The Backpacker’s Travel Essentials

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The Backpacker’s Travel Essentials by sassanista featuring Shawlsmith London I know from experience that choosing what to bring when your limited to only one carry on can be a rather tedious and somewhat daunting task. You’re probably questioning how you … Continue reading

Nuremberg, Dresden and Berlin, Germany!

Being in Germany makes me think of my Opa a lot, and wonder whether or not he ever walked down the same streets that I find myself strolling down. I’m not a huge history fan, but for some reason the … Continue reading

Paris, the City of LOVE!

Paris, France

DSCN1393_zpsb18febd9 Just the other weekend I enjoyed an experience that I have been waiting for for quite some time, all in the amazing company of my best friend. Paris, France has been a place that I have heard of in detail from members of my family, appreciated in pictures for years and have even caught glimpses of its enchantment in movies. Yet none of these have been able to depict the beauty and wonder of this amazing city. While at first I will admit that the Charlese de Gaulla airport was anything but appealing, and the outskirts of Paris lack the prestige of it’s city center, Paris still has not ceased to amaze me. I don’t know whether or not it was the surplus of immaculately dressed and handsome men who seemingly appeared out of nowhere offering their assistance whenever we became lost navigating the metro, the french language itself, or the lovely energy that Paris exudes that swept me off my feet. Either way, I’m happy with the overall outcome of our excursions.

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On the first day following our arrival, my best friend and I hauled across town to the outer city of Versailles. I’m sure that you can only imagine that this is where the magnificent Palace of Versailles lies. You know the one which Marie Antoinette became famous for when she naively exploited her country to afford her lavish lifestyle, and the enormous estate known as Versailles which is more or less a microcosm of its own. This out of all of the attractions that Paris has to offer, was the one that I wanted most to visit. Oh and did it live up to everything that it is said to be, in fact it exceeded my own expectations to a fault. While it was beautiful to tour the palace and view it’s impeccable paintings, furnishings, decor and overall appearance, I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was all just way too much. Too much to the extent that it was not only excessive, but overwhelming as well. I definitely experienced sensory overload between the scours of people pretending to be photographers, and the amount of beauty that was flooding my perception all at once. Needless to say it was a lot to take in. Marie Antoinette’s gardens and private estate on the far end of the property however, offered a quite sanctuary from the otherwise over-the-top palace. The gardens featured picturesque cottages which were every girl’s ideal of a doll house. A beautiful pond which was occupied by ginormous koi fish and outlined by weeping willow trees was perfectly placed in the center of her private escape. There were flowers growing wildly with abandon all around the area of her estate, which overall gave the presence of feminine perfection.

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As if none of this were enough, we spent our second day successfully navigating our way through town and touring the city center. We began at the notorious Arc’ de Triomphe, which if you hadn’t know is the huge arch monument that you always seem to see movies. From here we wandered along the famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées, which undoubtedly gives Paris its reputation as the fashion capitol of the world. Virtually every semi-upscale to extravagant store that you can imagine is featured along this street in buildings that are adorned with equally as fashionable architecture. It was quite a delight to say the least, and I managed to find a few pieces on sale that I have been adoring from afar for over a year. In fact, stumbling across the perfect pink blazer that I tracked down on pinterest over a year ago ON SALE and with only one left in exactly my size was sort of serendipitous. Needless to say, I was thrilled that t I went shopping in Paris and still managed to be a bargainista. Anyway, following continuing to follow Avenue des Champs-Élysées and eventually strolling over to walk along the Seine River led us to the Louvre and the lovely greens and Champs-Élysées Farris Wheel that are in front of it. Instead of spending hours looking at artwork in the Louvre, we decided to take advantage of the sunshine and drink wine while eating my favorite pastry, Pain Chocolat. I was surprised when the adorable french waiter who spoke little to no English, told me that my second glass of wine was on him. Who said the French weren’t accommodating to Americans? The day before another gentlemen gave us free Starbucks as well! As you can imagine I was appreciative. Continuing our day, my best friend and I did something that probably only we would ever do. Back in the U.S. she bought a lock for us to place on the well-known Love Lock Bridge in Paris, which two people who are in love or love one another place a lock on and then proceed to throw the key into the bottom of the Seine River as a symbol of their lasting love. Yeah we definitely felt the need to commiserate our amazing friendship and did so by simultaneously placing our combination lock on the bridge. While the legend is to leave a lock and throw away the key, I think that fact that we had a combination lock instead was the perfect metaphor for describing our friendship. Which in my opinion, is the perfect combination of our individual yet similar attitudes, interests, perspectives and ideals.

