little sarah Big World

Category: France

What I’ve Learned in My Travels

~OR~

Special is as Special Does

So we hiked Macchu Pichu. Yes, we did that. The stuff dreams are made of.

But not my dreams. I mean, sure, it’s a bucket-list-worthy, life-changing event that many people spend years saving up and planning for. I’m just not one of those people. I’ve got a bucket list, of course, but this was never on it. Running a marathon? On the list. Writing a book? Also on the list. Climbing one of the New 7 Wonders of the World? Not so much.

Don’t get me wrong–it was cool. It was pretty cool to see this place that so few (or so many?) people will see in their lifetimes. And I much appreciated and enjoyed some time away from B & J on a long, solo hike. It reminded me of riding my bike last summer in France–lots of time to think and just be alone.

But was it worth it? That’s the question, Friends, and I don’t know that I can honestly answer yes. Eric Friend asays our generation has this fascination with travel, valuing it above most other experiences. When we think of vacation, we picture working really hard for a long time to save up. Then you go away somewhere, spend it all, and start over.

And I’ve done that, Friends. Many times, always precipitated by the worry that I’m making the right choice (adventure over stability) and followed the stress of being back at square one, financially and emotionally.

Sometimes it is worth it. France last summer was absolutely worth it–I gained insight, patience, self-love, and of course language skills. And when I did a similar program (a month-long study abroad) in Spain, that was undeniably life changing–I gained confidence, perspective, a life-long friend, and I was finally able to leave a 5 1/2 year, passionless relationship.

Because I was just in one spot for these “vacations,” getting to know a place and its people deeply, rather than just skimming the surface, skipping from town to town every other day, like in South America.

The year I lived in Spain, my happiest months were November, April and May–the three months where I didn’t leave Madrid. Even last year, the year of many travels, I felt scattered, untethered. After I came home from visiting Kevin in Spain in January, I stayed put for (what seemed like) a record 4 months. And I was happier than I’ve been in a long, long time.

So I can’t say that it’s worth it. The stress, anxiety, financial burden and absence do not, for me, justify being able to say “I climbed Macchu Pichu. Yes, I did that.”

*       *       *

You can’t tell me that’s any more special than backyard parties with my family, or playing music with Eric, or going to Mad Men with the Stephanies. You can’t convince me that this whirlwind lifestyle is providing me with growth and experience that I would never get in a small city. You can’t tell me that the hustle and bustle beat sleeping in on Sunday mornings, or reading in my own bed, in my own apartment, on a rainy afternoon. You can’t make me believe that the people I’ve met in my travels are any more special or unique or amazing than the people I leave back home.

Because if I have learned one thing, it is that people are special, and unique, and amazing everywhere. People are also boring, and selfish, and horrible everywhere. And when you’re traveling you have to listen to tales of them drunkenly squandering their parents’ money on their 3- or 6- or 12-month adventures.

Not to give travel, or travelers, a bad name. It’s just that it’s so much easier to make connections and get at a deeper meaning when you allow yourself to stand still in one place, to put down roots.

So, yes, I stood on top of Macchu Pichu. Then I lost my friends, wandered around, waited in the sun surrounded by a teeming mass of tourists, walked back to town shaking with exhaustion and hunger, paid too much for shitty Chinese food, disputed with the waiter over whether or not my money was counterfeit, found my “friends,” went to some hot springs, made small talk with strangers, changed, dicked around in an internet cafe, paid too much for shitty burritos, had to run through town to catch my train, chatted with a naive, impressionable young Brit, then stumbled through Cuzco in the dark to find a hostel, where I slept poorly due to the constant flow of young travelers.

Today, on the other hand, I slept in til 9, ate cereal while checking my favorite blogs, went for a run, made a smoothie, tidied up the house, worked from 2-6 at the library, saw Contagion for free with friends, walked through the warm and windy evening, talked in a parked car, came home, enjoyed a delicious home-made burrito, blogged, and now I’m going to read my book.

This isn’t perfect, it isn’t forever, but it’s a pretty good fit. For me, for now.

I know that there is something more than this, that I have not yet found my place, but I no longer believe I can find it by wandering. My Special can not be found in hostels, or on 8-hour bus rides, or even on top of mountains.

