Category Archives: Grand Adventure 2018

Proof for my father that I haven’t died during six weeks in Europe and Lebanon.

Esmeralda: The Cat That Hates The World

Today, because the wifi went out in Zouheir’s apartment (which apparently it is really common in Lebanon for the power or the internet to just disappear – though not for 4+ hours like it did today), I spent the day catching up on work that I have been neglecting for the past five weeks. This also meant that it was only me and the cat, alone, together, in the apartment.

For a bit of backstory, Zouheir’s cat was the sweetest little kitten, lovely and social to everyone. Until he went to France for university. Since then, Esmeralda has hated him and all strangers (I think she feels abandoned maybe?) and it only got worse when Zouheir’s sister left for France too. I am also allergic to cats, so while I like them, they make me sick… (literally) A single cat scratch on a normal human takes about a week to heal. On me, it takes 3 months (I know because this was tested last year after I visited a friend with a very adorable, claw-loving kitten).

Esmeralda and I had come to an understanding. She would creepily hide, often in places where I would find her and jump because she scared the living hell out of me (one time so badly I ran out of the room; I think she enjoyed it), and I would generally leave her alone. This has worked for the past four days. But not today.

First instance: I went into Zouheir’s room, looking to see if he left me the apartment keys. There was a bump under the sheets in his bed. I thought this was weird. So I touched said bump. And it moved. Esmeralda had somehow gotten underneath TWO LAYERS of sheets and was ‘hiding’ in his bed.

Second instance: Esmeralda wasn’t happy that I disturbed her bed-resting/hiding-place, so she ran away and perched herself on top of the refrigerator. Waiting. For me to walk into the kitchen. And be in the perfect spot for her to swat at my head. It is a very lucky thing that she is declawed (which generally I disagree with, but she would have probably killed me by now if she wasn’t). To her luck, I did just that, because I was too stupid to look up and realize she was waiting for me. (Side note, this swatting of people in the head from her safe position on top of the fridge is a favorite past time of Esmeralda. It occurs anytime a human does not please her. Or when she just feels like it.)

Third instance: Esmeralda wanted to drink water. I wanted to be helpful. So I turn on the tap for her, so she can drink easier. This pleased her. Which was my cute to try to pet her. One centimeter away from finally being friends, she changed her mind, viciously swatted at my hand, then ran away and perched on the fridge to observe me from a safe distant (and swat at my head should she be so lucky as to get close enough).

Fourth instance: Esmeralda, in her desire to scare the living hell out of me, literally JUMPED OFF THE FRONT DOOR AND MADE THE LOUDEST SOUND POSSIBLE. To scare me. Which she did. I think it was her way of saying ‘leave human, you are in my space and it no longer pleases me.’

Fifth instance: Again, I tried to make peace by helping Esmeralda with drinking water. I thought she was okay with this – I was wrong. Almost immediately after helping her she jumped off the counter, came to my feet and started coughing. I thought she just had a hairball – she didn’t. She instead threw up at my feet then ran away, leaving me to clean up her mess. This cat REALLY hates me.

In my defense, this cat literally hates anyone she meets – I’m not the only one. She does this to Zouheir too, and his mom, and his friend, and for his dad, she didn’t even get off her hiding place on top of the cupboards. This cat just generally HATES people. But at least it is fun to narrate her thoughts?

P.S. Dad – I’m alive, and thankfully have no cat scratches. And I don’t think I want you to die so I can have a cat anymore.

That Time We Nearly Drove to Israel…from Lebanon

Recently I posted a photo showing Zouheir and I’s almost-trip-to-Israel. I thought ya’ll deserved the full story: (PLUS a bonus audio retelling of this story [complete with lots of nervous laughter], because the only way I could figure out how to audibly tell it was to tell it to myself – though, warning, it was really hard to explain this story so it isn’t my best quality).

