Me, Myself and I(taly)

This is the beginning of my 11 day solo journey across Italy. I will travel 7 cities and 7 towns by train; marveling at the works of great Italian painters, exploring the winding streets and canals of each city and indulging in plenty of pasta, pizza and gelato along the way. It will all culminate with Easter mass at the Vatican.

I’ve been asked why I decided to go on this trip alone, and the question has completely dumbfounded me. Why wouldn’t you want to go on an 11 day trip to Italy alone?

Solo travel is a beautiful thing that I think people should do more often. I love being alone. I happen to think I make great company, so naturally I like hanging out with myself. It gives me clarity and allows me to be the master of my own time. As anyone who has traveled with me knows, I love itineraries and they’re much easier to accomplish when I’m on my own. Also, it’s nice not having witnesses to the amount of pizza and gelato I will consume in the next week and a half.

Yes, there are moments when I wish I had someone by my side. My heart drops whenever I realize I am lost and don’t have anyone to help me. That’s when I remember that people are good, and if you are good and kind and you smile, they will help you.

So today, when I got off the metro in the center of Milan, and my heart was racing because I was devastatingly lost, I smiled and asked around until the good people of Italy helped me find my way to my Bed & Breakfast.

After grabbing gelato for dinner, I was taking photographs of the Duomo when I went inside to discover an Easter concert under the direction of a world renowned Italian conductor. I sat inside the Duomo di Milano, the 5th largest church in the world that took nearly six centuries to complete, marveling at the stained glass windows and high ceilings while an Italian choir sang the Romantic operas of Verdi.

Within hours of landing in Italy, I had already found that cliché movie moment that every traveler hopes for: when everything falls into place and life is so beautiful that you’re not quite sure if you should laugh or smile or cry.

With a little faith that God is keeping me safe, plenty of asking for directions and a stack of train tickets in hand, I cannot wait to see what adventures Italy has in store for me.

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Duomo di Milano by night

 

Turkish Hospitality

I loved Istanbul for many reasons: the rich culture, amazing food, friendly cats and gorgeous mosques. However, what made me fall in love with the city was the Turkish people; I have never felt more welcome in a foreign place than I have this past weekend in Istanbul.

I wandered out of their mess of an airport around four in the morning, and hopped into a cab. The driver didn’t speak a word of English, but he smelled nice and we listened to Smack That by Akon and the Turkish version of I Will Survive. When we reached my friend’s apartment, without me having to ask, he gave me his phone so that I could call her and even waited at her staircase until I was collected, which I thought was very kind and a great first impression of Turks.

For the next few days, everywhere Kristi and I went we were greeted with smiles and an eagerness to help and to give insight into Turkish culture.

One night, we were smoking hookah at a water pipe cafe when we struck up a conversation with two Turkish men, Serkan and Ismail. Within minutes I was seated next to Serkan learning how to blow smoke rings and getting local food recommendations. They later joined us for dinner, and in the spirit of authenticity, ordered sheep intestines and fried mussels, which were surprisingly delicious. After dinner they insisted that no trip to Istanbul was complete without a stop at Karaköy Güllüoğlu, the most famous baklava house in town, and happily drove us there on their way home.

Usually I am rather cautious about the whole getting into cars with strangers in foreign cities thing. But, by that time they were no longer strangers, they were friends, and you could tell that they genuinely wanted us to enjoy and to understand their city.

On Monday, while exploring Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, I wandered into a lamp shop and met Ozzy, who immediately invited me in to have tea with him. The Turkish say that a cup of tea bring fifty years of friendship, and it is very common for shopkeepers to offer you apple tea. We chatted for a while about life and travel, then he took me out for hookah at an incredible 300 year old cafe, filled with only locals. Afterwards, Ozzy proceeded to accompany me on my shopping trip, haggling for the lowest possible prices in Turkish.

Ozzy taught me a Turkish saying that I will never forget, “Çok okuyan mı bilir, çok gezen mi?” which means:

“Who knows more, reader or traveler?”

When I travel, I talk to locals as much as I can because there are things that you simply cannot learn from a book or TripAdvisor. The people of Turkey showed me great kindness, and helped me discover many of Istanbul’s hidden gems, and for that I am forever grateful.

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My poor attempt at learning how to blow smoke rings with Serkan.

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Hanging out with Ozzy in front of his lamp store.

Paris is Always a Good Idea

After countless macaroons, croissants and éclairs, and being dangerously close to developing type two diabetes, I have returned from Paris.

