to another era. Of course, Gaudi's famous handiwork is prominent throughout the city and foremost among his workmanship is the Sagrada Familia. Experiencing the Sagrada is completely worth the long lines and huge crowds. It stood in sharp relief to other European cathedrals I'd seen up to that point. The most striking aspect of the Sagrada is the history and legacy. The cathedral is a work in progress. Gaudi and his fellow designers knew the work would far outlive them and over a hundred years later the work is still being done; their vision is still being brought to life. Travel Tip: Take a city bus tour then go back to some of your favorite spots to spend more time.
To and from France, I had layovers in Iceland thanks to using an Icelandic airline. I took advantage of the opportunity to explore a bit on my way back to the U.S. by separating my flights so I could spend two days in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik. Iceland has an otherworldly quality which makes it understandable that authors like Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were inspired by the stunning landscapes there. I was unaware before I arrived but being there in mid-summer meant that the sun never fully went down. It was eerie and beautiful at the same time to look out the window at 3 am and see the sun still hovering over the ocean. Also unexpected, Reykjavik is VERY expensive. The only thing I could afford to eat there were the hotdogs wasn't so bad since Icelandic hotdogs are famously delicious being made entirely of lamb meat (sheep outnumber people on the island three to one!) As intriguing as the people to sheep ratio is the Icelandic accent. I took a city walking tour and my tour guide, Eiríkur (or Eric as he had us call him), had the most lilting voice. It sounds like a mix of Irish, Scottish, and Norwegian which makes sense when you learn about the history of Iceland (keyword: Vikings). To make a long story short, save up your króna and go to Iceland. Take the walking tour. Eat the hotdogs. See the northern lights. Travel Tip: Pack a jacket and closed toe shoes but wear layers. The temperature likely won't get above 60 degrees Fahrenheit but in the sun you may want to ditch the jacket.
5) Los Angeles
Since both of my parents grew up in Southern California this was not my first visit to the city of angels. But it was my first solo adult visit as my last trip to the citiy was over ten years ago. The youngest of my aunts took me in over memorial day weekend and gave me a whole new perspective of the city as we ate Korean BBQ in Koreatown, trekked the hill up to the Griffith Park Observatory, chowed down on some tacos at Grand Central Market and browsed the Japanese store, Muji, in Hollywood. Downtown LA is a lot grittier than I remember but the pedestrians are law-abiding, unlike moi. I tried to use my Boston street crossing standards (read: if there's no car coming, I walk, walk sign or no walk sign) and was quickly redirected to the path of truth. I jokingly informed my aunt upon arrival that I expected at least one celebrity sighting during my trip...and I got one. We took a jaunt over to Malibu and ran into (okay, saw sitting at a table) Gerard Butler at the restaurant we chose for lunch. Cha-ching! That restaurant, along with every other culinary experience there, was excellent! Thank you for the memories, LA, I'll be back for more.Travel Tip: For downtown, take the metro, but for ease of transit to the many neighborhoods in LA county, rent a car.
This is the second part of a five-part series documenting my 25 x 25; twenty-five things I read, tried, saw, did, and learned before my 25th birthday. Check out the rest of the series below: