The Nanny Diaries Edition

We Came Here For the Food (and Beer) — October 18, 2016

We Came Here For the Food (and Beer)

A couple weekends ago I made my first journey out of France and spent the weekend in Brussels, Belgium. It’s one of those places that’s never really been on my list of things I had to see, but after over a month of being in Paris, I needed to experience something else. Brussels was a short, cheap bus ride away. Not to mention, I’d heard the food (and beer) were delectable. So we made last minute bookings and away we went!

We arrived late morning in Brussels after a four hour bus ride. A word to the wise, when you have to be well outside of the city at the bus port at 7am (and don’t really know where you’re going at that), don’t stay out until well past midnight the night before and drink copious amounts of wine. Just saying. We barely made it to our bus and crashed as soon as we were on it. However, it did not help that there were tens of buses that looked exactly the same and NONE of them had signs as to where they were going. We ran around to each one, because why wouldn’t we check the one we actually needed until last.

After dropping our bags off at the hostel, we made our way to the city center, which was about a 15 minute walk from where we were staying. We were so hungry, but all we could focus on where the endless chocolate shops that we kept passing by. Our mission was something sustainable, but we knew we’d be stopping by one (more than one) of those shops afterwards. As promised, we did and they were the best chocolate covered strawberries I’d ever had.


We joined the free walking tour group, which I always love because I learn a lot about the city’s history while enjoying fresh air and seeing cool sites along the way. To my surprise, Brussels is actually quite renowned in its own simple way, it just doesn’t ever get the credit that perhaps it so rightly deserves. Belgium has been the creator of numerous things, while everyone else has taken the credit.


The central marketplace where we began our tour (Grand Place) was once a swamp. It was the center of trade for Germany, France, and England. This is where Brussels gets its name, as “Brussels” means “swamp.” Settlers of this region were German, Dutch, and French.

It was such a hot commodity and prime location that Louis XIV wanted to have it for his own. Since he couldn’t get into the city because of it’s walls, he bombed it. The tower in the center of the square was his aim, and he destroyed everything in the center of town, except for that tower, in 1695. In just five short years the lobbies were all rebuilt and today it is the only well preserved medieval square in Brussels.

What is very interesting about the Town Hall in Grand Place is that it had two different architects and was built in three stages, which is why it is in no way symmetrical or equivalent.

In medieval times, there was one duty and one county. The duty was the Flanders region, with Bruges as its capital and controlled by the King of France. The county was the Brussels of Germany and was part of the first reich. It was in Brussels that Karl Marx wrote Communist Manifesto.

The first thing we learned that began in Belgium that is not as well-known today as the Belgians would like is that the first stock exchange in history occurred in Bruges. Bruges and Venice were the most wealthy nations in the Middle Ages.

A running joke about Belgium is that it is the ‘prostitute of Europe’ because they’ve pretty much belonged to everyone in Europe at one point or another. This, however, makes them the perfect country to be the capital of the EU. It is also fitting because I learned that Brussels is the second most international city in the world, behind New York City.

A few other things like the stock exchange that are original to Belgium but no one seems to know (or care) are fries, cookies, waffles, chocolate, and comic books. Belgian chocolate was created in the Queen’s Gallery (shopping arcades) in a pharmacy. And fries only got the nickname ‘French Fries’ because G.I.s from the United States had fries while they were in Belgium and they thought they were in France at the time because everyone was speaking French. Therefore the US messed this one up for Belgium. (Our bad!) I can say firsthand that Belgium knows what they are doing in the area of the food. As far as comic books, I’m not a huge follower of them but throughout the city there are numerous street art displays of comics and a huge museum as well.


Brussels is also known for having the third most popular statue in the world behind the Statue of Liberty in NYC and Christ the Redeemer in Rio. It’s called Hannequin Piss and is literally a two-year-old boy peeing. That’s it. Sometimes it’s dressed up in costume, but it’s pretty underwhelming. It’s like when you come to Paris and see the Mona Lisa. It’s just sort of there, but gets way more accolade than you maybe think it should.

Most of the original city has been ‘destroyed’ by what the locals have coined as “Brusselization” in the 1960s and 1970s. I think this is true for a lot of places though, as ancient architecture is being destroyed to make way for modern buildings. Brussels is serious about stopping this though, as the city center is being renovated to be pedestrian only and it should be complete by 2018. They aim to set an example for the rest of the EU.

Belgium became a country during the revolution in 1830. What is fascinating about this revolution is that it didn’t start with military men or people of higher status, but began with an audience of the opera. Essentially the revolution began with art, which is perhaps why it is so esteemed throughout the city.

After the walking tour, which conveniently ended at the best waffle truck in town, we enjoyed hot waffles that were every bit as good as they were hyped up to be. And, hence the title, after that we made a trek to experience the best fries in the whole city. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t a huge restaurant with fancy signs, but rather a tiny stand in the corner of a busy plaza. We waited in line about 25 minutes, but it was worth it. Definitely the best BELGIAN fries I’ve ever had! (Yes, even better than McDonald’s).


We had planned for it to be a tame night, but had planned to go to Delirium Cafe to experience the place that served over 3200 different kinds of beer in all its glory. In true fashion, we broke our vow of only having one or two casual drinks, and sampled a few more than that. Belgian beer is amazing to say the least. There is no purity law in Belgium, unlike in Germany, so they can essentially add any ingredient to their beer to make it taste good. That’s why there are thousands of different options for Belgian beer, because they’ve got an endless amount of ingredients they can use. Not only was the beer totally worth it–it was cheap at a high alcohol percentage so you definitely got your money’s worth–but the atmosphere was incredible. It is a very touristy place, but worth it in every sense.


Since we had every intention of starting early to make it back early, we did make it back before midnight. We slept in a bit the next morning, since we didn’t really have an agenda and didn’t leave until later in the afternoon. We spent the day wandering the city center, filling up on delicious waffles that are often imitated but never duplicated, and enjoying the sunlight and warm weather.