Maybe, just maybe…my Special must be made.

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The Origins of littlesarahBigWorld

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¡Hola de España!‏

So here I am. In Buenos Aires. On my own. And I kind of dig it. It’s been a while since I’ve had an adventure of this magnetude–travelling alone in a country that I know almost nothing about, with only the vaguest of plans and intentions. It reminds me of the first time I did this, in Spain. Allow me to set the scene:

Summer 2008. I am 23 years old. I have been out of the country only once before, to visit whitney for 10 days in Paris. I arrive in Madrid, catch a taxi fromt he airport to the bus station, buy a ticket headed north, and am on my way to Oviedo. All within the space of about an hour. I feel good about this trip, because of course I speak Spanish, and of course I will make friends with whom I can travel for 3 weeks, after the 5 week intensive Spanish language course ends. Right?

WRONG. My Spanish was not EVEN what I thought it was. And I wound up travelling alone, making hostel reservations for only one city ahead. Kissing strange boys. Busking. And I kept in touch with mass emails to my family and friends, and then I came home and made a zine about it. So, if you put those two things together, it’s kind of like littlesarahBigWorld. The beta version. Now, for your viewing and reading pleasure, I present you with those original emails and pages scanned from the first ever READ ME zine (of which there are…two. Whatevs). Enjoy!

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Hi family and friends! Wow, already it´s a bit dificult to write in English. I am in Spain!!!!! I arrived in Madrid yesterday morning at nine (one am in Utah time). There was almost no wait to get my bags and change my money and whatnot (the exchange rate! ¡Ay! 50 US dollars is, like, 30 Euros). By ten I had already caught a taxi to the bus station, purchased a ticket, and I was on the bus to Oviedo. I wanted so badly to stay awake on the bus, because the scenery was gorgeous, but I literally could not force my eyes open. I arrived in Oviedo at 3:30 and had 4 hours to kill. Oh, Moms (or Dad): I will contact Mountain America, but if you guys could also call and tell them that I´m in Spàin and that I´m not a theif and to un-freeze me account, because right now I have NO MONEY!

Mi familia is a single woman named Beatriz. She lives alone, but she has a boyfriend that comes over to eat dinner and chat with us. His name is Eusepio. They both talk very fast (faster than the other moms, like Katrina´s), and I´ve already dug myself into a rut by pretending to understand what they´re saying and now I guess I´ll just have to go with that. I understand about half. Sorry, I feel like there´s so much to say, and I´m having a hard time expressing myself in an orderly fashion. Today was the first day of classes, and from now on we will have classes from 9:30 to 2, with a short break from 11 to 11:30. Today we took a test and they divided us into four levels. I am in the fourth level!!! Estoy en el nivel mas avansada. The Cutrubi are in the third level, but I don´t know why, because I think they speak as well as I do. Their friend, Daschel (who is now my friend, as well) is in level four, along with about 8 others, including a boy who already did this exact program two years ago and is so cocky that´s it´s difficult to even be in the same room as him. Tomorrow is the first REAL day of classes, and I´m a little nervous but mostly excited.

What else…? Well, so far the only totally crazy thing about life in Oviedo is that my house (and other´s, like Krystal´s) only has ONE GARBAGE, and it´s in the kitchen. So, you know, what if I have lady problems? Or what about my used q-tips and floss? Am I supposed to just tote those things into the kitchen? I guess so.

I really like Beatriz. She´s never been married and has no children. She´s 54, but seems much younger and is very metropolitan. Oviedo is absolutely gorgeous, and very clean for a city (not as clean as Salt Lake, but much cleaner than New York–sorry Judy). The weather pattern here (so far) is sunny and clear in the morning, and then cloudy skies and moderate rain from 3 to 8. Then it´s clear and a bit chilly at night. But it´s fairly warm during the days, even when it´s raining.

I get really tired in the afternoons, because that´s when it´s night in Utah. Today I had my first Spanish hot chocolate, and it was very thick (like a syrup), but not as sweet as you´d think.

It´s strange to be here–strange because it´s NOT strange, because it feels only a bit different, like starting a new job. My firs wow-I´m-in-Spain moment was today when Krystal, Katrina, Daschel and I went to a restaurant and ordered in Spanish lke it was nothing. Oh, and I keep getting lost, because–although the streets all have names–there are few street signs. So people will tell you to turn right on Calle Uria, but then you don´t know which is Calle Uria.