 

So what had happened was…… We were trying to drive to the beach for the day. There is a beach that Zouheir really likes to go to, and this beach is close-ish to the Israeli border but he just didn’t really think about it (Lebanon is so small, pretty much everywhere you go is close-ish to a border). So we are driving along and we get there, (side note, it is currently the off season, and the place we were trying to go to literally doesn’t exist during the off season…but we didn’t know that) and it is basically just an empty beach – with some locals – but there is nothing, absolutely nothing. It is just a flat patch of land, a sand dune, and then the actual beach (plus some trash thrown around because, well, all of Lebanon has trash thrown around – still a beautiful country, though, don’t get me wrong).

 

So, we are looking around and looking around, and we are thinking ‘Well, google maps has gotten us wrong before, we nearly went to Syria yesterday (a story for another day), so maybe google maps got us wrong again.’ We decide that we can walk to the beach and see if maybe we see anything from there. At this point I desperately need to pee so all I want is to just find a place that I can pee.

 

So we walk onto the beach and there is nothing. Absolutely nothing. And we both look at each other super confused. But there is a town in the distance and in my mind I’m thinking ‘we are not walking to this town’ – Zouheir wanted to walk to this town and that was not happening – so instead, ‘why don’t we get in the car and we drive there, so then when we get to the town we will figure it out, we’ll at least be able to ask directions.’

 

We get in the car, we drive along, we keep driving because we can’t figure out how to get to this town, we keep driving and then we get to a military checkpoint. In Lebanon, military checkpoints are fairly common along roads (there is one super close to Zouheir’s house – its actually part of the reason that ISIS has never been able to take hold in Lebanon), but this one is more intense and we realize it is actually a military base type thing that was also connected to a checkpoint.

 

So we get through and we keep driving, and there are banana fields everywhere, and I look over and I see a UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) tent – and I’m a nerd, so I know exactly what they look like – and I’m like ‘ummmm, I don’t think I saw what I thought I saw.’ So we keep going a little bit further. I see another one. And then another one. So I say “Zouheir – we’re in a refugee camp” and Zouheir responds “Nahhh”, and I counter, “Yeahhhh, we’re in a refugee camp, we should probably turn around.” So he is like “yeah, well we are not really getting anywhere” – because in front of us is nothing, absolutely nothing, just banana farms.

 

So we turn around, and this is a very fast – what in America would be a state highway with one lane for each direction but cars going 60+ miles per hour (90km per hour), and no one wants to stop and let us turn around. And there is no actually place to stop and turn around. But there is no reason for us to keep going when we are like ‘we are driving into a refugee camp, this is a bad idea.’ So we finally turn around and go back through the check point, go back to where google maps had originally sent us, and we’re thinking ‘okay, we’ll go the opposite direction; we’ll go to the town right next to us.’ And it turns out it is a very beautiful town. It’s called ‘Tyre’, and it has a very resort-ish, beach front – (not as nice of a beach as the one we were originally going to) but still beach front -restaurants and hotels and walkway.

 

So we are driving along trying to find a parking spot and we see United Nations blue helmets – which is pretty much anyone who works in a peacekeeping mission, but these weren’t normal peacekeeping mission, this was military peacekeeping mission (because again, I’m a nerd and I know what they look like). And I’m thinking ‘ummmm, wait what? Why is the UN here? And military UN no less?’ Early we had seen a UN van, so my brain had already been on – ‘Where are we? Why is the UN here?’ We keep driving and we see another UN van.

 

So we have to turn around, and we have to go back by the Blue Helmets, and Zouheir is telling me ‘you can’t take a photo of them, like you absolutely can’t’ – which makes sense. Potentially there could be repercussions on the workers should there be photos of them out there. But I still have my phone out and I’m thinking ‘ahhh I how they don’t think this is me taking a photo of them.’

 

Finally we park, and we decide that we are going to go try to find a place to eat – because I still desperately need to pee, but all of the excitement has kind of put that on the backburner for now. So we are walking around trying to figure out where to eat, but I am intrigued so I want to walk towards the blue helmets. Because they are just chilling in their giant military van, just sitting on it with another van next to it (which I thought was the UN HCR people but we actually figured out it was Lebanon tourism people who were wanting to shoot a video but they couldn’t until the Blue Helmets left). So we walk by them – and we end up finding some beautiful Roman ruins. Only could not figuring out how to actually get in to the Roman ruins so we give up, turn around, and walk back to the restaurant area. Eventually we decide we can’t find anything good to eat so lets just each burgers (in Lebanon, because why not).

