“You pass through places

And places pass through you

To carry ‘em with you

On the souls of your travellin’ shoes.”

–The Littlest Bird

The Be Good Tanyas

Because of the above stanza, this song was my favorite as I train traveled through Europe. I felt like it perfectly described what I was doing this summer.

I didn’t know exactly what I was learning as I traveled or what I was giving to these places that I visited, but I was there. And that in-and-of-itself is significant. (I know, I know, my depth astounds you.)

So we kind of left you, dearest readers, on a cliffhanger ending. We were both looking forward to going home, and then we stopped blogging. For that I apologize.

Instead of spending my journey home constructively blogging, I watched three movies and three television shows. I even watched Gnomeo and Juliet (and that was the best movie I watched, I kid you not).

I just wanted to be home, and I couldn’t focus on anything as sophisticated as “summing up my thoughts” or “rethinking one of the most important journeys of my life.” It seemed like a lot of pressure.

But now I have been home for all of three days, and I feel up for the challenge (kind of).

 First, here is a quantitative review:

Number of Countries Visited: 7

Number of Cities Visited: 19

Weeks Spent Abroad: 6

Number of Times I Cried Due to Homesickness: 2 (I am proud of this)

Number of Girls: 2

Number of Europes: 1 (Everyone keeps mocking us for calling our blog “2 Girls 2 Europe,” because there is obviously one Europe and not two, but the second 2 is meant to convey “to Europe.” Just wanted everyone to know we were aware of how many Europes there are.)

Now, here is a more qualitative overview (aka here is the section where I talk about what I learned. And you see that I am clearly full of sage wisdom … not):

1. I don’t want to be one of those people who travels all the time.

I like routine and being in one place and knowing the place where I am really well. I never have thought of myself as a homebody, and I wouldn’t quite put me at that extreme end of the spectrum. However, I am someone who likes knowing a lot about a place. 3 days in one place is not enough to know it.

I came to this realization on one of our last days in London. We watched a couple enter the Indian restaurant where we were eating. They were regulars and they kissed the cheeks of the waiters and commented on the new chairs. They didn’t even have to order.

I missed being able to do that. In London, I was still a stranger. I was not a part of the community. I was just another tourist. I love being a tourist for a bit, but it does get old.

This led me to the realization that I will definitely be someone who travels in the future, but not someone who travels all the time or spends their life on the road. I like being home.

I like being a regular.

2. I have never learned so much about people than I have in these six weeks. I can’t sum up all that I learned, but I will try!

If you think about it, these six weeks were basically a giant sociology experiment. What is the rest of the world like from the eyes of twenty-year-old outsider?

Turns out, people everywhere are pretty much the same. Some are awesome, some are weird, and some are mean. But European people are not scary or outlandishly different. Different cultures, sure, but the same old people.

Furthermore, from watching all of these people interact I learned three important lessons about humanity: being polite goes farther than you think, some jokes don’t translate the language border, and people are generally good. They are trying to help you, not follow/stalk/kill you. I think these lessons are critical to my success as I continue in my life. (Especially the joke part, because I rely on those heavily in my daily conversation.)

Overall, this trip was six weeks of people watching. And people are cool and passionate and interesting.

This also taught me, in case I wasn’t already sure, that I must have a job where I work with people. I love people.

3. I am stronger than I think. This was a pretty cool lesson to learn. Gina and I learned that we each had different strengths and weaknesses, as all people do. I struggled with second guessing myself, with directions, with over planning, etc.

But I also learned that I can talk to anyone. I can read a map when push comes to shove. I can take a bad situation and remain optimistic. I am a strong person. I am someone that I am proud of. I am sure that sounds gaggable, but shouldn’t everyone be proud of the person that they are?

I know that those are only three lessons, but they are important to me. I think you learn more traveling than you do in most other environments, because you are directly confronted with history/people/racism/sexism/[insert your favorite –ism here]. You have to see the world as it is, and see yourself for who you are. (Where is this “deep Jessie” coming from?? I couldn’t tell you.)

But after all of this learning, right now, I am just glad to be home. A place where I know the best place to get coffee, and I can use the dollar, and I can call my boyfriend who is the same time zone, and I can wave at my neighbors who have known me since I was six. And I am enjoying every minute of being home with my friends and family whom I missed dearly while I was abroad.

I don’t think of my adventure as fully over, because every day I am realizing more and more the impact of my trip. And it will continue to change me. Or maybe I am already changed and I am just now seeing it. I couldn’t tell you.

I can tell you one thing I did change. My shoes. They smelled. But they were my travellin’ shoes, and for now, they are on the shelf.

With love from my home.

Jessie

P.s. The thing I miss most from traveling? Gina Edwards. It is really hard to be separated from her. We are truly friends for life now. 2 girls 2 europe 4 life.

You know those news reports about people trampled at Wal-Mart on Black Friday? Those stories horrify me enough to avoid large crowds of shoppers at any time of year. Anywhere.

So how on earth did I end up at both Harrod’s (a mammoth department store) and Camden Market (a huge street full of shops and booths) in London these past couple days?