Mom and Beth, I need your cell number. For some reason, my cell phone won´t turn on (somebody spilled water on it…Cody…). Once you give me your number, I can tell you how to call me here. And don´t forget to yell at MOuntain America. Oh, and does anybody have e-mail for Natalie or Eric? I don´t.

Okay, I´m going to go now. It´s about 11:30, and I need to be at the school at 9:30. I miss you all so much (especially Sebastian and Rosie and, of course, Chi). Sorry for the mass e-mail, but if you send me (short) personal responses and questions, I will send you a (short) personal e-mail. Thank you to everyone who helped to get me here! My Spanish is already so much better, and I can´t even imagine how it will be in 8 weeks. I love you all dearly! ¡Adios!

 -Love, Sarah

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Stay tuned for more dispatches from the littlesarah of FOUR YEARS AGO. What?! Time’s a cookie, Friends.

The Year in Travel

~OR~

That’s the Way the Money Goes

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JANUARY

Ogden & Pleasantview, UT

Went to stay with Dad for a week. Read more here.

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FEBRUARY

Winnemucca, NV

Road trip with sister Natalie to visited sister Nikki on her 31st birthday. Read more here.

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MARCH

New York City, NY

Flew with Dad to celebrate Cousin Judy’s (insert flattering number here)th birthday. Aunt Barbara and Cousin Emily joined us from LA and Boston, respectively. Read more here.

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APRIL

Portland, OR

 Roadtrip with Kevin and Nicole, returning her to her temporary rainy homestead after a visit to the Land of Zion. Read more about it when I get around to finally posting on it, which should be soon.

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MAY

Children's Department, Main Library, Salt Lake City, UT

Moved from Level 2 down to Children’s. You know, a promotion. Read more about it here.

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JUNE

Tours, France

Went on a month-long study abroad program to France. Also went to Paris a couple times, plus too many day trips to list here and now. Read more by going to the ARCHIVES section (up top) and clicking on June 2011. There are so many entries, Friends. It was my blogging pinnacle up to this point.

Florence, Italy

Also, whilst abroad, I spent a quick weekend with Cousin Misty in Florence. Read more here.

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JULY

Ogden, UT

July is the best month of all for Utah, Friends. It is non-stop fireworks, burgers, colas, parades, swimming, iced coffee and sunshine. Read more here here and here.

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AUGUST

Deckers, CO

Another roadtrip, this time to stay with Lindsey and Co. at her family’s cabin in Colorado. Read more about the cabin here, and the road trip here.

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SEPTEMBER

Lake Powell, AZ

Last-minute getaway to Powellapalooza with the band and Eric. Read more here.

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OCTOBER

San Francisco, CA

Spent “Fall Break” (even though I’m oh-so graduated) in San Francisco, sandwiching a week of bffs/staying up late/wedding planning/motown dancing/”single” ladies visit with Whitney between weekends of quality time with Laura, Mel, and (still in utero) Lucía. Read more about this one soon, like with Portland–“when I get around to finally posting on it”–I know, I know. I’m behind.

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NOVEMBER

Moab, UT

A road trip with Dad to run the Moab 1/2 Trail Marathon! What? YES! I did that! Read more here.

New York City & Brooklyn, NY

Then back to NYC, at which point I do start to feel a little self-conscious about my gratuitous travel exploits. But who turns down New York? Especially when the elders (Dad and Aunt Barbara) have offered to split the ticket three ways. Read more about New York, Round 2, here.

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DECEMBER

Madrid, España

Now here we are, in Spain. Madrid, to be specific, though there was that surprise trip to Tarazona with a bonus-surprise-extension trip to Valencia (read more here), and the adventure’s not over yet. I’ve still got a week until January 9th, the date of my return ticket. So there will be more pictures, more words, more travel, and many more everyday adventures.

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You know, May was the only month where I didn’t travel outside of Salt Lake, and I left the state for all but 3 months. Hell, I left the country twice! Yet somehow I didn’t fully comprehend just what a little globe-trotter I’ve become until November, when one of my Stephanie’s pointed out to me that I’m “traveling all the time.” And she’s right.