 

The restaurant was very nice. It has a terrace overlooking the beach, and it has wifi so we can google stuff while we are eating. So we start investigating. And we realize:

 

  1. We are right by the Israeli boarder.
  2. There is a refugee camp right next to us.
  3. There is a UN mission that has been here for 40 years and that is what we saw.

 

But the reason we figured C out was that multiple UN trucks drove by while we were sitting, eating, and the license plate has the UN mission’s name and then numbers at the end of it. So me being a nerd, I knew when I saw ‘UNIFIL’, I knew exactly what that meant, so I googled it. So I’m like ‘ohhh, we are technically in a place that the UN thinks needs monitoring. That’s cool. That’s cool. Yeah that’s not…that’s cool.’ And Zouheir realizes something even better.

 

Technically in Lebanon Hezbollah is a political party, not a terrorist organization. So we are actually in a Hezbollah political area, which is also like ‘wait what???’ Because I’m still not getting used to that.

 

But yeah. So we didn’t die. We realized the actual area we were driving towards was Israel, and it was a good thing we turned around because we were coming close to being near that border, BUT (insert nervous laughter) when traveling with me…

 

 

P.S. Dad – I’m still alive. And I have some crazy ass stories to tell you.

Warning: May Contain Sappy Content

Today I left Berlin, heading towards Frankfurt to spend the night before my flight to Lebanon tomorrow. Thankfully nothing eventful has happened (yet) so I want to use today’s post to shout out to my friends that I’ve travelled with/stayed with/met up with during this trip. Some are newer, some are older, but all have made the past 4 weeks absolutely amazing. (Warning – this post contains extremely sappy material.)

First, my beautiful best friend and travel partner for most of this trip –

Lauren😘: I have 15 years of words to express how much I love and value you. But after all this time, I’m 100% sure you know how I feel (and if you don’t, you are an idiot haha.) You are my sister, and I loved our travels together, even when you wanted to kill me for not letting you stay in bed. And yay! Neither of us died! Even though Paris tried really hard to kill you haha. Love you girly; we can’t go another year before seeing each other again ❤️ (Plus we need to tour New Zealand together!!) I hope you are enjoying your week (or more) laying in bed doing absolutely nothing. I’m so proud of you for being so active the entire 3 weeks we were together! (But let’s be honest, I’m always proud of you girly! Sending you all the love in the world.)

Jana: Girl, you are awesome. And I hate we only had one afternoon to catch up. But it was one of my favorite afternoons of the whole trip! Between the Natural History Museum and Platform 9 and 3/4s, we made some really amazing memories. I know you are doing amazing things in the UK, and I can’t wait to come back and hear more about them next time I visit! (Or we could skype!!) Plus we need to nerd out about Harry Potter more together! 😂

Tringa: So many words. I know we are both sad that we missed Barcelona together, and that I got delayed by that insane storm in Edinburgh, but we still had an incredible time when we were together! I’m so proud of you and your perseverance in your masters degree (and that you decided to do your masters degree in the end!😂) Skotel was crazy, but they got one thing very right when they put us in the same flat! (With the beautiful Romina and Caitlin who I also love and can’t wait to see again). Thank you for hosting Lauren and I at your flat; and for hosting me in July too. You are the reason I love London ❤️ I can’t wait for our skype session tonight!

Elena: The fact that we didn’t hang out more in the Hague kills me. Because you are so much fun to be around. And you are one of my favorite people (with your clumsiness and all!) I absolutely love that we ended up having extra time together in Berlin (and that my last night in Berlin was spent over beers with you and Rebekah and everyone!) Even with your ‘tiny’ resume (which really it isn’t, you’ve done incredible things), I know you are going to go on to do some amazing things in life and I’m gonna be sitting there saying ‘I KNOW HER! SHE’S MY FRIEND!’ Until we see each other again ❤️ (hopefully in spain for a tour around the country!)