Overall, I had a pleasant weekend in Brussels. I will say that it is not my favorite city, and perhaps I would have found more joy in the smaller cities such as Bruges and Ghent (which I have been highly recommended and vow to make it to eventually), but it was still exciting to experience a new place, a new culture, and get out of town for a bit. Plus, as my title says, we came for the food and beer and did not leave disappointed in that aspect.


Childhood Meets Adulthood: Welcoming Old Friends to My Current City — October 11, 2016

Childhood Meets Adulthood: Welcoming Old Friends to My Current City

I think I had anticipated the first weekend in October far more than I had originally thought. First of all, I am excited that I made it that far here and that things are far more on the upswing than I ever thought they’d be. But perhaps one of the things that kept me going was that I would be able to meet up with a dear childhood friend’s mom and family during their short weekend in Paris.

While we didn’t meet up until Sunday, on their last day here, we were able to spend the entire day together. I was so overwhelmed with a sense of relief and the comfort of having such a familiar face visiting me meant more than words can describe. After cheerful hellos and giving them a recap of what my life is like here, we moved on to explore the city in one of the best ways: through conversation over crêpes and coffee.

We found a café on a side street near Champs Elysees where we warmed ourselves up and were entertained by a friendly waiter – quite an unusual thing in this city when people know you’re not local.

Lucky for me, I explored new things that I hadn’t gotten around to yet. One of the things being Invalides, which I live right next to. Hotel des Invalides is a complex of buildings dedicated to the military history of France. It is also the resting place of French war hero, Napolean Bonaparte, and his brothers.


After touring the complex, we made our way to Père Lachaise, which is a huge cemetary that holds the graves of many renowned people, such as Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. To cut it short, we spent most of our day with dead people. But it was totally okay and not weird at all.

We finished the day with dinner in a cute little restaurant in Monmartre with delicious food and a glass of red wine. As difficult as it was to say goodbye, the day spent with familiar faces was just what I needed. It offered a refreshing outlook and attitude, one that makes me excited to live out this time in Paris and hope that more familiar faces get to visit me here as well. On that note, I cannot wait for my family to be here for Christmas!


Monmartre —


About a week and a half ago, I went on an alternative walking tour of the Monmartre district in Paris. Because I’ve seen most of the name brand things throughout the city, I thought it would be interesting to take the roads less traveled to learn about a more secluded part of the city.


Monmartre is the home of monuments such as Moulin Rouge and Sacre Coeur, and was home to many writers and artists, such as Van Gogh. The area was cheaper than Paris and also located outside of the city wall, thus creating a perfect environment for artists and writers to thrive, creating a more hipster neighborhood that is still present today.


Evidence of these artists is still present today, as there are numerous sculptures of breasts randomly stuck to sides of buildings, along with street paintings and sculptures strewn throughout the winding streets. La Bateau Lavoir is here as well, which is a famous building where early 20th-century artists met and created work that is known worldwide today. This prominent art culture in Monmartre was the birth place of cubism and impressionism.


Not only is Monmartre known for art and a much more laid back vibe, but it is home to many restaurants, patisseries, and even the boulangerie that holds the title of having the best baguette in the entire city.

As I mentioned, Moulin Rouge is located in the Monmartre neighborhood. Though it is quite a tourist attraction today, it was famous for very eccentric shows in the past, an example being the glutton and le petomane. Interestingly enough, the buildings title “Moulin Rouge” is not sexy or interesting in any way, “moulin” means windmill and “rouge” is red, meaning that this infamous building translates to The Red Windmill. Attractive.


This tour was interesting and offered a refreshing take on one of the most interesting and oldest neighborhoods of Paris.


Ya Win Some, Ya Lose Some — September 26, 2016

Ya Win Some, Ya Lose Some

We all know the saying, “ya win some, ya lose some.” I don’t think that’s ever been more applicable to my life than it has been the last three weeks. Since arriving in Paris, the days I’ve considered a ‘win’ would be those that I’ve gone out exploring, enjoyed the fresh air, socialized with the other au pairs I’ve met, indulged in amazing food (Attention all foodies: Paris is for you), and most importantly, felt successful at my job where my boss is essentially a four year old.

My successful days have been filled with mostly tourist things. Don’t get me wrong, this is one of the best cities to be a tourist in, but as this is my third time being in this city, I’m far looking forward to finding things that are more off the beaten path. My first attraction was climbing to the top of the Arc de Triompe, which offers one of the best panoramic views of the city, one that reminds me how thankful I am that I never have to drive in this city (yikes). Beware, there are LOTS of steps to the top…my calves hurt for the following two days.

Sainte-Chapelle is a glorious gothic church built between 1242 and 1248 with an amazing stained-glass window display. It is now part of the Palace of Justice. If you’re looking for a way to relish in the ancient architecture that is prevalent in Paris, but in a very low-key way, this is for you.


I’m not a huge museum fan, which is why I’ve put off going inside the Louvre again (I’ve been in twice already), but the gardens outside of the museum are amazing! There is a lot of open space to roam, benches and grass to sit on and take a break from the endless heckling of salesmen trying to pawn off Eiffel Tower trinkets. I did tackle Musée d’Orsay, which is in a beautiful building that was inaugurated as a train station for the World Fair in 1900. There is a little bit of everything in this museum, including paintings, sculptures, photography, and drawings; however, the main focus of this museum is the Impressionist artwork.


I’ve wandered by Notre Dame quite a few times. I have yet to go inside or climb up to the towers, but it is on my list of things to do once tourism season dies down.Shakespeare and Co. is conveniently located just across from the cathedral, so I have a feeling this will be a regular place I visit. Notre Dame lies in the Latin Quarter of the city, on an island in the middle of the Seine River, which is a prime location for picnics of baguettes and (of course) wine. Lots of wine.


Many other days have consisted of just wandering around, appreciating the blessing it is to get lost in this city. Le Marais is a great place for wandering, as it’s twisting streets and endless impressive architecture encourages you to look up or around rather than focusing on which direction you’re walking. This area houses many upscale boutiques and shopping centers, along with a plethora of delicious restaurants.

Jardin du Luxembourg has been one of my absolute favorite places so far. I visited on a beautiful, warm, sunny day and was in awe of how quiet it was. While there’s not much going on here, that is why I loved it. Paris is far from quiet, it’s comparable to New York City in that it seems to never sleep. But even though the gardens are located in the city, I forgot for a moment that I was in a city with a population of over two million people.


