Travail and Travel

I really don’t understand how summer flies by so quickly every year. It feels like just yesterday I was packing up all my clothes and heading to the airport to begin my year abroad and fly to Berlin. And now, all of a sudden I have been away for three months and I am only away for another eleven months? I do have to say that I think that I think this entire year is going to absolutely fly by, especially once school starts. I have had a wonderful and unique summer full of meeting new people and experiencing new places and parts of the world. I started off in Berlin which I absolutely loved and am going back there again for New Years this year with my friend Reilly. She is the one who I travelled with for New Years last year as well and since Berlin is so well known for its nightlife, we figured we would go back there to celebrate the New Year this year. I met some really interesting people in Berlin and everyone was so friendly and there was so much to see both culturally and historically that I was totally in my element. I Couchsurfed for the first time and it was a great experience. I really lucked out with that, since I didn’t get an offer to stay until literally the morning I left Canada. But I ended up getting an entire Berlin apartment to myself for free and the landlady was lovely, showing me around the city and telling me things to do whenever she was around. She also rented out her other apartment to two Dutch girls, so I am now in contact with them for when I’m in the Netherlands for school this year. The only downside to Berlin was the fact that I had to lug around a suitcase that probably weighed as much as I do. It was absolutely massive and let me tell you, the Berlin subway does not have elevators that are easy to find. So I had to carry one case up/down the stairs, leave it on the landing and then carry the other one, crossing my fingers that my first bag hadn’t been stolen. It is really rare that I travel with anything bigger than a carry-on bag so this really just confirmed why I do that.

I left Berlin on the 20th of May to fly into Toulouse airport to start my summer job. I was working at a French Château which ran riding holidays. They were located just outside of a little town called Promilhanes which was picturesque. It was exactly what you would imagine a small French town looking like; no restaurants, a church which was the center of the town and A LOT of farms. The Château itself was over 600 years old and still decorated in a traditional style. I got to live out the stereotypical princess dream of a 6-year-old girl, 14 years too late but nonetheless, it was wonderful. I lived in the tower of a Château in France, it doesn’t get much better than that for student accommodation. It was actually a really good arrangement in terms of housing for me for the summer because I was working for room and board which meant I had no expenses for the summer other than my phone bill, and in Europe, phone bills are about 1/4th of the cost as in Canada. I mean seriously, I had a better plan in France than I did in Canada and only paid €14 a month for it when in Canada I paid over $100. But anyway, working in France actually meant that I ended up saving on rent and food costs, all while working abroad which is something I have always wanted to do. Plus, I was able to work with horses every day which, as my friends and family know, is something I have loved for as long as I can remember. I was super fortunate because the family running the Château was unbelievably kind to me and treated me like a member of the family. I think that really helped me not to feel too homesick. It was also fantastic because my mother, niece, and step-father came down to see me for 3 days while they were in between traveling from London to Paris. I was able to show them all the fantastic areas near me which they completely fell in love with just like I had.

The south of France is an amazing area for history and is completely full of Châteaus. I mean honestly, it felt like every town you passed through had their own Château. There is also an abundance of Mediaeval Villages which have been more or less kept up to their original appearance. My favourite was Saint-Cirq-Lapopie which is a 13th-16th-century village which is built with a (now destroyed) Château on top of the hill with the rest of the village coming down the side of the hill. It makes for one hell of a walk when you have to come back up from the bottom of the village to the car park but it is completely worth it. I love this village the most because of the history behind the destroyed Château. Essentially what happened was whenever the lord of the area made a decree that the peasants didn’t like, they would lock themselves in the Château, but it was so well built that the lord couldn’t get them out unless he agreed to drop the decree. He ended up getting so sick of this that he just thought it was easier to destroy the Château so he did! Since I was staying in such a small area I was able to experience the village fête which is basically the big party that is put on in the village every year. They serve drinks, bring in a band and have food (yes that included snails and frogs legs). The one in our village was especially fun and the band played a mix of French songs which made me stand out as a foreigner and super English songs like from ‘Grease’ which I think made me stand out even more. I never thought that I would be singing ‘Greased Lighting’ in a town of 150 French people where maybe 1/5 know more than 10 English words, but I sure as hell was.  I also ate frogs legs, because well, when in France. They were surprisingly delicious and I was actually able to eat the entire plate of them.