Let me lay it on you.

On one of our last days on the grand continent of Europe, we decided to take it easy and just do a little shopping in lieu of real sightseeing. Nothing strenuous. So Jessie suggested Harrod’s, a place she had visited with her dad when she was ten.

“It’s worth seeing,” she insisted.

I agreed, due to lack of energy/other plausible ideas. My first mistake.

We entered the 7-floor behemoth in the cosmetics section, where perfumes and pretty people ruled.

Jessie smartly obtained a store map from one of the employees dressed in a sleek black pantsuit and we pulled off to the side to decide our plan of attack, like military officers in unfamiliar territory.

“So what do you want to do?” Jessie queried, flipping through the pages.

“Hm, I don’t know. They have everything here, right? Where’s the book section?” I replied.

“Let’s see…there’s men’s wear, shoe salon, beauty, fashion accessories, food halls, women’s wear and shoes, home decoration bed and bath…” she rattled off, for several minutes, finally ending with “…and sports and leisure.”

Guess what items did not make the list (hint: it was books).

“Ok then,” I sighed. “I might like to take a look at the tennis stuff…and maybe the stationery?”

After this deliberation and some more furrowed map reading, we had an agenda. But first, we had to make it out of the makeup.

Which meant dodging the perfume people—our biggest obstacles.

As these ministers of fragrance patrolled the counters of product, their shiny black heels clacked against the marble white floors. They stood like guards at their various stations, offering spritzes of perfumes more expensive than my college education to passersby. I nearly gagged on the fumes as we strolled behind a woman who stuck her arm out for every single scent.

Eventually we escaped, unscathed, but with whiffs of Chanel at our tails. A necessary sacrifice.

We then sought the escalators, which happen to have themes. Cause, you know, why ride an escalator to the next floor unless you can feel like you’ve entered EGYPT? Seriously. A pharaoh head stared at me while we rode into glittery, pyramid themed upper floors.

“This is like a playground for rich adults,” I murmured.

Nearby, a chubby American with a point and shoot camera gleefully captured these magical moments on the escalator. Jessie said that she couldn’t wait to ride the Mesopotamia-themed one, and to be honest with you, I still don’t know if that was a joke or not.

Jessie wanted to go into the Harrod’s Gift Shop to look for a makeup bag, so I followed. Essentially, it contains all the crap you absolutely don’t need to buy but do anyways because it costs comparatively less than anything else in the store. Wow, a six-inch Harrod’s teddy bear for a mere £15 pounds (or over $20)? What a steal.

In about five minutes, I became claustrophobic and angry. At least six people lunging for various crap products had bumped me, while I contorted myself around corners to avoid knocking over a display of tote bags bedecked with maps of the London metro system.

Time to go. I corralled Jessie into one of the registers so that we could vacate the area.

“Is it always like this?” I asked the cashier, gesturing toward the throbbing mob beyond.

“Oh this isn’t even busy,” the man replied with a little chuckle.

During the remainder of our stay at Harrod’s Shop of Horrors (as I now call it), we encountered everything from £400 (about $650) skimpy lingerie to a pen worth £15,000 (about $youdon’tevenwannaknow). Various employees looked me up and down, glared at me and completely ignored me. You know how Anne Hathaway feels at the beginning of the Devil Wears Prada when everyone’s judging her appearance? Well, no one ever showered me with fashionable clothes, but I imagine we felt similarly.

I hit my limit when we couldn’t find the café, so I directed us out in my trademark “I-will-kill-the-next-thing-that-moves-if-I-don’t-get-out-of-here-soon” face. Jessie knows it well. Ask her for an impression next time you see her.

And leave we did. I felt tempted to give a swift kick to one of those obnoxious life-size Harrod’s teddy bears on the way out, but I resisted. Would have been quite the stand against capitalism, no?
You might think that this experience would have deterred me from further shopping while in Londontown.

Ha! No. We made time for Camden market.

Now, neither of us really knew much about Camden market. We had planned on going simply out of others’ suggestions for us. In anticipation, I wondered if maybe it would have remnants of the farmer’s markets back home, with local products and neighbors milling around in a peaceful, quaint setting.

Oh, Past Gina. So naïve.

I should have known the extent of the madness we would soon enter when we disembarked from the Underground. Hoards of people pushed toward the turnstiles, while a God-like voice barked at people to
“KEEP MOVING!”

Shit, this might be bad.

Once we finally fought our way through the throngs of sweaty shoppers we made it to the street. I glanced down the road to survey the situation. My eyes met a disastrous scene.

There’s a part in the movie War of the Worlds when Tom Cruise happens to have the only working vehicle in a 100-mile radius and he makes the wise decision of driving it through a crowd of apocalypse-crazed people. The taxis and buses motoring down Camden Town must feel a little like Cruise. Although I think they despise those running amok just a bit more.

We soon realized that we had forgotten to take out money before we arrived, so we joined the line of impatient market-goers at the nearest ATM. We stood behind a lady in a flowered shirt who apparently needed to perform at least five transactions right then. Jessie and I mocked her while we waited, to the amusement of a Spanish girl in front of us.