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Anyway, carrying on from our totally Romie and Michelle moment, we found ourselves at the Buddha Bar, an upscale and amazing oriental restaurant. Typically needing a reservation, we arrived just before the typical time for a Saturday night dinner and so we found ourselves at a table in a quite, low-lit, and intimate setting among a ginormous figure of Buddha. We each had what we consider the best sushi that we have ever had, the kind that makes you realize what the term fresh really means. From there, we found ourselves next door at what I can honestly say was my own personal utopia. The exterior of this adorable tea parlor was embellished with pink, white, an enormous bow. Inside we found ourselves surrounded in an environment that you would only see in a movie. Cupcakes, candy, macaroons, teacups, china, lingerie, whipped cream, frosting, and bursts of brilliant color popping out from the overall pink ambiance of the room evoked the sensation of euphoria on every level, from my perspective that is. My best friend isn’t much of feminine freak like I am, but she was the one who spotted the place as well as the one who faithfully sat and sipped tea with me although it wasn’t quite her thing. Overall, I couldn’t have imagined an even better ending to a perfect night. Well, that is until we walked over to the Eiffel Tower.

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The Eiffel Tower during the day may appear like a lot of whole lot of unimpressive metal to many people during the day, but its at night when the beauty of this masterpiece comes alive. The lights illuminated the structure, and as if that wasn’t enough we just so happened to be in Paris at the Eiffel Tower when the city was celebrating their National Holiday, Steel Day. There was an incredible lights show on display while we stood there in adoration and watched as extra white lights danced across the Eiffel Tower and it’s glowing gold structure. We couldn’t have asked for a better way to end an amazing weekend, which was highlighted by serendipity and stunning scenes which you would only otherwise see in a movie. Literally every attraction that I intended to see we stumbled upon my chance, simply by wandering the city and allowing fate to unfold. I’ll call it fate considering that little to none of our trip was planned, and we managed to safely and successfully backpack to and from Paris on our own. With that being said, I recommend that you all see the City of Love just once and allow it to open your eyes to the beauty of this world and the mysteries of life.

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Prague.

IMG_3912I arrived in Prague over a week ago, and ever since then I’ve felt like the trains that run non-stop across Europe. Prague is probably one the prettiest places that I’ve ever been. The architecture of the city is intricate and inspiring. The detailing that outlines every frame of each building makes me wonder why we no longer take the time to create such beautiful structures. Then again, I guess back in the day when these buildings were created they didn’t have as many distractions as we do today, and they actually had the time to assure quality rather than quantity. Being in Europe and meeting other travelers who are not only from here but who are from other countries as well, has shown me just how much the American culture accentuates quantity rather than quality, and work rather than play. People here and in other countries such as Australia are given an annual “holiday,” which allows them time to relax and/or travel while still getting paid. Such a concept in America is practically nonexistent. Also, the people here genuinely care about their environment and have so many different systems implemented that reduce their carbon footprint on the world. This is illustrated in the minimal amount of voltage they utilize in their electrical systems, how you have to pay for a plastic grocery bag if you fail to bring your own reusable one, and how you’re expected to recycle and separate plastics from paper and aluminum. Also, the food here doesn’t last as long as it otherwise would in America. Why? Because they use less preservatives and avoid foods that aren’t natural.