Sebastian: 🎼 I’m in the love with the shape of you 🎼 That song will always remind me of your beautiful voice and face. And now Ed Sheeran’s ‘Barcelona’ reminds me of you too. Your ability to party endlessly will always amaze me; you are the definition of “Work Hard, Party Harder” (because you are also one of the most intelligent people I have ever met). I’m sorry we never went out dancing like we had planned, but the trip was still amazing because of the incredible company we had.❤️ You are the best of us, and the heart and soul of the Skotel Balcony Police! Without you, the Hauge would not have been nearly as fun. I loved our time together in Barcelona, and I hope we get to see each other again soon.

Delphine: We’ve had our troubles, but you are extremely brave for recognizing your faults and working hard to make yourself a better person. I see a young version of myself in you, and I’m positive that you will go on to become a powerful, wonderful lawyer in Europe – surrounded by people who love and adore you! (Which you already are, because you are such a sweet girl.) Never worry about what other people may think about your age or how much you know – just be yourself, and people will love you. If you ever need advice or just someone to talk with, you know where to find me.😉

Vincent: I know we didn’t actually get to see each other, but I want to thank you for being so understanding when I had to cancel because Lauren got so sick ❤️ Next time I am in Paris, I promise I won’t cancel on our reunion!

Karol: You amaze me with all the incredible things that you’ve been able to accomplish, and that you like me enough to invite me to join you on your UN projects and at all of these UN conferences. Our in depth discussions about the Colombian peace process will definitely be one of my favorite memories from this trip. And the random creepers we met. (But girrrllllll – find yourself a nice boy! No more crazy ones!!!!! 😂😘❤️) The fact that we agree on so many things (including all of the reforms that the UN needs) makes our time together even better. Especially because I know that when you become Secretary General you are going to go down as one of the best in history! And I’m also gonna sit there saying “I KNOW HER! SHE IS MY FRIEND! Can I have a job?🤣” I don’t know how you keep convincing me to continue going to all these UN conferences, but somehow you do so I’ll see you at the High Level Political Forum in June!

And the best for last, Rebekah:

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for hosting me in Berlin, and really showing me the city. Thank you for making my first home cooked meals in the past month, and for introducing me to German futball culture. (Still weirded out that the police were totally okay with us drinking on the street. Germany. I swear.) Thank you for the extremely interesting political discussions, and not judging me too much when I said (and say) stupid things. Thank you for being my translator, my guide (for both travel and life), and for helping Lauren and I out as much as you have. You are an incredible, amazing woman and I’m so happy we’ve stay friends for as long as we have. I can’t wait until we see each other again! (And thank Roman for the schnitzel and potatoes! They were so good!😍)

There were a ton more people that I met along the four weeks, who all deserve shout outs too, but if I did that this post would be much too long. So for all the new friends I made – y’all are amazing and I am happy life worked out for us to meet! Hopefully life brings us back together again soon.🌎🌍🌏

And of course, tomorrow I will be with the incredible Zouheir and his family in Beirut, so I’ll have another shoutout to give an incredible friend soon!

P.S. Dad – I’m alive, and have some really amazing friends.

Respect and Common Sense, Please

Yesterday I went to the Berlin Zoo, and wrote a post about the need for respect by the patrons of zoos in general for the animals on display. Today I had a very similar experience, but this time it was humans being disrespectful at a memorial to the millions of humans who were killed during the Holocaust.

Most people know of this memorial. In the middle of Berlin, there is a large square with rows of concrete blocks which are of different sizes. And most people have seen pictures of people with at this memorial. From the surface, this doesn’t seem like that big of a deal – it is a tourist site, right? Pictures are okay at tourist sites, right? I agreed – until I went there.

The memorial is full of people running, jumping, climbing the blocks. There are children playing hide and seek. There are adults joining it. There are people taking (in my opinion, fairly insensitive) photos: doing yoga, posing between the blocks, completely lacking any introspection about what this memorial actually stands for. When you actually experience it, it is disturbingly eery and….just plain awful hearing people running and playing in a place that signifies the death of millions of people.

Respect. Education. Learning. Kindness. Introspection.