I’ve packed, flown, bused, trained, couch-surfed, and visited quite a lot in a quarter of a century, but 2011 certainly takes the cake. What can I say, Friends? I’m a restless gal. And I’m okay with that. In fact, if you’ve been following this here blog with any regularity, then you know that 2011 was also the year of acceptance, the year of being okay with all my mistakes, imperfections, and silly struggles. 2011 was the year of strength and confidence, and I feel so strong, Friends. I feel foolish, and uncertain, and confused, and cranky, and worried, and scared, and STRONG. I do not feel so little in the Big Bad World.

Maybe I should change the name of this blog to BigSarahlittleworld.

Or maybe I should just not tempt fate and be grateful for an amazing year, made possible only with the generosity and understanding of my friends, family, and of course all of you out there, reading and sharing this adventure with me. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much. Here’s to 2011, and now on to 2012!

I ♥ Graffiti

I do, what can I say? And I’m not the only one. Example: In Tours, we all had to take turns giving little presentations every Friday, and one girl did hers on graffiti. She wasn’t the one you’d expect to pick such a topic–a quiet, sweet girl with a slight southern accent–but she knew her stuff and defended it whole-heartedly.

As it turned out, pretty much everyone in the class knew something about graffiti, or “street art,” (we debated the difference), and everyone agreed that it is the unexpected aspect that makes graffiti so breath-taking. Art where and when you least expect it. I like that. And I think we can include other stumbled-upon displays of creativity, like a particularly interesting window display, or an uncommon form of public sculpture or design. You know, the things that give you pause, make you smile.

Art along the way, to brighten your day. Here’s my small collection from Tours:

 

 

(That last one was part of a series that I couldn’t capture in its entirety. Basically, huge metal cut-outs in public parks all throughout the Loire Valley, in commemoration of famous artists and musicians. I caught this guy in particular between Tours and Montlouis-sur-Loire, on that bike ride with Adam).

 

 

(That one’s actually the inside of a public restroom. Europe has some amazing public restrooms, in terms of art. I think I know what I’m talking about, but here’s further proof).

*       *       *

And this was a work in progress, that I passed by every day on my way to school, or, really, my way to anywhere, as this shop was just right down the street. Each of these photos is from a different day, over the span of 4 weeks.

 

What’s Left of What Was

So now I’ve been home for a week, and everything is more or less as it was, almost like it never even happened. My Grand Adventure! How quickly you’ve given way to the same ol’ Same Ol’.

But I have pictures, I have proof. Here are some things I wanted to show you, before we move forward.

 

Where I Studied:

 

Where I Stayed:

My Host Family

 

Where I Ate:

 

What I Saw:

 

What I Learned:

After returning home, thinking things over, I realize that my happiness in Tours was three-fold.

1- I had more free-time than I do at home. In Salt Lake, I work 16 hours/week nannying and 18 hours/week at the library. In Tours, I was only committed to 20/week of class. That’s 14 Bonus Hours, right there.

2- I spent pretty much all of my free-time on myself. I went for long runs, practiced viola, worked on my blog. I went to the movies by myself. I went on a solo bike-ride along the river and then through the country side. In Salt Lake, I am committed to at least 2 musical groups, plus side projects. I am committed to reading with my nephew, occasional baby-sitting, and other familial obligations. Rehearsals, meetings, book groups, social events–even though these are things I usually enjoy, it still means that I’m spending my free time on someone else. (You see what I did there? With the change of preposition?)

3- I spent most of my free-time alone. That’s a biggie. Even as recently as a year ago, I was not only reluctant, but terrified to be alone. Hence the serial monogamy. But in France I found that I LIKE being by myself. Nobody to consult with. No large, loud group of Americans to immediately give me away as an English speaker, which made it easier to practice listening and speaking in French. That statue of the big, blob-ish monster? That was in the smaller square, the one where I often ate alone, or with just one other friend. If I’d needed to be with others, I would have gone most every day to the bigger square–Place Plum’–where I would have spent more money and spoken less French.

It was nice to just…do what I wanted. So that when I DID hang out with the other kids, it was by choice, not by obligation. Back in Salt Lake, I’m feeling weighed down by responsibilities and commitments. I miss being selfish. I miss doing what I liked, when I liked. But, of course, Life is not a month in France. So I will have to adapt.