The days I’ve considered a “loss” would be those where I slept most of the day because I was fighting jet lag or homesickness, the days I may have taken for granted where I am and the opportunity I have in my hands at the moment, and the days where the said four year old challenged me every millisecond of the short time I spend with her on a daily basis. But to cope with the “losses,” I’ve turned to family, friends, prayer, and let’s not kid ourselves, Magnum ice cream bars ease the pain, too.

Not every day can be a win, but when it comes down to it, I’m young, I’m in Europe, and my time here is limited. For as long as I’m here, I’ll continue to strive for moments of success each day and improving my win-loss ratio. Easier said than done, but it’s never easy if it’s worth it.


Breaching the Comfort Zone — September 15, 2016

Breaching the Comfort Zone

What is it about this time that is making it so hard for me to adjust? I’ve been away from home numerous times, even halfway across the world when I was in Germany, and barely batted an eye. I remember at the airport just before going through security when I said goodbye to my family and din’t look back. Now I feel a little guilty about that in retrospect, but in the moment I was way too excited about what was ahead.

This time is different. This time I did look back when I was leaving my parents at the airport, this time I did shed some tears; if we’re being completely honest I’ve shed some tears everyday since then. I’m not much of a crier, so it may come as a shock to those who know me best. It’s even come as a shock to me.

I’ve been reluctant about writing my first blogpost since being here because I’m stubborn and don’t really like to reveal to people my vulnerabilities or to show others that I’m having a tough time. I tend to suppress my feelings and try to handle them on my own–haven’t I ever heard that you should never suppress your feelings because it’s not helping anyone? Well yeah, but like I said, stubborn…

This morning I sat down for coffee with my host mom, Alice. She had suggested we meet to go over a few things. Just as I’ve been having a tough time adjusting here, I’ve also had a tough time getting Daphne to open up and feel totally comfortable with me. We spent some time together in New York and it was great; she warmed up to me right away while we were there. But since arriving in Paris, it’s been a little more difficult. This is her comfort zone, her home where she is surrounded by people she’s used to–a place that is not my comfort zone. Between balancing the feeling of homesickness and trying to get Daphne to open up, I’ve often felt isolated, almost numbingly.

After my conversation with Alice, who encouraged me to just keep pursuing Daphne–even if it sometimes means rejection (from a four year old, ouch)–because after all she IS four years old and will always revert back to the people she knows. This makes sense, as she is also adjusting to a new school this year, new friends, and new activities. To some degree, we are very much in a similar place. However, it is up to me to break that space between us and create that bond with her that makes it both fun and more easy-going when we’re together.

Daphne was obviously the main topic of conversation, but Alice then opened it up when she asked how I was doing. I told her the truth, knowing that it could only help better my situation, and as any caring mother would, she completely understood my feelings and situation.

I expressed my homesickness and explained that I really could not pinpoint why this particular experience has been so difficult for me. Yes, I’m in a foreign country where I don’t know the language, but I’ve been there before with virtually no problems. But as my Dad and other supportive family members have suggested, perhaps this anxiety and feeling of isolation is stemming from something else. Maybe it was the quick turnaround between a summer in New York and moving here, with very little time at home to process and digest this extreme life change. Maybe it’s the fact that for the first time in my life, I’m not back at school this Fall with friends a few steps away and my support system a mere two hours away. Or maybe it’s the fear of the unknown, both here and now in Paris and looking ahead at what I will do when this experience is over. Whatever it is, it has been frustrating for me because, though I don’t always express it, I’m usually very attentive to my own feelings and needs. But you know what I’m learning? It’s okay not to know what scares you.

In this case I’ve been fortunate for the constant connection that technology and social media offer. I’ve joined Facebook groups that I stumbled upon for Au Pairs in France and another group called “Social Girls in Paris.” (If anyone is coming to Paris for a while, I highly recommend the latter page!) Both groups have brought me to girls who are au pairs, who don’t know anyone else, and who want to get out and meet new people, just like me. I’ve met and connected with people from the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, Estonia, and Canada–and that was just in the span of one weekend!

As alone and isolated as I was feeling, it was helpful to get out and about–hello…Paris is BEAUTIFUL–but also to start forming those relationships with people in similar situations as me. You’re never alone unless you choose to be.

It’s only been an afternoon, one spent wandering and enjoying more than one crepe, but I’ve already started to feel better. Things take time and I think we’re often too quick to expect them to be perfect or ideal without wanting to wait or work for it. It’s going to take time, it’s going to be an ongoing adjustment, but it will be worth it. Besides, it’s not like I want to come home and get a real job anyway.😉


A special shoutout to my friends and family who have always been there for me, but especially when things have been difficult. I appreciate you more than words can say!



What Comes Next? — September 1, 2016

What Comes Next?

What Comes Next?

Isn’t that the million dollar question? For some who are heading to college, people ask where you’re going, what you’re going to study. For those who just graduated in the Spring and are settling into the real world, whether it be grad school or a professional career, the question is where? What company? What school? What position? Are you ready?

Those three words are daring, they’re daunting, they make up a phrase that people are never really prepared to answer.

I think, after three months, it’s finally hit me that I’ve graduated with a college degree, said “see ya soon” to some of the best friends I could have ever asked for, and shortly thereafter left for New York for the summer. I think I was in a daze, unwilling or unable to accept the fact that this is life and it’s changing at a speed faster than anyone can cope with. But that’s what makes it exciting and challenging and rewarding.

I recently caught myself reminiscing on the last year or so of my life. The places I’ve been, the people I’ve shared my life with, and I can’t even begin to explain the amazing memories I’ve made, and the ones I can only imagine lie ahead.

In less than a week, I will be heading back across the pond to one of my favorite places: Paris. I will spend six months there as an au pair for an amazing little girl named Daphnè. I am so looking forward to the amazing journey that lies ahead, from the memories to the new places I’ll get to explore and fall in love with.

As most of you know, I did a semester abroad in Germany during the Spring of 2015. That experience changed my life and furthered my passion of travel, which is why I wholeheartedly accepted this position and opportunity to continue to live out that passion.