These are all things you would not think you would have to remind people about when you are visiting a Holocaust memorial. Or anywhere that signifies that death of millions. But it needs to be reiterated. If you are at a cemetery, if you are at a memorial, if you are in a place that may mean something extremely significant to someone – do not take selfies. Do not do yoga. Do not play hide and seek. Do not run around, laughing.

Simply put: Use common sense. Please.

PS Dad – I’m annoyed. But alive.

 

For reference, here is how memorial photos should look:

Zoos: A Love/Hate Relationship

One of my traditions when I am traveling is going to zoological parks or aquariums and staring at animals for hours. This may be weird for most people, but for me it is entirely normally.

 

This is because, from a very young age, I had always wanted to be an exotic veterinarian – meaning I would work at zoos. At nine years old, I attended a summer camp at NC State University where budding veterinarians spent two weeks learning the basics of veterinary school. Remember the crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin? I volunteered at his zoo in Beerwah, Australia during the summers of 2010, 2011, and 2015.

 

I love zoos – but I also think they are flawed. Which is why I find it so important to visit zoos and aquariums around the world. It is an amazing way to learn what places do right, and what they do wrong, so I can brainstorm how they can reform.

 

I think the trippiest part of a zoo is the primate house – these are animals that are our cousins, that we are extremely similar to, but we lock them in cages and treat them as entertainment for family outings. I fully support the necessity of zoos for education campaigns regarding the conservation of endangered species. But the number one thing I see in primate houses is a mob of humans crowding the enclosures with cameras at the ready to take photos of their genetic-cousins. Often there are children screaming; often adults trying to entice the primates into moving more. There is rarely ever respect for these creatures, only the desire to treat them as entertainment.

 

But if evolution had gone a little differently – we could have been the ones in the cages. (Side note – some deformed humans have been locked in cages and treated as entertainment. That’s where the term ‘Freak Show’ comes from.) And because we are so similar, you can truly recognize the emotion on the primates’ face. Sometimes it is happiness; sometimes it is sadness. And the sadness breaks my heart – these are magnificent creatures being treated as caged trophies for children’s entertainment.

 

I am not advocating for the boycott or closure of zoos. Zoos serve an incredible part in conservation; being able to see these animals in person creates empathy for their struggles and increases involvement in conservation. Growing up visiting zoos with my mother is how I gained such a love and compassion for endangered species. And many zoos do absolutely incredible work researching their animals to better learn how to preserve the wild populations. Most also have very effective fundraising campaigns for endangered species.

 

But there needs to be a change in the zoo patrons – instead of treating these creatures as features of entertainment for your children or your family, use your visit as an educational experience. As a transformational experience. Teach your children about the incredible adaptations animals have developed to perfectly fit their environment. Teach them the human fables about local animals, like that of the cheetah’s tear marks. Teach them about their struggles. Teach them about how we can help conserve these creatures. Teach them about how close these species are from being lost to the world completely. Teach them about the ones we have already lost forever.

 

Ultimately: Teach. Learn. Love. Treat Respectfully.

 

 

P.S. Dad – I’m alive. And definitely not opinionated, not at all, never.

Exploring Bonn

Today I wandered Bonn with Karol. It is a beautiful little town, with a Champs Ellyse style park into the main town. We sat and had breakfast/lunch, then split up and I wandered the city myself for a while. Which is when I came upon one of the weirdest sights I have ever seen.

At first I thought it was a group of students about to play Quidditch. I had seen this before, in university I had even played in one match (I was absolutely terrible). From all I could see, it seemed like this might be a friendly Saturday game of Quidditch.

It wasn’t.

Y’all, I have no idea what this game was, but it was not like anything I had ever seen before. Everyone had sticks with soft padding on the ends of them (at first, I thought these might be broom sticks). There was one player on each team that had a dodge ball attached to a string – which I thought might be the buldger (clearly it has been a long time since I’ve seen or played Quidditch.) When the match started, everyone ran out into the middle of the field and tried to hit each other with the padded sticks or the dodge ball. If you were hit, you sat on the ground with one hand behind your back for probably about 1minute, then you got up and started trying to hit people again. All the while, one player on each team carried what looked like a duct-taped water bottle and tried to get it into the middle of an overturned tire at the end of each pitch. Once the bottle was in the hole, the game restarted.