 

How It All Ends:

I guess I’m not quite sure how to finish this off…I guess some things just end abruptly, don’t they? Well, here’s a typical “summer-in-France” picture:

And here is picture I took while out walking with Adam, on my last night in Tours:

Right after I took this, I told him about how I used to have a really hard time with Change. How even when I knew that it was time to break up with a boyfriend, I’d think back on happier times, and I didn’t want to lose that. Or how so often I’d be more than ready to quit a job, but then I’d start looking around at all of my co-workers and grow sentimental and have second thoughts. They’d been an important part of my life, and I was never quite sure that I wanted to give that up.

But now, I explained to him, now I understand that just because something comes to an end–you break up, get a new job, stop volunteering after 2 years, get kicked out of a band–that doesn’t erase all of the good that was there. Then End does not destroy or invalidate everything that came before it.

All of those happy and funny and sad memories are still there, even after it’s all over. Even sometimes when things get ugly, when it is a Bad Ending. Nothing can take those memories away from you. They are as real as ever, as real as the lessons you learned. As real as the need to move on, staring you in the face but not saying a thing, because it is, after all, your move.

And so I’m learning how to move on, I told Adam. I’m learning to let it go.

Last Night in Tours

A big dinner at a fancy restaurant (Au Lapin qui Fume) with the whole group of Utahns.

Silly times with new old friends.

Delicious toasties with chevre, followed by rabbit (I ate rabbit!) and fresh pasta.

Then down to the Guingette, one more time. Spontaneous art creation.

Looking up at the night sky, deep in this valley.

And drinking, of course. Celebrating, really.

Saying goodbye. Adieu.

Fête de la Musique à Tours

Last night was a very special night. Not just for me, but for the entire city, all of France, and, really, the whole world. It was La Fête de la Musique, an annual, national music festival started in Paris in 1982. Basically, all the streets of France are filled with music. And people. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and definitely unlike anything we have in the US. The closest thing we have is Record Store Day, and that does not compare, in terms of scope and global participation.

Seriously, the whole town was out. There was music everywhere–classical, jazz, traditional–as well as not one, but TWO samba groups, parading through the streets of Tours, at least 30 members apiece drumming and dancing.

Also there was lots of drinking, naturally, and a band where one guy played the bass while the other guy played the guitar with his hands and the drums with his feet (he’d set everything up with pedals, even his symbols)  and also sang. Awesomeness.

It was a gorgeous night, especially owing to the fact that the sun doesn’t set in the Loire valley until AT LEAST 10pm, and for the most part people were festive without being too rowdy. My only complaint was the garbage.

See, when Chase and I went to that outdoor concert/festival, I noticed that everyone was being really conscientious to keep things clean. When you bought your wine or beer there, the first cup was 50 (euro) cents extra, to pay for the hard plastic cup that you’d use for the rest of the night, which was great because not only did it mean a free souvenir (it had a picture of the event’s spokes-dude on it), but also that people were way less likely to throw used, disposable, cheapy plastic cups all over the ground. And I liked that.

But last night was more like the big parties/festivals/concerts we’ve all come to know and love, where the ground is basically a giant pile of trash after. Example:

Laura and I in Madrid, July 2008

Okay, so Spain is particularly bad on this count, but STILL. I expected more from you, France. I expected Plus.

*       *       *

(Speaking of garbage, Chase and I definitely finished off the night by eating THIS):

I Will Survive

I lost toutes mes affaires yesterday. My school book and workbook. All of the beautiful notes that I’ve been meticulously copying and re-writing (the subjunctive, en and y, future anterior, etc.). All of my writing assignments, marked and corrected. All the little texts we’ve read in class. Everything. Tout.

And friends, I was disheartened, to say the least. I went out to preview the sales (les soldes, which start tomorrow) and at some point realized that I still had my purse, and my jacket, and my lunch sack, but not my binder with all my school stuff. I went back to all of the shops where I’d stopped–Carrefour, the patisserie, H&M–but they’d seen rien. Nothing.