IMG_3910I’ve realized that I relate a lot more to the European perspective rather than the American. They are much more socially liberal here, and it’s not unusual to see a monument with men who are pissing all over the outline of the Czech Republic. Sex also isn’t considered a taboo topic, in fact they have posters of it all over the outskirts of the city. They don’t attempt to suppress things here that are really only natural. This is even illustrated in how they maintain the gardens that are dispersed throughout the city, flowers and other foliage here is left uninhibited to grow as it will. To me, this is sort of metaphorical of the overall European outlook on life. You act on your own inclinations, and allow me to act on mine. You be you, and I’ll be me…To each, his own. It’s probably this perceptive that contributes to the fact that Europeans drink more often than Americans, yet drink less than Americans. It’s not unusual for Europeans to hit up a pub after work, however they don’t do binge drinking and even find the idea of drinking excessive amounts of alcohol in order to get obliterated in a short period of time incomprehensible. Hence why they drink more often but less than Americans. Europeans don’t understand why American’s find drinking excessive amounts of alcohol while spending copious amounts of cash in order to blackout and not even remember their night enjoyable. To be honest, I don’t even understand why this seems to be the overarching consensus behind the American culture. It really doesn’t make any sense! For this reason, many Europeans find Americans obnoxious when it comes to the local watering hole.

This post isn’t intended to be an overall critique of the American culture however, it’s just that my stay so far in Europe has opened my eyes to the many areas of America which remain naive. For instance, the other day the Social Work program visited a Czech Prison in Prague and I was impressed with what I learned about the Czech’s criminal justice system. Having never visited a prison before I was a bit skeptical of the situation initially, but then we began to learn that Czech has one of the lowest incidences of crime and that criminals are not treated as such, rather they are treated like regular people who have simply forgotten the rules and prison is where they are sent to relearn them. I felt that this perception of prison was not only a very enlightened way of looking at things, but a very beneficial way to reducing crime. Similarly, Czech prisons and people do not support violence and they very rarely have cases of violence between criminals and guards. Why? Because they feel that violence cannot be prevented with more violence. Now, the Czech Republic is still a very new country and they seem to have grasped a concept that the American criminal justice system still has not.

There are many things that I miss about home however, such as the American language and actually being able to understand, and be understood by people. While many people can somewhat speak English in Europe, the fact that there are so many countries within Europe that speak different languages makes me feel inferior for only knowing one that isn’t native. So far the language barriers have been more foe than friend, and I now commend all of those who have had to immerse themselves in a foreign country and learn a foreign language. The things considered socially acceptable across various cultures also makes me miss being able to be friendly with strangers and offer them a smile without it being returned with a blank stare. Apparently Europeans can tell that I’m American immediately because I smile all of the time. Also, apparently staring into peoples eyes when speaking to them is a rarity to some British “lads.” However, if I ever thought that Americans were closed off as a culture, than living in Czech has given me a newfound appreciation for the “Southern Hospitality” that I have been blessed to be surrounded by my whole life. Czech citizens are entirely closed off as a culture, which is understandable considering everything that they have been through as a country within the past 50+ years. Their overall lack of trust and faith in life is highlighted in their blank expressions, and the fact that they are the least religious country in the EU. Being as open and bubbly as I usually am doesn’t seem to be an option when commuting across town, and I’ve noticed myself beginning to accept the same blank expression in an effort to fit in. However, I’ve realized that I can’t let the world change my smile, literally…and instead I should be letting my smile change the world!

Anyway, there will be more writing to come as I struggle to process the excess of amazing experiences that have continued to flood my life within the past few weeks. In my next post I’ll catch you all up on Paris, which is probably one of my top five favorite places in the world!

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In-Europe

Hello ALL! Or shall I say Ahoj, Bonjour, Hallo, Guten Tag, or Ciao? Why you might wonder?! Because a week from today I will be departing the States to spend three wonderful months in Europe! I will land in the … Continue reading