You know that feeling when you can’t stop looking at a car wreck because you are just too interested in how it happened and what is happening now? That’s what I felt like. So I sat on a park bench, probably for 30 minutes, just trying to figure out what the hell I was watching (and instagraming a bit of it, hoping someone else knew what this game was). Eventually I gave up and left, but my conclusion is this was some live-action version of a MMRPG that I have never seen or heard of, and apparently it is really popular in Bonn.

So everyone else can be as confused as I was, here is video of this ‘game’:

The things you see and learn, am I right?

P.S. Dad – I’m super freaking confused, but still alive.

How Does My Traveling Go So Wrong?

I wish I could say the train ride from Munich to Bonn was uneventful. But it wasn’t. It was very eventful. And I’m starting to think I am jinxed.

FIRST: I forgot that Germany is weird and has both reserved and non-reserved seats. But if you dont have a reserved seat, it is entirely possible that there are no seats available and you’ll just have to stand. Even for 5+ hour journeys.

A very kind older gentleman in Frankfurt helped me with this back on my 2016 EuroTrip, but this time I was on my own. Thankfully I found a seat that had been reserved earlier but was free for my 6hrs from Munich to Bonn. But it was sheer luck that I found the seat, and after a good 20 minutes of freaking out I finally figured out it was free and I wouldn’t have to stand.

SECOND: About an hour outside of Bonn, we stop at Koblenz. I’m working on catching up with journal posts, and blog posts, and some other random work, so I think nothing of it. Then I realize we’ve been stopped pretty long. Shortly after, a train attendant comes in to the other side of the train cart and begins to talk to the people there. Everyone looks really concerned, and they keep asking him questions. But OF COURSE it is ALL in German, so I have literally no idea what is going on. (Unlike the other countries where people realize I’m clearly not from there and speak English automatically, I actually look German so no one realizes I have no idea what they are saying until I give them the dear in the headlights look or speak to them.)

A few minutes pass. Some people are gathering their luggage and looking very disturbed. The woman one row ahead says something to me in German, which I just smile and nod to because I know absolutely no German (despite my best efforts – and trust me, I’ve tried really hard to learn – all I can remember is ‘Danke’ and um… whats the word for good morning again? Oh! Guttentag?)

An announcement comes from overhead – again, ONLY IN GERMAN. I’m sitting there thinking – “shit, what am I going to do? How am I going to get to Bonn? People are leaving the train, what should I do? Should I join them? Can someone just speak English please?” I start to look up trains to get to Bonn; maybe I could get a taxi? And right at the moment when I was going to get my luggage and leave the train, it jolts forward and we begin again on our journey to Bonn.

Great right? Story ends there? NOPE. Turns out there had been an accident on the train tracks, so the train was being diverted. But I didn’t know this. Because I don’t speak German.

Because I know something has happened, I have the google maps app open on my phone and am actively attempting to figure out where to get off. We roll into a station that is near Bonn, but it is across the Rhine River from where I’m actually suppose to be, so I’m thinking ‘Should I get off? Will they go to the other stop later? CAN SOMEONE PLEASE SPEAK ENGLISH?’ Frantically, I finally give in and ask the lady if she knows whats going on. Surprise – she doesn’t speak English… (I know everyone says Germans speak perfect English, but y’all – this is the only country where I regularly have crazy situations and not a single person will actually be able to speak enough English to tell me what has happened.) But thankfully this time, one person nearby does actually speak enough English to explain that we were diverted to this station, and this is the only stop for Bonn. So I grab all of my stuff and run off the train, while he is still explaining (which I feel really bad about it because it was super rude of me), and join the mass of people having to pick up their bags and carry them up and down the stairs of the station – because it is a tiny station not actually designed for these giant intercity (ICE) trains so there is no elevator or escalator or anything.