See, that’s how you make friends, kids. Unite against a common enemy and destroy them with mean-spirited jokes.

Once we had gained a few pounds (see what I did there?) we forged ahead into the heart of the market.

Around us, little stalls touting sundresses, sunglasses, sandwiches and slews of other souvenirs vied for our attention. Store employees perched on the sides of the street tried shoving fliers for discounted tattoos (questionable) and “amazing sales” at me while religious zealots spouted their philosophical garbage at passersby. If you would have thrown in some casinos and strip clubs it would have been just like Vegas.

We spent some time browsing, haggling and yes, buying, but after a couple hours my patience waned faster than a boner in a cold shower.

Purchases in hand, we disappeared into the depths of the tube station with about 8,000 other sweaty tourists and called it a day.

All complaints aside, Harrod’s and Camden Market really are worth your time, even if, like me, you tend to avoid such places. At the very least, like me, you’ll make it out with your life and a pretty baller purple Volkswagen jacket.

V-dubs


Gina

Posted by: 2girls2europe | July 29, 2011

The City for Lovers (and Jessie and Gina): Paris in 2 Days

Dearest Readers,

So we thought, Paris in two days. How hard can it be? Turns out, it’s next to impossible.

All I can say is we did all that we could. Which also means that no, we probably didn’t see the obscure thing/your favorite part of the city/that one secret cafe everyone cool knows about it. We didn’t really get to know the city, but I feel that we successfully completed “Paris: A Beginner’s Guide.”

Our hotel was close to Gare de Nord and Gare de L’Est (two train stations), which was great for early morning trains to London (like we did today) but unfortunately was not great for going into town. We were about 20 or 30 minutes from city center by metro.

But … just for the record, I love metros. You never know what you are going to get: the cute baby gurgling at you from across the aisle, the really good violin player who is just busking for a few extra dollars, or that one window that gives you a fun house mirror reflection (I kept having to remind myself that there were people around so I probably shouldn’t make all of those crazy facial expressions I so enjoy).

Sure, you get the occassional creeper/homeless man, or claustrophobia-inducing packs of people (sometimes you are so smushed up against your neighbor that you permanently acquire their stank on your clothes). But still.

Gina, on the other hand, does not like metros. She hates not being able to see the light, which is totally understandable. Therefore, going everywhere on metros is not her cup of tea. So we tried to maximize our time in the city and minimize our time on the trains.

On our first day in Paris, we walked from the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower. From the outside, the Louvre is just plain massive. I had no idea how big it was. We got lost just trying to find the glass pyramid.

We Louvre-d it (yes a kid we met really did make that joke)

Once we successfully took several touristy pictures by it, we wandered along the Seine River, passing buildings we wouldn’t really understand until the next day on our Sandeman walking tour.

Then we spotted it.

There it was, peaking out over the tree tops, appearing and reappearing between low rooves: The Eiffel Tower.

When we finally reached it, it truly was awe-striking; this huge, metal structure that we have all seen a million times in movies/postcards/posters/calendars. It’s iconic. I felt like I was meeting a celebrity, and I didn’t quite know what to say.

Gina and I just sat beneath it and looked up observing all of its parts and pieces up close. We decided to save walking to the top for when we returned with our significant others. Gina and I love each other, for sure, but we felt the walk to the top was for real lovers.

Ah the Eiffel!

The next day, we walked around for 4ish hours on the Sandeman New Europe free walking tour. We saw all the major sights on the Axis of Paris, and we saw the Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, the Montmartre Sacre-Coeur Church (from a distance), and many many more that I should know but have honestly just forgotten their names.

My favorite was the Bridge of Artists (Pont des Arts) that connects the Lourve to the Institut de France (the building that preserves the French language from the evil English). It had all of these artists working on different paintings down the middle, and the sides were covered in small locks hooked to the chain link edges. Couples put the locks there to “lock in” their love; they precede to throw the keys into the Rhine to show that their love is forever.

I was torn between thinking the “lock in the love” concept was gaggable and thinking it was kind of adorable. I suppose it’s a little bit of both? (I’m leaning more toward vomitous to be honest.)

Overall, Paris really was beautiful. However, this trip has taught me a vital lesson: I am not a big city person. I would love to live in the outskirts of a city, so I could go in when I like. But, I don’t think I could live in one and have to deal with the smog/crowds/crazy shenaniganry (a Jessie word) of a large city on a daily basis.

The other problem is that when we have limited time to visit a place, big cities are just harder to conquer. We can’t see it all in one day.

But I digress. After our walking tour, we decided to head to the inside of the Lourve. We arrived with two hours to see it all before it would close. Oh dear.

Now, I should say from the outset that Gina and I are not really art people. I love to look at it, but I don’t appreciate it as I should. I even told Gina that I feel guilty sometimes being in these amazing art museums, when I can’t begin to know the significance of the various works. So we definitely didn’t do the Lourve justice (when Gina read this she said Lourve justice sounds like a bad dance move…hee hee).