I originally planned to stay at the Château for all of August as well, but they actually close for the entire month because the heat and the bugs are too bad to be taking the horses out on rides. So even though I was told I could stay, I decided to take advantage of the time off and travel for a month. I flew from Toulouse to Dublin on the 5th of August after a bittersweet goodbye to my ‘family’ and spent four fantastic days in Dublin before heading down to see my cousin in Wales for six days. There will be a post on Dublin up within the next week, this time I actually promise it will be, but since there was so much that I did in Dublin I don’t want to squish it all into this post. So right now, I am in Bangor, Wales and then I will be travelling down on the train to my aunt’s house in England for another few days. After that, I am off to the Netherlands to try and figure out housing and university things but after that, I am off to Croatia! One of my friends from Canada is visiting her Grandparents near the Hague (which is really close to Rotterdam) and so we decided to pop down to Croatia for a few days. We really aren’t sure what we want to do or see there yet, all we know is that we are flying into Dubrovnik and out of Split, and we’ll figure out the rest closer to the time. After Croatia, I am heading back to Rotterdam and actually settling into school and a regular schedule. I have a few more adventures planned though, from now until after New Years. My boyfriend is coming over to see me in October and we’ll be travelling around France together for 10 days, and then my dad is coming down in November to see ‘my’ city. In December, Reilly and I are off to do New Years in Europe 2.0 through Paris, Prague, Berlin, Copenhagen and Venice!

Here’s hoping that I will be better at blogging now that I’m visiting so many new places, and have so much to write about. Anyway, if you made it to the end of this post, thanks for reading!

 

First Day in Berlin

Guys, I am very excited. I woke up this morning in the cutest little apartment in Berlin with the sun shining in through the big windows, and I just smiled; this is it, I’m finally here! I was up bright an early at 5:45am Berlin time, early enough that my friends back home hadn’t even fallen asleep yet, but I can tell you there’s a very small chance that I will fall back asleep. There is so much that I have planned today and I just want to get a jump on it!

This isn’t going to be a long post but rather an overview of my arrival here and my first couple hours in the city. I left from Toronto airport at 9pm last night, after quite a tearful goodbye at the airport with friends and family. I flew with IcelandAir (as I always do) so I had almost a 2-hour layover in the Icelandic Airport. I really love that airport. Its small but they have the cutest little restaurants and THE BEST sandwiches I have ever come across at an airport. It’s the little things right guys? I managed to sleep for about an hour on the flight to Iceland and then I absolutely passed out on the flight from Iceland to Berlin. And when I say passed out I mean 95% chance I was snoring, flight attendants had to wake me up for landing, groggy to the point I didn’t know where I was, type sleeping. Anyway, the airport was a breeze and my bag was the third one out, which is the fastest I have ever had a bag come out.

I am trying something a little different for accomodation this trip which is Couchsurfing. I’m not sure if anyone has heard of it, but its an online platform based on the idea that travelers are willing to host other travelers for free. When I got out of the airport I followed the instructions that my host gave to me, lugging my bags (very big bags) onto the public bus and then onto the subway. Let’s just say that there were no elevators so I woke up with very sore arms this morning from carrying my bags up what seemed like an endless number of stairs. I arrived at my host’s apartment without a problem, to find that they have given me an entire apartment to myself! Yup thats right, private kitchen, bathroom, my own set of keys and everything. I am just overwhelmed by the generosity of these people who are willing to host me in this incredible apartment for my 5 days in Berlin. I got to meet and chat with the host and got to speak French with her (YAY) and she told me all the places that I should see and left brochures for me which was extrememly helpful.

Since I have my own kitchen, I decided that I should go out and get groceries so that I can cut back on the cost of meals while I am here because, let’s face it, eating out for every meal in very expensive. I ventured out in the pouring rain to find a grocery store last night and luckily there was one quite close. I stocked up on some snacks, breakfast food and bread before heading back to ‘my’ apartment to make myself dinner.

I decided against trying to go out and do sight seeing yesterday since I was very tired and the weather wasn’t great. It was nice to just relax and have the place to myself since I will have a very very busy day today. Today, I have a free Berlin walking tour at 11am which I am really looking forward to. After Reilly and I did the free walking tour in Amsterdam, I have decided that it’s one of the best ways to see a city on a budget! I will update this post later today with more information on the tour and the company I am going with, once I have done it.

Tomorrow, I will be going on a day tour with the same company to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp which is on the outskirts of Berlin. That is bound to be a very emotional day, so I will write a post about that experience in the coming days.

Well that is about all the update I have for you all so far! I am really looking forward to exploring the city today and if anyone has tips for things that I should see or do, please let me know!

Update: I ended up doing four different tours with the company out of Berlin. They are called Sandeman’s tours and they were fantastic! I did one free walking tour, a tour about the Third Reich, a tour of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and a Pub Crawl as well. Here is the link to their website if anyone is interested, and they have tours in all the major cities in Europe!

http://www.neweuropetours.eu