I was fortunate enough to get to meet the family I will be working for, as they visited the Hamptons for the month of August. I was able to spend time with Daphne and her younger sister, Penelope, and am already dreading having to say goodbye to them come February. Fortunately we’ve got six months to enjoy together.

For those of you who are anxious for me (mom and dad, grandparents, etc.), all I can say is “so am I.” I’m anxious about this short week I have with family and friends before leaving again; I’m anxious about living in a foreign city where I will know virtually no one; I’m anxious about the unrest around the world and the risk we take everyday just walking out our front doors. But to that I say: we cannot live in fear, because as my Uncle said very well, if we live in fear we let the enemies win.

We can make all the plans we want, we can prepare ourselves to the utmost for interviews, budgets, loan repayments(!), but at the end of the day, whatever is going to happen is going to happen. We can only strive to live out our passions everyday, whether they’re temporary or permanent. We only have one life, and it matters how we choose to live it.

To my very best friends and family, thank you for filling it with pure joy, happiness, laughter, and memories thus far. I can’t wait to share this next journey with you.


Paris, You Stole My Heart — April 24, 2015

Paris, You Stole My Heart

Bonjour from Paris!

I spent last weekend in the amazing wonderful city of Paris, France. I have been dreaming of visiting this city since I was a little girl; witnessing the Eiffel Tower and posing in front of the Arc de Triompe. I’m happy to say that my experience here matched, if not exceeded my expectations of the city.

Wednesday night and most of the day on Thursday was not looking promising for our trip, however. Working with kids all day exposes you to some pretty nasty germs and illnesses. I’ve fought them off pretty well, until last Thursday. Karina, who works in the same center and classroom as me, also caught the bug and we were both sick with the same symptoms within 30 minutes of each other. The virus knocked out a good portion of our kids and staff and I’m happy to report that it’s on it’s way out of our center. Thank the Lord! Believe me, I much rather would have been working that Thursday than feel the way I did.

We were back to work on Friday and I’m pretty sure Paris was my only driving force. I still wasn’t feeling 100% and was still uneasy about eating food and my ability to keep it in my system.

Luckily we were on the upswing and good to go on Friday. Well, until I realized I had forgotten our train reservation tickets at home and we were due to get on the train from work.

Possibly the single downfall of France is that their trains require you to have reservations in advance for seats. We made the reservations the week before, but I had forgotten the tickets. Good move, Kaley. Luckily we had planned to take a late enough train that our boss could play superhero, pick us up from work, run us home to grab them, and get us to the train station with time to spare. Two claps for Tracy.

With our eurail train passes, we take ICE trains, which are high speed. On these trains, Paris is only 2 1/2 glorious hours away. I couldn’t wait to get there and the train seemed to be crawling at the pace of a snail.

We arrived into the city around 11pm and headed to our hostel. We had saved directions how to get there, but by blind chance we wandered out of the train station, walked a couple blocks, and stumbled upon it without even realizing it.

Our hostel looked promising, with a restaurant/bar on ground level with live music. We checked in, dropped our stuff in our room, and headed down to listen for a while.

Paris was the first city and first hostel I have had to share with strangers. Unlike hotels, hostels are rooms with 6-8 beds in them and can be reserved by anyone. There is no privacy really, unless you’re lucky enough to have a curtain to block your bed from the rest of the room. Two of our roommates were from Maryland and studying in London, so that was pretty cool. We never met our other roommates, but it was a pretty pleasant stay for a hostel.

After being sick and traveling, we decided to call it a pretty early night. We knew we’d be hitting the city hard in the morning. At this point, we were only planning to stay Friday night and head for home Saturday evening. When we awoke Saturday morning, we quickly changed our minds and decided to stay another night. Boy am I glad we did, because I didn’t have the energy to do anything else on Saturday.

After eating breakfast, our first item of business was to buy a metro pass. These were very reasonable, costing us less than 4€ a person (because we’re still considered ‘youth’ in Europe) to use the subway or local trains all day in zones 1 & 2 of the city. For anyone who might need a future reference, every major attraction in Paris is in zone 1.

A perfect day weather-wise, without a cloud in the sky, with the sun shining bright and warm, I knew it would be a promising day. Our first stop was sacre cour, a beautiful cathedral atop a hill. We climbed the short incline and saw a great view of the city. The hustle and bustle of tourist season was very evident here, as there were tourists taking photos and locals sitting on the steps listening to a harpist play a beautiful rendition of “Hallelujah.”

We didn’t go inside, but marveled at the beauty of the outside. After a bit, we wandered around the neighborhood and discovered an art market taking place. We walked around for a good amount of time admiring the beautiful paintings and sketches of the city, of famous people, or of themselves. We even caught a few of the artists in action as they were painting the ongoing around them or a memory of a site in the city. Seeing this made me wish I had any artistic ability at all. Since I don’t, I contributed to the art market and bought a beautiful painting of Paris and the Eiffel Tower at sunset.

We headed down the hill to hop on the metro. Our next stop? THE EIFFEL TOWER. I was like an 8-year-old on Christmas morning, giddy with excitement, but nervous at the same time. I was nervous that it wouldn’t be as amazing as it had been in my head all these years. Like I said earlier, the city did not disappoint and surely the Eiffel Tower didn’t either. If I was a person who cried a lot, I probably would have cried at the site of it. But I’m not, so I just smiled my ‘three finger smile’ and laughed as I looked up at the marvelous work of architecture.


We had planned to go up to the very top, but the lines were crowded and never ceased to get longer so we decided against it. Only because I know I’ll be revisiting Paris in a few weeks was I okay with this. (Hint: buy your tickets ahead of time. Even if you plan to walk to the top, you need tickets.) This was also the part of the day where I realized it was really windy. And I was wearing a dress. And a big floppy hat. Do you know how hard it is to keep your dress from flying up while also trying to keep your hat from flying away? Hard, very hard. I don’t recommend it to anyone.

Luckily I have friends who give me their clothes so I can walk around with a little bit of dignity. Karina was wearing a cardigan and gave it to me to tie around my waist to help hold my dress down. What a saint.