Okay, great, funny story. Done now, right? NOPE. I have no idea where I am, or where I am suppose to go. And the brilliance of this small train station – both directions of the above ground tram stop are named THE EXACT SAME THING. Minus a few letters. Plus, the place to buy tickets is across the train tracks. So I have to take my stuff across, only to figure out I need to be on the side which I started on, so I lug everything back. By this point there is no crowd, so I’m thinking I’m in the clear. TWO MINUTES before the train comes, another ICE train comes and drops off at least 100 similarly confused travelers.

Because it is such a small station and so far away from where everyone is suppose to be, and because every train has now apparently been diverted to this small station, everyone needs to get to the main station but the infrastructure at this station just cannot take that many people. Only it is late and people are stubborn as hell, so everyone is trying to get on this tiny tram. EVEN THOUGH THERE IS ANOTHER ONE IN 10 MINUTES. I felt like I was in China where the conductors force as many people as possible onto the subway and there is absolutely no personal space. Which in and of itself is pretty bad. UNTIL SOMEONE HORRIBLE SOUL DECIDED TO FART. And this whole time on the tiniest and most jam-packed tram, there is a group of teenage Germans in the back blaring early 2000s rap and singing along to it. Now, I love Pitbul, but I do not want to hear ‘Hotel, Motel, Holiday Inn’ while crushed in a tiny ass tram with the smelliest fart I have ever smelled in my life.

Funny, right? Must end there, right? NOPE. THE MAIN TRAIN STATION IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION AND THERE ARE NO SIGNS FOR WHERE THE BUS LOOP IS. So when I finally escape the hell tram, I cannot find the freakin’ bus stop to be able to get to my hotel. After 10 minutes of searching, I finally give in and decide to just walk it. It’s only a 15 minute walk; I’ve already spent that much time searching. I give up.

Now thankfully, the gods of travel smiled kindly upon me for once in this hellish trip. As I was walking away, I saw a group of buses heading towards a loop like they have at my university. Success! No 15 minute walk! One problem – my bus doesn’t come for another 10minutes…. Another myth about Germany – things aren’t always on time. Because for some godforsaken reason, the bus came 5minutes later and left 4 minutes before it was suppose to. A 5 minute ride later, I was finally at my hotel, explaining to Karol the insane few hours I had just had.

The pièce de rèsistance: This entire experience I’m texting my new German friend from Munich, and I’m pretty sure after all of it he thinks I am a horrible traveler who has absolutely no idea how to deal with Germany (which is half true. Germany confuses the hell out of me.) But I swear, this stuff just happens to me. I really am a jinx 😂

 

P.S. Dad – I eventually found my hotel. So I’m still alive.

Munich Isn’t THAT Bad

Last time I was in Munich, for some reason, I really hated the city. Maybe it was because it was snowing and a taxi refused to take me to my hotel because ‘it was too close’ (it was a 30minute walk away); maybe it was the distance from my hostel to the city center; maybe it was the cold I was getting or the pain in my knee after a month of backpacking with the 50lbs ‘Giant’ bag. Maybe it was a combination of all of these. But for some reason, I left Munich with a bad enough impression of it that I was questioning whether we should come here on this trip.

I was completely wrong.

So far Munich has been absolutely beautiful. It is small enough that you can really explore the city (unlike Paris, which you could live in for years and still not see everything). It is also close to the German alps and many beautiful castles. The people are very sweet, and the beer is amazing.

We took a day trip around the countryside to see the Neuschwanstein castle (which the castle in Sleeping Beauty was based on.) It was the one thing Lauren desperately wanted to see on this trip.

The countryside was gorgeous. There was snow everywhere. The castles were smaller than most of the ones I have been to, but you could really see the influence Neuschwanstein had on the animators of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. We couldn’t take photos in the castles, but here are some other ones:

The lion’s mane went full lion 😂 I think it sensed it was St. Patrick’s day, and it wanted to pay tribute.

We also learned that Lauren is not cold intolerant – she just doesn’t know what a heavy jacket actually is and has been wearing an LA ‘heavy jacket’ (its freaking cold, y’all. How she ever finds it warm I cannot tell you) this entire trip. We switched jackets for an hour – worst idea ever. As soon as we got back to the city, we bought her a real jacket.