We wandered through the various exhibitions that we found interesting such as this makeshift city made from Palestinian and Israeli stones. We found the armless wonder of Venus de Milo. And of course, we stumbled upon the Mona Lisa. (That’s sarcasm. You can’t stumble upon the Mona Lisa in the Lourve. There are about a million signs wither her face on them and large, child-like arrows to lead the herd of cattle who have come to see nothing else.)

To really understand the craziness of the Mona Lisa, read Gina’s post. But it was kind of just like the pictures I have always seen only … smaller. It’s practically 8 x 10. It was really cool, but I couldn’t get within 10 feet, so I couldn’t really study it, you know? And I think I elbowed several elderly people and squashed some small children to get that close. (Collateral damage, you know.)

After the Louvre, we ate some dinner in a nearby French bistro where the wine was literally cheaper than the water. Oh, France.

Today, we are on our way to London (we had to get up at 6:30 a.m., so if this post is particularly snarky, you know why … me + mornings = not friends).

We can’t believe that we are on the final leg of the trip. We are back where we started! We leave the day after tomorrow. That feels weird to even type. And I will be honest with you folks, we cannot wait to be back in America. For now, we are just excited to be in an English speaking country (small victories).

With love from the most romantic city of all: Paris!

—-
Jessie

Posted by: 2girls2europe | July 28, 2011

Mona Lisa? More like Don’t-a-Lisa.

Seeing the Mona Lisa is a humongous, steaming, smoldering crock of crap.

A little harsh, perhaps.

I had low expectations going in, as every savvy traveler really should. I expected a painting the size of an embarrassing 8×10 school photo surrounded by a bunch of weirdo tourists clamoring to get a shot of it with their iPhones.

And uh, I found just that.

But let me back up just a second and clarify: we essentially had one day in Paris. We spent part of it on a Sandeman tour (see Jessie’s post) and the rest at the Louvre.

Aw look so excited for the Louvre!

So we dipped inside the museum as two typically art-unsavvy individuals ready to take on the bastion of the art world. Sorta.

I should mention this as a very practical tip about the Louvre: don’t go in the main entrance.  You know, the one by the big glass pyramid you saw in the Da Vinci Code? That’s the dum-dum entrance.

No, readers. Go in the LION ENTRANCE, RAWRRRR. (I think it’s actually called the Porte de Lions entrance, but whatever.) Seriously though, we saw not another soul try to enter there. We didn’t even have to “queue,” as our British tour guide so cutely informed us. And finding the Mona Lisa from that entrance only took about 5 minutes.

Speaking of the Mona Lisa, we found her. Thanks to the Louvre’s oh-so-helpful “Louvre-for-Dummies” map and the little arrowed signs on the wall stating, “Mona Lisa this way, you uncultured piece of manure.” Ok, they didn’t really say that. But they should have.

We ventured into the room, preparing ourselves for madness. Because of her high placement on the wall, I could see that smirky betch easily above the bobbing heads, even from across the room.

My first impression? Wow, she looks the same as she does in textbooks and on TV and in magazines and documentaries and posters and calendars.  This is just like the time I saw her a million times before. Nevertheless, I walked onward.

Before we allowed ourselves to become swept up in the writhing cacophony of “Lisa Fever,” as I’d like to call it, we deemed a meeting place at the far corner of the room. That way, if we got separated and I didn’t come back in 5 minutes, Jessie would know I had been trampled by fanny-pack wearing, massive-camera toting, by-George-there-she-is, crazy ass tourist.

Luckily, I became bored with it quite quickly (as I tend to do in art museums—sorry snobby readers) and backed out of there, trying not to run over the short people grunting behind me.

As we left the room, I looked over my shoulder at the clothed orgy of people pressing themselves in on the little painting.

I sighed and shook my head. Crazies.

Then we looked for coffee, feeling accomplished.

Gina

Dearest Readers,

I am in love … with a walking tour company: Sandemans New Europe Tours. Yes, it’s true, I have two copies of their brochure on me at all times. Yes, it’s true, I have recommended them to anyone I have ever met in a hostel/hotel/street corner. Yes, it’s true, I actually want a t-shirt, so I can be an official walking ad.

Gina mocks me, because whenever we get to go on a Sandeman tour, I get all excited and squealy … and I sing “The Sandeman Can” to the tune of “The Candy Man Can” from Willy Wonka.

Which has been frequent, since we’ve gone on Sandeman tours in Dublin, Edinburgh, Berlin, Prague and Paris.

Here’s how they work: You show up at a designated time (normally at 11 a.m. or 1 p.m.) and get a number. You are then assigned a tour guide, and you are taken on a three and a half hour FREE walking tour. FREE. Let me just say that again: FREE. (And don’t worry, half way through you get a pee/coffee/snack break.)

Because the tour guides work on a tips-only basis, they are crazy enthusiastic and passionate about what they do. If they don’t do well, they don’t receive the tips to sustain themselves–simple.