We made our way across the street a bit so that the Eiffel Tower was in full view. We enjoyed crepes with the most beautiful view there ever was. We took some photos and took our time getting to the metro for our next stop. Along the way, we saw a beautiful newlywed couple taking photographs with the Eiffel Tower in perfect view behind them. Talk about a dream come true!


Our next stop was Arc de Triompe, which was positioned in the middle of an 8 lane roundabout. Just looking at the traffic made me anxious, let alone watching bike carriages and buggies riding along in the traffic. Whoever chose to ride in that thing had a death wish I think. I’ll stick to subways and trains, thanks.


The Arc was at the end of the famous Champs Elyseés. This high-end, designer shopping district was flooded with people. People going every direction, going everywhere and no where at the same time, rushing or taking their time. I looked into the distance and all I could see were people. I’m not a large-crowd person, but it was neat seeing all the people out enjoying such a beautiful day. Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was the city, but in that moment I loved being surrounded by hundreds of strangers.

We popped in and out of a couple stores before making it to another metro station. By this point, we were starting to feel the exhaustion of the non-stop traveler/Parisian lifestyle. With one last stop on our agenda for the day, we made our way to the ‘island’ of the city, home to Notre Dame cathedral.

It was free to enter, so we got in line and took our time exploring the beauty of the inside. I’m fortunate enough to have witnessed the immaculate and extravagant La Sagrada Familia, Goudí’s famous cathedral in Barcelona, Spain. Anything compared to that cathedral seems to be mediocre. Notre Dame was beautiful, but it wasn’t as awe-inspiring to me as it was perhaps to a lot of other people. What I will say about it is that I appreciate its class. It was tasteful, classy, and very genuine. The stain glass windows go unmatched and the architecture was simple and beautiful.

With miles under our feet of walking around and our senses stimulated by the sights, sounds, and smells of the city, we headed back to our hostel. We ate dinner at the restaurant below, our first full meal since being sick I might add. We filled our stomachs and headed to our room to rejuvenate and figure out our plan for the evening.

It turned into a relaxing evening complete with revisiting most of the sites we’d seen earlier in the day. Paris has two personalities: one during the day and one at night. Both equally as alive as the other, but perhaps more of a sense of magic and beauty at night. I mean, we saw the Eiffel Tower sparkling. SPARKLING!

We went on a river cruise on the River Seine where we passed under the infamous lovelock bridges and other landmark bridges. We also saw Notre Dame lit up at night, which I must say was so beautiful.

After a chilly, relaxing boat ride we were definitely ready for bed. Especially since we’d be tackling (or attempting to tackle) The Louvre in the morning before heading home.

A restful night’s sleep could never prepare someone for The Louvre experience. If you’re someone who is genuinely interested in art, it’d probably take you two days to go through and view everything in-depth. To be honest, Karina and I were mostly interested in seeing the Mona Lisa and maybe some statues. However, we made the mistake of forgetting to take a map with us, so when we entered it was a good 30 minutes before we meandered through the maze and found our way back to the information desk. In getting lost through the twists and turns and multiple levels, we saw a decent amount of the museum. The marble sculptures and Egyptian ruins were the most beautiful and interesting.

We finally made our way to the Mona Lisa, which I will plainly state was underwhelming. A large crowd of people surrounded the painting, with cameras and phones recording their presence there. We fought our way to the front, took a photo, and quickly escaped the soon-to-be mosh pit that was ensuing. It was much smaller than I had ever pictured, but at least I got to view that and many other miraculous pieces of artwork.

Another sunny, beautiful day put us in the mood for a lot of walking once again. With a few hours before our train left, we walked the few miles from The Louvre to the Eiffel Tower; I couldn’t leave without embracing it’s beauty one last time for as long as possible. This time, we enjoyed ice cream as we said goodbye to the epitome of Paris.

Our train ride back was a little more complicated. First of all, we tried booking a reservation for a seat on the way back Saturday in Paris and were denied, being told we should have booked 15-30 days in advance. Oops. We panicked a little before creating an alternative plan and booking reservations into different cities and taking more, but shorter trains to connect to other trains. Needless to say, it was a confusing process and made a 2 1/2 hour trip almost 6 hours. Our first train was confusing and we wandered around for a good 10 minutes before we figured out where our real seats actually were. The next train had no open seats so we had to stand for 30 minutes before deciding to get off at the next stop and finding an alternative route. Our next train was late getting to the platform, making us miss our connecting train and making us wait an hour and a half for the next one. It’s safe to say that we were more than ready to be home when we arrived around 8pm Sunday evening.

Expectations are often times not met; maybe we have too high of expectations, maybe they’re unreasonable or unrealistic. I’ve had my fair share of disappointments in multiple aspects of life, but I have yet to encounter one in travel. Even though the Mona Lisa wasn’t as big as I had thought or Notre Dame wasn’t as beautiful as other churches I’ve seen, I was able to appreciate each event in other aspects. Don’t be afraid to have high expectations, but also don’t be discouraged if those expectations aren’t met. It just means that next time, you’ll know how to better set those expectations up for success.


Au Revoir! Paris, I’ll be back for you!


Lakes, Mountains, and Sunshine: A Relaxing Weekend at Lake Constance — April 22, 2015

Lakes, Mountains, and Sunshine: A Relaxing Weekend at Lake Constance

Better late than never, but here’s my adventure from two weekends ago!

We were a little late in our planning for the weekend and we were just being plain lazy, so we finally worked up the plan to travel to Southern Germany where the border flirts with Switzerland and Austria to an area called Lake Constance.

We again started our Saturday early, arriving to the train station around 6am. Our first destination would be Lindau, a port city on Lake Constance. We arrived in the city around 11 and walked around the charming alleyways and streets barely big enough to walk side by side. The buildings and shops had character and there was a beautiful cathedral in the center of town.

We didn’t spend much time walking through the city because it was a beautiful, sunny day and we wanted to spend what time we had there by the water. We walked along the shoreline with a destination in mind, the point where Switzerland meets Germany.