P.S. Dad – (prepare for words you rarely ever hear) You were right, Munich doesn’t suck. But I may not survive St. Patricks day with all this amazing beer.

The Police are Everywhere

For most people, the presence of the police and the military is a comforting sight. For me, on the other hand, it is disconcerting. My brain immediately jumps to: “Okay, great, you are watching over the people. Trying to keep us safe. That is wonderful. But why? Is there some threat that you are responding to by being here?” Instead of feeling reassured, I actually feel more afraid – the police and military can only do some much; if there is a high enough threat for them to be here, there is still a chance the threat will become a reality.

Lauren is still reeling from her concussion, so I set off this morning on my own to take a tour around Paris before our train to Munich. Along the way, I start to notice there are significantly more police out and about than there have been the past few days. Their presence was especially obvious near the Conciergerie (which initially makes sense, because the main police headquarters is located in the adjacent building, and the Conciergerie is currently used as a law court). But when I’m saying obvious, I’m meaning at least ten police vans parked on the side of the road, with their occupants standing near them in full riot gear. Shields, body armor, the whole nine yards. On multiple streets. At some points, there looked to be more police than tourists walking about.

I messaged my Parisian friend, Vincent, to see if maybe he knew of a protest that could be the cause for this level of protection; he did not. But he brought up a good point – if there were an important court case, such as one regarding terrorism, the city may have increased its law enforcement presence just in case. So for the time being, I just assumed that must be the reason. During the rest of my tour around Paris, I saw police groups here and there, but nothing as extreme as around the Conciergerie.

Fast forward to the afternoon. Lauren and I arrive at the station for our train to Munich. (Y’all, we have left Paris and Lauren is still alive! Paris was not successful in its attempts to kill her!) At first, it seems pretty chill. People coming and going; some with bags, some without; many in a hurry to get to their destinations. Then I start to notice – there are armed guards everywhere. In our 50 minutes waiting for the train (we arrived super early just in case our bad luck struck again), we passed at least five groups of four to six armed guards each. Two of the groups were clearly military, with assault riffles in their hands, ready to be utilized (I’m sorry but an assault riffle with never actually make me feel safe. No matter who is holding it). Two were police groups, decked out in body armor, but no assault riffles. The final group was armed guards with ‘SNCF’ vests – SNCF is the train company, so my conclusion is these are private security hired by the train company for their passenger’s protection.

The groups all are strolling casually around Gare de l’Est. No one is questioning it. Many of the groups are laughing among themselves. But me? My mind is going wild with what the possible reasoning for this is. And I do not feel safe. At all. I can walk down a dark ally by myself in the middle of the night, searching for my hostel in Nuremberg – no problem. But give me a large armed presence, and you’ve got me scared. Even more disconcerting – the SNCF guards boarded our train before it was set to leave, and walked down every carriage looking at the passengers.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m very happy that Europe is so proactive and protective of it’s citizens. And I’m sure there is a valid reason for the military and the police to be present. Probably even a innocent one. Like Vincent also suggested, maybe they are just training. But for now, I’m just happy to be out of Paris and speeding towards Munich. Hopefully there will be less armed guards there.

P.S. Dad – still alive, and very well protected by all the police. Even if it does freak me out.

Paris May Be Trying to Kill Lauren

So far, in Paris, Lauren has:

a) Been stabbed by a staple hidden in a blanket at our hostel (no worries, we got a refund and moved to an AirBNB near the Eiffel Tower. The wound got a bit infected though, so I had to use my first aid skills to patch her up…bright side – she is up to date on her tetanus shot!);

b) Nearly been run over by a car (like within a few inches. If the driver hadn’t stopped, Lauren would have been roadkill);

c) Hit her head three times (resulting in what we now think is a concussion because she is disturbingly sick at the moment. Bright side – she can now say she puked off of the Alexander III Bridge 😅);

d) Was so delirious from the concussion that she tripped over a concrete block near the Eiffel Tower and had a glorious, horrible fall that scrapped up her knee and hand (more first aid, yay!)

In summary: Paris is trying to kill Lauren.

PS Dad – Lauren may be dead by the time we leave tomorrow, but I’m still alive – don’t worry.