This tour company also offers separate tours through specific areas in each city or night tours, but usually have a cost. For example, in Edinburgh, we went on a ghost tour for 8 pounds. (They also took us all to a pub after and we each got a free drink.) And as for specific area tours, in Paris, they offer tours of Montemarte and Versailles. The company also hosts pub crawls in every city.

Are you seeing why I love them so much? I do have to concede that some tour guides are less interesting than others, but this I can guarantee: You will learn more about the city you are visiting in that 3.5 hours than you ever thought you could (and better than you ever learned it in AP European History, because you are actually there in all of these places).

Some cool facts I’ve learned:
–The name Dublin came from the Gaelic words for Black Lake, since one such lake used to be in the city center.
–In Edinburgh, everyone celebrates a dog that went to its owner’s grave every day after the owner died. I should just point out now that I dislike dogs, so I thought this was dumb.
–The architect of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin didn’t tell people what the memorial represented, so everyone could interpret it as they pleased.
–In Prague, this evil Nazi general that was in charge of Germany’s occupation of the city died, because he demanded German blood when he was attacked and the blood didn’t reach him in time.
–In Paris, there were over 650 dog poop related accidents reported last year. Oo la la, Paris.

See how the facts and stories run the gamut from actually informative to just plain silly? That’s why I love it. You never know what you are going to get, but you are always intrigued.

Plus, if you go on the tour, they will take you to a cool restaurant for lunch afterwards, and they can recommend quality hostels. What can’t the Sandeman do?!

With love from Sandeman Tours in Paris.

—-
Jessie

Dearest Readers,

Strasbourg is another winner. A town brimming with croissants, crepes and cathedrals. How could you not fall for France?

We love Strasbourg!

We had so many highlights: posing as if we were on the Titanic, a boat tour with a pirate, angelic butts, Cathedral light shows, homemade crepes, traditional Japanese curry, Steelers fans and “Panty-Dropper” wine. (That was a preview of what’s to come in this blog post. Are you intrigued? Did I get ya hooked? Did I? Did I?)

On Sunday, we arrived in Strasbourg and wandered around. All of the homes have small windows popping out of the attic, so that even the rooves look welcoming.

oh Strasbourg!

Our host Julien, a friend of HTC grad Tom Wagener, led us to a classic Strasbourger dinner: cream pizza. Instead of tomato sauce, the pizza is topped with cream sauce, ham and cheese. The crust is thin and crunchy like pita chips, and I ate six pieces without taking a breath between bites. It was that good.

Our host Julien had another friend staying with him, also named Julien. No, readers, in case you were wondering, not every man in Strasbourg is named Julien. So for the remainder of this post Julien 1 is our host and Julien 2 is his guest, for clarification purposes. (We loved them both equally.)

The next morning, we awoke to find the best croissants of our lives waiting for us. Gina and I each had one filled with chocolate and split one filled with almond paste. Almond paste may sound foul, but it was delicious. It was thick, sweet and nutty mixed with the thin, flaky croissant.

Bellies full, we set off to explore the city, which was easy seeing as how Julien 1’s apartment is located right by the city center. We could stick our heads out the window and see the cathedral. We were that close. Julien 1 showed us that if you look at a specific point over the main entrance, you can see an angel standing on a man who is flashing his butt at passersby. You can see his … um, crack, if you get my gist. I love knowing the secrets of these cities (especially if it involves angels mooning us).

We stumbled upon a boat cruise complete with English audio guide, but it turned out (as it normally does with audio guides) that it chose to share the most uninteresting facts ever unearthed by Strasbourgers such as: “Sauerkrat is a delicacy is Strasbourg. You might find this fact amusing, Sauerkraut is actually from China.” (I am not exaggerating here, those are actual quotes.)

Listening to the audio guide

So, of course, Gina and I switched to the kid’s audio guide narrated by a pirate and his talking parrot Coco. They shared exciting facts like which towers were jails, to which Coco added “BRRRRRAAAAAHHH to the dungeon BRAAAHH!!” We preferred this version without a doubt.

We then went to the Tomi Ungerer Museum. He is a satrical children’s illustrator in the United States and France. It was wicked cool, but we couldn’t take pictures there, so it is hard to explain his style without imagery. (Google him!)

That night, Julien and Julien (I think they could make the male version of Julie & Julia) took us to another classic Strasbourger restaurant in an old winery. Julien 1 ordered us what he and Tom Wagener have nicknamed “panty-dropper” wine, aka, it can drop the panties of any girl who drinks it. (Don’t worry, all of our panties stayed firmly in place.) But the sweet, fruity wine was delectable, and both Gina and I gorged ourselves on it and chicken and speatzle, a Strasbourg pasta made with egg and potato.

The Julien pair walked us around the best area of Strasbourg called “Le Petite France,” which is bedecked with winding streets and medieval bridges. It’s moments like these that make me think, “Wow, I’m really doing this.” I am in France, wandering the streets, laughing and joking as the French language swirls around me.

Look at Strasbourg by night!! (I am so proud of this picture taken on a point and shoot)

But that mature moment quickly passed when we found a playground with a boat-shaped play set. Gina and I posed as Jack and Rose from the Titanic at the front. (We had to. It was a boat shaped play set.)