I almost walked right past the marker where you enter Switzerland. There’s no grandiose sign or flashing lights, but a simple street sign with the Switzerland flags on each side of the street name on one side. I crossed over and looked up at the same sign, that read the same street but with German flags on either side. It was pretty underwhelming, but at least I can say I was in Switzerland. Nonetheless, Switzerland and Germany simultaneously.


Preparing for a lengthy train ride, we soaked up as much sun as possible before heading back to the station. Our next destination was Lindau, another port city across the lake. And by across the lake I mean we crossed through Switzerland and Austria (illegally through Austria I might add) to get to this city.

What we saw of Switzerland was nothing short of Germany, except you could see the Austrian Alps the entire time. We took multiple short train rides, changing lines about every 20-30 minutes. It took about an hour and a half to finally reach Lindau.

What I meant by crossing through Austria illegally is that we all have Eurail passes, which allow us to freely go to and from four bordering countries. We all chose to have France, Germany, Switzerland, and Czech Republic on our passes, not Austria. Right as we were stepping onto the train was when we realized we were on an Austrian train. We decided to chance it and hope that no one came by to check our tickets on the final 20-minute train ride.

The nerves kicked in when we saw a ticket attendant come into our car. For some miraculous reason that I’m choosing not to question, he walked right by us and didn’t ask for our passes. It was nerve wrecking because the fines here for not having a ticket or for having the incorrect ticket are more than the ticket is even worse, and we definitely didn’t want to be slapped with a heavy fine. The train gods were on our side in that moment.

What we saw of Lindau was basically just the port. We climbed to the top of the lighthouse, snapped some photos, then made our way to where a street band was performing. We listened for a while, enjoyed the crisp lake-front air, then hopped on the train for the final time that day to get to Füssen where we would be staying the night.


You might recognize the town of Füssen from an earlier post of mine. It is the city where the Neuschwanstein castle is; the one Disney based its logo on. While Karina and I had already been there, Elisabeth hadn’t, so we made it one of our stops for the weekend.

Arriving in Füssen around 7:30pm we checked into our hostel before roaming the streets to find a bite to eat. We settled on a restaurant a couple blocks away and sat outside by the fire. Germany is lovely in the Spring.

It was an early night for us, as it was a fairly early morning the next day. We hopped on a bus that drove us up to the castle. Last time we visited, it was freezing and snowed all day. It was still beautiful, but I was looking forward to visiting it in the sunshine and being able to hike to the top rather than ride the carriage.

It was a decently long hike and a perfect day for it. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and the views of the Bavarian Alps and the Alpsee (the lake) were crystal clear. Also, last time I visited the infamous bridge where you get the best view of the castle was closed due to the imperfect weather, so I was excited that it was open this time. We hiked up to the bridge and saw the views clear as day. What a wonderful way to spend a beautiful Sunday afternoon.


After a while, we hiked back down, taking our time and sitting by the lake for a while. We eventually made our way back to the bus and train station. Though it was a relaxing weekend, it was full of traveling and adventure, and we were all zonked out on the train ride home.

Weekends like this one are few and far between; we got to visit and experience new places and adventures, revisit an old city, relax, and enjoy time with great friends. It wasn’t a strictly planned weekend, nor one with major sites and sounds, but it was a new experience all the same.

Keep looking for those new experiences, even in old places. You never know what you’ll find.


“To Honor the Dead and to Warn the Living” — Experiencing Munich and Dachau — April 7, 2015

“To Honor the Dead and to Warn the Living” — Experiencing Munich and Dachau

What a pleasant surprise the city of Munich was. When I began looking into visiting the city, all I really knew was that there was a concentration camp just outside of city limits called Dachau. What I didn’t know was just how historically captivating Munich’s past and present truly are.

We were pretty ambitious to say we were going to make the 5:45am train on Saturday morning, but we managed to do it. It was pretty motivating to know we just had to wake up, call a cab, and we could fall right asleep on the 4 hour train ride. Trains are relaxing and with hardly anyone on in the wee hours of the morning, it was a quiet ride. When we got to the train station to catch the train I couldn’t help but laugh at all the people who were still making their way back home from the night before. European nightlife is much different than it is back home. By 2 am you’re kicked out of the bar, but here, that’s when people start showing up to the bar.

It seems that luck was on our side, if you believe in that sort of thing. Arriving in Munich around 10:20 or so we stored our bags in the lockers at the train station and made our way to the main square, Marienplatz, to see if we could still get tickets for the free walking tour of the city. Luckily, the groups were still getting organized and we were able to join. I am glad we did, because I learned so much about the city and its history, and it was a perfectly sunny, warm (yes, I just said warm) day. It also helped that our tour guide was fun, interesting, and talked with a British accent. Because who doesn’t love listening to people with British accents?

Munich was created as a trading city, central to Austria, eastern European countries, with gateways to the western and northern cities and countries. In the 1600s, a religious war took place and the Swedish Army held the city ransom until they were given everything the city was worth. After such a strenuous war, the city constructed the Virgin Mary statue in Marienplatz to symbolize the strength of faith, and it is the largest outdoor shrine today.

After a few more stops, we got into the history of World War II and the Holocaust. To my surprise, Munich was the capital of the Nazi party movement. After experiencing the history of Berlin, I had just assumed that Berlin was the most influential city in the rise of the Nazi party.

I don’t think anyone can disagree that Hitler was a force to be reckoned with. He took over the country and ruled from the Reichstag building in Berlin, but not before establishing fear and terror in the citizens in Munich. He had a favorite beer garden in Munich where he would spend most of his free time. Bodyguards stood outside of the garden 24/7, threatening those who failed to salute or “heil Hitler”. Later on we would find out that many were sent to Dachau Concentration Camp for failing to follow this minute ritual.

One night, there was an uprising that required police action. Police even attempted to shoot Hitler. He was shot at 11 times and almost killed. Hitler’s bodyguard covered Hitler with his own body, taking all 11 shots to his back, surviving the trauma. Just think how different history would be had the police been successful with even one of those bullets. It’s almost frightening.

Not only was the population affected by Hitler’s reign, but the city itself was also severely affected by the war. The city we witnessed was almost entirely rebuilt, as about 80% of this beautiful city was destroyed during World War II.