Even though I had been there two summers ago, I was excited to see it during the winter. Also, I love being called Mademoiselle and Madame, and where else can you get that but in the most romantic city in the world?

In one weekend, I managed to see practically the entire city and I am convinced that my hidden talent is making itineraries. A few highlights were the Arc de Triomphe, Moulin Rouge, Sacré-Cœur, Eiffel Tower, Champs-Élysées, Place de la Concorde, Palais Garnier, The Louvre, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Notre Dame and a day trip to the Palace of Versailles.

Our first day of exploring the city, my best friend and I decided that we were going to climb the Eiffel Tower. It was cheaper than taking the elevator and there was no line, so naturally it was a great idea.

In retrospect, how could climbing 704 steps during winter ever be a good idea?

I trudged up the seemingly endless stairs, thinking about how having three croissants for breakfast maybe wasn’t the best call and how I should probably start jogging again. Making it to the top of the Eiffel Tower was a rewarding, albeit disappointing experience. You see, what most people fail to realize is that you can’t actually see the Eiffel Tower from inside the Eiffel Tower. And frankly, Paris’s skyline isn’t much without it.

Later on, after a stop at Ladurée for their renowned macaroons, we visited the Louvre Museum. We went to see the Mona Lisa and Venus De Milo, because let’s be real, those are the only two things anyone actually recognizes there. I really did enjoy the museum, though. Mostly because there are so many naked people and I really like naked people. No really, you should see the butts on some of these statues of Romans and Greeks. Unreal.

We spent the next morning strolling through the Père Lachaise Cemetery, and I have to admit that this was my absolute favorite part of Paris. It is the one of the world’s most famous cemeteries and it’s residents include Frédéric Chopin, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. It was beautiful and eerie, yet calm and comforting; I could have easily spent a whole day hanging with the dead.

My final verdict on Paris is that it’s quite nice. What it lacked in handsome French men, it more than made up in croissants and macaroons. I would love to return one day, and hopefully experience the romantic side of Paris, because unfortunately there was no French kissing in France this past weekend.

Side note, from here on, please refer to me as Mademoiselle Pauline.

This is the view I enjoyed while sipping rose from the bar of the 56th floor of Montparnasse Tower. Casual.

The view I enjoyed from the bar on the 56th floor of Montparnasse Tower.

How I survived a total of 24 of travel (And unsolicited advice on how you can too)

Be polite to airline personnel.

At the airport, they are god. Do not underestimate them. Ask them how their day is, say please and thank you. I got a free upgrade to business class on my connecting flight, an extra bag checked for free, unlimited international phone calls and a ride across the expansive airport just because I was nice to everyone that I came across.

Smile often. At everyone. Always.

I got an extra Belgian waffle at the café I was eating at because the clerk liked my smile. Smiling is pretty much the secret weapon to getting whatever you want.

Refresh, I guarantee you smell.

Nothing feels better than freshening up after hours on a plane. Wash off your makeup and reapply it fresh, change your shirt and reapply deodorant. Also, change your underwear; it’s a total game changer.

It’s okay to cry.

If the world is falling apart around you and you are tired and you are hungry and you missed your connecting flight and you don’t know what you are doing or where you are going and no one is picking up the phone and you do not have Wi-Fi and all of your bags are too heavy and your arms hurt from carrying them and you are sweaty and gross and really need to take a shower and you have a wine stain on your shirt: CRY. Cry for a minute, then quit being a bitch and get your shit together.

Call mom.

Just do it. She’s probably worried about you and needs to know you haven’t been abducted. Also, she’ll talk you through your mini 18 hours of traveling break down.

Belgian waffles are clutch.

Belgian waffles are clutch.

“Be brave. Learn a lot. And know that God is always with you.”

I leave for Barcelona today.

Naturally I had about a million errands to run. I was nervous and stressed, and going 100 miles per hour. I had forgotten about the joy of my upcoming adventure and was letting my last few hours at home slip away.

Comfort came in the form of kind words from the most random of places, my dry cleaner.

My dry cleaner is one of the kindest and most hard working people I have met. He knew that I was going abroad and saw that I was stressed, so he told me about how he came to America in 1979 not knowing anyone or any English. Now, he has a thriving business, a daughter with a masters degree and a son in industrial engineering at Northwestern University.

Then he smiled at me and said, “Be brave. Learn a lot. And know that God is always with you.”

I think I’m ready now.

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