I had to be Jack...

Next, we headed back to the Cathedral, but this time we viewed it from the streets. Every night in July, there is a light show on the giant cathedral in the center of town. Yes, the light show is actually on the cathedral. Think the light show on the Beauty and the Beast castle in Disney, only less kitschy. The orchestral music started and the blue, red, orange and green lights danced across the massive cathedral. I cheered like a child on Christmas.

The light up Cathedral!!

The next day, Gina and I wandered through the shops. We sat with baguette sandwiches and eclairs by the river in La Petit France, and then, we headed to the top of the cathedral.

Someone must have forgotten to warn us that we had to climb five hundred million stairs (an exact statistic) to reach the top. I thought my quads were just going to leap out of my legs and surrender, white flag and all.

When we finally reached the top, however, it was worth it. To our right was Germany and the Black Forest, to our left was France, and right below us was Strasbourg. We just sat and looked at the clouds and listened as music wafted from the city center (a band was sound checking a new venue; they were really good).

View from the top!

For dinner, we helped prepare traditional Japenese curry (and by helped, I simply mean Gina and I peeled potatoes while the Juliens cooked). “Japenese cuisine is not all sushi you know,” Julien 1 joked. And he should know, his fiancé is Japenese, and both Julien 1 and Julien 2 are Japenese culture aficionados.

Julien 1 chopping!

Julien 1 was having a dinner part with a few friends, and we felt home among friends as we sipped more “panty-dropper” wine and tucked into the spicy Japenese curry (the curry had meat, carrots, potatoes and onions, so it was like an American stew but hotter). For dessert, Julien 2 slaved in the kitchen to makes us homeade crepes.

Julien 2 crepe-ing!

How does life get any better than when you are sitting in France, sipping wine, and you go for your second nutella crepe still warm from the pan? It doesn’t.

So just as we felt at home in Strasbourg, we had to leave. It also probably felt just like home to me, because Julien 1 is a HUGE Pittsburgh fan. He loves the Steelers, and he has a picture of the city (the Point specifically) hanging over his bed!

Oh Strasbourg, we will miss you, but we are off to Paris now.

With love from Strasbourg and almost Paris!

—-

Jessie

Posted by: 2girls2europe | July 27, 2011

Sweeping Generalizations

“Hey Gina, have you ever been to Spain?”

Seems like a simple enough question, but I received this little sarcastic quip many a time after my first study abroad trip to Spain in my sophomore year. Because, of course, I could never stop talking about it and it got a little old to some people.

This first taste of Europe enticed me to return as soon as I could. I had loved Spain, and I knew that the rest of the continent would impress me just as much. Hence, this trip.

Well, as round two of “Gina terrorizes other countries” comes to a close, I can’t help but think about the similarities and differences between Spain and the rest of Europe. In case you haven’t been following the blog throughout the whole adventure (and why the hell haven’t you?) we visited the following: England, Ireland, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland and France. Allow me to make a few sweeping generalizations about several unique and culturally significant countries for the sake of brevity and so I can maximize the number of people I offend.

Shall we?

Samesies (things that Spain and the rest of Europe both do)

1. Everyone’s signs suck.

Hey Europe, this is Gina calling. With my contacts in, I have near perfect vision. I can see signs from incredibly far distances, and can squint with the champions of the world sun-staring competition. This said…

MAKE BIGGER SIGNS. Would it kill you? I know you think those little blue signs are quaint. You know, the ones you arbitrarily decide to stick on street corners when you feel so moved? Yeah, those ones. Quaint, but in no way functional. This is real life, not Disney World.

We do a lot of things wrong in America. Tons, in fact. But by George, we have pretty good street signs.  10 points for America.

2. Ragamuffins.

Fashion sense. I have enough. Sure, I can match general color schemes. I know that color combos like blue/black and brown/orange go great together, and that you should never wear white…um…before? Labor Day. And I’m one of the lucky ones!

I don’t care what country you come from in Europe, you walk out of the house looking damn good. You wear your clothes with the confidence that yes, your outfit does look great. No matter what. Suspenders with parachute pants and snow boots? You go, girlfriend. Even the kids look like they just walked out of a Banana Republic ad. It makes me just a smidge self conscious when a 4-year-old looks fiercer on a normal day than I do on a Saturday night.

Unless you run into a teenager or a rotund American tourists, graphic tees do not seem to exist. The next time I see a shirt emblazoned with Bart Simpson or “Git-R-Done,” I might faint.

 

Not-so-samesies:

1. R-e-s-p-e-c-t—find out what it means to me.

So, in Spain it’s perfectly normal to trot down a busy street, only to get cat called and whistles thrown at you constantly. I can’t tell you the number of times I heard (in Spanish) such insults as “Get off my lawn!” or “Your zipper’s down!” or “Stop petting my dog!” So traumatizing. But seriously, it was like Spaniards had never seen a woman before.

In the countries we visited this time around, we encountered next to none of that obnoxious speech. Sure, we got stares (this may have been because I always seem to have something on my face) but it pretty much stopped at that. Or maybe I’ve gone deaf. Both equally likely.