We cut out of the tour when we reached the Hofbraühaus. For those of you who have never seen movies or experienced for yourself, this is the bar that you would picture in your head if you were thinking of German bars. The important thing to remember about Munich is that it is in the region called “Bavaria.” Also in this region are the castles I visited a couple months ago. Rich in genuine “German culture,” you see men in lederhosens and women in dirndls walking down the street. We especially saw these outfits inside the Hofbraühaus. Bavaria is known for their delicious shandy, half light beer and half lemonade. If you like Summer Shandy back home, it’s got nothing on the Roß (pronounced “Ross”) beer that we shared at the Hofbraühaus.

Germans don’t mess around with their beer, either. At the Hofbraühaus, they only served beer in liters, with the occasional half-liter beer being ordered. I’m not the biggest beer fan back home, but this was delicious.

After sampling and experiencing the Hofbraühaus, we were more than ready to head to our hotel for an afternoon snooze. We relaxed for a bit before venturing out for dinner and to see what Munich’s nightlife had to offer.

We were all still exhausted, so it was a very low key, relaxing night complete with a glass of wine and some quality conversation. Sometimes it’s the little things that keep you going. I also knew I needed to emotionally and physically prepare myself for Sunday, when we would be touring Dachau Concentration Camp.

We got a good night of sleep and headed out in the morning for our tour. Even the weather knew it was going to be a gloomy experience, because the skies were overcast and it looked like it could downpour at any second. The weather was already foreshadowing the emotional drainage I would feel at the end of the day.

It took about 30 minutes, a train, and a bus to reach the camp. The price we paid included a tour guide who was very knowledgeable and pleasant to listen to. We began our tour outside the gates, where she briefed us on some history of the time period. Before the tour even began, I learned a lot about what fueled Germany’s fire in World War II, eventually leading to the Holocaust.

America’s Great Depression deeply affected Germany and caused an economic crisis throughout the country. Not only was the Great Depression disheartening in America, but it was also a tragedy in Germany, putting a strain on President Hindenburg and the choosing of his chancellor. Hindenburg feared communism, but he hated Hitler. This left him in a very tough spot. In the end, he feared communism more than he hated Hitler, leading him to choose Hitler as his chancellor.

It was downhill from there. Hitler was granted a position of power and began his power-hungry strike.

Originally a gunpowder factor to contribute to war weapons, Dachau became the first concentration camp in 1933. It is the only camp to last the entire war and holocaust, surviving the length of the entire third Reich. It was originally opened for Germans (mostly convicted Communists), but soon became a temple of doom for any and all depreciated minorities, homosexuals, and Jews.

It seemed that overnight Hitler and the Nazis had taken the liberty of enforcing new laws and making up their own. It all started with the Reichstag Fire Decree. The Reichstag (government) building in Berlin had been set on fire, and the consequences were that all civil rights were taken away from the population. This is when the Nazi party took it upon themselves to enforce this, fueling the rise of the Nazi regime.

Dachau quickly became a death sentence. The people of the city knew it existed and could make pretty accurate guesses as to what was going on there, but the question was: Did they care? A newspaper article was published, so the public definitely knew what was going on, but for fear of resistance, most kept their mouths shut and turned the other way as thousands were marched through the streets from the train station to the camp. We took the same route that thousands took to their death on the bus from the train station.

Not only was Dachau a place for those who chose to rise against or dare to have different opinions, but it was also a training camp for guards. Dachau became the model camp for any and all other concentration and labor camps that were established throughout Europe. The guards trained here became the most cruel, the most brutal guards.

To soften the blow to the public, they mostly referred to the camp as “protective custody rehab” because if people were sent here, they obviously needed help in correcting whatever problem admitted them. Or so the Nazis thought.

With focus on labor, the gate that stood at the entrance of the camp, and other camps such as Auschwitz, read “Arbeit Macht Frei” or “Work Sets You Free.” Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see these words because in the last couple of months the gate was stolen from the camp. Our tour guide suggested that whoever stole it has some bad karma coming their way, and I have to say I agree.

When we entered the gate, we passed under a building that was closed off to the public. Our guide explained that places where extreme torture or places that could cause extreme uprising or emotion are closed off to the public. The watch towers are also closed off. The watch towers are seen as highly sensitized because if anyone dared to step on the grass that surrounded it, they were considered dead. The slightest movement triggered machine guns positioned and ready to kill. If that didn’t work (which was highly unlikely), the electric barbed wire fence would get them next. The building under which we passed had about four or five rooms in it, used to interrogate prisoners who were entering the camp. These interrogations were often personal, and came with some sort of abuse by guards. These rooms were also places where the prisoners were stripped of their last ounce of dignity and strength. Many didn’t make it out of these rooms alive

After discussing these two areas, we talked about the vast, open land that stretched out before us. Known as ‘Roll Call Square’, it is perhaps one of the most brutal areas besides the two I just mentioned and the gas chamber I will talk about later. This square is where all prisoners would gather, rain or shine, sleet or snow. Attendance would be taken here and if a prisoner was absent, everyone had to stand in the square until that prisoner was located. Exhaustion, malnutrition, and fear took many lives in this square.

We made our way to the barracks. Only two reconstructed buildings stood today, but about 20 were present at the height of the camp. There were three rooms, symbolizing how the barracks degressed in the three different stages of the holocaust. The first room had dividers between each bed, ladders up to the top lofts, and shelves above each bed. The shelves were a psychological form of torture—the prisoners had no personal belongings, no photographs, and no keepsakes. If they came to the camp with them, they were taken away along with every ounce of individuality they had left. The second room had barracks that were similar, but with no ladder to climb to the lofted beds and no shelves. By the third room or the third stage of the holocaust, it was simply rows of boards where as many people as could fit squished together in hopes of gaining body heat and that ounce of human interaction that might allow them to survive until the wee hours of the morning.

They had a regimented schedule. Prisoners would be woken up at 4 a.m. and spend two hours cleaning every inch of their barracks. There was to be no smudges on the window, no dirt on the floor, and their beds had to be pristine. Perhaps the biggest challenge of cleaning was their beds. Seemingly a mathematical equation, the angles of their comforters were to be at certain degrees and the sheets had to be pulled up to a certain inch below the top of the bed.