And then of course I had a class starting RIGHT THEN, to which I was late, and without anything to write on save my pocket notebook, and on the verge of tears, thinking “What’s the point? Why even bother taking notes now, when they’ll be so horribly incomplete?” And thinking, “Why does this happen to me–why do I always have to be the fuck-up, and do things out of order, and make a big mess of everything?” And feeling guilty, since I lost invaluable intellectual property while out oggling material goods.

But I didn’t cry, friends. Almost, but no. I went home, took a short nap, went out for a run. Ate dinner with the family. I mean, it could be so much worse (I consoled myself). I still have my passport, my wallet. My camera. I had been wondering whether or not to take all that school stuff back with me, anyways, if it would be even worth it. So that’s a decision that’s been made for me.

It’s easy, I think, to be happy when things are going well. Easier to have a sunny outlook when the sun is shining. And this was a definite threat to my happiness, my stability, even my worldview (I’m moody and dramatic, what can I say?). But it didn’t get the best of me. I got over it, like I knew I would. And that, friends, is a new thing for me–knowing that the worst will pass.

And later: Café des Langues.

Drinking cider and speaking French. And Spanish. And English.

Letting it go. Enjoying myself.

Parisien Sandwich

Friends, getting to Italy was INTENSE. Let me tell you about it. My flight was at 8:30 in the morning, but it was at the far-out Paris airport (Beauvais), which meant that to get there I was obliged to take a 15€ shuttle at 5:30am, and to get to THAT I had to take a Parisian night bus with drunk Algerians who wanted to harass me (“My dick, in your mouth”), a number of exhausted youths on their way home, still dressed to the nines, and a junky who shook and chattered so frighteningly that I chose to stand the full 30 minutes rather than face him. All that was at 4:40am.

Bright side: I got to hang out with Gianny again! (A sweet thing he said to me in an e-mail: “I’m going to be expecting you at home before taking you out on the town.”) Because OBVIOUSLY I’m going to spend the night in Paris for a morning that starts so early. And by “spend the night” I mean “stay-up-hanging-out-with-Gianny-and-riding-bikes-through-the-city-and-drinking-hot-toddies-with-new-friends-in-an-old-apartment-and-then-walking-around-talking-world-travels-until-3:45-am-and-then-‘nap’-until-it’s-time-to-catch-the-night-bus.”

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” I told myself. Here’s some pictures, though:

graffiti @ the austerlitz train station

drinking wine with my "little sister" from Tours

out for a walk with Gianny, 3am

I forgot to mention that I rode the train from Tours to Paris with Elizabeth, who is has the same home-stay as me, and her friend Sam. Without even knowing it! (A thing I actually said to her: “What are YOU doing on this train?”) They were heading on to Nice on a night train (Harry Potter, y’all), and therefore had wine (naturally), which they shared with me. In the train station. (Also naturally).

Then, on the way BACK from Paris (post-Italy), I was supposed to have gone straight from the airport to the train station to “home,” but my flight was delayed, and then the shuttle (another 15€) had a beeping problem that called for highway-side assistance (shenanigans). So I found myself with 2 hours to kill before the next train.

I entertained the possibility of being grumpy about it, then I realized that I was in Paris, with the worlds smallest carry-on (Mary Poppins, y’all), and two hours to explore the city. ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT, FRIENDS. Or, re-frame. I walked around, ate a baguette sandwich, took pictures, asked for directions, mailed a postcard, and went to McDonald’s. Yup.

The City of Light at Dusk.

Amboise

…anyways, all of that bicycling was to actually GET TO a place (though in the end I think I liked the bike ride more…)

And that place was Amboise, where I ate lunch and visited a castle before my camera died. Oops. Poor planning. But look at me! Not even freaking out about it! Not even beating myself up! Whatever, I could have checked the battery before I left, but who cares? You probably do, but you’ll just have to content yourselves with what I’ve got, as far as photographic evidence is concerned.

Amboise - Old Town

lunch at La Cère

walking around

view of the town from up on the hillside

The castle

The gardens

Inside the castle

That fireplace is from a free, guided tour that I took. In French! My French is getting so good. Did I ever mention that I haggled with the bike guy? In French! True Story!

Anyways, that was Amboise, and tomorrow I’m going to Italy to visit my New Cousin. Also a true story. Au revoir!