2. Do or do not, but it turns out, it’s okay to try

Jessie and I both speak Spanish. As we’ve joked to the many people we’ve met, it’s served us tremendously well so far. Except not at all in the least. We’ve resorted to mumbling basic phrases and miming our way through most situations. But, in every country where we’ve attempted to speak in their language, we’ve received smiles and laughs and pats on the head for our troubles. Ok, I made up that last one. But still, they appreciate our effort.

The Spaniards tended not to be so gracious. They would usually snort, and answer us in English. The exception: cute old men. Those guys tended to like young American girls. Go figure.

So there you have it. Just a few reflections, blanket statements, etc. Feel free to comment with your angry retorts and offended statements. But only if they’re nice.

Love,

Gina

Gina

Dearest Readers,

So we have less than one week left. Six days to be specific. And if we could sum up how we feel right now in one word, I can safely say that mine would be tired.

Don’t get me wrong, this trip has been amazing and exhilarating, but it has also been exhausting.

For six weeks, we we have lived as perpetual tourists. We live out of backpacks, buy only 3 days worth of groceries at a time, and never leave the house without a map.

We don’t ever quite fit in. Just as one place starts to feel a bit like home, we move to the next one. And that is starting to get old.

Again, I don’t want this post to sound negative. Like, “wah wah wah, I am backpacking through Europe, pity me,” but I want it to be realistic.

I hate when people go on amazing trips and all they do is sugarcoat it and act as if no problems ever happened and they had the time of their life 24/7. We love it here, but we also have bad days and tired days. And we are ready to head home soon.

This is me, in Geneva, loving it, but about to lift off to fly away home!

Today Gina asked me what is the first thing I can’t do in Europe that I am looking forward to doing when I get home.

Gina voted that the first home-related thing she is going to do is watch crappy television and call people on her phone (international rates are the worst). I voted that I am just going to walk around my neighborhood and say hello to everyone I already know in English, then I am going to wash my clothes and use an actual dryer so they shrink back to normal size. It is going to be magical.

Her question really got me thinking, so I have compiled the following list of things I am looking forward to when I get home (other than actual people of course, because that list would be way too long):

1. My mom’s cooking, my stepdad’s baking/cooking, and my dad’s grilling. Especially Mexican food. They don’t have that much in Europe. And it would be nice to know what’s actually going into the food I am eating as opposed to ordering off of the French/German/Czech menu and praying that what I have ordered does not include gelatinous meat.

2. Being in the same timezone as my boyfriend and all those that I miss in Athens and throughout the East Coast. I can actually talk to them at a normal people hour! Huzzah! And on the phone if I want! I might even text them! I’m clearly living the American dream.

3. The following appliances/furniture: a dishwasher, a dryer, a hairdryer, a toaster, a toilet that doesn’t flush with a button, my laptop, and most of all, MY BED AND MY PILLOW. It will be mine all mine, and no Gina will try to sleep cuddle me in the night (she doesn’t do it on purpose, I assure you).

4. Speaking to people in English. Seriously. The number of times that I have said “danke” (German for thank you) even though I am in France is astounding. Keeping track of several languages is quite the conundrum.

5. The U.S. Dollar. I never thought I would miss George quite so much! I just want to stop having to convert in my brain to try to figure out how much I am spending.

6. Driving my car and blaring my music (yes, it will probably be country music, feel free to judge me). I am going to drive myself places, and I won’t use any metros/trains/planes/cabs/buses … Tra La La!

There are more things I look forward to being, such as “not being emotionally and physically drained” and “not feeling on edge all of the time,” but they are more emotional and therefore harder to explain (and less fun).

But, never fear dearest readers, while I look forward to a lot, I still have one week left and I don’t plan to wallow. This week is going to be full of Strasbourg/Paris/London fun times. My plan is to throw myself into this week with all that I have. I want to relish it and live it up and exhaust myself further. A bonus is the more time I spend running around, the faster home apporaches.

And I am so close to home I can almost taste it (no seriously, I am like picturing my mom’s chicken and cheese enchiladas in my mouth right now).

With love from Strasbourg.

—-
Jessie

Dearest Readers,

So we ended up spending an extra night in Basel thanks to the gracious-ness of our Basel-ian host, Robert. We spent that extra day in the adorable French city of Colmar.

Colmar!!! (look at it, look at it, look at it!)

We had planned to go to Brussels for 24 hours, but then we figured out actually, we would have little more than 12 hours in Brussels and 10 hours of travel. Um, no thank you. (And yes, in case you were wondering, we are turning into old, tired women who just want to be in one place … constant traveling will do that to you.)

So we had this whole extra day to play with, and we thought to ourselves, we can do whatever we want. With the Eurail pass, all we have to do is find a train and we can travel for free (well, free in the sense that we paid $800 for the pass months ago).