If you think that sounds bad, imagine these barracks at 4-5 times over the maximum capacity. Then think about the bathrooms at that level. With 12 toilets and 2 sinks, it was nothing short of a sewage system. With disease already running rampant, the survival rate was basically zero.

After viewing the barracks, we walked across Roll Call Square to what the guards referred to as the ‘maintenance building.’ Here is where prisoners’ belongings and clothing were stripped, where they became anything but individual, visible only as a threat, as garbage, as worthless as dirt. There were also showers in this building—these were actual showers and not gas chambers. They were brought here to ‘cleanse themselves’ of their wrongdoings, where they were shaved and sanitized and made to look no different from one person to the next. I’m actually surprised that this area was not closed off, as some of the punishments that took place here were unimaginable and I would classify the area as an area of extreme sensitivity.

After the maintenance building, we trekked to our last stop. It began to rain lightly on this walk; it seems the sky just couldn’t hold back the rain any more than I was holding back my emotions at this point. I contemplated a lot on the walk from the maintenance building to the gas chamber.

The gas chamber at Dachau is the only original chamber in any camps that is still standing. We stood outside of the chamber as our tour guide explained that this is a very controversial chamber. A sign used to advertise that this chamber was never used for mass killings in five different languages. However, no one will ever really know if it was.

I took a deep breath before walking in, a little hesitant about even walking through it. I started at the end where the victims’ clothes were sanitized. Five or six short and narrow closet-like rooms were used to clean the clothes of the soon-to-be-dead and prepared for the next group of prisoners who would be arriving. From there, I walked into the room where they were ordered to undress and wait for a ‘shower.’ Next, I walked through the shower. Hundreds of thoughts and emotions ran through my mind as I walked through, trying to hurry but also trying to even remotely understand the feeling of the victims who unreasonably lost their lives in this room. The next room was even more disturbing—it was the room where the bodies were placed until they could be cremated in the ovens. I continued into the room that housed the ovens. The original ovens, where there may or may not have been thousands of cremations of innocent people who had no way of knowing that their lives would come to this moment. And for no reason at all.

As I finished walking through the chamber, I took a second to look around. Perhaps the most disturbing part of this experience was not the horror of the past, or the images burned into my mind, but the insensitivity of some of the tourists around me. It wasn’t until this moment that I heard the shutters of cameras going off, or flashes illuminating the darkness. I could barely muster up the courage to walk through, let alone even think about taking pictures. I didn’t want to document this experience—the images in my head will not go away any time soon.

I walked out of the chamber and took a deep breath of the fresh, rainy air. We reconvened by a statue that read, “To honor the dead and to warn the living.” Not only was it a tribute to those who suffered at Dachau and throughout Europe during the Holocaust, but it is also a reminder of just how capable humans are of breaking other humans and causing so much pain.

What a memorable, impactful, and historical weekend we had in Munich. It makes me grateful that I get to learn about this experience and don’t have to witness it myself. If you’ve ever contemplated visiting a concentration camp, I highly recommend it. I guarantee it will open your eyes, open your hearts, and make you more grateful than you’ve ever been.

Stay humble and stay grateful.


R&R — March 31, 2015


I’m back!

Sorry for the absence lately, I’ve been doing a little (A LOT) of R&R the last two weekends. It was wonderful and just what I needed in the middle of the semester to give me the energy to complete my last eight weeks here!

It’s crazy I’m halfway done with my experience over here. Each day continues to challenge me in ways I never thought possible. While at the time, I fail to see some challenges as rewarding. But I have yet to look back on a tough day and not realize how much it taught me about myself and about those I work with.

Three weekends ago, Karina and I traveled to an area South of Berlin that claims its fame as an indoor tropical island. I’m not going to lie, the pictures did the place more justice than it actually deserved, but it was still wonderful and relaxing. With sandy “beaches” and a couple pools to swim in, we did a whole lot of nothing and enjoyed every second of it. We even tried out the spa and relaxing saunas. Our day of relaxing was so tiring, we crashed at 9pm and didn’t wake up until the next morning. Sleep is a wonderful thing.

We went into week eight feeling revitalized, refreshed, and ready to kick ass the next nine weeks!

It’s Monday night of week nine and this past weekend was just as relaxing as the one before. We decided to stay close to home this weekend. I was mentally and physically exhausted, with no room for imagination or energy to discover a new city or make any travel plans.

It started on Friday night with a dinner on the Air Base close by (Ramstein). Some good American food and good company started the weekend off right. We made an ice cream stop and returned home where we binged on Grey’s Anatomy (my second time watching the series) and a couple of chick flicks.

I slept until I couldn’t sleep any longer on Saturday. Once I decided to get out of bed, I made real breakfast food, rather than the bagels or cereal I’m usually scrambling to eat before work. I got myself together and we went into town to walk around and do a little shopping. Crepes and coffee accompanied us in the middle of our day.

We came back home and went for a run, soaking up every bit of sunlight that the approaching Daylight Savings is bringing us. Back home, it has already happened, but it is happening next Sunday for us in Germany.

We went back into town that night and mingled in some bars, with the ever-present fútbol on every TV. The appreciation this country and this part of the world have for the game of soccer is so refreshing. They even have street signs warning of pedestrian crossing and to be on the lookout for children playing soccer. So cool.

We found ourselves back on Ramstein Air Base on Sunday afternoon. We met up with a co-worker, enjoyed Starbucks and lunch, and some yummy homemade treats. When we arrived home, we binged on Grey’s Anatomy again and stayed up a little too late, probably disturbing the sleep we had just made up the day before. I’ll say it was worth it.

All in all, these past two weekends have been boring in the most wonderful way. A little rest and relaxation never killed anyone. It’s perhaps the only thing keeping me sane. I’ll be mentally and physically ready to overcome the challenges of the week and the weekend trips we are about to embark on.

Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks to hear about Munich, Prague, Paris, and a few others. I still love every second of this ride and it can only go up from here!

Take care friends, don’t be afraid to give yourselves a break every now and then!