Gina and I discuss frequently the amazing-ness of the train system in Europe. We can just hop on a train and go to a city hours away. Imagine if the United States were connected like that? If we could just catch a train from Chicago to Pittsburgh or from New York City to Charleston. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

So, with a little research and some advice that I had written down from a random French lady on a plane, we chose Colmar. This is a travel lesson, ladies and gentlemen: always be kind to your fellow plane passenger, because you never know when they may randomly be from Basel and can grace you with helpful tips and facts that you wouldn’t otherwise have.

Colmar, like most places we visited from Basel, was an hour away. We chose it because it seemed small and quaint and looked, from the Google images, like a small French version of Venice complete with blue, gushing canals and delicate, multi-colored storefronts. And the best selling point? Low chance of rain. We were so there.

And let me just say, Colmar lived up to the hype. We arrived, found a map, and set off to the old town.

Side note, Gina and I have mastered how to conquer a city in a day: Find the map, pinpoint the area that seems to be important (usually denoted on the map with a lot of tourist attractions) and wander that direction, stopping at shops and purchasing pastries whenever we are so inclined.

Badah-bing, Badah-boom, we’ve seen the city. Now, we may not hit every historical artifact or important cathedral, but we discovered that isn’t really what we remember anyway. We remember how we stumbled upon the best baguette or the cutest cupcake or the sweetest shop owner.

But back to the story. We first wandered into Colmar, and what do we find, but a large square full of bursting fountains. So of course, we stopped to dance about in them. (And the statue of a man with huge toes.)

Fountains!!!!!

Toe!

Oh Toe!

When we hit the city, we discovered a critical and definitely historically significant statute: a giant Rubik’s cube. (Unfinished, in case you were curious.) Do we know why it was there? No. Did we love it anyway? Heck yes. We took pictures pretending to solve it, har-dee-har-har, we are so clever.

Solving it. NBD.

Next, we meandered through the streets burgeoning with beautiful buildings. We stopped on the bridges and just admired the winding canal. We stumbled upon a giant market that reminded us of the Athens Farmers’ Market. It was full of food and pastries and meat and veggies from the area. I had a small cream-filled mouse pastry. (Ears of almond, of course. I decided I would like mice a lot more if they all had almond ears.)

D'awwww

Then, we found an art festival brimming with handmade jewelrey and purses. Oh snap, that is a dangerous place for two low-budget twenty-something girls. I ended up buying an enameled glass ring for 18 euros, and at a different shop further along, Gina bought a floral ring.

Jessie's Ring

Well, now that we were full and fashionable, we headed back to Basel to watch a movie and spend the night in before heading to Strasbourg, France today. (We hope to similarly master Strasbourg … wish us luck.)

With love from Colmar, Basel and soon, Strasbourg.

—-
Jessie

Posted by: 2girls2europe | July 24, 2011

The Tragedy in Oslo

Readers, I must inform you early on that I’m taking a break from my normal snarky attitude and sass for a post. When tragedies such as Oslo, Norway occur, it is only necessary.

I found out about the attacks like everyone seemingly does these days: social media. From there I immediately I scanned the news sources I typically read online, and switched on the only English-speaking TV channel available to me: CNN International.

There I witnessed images, bloody and graphic, with grief-stricken and fearful faces scrambling to regain a sense of reality.

I sat back and tried to ingest the brutal reality before me. What has happened?

I don’t consider myself particularly well-read on the politics of European countries, but Norway has always seemed to me a stable country, one of neutrality and few enemies. Certainly more than my own homeland. So why would terrorism strike such a place?

After an hour of watching the news, I couldn’t bear to watch the images that reminded me of 9/11 New York City anymore. But I continued to follow the story online as it progressed.

I woke up the next morning to updates of death tolls and suspects. My heart wrenched as I read of eyewitness accounts and incoming details. Such a normal, everyday place troubled by the turbulent waves of senseless violence.

I felt it only appropriate to reflect upon this tragedy in regards to my travels this summer. Why am I traveling? Simply to fulfill a youthful urge to “see the world”? To “meet new people”? To “experience life”? Or am I traveling for something more? I would like to think so.

Sure, the practical skills and life knowledge I have gained from this trip will serve me well in this life.  I can now navigate even the most complicated metro system with ease, order food without offending the waitress and even successfully use a map.

But beyond these assets, my travel experiences have enriched me in ways that I deem far superior in importance. By immersing myself in these places, meeting these people and learning about these foreign cultures, I begin to truly care about all of them in a personal way. And with care comes the desire to learn from and understand them.

I believe that those who wish to terrorize in this world do so out of fear more than any other emotion. Tragedies such as Oslo painfully remind us of our shortcomings in creating a world of tolerance and peace. We need environments where we pacify such fear with education, rather than reactionary suspicion and attack.

So as I begin to shift my gaze toward the Atlantic, back toward my home, I carry these aspirations of improvement with me. I’m not so naive to suggest that if more people traveled, the world would be a better place. Only to say that for myself, it has served as a great educator in helping me see the connections that bond us as humanity, rather than peoples. And that I wish that in the future, we recognize these ties more than the boundaries.

My thoughts are with those in Norway, and with those who have ever had to suffer acts of senseless terror. May we use these tragedies as reminders of the work left to be done.

Gina

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